Wednesday, August 16, 2006

St. Stephen of Hungary

The following article on the life of St. Stephen of Hungary (ca. 975- 1038 A.D.) was drawn from the following articles:

St. Stephen of Hungary was the first Christian King of Hungary. He was born around the year 975 A.D. in the town of Esztergom. He was named Vaik (Vojk) at his birth, which means hero. His father Géza was the ruling Magyar prince. His mother was Sarolt, the daughter of the Transylvanian chieftain Gyula.

During the 10th and 11th centuries, many areas of Europe were ruled by warring feifdoms, and leaders struggled to build nations. The Magyar House of Árpád was determined to create a country that would be known as Hungary.

During the late 900s, Duke Géza fought tirelessly to unite the Magyar tribes of Hungary and forge closer ties to Western Europe. He was convinced that Christianity would help to forge his people into a strong country.

The Duke and his whole family converted to Catholicism in 985. His son István Király (St. Stephen) was 10 years old at the time. The family was baptized by St. Adalbert of Prague. Stephen's Baptism was a precondition of being recognized by Rome as King. He was named Stephen at his Baptism in honor of the first Christian martyr and the protector of the church at Passau.

In 995, Stephen married Gizella of Barvaria. She was the daughter of the Duke of Bavaria, Henry II, the Wrangler or Quarrelsome, and Gisela of Burgundy. Her brother became Holy Roman Emperor Henry II. St. Stephen and Gizella had at least three children: sons Imre ("Henry" or "Emeric") and Ottó, and a daughter Hedvig. All of St. Stephen’s children died before him. Thus there were no direct descendants to claim the throne upon his death.

Between 995 and 997, Stephen (still known as "Vajk") was the ruling prince of Nitra present day Slovakia. He succeeded to the throne of Hungary in 997. St. Stephen sent Abbot Astricus to Rome to petition Pope Sylvester II for the royal dignity and the power to establish Episcopal sees. He did this in order to make Hungary a Christian nation and to solidify his temporal power. Stephen achieved supremacy over other Magyar nobles, most notably his pagan uncle, the powerful warlord Koppány. This victory over was achieved also thanks to Stephen's German retinue and the military assistance from the noble Poznan and Hunt families. Thus, Stephen became the Sovereign of Magyars in Transdanubia in 997 and managed to successfully unite virtually all Magyar clans by 1006.

St. Stephen became the first King of Hungary on Christmas Day in 1000 A.D.. Pope Silvester II sent a magnificent jeweled gold crown to Stephen along with an apostolic cross and a letter of blessing in January, 1001, officially recognizing Stephen as the Christian king of Hungary.

He founded a monastery in Jerusalem and hospices for pilgrims at Rome, Ravenna, and Constantinople. He was a personal friend of St. Bruno of Querfurt and corresponded with Abbot St. Odilo of Cluny.

Stephen established a system of tithes to support churches and pastors and to relieve the poor. Stephen divided Hungary into 40-50 counties. He continued the work of his father Géza by applying the decimal organizational system of his ancestors. He set up ten dioceses in Hungary. He ordered that out of every 10 towns, one had to build a church and support a priest.

He founded the cathedrals of Székesfehérvár and Esztergom, the Nunnery of Veszprém, the Benedictine Abbey of Pannonhalma, and the Monastery of Saint Peter and Paul in Óbuda. Inside the abbeys and monasteries, schools were established, and they became important centers of culture. Saint Astricus served as Stephen's advisor, and Stephen also had Saint Gerard Sagredo as the tutor for his son Saint Emeric (Imre).
Stephen discouraged pagan customs and strengthened Christianity with various laws, including ending the use of the old Hun-Magyar runic alphabet and making Latin the official language of the royal court. Stephen gave generously to the churches, personally visited them often, and supervised their construction. He often disguised himself as a peasant whenever he traveled and freely gave money to any poor people he met (in one account, Stephen was beaten and robbed by a group of beggars to whom he was giving alms, but he forgave them and spared their lives).

St. Stephen intended to retire to a life of holy contemplation and hand the kingdom over to his only surviving son Imre, but in 1031 his only surviving son, St. Emeric (Imre), was wounded while on a bear hunt and later died. Thus his hope was lost of transferring his power to a pious Christian prince was shattered.
This is an excerpt of a letter he sent to his son:

My beloved son, delight of my heart, hope of your posterity, I pray, I command, that at every time and in everything, strengthened by your devotion to me, you may show favor not only to relations and kin, or to the most eminent, be they leaders or rich men or neighbors or fellow countrymen, but also to foreigners and to all who come to you. By fulfilling your duty in this way you will reach the highest state of happiness. Be merciful to all who are suffering violence, keeping always in your heart the example of the Lord who said, "I desire mercy and not sacrifice." Be patient with everyone, not only with the powerful, but also with the weak.

Finally be strong lest prosperity lift you up too much or adversity cast you down. Be humble in this life, that God may raise you up in the next. Be truly moderate and do not punish or condemn anyone immoderately. Be gentle so that you may never oppose justice. Be honorable so that you may never voluntarily bring disgrace upon anyone. Be chaste so that you may avoid all the foulness of lust like the pangs of death.

All these virtues I have noted above make up the royal crown, and without them no one is fit to rule here on earth or attain to the heavenly kingdom.

After his son’s death he wrote:

By God's secret decision death took him, so that wickedness would not change his soul and false imaginations would not deceive his mind – as the Book of Wisdom teaches about early death.

Emeric became a popular name. The Italian form is Amerigo. The name America is derived from Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer. After St. Emeric’s death, a dispute arose among his nephews concerning the right of succession. Some even took part in a conspiracy against his life.

Stephen mourned a very long time over the loss of his son. The loss took a great toll on his health. He eventually recovered, but he never regained his original vitality.

Having no children left, he could not find anyone among his remaining relatives who was able to rule the country competently and willing to maintain the Christian faith of the nation. Unable to choose an heir, King Stephen died at Székesfehérvár (a city he built in central Hungary) on the Feast of the Assumption and was buried there in the year 1038 A.D.. Both his nobles and his subjects were said to have mourned for 3 straight years afterwards.

He was buried beside his son at Stuhlweissenburg, and both were canonized together in 1083. In Hungary his chief festival is observed on August 20, the day on which his relics were transferred to Buda. His incorrupt right hand is treasured as the most sacred relic in Hungary.

Stephen appointed his nephew Peter Urseolo to be his heir. Peter and Samuel Aba, Stephen’s brother-in-law contended fro the crown. Nine years of instability followed until Stephen's cousin Andrew I was crowned Hungarian King, re-establishing the Árpád dynasty in 1047. Though Hungarian historiography saw both Peter and Samuel as a member of the Árpád dinasty.

Still, by the time of his death, St. Stephen had created a stable nation -- one that would become a bulwark against the Ottoman Empire, an asylum for refugees, and rich in cultural achievements.

Shortly after Stephen's death, healing miracles were said to have occurred at his tomb. Stephen was canonized by Pope Gregory VII as Saint Stephen of Hungary in 1083. Catholics venerate him as the patron saint of "Hungary, kings, the death of children, masons, stonecutters, and bricklayers." His feast is August 16, but in Hungary his chief festival is observed on August 20, the day on which his sacred relics were transferred to the city of Buda. This day is a public holiday in Hungary.

Stephen was also canonized by the Eastern Orthodox Church in 2000.

The crown known as the Holy Crown of St. Stephen, has been enshrined in the Hungarian Parliament building in Budapest since 2000.

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