Alba Iulia, City of Unification. The Union of the Church of Transylvanian Romanians with the Church of Rome (1697-1701)

Period: approx. 1697 | Previous story | Next story

At the turn of the eighteenth century, the Union of the Church of Transylvanian Romanians with the Church of Rome was decided in Alba Iulia, in a process which took place across three synods, organised between 1697 and 1700. The original terms agreed upon in the synods were subsequently undermined by confessional controversies with political and ethnic motivations, but despite the resulting period of conflict and resistance to unification, the synod’s act remains one of the most important moments in Transylvanian history, and one which decisively influenced the political, cultural and confessional destiny of Transylvanian Romanians.

According to the memories of Count Nicholas Bethlen, in the autumn of 1700, Alba Iulia was in a festive mood. In September 1700, Atanasie Anghel, with the support of Treasurer Stephen Apor, organised the general synod in which the Union of the Church of Romanians in Transylvania with the Church of Rome was finalised.

The synod took place in the treasurer’s residence, Apor House, and after it had concluded, Bishop Atanasie, “dressed in priestly golden garments and mitre”, mounted the treasurer’s barouche and, accompanied by 1,200 Romanian priests, paraded through the fortress, from Apor House to the Romanian church, near the governor’s residence. At the Romanian church, they encountered Orthodox Romanians from Brașov, who had come before the church fearing adoption of the Latin rite and demanding the preservation of the Oriental rite. Despite their protests, Atanasie Anghel was enthronized as Bishop. The procession was attended by the Catholic nobility of Transylvania. Count Seau accompanied several rows of the nobility in his barouche. The parade was also attended by Jesuits, Count Samuel Bethlen (1663-1708) and several Calvinist noblemen who had been persuaded to participate by Governor George Bánffy. The governor himself did not attend the ceremony, although he was present in the fortress.

How was this event made?

By February 1697, negotiations for the religious Union of the Church of Transylvanian Romanians with the Church of Rome, according to conditions established with the Jesuits, were already underway. The Orthodox Bishop Teofil Seremi presided over a diocesan synod in Alba Iulia, which resulted in the issuance of a Union Statement, dated 21 March 1697, signed by Bishop Teofil and 11 archpriests and one priest. This document details an initial agreement for unification according to the parameters established by the council of Florence in 1438, by accepting the so-called Florentine points (papal primacy, Filioque, Purgatory, unleavened bread). At a second synod, held on October 1698 in Alba Iulia, a ‘Document of ratification of the Union’ was signed by 38 priests and archpriests, together with Bishop Atanasie Anghel, Teofil’s successor. Two years later, Bishop Atanasie summoned all archpriests, two priests and three laymen from across the diocese to Alba Iulia for a third synod on 5 September 1700. The synod issued a statement, signed by 54 archpriests, that they accepted the Union and the four Florentine points, in the name of the entire church and the Romanian nation. They reserved the right to maintain the rites and discipline of the Orthodox Church, except in the case of practices that were in opposition to the Orthodox and Catholic dogmas, or which were against morality.

In conclusion, in the sessions organised in 1697, 1698, and 1700, the synod – the most important and representative institution of the Romanian Church – agreed upon the Union of the Orthodox Church of Transylvania with the Church of Rome and authorised Bishop Atanasie Anghel to go to Vienna to obtain recognition of the Union from the imperial authorities. However, the trust of Romanians in the Union was shaken by the intervention of Cardinal Leopold von Kollonich. Issuing a reversal dated 7 April 1801, he forced Bishop Atanasie to accept the appointment of a Jesuit theologian, Father Francis Szunyog, who was assigned the mission of seconding the bishop in the administration of the church. At the same time, the bishop was requested to reject the jurisdictional superiority of the Metropolitan Bishop of Bucharest. The Uniate Bishop of Transylvania was subjected to the jurisdiction of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Esztergom. Cardinal Kollonich’s will was imposed via the ‘Second Charter of Union’, issued on 19 March 1701 by the Viennese authorities.

These deviations from the synodal decisions of 1697, 1698 and 1700 – changes demanded by Rome and accepted by the imperial court in Vienna – led to an increase in the number of those protesting against the Union. Thus, after a period of upheaval between Uniate and Orthodox Romanians, two institutions appeared: The Orthodox Church, with its seat in Rășinari (or Sibiu from 1761) and the Uniate (Greek Catholic) Church, which had its seat in Făgăraș (or Blaj, from 1738).

Despite this separation, due to the religious Union, cultural links were established between Transylvanian Romanians and the West. Rome and Vienna opened the gates of their schools to the Greek Catholics. The effects of the Union made possible the cultural – and later social and political – emancipation of Transylvanian Romanians.

Documentary records of the religious Union of Transylvanian Romanians with the Church of Rome (1697-1701) are preserved in the Archive of the Roman Catholic Archbishopric of Alba Iulia. The collection comprises the ten most important documents of the Union and two fragments. The documentary fund, which may have been created in the time of the missionary activity of Greek Catholic Bishop Grigorie Maior (1715-1785) in the second half of the eighteenth century, has been preserved as copies thanks to the care of the Roman Catholic Bishop Ignatius Batthyáni (1741-1798). (L.S.)

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