On Aug. 20, Hungary’s national day, the country celebrates the day its founding king, Stephen I. (St. Stephen), who was canonized at the order of Pope Gregory VII in the year 1803. Miklós Szánthó, director of the Center for Fundamental Rights, looks at his legacy and its message to posterity:
Whenever we mention the masterpiece produced by St. Stephen, which is our Christian state, we are in fact speaking about the unique, yet universal wonder of Hungarian civilization. We praise St. Stephen not just because historical documents make it difficult to sort out his merits from those of his father, Prince Géza, but also because his achievement is larger than itself.
Our national day may sound commonplace, but we should always keep in mind the miracle that this nation has been standing like a rock for over one millennium.
This is a miracle, or at the very least a magical reality. Chased by larger foes, a coalition of tribes occupied the Carpathian basin sometime in the middle of the 9th century, a region that was and remains the clashing ground of West and East. We were a foreign entity — and maybe still are — in a ring of Latin, Germanic and Slavic nations.
Our culture, language and habits were different of those surrounding us, and even if we did embrace Christianity, our souls were torn — and maybe still are — between the pious monks looking at awe to the West and the nomad warrior.
St. Stephen’s work was threatened to be undone by the Tatars, the Turks, the Habsburgs, the forces united against the 1848 revolution, the Trianon Treaty, Nazi occupation and communist rule. Yet, none of these events managed to break the will of a nation. We are still here, speaking and writing in Hungarian, weeping with a Hungarian eye, feeling with a Hungarian heart, and remembering that our fate is also larger than any one of us.
Foreign empires have playing the nations of the Carpathian basin against each other for centuries, and strove to destroy St. Stephen’s work, but we always managed to overcome the obstacles with faith, and — because faith in itself is seldom enough — also with strength. The imperial threats still loom large above us.
What we now must do is concentrate on our mission and on the goals that unite us with the surrounding nations to make the Carpathian basin and Central Europe great. As in the past, justice is on our side, but maybe this is also the right geopolitical moment to again show the strength of St. Stephen when he founded his apostolic kingdom. As Pope Sylvester II put it: “I may be apostolic, but he [St. Stephen] is a true apostle of Christ, having had converted to him such a great nation.”
Title image: St Stephen’s statue in the Buda Castle.