István Udvari


The circulars of András Bacsinszky, bishop of Munkács (1732–1772–1809) belonging to the period of Maria Therese



In the second half of the 18th century enlightened despotism (despotisme éclaire, просвещённый абсолутизм)[1] was a characteristic feature of Euorope’s peripheral countries. The aim of the enlightened despotic rulers was to overcome the backwardness in their countries and to catch up with the Central European countries well ahead in European development.

            The modernisation of the Habsburg empire started during the reign of Maria Therese, empress of Austria and queen of Hungary[2] (1717–1780): censuses were taken of the population, public education improved considerably, the relationship between landlord and serf was fixed by the state in the sockage regulation etc. Serious changes also took place in the relationship between Church and state as the rulers tried to involve the clergy more and more in public affairs.

            The ideas of enlightenment spread in various ways to the Rusyn intelligensia the majority of whom consisted of priests. The higher clergy of the Greek Catholic Church became acquainted with the ideas of enlightenment in Vienna as they were frequent visitors to the capital. The lower clergy had only indirect access to these enlightened ideas. As the investigations show they could read about them in the church circulars where the bishop explained to them the orders issued by the Office of the Governor General. The greatest representative of the Rusyn enlightenment is bishop András Bacsinszky, consecrated during the reign of Maria Therese.


The ideas formulated by him and the reforms he introduced had a long lasting influence the results of which could be felt even in the 20th century.[3] The effect of these reforms was all the more intensive as at that time the Church and its prescriptions influenced in many aspects the life of the common people. As a bishop András Bacsinszky did much for the development of  education. He did his utmost to make good use of the positive discriminatory policy the enlightened Habsburg rulers applied to the Greek Catholics. The absolutist endeavours of the Hapsburg govеrnment to raise the level of school education, culture and welfare fitted well with the far reaching aims of András Bacsinszky. His career started in 1768 when he was elected a member of a collegiate committee consisting of four priests and the task of which was to carry on the reorganisation of the Munkács bishopric after the Roman Catholic pattern. In 1769 he headed a deputation sent to Maria Therese with the request to give independence to the bishopric of Munkács. In 1772 he was consecrated bishop of the Munkács diocese.

            In 1776, due to his personal efforts, he succeded in obtaining from Maria Therese the Abbey of Tapolca and its lands yielding yearly an income of 12.000 golden Fts. for the bishopric. He also managed to arrange out that the seat of the bishopric be transferred from Munkács to Ungvár, into the cloister of the suppressed order of the Jesuits. They were also granted the Jesuits’ church in Ungvár and the castle of the Drugeth family which accomodated the Greek Catholic seminary (1775–1780). He organised a committee of 7 priests ensuring them enough to pursue literature and scientific studies, reformed and reorganised the priests’ training (since 1777 already in Ungvár). He himself moved to Ungvár in 1780. From the royal court he managed to get scholarships for sixty student–seminarists and salary for five professors of theology.

Bishop András Bacsinszky took part in the conference of the Greek Catholic bishops held in Vienna in 1773, where importante decisions were taken about the liturgical books, the feast days of the calendar, the positions and conditions of the priests and believers. It is important to underline that they urged the Empress to make the authorities in the counties and the landlords build more schools for the Greek Catholics. It was also demanded that the greek Catholics were given freedom to assert themselves according to their abilities and that the Greek Catholic children had free school-education [4].


The circulars of András Bacsinszky

            The circulars were written in the office of the bishop and were sent round the bishopric. It had be written in as many copies as there were decanal districts in the bishoprics or parishes the circular was destined for. The oldest document we have is from 1690. It is a circular of bishop De Camelis in which the new bishop introduces himself to the clergy and invites from each county or district two priests to take the oath of allegience.[5] Bishop Olsavszky in his diocesan charter of 1755 prescribed for the priests what to do with the circulars. Among others he demanded that they were sent on in time and whoever was late doing this was to be fined 1 Tallér. In addition to this he also ordered that the circulars were to be copied into a special book (protocolum) before being sent on. Bishop Bacsinszky confirms Olsavszky1s orders related to the circulars and prescribed that the deans were to make sure the circulars were copied according to prescriptions in all parishes and outparishes.[6]

            The deans, after reading the circulars, sent them on, or, if needed, issued a new circular, explaining in it the tasks the bishop set for his own parishes. The circulars had their own definite form with stereotypical expressions made after the same pattern. They were direct continuations of mediaeval charters and diplomas. As for their structure, these circulars were divided into three main parts: introduction, the text itself and finally the concluding part. All structural units had their own formulae, place and destination. The practice of the Bacsinszky Chancellary and his circulars are well known and on the basis of this we can establish that he issued two circulars each year, one in spring and one in autumn before the conference of the decanal districts held also twice a year. In these conferences all deans and schoolmasters took part. Those absent without weighty reasons were summoned to Ungvár by Bacsinszky for reprimand[7].

            As in Subcarpathia all cultural and educational measures were always connected with the development of the language of the Rusyns, it is worth mentioning the influence Bacsinszky’s circulars exerted on the formation of the literary Rusyn language. It is no wonder as they had to read them, to copy them into the protocollum and to explain their content to the believers (I have to call attention once more to the following data: in Subcarpathia in the 18th century there were 729 parishes with the same number of priests in 60 deconal districts).[8] The influence of these circulars can be seen on the new ones formulated by the deans where they repeat sometimes whole sentences without any linguistic change in them[9]. The Rusyn intellectuals of the time considered the language Bacsinszky used in his documents and letters as a literary norm, as a pattern to be followed and kept. That is why the roots of the “jazichije” the literary language of Subcarpathia in the 19th century can be traced back to the language norm of the Bacsinszky – Chancellary. In this way it is clear that the “jazichje” is not a haphazard language formation created for literary purposes and unintelligable to the common people – as some critics think is the case. It rather is the result of a long and natural development based mostly on the language used in the circulars of Bacsinszky.

            According to their content the circulars can be divided into two major groups.


1.      To this group belong the circulars explaining and summarising the orders and rescripts issued by the authorities of the states, the Council of the Governor General

2.      The content of the circulars of this group is free from the state affairs, as they are concerned mostly with matters educational and ecclasiastical as well

From the circulars of the first group it turns out that the government, in the spirit of the enlightened policy of the time, tried to involve the clergy in the administration of the state vesting them with different public functions and in this way they also took part in the general division of labour[10]. Joseph II considered the priests civil servants who, according to him, in addition to church service had other civil duties to do such as the proclamation and explanation of the imperial orders and the organisation of local public education. In this spirit Bacsinszky’s circulars urge the priests to carry out the census correctly (Conscriptio animarium) as it was done with the help and active participation of the priests. The task of the priests was also to carry out informative and explanatory campaigns during epidemics, droughts or famines. They were expected to organise collections of money, crops and textiles for bandages during the wars with Prussia and then with France. In one of his circulars, for example, Bacsinszky prescribes a collection for the deaf and dumb. Due to the long lasting wars, a lot of circulars give instruction about deserters, discharged and re-enlisted soldiers. It is common knowledge that at that time Catholicism was the state religion in Hungary. Therefore the Catholic Church meticulously took care of the Catholic upbringing of children born in families where one of the parents was not Catholic. As in these families the non-Catholic parent had to give up his/her right to the religious upbringing of the children. Any violation of this law was to be punished by the state. So it is no wonder that a lot of circulars deal with the registration of mixed marriages and of children growing up in such families. Many circulars prescribe the registration of apostates, enlisted soldiers and volunteers. Special masses had to be celebrated for the victory of the imperial royal army[11]. The circulars also prescribed the collection of money for the support of insurgents (for levy in mass of the nobility) and he also demanded that the lands used by the cantors were registered in field books. The circulars of the Council of the Governor General, formulated in the enlightened spirit of the era were, concretized for the Rusyn by a new circular written by the bishop. In connection with orders of Maria Theresa, for example, it was declared that neither the believers nor the priests were to take part in pilgrimages longer than one day. The circular mentioned, as a negative example, the feast day of the Glorification of the holy Crucifix held at Bukóc in 1779. On this day 65 priests gethered in Bukóc for the celebration leaving their believers in the villages for days without church service and school teaching[12]. According to the order issued by the Council of the Governor General, Bacsinszky, in one of his circulars, asked that the election of the provost be carried out: in another one he prohibited people from Galicia, Russia, Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia and Transilvania to marry without deaconal permission. On the occasion of Maria Theresa’s death a special circular was issued by Bacsinszky. In it he prescribed not only the mourning and the celebration of Offices for the Dead but he also evaluated the reforms of the empress and the advantages the Rusyns had from them.

            The circulars belonging to the second group urged the development of public education in themother tongue emphasising its importance for the strenghtening of national identity. He was well aware of the spread of Latin education therefore he considered it his duty to pay special care to education in mother tongue. These circulars are full of emotion and are formulated in a solemn style. It is interesting, however, that this kind of exhortation and topic comes up in the circulars only after 1795. The reasons for this are to be found in the experiences he had after the 90s which opened up new horizons in his thinking.  In 1789 he was elected a member of the Upper House and therefore he took part in the sessions of the Parliament in 1790-1791, in 1792 and in 1796. As it turns out from his letters, the affairs of the country discussed in the Parliament had influenced his views. The session of the Parliament convoked in 1790 in Buda had a definitely Hungarian nationalistic character which was organised by the Hungarian nobility as a counteract against the Germanising efforts of Joseph II’s government. At the same time Bacsinszky could also see the Serb and Rumanian nationalistic endeavours which led to conflicts with the Hungarian interests. This is why his circulars written after 1795 echo the ideas of the national movements and emphasize the most important tenets of this ideology, demanding support of the common people, the taking up of their cause which was possible, according to him, only if the nation and its intelligentsia were united.

            The bishop considered his own circulars a kind of teaching material providing instructions for priests and schoolmaster-cantors, helping them to carry out their jobs more effectively. These instructions and prescriptions were grouped in paragraphs according to their content. In them he, in a fatherly, but sometimes thunderous manner, regulated not only the job and duties of the deans, parish priests and schoolmaster cantors but also set rules for the relationship between parents and children, priest and dean, demanding the observance of good morals.

            He called the attention of the clergy to the changed conditions they lived in. He was sure they had realised the sound circumstances they had in the last third of the 18th century, their increased authority and better educational facilities. He gives to understand that these improvements were due not to the efforts and diligence of the clergy. For Bacsinszky it was clear that the legal and economic emancipation of the Rusyn clergy would have been impossible if not for the open-handed policy of the empress. Although he gives no exact historical data and comparison, he emphasized that in the last decades the leaders of the Rusyn nation, the Rusyn clergy, formerly in such a miserable situation, had acquired equal rights in every respect. In his circular issued by him on the occasion of Maria Therese’s death he writes about this as follows:

            The death of our beloved empress inflicted great sorrow on the whole country but especially on the believers of the diocese of Monkács. If we look at our bishopric, the corporation of canons, the priests’ seminary and its professors, the cathedral in Ungvár, the residence of the bishop in Munkács, the vicariates in Máramaros and Szatmár, the Rusyn students in Vienna and Buda, the number of the new or restored churches arranged and decorated splendidly, and all those things we were given above all our expectation, we have to see and acknowledge that Maria Therese’s work had blessed results for the Rusyns, and therefore, by her death we have lost not only our beloved and honored empress but so to say our mother who even in her last years was very generous and kind hearted unto our miserable and poor Rusyn people.[13]

            We can judge about the enrichment of the parishes and churches if we take into account that during the time of Bacsinszky’s administration the number of stone churches had tripled and he was obliged to issue a circular asking the priests to have iron bars put on the windows of the churches to prevent robbers from taking away the precious sacred silver vessels, caliches and vestments of the priests made out of expensive material.

            For Bacsinszky the cultural and economic development of the nation, the preservation of national identity and the avoidance of language assimilation were possible only by using the mother tongue everywhere, in school–teaching, in studying the catechism. He gave the same evaluation to religious ethics. His circulars offer a definite programme for the realization of these objectives. The proposal use such operative words as: priest, language, nation, Church, children, youth. It appears from the circulars that Bacsinszky’s aim was to carry through the pragmatic ideas of the enlightenment in his own Church, joining them with the efforts to preserve and develop the mother tongue. It seems to us that he succeded in achieving these aims and therefore we can rightfully consider him the most significant representative of the enlightement in Subcarpathia.

            Analysing the circulars of Bacsinszkys’ it seems to be justified to think that dialectic enlightenment sooner or later entails the development of nationalism. It would be interesting to find out what works and books influenced the formation of Bacsinszky’s thinking.

From the circulars the influence of Herder, the greatest representative of German enlightenment, is manifest. Bacsinszky must have been acquainted with the works of Herder in Vienna[14]. The bishops enlightened circulars, his orders and the measures he took do not reveal an original, independent conception in the framework of the Hungarian enlightenment. They are simply adaptations of enlighted imperial, absolutist arrangements for the local conditions, even if Bacsinszky sometimes does not refer to them.

            In the appendix I publish some documents in transcription. They were written in the contemporary literary language of the Rusyns[15]. The short content of these circulars is the following:


Udvari István


The circulars of András Bacsinszky, bishof of Munkács (1732–1772–1809) belonging to the period of Maria Therese



[1] Cf. Kosáry Domokos: Művelődés a XVIII. századi Magyarországon. Budapest, 1996; Niederhauser Emil: Kelet-Európa története. Budapest, 2000. 99-156.

[2] About Maria Therese’s activity rich material in Hungarian. Cf. Barta János, ifj. Mária Terézia. Budapest, 1988; Marczali Henrik: Mária Terézia. 1717–1780. Budapest, 1891; Németh Andor: Mária Terézia. Bp. 1999; Niederhauser Emil–Alekszander Kamenszkij: Mária Terézia, Nagy Katalin. Budapest, 2000.

[3] About the life and activity of András Bacsinszky see in detail: Udvari István: Ruszinok a XVIII. században. Vasvári Pál Társaság Füzetei 9. Nyíregyháza, 1992. 196–215; Pirigyi István: A magyarországi görögkatolikusok története. II. Nyíregyháza, 1990. 59–61; Іштван Удварі: Образчик? з історії пудкарпатськ?х Русинув. ХVІІІ. cтолїтіе. Ужгород, 2000. 65-107.

[4] Cf. Гаджеґа В.: Наші културні и церковні справ? на епископских нарадах р. 1773. у Відні. Подкарпатська Русь IV. 1927. 105–108, 167–170, 199–201, 213–215; Pirigyi I.: A görögkatolikus magyarság története. Nyíregyházaza, 1982. 96–101.

[5] Cf. Udvari I.: Adalékok a kárpátukrán írásbeliség történetéhez. Megjegyzések De Camelis J. nyomtatott műveinek és körlevelének nyelvezetéről. Russzisztika. Acta Academiae Paedagogicae Nyíregyháziensis. t.11/E. 1987. 157-165.

[6] Episcopal Archive of Hajdúdorog = HPL. Nyíregyháza.

[7] Cf. Udvari István: Ruszin (kárpátukrán) hivatalos írásbeliség a XVIII. századi Magyarországon. Budapest, 1995.10-13; idem: Материалы к истории карпаторусинской письменности. Окружные послания Михаила Григашия (1758–1823). Studia Slavica Hungarica 40. 1995; 311-330; idem: Кириличные циркуляры мукачевского епископа Андрея Бачинского относящиеся к проблемам воинской повинности. К генезису карпаторусинского язычия.  Studia Russica XIX.2001.

[8] Cf. Bendász István–Koi István: A munkácsi Görög Katolikus Egyházmegye lelkészségeinek 1792. évi katalógusa Nyíregyháza, 1994; Udvari István (ed.): A munkácsi görögkatolikus püspökség lelkészségeinek 1806. évi összeírása. Vasvári Pál Társaság Füzetei 3. Nyíregyháza, 1990; idem: Education in the diocese of Munkács in the 18th century. Posztbizánci Közlemények. IV. Debrecen, ...

[9] In several  parishes of counties Szabolcs and Szatmár some circulars of bishop Bacsinszky were translated into Hungarian then read out and copied in the protocollum in this language.

[10] Ember Gy- – Heckenast G., (edit.): Magyarország története 1686-1790; Budapest, 1989. 1043–1057, 1125–1159.

[11] The circulars of bishop András Bacsinszky and of Gergely Tarkovics, Greek Catholic arhdecon of county Szabolcs, from the time of the Austrian – Prussian and Austrian – French wars see in: Udvari I.: A keletszlovák irodalmi nyelv ismeretlen emléke 1778-ből. (Magyar helyesírású keletszlovák nyelvjárási emlék Mária Terézia korából). In Acta Academiae Paedagogicae Nyíregyháziensis. tom 12/c. Nyelvészeti Közlemények. Nyíregyháza, 1990.; idem: Ein unbekanntes handshriftliches Denkmal der ostslowakischen Schritsprache aus dem Jahre 1778. Studia Slavica Hungarica 38. 1993. 247-269.

[12] András Bacsinszky’s cirkular. March. 24 1799 HPL. Fasc. 4. No 28. See: Шлепецький А.: Мукачівський єпископ А.Ф. Бачинський та його послання. Науковий збірник Музею української культури. Пряшів, ІІІ. 1967. 226-227.

[13] András Bacsinszky’s circular. Dec. 5 1780.

[14] Cf. J.G. Herder: Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menscheit. 1792; idem: Briefe zu Beförderung der Humanität, erste Sammlung. Riga, 1793.

[15] In detail see: Udvari István: Ruszin (kárpátukrán) hivatalos írásbeliség a XVIII. századi Magyarországon. Budapest, 1995; idem: Ruthenisches amthiches Schrifttums im Ungarn des 18. Jahrhunderts. In. Studia Slavica Savariensia 1993. 1. sz. Szombathely, 1993. 65-83.