gigatos | January 6, 2022
Francisc David (b. 1510, Cluj, Kingdom of Hungary – d. 15 November 1579, Deva, Hunedoara, Romania) was the founder and first bishop of the Unitarian Church in Transylvania. According to the humanist custom of the time he Latinized his name to Franciscus Davidis and later took the surname Dávid.
Francisc David was born in Cluj around 1520, his father a Saxon craftsman, his mother a Hungarian from Cluj. After finishing his studies in Wittenberg in 1551, he was first rector of the Catholic gymnasium in Bistrita. After his conversion to the Lutheran faith, he became an evangelical pastor in Petriș in 1554. A year later he moved to Cluj as evangelical rector and became superintendent of the Lutherans in the city. In 1564, after the final separation of the Hungarian Calvinists from the Evangelical Lutherans (Saxons), he was elected Calvinist bishop of the Hungarian churches in Transylvania and appointed pastor at the court of the Transylvanian prince John II Sigismund Zápolya. His discussions on the trinity began in 1565 expressing doubts about the personality of the Holy Spirit.
In 1898 Aladár Körösföi-Kriesch painted the large and famous painting (3 x 4 m) of Francisc David, exhibited (until the renovation of the museum) in the hall of the Museum of History in Turda. The painting shows the Diet of Transylvania at the January 1568 meeting in the Roman Catholic Church of Turda (then a Unitarian church). At that session, the founder of the Unitarian Church, David Francisc, presented and obtained recognition of the Unitarian religion and religious freedom, proclaimed by the Prince of Transylvania, John Sigismund Zápolya, who was present at the session. The painting has been stored for more than ten years in an attic of the Turda museum, which is under renovation. The painting shows the Prince of Transylvania, John Sigismund Zápolya (on the left, on the rail), flanked by his nephews, Stefan Báthory and Christopher Báthory, who later became Princes of Transylvania. Also in the painting, on the right, are the Clujean man of culture Gáspár Heltai and the Calvinist priest Méliusz Juhász Péter (1532-1572), with whom David Francis had a long theological controversy. Gáspár Heltai (a follower of the new Unitarian religion) is shown in the background, sitting and leafing through the Bible. At lower right is the Transylvanian Hungarian nobleman Gáspár Bekes (1520-1579), another Unitarian follower.
His opponent in public disputes was the Calvinist leader Péter Juhász (Melius), and his main supporter Giorgio Blandrata, the personal physician of Prince John Sigismund Zápolya. Blandrata initially espoused David”s radical views and persuaded Prince Zápolya to issue an edict on religious freedom at the 1568 Diet of Turda, which allowed David to transfer his bishopric from Calvinism to anti-trinitarianism (Unitarianism) in Cluj. Thus the Diet of Turda decreed:
“My lord, Our Lord, as He has resolved in previous assemblies with the country and the congregation concerning religion, so in the present assembly He reaffirms how preachers should preach the gospel everywhere, each according to his own faith, and the congregation if it will, well, if not, let no one compel it, for it would disturb the peace of its soul, but let it keep the preacher whose teaching it likes. And to this end let none of the superintendents, nor any others, attempt to injure the preachers, let no one be reproached for religion by anyone, as we have resolved in the preceding constitutions. No one is permitted, for teaching, to threaten anyone with deprivation of liberty or office, for faith is the gift of God, which comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
Legend has it that David gave a sermon in Cluj on a huge round stone on the Calea Turzii, after which the citizens of Cluj switched to Unitarianism. Inside the Unitarian Church in Cluj is the stone from which David is said to have preached.
In 1571 John Sigismund Zápolya was succeeded by the Catholic Stephen Báthory. Blandrata kept his post as the prince”s physician and adopted a more moderate position within Unitarianism than David, who had gathered around him the so-called “Davidists”, who regarded the person of Jesus Christ as strictly human. With the rejection of the divine nature of Jesus Christ and the denial of parts of the New Testament, David lost all support from his protectors. For fear of being suspected in turn of sympathizing with David”s new ideas, Blandrata (himself a Unitarian) denounced David for heresy, thus preserving privileges for moderate Unitarians. Under the influence of Johannes Sommer, rector of the gymnasium in Cluj, David (around 1572) abandoned his theological career, which did not stop the proceedings against him. Tried and convicted, David died in the prison of Deva in 1579. There is a memorial plaque on the ruins of the place where he was imprisoned at Deva.
Dr. Alexa Popovici mentions that “26 written works remain from David Ferenc, including the one written and printed in 1570 in Cluj under the title Konyvecske az igazi kereszteny keresztsegrol (On True Christian Baptism)”.