PAUL OF HUNGARY, MARTYR
Paul, as the latter part of his name indicates, was a native of Hungary. Although he has never been beatified, ecclesiastical writers, Father Touron included, call him blessed. His parents sent him, when quite young, to the University of Bologna, Italy, to round out his education. There he obtained the degree of doctor in canon law, was given a chair in the same faculty after his graduation, and had become widely known for his learning, before Saint Dominic began to preach in the city.
As he was piously inclined, Paul was among the first in Bologna who flocked to hear the sermons of the founder of the Friars Preacher. So was he one of the earliest who sought admittance into the Order and were given the habit by the saint himself. In religion the former university professor showed as fervent a desire to follow Dominic's instructions and manner of life as he had formerly manifested to hear his sermons. The result was that he made rapid progress in his new life. Hardly had he taken his religious vows, when he became one of the outstanding members of the Bolognese community.(1)
The light in which Saint Dominic himself regarded his Hungarian confrère may be seen from the fact that, almost immediately, the patriarch placed him on the committee delegated to superintend the construction of the proposed Saint Agnes' Convent for Dominican Sisters in Bologna.(2) Similarly, when the general chapter assembled at Bologna, May 30, 1221, and erected the Province of Hungary, the saint selected Father Paul as the man best suited to establish the Order in his native land, and appointed him its first provincial. Thence he 'was to extend his labors among the people known in the middle ages as the Cumans or Cumanians.(3)
With the noted canonist in this enterprise was associated Blessed Sadoc, a very capable and most exemplary Pole, a sketch of whose life will be the next in order. Three other confrères, two of whose names have not come down to us, were added to the little missionary band by the chapter at Bologna. The third was Father Berengarius, a native of Poland. Although Paul attended the general chapter, which was held at Paris in 1222, and resulted in the election of Blessed Jordan of Saxony as head of the Order to succeed Saint Dominic, he must have journeyed back from the east; for the five harvesters of souls seem certainly to have started for their destination immediately after their appointment. From Bologna they travelled north through Tyrol, preaching along the way. Large crowds gathered to hear their sermons.(4)
At Enns, then known as Lauriacum (a former episcopal see in Upper Austria), the people marvelled at the eloquence and appearance of the religious, the like of whom they had never seen or heard before. Here the fathers gained three recruits to the Order, and thus entered Pannonia, or Hungary, eight in number.(5) It was a field so trying that it would test the zeal and patience of the most earnest ambassador of Christ. Doubtless it was because these Friars Preacher abounded in both of these virtues that they succeeded so well.
The first convent they founded appears to have been that at Raab, sixty-five or seventy miles due west of the present Budapest. Father Paul chose the place because of its proximity to the celebrated school of the Benedictines at Martinsberg, whence he hoped to draw many vocations. Nor was he deceived in his expectations. Houses arose in quick succession at Veszprem, Stuhlweissenburg, Agram, and other places, all of which were soon filled with zealous missionaries who carried the light of faith in every direction. At first, the fathers do not seem to have met with much success; but after a short while they were everywhere received with open arms by both priests and people. Immense numbers placed themselves under the standard of Saint Dominic. As in other things, so in winning vocations to the Order, Paul reminds us of Dominic, Jordan, and Hyacinth.(6)
The saintly provincial did not forget the example of Dominic who began his Order at Prouille. Paul, therefore, erected convents for nuns, which were soon peopled with holy women. Among these that of Saint Catherine of Alexandria at Veszprem occupied a conspicuous place. Here it was that Blessed Margaret of Hungary, O. S. D., daughter of King Bela IV and his wife, Princess Mary of Greece, consecrated herself to the service of God almost from her infancy. She was "The Little Flower" of her age. Even before her birth she was promised to our Lord by vow in the Order of Saint Dominic, on condition that Hungary should be freed from the invasion of the Tartars.
When only three years old, little Mary was placed with the sisters at Veszprem. The Countess Olympia, a pious widowed friend of Queen Mary, had charge of her. At four years of age, she received the religious habit. Under the wise guidance of the Venerable Mother Helen and Countess Olympia, who had now become a nun, the young princess made extraordinary progress in holiness and the knowledge of things divine. When twelve years old, she was allowed to take vows. An outstanding character of her life was her marvellous spirit of prayer and mortification. Even before her death, January 18, 1270, she was regarded as a saint. Steps were soon taken for her canonization, for she wrought many miracles; but the matter dragged on indefinitely. Despite the fact that, meantime, heathens and heretics destroyed her tomb and scattered her relies to the four winds, the devotion of the faithful towards her never waned. Pius VII beatified her.(7)
The preaching and lives of the Friars Preacher in Hungary produced effects not unlike those which we have seen follow the exertions of Hyacinth, Ceslas, and their confrères farther north. No sooner were his houses supplied with zealous missionaries than Paul associated some of them more closely with himself. With these he began to extend his apostolic activity more and more. He traversed not only all Hungary proper, but also its outlying provinces, such as Transylvania, Slavonia, Croatia, Dalmatia, Bosnia, etc., some of which later became independent states. In all these places there were many Manicheans, pagans, and Greek schismatics intermingled with Catholics. Because of their associations, the morals and practices of those who professed the true faith often corresponded but little with their religion. Everywhere the missionaries were confronted with almost insuperable difficulties. Yet their labors produced rich results.(8)
During all these toils Paul ever kept in mind the people to whom Saint Dominic had longed to devote his life, and for whose conversion he himself had been chosen. With this idea in view, he was careful to erect houses in the eastern outskirts of Hungary, which might serve at once as places of supply and points of refuge for missionaries among the tribes then called Cumans. These hordes, as has been said, seem to have occupied northern Roumania, some of eastern Hungary, and adjacent parts of Russia. They were nomadic in their habits, very uncivilized, of a merciless temperament, and foes to even the first principles of Christianity. It required no little courage to attempt to spread the light of faith among them.
Such was the nation which the Hungarian Friar Preacher undertook to bring into the Church, when he had established his Order in his native land. Twice he and his confrères made the attempt, and twice were they compelled to retire before Cuman brutality. In the second effort some of the fathers lost their lives, while others were thrown in chains. It looked like madness to renew the undertaking, for a year or more had been given to work among these inhospitable people with no results. In fact, the perseverance of the missionaries had only aroused the anger of the Cumans.
Paul, however, did not lose courage. He believed that it was the will of heaven that he should return to the task, and that in this he would but carry out the wish of Saint Dominic. He felt, too, that the blood of Fathers Albert and Dominic, who had already won the crown of martyrdom in the country, would be the seed from which faith would spring at last. After much prayer, and consultation with a saintly hermit, he again gathered a number of his confrères around him, whom he imbued with the same spirit. But before they began the third attempt for the conversion of the Cumans, Paul surrendered his provincialship into the hands of Father Theoderic. Possibly the holy man wrote to Blessed Jordan of Saxony, then the Order's Master General, and requested him to appoint Theoderic provincial that the Friars Preacher in Hungary might not be without a leader, in case he should fall a victim to his zeal.
Be that as it may, the subject of this sketch now reentered the territory of the barbarians at the head of a missionary band. It soon became evident that Paul's pious speculations were right. The Cumans, possibly in part because of their astonishment at the fearlessness and constancy of Christ's ambassadors, showed more willingness to listen to their sermons and instructions. This gave grace an opportunity to produce its effect. As a result, converts began to enter the Church.
The real work of conversions began with that of Duke Borics, together with a number of his family and adherents. Most likely Paul himself baptized these new Christians, or at least the duke. Nearly all the writers give him this credit. Borics lived for several years afterwards. It is said that his conversion was so sincere that, at the time of his death, his only regret was not to have known God all his life in order to love and serve
Him. Some of the missionaries attended the leader in his final sickness, gave him the last rites of the Church, and buried him in the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin, the first Catholic temple of prayer erected in the land.(9)
Borics' conversion was soon followed by another which, because of the number it involved, was perhaps of still greater importance. It was that of Membrok, one of the leaders among the Cuman princes. He brought into the Church, with himself, his entire family and about a thousand of his followers. Andrew II, king of Hungary and father of Saint Elizabeth, was one of the sponsors at Membrok's baptism. He also became a fervent Catholic. Missionaries were at his bedside in his last moments. When he saw the end approaching, he said: "I wish all the pagan Cumans would go out of the room; for I see hideous demons beside them. But let the missionaries and the Christian Cumans remain. Amidst them I see the martyrs who await to take me with them to the joys of heaven which they made known to me." With these words he died. Like Borics, he was buried in the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin.(10)
After the conversion of Borics and Membrok, together with their clienteles, the efforts of Paul and his confrères met with phenomenal success. Thousands of Cumans not only embraced Christianity, but also led beautiful Catholic lives. Their inhuman, wild nature was tamed to an almost incredible degree. Reports soon reached Rome of the progress of religion in that hitherto intractable nation; and of how hearts, which had been as though frozen, had now, under the warmth of grace, begun to blossom with the flowers of Christian virtue.
Gregory IX was delighted beyond expression. In his zeal to aid the good cause, and possibly at the request of the leader of the missionary band himself, the great Pontiff made Robert, archbishop of Gran, Hungary, his legate a latere among the Cumans. The papal brief, which is dated July 31, 1227, speaks of the conversion of some of their princes specially Borics, and congratulates the metropolitan on being chosen to labor with the Friars Preacher in a field that has already borne such a splendid harvest.(11)
Indeed, there are still extant several documents from the hand of Gregory which show his unfeigned pleasure caused by the labors of these missionaries. Father Paul, their leader, was a man who sought to avoid rather than to receive honors. He found his happiness, not in glory or dignity, but in bringing souls to know, love, and serve God. We doubt not in the least that he urged the papal legate to have a bishop appointed for the Cumans, and suggested the provincial of Hungary, Father Theoderic, for the place. At any rate, Rome left the choice to the metropolitan of Gran. On March 21, 1228, Gregory wrote to the archbishop: "We rejoice in the Lord that God has given your efforts the reward which you desired-namely, the conversion of no small number of the Cumans. We are also glad to know that, in accordance with the authority given you in the matter by the Holy See, you have placed over those parts as their bishop a man of great knowledge and virtue, Father Theoderic of the Order of Friars Preacher."(12)
On the same day, Gregory wrote to the Master General, Blessed Jordan, urging him to send the new prelate all the missionaries he might deem necessary to labor among the Cumans, and to select those whom a personal knowledge of his men might suggest as the best fitted for the work. None acquainted with Jordan's zeal and spirit of obedience need be told that he complied with this request at once, in case more spiritual workers were desired. Eighteen months later (September 13, 1229), that Theoderic might have a freer hand for his efforts, Gregory made his diocese immediately subject to the Holy See.(13)
Under the guidance of Theoderic and the impulse of Paul's zeal, religion continued to show splendid progress. Churches arose here and there. Sometimes convents were erected beside them. All these houses had a goodly quota of Friar-Preacher missionaries. Not a few miracles are said to have been performed by the harvesters of souls. No doubt Paul wrought his share. Through them and the saintly lives and tireless labors of the priests, the Cumans gradually gave up their paganism for Christianity. Numbers of them entered the Order, becoming good religious and enthusiastic workers.(14) Indeed, the prospects seemed bright for the spiritual conquest of the entire nation, when God, in His inscrutable wisdom, permitted this Church of promise to be all but totally destroyed.
Because of the Tartar invasion spoken of in the sketches of Saint Hyacinth and Blessed Ceslas, the year of our Lord 1241 dawned under the most threatening aspects for Paul and his missionaries. It is possible that, prior to this, Theoderic had died, and that Paul had been obliged to succeed him among the Cumans. At any rate, some writers say that he became a bishop.(15) However this may be, in the late winter or early spring of 1241, the Tartars, under the leadership of Batoo, swept into the country of the Cumans from the north. Worsted in battle, their king, whom Fleury calls "Cuthen," and who still remained a pagan, fled to Hungary. There he promised Bela IV that, if an asylum were given him and his followers, he would become a Christian as well as a subject of that pious Catholic sovereign.(16)
Cuthen received shelter, but he proved as false to his promises as he had shown himself deaf to the efforts of the missionaries. Furthermore, while his flight hastened the downfall of his own country, the actions of himself and those with him irritated the Hungarians against King Bela, who had given them protection. The kindly deed, it would seem, even whetted the wrath of the Tartars against Hungary. Both countries were pillaged and devastated throughout. Hungary in particular experienced hardships at the hands of the barbarous invaders. Cities were reduced to ashes; churches desecrated and destroyed; thousands upon thousands of the inhabitants put to death in every conceivable way. The only consideration shown the Catholics and their clergy was that of greater hatred, enmity, and cruelty.
Some ninety or a hundred Friars Preacher (apparently in Hungary and Cumania alone) won the crown of martyrdom in this fiendish carnage, several of whom were even burned alive. Among them was Paul of Hungary, the founder of the province of the same name, and its first provincial. All writers tell us that he died a martyr among the Cumans. A few place his death earlier than the date given here; but they overlooked the fact that the Tartars had not appeared in that part of the world before, or did not have reliable sources at band. Some, perhaps, were deceived by the fact that Father Bzowski, speaking of the martyr's entrance on his labors in Hungary, records his death in the Annals for 1222, although he says that it occurred in 1241.(17) Closer study of the matter has convinced later students that the great missionary friend and disciple of Saint Dominic purchased heaven with the price of his blood during the Tartar invasion noted above.
As was but natural, owing to the widespread and lengthy disturbances (they continued for more than two years), we have no record of the holy man's death. Neither its place nor its circumstances are known. However, we may rest assured that he met his fate bravely, and faced God with serene faith. For twenty years, a great part of which he was surrounded by dangers, had he toiled with all his zeal for the salvation of souls. Possibly the remembrance of this exerted no little influence in encouraging the Friars Preacher to return to their labors in Hungary and among the Cumans immediately that the Tartars left those countries.(18) Their work there, both before and after the catastrophe, is an exceedingly bright chapter of ecclesiastical history. Paul of Hungary, the martyr, with whom it began, and to whom it largely owed its impulse, is still held in veneration by the faithful there.
1. ANTONINUS, Saint, O. P., Historiarum Opus, Part III, fol. 186; BZOVIUS (Bzowski), XIII, col. 302, 498-499, 507; FERRARI, Sigismund, O. P., De Rebus Hungaricae Provinciae; FRACHET, de, Vitae Fratrum (Reichert ed.), pp. 305 ff; MALVENDA, pp. 332, 334 ff; MAMACHI, pp. 638,644 ff; MARCHESE, I, 205 ff; MORTIER, D. A., O. P., Histoire des Maîtres Généraux de L'Ordre des Frères Prêcheurs, I, 138, 163, 218, 294-295, 380; PIO, col. 60 ff ; QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 21.
2. This convent was to be for a community of Dominican Sisters which Blessed Diana d'Andalo proposed to establish. Owing to the objections of her father, the project had to be abandoned for a while. But it materialized a few years later. (Ed. note).
3. See note 1.
4. See note 1.
5. THEODERIC of Apolda, Vita Sancti Dominici -- in Acta Sanctorum, XXXV (first vol. for August), 612, No. 318; BZOVIUS, col. 302. Father Touron makes the curious mistake of taking "civitatem Lauriensem" (Lauriacum) for Lauria, which is in southern Italy, although the context shows that the latter city could not have been meant. However, it is the only error of this kind that we have detected, and some others have committed the same. Most likely Touron was led astray by these. (Ed. note).
6. DE FRACHET, op. cit., p. 305; MAMACHI, pp. 644 ff ; Année Dominicaine, II (February 17), 610-611.
7. ARNAUD D'ANDILLY, Vies des Saints, II, 656; FERRARI, op. cit.; Acta Sanctorum, III (third vol. for January), 512 ff. The Catholic Encyclopedia (IX, 654) has an article on Blessed Margaret, in which, evidently through a typographical error, Bela I is made her father. Shortly before her profession, her parents built a convent on an island of the Danube, near Budapest. And there she spent the rest of her short life, and died in 1270. (Ed. note).
8. Acta Sanctorum, XXXV, 613, Nos. 321 ff.
9. Ibid., No. 322.
10. Ibid., No. 323.
11. Bullarium Ordinis Praedicatorum, I, 22. We could not discover the surname of Robert (Robertus). Possibly he had none. (Ed. note).
12. Ibid., 1, 27, and 113.
13. Ibid., 1, 26, and VII, 8. We could not find Theoderic's name mentioned in Gams or elsewhere, except in Dominican authors, as bishop for the Cumans. However, the documents referred to leave no doubt about the matter. (Ed. note).
14. Acta Sanctorum, as in note 10; FERRARI, op. cit., Part I, Chap. II.
15. Father Touron and the Bullarium Ordinis Praedicatorum (1, 113) show that several writers maintain that Father Paul was made a bishop. They say his see was in Hungary, it is true; but, owing to the imperfect knowledge of geography at that time, it might easily have been in the territory of the Cumans. Gams (in his Series Episcoporum) makes no mention of him; but he might have failed to find any documents in his case, as in that of Theoderic. When or where Theoderic entered the Order, and his last name, we did not discover. Few Dominican authors say anything about Paul becoming a bishop. (Ed. note).
16 FLEURY, op. cit., XVII, 256 ff.
17. BZOVIUS, col, 302, 498-499, 507; GUIDONIS (Gui), Bernard, Chronicon Ordinis.
18. FERRARI, op.cit., as in note 14.