Today the church remembers a saint with an interesting, if sordid, legacy: Saint Stephen of Hungary, King and Confessor.
Saint Stephen was born into royalty in the second half of the 900’s, and was baptized with his father when he was just five years old. He ascended to his father’s title of Duke and, having brought the people of Hungary together and brought order to the area, he was given a crown by Pope Sylvester II and was crowned the first king of Hungary on Christmas Day, 1001 A.D.
This crown given to him proved a bit controversial. It disappeared in the 1200’s and a replacement crown, with a skewed cross, was manufactured and made its way to the United States at the end of World War II in 1945. In 1978 the crown was returned to Hungary after Communism in the country collapsed.
Ok, back to Saint Stephen…
So, Saint Stephen was at a crossroads as a king. Would he follow the Eastern Church whose prestige was waning and in-fighting causing it to be quarrelsome? Or would he go with Rome and methodically create a theo-imperial system of rule?
Having one foot in both camps, he eventually went with Rome and adopted the Western church as the rite of Hungary’s Christian expression. He was aggressive in his conversion tactics, however, and that aggression was met with aggression by the pagan inhabitants of his kingdom who really didn’t like to be forced to do, or believe, anything.
In the end Saint Stephen’s efforts would be hampered by his own family, as the infighting of his relatives over who would succeed him put a stain on his legacy, and the Hungarian expression of the church. His son Emeric, being cultivated for the crown, died in a hunting accident in 1031, and Saint Stephen himself fell into ill health in his last years.
All the same Saint Stephen is honored in Hungary as the first king and is remembered fondly in Hungary to this day.
Saint Stephen is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that crowns are heavy. Sometimes you just have to do your best and let history decide.
-historical notes from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations