Remus Câmpeanu and Daniel Dumitran

history of education, history of books and libraries, school textbooks.


In the context of contemporary debates on the formative role of religion, a volume devoted to the history of religious education and its cultural dimensions in Romanian and neighbouring European space today represents a favourable opportunity to evaluate the themes preferred in Romanian historiography, in comparison with those addressed in Europe and beyond. If we turn to The Routledge Companion to the Study of Religion as a reference work, we find interdisciplinary approaches to the study of religions and a number of key themes in play, at least some of which could be relevant for more systematic approaches from a Romanian perspective. These include the interconnection between religion and culture, the distinction between the spheres of theology (academic and extra-academic) and religious studies, the problem of secularisation, the constitution and functions of ritual, and the re-evaluation of the authority of Scripture and tradition.[1] Another interesting work as a suggestion for an approach is Casalini and colleagues’ encounter between educational traditions in non-European territories and European educational models, based around a systematic analysis of the transition from traditional to modern education.[2]  Of course, the possible references are not limited to these, but they have been chosen because they are related to the theme and objectives of this volume.

Inspired by a special moment of remembrance, namely the 400th anniversary of the establishment of the Academic College of Alba Iulia by the Transylvanian prince Gabriel Bethlen in 1622, this volume aims to investigate the history of education from the perspective of religious and cultural models of knowledge. It was not the only such endeavour this year. The seventh Church History Conference, organised in Aiud by the Protestant Theological Institute of Cluj-Napoca under the title Az iskolák fölöttébb szükséges voltáról (On the Imperative Need for Schools) on 19-20 May 2022, provided an opportunity for debate along the established lines of the history of Reformed education in Transylvania and Hungary: the history of schools and school life, the formative paths of teachers, the phenomenon of peregrinatio academica, the history of school libraries, patrimonial aspects, and so on.[3] These themes are also characteristic of the articles included in this volume.

The three studies collected in the first part of the volume are, happily, complementary and provide a comprehensive and detailed overview of education in the eastern part of the Habsburg Empire in the pre-modern and modern eras, as well as how it related and connected to the strategies of the central power in the field of education. Following the political-administrative and territorial criteria which take priority in the hierarchy of education-related state projects, one of the studies covers the entire area under the tutelage of the Viennese court, the second outlines the situation of schools in a single county, while the third is an excellent case study focusing in fine detail on a lesser-known period in the history of a reputed Transylvanian college. Taken together, the three investigations, while not exceeding the commonly accepted dimensions of a study, provide both horizontal and vertical landmarks of school dynamics, highlighting that despite the abundant historiographical access to the subject there is still much to offer. Taken together, the three analyses offer both coverage and depth. Their authors start from the ideas put forward, the debates held, and the projects outlined by the specialists of the time; pass through the filter of political interests and decisions; and finally attempt to determine whether or not the theoretical ideas became a reality in the field and quantify the outcomes of the updated plans that were put into practice.

The study covering the educational area of the entire empire is an important contribution to the field. Written by János Ugrai, it traces the broad process of educational modernisation in the last decades of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth, specifically focusing on the transformational concept of operating grammar schools with teachers specialised in the subjects they teach. This model for grammar schools had already existed for a long time in Protestant education and its effectiveness had been proven by its orientation towards a more practical educational spirit, a stronger scientific imprint and more consistent fulfilment of the professional training needs of a society that was progressing towards more urbanised development – particularly appreciated by the bourgeoisie and townspeople in general.

Catholic education, which was dominant in the empire and attached to the old Jesuit curriculum Ratio Studiorum – improved somewhat by the Piarist Gratian Marx, but insufficient to meet reformist demands – proved largely hostile to such a model. As a result, with the exception of a few pilot grammar schools, education in the state’s secondary schools remained entrenched in the same system until the mid-nineteenth century. Although only sporadically applied, the principle of running six instead of five secondary classes, with teachers specialising in subjects of study rather than classes, provoked much debate both in the Teresian and Josephine eras and later in the Restoration years.

The author limits himself to presenting the debates on the issue only up to the moment of their materialisation. Thus, we are essentially dealing with the history of an idea – a project, one might say – and all its various manifestations over the course of nearly a century. But in addition to narrative of the implementation in secondary schools of specialist teachers, the analysis examines the optimal parameters in the environment of the Viennese Court. It outlines the reformist strategies of the specialists mobilised there; the reaction of the Catholic Church and its clergy to the intention to apply a Western model (which were more varied than is commonly known); the qualities of the German model of education and its temptations; the discussion of technical and scientific subjects; the impact on education of the dissolution and later re-establishment of the Jesuit order; the insistence on promoting a more practical educational framework; the force of nostalgia and tradition in relation to innovative proposals, and many other issues that go beyond the actual subject of training, professionalisation and material support for the teaching staff.

Although the study focuses on grammar middle schools, the topic is more fully elucidated through reference to the reform of universities (with emphasis on the Viennese system), where the process of change was much more dynamic than the reform of middle schools up until the mid-nineteenth century. Naturally, the narrative is dominated by the discussions in the Higher Commission of Studies, which functioned at the Court and incorporated highly regarded specialists in the field and senior imperial officials. Some of the individuals included in the narrative – such as Marx, Pergen, Kollár, von Hess, Birkenstock and Lang – are familiar names whose work is generally well-known. However, the research does not lose its consistency, because it uncovers a treasure trove of information related to the development of grammar schools, a dynamic that is extended to the scale of the whole empire and followed for no less than a century. Naturally, more has been written on this subject, but János Ugrai’s compact study reveals that much remains to be said.

The second article in this part of the volume, by Vavrinec Žeňuch, falls under the category of regional studies of the history of education, and concerns the schools of Ung County during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The multi-ethnic and multi-confessional character of this area is similar to that of Transylvania, which it borders. Its findings are therefore familiar to anyone familiar with the history of education in Transylvania. Indeed, the stages the county went through (the establishment of Habsburg tutelage, the devastating consequences of the nobiliary rebellions, religious Union with the Church of Rome, reformist strategies, tensions between nostalgists and innovators, tensions between the local administration and the central power, etc.) are comparable to those in Transylvania, despite the different nuances related to the ethnic composition and socio-denominational structure of the region. The study presents highly technical research based primarily on statistical information.

The configuration of the county’s school network – reconstructed with the help of data extracted from conscripts, schematisms, school yearbooks, documents relating to canonical visitations, and other administrative or ecclesiastical reports – is traced over four chronological segments covering a substantial period between the beginning of the eighteenth century and the year 1916. Schools are classified according to denomination, most of them operating initially in the Reformed and Greek-Catholic parishes, with qualitative additions relating to the work of Reformed education. Following the depopulation caused by the anti-Habsburg movements, demographic recovery was slow and this had a parallel influence on the fragile education network. The Jesuits failed to accelerate the educational process, although some results, rather quantitative, were achieved as a result of Catholicisation pressures.

The study presents a rich repository of data useful primarily to the regional history of education, carefully organised according to ethnic and confessional criteria. The difficult evolution of education’s formative machinery in the region shares many points in common with Transylvania, which makes it of interest to those specialising the latter sphere. Parallels can also be drawn with the effects of Teresian and Josephinian reformism in the educational environment. The author does not delve deeply into the pool of historical motivations, limiting himself to descriptive means and concentrating on capturing primarily the changing contours of the school network. The main finding is that the situation only began to improve visibly from the second half of the nineteenth century, peaking in 1916, but even this was limited progress that still carried a confessional charge that would only be completely eliminated after the First World War.

Finally, the third article in this part of the volume is a case study concerning the history of local education. This useful investigation by Botond Kund Gudor deals with a period under-explored by historians of education, namely 1672 to 1716, when the highly regarded Reformed College of Sárospatak had to take refuge in Alba Iulia due to the vicissitudes of the time. The analysis offers a dynamic narrative and provides a wealth of information to the historiographical field.

The reasons for the migration of the valuable teaching staff of Sárospatak and the students who gravitated around it to Transylvania are explained in detail. The author draws on older research by Hungarian historians of education but accentuates it with a range of interesting archival materials and original discursive analysis. The Reformed teaching staff only spent 44 years in Alba Iulia, but the period saw many events occur, mostly tragic.

The study’s value lies in its breadth. It is presented on several levels. First of all, it focuses on the circumstances that led the academics to take refuge, the route they took, the institutional character they preserved and transferred, the organisational problems the school encountered, and the issues related to settling in buildings that had been vacated a decade and a half earlier by the teachers of the former school in the fortress, who had fled to Aiud following the Tartar incursion. The administrative plan contains information about the property acquired by Sárospatak College in Alba Iulia, the use of resources, negotiations with the community leaders and the army, material losses caused by Catholic pressure and abuses of the military structure, and more.

The article highlights periods of tranquillity and upheaval, the formative institution’s relationship with the community, and the effects of competition with the Reformed College of Aiud. On the winding path of rare gains and numerous losses, the role of the Jesuits is clearly outlined.

The analysis also reviews the scientific and teaching activity of the school, underlining the changes suffered by the teaching staff, the school’s value, the quality of its libraries, the results of the research and teaching work carried out by staff, the works they wrote, and the efficiency of the school’s activities. These factors are quantified according to the frequent and long interruptions of courses, communications with the Reformed Consistory and, last but not least, how the school responded in the face of aggressive strategies and accusations from official forums, particularly military ones.

After a long string of dramatic losses and restrictions, the city authorities, under the pretext of rebuilding the fortification, forced the Reformed teachers and students to leave the fortress, either to head back to Sárospatak or choose to align with the more modest schools of Orăștie and Târgu-Mureș. Soon, however, the school’s presence in Târgu-Mureș led to the emergence of a new Reformed College which quickly gained a strong reputation.

The third component of the analysis concerns doctrinal issues and the disputes surrounding them, the diverse opinions expressed in this area reflecting, on the one hand, the strength of tradition and, on the other, the desire for renewal of theological concepts and principles. Not only the clergy, but also the leaders of the lay community, especially the Reformed nobility, school patrons and church curates, were involved in this spiritual effervescence. Exchanges of ideas were stimulated by constant communication with educational institutions abroad, especially those in Germany and the Netherlands, whose influence was not only manifested in scholarships.

Despite some dramatic decades spent in Alba Iulia and the fierce competition with the educational institution in Aiud, Sárospatak College maintained its former status. As the author points out, while in Alba Iulia, the school provided most of the rectors of Făgăraș school parish after its establishment, as well as supplying teachers and other educational structures of this kind. This is also proof that the student registers, brought from Hungary and still used in Alba Iulia, were not only symbolic, but reflect an admirable pedagogical and scientific approach from which, despite the vicissitudes of the times, the school did not shirk, feeding somewhat on the strength of tradition.

As far as the functioning of the Sárospatak Reformed College in its 44 years of activity in Alba Iulia is concerned, Gudor’s research approaches the limits of exhaustiveness. We do not believe that there are many more relevant issues to be added about the didactic and scientific activity of the small Reformed academic community that was accepted in the city for less than half a century. The study uncovers all the significant landmarks that mark the path of the educational institution, from systematic issues such as pedagogy, curriculum, timetable, subjects, prestige, attendance, personalities and research, to sources of support, influence, area of coverage, involvement of the laity, administration, relations with the Consistory, connections with other internal or external schools and, last but not least, how it integrated with a community that was not entirely friendly from a confessional point of view.

The three studies briefly presented here are, as mentioned above, complementary. This is why we have chosen to order them according to spatial dimensions, that is, from the general (on the scale of the whole empire), to the regional (at the level of a county) to the local (the city of Alba Iulia). A chronological demarcation would be unhelpful, since they all fall within what could be defined as the pre-modern to modern period and have the eighteenth century as a common interval, which they anticipate or go beyond.

The second part of the volume, also comprising three articles, attempt to revise the interpretations formulated in the previous bibliography and to re-read some sources according to the themes highlighted at the beginning of this introduction, with reference to the re-evaluation of sources and the cultural dimension of religious education.

Ana Dumitran’s study takes up again the problem of the translation of the first texts of the Scriptures and other religious texts into Romanian, a debate long monopolised in Romanian academia by linguists, to which she brings a new approach through reflective and synthesising perspective of the historian. The first problem discussed is the hypothesis that the first religious texts were translated into Romanian in the mid-sixteenth century, in southwestern Transylvania (Banat and Hunedoara), under the influence of the ideas of Protestant Reformation. The author problematises the philologists’ assertion that the sources of these translations were Slavonic, and not the sacred Latin, Greek and Hebrew versions to which all Protestants turned. She then draws attention to a second problematic interpretation: that of the Eastern Church’s prohibition of the translation of religious books, which was unjustifiably absolutised because it concerned only books of worship. In fact, contacts with neighbouring territories (Poland and Bohemia – the latter being linked to the hypothesis of Hussite influences on some texts) may have provided models for translations made long before the Protestant Reformation. The article then goes on to examine the relationship between the initiatives to translate the holy books and the context of the disputes generated by the influence of ecclesiastical union decided at the Ecumenical Council of Ferrara-Florence.

In conclusion, the author proposes several possible ways to understand the emergence of religious literature in Romanian, through the cumulative contributions of each part of the territory inhabited by Romanians at the time. The southwest, west and northwest (Banat of Severin, Crișana and northwest Transylvania) were marked by early confrontations between Catholicism and Orthodoxy. In the north (Maramureș), coexistence with Ruthenians and influences from Polish and Bohemian areas played an important role. In the east (Moldavia), confrontations between the followers of the Florentine union and their opponents led, in the case of the latter, to a programmatic appeal to Slavonic sources, especially those from Mount Athos, copied in the scriptories of the monasteries there. And in southern and southwestern Transylvania (Hunedoara and Lugoj-Caransebeș), the initiative was taken by the Romanian Reformed Episcopatein in the second half of the sixteenth century and by the Orthodox Metropolitanate of Alba Iulia in the following century. Evidence for this is provided by the earliest text of the Psalter translation, preserved in the codex Psaltirea Hurmuzaki, for which the author assumes earlier versions exist that were made in Maramureș, northwestern and southwestern Transylvania, and in Moldavia – that is, in the areas most concerned by the religious disputes and competing cultural models of the late Middle Ages. While remaining open to future confirmation, the proposed reinterpretation illustrates the usefulness of the exercise in re-evaluating sources, which can provide unsuspected insights into the genealogy of texts or ideas.

The other two studies have a convergent objective: investigating the modernisation of Greek-Catholic theological education in Transylvania, starting from the relationship between the subjects taught at the Episcopal High School in Blaj in the first decades of the nineteenth century and the bibliographical resources used. The research was motivated by the extremely poor knowledge of the stage of education and handbooks in Latin, which made the transition from the textbook-like works of the Enlightenment period, representing translations or adaptations of foreign models, to the Romantic period, when the first proper textbooks were published in Romanian. The analysis poses a series of interrelated questions. What were the models used in this period and to what extent did they also imply a change of cultural orientation? Was there the possibility of going beyond the traditional sphere of theological disciplines in favour of new disciplines? What were the cultural meanings of the production of new versions in Romanian, based on the original sources, of essential vetero-testamentary books (such as those of the prophets, the Parables of Solomon, or the Psalms)?

Daniel Dumitran’s study makes use of the most extensive catalogue of the book collection belonging to the Basilian monastery of the Holy Trinity in Blaj, prior to its inclusion in the library of the diocesan seminary (after 1851). Structured in 14 thematic sections, it shows both the weight of traditional theological literature (Bible versions and commentaries, homiletics, liturgical, patristic, and controversial literature) and the place gradually taken by other genres (lexicons and grammatical works, secular and ecclesiastical history, works on secular and ecclesiastical law, or mathematics, physics and philosophy). The author also notes the existence of a number of books in Slavonic and a few manuscripts, many in a dire state of preservation, in which the author of the catalogue did not show particular interest, as he seemingly neglected their heritage value. In essence, the analysis of the catalogue shows a decided cultural orientation in favour of the Western culture, mainly Latin, with a practical educational role in the direction of a modern theological education, although there is no lack of valuable editions and works published mainly in Greek and, of course, a substantial collection of Romanian books. Books printed in modern languages were fewer in number, and their topographical rather than thematic inventory reflects the lower importance accorded to them in the educational process. A future study aiming to identify the books which still exist in the collections of the Cluj branch of the Romanian Academy Library would make it possible to qualify the conclusions regarding the destruction of the greater part of this library during the Revolution of 1848-49.

Carmen Chira’s article deals with a case study of a Romanian manuscript presenting a history of the Gospels written by Professor Teodor Pop, one of the most erudite and prolific representatives of the teaching community in the first decades of the nineteenth century. In addition to a succinct and accessible presentation of the content of the Gospels, the manuscript also contains instructions on questions asked by priests to confessing believers related to the Ten Commandments (the Decalogue), the Church’s commandments, capital sins and questions concerning various social and professional categories of believers. In order to verify the hypothesis that this course, with its practical emphasis, was intended for “moralist” theologians (those taking a short theological course), the author makes a comparison with the works of Samuil Micu, Theologhiia moralicească (Moral Theology, 1796) and Theologhie dogmatică și moralicească despre Taina Pocăianiei (Dogmatic and Moral Theology about the Mystery of Penance, 1801), and also with a possible foreign model, Historia utriusque Testamenti, a multi-volume work published in Rome in 1774 and mentioned in the catalogue of the library of the Monastery of the Holy Trinity. The analytical findings are important for understanding how the relationship between translation and adaptation functioned in the case of some subjects of the middle school education process.

The studies included in the second part of the volume have in common the attempt to re-examine some historiographical views and explore new sources, with reference to periods of important changes in cultural orientation with significant implications for educational models. They thus constitute a welcome addition to the studies in the first part, which focus primarily on the history of education itself. The issues raised at the beginning of this presentation remain, of course, open and may be the subject of future debates.


[1] John R. Hinnells, ed., The Routledge Companion to the Study of Religion, second edition (London and New York: Routledge, 2009), the editor’s introduction (“Why Study Religions?”) and the chapters of David F. Ford (“Theology”), Judith Fox (“Secularization”), Robert A. Segal (“Myth and Ritual”) and Paul Gifford (“Religious Authority: Scripture, Tradition, Charisma”).

[2] Cristiano Casalini, Edward Choi, and Ayenachew A. Woldegiyorgis, eds., Education Beyond Europe: Models and Traditions Before Modernities (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2021), with the contribution of Edit Szegedi: “Educational Traditions in the Principality of Transylvania (1541-1691”, 282-298.

[3] “2022. Május 18. ‘Az iskolák felettébb szükséges voltáról.’ – VII. Egyháztörténeti konferencia” [May 18, 2022. "On the imperative need for schools" – The 7th Church History Conference], accessed of December 10, 2022,