From Tradition to Modernization. Church and the Transylvanian Romanian Family in the Modern Era

By Bolovan, Ioan; Bolovan, Sorina Paula | Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

From Tradition to Modernization. Church and the Transylvanian Romanian Family in the Modern Era


Bolovan, Ioan, Bolovan, Sorina Paula, Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies


The Christian Church was intimately involved in the life of an individual within a family. Between state and church there was a mutual cooperation, the church having the right to exercise its moral jurisdiction, while the state controlled the civil and military aspects of family life, as well as children's and wives' inheritance and welfare. With the institution of an absolutist government in Transylvania in the 18th-19th centuries, the relation between state and church changed, as the secular power began to claim rights over the church and to subordinate it, limiting the coercive power of the church as a moral instrument. As the processes of secularisation and modernization gained ground, the church gradually lost its prerogatives to state institutions, a process reaching completion with the series of laws passed between 1894 and 1895 by the Hungarian state, whereby all registry documents concerning marital status, matrimony, and divorce came under state jurisdiction.

Key Words: 19th century, Church, family, legislation, Transylvania, Romanians, secularization, modernizat

The family, as a fundamental institution of human society, with multiple functions, is historically determined, representing a product of the social system, developing and evolving in accordance with the changes in society. Sociologists, in particular, but also anthropologists and historians have noted the deep-seated changes undergone by the family institution along the 20th and 21st centuries. The crisis undergone by the family institution in contemporary Romanian society clearly originates in the process of modernization which began in the latter half of the 19th century. In part at least, the problems parents, couples and children confront today are not uniquely the result of the demise of the totalitarian regime in 1989, but also the logical consequence of a phenomenon that started in the latter part of the 19th century. Primarily, the issue is the process of secularisation, which becomes increasingly distinct in the 20th century, and which has played a major part in the reconfiguration of family values-hence its relevance to the topic under discussion. Increasingly, the contemporary family unit confronts specific problems, such as poverty (typically associated with unemployment), marital infidelity (more often than not leading up to divorce), the liberalization of attitudes regarding relationships within the couple etc.1 An insight into the beginnings of the process of family restructuring and into the plummeting of the fertility rate has become absolutely imperative. Thus, the solutions needed today will come in sharper focus when considered from a historical perspective.

The dissolution of feudal structures in Transylvania after 1850 marked not only the emergence of different legal and socio-economic relations, based on a market economy, capital flow and workforce mobility, but also the appearance of different matrimonial relationships as well as of new moral relationships within the community. The increase in population mobility (i.e., the growing number of individuals travelling in and out of the province, immigration, the start of the processes of urbanization and industrialization) had a considerable impact on human relationships in terms of marital criteria and choices, the family life cycle, and church authority in private matters.2 As we have stated earlier, beginning with the first centuries of the Middle Ages, the Christian Church was intimately involved in all of the three principal moments of the life of an individual within a family: birth, marriage, and death. Gradually the church increased its social role, trying to control and to extend its authority over the moral evolution and matrimonial behaviour of the members of a community. In this way, between state and church there was a mutual cooperation, the church having the right to exercise its moral jurisdiction, while the state controlled the civil and military aspects of family life, as well as the children's and wives' inheritance and welfare. …

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