On this episode, we have our third and final visit to the unlikely places where the Reformation took hold. Our third destination is Braşov, Transylvania, or Romania. In German, Braşov is known as Kronstadt, so you could call it Braşov, Romania, or Kronstadt, Transylvania, or any combination thereof.
The story of the Reformation here has Johannes Honterus playing the lead role. Honterus is also sometimes simply known as Honter. He was born in 1498 and he died in 1549. He left behind a book with a very straight-forward title, The Reformation Booklet for Kronstadt. It was about the Reformation, as the title says. It was a booklet, as the title says, and the audience of this booklet was the people of Kronstadt, as the title says.
Well, who was Johannes Honter? He was famous enough in Romania that in 2007 he appeared on a postage stamp. He first studied at Vienna and then he had to go to Regensburg. It had something to do with an invasion of that city and then he ended up at Basel. Basel was a famous Reformation city. This was the home of none other than Johannes Oecolampadius, one of the most brilliant Old Testament scholars probably of the entire Reformation. Luther said that he owed everything he knew about understanding the Old Testament to Oecolampadius.
Basel was also a great printing center. This is where Erasmus published his Greek text with the Greek on one side and the Latin on the other side because the printers at Basel were among the best in the business. In addition to being a churchman and scholar, our friend Johannes Honterus was also a cartographer. For the few years that he was in Basel, he not only learned theology and biblical studies, but he also applied his skills as a cartographer. He published a few celestial maps including what has come to be a very famous map— the first map of Transylvania.
In 1533, he went home to Braşov and there he set about bringing the Reformation. The first thing he did was set up a printing press. He had learned much while he was in Basel and so he set up a printing press that would roll these books off of the press and promote the Reformation. He also established a school that is functioning to this day. In fact, it is one of the landmarks of this city of Braşov in Romania.
He was also entrepreneurial. He helped establish a paper mill that not only supplied paper for the press there at Braşov but supplied paper to other printing presses that were popping up all along Eastern Europe. In addition to publishing these Reformation books and hymnals, he also helped publish Bibles, and he published what may very well have been the first geography textbook. He called it Rudimenta Cosmographica. He actually wrote it in rhyme so that he could help students remember their geography. It consisted of thirteen maps which altogether represented the known world at the time.
Honterus was not alone in his Reformation efforts. One person in particular who joined him was Valentin Wagner. Wagner had studied at Wittenberg, especially under Melanchthon. He was a total scholar in Greek, and he actually wrote books in Greek. Sadly, Wagner never fully embraced the doctrines of the Reformation. He didn’t quite articulate justification by faith alone. He believed that it was faith and a virtuous life that would get us to heaven.
Honterus didn’t agree with that. He believed in that wonderful Reformation principle of justification by faith alone, and he brought that to the people of Braşov, Transylvania, and he did it in the sixteenth century.