Hungarian Conservative

The Admonitions of King St Stephen of Hungary: Ageless Guidance for Believers, Statesmen and Descendants

Szilárd Koszticsák/MTI
King Saint Stephen's ‘Admonitions’, with more than half of its chapters addressing Christian faith and the church, transcends legal and religious realms, potentially safeguarding familial unity for generations.

The admonitions of King Saint Stephen to his son, Prince Emeric, constitute the opening piece within the legal compilation titled Corpus Juris Hungarici. This letter, authored by St Stephen in 1027, stands as the pinnacle literary masterpiece of Hungary’s legal heritage. Written in Latin, it takes the form of ‘Admonitiones‘ (Admonitions), directly addressed to St Stephen’s designated heir to the throne, Prince Emeric.

According to experts, the Admonitions represent a cornerstone in the realm of Hungarian theoretical political thinking. Saint Stephen’s direct involvement in its composition is evident, and it is plausible that the text predominantly or even entirely originates from his hand. Be that as it may, the Admonitions unmistakably convey his viewpoints.

Comprising ten succinct chapters replete with resolute religious content and references, the writing profoundly underscores the role of religion. This significance is vividly apparent, as over half of the ten chapters delve into matters intertwined with the Christian faith and the church.

These admonitions, however, transcend the confines of public law and the Church. With a measure of abstraction, our insightful and sensitive readers might discern within them profound parental guidance, the preservation of which could ensure the enduring unity of familial bonds across generations.

Presented below are select excerpts from the admonitions of King St Stephen of Hungary:

King Saint Stephen’s Admonitions To His Son Prince Emeric:

‘Since I perceive that all things, founded at the nod of God and disposed by his most manifest preordination, both in the spaciousness of the sky and in those most spacious climes of earth, do subsist and thrive wholly in accordance with the rationality of intelligence; and since I am sufficiently aware that all things granted by the grace of God for the use and dignity of this life – to wit: kingdoms, consulates, dukedoms, counties, pontificates and all other authorities, are ruled, defended, divided and joined together, partly by divine precepts and regulations, partly by legal, partly by juridical, partly by civil, and by the counsels and advices also of nobles and of those advanced in age; and since I know for a certainty that all classes of the world, everywhere, of whatever authority they be, do instruct, counsel and advise not only their retainers, their friends and their servants but also their sons; therefore, most amiable son, companion in this life, it irks me not to prepare for you lessons, precepts, counsels and advices whereby you may embellish the character of your own life and of that of your subjects, in such time as, most high God willing, you shall reign after me.’

I. On the Importance of Your Catholic Faith

‘My dearest son, if you desire to honour the royal crown, I advise, I counsel, I urge you above all things to maintain the Catholic and Apostolic faith with such diligence and care that you may be an example for all those placed under you by God and that all the clergy may rightly call you a man of true Christian profession. Failing to do this, you may be sure that you will not be called a Christian or a son of the Church.

Indeed, in the royal palace, after the faith itself, the Church holds second place, first constituted and spread through the whole world by His members, the apostles, and holy fathers, And though she always produced fresh offspring, nevertheless in certain places she is regarded as ancient. However, dearest son, even now in our kingdom the Church is proclaimed as young and newly planted; and for that reason, she needs more prudent and trustworthy guardians less a benefit which the divine mercy bestowed on us undeservedly should be destroyed and annihilated through your idleness, indolence or neglect.

My beloved son, the delight of my heart, the hope of your posterity, I pray, I command, that at the very time and in everything, strengthened by your devotion to me, you may show favour not only to relations and kin, or to the most eminent, be they leaders or rich men or neighbours or fellow-countrymen, but also to foreigners and to all who come to you. By fulfilling your duty in this way, you will reach the highest state of happiness. Be merciful to all who are suffering violence, keeping always in your heart the example of the Lord who said: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’.

II. On treasuring the Ecclesiastical Order

‘Those who want to weaken or mar the sanctity of the Holy Church labour to dismember the body of Christ…So it is incumbent upon you, my son, to vigilantly protect the sacred Church, nurturing it ceaselessly, so it grows and not shrinks. That is why history dubs the early kings great for they had expanded the Church. Strive for the same, so your crown may be more renowned, your life happier and longer.’

III. On Honouring the High Priests

‘Designate them as your principal companions, tend to the high priests as diligently as you would nurture your own vision. If their benevolence grace you, you don’t have to fear enemies.’

IV. On the Nobility

‘They (the various nobles) are the champions of the kingdom, the defenders of the weak, the conquerors of enemies, the enlargers of monarchies. They, my son, are your fathers and brothers. Of these, truly, you should reduce none to servitude, nor call any slave; they should serve you as soldiers not as slaves, rule all of them without anger and pride and envy, peacefully, with humility, gently, holding ever in your memory that all men are of one condition; and that naught elevates, save humility; and nothing casts down, save pride and envy.

If you are peaceable then you will be called a king and a king’s son, and you will be loved by all the knights. If you are choleric, proud, envious, and disinclined to peace, and if you stick up your neck above counts and princes, without doubt, the strength of the military will be the weakness of the regal authorities, and they will betray your kingdom to the aliens.

Fearful of this, direct the life of your companions with the rule of virtue, that captured by your love, they may inoffensively adhere to the kingly authority, and that your realm may be wholly at peace. Than these doctrines no noble could ask more liberal, no king more efficacious.’

V. On Justice

‘Hearken to this, my son; if you wish to possess the honour of kingship, love justice: if you wish to be master over your own soul, be patient. Whenever, my very dear son, a cause deserving condemnation comes before you, or some one accused on a capital charge, be unwilling to deal with it impatiently or to resolve with an oath to punish him – which course of action must be weak and unstable, inasmuch as foolish vows ought to be broken – or to decide the question yourself, lest your regal dignity be dishonoured by the usurpation of inferior business, but rather send the business of this sort to the judges, to whom it has been committed because they decide the case according to its own law.

Fear to be judged, but rejoice to be and to be called king. Patient kings rule, but impatient ones tyrannize. When, however, something comes before you which it befits your dignity to judge, with patience and mercy or pity judge it, that your crown may be laudable and seemly.’

VI. Concerning the Reception of Foreigners and the Support of Strangers

‘In strangers and men from abroad, there is such great utility that it can be held worthy of the sixth place in regal dignity. Why did the Roman Empire first grow, and why were the Roman kings exalted and glorious, except because many noble and wise men congregated there from diverse regions? Rome, in truth, would be a hand-maiden to this day, if Eneades had not made her free.

For as strangers come from diverse regions of the provinces, they bring with them diverse languages and usages, and diverse learning and arms, all of which not only adorn the royal palace and render magnificent the court, but also abash the arrogance of aliens. For a kingdom of one tongue, or of one custom, is weak and fragile.

Wherefore I bid you, my son, support those persons with a good will, and treat them fairly, that they may prefer to continue with you rather than to live elsewhere. For if you destroy what I have built up or strive to disperse what I have gathered together, without doubt, your kingdom will suffer the greatest damage. Lest that be, augment your kingdom daily, that your crown may be held august by all.’

VII. On the Role of the Council

‘Because of this my son, shun seeking counsel from the inexperienced and the less wise; their advice should not be sought. Turn only to the elder members of the council, for their years and sagacity have prepared them for this duty. For the counsel that guides a sovereign’s path should be confined to one from the hearts of the wise, not extend to the caprices of fools. When you walk in the company of the wise, wisdom shall be your ally; when you consort with fools, their folly shall become your own…

Hence, let each person engage in endeavours befitting their age—let the youth focus on arms, while the elders convene in council. Let it be known, the young need not be entirely excluded from the council. However, whenever their insights are sought, even if deemed vital, always present them before the elders. Thus, all your actions may be gauged by the yardstick of wisdom.’

VIII. On Filial Loyalty

‘Ancestors ought to be imitated, and sons ought to obey their parents. My customs, which you see to befit the kingly dignity, follow them without the fetter of any uncertainty. For it is a hard thing for you to maintain a kingdom of this geographical position, except you show yourself an imitator of the usage of kings who have reigned before. What Greek would rule Latins with Greek customs? Or what Latin would rule Greeks with Latin customs? None. On this account, follow my usages that you may he held eminent by your own people and praiseworthy among foreigners.

Be patient with everyone, not only with the powerful but also with the weak. Finally, be strong lest prosperity lift you up too much or adversity cast you down. Be humble in this life so that God may raise you up in the next. Be truly moderate and do not punish or condemn anyone immoderately. Be gentle so that you may never oppose justice. Be honourable so that you never voluntarily bring disgrace upon anyone. Be chaste so that you may avoid all the foulness that so resembles the pangs of death.’

IX. On Praying

‘Pray so that it expels idleness and sloth from you, and confers upon you the combined aid of all virtues in their entirety, enabling you to vanquish all enemies, both apparent and hidden.’

X. On Mercy and Other Virtues

‘All these virtues I have noted above make up the royal crown and without them, no one is fit to rule here on earth or attain to the heavenly Kingdom.’

This article is partly based on the translation by Frank Weathers published on Patheos.

King Saint Stephen's ‘Admonitions’, with more than half of its chapters addressing Christian faith and the church, transcends legal and religious realms, potentially safeguarding familial unity for generations.