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An Analysis of the Character of King Szt. István

Balatonlelle-Rádpuszta, created by Bajcsy Lajos. Source: Köztérkép; used by permission of Aerdna

An Analysis of the Character of King Szt. István

Rev. Kozma Imre

As the 15th century scholar, Nicolaus Cusanus says, God joins together contradictions.  The figure of Szt. István also appears to us to be contradictory.  He was characterized simultaneously by devout piety and sovereign decrees that sometimes seem cruel.  At the same time, his most basic trait is faith.  Faith in God.  Legends tell us of his praying through the night, of his humiliations when disguised as a beggar.  According to these, he understood and interpreted the Gospel literally.  In himself, he did not regard the person of the king, but the man in need of redemption, who is not dispensed, not even by the service of the common good, from paying his debts to God.    

Szt. István valued the prayerful quiet of the monasteries, nevertheless he called his Church’s first bishops out of them, one after another.  

In that age, there arose a nostalgic yearning for seeing the Holy Land.  Szt. István valued that, he gladly welcomed and supported pilgrims.  He gave them food and provided them with escorts.  He built and maintained pilgrim houses in Jerusalem, Constantinople and Rome, but convinced Szt. Gellért (Gilbert), who was hastening to the Holy Land, that he had to walk in the footsteps of Jesus here, and would have to make this land a holy land.  This is a profound spirituality.  

He drew attention to the inner experience, being aware at the same time  of his royal condition above his inner faith experience.  According to the understanding of the time, the king was the representative of God, and therefore had to think of the common good above all else.  Therefore rulers exercised almost boundless power over their subjects.  This is why Szt. István brought strict draconian laws against the thievery that demoralized peaceful work. 

The legends depict our saintly king as a merciful samaritan, as he washes the wounds of the sick and the fallen, and kisses the hands of the beggars.  If one’s vocation is to stand over people and direct human destinies, one must give witness to mercy, to respect for people, love for  people.  Szt. István’s Christianity was perfected in this.  

At the same time, the king could not avoid the tragic consummation of his human destiny.  After the death of Szt. Imre, his soul was overwhelmed with fatherly and royal grief.  His childlike spirituality unfolds from this dark background. He entrusted his crown and his country to the Virgin Mary, thus crowning his life’s work. 

Rev. Kozma Imre was born at Győrzámoly in 1940, and was ordained in 1963.  He served near Esztergom, then was transferred to Budapest, where he served in several parishes. In 1989, at the suggestion of Baroness Csilla von Boeselager, he established the Hungarian Knights of Malta’s Charitable Service (Magyar Máltai Szeretetszolgálat), and was admitted to the Order.  In 1997, he entered the Betegápoló Irgalmas Rend (an Order caring for the sick).   

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