Terray, Laszlo G. He Could Not Do Otherwise: Bishop Lajos Ordass 1901-1978. Translated from the German by Eric W. Gritsch. Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans, 1997. 156 pp. Original German edition: In Koniglicher Freiheit: Bischof Lajos Ordass 1901-1978 (Erlangen: Martin Luther Verlag, 1990). Reviewed by Anne-Marie Kool.
With the English translation of a 1990 German language biography of Hungarian Bishop Lajos Ordass (1901-1978), Laszlo G. Terray reveals the little-known story of the influence of Communism on a not-so-small Lutheran church in a relatively small country, Hungary, and the inspiring account of the resistance of one of its bishops. The life story of Lajos Ordass gives insight into the life of the Lutheran Church against the background of the complicated ethnic situation before and after World War I in Central Europe, and its contacts with the worldwide Church, especially Sweden. Before World War II Ordass, actively involved in the Lutheran World Federation, spoke up time and time again against the rise of National Socialism. Following "liberation" by Russians in 1945 it became clear that Communists would increasingly curtail church freedom in Hungary. Ordass saw a crucial issue at stake: The Church could not accept the demands of the State without losing its own identity and Christian integrity. He protested, resulting in his imprisonment for 21 months, several of those months in solitary confinement. Even after his release he was considered persona non grata, lost his office, and for decades could do no more than write manuscripts "for the desk drawer."
Terray used a variety of published and unpublished sources. The church historian finds it a pity that the author gave no detailed source references. The translator's use of the term "religious schools" is misleading. They were in fact Hungary's famous church-owned school system that Ordass supported.
Terray relates powerfully the story of Bishop Ordass. The questions remain, however, whether he had enough critical distance from his topic, and whether he managed to avoid the pitfall of heroism. One danger of hagiography is that the human aspect with its mistakes and weaknesses disappears. Bishop Ordass was one of many persecuted, but due to his position his case eventually became known worldwide. Many others suffered under Communism in anonymity.
The title is well chosen, pointing to an often forgotten aspect of Christian pilgrimage. We find an explanation on the last page of the book in language reminiscent of Martin Luther's stand at Worms: "His Savior has called him to serve. He could not betray his faith in Him. He would rather go to prison than hand over the life and service of the Church of Jesus Christ to a strange power. He could not do otherwise." A prayer at the funeral of Bishop Ordass made reference to his steadfast character: "We give you thanks for the integrity in word and deed that you have granted him and that he has taught us" (154). For Ordass it was an essential part of following his Lord Jesus Christ: "When he stood in the pulpit for the last time, he cited at the end of his sermon the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:13: 'But he who endures to the end will be saved.' He became a witness to Christ for our time through his steadfastness" (156).
He Could Not Do Otherwise gives valuable insight into the life of a minority church, the Lutheran Church of Hungary, in Central Europe in the middle of the twentieth century. It had just been awakened by a huge revival in the 1930s and 1940s, only to be gradually infiltrated by Communists and gradually subdued by means of so-called "salami tactics" that cut off the freedom of the church, one slice at a time. Bishop Ordass was one who resisted. His story undoubtedly contributes to our understanding of the struggles the historic churches in Central and Eastern Europe endured under Communism. Without insight from the past it is impossible to understand the present. This book is a must for all who seek to minister in the countries that some refer to as "post-Communist." It also is a moving story of what it means to suffer for Christ's sake.
Dr. Anne-Marie Kool, director of the Protestant Institute for Mission Studies, Budapest, Hungary, is professor of missiology and head of the Department of Practical Theology and Missiology of the Reformed Theological Seminary, Papa, Hungary. A Dutch citizen, she has lived in Hungary for 13 years.
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