It is difficult for Americans today (particularly those of us who live in the nation’s capital) to imagine the rule of a godly monarch. But history gives us numerous examples of those who – remembering St. Paul’s explanation that “there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God” [Romans 13:1] – viewed their positions of power as an awesome responsibility to rule with Christian charity and mercy as guiding principles. There have been some who failed to rule wisely, but who received the crown of martyrdom for the way in which they faced death, and there have been others who were successful at fulfilling both the temporal and the spiritual responsibilities of their positions. St. Stephen of Hungary was one such king.
Stephen’s father, Geza, was a nobleman of the Magyar people who converted to Christianity and named his son, born in 975, after St. Stephen, the protomartyr. At the age of 20, the son married a Christian wife, Gisela of Bavaria, and at 22 succeeded his father as the chief ruler of the Magyars. Stephen then began the task of forging his people into one strong nation, unified by a common Christian faith.
In matters of the state, Stephen brought an end to tribal rivalry and appointed trustworthy governors to oversee counties. To strengthen the Church in its infancy among these people, he invited missionaries, particularly Benedictine monks, into Hungary and established dioceses and monasteries. Stephen’s laws reflected his desire to establish a Christian kingdom: Sins (such as blasphemy and adultery) were considered crimes and marriages between Christians and pagans were not allowed. [His law that all people except those in religious orders were required to marry was probably more difficult to enforce!]
To strengthen his position as ruler, Stephen sought the approval and protection of the pope in Rome and on Christmas of 100 or 1001, Pope Sylvester II gave him the title of King and sent him a golden crown which still exists in Budapest.
One of the marks of a Christian ruler is his generosity to the poor, and King Stephen was particularly noted for his charity. One story is told of his being beaten and robbed as he was, in disguise, distributing alms to the destitute.
King Stephen hoped to have his work continued by his son, Ermeric, but the son died before his father, who passed from this life in 1038. The king’s relics were enshrined in Buda and miracles soon followed their veneration.
We pray that those who govern over us will be merciful and generous and that, through the intercession of St. Stephen, King and Confessor, they may remember that their authority comes only from God. May they ever praise and glorify him.