Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Feast of King St. Stephen of Hungary

In the 5th century, after the Roman Empire fell, the land now known as Hungary came to be ruled by Attila the Hun (434–453), and after Attila's empire withered, it became populated by various tribes such as the Goths, Lombards, Slavs, and Vandals. Then the Avars came to power and held sway until they were defeated by Charlemagne. After Charlemagne, the Hungarians (Maygars) settled around the Danube and, led by Árpád, began to conquer those around them. Then they unified and set up a state ruled by a Grand Prince, the first of whom was Árpád himself..

A few generations down from Árpád, in 975, St. Stephen -- Szent István in Hungarian -- was born the son of the Grand Prince, whose name was Géza. Géza was nominally Christian and had a Christian wife, but he held on to his paganism and was known for his cruelty in spite of wanting to Christianize the land for political purposes. His son, though, was very different: he took the Faith very seriously as not just politically expedient, but for what it most deeply is: true, and the path of salvation.

Géza had him baptized by St. Adalbert, and educated him in a manner befitting a prince. Then he arranged for his son to marry Gisela, the daughter of Henry II, the Duke of Bavaria, which joined together the people of those two lands and helped solidify his plans to make the newly-forming Hungary a part of Western Europe.

When Géza died, Stephen had to fight well-armed pagan contenders to take over his father's position, but he was successeful, and was crowned, on Christmas day of the year 1000, with a crown sent to him by Pope Sylvester.  II. With that papally blessed coronation, Hungary was born as a kingdom.

St. Stephen immediately began to Christianize the land, setting up monasteries, organizing dioceses, and importing priests to catechize and baptize. He built churches and basilicas, and secured a path for Christians to make pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Very importantly, he wrote two books of law that established a system of justice that, though strict in some particulars according to decadent modern standards, reflected a Christian spirit of mercy, with penalties generally aimed at education and reform (you can read his two Books of Laws in pdf format here: The Laws of King Stephen I. They're very brief, both together consisting of 12 pages).

Stephen would even go out among his people incognito in order to learn what their needs were. He once was even robbed while in disguise, giving out alms, an incident he handled with humor and which he didn't allow to stop him from carrying on with such charity.

Not all were in agreement with Stephen, however. His uncle, a pagan who ruled Transylvania, was decidedly against Christianization, so Stephen seized him and his family and Christianized the land, setting up the Dioecese of Transylvania.

When Gisela's brother became King Henry II of Germany and the Holy Roman Emperor, a strong alliance and period of peace were ensured for Hungary for a time.

But then Henry II died,1 and was followed by Conrad II, who wasn't as peace-minded as Henry was. He also wanted his son to become the Duke of Bavaria while Stephen thought his own son, St. Emeric, should become such given who the boy's mother was. Conrad invaded Hungary, but was soundly defeated.

There was one last, big skirmish when Stephen's pagan cousin, Vazul, attempted a coup. He, too, was defeated. But, in spite of his victories, Stephen had the great problem of not having an heir: all of his children but one died in infancy. His second son, Emeric, was the only one to survive to adulthood, and Stephen raised him to fear and love God, preparing him to become a good, Christian king. Famously, he wrote for him his "Admonitions," which, like King St. Louis IX's advice to his son, hands down fatherly wisdom:

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 propagated as she was by our head, Christ; then transplanted, firmly 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 lest a benefit which the divine mercy bestowed on us undeservedly should be destroyed and annihilated through your idleness, indolence or neglect.

My beloved son, delight of my heart, hope of your posterity, I pray, I command, that at every 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. 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, 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 may never voluntarily bring disgrace upon anyone. Be chaste so that you may avoid all the foulness of lust like the pangs of death.

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.

But tragedy struck: Emeric was killed when hunting wild boar in 1031. His death caused Stephen to turn ever more to Christ and devote himself to charity.

Just before Stephen died seven years later, on August 15 -- the Feast of the Assumption -- in 1038, he did one last great thing for his country: he held up his crown and consecrated it and his kingdom to the Blessed Virgin. That crown -- known as "the Holy Crown" or "the Crown of St. Stephen" -- is one of the great symbols of Hungary (its cross was accidentally knocked crooked some time in the 17th century and has been left that way). During the upheavals of World War II and the Communist take-over of Hungary, the crown was hidden away and was discovered by the United States Army in Austria. It was kept stored in the gold vaults of Fort Knox, Kentucky throughout the Cold War, and then returned to the Hungarian people when it was safe to do so. It is now kept in the Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest.

St. Stephen was entombed at a church he built -- the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Székesfehérvárudapest. When his tomb was opened in 1083 as the cause for his canonization was being investigated, his body was found to give off the fragrance of balsam, and miracles began to occur through his intercession. Both Stephen and his son, Emeric, were canonized that year.

The aforementioned basilica was once the place where Hungarian royalty were crowned, and the place where the Holy Crown was kept. Alas, the Turks ransacked it, and the building itself was destroyed by fire in 1601. But St. Stephen's right hand -- "the Holy Dexter" or "the Holy Right," as it is called -- was preserved, and it can be venerated now at St. Stephen's Basilica in Budapest.

St. Stephen of Hungary is patron saint of Hungary, kings, brickmasons, bricklayers, stonecutters, and sick children. His feast is on September 2 on the 1962 calendar, and on August 16 in the Novus Ordo. In Hungary, it is the feast of the translation of his relics on August 20 that is celebrated in the biggest way.


A good prayer for the day comes from the Collect of St. Stephen's Mass:

Grant unto Thy Church, we beseech Thee, O Almighty God, that even as Thy blessed Confessor Stephen, while he was a King upon earth, was her forwarder, so now that he is a glorious Saint in heaven, he may be her defender. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

As said earlier, St. Stephen's Day in Hungary is celebrated on August 20, the date his relics were translated, and it is a big national holiday for the Hungarian people in the same way that the 4th of July is for Americans. It begins with Holy Mass, then the Holy Dexter is venerated in a procession from St. Stephen's Basilica around the center of Budapest. This is followed by festivities marked by street foods, fireworks, military parades, etc. Because it is harvest time, it's the custom, too, to bake bread for the poor. And, most wonderfully, there is also a great competition to see who can come up with the best new cake recipe. The cakes change from year to year, but this Hungarian dessert is a good one to make for the day:


1.1 lbs frozen puff pastry
4 cups + 5 TBSP whole milk
10 eggs, separated
10 TBSP flour
10 TBSP sugar
seeds of 1 vanilla bean or 1 TBSP vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon
7 TBSP butter, in bits

Let the puff pastry thaw in the fridge overnight. Cut it in half and roll out each piece into a 1/16" thick rectangle. Transfer the rolled puff pastry on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Poke the pastry with a fork and bake in an oven preheated to 375°F for 25 minutes.

While the pastry is being baked, separate the eggs and place the egg yolks with flour, 8 tbsp sugar, scraped vanilla bean (if using), and lemon zest into a medium saucepan. Mix well, then gradually, while stirring constantly add the milk and cook over low heat until the mixture becomes a thickened custard. Remove from heat and immediately add the butter and vanilla extract if using). Stir until the butter melts, then set aside.

In a separate bowl, whip 10 egg whites with the remaining 2 tbsp of sugar til stiff peaks are formed. Gently fold into the custard.

Place one sheet of baked puff pastry on a deep tray (one you can cut on). Cover with the custard. Take the second piece of pastry and cut it into 3" X 3" squares. Place the squares evenly on top of the custard. Let the krémes chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 to 4 hours. Cut all the way through into squares (following along where the top pastry is already cut), dust with powdered sugar, and serve.

Serve the krémes after a chicken paprikash dinner. You need real Hungarian paprika to make this properly:

Paprikás Csirke (Chicken Paprikash)

2 TBSP pork lard or bacon grease
3 pounds chicken pieces, intact with bones and skin in place
2 medium yellow onions, very finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and very finely diced
3 or 4 TBSP imported sweet Hungarian paprika *
1 or 2 teaspoons imported hot Hungarian paprika, optional if you like heat *

2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 TBSP all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sour cream (full fat), room temperature
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

Heat the lard or grease in a heavy pot and brown the chicken on all sides.  Transfer the chicken to a plate.  In the same fat, add the onions and fry until golden.  Add the garlic and tomatoes and fry another 2-3 minutes.  Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the paprika(s), salt and pepper. 

Return the chicken to the pot and place it back over the heat.  Pour in the chicken broth so it mostly covers the chicken. Bring it to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 40 minutes. Remove the chicken and transfer to a plate.

In a small bowl, stir the flour into the sour cream, and add the whipping cream to form a smooth paste. Stir the cream mixture into the sauce, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Bring it to a simmer for a couple of minutes until the sauce is thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste. Return the chicken to the sauce and simmer to heat through. Serve over thick egg noodles or, most authentically, Hungarian nokedli (it's just like German spaetzle).

* Splurging and getting good, imported, Hungarian paprika really does make a big difference!


2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup water
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 large pot filled with salted boiling water

Combine eggs, salt, and water, beating well with whisk. Add flour, a little at a time. Add only enough flour to make a soft, sticky dough. Let mixture rest for about 10 mins.

Beat the mixture again. Then, working in 3 batches, drop bits of dough (no bigger than, say, a half of a grape) into the boiling, salted water. When they float to the top, scoop them out with a slotted spoon and into a colander, rinse them, and put them in a bowl. Repeat until all of the dough is cooked.

If you're adventurous when it comes to adult beverages, you might want to try get a hold of a bottle of Unicum, a thick, black, very bitter Hungarian liqueur made of 40 different herbs and spices. No one outside the Zwack family who's made it since 1790, and the Archbishop of Esztergom, who guards the recipe in case of emergency, knows how it's prepared. It's said to be a cure for colds and sore throats...

As to music, there are a number of songs that are fit for the day. There is Gaude mater Hungaria, here sung by Schola Hungarica:

And there is this song "To King St. Stephen," written in 1711 by the Hungarian poet Ferenc Faludi:

And, most grandly, there is Opus 117 -- König Stephan -- written by the great Beethoven in King St. Stephen's honor:

Note that you may find large St. Stephen's day celebrations in the Anglosphere as well, especially at parishes named for St. Stephen, or at parishes with large ethnically Hungarian populations around August 16 (the date of his feast in the Novus Ordo), August 20 (the date of the translation of his relics, and the date for St. Stephen's Day in Hungary), and/or September 2 (the traditional date for his feast in the Roman Church).


1 Henry II, King of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor, is also a canonized Saint. His feast is on July 15 (July 13 in the Novus Ordo).

Note: Don't look now, but the painting of the King at the top of the page shows him with Yosemite Sam feet.

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