Kata’s writings are pregnant with a sense of God’s sovereign wisdom and care for his own, in both easy and trying circumstances. “I have been like Moses’s bush,” she said, “enveloped in powerful flames, without being consumed.”
Kata Bethlen (1700-1752) started her autobiography with her most painful memory: her forced marriage, at age 17, to her Roman Catholic half-brother.
Her family—one of the wealthiest and most influential in Transylvania—had firmly adhered, for generations, to the tenets of the Protestants Reformation. In fact, her ancestors had contributed to the creation of the independent Transylvanian state, a small but staunch Reformed region surrounded by powerful Roman Catholic and Muslim nations.
In 1711, the Roman Catholic Hapsburgs were able to impose their rule over Transylvania. Kata’s uncle Miklós Bethlen (1642-1716), one of the last “freedom fighters,” spent his last years in prison and exile.
A Painful Marriage
Kata inherited the religious zeal of her forefathers, and the idea of marrying a Roman Catholic was distressing and frightening. Her protests proved futile, as did her brothers’. Her mother, Borbála Nagy, had made up her mind.
Kata’s prospective husband was Count László Haller, the son of Borbàla’s second husband – also Roman Catholic. László was a nice young man with a happy disposition and a healthy sense of humor. What’s more, he was sincerely in love with Kata.
He would have made a great husband, if it hadn’t been for his religion. Kata knew the biblical warnings against marrying outside of one’s faith, but couldn’t see a way out, especially when Borbála reinforced her parental authority with a threat: If Kata refused the engagement ring, she would no longer be her daughter.
Kata found the pressure overwhelming. She didn’t want to displease her mother. Besides, the idea of being sent out without any form of support was frightening. Most of all, she felt completely unprepared to make such a serious decision.
“What could I have done?” she wondered. “Not daring to reply, I put the ring on my finger. Oh, unfortunate moment! This normally joyous occasion became for me a source of indescribable pain and sadness.”
That night, she couldn’t sleep, tormented by prospect of a union so deeply divided and of the “poisonous fruits of this type of marriage.”
Her worst fears materialized. Immediately, the local church began pressuring her to convert. Kata held her own, so much that the priest assigned to her case required to be sent to any mission—no matter how arduous—as long as it didn’t involve talking to Kata.
Her husband’s family was a tougher foe. She was still in labor with twin boys when the family staged what we would call an intervention to persuade László to act quickly—before she could negatively influence her children.
“They asked my husband, among other things, if he had any hope of seeing me recant my religion.” Kata recalled. “He said I didn’t seem at all inclined to do so. Then, one by one began to teach him how he could weaken me more speedily.”
Her sister-in-law gave specific instructions. László had to be forceful, even cruel. Since Kata’s mother had died and her brothers were away, she had no one to run to. He should use sleep deprivation, knocking at her door when she was tired, then give her the silent treatment. If she inquired about his bad mood, he should answer, “I have good reason to be in a bad mood! I’ll never be in a good mood until you leave your religion!”