Romanian Family in Transylvania
between Church and State Constraints:
from Tradition to Modernisation (1850-1900)
Sociologists in particular, but also anthropologists and historians have noted the deep-seated changes undergone by the family institution along the twentieth and twenty first centuries. The crisis undergone by the family institution in contemporary Romanian society originates unmistakably in the process of modernisation which begins in the latter half of the nineteenth century. In part at least, the problems parents, couples and children confront today are not uniquely the result of the demise of the totalitarian regime after 1989, but also the logical consequence of a phenomenon that set in in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Primarily the issue is the process of secularisation, which becomes increasingly distinct in the twentieth century, and which has played a major part in the reconfiguration of family values hence its relevance to the theme under discussion. Increasingly the contemporary family unit confronts specifics problems such as poverty (typically associated with unemployment), marital infidelity more often than not leading up to divorce, the liberalisation --particularly across the globe, but also in the Romania of the past decades or so-- of conceptions regarding relationships within the couple etc.
Against this background, the family unit has been subjected to a process of scientific assessment, and new approaches and solutions suitable for the changing conditions of our society have imposed themselves with urgency. An insight into the beginnings of the process of family restructuring and the plummeting of the fertility rate, profile themselves as mandatory. This as the solutions needed today will come in sharper focus when considered in the perspective of historical precedence. The dissolution of feudal structures in Transylvania after 1850 marked not only the emergence of different legal and socio-economic relations, based on market economy, capital flow and workforce mobility, but also the appearance of different matrimonial relationships as well as of new moral relationships within the community. The increase in population mobility (i.e. the growing number of individuals travelling in and out of the province, immigration, the start of the processes of urbanization and industrialization) had a considerable impact on human relationships in terms of marital criteria and choices, the family life cycle, and church authority in private matters. Whereas prior to the latter half of the nineteenth century, the church was the institution in authority in matters of birth, marriage, or death, in the ensuing period, as the processes of secularization and modernization gain ground, the church gradually lost its prerogatives to state institutions, a process reaching completion with the series of laws passed between 1894-95 by the Hungarian state, whereby all registry documents in aspects concerning marital status, matrimony and divorce came under state jurisdiction.
The project embraces as lower chronological limit the nineteenth century being premised on the idea that the 1848-1849 revolution and the abolishing of feudal relations are unanimously and incontestably held to mark the dividing line between the medieval and the modern. From the vantage point of our research theme, the interferance of the state in matters formerly handled through church authority as regards the control over the private lives of the individuals becomes increasingly distinct (with the ratification in 1853 of the Austrian Civil Code, and in 1856 of the Catholic Marriages in the Austrian Empire Act, etc), perfectly justifies 1850 as the lower limit. The upper limit of our undertaking, we set symbolically as the year 1900, when the consequences of Acts XXXI-XXXIII passed by the Hungarian officials between 1894-1895 make their presence felt and a matrimonial behaviour suited to the modernising objectives of the rulers emerges. Symbolically, the dividing line between the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries is associated, especially but not uniquely on the European continent, with a change in attitude between sexes, and a different mode of relating to matrimonial commitment by the young, new relationships between men and women a.s.o. In the latter half of the nineteenth century therefore, the Romanian family in Transylvania underwent considerable changes as a result of the coming into force of lay legislation. The project sets out to capture ecclesiastical and lay legislation between 1850-1895, foregrounding the manner in which the state takes control over the private lives of the individuals. Equally, the research will seek to lay bare archive materials the actual behaviour of the population and the way in which the average individual related to the intrusion of laymanship and modernity. Our research acknowledges and is informed by a series of general or partial approaches to the subject matter. Our study benefits from the historiographic contributions published previously that have a lot to offer from a methodological point of view, evidencing important similitudes and differences in behaviour throughout the Romanian territory in the modern age.