Table of Contents | Words: Alphabetical - Frequency - Inverse - Length - Statistics | Help | IntraText Library
Bishop Kallistos Ware
Orthodox Church

IntraText CT - Text

  • Part I: History.
    • The Church under Islam
      • Reformation and Counter-Reformation: their double impact
Previous - Next

Click here to hide the links to concordance

Reformation and Counter-Reformation: their double impact

  The forces of Reform stopped short when they reached the borders of Russia and the Turk-

ish Empire, so that the Orthodox Church has not undergone either a Reformation or a Counter-

Reformation. Yet it would be a mistake to conclude that these two movements have had no in-

fluence whatever upon Orthodoxy. There were many means of contact: Orthodox, as we have

seen, went to study in the west; Jesuits and Franciscans, sent out to the eastern Mediterranean,

undertook missionary work among Orthodox; the Jesuits were also at work in the Ukraine; the

foreign embassies at Constantinople, both of Roman Catholic and of Protestant powers, played a

religious as well as a political role. During the seventeenth century these contacts led to signifi-

cant developments in Orthodox theology.

  The first important exchange of views between  Orthodox and Protestants began in 1573,

when a delegation of Lutheran scholars from Tübingen, led by Jakob Andreae and Martin Cru-

sius, visited Constantinople and gave the Patriarch, Jeremias II, a copy of the Augsburg Confes-

sion translated into Greek. Doubtless they hoped to initiate some sort of Reformation among the

Greeks; as Crusius somewhat naively wrote: .If they wish to take thought for the eternal salva-

tion of their souls, they must join us and embrace our teaching, or else perish eternally!. Jere-

mias, however, in his three Answers to the Tübingen theologians (dated 1576, 1579, 1581), ad-

hered strictly to the traditional Orthodox position and showed no inclination to Protestantism. To

his first two letters the Lutherans sent replies, but in his third letter the Patriarch brought the cor-

respondence to a close, feeling that matters had reached a deadlock: .Go your own way, and do

not write any more on doctrinal matters; and if you do write, then write only  for friendship.s

sake.. The whole incident shows the interest felt by the Reformers in the Orthodox Church. The

Patriarch.s Answers are important as the first clear and authoritative critique of the doctrines of

the Reformation from an Orthodox point of view. The chief matters discussed by Jeremias were

free will and grace, Scripture and Tradition, the sacraments, prayers for the dead, and prayers to

the saints.

  During the Tübingen interlude, Lutherans and Orthodox both showed great courtesy to one

another. A very different spirit marked the first major contact between Orthodoxy  and the

Counter-Reformation. This occurred outside the limits of the Turkish Empire, in the Ukraine.

After the destruction of Kievan power by the Tartars, a large area in the southwest of Russia, in-

cluding the city of Kiev itself, became absorbed by Lithuania and Poland; this south-western part

of Russia is commonly known as Little Russia or the Ukraine. The crowns of Poland and Lithua-

nia were united under a  single ruler from 1386; thus while the monarch  of the joint realm, to-

gether with the majority of the population, was Roman Catholic, an appreciable minority of his

subjects was Russian and Orthodox. These Orthodox in Little Russia were in an uncomfortable

predicament. The Patriarch of Constantinople, to whose jurisdiction they belonged, could exer-

cise no very effective control in Poland; their bishops were appointed not by the Church but by

the Roman Catholic king of Poland, and were sometimes courtiers wholly lacking in spiritual

qualities  and  incapable  of  providing  any  inspiring  leadership.  There was,  however,  a  vigorous

laity, led by several energetic Orthodox nobles, and in many towns there were powerful lay asso-

ciations, known as the Brotherhoods (Bratstva).


  More than once the Roman Catholic authorities in Poland had tried to make the Orthodox

submit to the Pope. With the arrival of the Society of Jesus in the land in 1564, pressure on the

Orthodox increased. The Jesuits began by negotiating secretly with the Orthodox bishops, who

were for the most part willing to cooperate (they were, we must remember, the nominees of a

Roman Catholic monarch). In due course, so the Jesuits hoped, the whole Orthodox hierarchy in

Poland  would  agree  to  submit  en bloc to the Pope, and the .union. could then be proclaimed

publicly as  a  fait  accompli before  anyone  else could raise objections: hence the need for con-

cealment in the earlier stages of the operation. But matters did not in fact go entirely according to

plan. In 1596 a council was summoned at Brest-Litovsk to proclaim the union with Rome, but

the hierarchy  was divided. Six out of eight Orthodox bishops, including the Metropolitan of

Kiev, Michael Ragoza, supported the union, but the remaining two bishops, together with a large

number of the delegates from the monasteries and from the parish clergy, desired to remain

members of the Orthodox Church. The two sides concluded by excommunicating and anathema-

tizing one another.

  Thus there came into existence in Poland a .Uniate. Church, whose members were known

as .Catholics of the Eastern Rite.. The decrees of the Council of Florence formed the basis of the

union. The Uniates recognized the supremacy of the Pope, but were allowed to keep their tradi-

tional practices (such as married clergy), and they continued as before to use the Slavonic Lit-

urgy, although in course of time western elements crept into it. Outwardly, therefore, there was

very little to distinguish Uniates from Orthodox, and one wonders how far uneducated peasants

in Little Russia understood what the quarrel was really  about. Many of them, at any rate, ex-

plained the matter by saying that the Pope had now joined the Orthodox Church.

  The government authorities recognized only the decisions of the Roman party at the Council

of Brest, so that from their point of view the Orthodox Church in Poland had now ceased legally

to exist. Those who desired to continue Orthodox were severely  persecuted. Monasteries and

churches were seized and given to the Uniates, against the wishes of the monks and congrega-

tions. .Roman Catholic Polish gentry sometimes handed over the Orthodox Church of their

peasants to a Jewish usurer, who could then demand a fee for allowing an Orthodox baptism or

funeral. (Bernard Pares, A History of Russia, third edition, London, p. 167). The tale of the Uniate move-

ment in Poland makes sorrowful reading: the Jesuits began by using deceit, and ended by resort-

ing to violence. Doubtless they were sincere men who genuinely desired the unity of Christen-

dom, but  the tactics which they employed were better calculated to widen the breach than to

close it. The Union of Brest has embittered relations between Orthodoxy and Rome from 1596

until the present day.

  It is small wonder that Orthodox, when they saw what was happening in Poland, should pre-

fer Mohammedan to Roman Catholic rulers, just as Alexander Nevsky had preferred the Tartars

to the Teutonic Knights. Traveling through the  Ukraine in the 1650s, Paul of Aleppo, nephew

and Archdeacon to the  Patriarch of Antioch, reflected the typical Orthodox attitude when he

wrote in his diary: .God perpetuate the Empire of the Turks! For they take their impost and enter

into no account of religion, be their subjects  Christians or Nazarenes, Jews or Samaritans;

whereas these accursed Poles, not content with taking taxes and tithes from their Christian sub-

jectssubjected  them  to  the  enemies  of  Christ,  the  Jews,  who  did  not  allow  them  to  build

churches  or leave them any educated priests.. The Poles he terms .more vile and wicked than

even the worshippers of idols, by their cruelty to Christians. (The Travels of Macarius, ed. L. Ridding,

London, 1936, p. 15).

  Persecution invigorated the Orthodox Church in the Ukraine. Although many Orthodox no-

bles joined the Uniates,  the Brotherhoods stood firm and expanded their activities. To answer


Jesuit propaganda they maintained printing presses and issued books in defense of Orthodoxy; to

counteract the influence of the Jesuit schools they organized Orthodox schools of their own. By

1650 the level of learning in Little Russia was higher than anywhere else in the Orthodox world;

scholars from Kiev, traveling to Moscow at this time, did much to raise intellectual standards in

Great  Russia.  In  this  revival  of  learning  a  particularly  brilliant  part  was  played  by  Peter  of

Moghila, Metropolitan of Kiev from 1633 to 1647. To him we must shortly return.

  One of the representatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople at Brest in 1596 was a

young Greek priest called Cyril Lukaris (1572-1638). His experiences in Little Russia inspired

him with a lifelong hatred of the Church of Rome, and when he became Patriarch of Constantin-

ople he devoted his full energies to combating all Roman Catholic influence in the Turkish Em-

pire.  It was unfortunate, though perhaps inevitable, that in his struggle against .the Papic

Church. (as the Greeks termed it) he should have become deeply involved in politics. He turned

naturally  for help to the  Protestant embassies at Constantinople, while his Jesuit opponents for

their part used the diplomatic representatives of the Roman Catholic powers. Besides invoking

the political assistance of Protestant diplomats, Cyril also fell under Protestant influence in mat-

ters of theology, and his Confession (By .Confession. in this context is meant a statement of faith, a solemn

declaration of religious belief), first published at Geneva in 1629, is distinctively Calvinist in much of

its teaching.

  Cyril.s reign as Patriarch is one long series of stormy and unedifying intrigues, and forms a

lurid example of the troubled state of the Ecumenical Patriarchate under the Ottomans. Six times

deposed from office and six times reinstated, he was finally strangled by Turkish janissaries and

his body cast into the Bosphorus. In the last resort there is something deeply tragic about his ca-

reer, since he was possibly the most brilliant man to have held office as Patriarch since the days

of Saint Photius. Had he but lived under happier conditions, freed from political intrigue, his ex-

ceptional gifts might have been put to better use.

  Cyril.s Calvinism was sharply and speedily repudiated by his fellow Orthodox, his Confes-

sion being condemned by no less than six local Councils between 1638 and 1691. In direct reac-

tion to Cyril two other Orthodox hierarchs, Peter of Moghila and Dositheus of Jerusalem, pro-

duced Confessions of their own. Peter.s  Orthodox  Confession, written in 1640, was based di-

rectly on Roman Catholic manuals. It was approved by the Council of Jassy in Romania (1642),

but only after it had been revised by a Greek, Meletius Syrigos, who in particular altered the pas-

sages about the consecration in the Eucharist (which Peter attributed solely to the Words of Insti-

tution) and about Purgatory. Even in its revised form the Confession of Moghila is still the most

Latin document ever to be adopted by  an official Council of the Orthodox Church. Dositheus,

Patriarch of Jerusalem from 1669 to 1707, also drew heavily upon Latin sources. His Confession,

ratified in 1672 by the Council of Jerusalem (also known as the Council of Bethlehem), answers

Cyril.s Confession point by point with concision and clarity. The chief matters over which Cyril

and Dositheus diverge are four: the question of free will, grace, and predestination; the doctrine

of the Church; the number and nature of the sacraments; and the veneration of icons. In his

statement upon the Eucharist, Dositheus adopted not only the Latin term transubstantiation but

the Scholastic  distinction between substance and  accidents  (See  p291note  1); and in defending

prayers for the dead he came very close to the Roman doctrine of Purgatory, without actually

using the word Purgatory itself. On the whole, however, the Confession of Dositheus is less Latin

than that of Moghila, and must certainly be regarded as a document of primary importance in the

history of modern  Orthodox theology. Faced by  the Calvinism of Lukaris, Dositheus used the

weapons which lay nearest to hand . Latin weapons (under the circumstances it was perhaps


the only thing that he could do); but the faith which he defended with these Latin weapons was

not Roman, but Orthodox.

  Outside the Ukraine, relations between Orthodox and Roman Catholics were often friendly

in the seventeenth century. In many places in the eastern Mediterranean, particularly in the Greek

islands under Venetian rule, Greeks and Latins shared in one another.s worship: we even read of

Roman Catholic processions of the Blessed Sacrament, which the Orthodox clergy attended in

force, wearing  full vestments, with candles and banners. Greek bishops invited the Latin mis-

sionaries to preach to their flocks or to hear confessions. But after 1700 these friendly contacts

grew less frequent, and by 1750 they had largely ceased.  In 1724 a large part of the Orthodox

Patriarchate of Antioch submitted to Rome; after this the Orthodox authorities, fearing that the

same thing might happen elsewhere in the Turkish Empire, were far stricter in their dealings with

Roman Catholics. The climax in anti-Roman feeling came in 1755, when the Patriarchs of Con-

stantinople, Alexandria, and Jerusalem declared  Latin baptism to be entirely invalid and de-

manded that all converts to Orthodoxy be baptized anew. .The baptisms of heretics are to be re-

jected  and abhorred,. the decree stated; they are .waters which cannot  profit. nor  give any

sanctification to such as receive them, nor avail at all to the washing away of sins.. This measure

remained in force in the Greek world until the end of the nineteenth century, but it did not extend

to the Church of Russia; the Russians generally baptized Roman Catholic converts between 1441

and 1667, but since 1667 they have not normally done so.

  The Orthodox of the seventeenth century came into contact not only with Roman Catholics,

Lutherans, and Calvinists but also with the Church of England. Cyril Lukaris corresponded with

Archbishop Abbot of Canterbury, and a future Patriarch of Alexandria, Metrophanes Kritopou-

los, studied at Oxford from 1617 to 1624:Kritopoulos is the author of a Confession, slightly Prot-

estant in tone, but widely used in the Orthodox Church. Around 1694 there was even a plan to

establish a .Greek College. at Gloucester Hall, Oxford (now Worcester College), and about ten

Greek students were actually sent to Oxford; but the plan failed for lack of money, and the

Greeks found the food and lodging so poor that many of them ran away. From 1716 to 1725 a

most interesting correspondence was maintained between the Orthodox  and the Non-Jurors (a

group of Anglicans who separated from the main body of the Church of England in 1688, rather

than swear allegiance to the usurper William of Orange). The Non-Jurors approached both the

four Eastern Patriarchs and the Church of Russia, in the hope of establishing communion with

the Orthodox. But the Non-Jurors could not accept the Orthodox teaching concerning the pres-

ence of Christ in the Eucharist; they were also troubled by the veneration shown by Orthodoxy to

the Mother of God, the saints, and the Holy Icons. Eventually the correspondence was suspended

without any agreement being reached.

  Looking back on the work of Moghila and Dositheus, on the Councils of Jassy and Jerusa-

lem, and on the correspondence with the Non-Jurors, one is struck by the limitations of Greek

theology in this period: one does not find the Orthodox tradition in its fullness. Nevertheless the

Councils of the seventeenth century made a permanent and constructive contribution to Ortho-

doxy. The Reformation controversies raised problems which neither the Ecumenical Councils

nor the Church of the later Byzantine Empire was called to face: in the seventeenth century the

Orthodox were forced to think more carefully about the sacraments, and about the nature and au-

thority of the Church. It was important for Orthodoxy to express its mind on these topics, and to

define its position in relation to new teachings which had arisen in the west; this was the task

which the seventeenth-century Councils achieved. These Councils were local, but the substance

of their decisions has been accepted by the Orthodox Church as a whole. The seventeenth-


century Councils, like the Hesychast Councils three hundred  years before, show that creative

theological work did not come to an end in the  Orthodox Church after the period of the Ecu-

menical Councils. There are important doctrines not defined by the General Councils, which

every Orthodox is bound to accept as an integral part of his faith.

  Many western people learn about Orthodoxy either from studying the Byzantine period, or

through the medium of  Russian religious thought in the last hundred years.  In both cases they

tend to by-pass the seventeenth century, and to underestimate its influence upon Orthodox his-


  Throughout the Turkish period the traditions of Hesychasm remained alive, particularly on

Mount Athos; and at the end of the eighteenth century there was an important spiritual revival,

whose effects can still be felt today. At the center of this revival was a monk of Athos, Saint Ni-

codemus of the Holy Mountain (.the Hagiorite,. 1748-1809), justly called .an encyclopedia of

the Athonite learning of  his time.. With the help of Saint Macarius (Notaras), Metropolitan of

Corinth, Nicodemus compiled an anthology of spiritual writings called the Philokalia. Published

at Venice in 1782, it is a gigantic work of 1,207 folio pages, containing authors from the fourth

century to the fifteenth, and dealing chiefly with the theory and practice of prayer, especially the

Jesus Prayer. It has proved one of the most influential publications in Orthodox history, and has

been widely read not only by monks but by many living in the world. Translated into Slavonic

and Russian, it was instrumental in producing a spiritual reawakening in nineteenth-century Rus-


  Nicodemus was conservative, but not narrow or obscurantist. He drew on Roman Catholic

works of devotion, adapting for Orthodox use books by Lorenzo Scupoli and Ignatius Loyola. He

and his circle were strong advocates of frequent communion, although in his day most Orthodox

communicated only a few times a year. Nicodemus was in fact vigorously attacked on this issue,

but a Council at Constantinople in 1819 confirmed his teaching. Movements which are trying to

introduce weekly communion in Greece today appeal to the great authority of Nicodemus.

  It has been rightly said that if there is  much to  pity in the state of Orthodoxy during the

Turkish period, there is also much to admire. Despite innumerable discouragements, the Ortho-

dox Church under Ottoman rule never lost heart. There were of course many cases of apostasy to

Islam, but in Europe at any rate they were not as frequent as might have been expected. Ortho-

doxy in these centuries  was not lacking in martyrs, who are honored in the Church.s  calendar

with  the  special  title  of New Martyrs: many of them were  Greeks who became Mohammedan

and then repented, returning to Christianity once more . for which the penalty was death. The

corruption in the higher administration of the Church, shocking though it was, had very little ef-

fect on the daily life of the ordinary Christian, who was still able to worship Sunday by Sunday

in his parish church. More than  anything  else it was the Holy Liturgy  which kept Orthodoxy

alive in those dark days.


Previous - Next

Table of Contents | Words: Alphabetical - Frequency - Inverse - Length - Statistics | Help | IntraText Library

Best viewed with any browser at 800x600 or 768x1024 on Tablet PC
IntraText® (V89) - Some rights reserved by Èulogos SpA - 1996-2007. Content in this page is licensed under a Creative Commons License