Eastern ChurchGeneral Information
Eastern Church is a general term for the various ancient Christian communions of the Middle East and Eastern Europe, of which three groups remain today.
The earliest decisive split in Christendom took place in 451 as a result of the Council of Chalcedon, which was called to consider the claims of the Monophysites (see Monophysitism). The churches that rejected the statement of faith adopted by the council are the Armenian church, the Coptic church of Alexandria, the Ethiopian church, the Syrian church, and the Syrian church in India. Sometimes known as the Oriental Orthodox, these churches today include more than 22 million members.
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A third group of churches is known collectively as Eastern Rite churches, which recognize the authority of the Roman Catholic church.
(Editor's Note: This article from the Catholic Encyclopedia includes fairly severe biases toward the Catholic Church and against Protestants and the Orthodox Church and other Churches, and would normally be eliminated from consideration for BELIEVE for that reason. However, it is a thorough and accurate discussion of many subjects associated with Eastern Churches, and we felt it beneficial to include it, until a better presentation is found.)
Western Churches are those that either gravitate around Rome or broke away from her at the Reformation. Eastern Churches depend originally on the Eastern Empire at Constantinople; they are those that either find their centre in the patriarchate of that city (since the centralization of the fourth century) or have been formed by schisms which in the first instance concerned Constantinople rather than the Western world.
Another distinction, that can be applied only in the most general and broadest sense, is that of language. Western Christendom till the Reformation was Latin; even now the Protestant bodies still bear unmistakably the mark of their Latin ancestry. It was the great Latin Fathers and Schoolmen, St. Augustine (d. 430) most of all, who built up the traditions of the West; in ritual and canon law the Latin or Roman school formed the West. In a still broader sense the East may be called Greek. True, many Eastern Churches know nothing of Greek; the oldest (Nestorians, Armenians, Abyssinians) have never used Greek liturgically nor for their literature; nevertheless they too depend in some sense on a Greek tradition. Whereas our Latin Fathers have never concerned them at all (most Eastern Christians have never even heard of our schoolmen or canonists), they still feel the influence of the Greek Fathers, their theology is still concerned about controversies carried on originally in Greek and settled by Greek synods. The literature of those that do not use Greek is formed on Greek models, is full of words carefully chosen or composed to correspond to some technical Greek distinction, then, in the broadest terms, is: that a Western Church is one originally dependent on Rome, whose traditions are Latin; an Eastern Church looks rather to Constantinople (either as a friend or an enemy) and inherits Greek ideas.
The point may be stated more scientifically by using the old division of the patriarchates. Originally (e.g. at the Council of Nicaea, A.D. 325, can. vi) there were three patriarchates, those of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch. Further legislation formed two more at the expense of Antioch: Constantinople in 381 and Jerusalem in 451. In any case the Roman patriarchate was always enormously the greatest. Western Christendom may be defined quite simply as the Roman patriarchate and all Churches that have broken away from it. All the others, with schismatical bodies formed from them, make up the Eastern half. But it must not be imaged that either half is in any sense one Church. The Latin half was so (in spite of a few unimportant schisms) till the Reformation. To find a time when there was one Eastern Church we must go back to the centuries before the Council of Ephesus (431). Since that council there have been separate schismatical Eastern Churches whose number has grown steadily down to our own time. The Nestorian heresy left a permanent Nestorian Church, the Monophysite and Monothelite quarrels made several more, the reunion with Rome of fractions of every Rite further increased the number, and quite lately the Bulgarian schism has created yet another; indeed it seems as if two more, in Cyprus and Syria, are being formed at the present moment (1908).
We have now a general criterion by which to answer the question: What is an Eastern Church? Looking at a map, we see that, roughly, the division between the Roman patriarchate and the others forms a line that runs down somewhat to the east of the River Vistula (Poland is Latin), then comes back above the Danube, to continue down the Adriatic Sea, and finally divides Africa west of Egypt. Illyricum (Macedonia and Greece) once belonged to the Roman patriarchate, and Greater Greece (Southern Italy and Sicily) was intermittently Byzantine. But both these lands eventually fell back into the branches that surrounded them (except for the thin remnant of the Catholic Italo-Greeks). We may, then, say that any ancient Church east of that line is an Eastern Church. To these we must add those formed by missionaries (especially Russians) from one of these Churches. Later Latin and Protestant missions have further complicated the tangled state of the ecclesiastical East. Their adherents everywhere belong of course to the Western portion.
Theologically, to Catholics, the vital distinction is between Eastern Catholic, on the one hand, and schismatics or heretics, on the other. But it is not convenient to start from this basis in cataloguing Eastern Churches. Historically and archeologically, it is a secondary question. Each Catholic body has been formed from one of the schismatical ones; their organizations are comparatively late, dating in most cases from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Moreover, although all these Eastern-Rite Catholics of course agrees in the same Catholic Faith we profess, they are not organized as one body. Each branch keeps the rites (with in some cases modifications made at Rome for dogmatic reasons) of the corresponding schismatical body, and has an organization modelled on the same plan. In faith a Catholic Armenian, for instance, is joined to Catholic Chaldees and Copts, and has no more to do with the schismatical Armenians than with Nestorians or Abyssinians. Nor does he forget this fact. He knows quite well that he is a Catholic in union with the Pope of Rome, and that he is equally in union with every other Catholic. Nevertheless, national customs, languages, and rites tell very strongly on the superficies, and our Catholic Armenian would certainly feel very much more at home in a non-Catholic church of his own nation than in a Coptic Catholic, or even Latin, church.
Outwardly, the bond of a common language and common liturgy is often the essential and radical division of a schism. Indeed these Eastern Catholic bodies in many cases still faintly reflect the divisions of their schismatical relations. What in one case is a schism (as for instance between Orthodox and Jacobites) still remains as a not very friendly feeling between the different Eastern Catholic Churches (in this case Melkites and Catholic Syrians). Certainly, such feeling is a very different thing from formal schism, and the leaders of the Eastern Catholic Churches, we well as all their more intelligent members and all their well-wishers, earnestly strive to repress it. Nevertheless, quarrels between various Eastern Catholic bodies fill up too large a portion of Eastern Church history to be ignored; still, to take another instance, anyone who knows Syria knows that the friendship between Melkites and Maronites is not enthusiastic. It will be seen, then, that for purposes of tabulation we cannot conveniently begin by cataloguing the Catholic bodies on the one side and then classing the schismatics together on the other. We must arrange these Churches according to their historical basis and origin: first, the larger and older schismatical Churches; then, side by side with each of these, the corresponding Eastern-Rite Catholic Church formed out of the schismatics in later times.
The "Orthodox" (it is convenient as well as courteous to call them by the name they use as a technical one for themselves) originally comprised the four Eastern patriarchates: Alexandria and Antioch, then Constantinople and Jerusalem. But the balance between these four patriarchates was soon upset. The Church of Cyprus was taken away from Antioch and made autocephalous (i.e., extra-patriarchal) by the Council of Ephesus (431). Then, in the fifth century, came the great upheavals of Nestorianism and Monophysitism, of which the result was that enormous numbers of Syrians and Egyptians fell away into schism. So the Patriarchs of Antioch, Jerusalem (this was always a very small and comparatively unimportant centre), and Alexandria, losing most of its subjects, inevitably sank in importance. The Moslem conquest of their lands completed their ruin, so that they became the merest shadows of what their predecessors had once been.
Meanwhile Constantinople, honoured by the presence of the emperor, and always sure of his favour, rose rapidly in importance. Itself a new see, neither Apostolic nor primitive (the first Bishop of Byzantium was Metrophanes in 325), it succeeded so well in its ambitious career that for a short time after the great Eastern schism it seemed as if the Patriarch of the New Rome would take the same place over the Orthodox Church as did his rival the Pope of the Old Rome over Catholics. It is also well known that it was this insatiable ambition of Constantinople that was chiefly responsible for the schism of the ninth and eleventh centuries. The Turkish conquest, strangely enough, still further strengthened the power of the Byzantine patriarch, inasmuch as the Turks acknowledged him as the civil head of what they called the "Roman nation" (Rum millet), meaning thereby the whole Orthodox community of whatever patriarchate. For about a century Constantinople enjoyed her power.
The other patriarchs were content to be her vassals, many of them even came to spend their useless lives as ornaments of the chief patriarch's court, while Cyprus protested faintly and ineffectually that she was subject to no patriarch. The bishop who had climbed to so high a place by a long course of degrading intrigue could for a little time justify in the Orthodox world his usurped title of Ecumenical Patriarch. Then came his fall; since the sixteenth century he has lost one province after another, till now he too is only a shadow of what he once was, and the real power of the Orthodox body is in the new independent national Churches with their "holy Synods"; while high over all looms the shadow of Russia. The separation of the various national Orthodox Churches from the patriarch of Constantinople forms the only important chapter in the modern history of this body.
The principle is always the same. More and more has the idea obtained that political modifications should be followed by the Church, that is to say that the Church of an independent State must be itself independent of the patriarch. This by no means implies real independence for the national Church; on the contrary, in each case the much severer rule of the Government is substituted for the distant authority of the Ecumenical Patriarch.
Outside the Turkish Empire, in Russia and the Balkan States, the Orthodox Churches are shamelessly Erastian -- by far the most Erastian of all Christian bodies. The process began when the great Church of Russia was declared autocephalous by the Czar Feodor Ivanovitch, in 1589. Jeremias II of Constantinople took a bribe to acknowledge its independence. Peter the Great abolished the Russian patriarchate (of Moscow) and set up a "Holy Governing Synod" to rule the national Church in 1721. The Holy Synod is simply a department of the government through which the czar rules over his Church as absolutely as over his army and navy. The independence of Russia and its Holy Synod has since been copied by each Balkan State. But this independence does not mean schism. Its first announcement is naturally very distasteful to the patriarch and his court. He often begins by excommunicating the new national Church root and branch.
But in each case he has been obliged to give in finally and to acknowledge one more "Sister in Christ" in the Holy Synod that has displaced his authority. Only in the specially difficult and bitter case of the Bulgarian Church has a permanent schism resulted. Other causes have led to the establishment of a few other independent Churches, so that now the great Orthodox communion consists of sixteen independent Churches, each of which (except that of the Bulgars) is recognized by, and in communion with, the others.
These Churches are
This ends the list of allied bodies that make up the Orthodox Church. Next come, in order of date, the old heretical Eastern Churches.
The great distance of this Church from Antioch led in early times to a state of semi-independence that prepared the way for the later schism. Already in the fourth century the Patriarch of Antioch waived his right of ordaining the catholicos of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, and allowed him to be ordained by his own suffragans. In view of the great importance of the right of ordaining, as a sign of jurisdiction throughout the East, this fact is important. But it does not seem that real independence of Antioch was acknowledged or even claimed till after the schism. In the fifth century the influence of the famous Theodore of Mopsuestia and that of his school of Edessa spread the heresy of Nestorius throughout this extreme Eastern Church. Naturally, the later Nestorians deny that their fathers accepted any new doctrine at that time, and they claim that Nestorius learned from them rather than they from him ("Nestorius eos secutus est, non ipsi Nestorium", Ebed-Jesu of Nisibis, about 1300. Assemani, "Bibli. Orient.", III, 1, 355).
There may be truth in this. Theodore and his school had certainly prepared the way for Nestorius. In any case the rejection of the Council of Ephesus (431) by these Christians in Chaldea and Mesopotamia produced a schism between them and the rest of Christendom. When Babaeus, himself a Nestorian, became catholicos, in 498, there were practically no more Catholics in those parts. From Ctesiphon the Faith had spread across the frontier into Persia, even before that city was conquered by the Persian king (244). The Persian Church, then, always depended on Ctesiphon and shared its heresy. From the fifth century this most remote of the Eastern Churches has been cut off from the rest of Christendom, and till modern times was the most separate and forgotten community of all.
Shut out from the Roman Empire (Zeno closed the school of Edessa in 489), but, for a time at least, protected by the Persian kings, the Nestorian Church flourished around Ctesiphon, Nisibis (where the school was reorganized), and throughout Persia. Since the schism the catholicos occasionally assumed the title of patriarch. The Church then spread towards the East and sent missionaries to India and even China. A Nestorian inscription of the year 781 has been found at Singan Fu in China (J. Heller, S.J., "Prolegomena zu einer neuen Ausgabe der nestorianischen Inschrift von Singan Fu", in the "Verhandlungen des VII. internationalen Orientalistencongresses", Vienna, 1886, pp. 37 sp.).
Its greatest extent was in the eleventh century, when twenty-five metropolitans obeyed the Nestorian patriarch. But since the end of the fourteenth century it has gradually sunk to a very small sect, first, because of a fierce persecution by the Mongols (Timur Leng), and then through internal disputes and schisms. Two great schisms as to the patriarchal succession in the sixteenth century led to a reunion of part of the Nestorian Church with Rome, forming the Catholic Chaldean Church. At present there are about 150,000 Nestorians living chiefly in highlands west of Lake Urumiah. They speak a modern dialect of Syriac.
The patriarchate descends from uncle to nephew, or to younger brothers, in the family of Mama; each patriarch bears the name Simon (Mar Shimun) as a title. Ignoring the Second General Council, and of course strongly opposed to the Third (Ephesus), they only acknowledge the First Nicene (325). They have a Creed of their own, formed from an old Antiochene Creed, which does not contain any trace of the particular heresy from which their Church is named. In deed it is difficult to say how far any Nestorians now are conscious of the particular teaching condemned by the Council of Ephesus, though they still honour Nestorius, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and other undoubted heretics as saints and doctors.
The patriarch rules over twelve other bishops (the list in Silbernagl, "Verfassung", p. 267). Their hierarchy consists of the patriarch, metropolitans, bishops, chorepiscopi, archdeacons, priests, deacons, subdeacons, and readers. There are also many monasteries. They use Syriac liturgically written in their own (Nestorian) form of the alphabet. The patriarch, who now generally calls himself "Patriarch of the East", resides at Kochanes, a remote valley of the Kurdish mountains by the Zab, on the frontier between Persia and Turkey. He has an undefined political jurisdiction over his people, though he does not receive a berat from the Sultan. In any ways this most remote Church stands alone; it has kept a number of curious and archaic customs (such as the perpetual abstinence of the patriarch, etc.) that separate it from other Eastern Churches almost as much as from those of the West. Lately the Archbishop of Canterbury's mission to the Nestorians has aroused a certain interest about them in England.
All the other separated Eastern Churches are formed by the other great heresy of the fourth century, Monophysitism. There are first the national Churches of Egypt, Syria, and Armenia.
The two sides are still represented by the native Monophysites and the Orthodox minority. The Monophysites are sometimes called Jacobites here as in Syria; but the old national name Copt (Gr. Aigyptios) has become the regular one for their Church as well as for their nation. Their patriarch, with the title of Alexandria, succeeds Dioscurus and Timothy the Cat, a fanatical Monophysite. He lives at Cairo, ruling over thirteen dioceses and about 500,000 subjects. For him, too, the law is perpetual abstinence. There are many monasteries. The Copts use their old language liturgically and have in it a number of liturgies all derived from the original Greek rite of Alexandria (St. Mark). But Coptic is a dead language, so much so that even most priests understand very little of it. They all speak Arabic, and their service books give an Arabic version of the text in parallel columns. The Church is, on the whole, in a poor state. The Copts are mostly fellaheen who live by tilling the ground, in a state of great poverty and ignorance. And the clergy share the same conditions. Lately there have been something of a revival among them, and certain rich Coptic merchants of Cairo have begun to found schools and seminaries and generally to promote education and such advantages among their nation. One of these, M. Gabriel Labib, who is editing their service books, promises to be a scholar of some distinction in questions of liturgy and archeology.
Abyssinia has about three million inhabitants, nearly all members of the national Church. There are many monks and an enormous number of priests, whom the Abuna ordains practically without any previous preparation or examination. The Abyssinians have liturgies, again, derived from those of Alexandria in the old (classical) form of their language. The Abyssinian Church, being the religion of more than half barbarous people, cut off by the schism from relations with any other Christian body except the poor and backward Copts, is certainly the lowest representative of the great Christian family. The people have gradually mixed up Christianity with a number of pagan and magical elements, and are specially noted for strong Jewish tendencies (they circumcise and have on their altars a sort of Ark of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments). Lately Russia has developed an interest in the Abyssinians and has begun to undertake schemes for educating them, and, of course, at the same time, converting them to Orthodoxy.
From this Sergius the Jacobite patriarchs descend. Historically, the Jacobites of Syria are the national Church of their country, as much as the Copts in Egypt; but they by no means form so exclusively the religion of the native population. Syria never held together, was never so compact a unity as Egypt. We have seen that the Eastern Syrians expressed their national, anti-Imperial feeling by adopting the extreme opposite heresy, Nestorianism, which, however, had the same advantage of not being the religion of Caesar and his court. Among the Western Syrians, too, there has always been a lack of cohesion. They had in Monophysite times two patriarchates (Antioch and Jerusalem) instead of one. In all quarrels, whether political or theological, whereas the Copts move like one man for the cause of Egypt and the "Christian Pharaoh", the Syrians are divided amongst themselves.
So there have always been many more Melkites in Syria, and the Jacobites were never an overwhelming majority. Now they are a small minority (about 80,000) dwelling in Syria, Mesopotamia, Kurdistan. Their head is the Jacobite Patriarch of "Antioch and all the East". He always takes the name Ignatius and dwells either at Diarbekir or Mardin in Mesopotamia. Under him, as first of the metropolitans, is the Maphrian, a prelate who was originally set up to rule the Eastern Jacobites as a rival of the Nestorian catholicos. Originally the maphrian had a number of special rights and privileges that made him almost independent of his patriarch. Now he has only precedence of other metropolitans, a few rights in connection with the patriarch's election and consecration (when the patriarch dies he is generally succeeded by the maphrian) and the title "Maphrian and Catholicos of the East". Besides these two, the Jacobites have seven metropolitans and three other bishops. As in all Eastern Churches, there are many monks, from whom the bishops are always taken. The Syrian Jacobites are in communion with the Copts.
They name the Coptic patriarch in the Liturgy, and the rule is that each Syrian patriarch should send an official letter to his brother of Alexandria to announce his succession. This implies a recognition of superior rank which is consistent with the old precedence of Alexandria over Antioch. At Mardin still linger the remains of an old pagan community of Sun-worshippers who in 1762 (when the Turks finally decided to apply to them, too, the extermination that the Koran prescribes for pagans) preferred to hide under the outward appearance of Jacobite Christianity. They were, therefore, all nominally converted, and they conform the laws of the Jacobite Church, baptize, fast, receive all sacraments and Christian burial. But they only marry among themselves and every one knows that they still practise their old pagan rites in secret. There are about one hundred families of these people, still called Shamsiyeh (people of the Sun).
The Malabar Christians in India have had the strangest history of all these Eastern Churches. For, having been Nestorians, they have now veered round to the other extreme and have become Monophysites. We hear of Christian communities along the Malabar coast (in Southern India from Goa to Cape Comorin) as early as the sixth century. They claim the Apostle of St. Thomas as their founder (hence their name "Thomas Christians", or "Christians of St. Thomas"). In the first period they depended on the Catholicos of Selecuia-Ctesiphon, and were Nestorians like him. They are really one of the many missionary Churches founded by the Nestorians in Asia. In the sixteenth century the Portuguese succeeded in converting a part of this Church to reunion in Rome. A further schism among these Eastern Catholics led to a complicated situation, of which the Jacobite patriarch took advantage by sending a bishop to form a Jacobite Malabar Church.
There were then three parties among them: Nestorians, Jacobites, and Catholics. The line of Nestorian metropolitans died out (it has been revived lately) and nearly all the non-Catholic Thomas Christians may be counted as Monophysites since the eighteenth century. But the Jacobite patriarch seems to have forgotten them, so that after 1751 they chose their own hierarchy and were an independent Church. In the nineteenth century, after they had been practically rediscovered by the English, the Jacobites in Syria tried to reassert authority over Malabar by sending out a metropolitan named Athanasius. Athanasius made a considerable disturbance, excommunicated the hierarchy he found, and tried to reorganize this Church in communion with the Syrian patriarch. But the Rajah of Travancore took the side of the national Church and forced Athanasius to leave the county.
Since then the Thomas Christians have been a quite independent Church whose communion with the Jacobites of Syria is at most only theoretic. There are about 70,000 of them under a metropolitan who calls himself "Bishop and Gate of all India". He is always named by his predecessor, i.e. each metropolitan chooses a coadjutor with the right of succession. The Thomas Christians use Syriac liturgically and describe themselves generally as "Syrians".
Because of this distinction it is usual to call the others Gregorian Armenians -- after St. Gregory the Illuminator -- another polite concession of form on our part akin to that of "Orthodox" etc. Quite lately the Gregorian Armenians have begun to call themselves Orthodox. This has no meaning and only confuses the issue. Of course each Church thinks itself really Orthodox, and Catholic and Apostolic and Holy too. But one must keep technical names clear, or we shall always talk at cross purposes. The polite convention throughout the Levant is that we are Catholics, that people in communion with the "Ecumenical Patriarch" are Orthodox, and that Monophysite Armenians are Gregorian. They should be content with that is an honourable title to which we and the Orthodox do not of course think that they have really any right. They have no real right to it, because the Apostle of Armenia, St. Gregory the Illuminator (295), was no Monophysite, but a Catholic in union with Rome.
The Armenian Church was in the first period subject to the Metropolitan of Caesarea; he ordained its bishops. It suffered persecution from the Persians and was an honoured branch of the great Catholic Church till the sixth century. Then Monophysitism spread through Armenia from Syria, and in 527 the Armenian primate, Nerses, in the Synod of Duin, formally rejected the Council of Calcedon. The schism was quite manifest in 552, when the primate, Abraham I, excommunicated the Church of Georgia and all others who accepted the decrees of Chalcedon. From that time the national Armenian Church has been isolated from the rest of Christendom; the continual attempts at reunion made by Catholic missionaries, however, have established a considerable body of Armenian Catholics.
The Armenians are a prolific and widespread race. They are found not only in Armenia, but scattered all over the Levant and in many cities of Europe and America. As they always bring their Church with them, it is a large and important community, second only to the Orthodox in size among Eastern Churches. There are about three millions of Gregorian Armenians. Among their bishops four have the title of patriarch. The first is the Patriarch of Etchmiadzin, who bears as a special title that of catholicos. Etchmiadzin is a monastery in the province of Erivan, between the Black and the Caspian Seas, near Mount Ararat (since 1828 Russian territory). It is the cradle of the race and their chief sanctuary.
The catholicos is the head of the Armenia Church and to a great extent of his nation too. Before the Russian occupation of Erivan he had unlimited jurisdiction over all Georgian Armenians and was something very like an Armenian pope. But since he sits under the shadow of Russia, and especially since the Russian Government has begun to interfere in his election and administration, the Armenians of Turkey have made themselves nearly independent of him. The second rank belongs to the Patriarch of Constantinople.They have had a bishop at Constantinople since 1307. In 1461 Mohammed II gave this bishop the title of Patriarch of the Armenians, so as to rivet their loyalty to his capital and to form a millet (nation) on the same footing as the Rum millet (the Orthodox Church).
This patriarch is the person responsible to the Porte for his race, has the same privileges as his Orthodox rival, and now uses the jurisdiction over all Turkish Armeniansthat formerly belonged to the catholicos. Under him, and little more than titular patriarchs, are those of Sis in Cilicia (a title kept after a temporary schism in 1440 and Jerusalem (whose title was assumed illegally in the eighteenth century). The Armenians have seven dioceses in the Russian Empire, two in Persia, and thirty-five in Turkey. They distinguish archbishops from bishops by an honorary precedence only and have an upper class of priests called Vartapeds, who are celibate and provide all the higher offices (bishops are always taken from their ranks). There are, of course, as in all Eastern Churches, many monks.
In many ways the Armenian (Gregorian) Church has been influenced by Rome, so that they are among Eastern schismatical bodies the only one that can be described as at all latinized. Examples of such influence are their use of unleavened bread for the Holy Eurcharist, their vestments (the mitre is almost exactly the Roman one), etc. This appears to be the result of opposition to their nearer rivals, the Orthodox. In any case, at present the Armenians are probably nearer to the Catholic Church and better disposed for reunion than any other of these communions. Their Monophysitism is now very vague and shadowy -- as indeed is the case with most Monophysite Churches. It is from them that the greatest proportion of Eastern-Rite Catholics have been converted.
This brings us to the end of the Monophysite bodies and so to the end of all schismatical Eastern Churches. A further schism was indeed caused by the Monothelite heresy in the seventh century, but the whole of the Church then formed (the Maronite Church) has been for many centuries reunited with Rome. So Maronites have their place only among the Eastern Catholics.
A curious, but entirely theoretic, question of terminology is: Are Milanese and Mozarabic considered Eastern Rite Catholics? If we make rite our basis, they are. That is, they are Catholics who do not belong to the Roman Rite. The point has sometimes been urged rather as a catch than seriously. As a matter of fact, the real basis, though it is superficially less obvious than rite, is patriarchate. Eastern-Rite Catholics are Catholics who do not belong to the Roman patriarchate. So these two remnants of other rites in the West do not constitute Eastern-Rite Churches.
In the West, rite does not always follow patriarchate; the great Gallican Church, with her own rite, was always part of the Roman patriarchate; so are Milan and Toledo. This, however, raises a new difficulty; for it may be urged that in that case the Italo-Greeks are not Eastern Catholics, since they certainly belong to the Roman patriarchate. They do, of course; and they always have done so legally. But the constitution of these Italo-Greek Churches was originally the result of an attempt on the part of the Eastern emperors (Leo III, 717-741, especially; see "Orth. Eastern Church", 45-47) to filch them from the Roman patriarchate and join them to that of Constantinople. Although the attempt did not succeed, the descendants of the Greeks in Calabria, Sicily, etc., have kept the Byzantine Rite. They are an exception to the rule, invariable in the East, that rite follows patriarchate, and are an exception to the general principle about Eastern Rites too. As they have no diocesan bishops of their own, on this ground it may well be denied that they form a Church. An Italo-Greek may best be defined as a member of the Roman patriarchate in Italy, Sicily, or Corsica, who, as a memory of older arrangements, is still allowed to use the Byzantine Rite.
With regard to the fundamental distinction of patriarchate, it must be noted that it is no longer purely geographical. A Latin in the East belongs to the Roman patriarch as much as if he lived in the West; Latin missionaries everywhere and the newer dioceses in Australia and American count as part of what was once the patriarchate of Western Europe. So also the Melkites in Leghorn, Marseilles, and Paris belong to the Byzantine Catholic patriarchate, though, as foreigners, they are temporarily subject to Latin bishops.
A short enumeration and description of the Catholic Eastern Rites will complete this picture of the Eastern Churches. It is, in the first place, a mistake (encouraged by Eastern schismatics and Anglicans) to look upon these Catholic Eastern Rites as a sort of compromise between Latin and other rites, or between Catholics and schismatics. Nor is it true that they are Catholics to whom grudging leave has been given to keep something of their national customs. Their position is quite simple and quite logical. They represent exactly the state of the Eastern Churches before the schisms. They are entirely and uncompromisingly Catholics in our strictest sense of the word, quite as much as Latins. They accept the whole Catholic Faith and the authority of the pope as visible head of the Catholic Church, as did St. Athanasius, St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom.
They do not belong to the pope's patriarchate, nor do they use his rite, any more than did the great saints of Eastern Christendom. They have their own rites and their own patriarchs, as had their fathers before the schism. Nor is there any idea of compromise or concession about this. The Catholic Church has never been identified with the Western patriarchate. The pope's position as patriarch of the West is as distinct from his papal rights as is his authority as local Bishop of Rome. It is no more necessary to belong to his patriarchate in order to acknowledge his supreme jurisdiction that it is necessary to have him for diocesan bishop.
The Eastern Catholic Churches in union with the West have always been as much the ideal of the Church Universal as the Latin Church. If some of those Eastern Churches fall into schism, that is a misfortune which does not affect the others who remain faithful. If all fall away, the Eastern half of the Church disappears for a time as an actual fact; it remains as a theory and an ideal to be realized again as soon as they, or some of them, come back to union with Rome.
This is what has happened. There is at any rate no certain evidence of continuity from time before the schism in any of these Eastern Catholic Churches. Through the bad time, from the various schisms to the sixteenth and seventh centuries, there are traces, isolated cases, of bishops who have at least wished for reunion with the West; but it cannot be claimed that any considerable body of Eastern Christians have kept the union throughout. The Maronites think they have, but they are mistaken; the only real case is that of the Italo-Greeks (who have never been schismatic).
Really the Eastern Catholic Churches were formed by Catholic missionaries since the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. And as soon as any number of Eastern Christians were persuaded to reunite with the West, the situation that had existed before the schisms became an actual one again. They became Catholics; no one thought of asking them to become Latins. They were given bishops and patriarchs of their own as successors of the old Catholic Eastern bishops before the schism, and they became what all Eastern Christians had once been -- Catholics.
That the Eastern Catholics are comparatively small bodies is the unfortunate result of the fact that the majority of their countrymen prefer schism. Our missionaries would willingly make them larger ones. But, juridically, they stand exactly where all the East once stood, before the Greek schism, or during the short-lived union of Florence (1439-53). And they have as much right to exist and be respected as have Latins, or the great Catholic bishops in the East had during the first centuries. The idea of latinizing all Eastern Catholics, sometimes defended by people on our side whose zeal for uniformity is greater than their knowledge of the historical and juridical situation, is diametrically opposed to antiquity, to the Catholic system of ecclesiastical organization, and to the policy of all popes. Nor has it any hope of success. The East may become Catholic again; it will never be what it never has been -- Latin.
This completes the list of Byzantine Catholics, of whom it may be said that the chief want is organization among themselves. There has often been talk of restoring a Catholic (Melkite) Patriarch of Constantinople. It was said that Pope Leo XIII intended to arrange this before he died. If such a revival ever is made, the patriarch would have jurisdiction, or at least a primacy, over all Catholics of his Rite; in this way the scattered unities of Melkites in Syria, Ruthenians in Hungary, Italo-Greeks in Sicily, and so on, would be linked together as are all other Eastern Catholic Churches.
There are monasteries whose arrangements are very similar to those of the Nestorians. The liturgical books (in Syriac, slightly revised from the Nestorian ones) are printed by the Dominicans at Mosul. Most of their canon law depends on the Bull of Pius IX, "Reversurus" (12 July, 1867), published for the Armenians and extended to the Chaldees by another Bull, "Cum ecclesiastica" (31 Aug., 1869). They have some students at the Propaganda College in Rome.
There are also many Catholic Armenians in Austria-Hungary who are subject in Transylvania to the Latin bishops, but in Galicia to the Armenian Archbishop of Lemberg. In Russia there is an Armenian Catholic See of Artvin immediately subject to the pope. The Mechitarists (Founded by Mechitar of Sebaste in 1711) are an important element of Armenian Catholicism. They are monks who follow the Rule of St. Benedict and have monasteries at San Lazzaro outside Venice, at Vienna, and in many towns in the Balkans, Armenia, and Russia. They have missions all over the Levant, schools, and presses that produce important liturgical, historical, historical, and theological works. Since 1869 all Armenian Catholic priests must be celibate.
Their head is the Maronite "Patriarch of Antioch and all the East", successor to Monothelite rivals of the old line, who, therefore, in no way represents the original patriarchate. He is also the civil head of his nation, although he has no berat from the sultan, and lives in a large palace at Bkerki in the Lebanon. He has under him nine sees and several titular bishops. There are many monasteries and convents. The present law of the Maronite Church was drawn up by the great national council held in 1736 at the monastery of Our Lady of the Almond Trees (Deir Saïdat al-Luaize), in the Lebanon. There are about 300,000 Maronites in the Lebanon and scattered along the Syrian coast. They also have colonies in Egypt and Cyprus, and numbers of them have lately begun to emigrate to America. They have a national college at Rome.
In considering their general characteristics we must first of all again separate the Eastern Catholics from the others. Eastern Rite Catholics are true Catholics, and have as much right to be so treated as Latins. As far as faith and morals go they must be numbered with us; as far as the idea of an Eastern Church may now seem to connote schism or a state of opposition to the Holy See, they repudiate it as strongly as we do. Nevertheless, their position is very important as being the result of relations between Rome and the East, and as showing the terms on which reunion between East and West is possible.
The first of these is their national feeling. In all these groups the Church is the nation; the vehement and often intolerant ardour of what seems to be their religious conviction is always really national pride and national loyalty under the guise of theology. This strong national feeling is the natural result of their political circumstances. For centuries, since the first ages, various nations have lived side by side and have carried on bitter opposition against each other in the Levant. Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Balkans have never had one homogeneous population speaking one language. From the beginning, nationality in these parts has been a question not of the soil, but of a community held together by its language, striving for supremacy with other communities. The Roman contest accentuated this. Rome and then Constantinople was always a foreign tyranny to Syrians and Egyptians. And already in the fourth century of the Christian Era they began to accentuate their own nationalism, crushed in politics, by taking up an anti-imperial form of religion, by which they could express their hatred for the Government. Such an attitude has characterized these nations ever since. Under the Turk, too, the only possible separate organization was and is an ecclesiastical one. The Turk even increased the confusion. He found a simple and convenient way of organizing thesubject Christians by taking their religion as a basis. So the Porte recognizes each sect as an artificial nation (millet). The Orthodox Church became the "Roman nation" (Rum millet), inheriting the name of the old Empire. Then there were the "Armenian nation" (Ermeni millet), the "Coptic nation", and so on. Blood has nothing to do with it. Any subject of the Porte who joins the Orthodox Church becomes a Roman and is submitted politically to the ecumenical patriarch; a Jew who is converted by Armenians becomes an Armenian. True, the latest development of Turkish politics has modified this artificial system, and there have been during the nineteenthcentury repeated attempts to set up one great Ottoman nation. But the effect of centuries is too deeply rooted, and the opposition between Islam and Christianity too great, to make this possible. A Moslem in Turkey -- whether Turk, Arab, or negro -- is simply a Moslem, and a Christian is a Roman, or Armenian, or Maronite, etc. Our Western idea of separating politics from religion, of being on the one hand loyal citizens of our country and on the other, as a quite distinct thing, members of some Church, is unknown in the East. The millet is what matters; and the millet is a religious body. So obvious does this identification seem to them that till quite lately they applied it to us. A Catholic was (and still is to the more remote and ignorant people) a "French Christian", a Protestant an "English Christian"; in speaking French or Italian, Levantines constantly use the word nation for religion. Hence it is, also, that there are practically no conversions from one religion to another. Theology, dogma, or any kind of religious conviction counts for little or nothing. A man keeps to his millet and hotly defends it, as we do to our fatherlands; for a Jacobite to turn Orthodox would be like a Frenchman turning German.
We have noted that religious conviction counts for little. It is hard to say how much say of these bodies (Nestorian or Monophysite) are now even conscious of what was once the cardinal issue of their schism. The bishops and more educated clergy have no doubt a general and hazy idea of the question -- Nestorians think that everyone else denies Christ's real manhood, Monophysites that all their opponents "divide Christ". But what stirs their enthusiasm is not the metaphysical problem; it is the conviction that what they believe is the faith of their fathers, the heroes of their "nation" who were persecuted by the other millets, as they are day-to-day (for there everyone thinks that everyone else persecutes his religion). Opposed to all these little milal (plural of millet) there looms, each decade mightier and more dangerous, the West, Europe Frengistan (of which the United States, of course, forms part to them). Their lands are overrun with Frengis; Frengi schools tempt their young men, and Frengi churches, with eloquent sermons and attractive services, their women. They frequent the schools assiduously; for the Levantine has discovered that arithmetic, French, and physical science are useful helps to earning a good living. But to accept the Frengi religion means treason to their nation. It is a matter of course to them that we are Catholics or Protestants, those are our milal; but an Armenian, a Copt, a Nestorian does not become a Frengi. Against this barrier argument, quotation of Scripture, texts of Fathers, accounts of Church history, break in vain. Your opponent listens, is perhaps even mildly interested, and then goes about his business as before. Frengis are very clever and learned; but of course he is an Armenia, or whatever it may be. Sometimes whole bodies move (as Nestorian dioceses have lately begun to coquet with Russian Orthodoxy), and then every member moves too. One cleaves to one's millet whatever it does. Certainly, if the heads of any body can be persuaded to accept reunion with Rome, the rank and file will make no difficulty, unless there be another party strong enough to proclaim that those heads have deserted the nation.
The second characteristic, a corollary of the first, is the intense conservatism of all these bodies. They cling fanatically to their rites, even to the smallest custom -- because it is by these that the millet is held together. Liturgical language is the burning question in the Balkans. They are all Orthodox, but inside the Orthodox Church, there are various milal -- Bulgars, Vlachs, Serbs, Greeks, whose bond of union is the language used in church. So one understands the uproar made in Macedonia about language in the liturgy; the revolution among the Serbs of Uskub in 1896, when their new metropolitan celebrated in Greek (Orth. Eastern Church, 326); the ludicrous scandal at Monastir, in Macedonia, when they fought overa dead man's body and set the whole town ablaze because some wanted him to be buried in Greek and some in Rumanian (op. cit., 333). The great and disastrous Bulgarian schism, the schism at Antioch, are simply questionsof the nationality of the clergy and the language they use.
It follows then that the great difficulty in the way of reunion is this question of nationality. Theology counts for very little. Creeds and arguments, even when people seem to make much of them, are really only shibboleths, convenient expressions of what they really care about -- their nation. The question of nature and person in Christ, the Filioque in the Creed, azyme bread, and so on do not really stir the heart of the Eastern Christian. But he will not become a Frengi. Hence the importance of the Eastern Catholic Churches. Once for all these people will never become Latins, nor is there any reason why they should. The wisdom of the Holy See has always been to restore union, to insist on the Catholic Faith, and for the rest to leave each millet alone with its own native hierarchy, its own language, its own rites. When this is done we have an Eastern Catholic Church.
It was, in the first instance, with the Orthodox that Rome treated with a view to reunion. The Second Council of Lyons (1274) and the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438-39) were the first efforts on a large scale. And at Florence were at least some representatives of all the other Eastern Churches; as a kind of supplement to the great affair of the Orthodox, reunion with them was considered too. None of these reunions were stable. Nevertheless they were, and they remain, important facts. They (the union of Florence especially) were preceded by elaborate discussions in which the attitudes of East and West, Orthodox and Catholic, were clearly compared. Every question was examined -- the primacy, the Filioque, azyme bread, purgatory, celibacy, etc.
The Council of Florence has not been forgotten in the East. It showed Eastern Christians what the conditions of reunion are, and it has left them always conscious that reunion is possible and is greatly desired by Rome. And on the other hand it remains always as an invaluable precedent for the Roman Court. The attitude of the Holy See at Florence was the only right one: to be quite unswerving in the question of faith and to concede everything else that possibly can be conceded. There is no need of uniformity in rites or in canon law; as long as practices are not absolutely bad and immoral, each Church may work out its own development along its own lines. Customs that would not suit the West may suit the East very well; and we have no right to quarrel with such customs as long as they are not forced upon us.
So, at Florence, in all these matters there was no attempt at changing the old order. Each Church was to keep its own liturgy and its own canon law as far as that was not incompatible with the Roman primacy, which is de fide. The very decree that proclaimed the primacy added the clause, that the pope guides and rules the whole Church of God "without prejudice to the rights and privileges of the other patriarchs". And the East was to keep its married clergy and its leavened bread, was not to say the Filioque in the Creed, nor use solid statues, nor do any of the things they resent as being Latin.
If any Eastern customs have been discouraged or forbidden, it is because they were obviously abuses and immoral like the quasi-hereditary patriarchate of the Nestorians, or sheer paganism like the superstitions forbidden by the Maronite Synod of 1736. True, their liturgical books have been altered in places; true also that in the past these corrections were made sometimes by well-meaning officials of Propaganda whose liturgical knowledge was not equal to their pious zeal. But in this case, too, the criterion was not conformity with the Roman Rite, but purification from supposed (sometimes mistakenly supposed) false doctrine. That the Maronite Rite is so latinized is due to its own clergy. It was the Maronites themselves who insisted on using our vestments, our azyme bread, our Communion under one kind, till these things had to be recognized, because they were already ancient customs to them prescribed by the use of generations.
Before Pius IX, the most important of these documents was Benedict XIV's Encyclical "Allatae sunt" of 2 July, 1755. In it the pope is able to quote a long list of his predecessors who had already cared for the Eastern Churches and their rites. He mentions acts of Innocent III (1198-1216), Honorius III (1216-27), Innocent IV (1243-54), Alexander IV (1254-61), Gregory X (1271-76), Nicholas III (1277-80), Eugene IV (1431-47), Leo X (1513-21), Clement VII (1523-34), Pius IV (1559-65), all to this effect.
Gregory XIII (1572-85) founded at Rome colleges for Greeks, Maronites, Armenians. In 1602 Clement VIII published a decree allowing Ruthenian priests to celebrate their rite in Latin churches. In 1624 Urban VIII forbade Ruthenians to become Latins. Clement IX, in 1669, published the same order for Armenian Catholics (Allatae sunt, I). Benedict XIV not only quotes these examples of former popes, he confirms the same principle by new laws. In 1742 he had re-established the Ruthenian Church with the Byzantine Rite after the national Council of Zamosc, confirming again the laws of Clement VIII in 1595. When the Melkite Patriarch of Antioch wanted to change the use of the Presanctified Liturgy in his Rite, Benedict XIV answered: "The ancient rubrics of the Greek Church must be kept unaltered, and your priests must be made to follow them" (Bullarium Ben. XIV., Tom. I). He ordains that Melkites who, for lack ofa priest of their own Rite, had been baptized by a Latin, should not be considered as having changed to our Use: "We forbid absolutely that any Catholic Melkites who follow the Greek Rite should pass over to the Latin Rite" (ib., cap. xvii).
The Encyclical "Allatae sunt" forbids missionaries to convert schismatics to the Latin Rite; when they become Catholics they must join the corresponding Eastern Rite (XI). In the Bull "Etsi pastoralis" (1742) the same pope orders that there shall be no precedence because of Rite. Each prelate shall have rank according to his own position or the date of his ordination; in mixed dioceses, if the bishop is Latin (as in Southern Italy), he is to have at least one vicar-general of the other Rite (IX).
Most of all did the last two popes show their concern for Eastern Christendom. Each by a number of Acts carried on the tradition of conciliation towards the schismatical Churches and of protection of Catholic Eastern Rites.
Pius IX, in his Encyclical "In Suprema Petri" (Epiphany, 1848), again assures non-Catholics that "we will keep unchanged your liturgies, which indeed we greatly honour"; schismatic clergy who join the Catholic Church are to keep the same rank and position as they had before. In 1853 the Catholic Rumanians were given a bishop of their own Rite, and in the Allocution made on that occasion, as well as in the one to the Armenians on 2 February, 1854, he again insists on the same principle. In 1860 the Bulgars, disgusted with the Phanar (the Greeks of Constantinople), approached the Catholic Armenian patriarch, Hassun; he, and the pope confirming him, promised that there should be no latinizing of their Rite. Pius IX founded, 6 January, 1862, a separate department for the Oriental Rites as a special section of the great Propaganda Congregation.
Leo XIII in 1888 wrote a letter to the Armenians (Paterna charitas) in which he exhorts the Gregorians to reunion, always on the same terms. But his most important act, perhaps the most important of all documents of this kind, is the Encyclical "Orientalium dignitas ecclesiarum" of 30 November, 1894. In this letter the pope reviewed and confirmed all similar acts of his predecessors and then strengthened them by yet severer laws against any form of latinizing the East. The first part of the Encyclical quotes examples of the care of former popes for Eastern Rites, especially of Pius IX; Pope Leo remembers also what he himself has already done for the same cause -- the foundation of colleges at Rome, Philippopoli, Adrianople, Athens, and St. Ann at Jerusalem. He again commands that in these colleges students should be exactly trained to observe their own rites. He praises these venerable Eastern liturgies as representing most ancient and sacred traditions, and quotes again the text that has been used so often for this purpose, circumdata varietate applied to the queen, who is the Church (Ps. xliv, 10). The Constitutions of Benedict XIV against latinizers are confirmed; new and most severe laws are promulgated: any missionary who tries to persuade an Eastern-Rite Catholic to join the Latin Rite is ipso facto suspended, and is to be expelled from his place. In colleges where boys of different Rites are educated there are to be priests of each Rite to administer the sacraments. In case of need one may receive a sacrament from a priest of another Rite; but for Communion it should be, if possible, at least one who uses the same kind of bread. No length of use can prescribe a change of Rite. A woman marrying may conform to her husband's Rite, but if she becomes a widow she must go back to her own.
In the Encyclical "Praeclara gratulationis', of 20 June, 1894, that has been often described as "Leo XIII's testament", he again turned to the Eastern Churches and invited them in the most courteous and the gentlest way to come back to communion with us. He assures schismatics that no great difference exists between their faith and ours, and repeats once more that he would provide for all their customs without narrowness (Orth. Eastern Church, 434, 435). It was this letter that called forth the unpardonably offense answer of Anthimos VII of Constantinople (op. cit., 435-438). Nor, as long as he lived, did Leo XIII cease caring for Eastern Churches. On 11 June, 1895, he wrote the letter "Unitas christiana" to be the Copts, and on 24 December of that same year he restored the Catholic Coptic patriarchate. Lastly, on 19 March, 1895, in a motu proprio, he again insisted on the reverence due to the Eastern Churches and explained the duties of Latin delegates in the East.
As a last example of all, Pius X in his Allocution, after the now famous celebration of the Byzantine Liturgy in his presence on 12 February, 1908, again repeated the same declaration of respect for Eastern rites and customs and the same assurance of his intention to preserve them (Echos d'Orient, May, 1908, 129-31). Indeed this spirit of conservatism with regard to liturgies is in our own time growing steadily at Rome with the increase of liturgical knowledge, so that there is reason to believe that whatever unintentional mistakes have been made in the past (chiefly with regard to the Maronite and Catholic Armenian rites) will now gradually be corrected, and that the tradition of the most entire acceptance and recognition of other rites in the East will be maintained even more firmly than in the past.
The feeling out towards the West for sympathy, help, and perhaps eventually communion, is in the direction of Catholics, not of Protestants. Protestantism is too remote from all their theology, and its principles are too destructive of all their system for it to attract them. Harnack notes this of Russians: that their more friendly feeling towards the West tends Romeward, not in an Evangelical direction (Reden and Aufsätze, II, 279); it is at least equally true of other Eastern Churches. When the conviction has spread that they have everything to gain by becoming again members of a really universal Church, that union with Rome means all the advantages of Western ideas and a sound theological position, and that, on the other hand, it leaves the national millet untouched, un-latinized, and only stronger for so powerful an alliance, then indeed the now shadowy and remote issues about nature and person in Christ, the entirely artificial grievances of the Filioque and our azyme bread will easily be buried in the dust that has gathered over them for centuries, and Eastern Christians may some day wake up and find that there is nothing to do but to register again a union that ought never to have been broken.
Transcribed by Christine J. Murray
The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume V
Nihil Obstat, May 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor
Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York
Eastern Orthodox Church
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