Russia and the English Church
During the Last Fifty Years Volume I.
Containing a Correspondence between Mr. William Palmer,
Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford
And M. Khomiakoff, in the years 1844-1854
Edited by W. J. Birkbeck, M.A., F.S.A. Published for the Eastern Church Association. London: Rivington, Percival & Co. 1895.
“This is obviously a matter upon which a member of the Eastern Church can speak with more ease and accuracy than one who belongs to a branch of the Western Church, and I think, therefore, that in order to enable English readers to appreciate the services which Khomiakoff rendered to the Russian Church, and to understand the nature of the change which he was the means of introducing into her current theology, I cannot do better than translate a description of it written by his friend and disciple Mr. George Samarin, in his introduction to the second volume of Mr. Alexis Stepanovich Khomiakoff’s works, in which his principal theological writings are contained:
‘And what was it that our school of theologians did? Its action may be described in one word, it parried; [the imperfect tense of the reflexive form of the verb, to parry, or to ward off.] in other words, it took up a position which was essentially defensive, and which consequently subordinated its form and manner of action to those of its adversaries. It took into consideration the questions which Latinism and Protestantism proposed to it, and took them in the same form as that into which Western controversy had shaped them, without even suspecting that error was to be found not only in the conclusions, but also in the very manner in which these questions were stated–indeed, perhaps even more in this than in the conclusions themselves. Accordingly, involuntarily and unconsciously, and without foreseeing the consequences, our school moved off from the terra firma of the Church and passed over on to that land of quagmires, pitfalls, and mines, whither the Western theologians had long been endeavouring to entice it. On advancing thither it was subjected to a cross fire, and was forced, almost of necessity, in order to defend itself against the attacks directed upon it from two opposite sides, to seize upon the weapon which had long before been prepared and adjusted to the work by the Western confessions in their own internecine, domestic conflicts. The inevitable result of course was that, as step by step they entangled themselves more and more in Latino-Protestant antinomies, the Orthodox theologians themselves ended by becoming divided into two sections. They formed themselves into two schools, the one exclusively anti-Latin, the other exclusively anti-Protestant; an Orthodox school in the strict sense of the word ceased to exist. It is, of course, hardly necessary to say that they were unsuccessful in the conflict. A good deal of zeal, learning, and perseverance was no doubt displayed, and not a few individual successes were achieved, more particularly in exposing instances of Latin frauds, concealments, and trickery of all sorts. As far also as the final results were concerned, it is hardly necessary to say that Orthodoxy was not shaken; but for this no thanks are due to our theologians, and indeed we cannot but admit that the contest was conducted by them upon anything but the right lines.
‘The mistake which they made at the very outset, in allowing themselves to be led over on to alien soil, entailed three inevitable consequences. In the first place, the anti-Latin school admitted into itself a Protestant, and the anti-Protestant school a Latin leaven; secondly, and as the result of this, each success of either of these schools in its conflict with its rival always resulted in injuring the other, and provided for the common enemy with which both had to deal a fresh weapon against themselves; and thirdly, and most important of all, the rationalism of the West filtered through into Orthodox theology, and crystallised itself there in the form of a scientific setting to the dogmas of the faith–in the shape of proofs, explanations, and deductions. For such of our readers as are unacquainted with the subject we will bring forward some examples of this in a shape which all can understand.
‘”Which is the more important, and which serves as the ground to which: Scripture or Tradition?”
‘This is how the question is put by Western theology. In this way of stating it Latins and Protestants are at one, and it is in this form that they submit it to our consideration. Our theologians, instead of rejecting it and pointing out the senselessness of opposing to one another two phenomena, each of which is devoid of meaning without the other, and which are both indivisibly intermingled in the living organism of the Church, accepts the question for investigation as it stands, and on this soil enters upon a disputation. Against some Martin Chemnitz or other an Orthodox theologian of the anti-Protestant school enters the lists and says: “It is from tradition that the Scriptures receive their definition, as revealed truth, as revelation; consequently it is from tradition that they receive their authority; moreover, in themselves the Scriptures are not complete, they are obscure and difficult to understand, they often give occasion to heresies, and therefore, taken by themselves, they are not only insufficient, but even dangerous.” A Jesuit hears all this. He comes up to the Orthodox theologian, congratulates him on his victory over the Protestant, and whispers into his ear: “You are perfectly right, but you have not followed your argument up to its logical end; there yet remains for you one small step–take the Scriptures away from the laity altogether.”
‘But at the same time an Orthodox theologian of the anti-Papal type appears on the scene and says: “You are quite wrong! The Scriptures contain within themselves both inward and outward signs of their divine origin; Scripture is the norm of truth, the measure of all tradition, and not tradition the measure of Scripture; the Scriptures were given to all Christians in order that all might read them; they are complete, and require no supplementing, for whatever is not found within them in actual words may be abstracted from them by accurate logical reasoning; and lastly, in every matter necessary to salvation they are clear and perfectly intelligible to the understanding of every man who searches them in good faith.” “Excellent!” says the Protestant; “just so; the Bible as the object, the individual intellect investigating it in good faith as the subject, and nothing more is wanted!”
‘Another question: “By what is a man justified? By faith alone, or by faith with the addition to it of works of satisfaction?” This is how the question is stated in the Latino-Protestant world, and our Orthodox theologians reiterate it, not perceiving that the very raising of such a question indicates a confusion between faith and irresponsible learning, and between works in the sense of a manifestation of faith, and works in the sense of a manifestation which has passed over into the domain of tangible and visible facts. And so a fresh dispute commences.
‘The Jesuit hurries up to the Orthodox theologian of the anti-Protestant school, and enters into a conversation with him, somewhat as follows: “Of course you abhor the sophistries of the Lutherans when they assert that works are not necessary, and that a man may be saved by faith alone?” “Yes, we abhor them.” “That is to say, besides faith works are also necessary?” “Yes, certainly.” “And therefore, if it is impossible to be saved without works, works have a justificative power?” “Yes, so they have.” “But then, suppose the case of the man who, on account of his faith, has repented and received absolution, but has none the less died without having succeeded in accomplishing works of satisfaction; what about him? For such an one we have purgatory, but what have you?” “We,” replies our anti-Protestant Orthodox theologian, after talking it over a little bit, “we have something of the same sort: sufferings.” “Quite so; that is to say, the place exists; we only differ about what to call it. But that is not all: there is another question besides that of whether there is such a place and what we are to call it. Inasmuch as in purgatory men can no longer perform works of satisfaction, while at the same time these are just what those who have been sent there require, we advance them to them out of the Church’s treasury of good works and merits which have been left over to us as a reserve fund by the Saints. But how is it with you?” The anti-Protestant Orthodox theologian begins to get confused, and answers in a low voice: “We have also the same sort of capital; that is to say, the merits of works of supererogation.” “But how is it then,” the Jesuit, catching him up, replies, “that you reject indulgences and their sale? For, after all, these are only acts of transference. We put our capital out to the exchangers, whereas you keep it hid under the earth. Is this right of you?”
‘At the very same time, however, and at the other end of the theological arena, another disputation is being held. A learned Protestant pastor is putting questions to one of our Orthodox theologians of the anti-Latin school: “Of course you reject that nonsense of the Papists, which attributes to the works of men the significance of merits in the sight of God, and a justificative power?” “Of course we do.” “And you know that men are saved by faith, and faith alone, without anything more in addition to it?” “Certainly.” “Then be so good as to explain to me your reason for having all those penances of yours, and your so-called counsels of perfection, and your monasticism? What is the use of them all? And what value do you expect to receive for them? Moreover, I would ask you to prove to me, that it is necessary to have recourse to the intercession of the Saints. What do you want it for? Or is it that you have no confidence in the power of redemption, made one’s own by personal faith?” The Orthodox theologian thoughtfully takes out his text-books, and searches them for the necessary proofs and answers, and finds none. His opponent soon realises this, and proceeds to press the matter home, and asks him: “To pray of course moans to ask God something in the hope of obtaining it?” “True.” “And one can only pray, when one expects to obtain something in return for the prayer” “That also is true.” “And there is no intermediate state between hell and heaven, between damnation and salvation–for of course purgatory is nothing but a fable, invented by the Papists, which it is hardly necessary to say that you do not accept?” “Oh! of course not.” “Very well then: why do you waste your prayers and expend them all to no purpose by praying for the dead? One thing or the other: either you are Papists, or else you are behind the times: you have not yet got so far in your religious development as we Protestants.”
‘Finally, a Jesuit (belonging to the newest school) comes forward, and turning to the anti-Protestant Orthodox theologian begins to question him once more: “Surely you do not agree with those thrice accursed Protestants in thinking that an isolated individual with a book in his hands, but living outside the Church, is able to discover the truth and the way of salvation by himself!” “Of course not: we believe that there is no salvation outside the Church, which alone is holy and infallible.” “Excellent! But if this be so, then the first object of every man’s care must be not to forsake the Church, but to be at one with her in all things, both in faith and deed?” “Certainly.” “But then, as you know, sophisms and flattery have often forced their way into the Church, and have led the faithful astray under the mask of ecclesiasticism.” “Yes, we know that.” “And this shows the necessity of a tangible outward sign by means of which every man may unmistakably distinguish the infallible Church?” “Yes, this is necessary,” the Orthodox theologian replies, not seeing the trap into which he is being led. “This we have got,–namely, the Pope; but how about you?” “With us it is the full manifestation of the Church in her teaching, and the organ of her infallible faith is an Oecumenical Council.” “Yes, and we also acknowledge the authority of an Oecumenical Council; but explain to me how an Oecumenical Council is to be distinguished from one that is not Oecumenical, or merely local? By what visible sign, I mean? Why not, for instance, acknowledge the Council of Florence as oecumenical? And do not tell me that you only admit that Council to be oecumenical in which the whole Church recognises her own voice, and her own faith,–that is to say, the inspiration of the Holy Ghost; for the very problem which we now have before us is to arrive at what and where the Church is.” The anti-Protestant Orthodox theologian finds himself at a loss for an answer, and the Jesuit, as a final farewell, says to him: “There is a great deal of good in you, and you and we are both on the same road; but we have arrived at the end, whereas you have not got there yet. We both agree in acknowledging the necessity of an outward mark of the truth, or, in other words, a sign of what is and what is not the Church, but you are searching for one, and cannot find it, whereas we have got one–the Pope; that is the difference between us. You also are in essence Papists, only you do not follow the consequences of your own premises.” [Znameni tserkovnosti. These words, which in the original are in italics, are particularly difficult to translate on account of there being no English equivalent for the word tserkovnost. ‘Sign of churchness,’ or ‘churchity,’ would exactly render it, if either of these words existed in English.]
‘It was on lines such as this that for nearly two centuries the controversy of our two Orthodox schools of theology with the Western confessions dragged along. It was accompanied, as was to be expected, by constant controversy at home between the two schools themselves. As the most complete, exact, and able expression in writing of the line taken by each of them, one has only to mention Theophanes Procopovich’s Latin Theology [on the anti-Latin side], and Stephen Javorski’s Rock of the Faith [on the anti-Protestant side]; [Stephen Javorski, Metropolitan of Riazan, on the death (A.D. 1700) of the Patriarch Adrian of Moscow, was appointed “Guardian of the Patriarchal Throne,” until the establishment of the Holy Synod in 1721. Theophanes Prokopovich, Archbishop of Pskoff, a favourite of Peter the Great, author of the Ecclesiastical Regulations set forth by the Holy Synod, of which he was the presiding member.] all that was published afterwards grouped itself round one or other of these thoroughly representative works, and represented nothing more than extracts from them, more or less feebly restated. Let it be remembered, we are now speaking of our theologians, not of the Church herself. The fortress indeed withstood the assault, and was not shaken by it: but the reason that it was not shaken was that this fortress was the Church of God, and therefore could not fail to maintain her ground; as far as the defence itself was concerned, it is impossible not to admit that it was thoroughly weak and insufficient. The spectators who watched the conflict from outside (and all our cultivated society, with very few exceptions, maintained the attitude of disinterested spectators towards it), judged of the justice of the cause according to the quality of its defence, and were left in perplexity; doubt seized upon many of them, while many more actually took the side of the enemy, some in mysticism, others in Popery, the greater number of course in the latter, inasmuch as there the satisfaction hoped for in taking the step was more cheaply gained. People who considered themselves entirely impartial, that is to say, who imagined, that in having left one shore and not having reached the other, they had, from the lofty height of their religious indifferentism, acquired an aptitude for passing judgment upon the Church, arrived at the notion that Orthodoxy was nothing more than an antiquated and indifferent medium out of which, according to the laws of progress as seen in the West, which was far in advance of us in enlightenment, two tendencies, the one Latin and the other Protestant, had to apportion themselves, and that these, as more fully developed forms of Christianity, were destined in time to divide Orthodoxy between them and eventually to swallow her up. Others there were which said that Latinism and Protestantism, inasmuch as they were contradictory poles mutually excluding one another, could not be the final expressions of the Christian idea, and that, earlier or later, they would have to come to terms and themselves disappear, certainly not in Orthodoxy, which was obsolete and played out, but in some new form of religion which would regard the universe from a higher standpoint. [Literally, ‘In some new, higher form of religious world-contemplation.’] Popery, mysticism, and eclecticism–all three were very seriously preached in our midst, and each of them found followers, and met with hardly any resistance from the point of view of the Church. It is evident that our school of theology could not provide materials for a successful resistance. It continued to carry on its polemics on the treacherous soil already described without changing its position: in a word, it simply acted on the defensive. But to defend oneself is not the same thing as to repulse, still less is it the same thing as to gain the victory; in the domain of thought one can only regard as conquered that which has been finally understood and denned to be error. And our Orthodox school of theology was not in a position to define either Latinism or Protestantism, because that in departing from its own Orthodox standpoint, it had itself become divided into two, and that each of these halves had taken up a position opposed indeed to its opponent, Latin or Protestant, but not above him.”