Ijov’s Blog

January 18, 2009

On the Western Confessions of Faith

Alexey KhomyakovOn the Western Confessions of Faith

by Alexei Khomiakov

The present text is translated and abridged from the text printed in Yu F. Samarin, ed., Polnoe sobranie sochinenii Alekseya Stepanovicha Khomyakova (Moscow, 1900), Vol. II

Every Christian, when faced with an attack on the faith he confesses, is obliged to defend it to the extent of his intellectual ability, not waiting for any special authorization, since the Church has no official advocates. In the light of this observation I am taking up my pen to answer certain unjust accusations brought against the Ecumenical and Orthodox Church, writing in a language which is not my own, for the benefit of foreign readers. Khomyakov’s article was first written and printed in French, and was later (1864) translated and published in Russian.

In an article printed in La Revue des Deux Mondes and apparently written by the Russian diplomat Mr. Tyuchev, mention was made of the supremacy of Rome, and in particular of the confusion of spiritual and worldly interests in the figure of a bishop-sovereign as being the chief reason for the delay in the solution of the religious question in the West. In 1852 this article was answered by Mr. Laurency, and it is this response which calls for a refutation.

I leave aside the question whether Mr. Tyuchev succeeded in expressing his thought in all its breadth (the merits of his article, incidentally, are not even questioned by his opponent), and whether he did not to some extent confuse the reasons for the sickness with its external symptoms.

I shall begin neither by defending my countryman nor by criticizing him. My one purpose is to clear the Church of the strange charges brought against her by Mr. Laurency, and so I shall not go beyond the limits of the religious question. I would also wish to avoid countercharges, but am not able to do so. My travels in foreign lands and conversations with cultured and learned people of all the religious confessions of Europe have convinced me that Russia is still alien and virtually unknown to the Western world; and even more of a mystery to Christians following the Roman banner or the flag of the Reform is the religious thought of the Church’s sons. Therefore, in order to give my readers an opportunity to understand our faith and the logic of its inner life, it will be necessary for me to show them, at least in part, how we regard those questions which Rome and the various German confessions are disputing. I am not even able to promise that I shall avoid unfriendliness in the expression of my thoughts. But I shall try to be just and to refrain from making any charges that are either slanderous or ill-founded. In any case, I am by no means seeking the honor of being known as one who is indifferent to what he regards as falsehood.

Mr. Laurency brings two basic charges against the Church. The first is this: that she supposedly acknowledges the supremacy of temporal power. On these grounds a comparison is drawn between the Roman confession and the Orthodox Church, which naturally does not turn out to our advantage. “The Pope,” says the author, “is indeed a temporal sovereign, but not because he is a high priest; while the ruler of your Church is a high priest because he is a temporal sovereign. On whose side is the truth?” I shall not quote the actual and rather verbose language of the author, but I am sure I am giving its sense. First of all let me mention in passing that the word “high priest” (pontifex) is a most remarkable word, which the Latinists would be wise to stop using. It points all too clearly to a whole family of concepts whose Christian origins are more than doubtful. Even Tertullian noted this and used the expression “Pontifex Maximus” in an ironical sense. However, to the first charge leveled by Mr. Laurency I reply in few words: it is a downright lie; we acknowledge no head of the Church, either clerical or temporal. Christ is her head and she knows no other. I hasten to add that I certainly do not accuse Mr. Laurency of a deliberate slander. In all probability he has fallen into error unwittingly, and I am all the more ready to believe this in view of the fact that many times in my presence foreigners have made the same error; and yet it would seem that only the slightest reflection would be required to clear it up.

Head of the Church! But allow me to ask, if only in the name of common sense, head of precisely what church? Can it be of the Orthodox Church, of which we constitute only a part? In that case, the Russian Emperor would be the head of the churches which are governed by the patriarchs, of the church governed by the Greek Synod, and of the Orthodox churches in the regions of Austria. Even the most extreme ignorance, of course, does not permit such an absurd conclusion. Or perhaps he is the head of the Russian Church alone? But the Russian Church does not represent a distinct Church: she is no more than one of the eparchies of the Ecumenical Church. From this it would be necessary to conclude that what is being assigned to the Emperor is the title of head of his own eparchy, subject to the jurisdiction of general Church councils. There is no middle position here. Whoever insists on fixing upon us a head of the Church in the person of a visible sovereign must make a choice between two absurdities.

Temporal head of the Church! But does this head have the rights of the priesthood? Does he lay claim — I say nothing yet of infallibility (although it is precisely this that constitutes the distinctive mark of supremacy in the Church) — to some kind of authority in questions of faith? Does he at least have the right, by virtue of his office, to decide questions of general church order (discipline)? If it is impossible to give an affirmative answer to these questions, then one can only be amazed at the complete absence of good judgment which alone could persuade a writer to hurl such an ill-founded accusation against us, and at the complete ignorance which let this accusation stand and did not expose it to the ridicule it deserves. Of course there is not a merchant, tradesman, or peasant in the whole Russian Empire who would not, if he heard such an opinion about our Church, take it as a malicious taunt.

It is true that the expression “head of the territorial Church” The Russian adjective here is mestny, which has the sense of “belonging to or occupying a certain definite region or locality.” I have used the word “territorial” to render this idea rather than the word “local,” which is often used in modem English in a very restricted sense which would distort the meaning of mestny as it occurs in this essay. (Trans.) is used in the laws of the Empire; but not at all in the sense in which it is used in other lands; and in this case the difference is so essential that one must not turn this expression into a weapon against us without first attempting to understand its meaning. Justice and scrupulousness require this.

When, after many afflictions and setbacks, the Russian people in a general assembly elected Mikhail Romanov as their hereditary sovereign (such is the high origin of imperial power in Russia today), the people entrusted to their chosen one all the power with which they themselves had been invested, in all its forms. By right of this election the sovereign became the head of the people in ecclesiastical matters as well as in matters of civic government, I repeat — became head of the people in ecclesiastical matters, and only in this sense head of the territorial Church. The people did not and were not able to transfer to the sovereign a right which they did not possess, and hardly anyone will suggest that the Russian people once considered themselves called to govern the Church. They had, from the beginning, as was the case with all the peoples which make up the Orthodox Church, a voice in the election of their bishops, and this voice they could transfer to their representative. They had the right, or rather the obligation, to see that the decisions of their pastors and councils were carried out in full; this right they could entrust to their chosen one and his successors. They had the right to defend their faith against any hostile or violent attack; this right also they could transfer to their sovereign. But the people had no power whatever in questions of conscience, of general church order, of dogma, of church government, and therefore could not transfer such power to their Tsar. This is fully substantiated by all subsequent events. The patriarchate was abolished; The Russian patriarchate was. abolished, or, rather, allowed to lapse toward the end of the reign of Peter I, and was not re-established until 1917. (Trans.) this was accomplished not by the will of the sovereign but by the decree of the Eastern patriarchs and the native bishops. Later the synod was established in place of the patriarchate; and this change was brought about not by the sovereign’s power but by those same Eastern bishops who had, in an agreement with temporal power, established the patriarchate in Russia in the first place. These facts are sufficient to show that the title “head of the Church” signifies “head of the people in ecclesiastical matters”; in fact it neither has nor could have any other meaning. And once this meaning is admitted, all the accusations based on confusion come to nothing.

But does not Byzantine history provide our accusers with supporting evidence not given to them by the history of Russia? Do they not imagine that they see in Byzantium, with its state seal and the imperial title, a belief in a temporal head of the Church? May it not be supposed that this belief is attested by reference to the Paleologue who was precipitated into apostasy by despair and the desire to purchase help from the West? At the time of the capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453.(Trans.) Or by reference to the Isaurians,A dynasty of Byzantine emperors in the eighth century. (Trans.) who by their exploits restored the military glory of the Empire but were drawn into heresy by their misguided zeal and blind self-assurance (for which the Protestant historians of our time have not ceased to praise them)? Or to Iraclius, who saved the state but openly embraced Monothelitism? Or finally to Constantine’s own son, Constantius, who crushed Pope Liberius and was himself troubled by the holy fearlessness of the Bishop of Alexandria? But the history of the Eastern Empire refutes the charge directed against the Church — concerning a supposed subordination to the Emperor — even more clearly than the history of Russia, so that we have no reason to deny the inheritance of Byzantine thought. Even now we think, as do the Greeks, that the sovereign, as head of the people in many matters touching the Church, has the right (along with all his subjects) of freedom of conscience in faith and of the freedom of human reason; but we do not consider him an oracle moved by some unseen power, as the Roman bishop represents himself to the Latinists. We think that the sovereign, being free and a man like any other man, can fall into error and that if, God forbid, such a misfortune should happen in spite of the constant prayers of the Church, then the Emperor does not lose his right to the obedience of his subjects in temporal matters; nor does the Church sustain any injury whatever to her glory and fullness, since her Head never changes. In a case like this the only thing that would happen is that there would be one less Christian in her bosom.

The Church permits no other interpretation. But is the slander silenced? I am afraid not. Ill will may countercharge by referring to the imperial signature attached to the synod’s pronouncements, as if the right of publication of laws and putting them into effect was identical with the legislative power itself. Again, it may refer to the influence of the sovereign in the appointment of bishops and members of the synod which has replaced the patriarchate, as if, in ancient times, the election of bishops and members of the synod (not even excluding those of Rome) did not depend on temporal power (either of the people or of the sovereign), and as if, finally, even today, in many countries of the Roman confession, such a dependency were not quite common. I am speaking only about the principle, from the Church’s standpoint, and not about its application, which, like everything in the world, is often unsatisfactory and subject to abuse. It is difficult to imagine what other false conclusions might be drawn by malevolence and ill will; but after what I have said conscientious people (and I am sure Mr. Laurency is such a man) will not allow themselves to repeat accusations which lack foundation and are ridiculous in the eyes of any dispassionate and enlightened person.

It is not so easy to refute the second charge brought against the Church by Mr. Laurency, since it is based not on fact but on a supposed tendency. We are accused of Protestant leanings. I leave to one side the question whether this second accusation does not contradict the first. Since the insolvency of the first has now been proved, its contradiction of the second cannot serve as an argument on our behalf. I will attack the question directly. But first I must raise a question which is apparently new, or at least, so far as I know, not yet fully examined. For what reason has Protestantism, which has carried away almost half the followers of papism, stopped short at the borders of the Orthodox world? It is impossible to explain this fact by ethnic characteristics, since Calvinism has gained remarkable strength in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Lithuania, and Hungary, and has stopped suddenly, not before another ethnic group but before another faith. Thinkers ought to consider this question carefully.

The alleged tendency toward Protestantism can be examined only in the area of principles; but before I begin the survey of the inner logic of the Orthodox faith, and before I show its complete incompatibility with the charge made by Mr. Laurency (and by a great number of other Roman Catholic writers before him), I consider it desirable to review a historical fact.

The Western Schism (my readers will permit me to use this term, since my conscience permits no other) has been in existence now for more than a thousand years. Although the rupture between the Eastern and Western Church was formalized in 1054, controversy and strained relations had existed between Rome and Constantinople since the ninth century. (Trans.) How is it that during this time the Church governed by the patriarchs has not given birth to its own brand of Protestantism? How is it that it has not revealed, at least by now, a definite impulse toward reform of some kind? In the West things developed very rapidly. Scarcely three centuries passed before Luther and Calvin came forward with uplifted heads, strong words, definite principles, and fixed doctrines. A serious polemic will not begin to object by pointing to the heresies and schisms arising in Russia in the seventeenth century and later. Of course we bitterly mourn these spiritual sores; but it would be utterly ridiculous to compare some pitiful children of ignorance, or still more, the unreasonable zeal for the preservation of old ceremonies, with the Protestantism of the learned precursors of the Reform; since I am not speaking here of the Catharists or the Waldensians who appeared in the south, but about people who, like Ockham or Wycliffe or the immortal Hus, stood in the front rank of contemporary learning and could courageously enter into controversy with the whole theological armament of Rome, fearing no blows other than those which might be inflicted upon them by the arm of temporal power. I am speaking of people who, dying no less gloriously than the Christians of the first centuries, from the height of their victorious funeral pyres, turned to their executioners with words saturated with holy and tender love: “Sancta simplicitas,” and by these words proclaimed that they had not chosen their weapons from ignorance, nor was it upon ignorance that they had erected the building of their faith. How could it have happened that the East, with its alleged tendency toward Protestantism, did not produce similar people or similar religious movements? Do they ascribe this to the unfortunate destiny of the Eastern Empire? If I am not mistaken, such an explanation has already been proposed by Comte de Maistre, but of course it satisfies nobody, with the exception of the most superficial minds.

However that may be, in the sphere of religious ideas the absence of this or that phenomenon, even if extended over a period of several centuries, only supports the more or less plausible argument that the tendency toward such a phenomenon does not yet exist. By no means does it prove the impossibility of the phenomenon appearing in the future. To be finally convinced of this impossibility, to raise a historical probability to the level of logical certainty, we must deduce this impossibility from the religious principle itself.

What is Protestantism? Does its distinctiveness lie, as some say, in the very act of protest made on behalf of faith? But if this were so then the apostles and martyrs who protested against the errors of Judaism and against the falsehood of idolatry would be Protestants; all the fathers of the Church would be Protestants, since they too protested against heresy; the whole Church would be constantly Protestant, since she has constantly and in all ages protested against the errors of the times. Clearly the word “Protestant” defines nothing if used in this way. Where then are we to seek a definition? Does the essence of Protestantism consist in “freedom of investigation”? But the apostles permitted free investigation, even made it an obligation; and the holy fathers defended the truth of the faith by their free investigations (cf. the great Athanasius in his heroic struggle against Arianism); and free investigation, understood in one way or another, constitutes the sole basis of true faith. Certainly the Roman confession seems to condemn free investigation; but here is a man who, having freely investigated all the authorities of Scripture and reason, has come to an acceptance of the whole teaching of the Latinists. Will they regard him as a Protestant? Another man, using the same freedom of investigation, has become convinced that the pope’s dogmatic definitions are infallible, and that the only thing for him to do is to submit. Will they condemn him as a Protestant? Yet in the meantime, was it not by way of free investigation that he came to this conviction which compelled him to accept the whole doctrine? Finally, every belief, every discerning faith, is an act of freedom and must stem from previous free investigation, to which a man has submitted the phenomena of the external world or the inner phenomena of his soul, the events of transitory time or the testimonies of his contemporaries. I dare to go further. Even in those cases when the voice of God Himself has spoken immediately and raised a fallen or misguided soul, that soul has bowed down and worshiped only after having recognized the Divine voice. The act of free investigation is the beginning of conversion. In this connection, the Christian confessions differ from one another only in that some permit the investigation of all data, while others limit the number of subjects open to investigation. To ascribe the right of investigation to Protestantism alone would be to raise it to the level of the only discerning faith; but of course this would not be to the taste of its opponents; and all thinkers — even those who are not very serious — will reject such a proposition. One may ask, finally, if it is not in “reform,” if it is not in the act of reformation itself that one must seek the essence of Protestantism? Certainly, in the first period of its development, Protestantism hoped to claim this meaning. But then the Church too has constantly been reforming her rites and regulations, and no one has thought to call her Protestant for this reason. Protestantism and reform in general are therefore not one and the same thing.

Protestantism means the expression of doubt in essential dogma. In other words, the denial of dogma as a living tradition; in short, a denial of the Church.

Now I ask every scrupulous person: Is this the Church which is being accused of Protestant tendencies, the Church which has always remained faithful to her tradition, never allowing herself to add anything to this tradition or subtract anything from it, the Church which indeed looks upon the Roman confession as a schism due to innovations? Is it not absolute nonsense to bring such a charge against such a Church?

The Protestant world is by no means the world of free investigation. Freedom of investigation belongs to all people. Protestantism is one world simply negating another. Take away this other world which it is negating and Protestantism will die, since its whole life consists in negation. The body of doctrines it still holds, the work undertaken by the enterprise of a few scholars and later received by the apathetic credulity of several million uneducated people, is surviving only because the need is felt to oppose the Roman confession. As soon as this feeling disappears, Protestantism at once breaks down into private opinion with no common bonds whatever. Could this be the goal of that Church whose whole concern for other confessions, throughout eighteen centuries, has been inspired by the desire to witness the return of all people to the truth? To put the question is to answer it.

But this is not all. I hope to prove that if, in the future, the spirit of falsehood should ever give rise to some new heresy or schism in the bosom of the Church, her subsequent revival could not appear with the character of Protestantism at first; it could acquire such a character only later on, and then only after having passed through a whole series of transformations, precisely as it has happened in the West.

To begin with we must note that the Protestant world falls into two parts, far from equal in the number of their adherents and in their significance. These parts must not be confused. One has its own logical tradition, even though it denies a more ancient tradition. The other is satisfied with an illogical tradition. The first is composed of the Quakers, the Anabaptists, and other sects of that sort. The second includes all other so-called Reformation sects.

Both halves of Protestantism have one thing in common: their point of departure. Both acknowledge an interruption in the ecclesiastical tradition lasting for several centuries. From this point on they move apart in their principles. The first half, having broken almost all ties with Christianity, admits a new revelation, an immediate descent of the Holy Spirit, and on this foundation seeks to build one Church or many Churches, claiming for themselves an unquestionable tradition and constant inspiration. The basic datum may be false, but its application and development are completely reasonable: a tradition which is acknowledged as a fact receives also a logical justification. It is quite different with the other half of the Protestant world. There they accept a tradition, and at the same time deny the principle by which tradition is justified.

This contradiction may be clarified by an example. In 1847, traveling down the Rhine by steamer, I entered into conversation with a worthy pastor, a serious and educated man. Little by little our conversation shifted round to matters of faith, and in particular to the question of dogmatic tradition, the legitimacy of which the pastor did not accept. I asked him what confession he belonged to. It turned out that he was a Lutheran. On what grounds, I asked, did he give preference to Luther over Calvin? He presented me with exceedingly learned arguments. At this point his servant, who was accompanying him, offered him a glass of lemonade. I asked the pastor to tell me what confession his servant belonged to. He, too, was a Lutheran. “On what grounds,” I asked, “does he give preference to Luther over Calvin?” The pastor remained silent and his face expressed displeasure. I hastened to assure him that I certainly had not intended to offend him, but had only wished to show him that even in Protestantism there is a tradition. Somewhat disconcerted, but good-natured as always, the pastor, in answer to my words, expressed the hope that with time the lack of education on which traditions depend would melt away before the light of knowledge. “But the people with limited abilities?” I asked. “And the majority of women; and the unskilled laborers who scarcely succeed in earning their daily bread; and children; and, finally, young people hardly more able than children to judge the learned questions over which the followers of the Reform have become separated?” The pastor was silent and, after a few moments of reflection, said: “Yes. Yes, of course, the question still stands. … I am thinking about it.” We parted. I do not know if he is still thinking, but I do know that tradition as a fact undoubtedly exists among the Reformers, although they deny its principle and legitimacy with all their strength; I know, too, that they cannot behave otherwise, nor can they extricate themselves from this contradiction. Indeed, there is nothing contrary to logic in the fact that those religious societies which acknowledge all their scholars to be divinely inspired, and ascribe divine inspiration to the founders with whom they are connected by ties of unbroken succession, at the same time also acknowledge tradition — either secretly or openly. But by what right can those who base their beliefs on the learned propositions of their forefathers begin to use tradition as a means of support? There are people who believe that the papacy receives inspiration from heaven; that Fawkes or Johann of Leyden Guy Fawkes (1570-1606), Roman Catholic zealot and leading figure in the so-called Gunpowder Plot, an attempt to blow up the English Houses of Parliament in 1605. Johann Leyden (1508-1536) was a Dutch Anabaptist fanatic, leader of a theocratic sect in Münster which revolted against the city’s prince-bishop in 1535. (Trans.) were true organs of the Divine Spirit. Perhaps these people are in error; nonetheless one can understand that everything defined by these persons chosen from above is obligatory for those who believe in them. But to believe in the infallibility of learning, moreover of a learning which works out its propositions dialectically, is against common sense. Thus, while denying tradition as an uninterrupted revelation, all the scholars of the Reformation are inevitably obliged to regard all their less learned brothers as people utterly deprived of true belief. If they were to be consistent they would say to them: “Friends and brothers, you do not have right faith and you will never have it until you become theologians like us. In the meantime, you’ll just have to get along somehow without it!” Such a speech is unheard-of, naturally, but it certainly would be an act of sincerity. It is evident that the larger half of the Protestant world is quite satisfied with tradition, as understood in its own illegitimate way; the other, more consistent half has departed so far from Christianity that under the circumstances it is pointless to remain within it. Thus the distinctive characteristic of the Reform consists in the absence of legitimate tradition. What follows from this? It follows that Protestantism has by no means extended the rights of free investigation, but has only reduced the number of reliable data subject to the free investigation of its believers (by leaving them only the Scriptures), as Rome has reduced this number for most of its laity, too (by depriving them of the Scriptures).

Clearly Protestantism, as a Church, does not have the power to check itself, and having rejected legitimate tradition, it has deprived itself of every right to condemn a man who, while acknowledging the divinity of the Holy Scriptures, might not find in them the refutation of the error of Arius or Nestorius — since such a man would be wrong in the eyes of learning, but not in the eyes of faith. However, I am not attacking the Reformers here; what is important is to make clear the necessity which compels them to stand on the ground they now occupy, to trace the logical process which has forced them to this, and to show that within the Church such a necessity and process are impossible.

Since the time of her foundation by the apostles, the Church has been one. Embracing the whole world as it was then known, connecting the British Isles and Spain with Egypt and Syria, this unity was never violated. When a heresy arose, the whole Christian world dispatched its representatives and highest dignitaries to solemn assemblies known as councils. By their world-wide character, because of the importance of the questions submitted for their decision, and in spite of the disorder and even violence which sometimes marred their purity, these councils stand out in the history of mankind as the noblest of all its undertakings. The whole Church accepted or rejected the decisions of the councils depending on whether she found them compatible or incompatible with her faith and tradition, and she gave the name of Ecumenical to those councils whose determinations she acknowledged as the expression of her inner thought. To their temporary authority in questions of discipline, this further significance was added: they became certain and unalterable witnesses in questions of faith. The Ecumenical Council became the voice of the Church. Even heresies did not violate this divine unity; they bore the character of private errors and not of schisms of whole regions or eparchies. Such was the structure of that ecclesiastical life the inner meaning of which has long been completely incomprehensible to the whole West.

Let us shift now to the last years of the eighth, or the beginning of the ninth century, and let us imagine a traveler, who has come from the East to one of the cities of Italy or France. Filled with the consciousness of this ancient unity, fully assured that he will find himself among brothers, he enters a church to sanctify the first day of the week. Moved by reverent motives and full of love, he follows the service and listens carefully to the wonderful prayers which have been dear to his heart from early childhood. The words reach him: “Let us love one another, and with one mind confess the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” He listens. Now, in the church the Symbol of the Catholic and Christian faith is pronounced, that Creed which every Christian must serve all his life and for which he is obliged to sacrifice his life if the occasion should arise. He listens carefully. But it is a corrupted Creed he hears; this is some new and unknown Creed! Has he really heard it, or is he perhaps the victim of some nightmare? He does not believe his ears; he begins to doubt his senses. He makes inquiries, begs for explanations. He thinks that perhaps he has entered the gathering of some schismatics who are denying the territorial Church. But alas no! He is hearing the voice of that territorial Church herself. The entire patriarchate, the whole vast world itself has lost its unity. The afflicted traveler laments; they console him. “But we have only added a trifle,” they say to him, just as the Latinists say to us now. “If it’s a trifle, then why was it added?” “But it is a purely abstract matter.” “How then can you be sure that you have understood it?” “Well, it’s just our local tradition.” “But how could it have found a place in the Ecumenical Creed, contrary to the written decree of an Ecumenical Council forbidding any such change?” “Well, this is a Church-wide tradition, the meaning of which we have put into words, guided by local opinion.” “But we do not know such a tradition; and in any case, how can a local opinion find a place in an Ecumenical Creed? Is not the explanation of divine truths given to the whole Church together? Or have we somehow deserved excommunication from the Church? Not only have you not thought of turning to us for counsel, you have not even taken the trouble of notifying us of the change. Or have we already fallen so low? And yet not more than one century ago the East produced the greatest of Christian poets and perhaps the most glorious of her theologians: John of Damascus. And even now there are reckoned among us, confessors, martyrs for the faith, learned philosophers full of Christian understanding, ascetics whose whole lives are an uninterrupted prayer. Why, then, have you renounced us?” But no matter what the poor traveler may say, the deed is done, the breach confirmed. By this very act (i.e., the arbitrary changing of the Creed) the Roman world clearly declared that in its eyes the East was nothing more than a world of helots in questions of faith and doctrine. For one entire half of the Church, ecclesiastical life was at an end.

I am not touching the heart of the question, but let the believers in the sacredness of dogma and in the divine spirit of brotherhood which was bestowed by the Saviour on the apostles and on all Christians, let them ask if clarity of understanding and the divine grace which reveals the meaning of sanctity are to be obtained by neglect of one’s brothers and by disowning the innocent. My task is simply to indicate the origin of the Protestant principle.

It is impossible to ascribe this modification to papism alone. This would be to render it too high an honor, or, from another viewpoint, too great an insult. Although the See of Rome apparently became wedded to its unique opinions, along with the territorial Churches under its care, still it firmly clung to the memory of unity. It persisted for some time; but then it was threatened by schisms, and temporal power began to press upon it with insistent demands. And so finally it yielded, perhaps rejoicing inwardly that it was now delivered from future obstructionism on the part of the independent Churches of the East. However that may be, the change was the deed not of one pope but of the whole Roman world, and this deed was justified not at all by belief in the infallibility of the Roman Bishop, but by the feeling of territorial pride. The belief in infallibility came later on; at the time when the rupture was accomplished, Pope Nicholas I was still writing to Photius that in questions of faith the least of Christians had the same voice as the first among bishops. Let those who are unacquainted with the documents of this great litigation consult a biography of Photius, if only the one prepared by the Jesuit Jaeger. This work is not notable for its scrupulousness, but it contains important documents. Let me add: The legality of a case in no way depends on the scrupulousness of its advocates; moreover, in the present situation, the conscience of the Pope — as a fabricator of false documents — was hardly clearer than the conscience of the Patriarch — a usurper of the episcopal throne. (Photius became Patriarch of Constantinople in 858, following the illegal deposition of Ignatius. [Webmaster note: this is factually incorrect.] Nicholas supported Ignatius, and the dispute led to an exchange of mutual excommunications and the subsequent reinstatement of Ignatius in 867. After Ignatius’ death in 878, Photius became Patriarch legally and held office until 886. Through all this he was regarded as the champion of the Eastern Church against the claims of papal supremacy. [Trans.] ) But the consequences of this change were not long in revealing themselves, and the Western world was carried away on a new path.

Having appropriated the right of independently deciding a dogmatic question within the area of the Ecumenical Church, private opinion carried within itself the seed of the growth and legitimation of Protestantism, that is, of free investigation torn from the living tradition of unity based on mutual love. Thus at the moment of its origin, Romanism manifested itself as Protestantism. I hope that conscientious people will be convinced of this, and that the following conclusions will make it even more clear.

It was as if the right of deciding dogmatic questions were suddenly altered. Previously this right had belonged to the whole Ecumenical Church; now it was assigned to a regional Church. For a regional Church, the right could be affirmed on two grounds: by virtue of a freedom of inquiry which had abandoned the living tradition; or by virtue of the claim of an exclusive inspiration by the Holy Spirit for a certain geographically defined territory. Actually, the first of these principles was accepted, but it was too soon to proclaim it as a right. The former order of ecclesiastical life was still too well remembered, and the first principle was too indefinite and therefore too contrary to common sense to permit an open affirmation.

So the thought naturally arose of associating the monopoly of divine inspiration with one See, and Western Protestantism was hidden beneath external authority. Such things are not uncommon in the political world. It could not be otherwise, since a kingdom of purely rationalistic logic had been set up in place of the Divine Spirit, who had withdrawn. The newly created despotism restrained the chaos which had been introduced into the Church by the original novelty, that is, by the independence of regional or local opinion.

The pope’s authority was substituted for ecumenical infallibility, and his authority was external. Once a member of the Church, once a responsible participant in her decisions, the Christian man had now become a subject of the Church. She and he had ceased to be one, he was outside her, although he remained in her bosom. The gift of infallibility assigned to the pope was placed beyond the influence of ethical conditions, so that neither the corruption of the whole Christian world nor even the personal corruption of the pope himself could have any effect on this infallibility. The pope became a kind of oracle deprived of all freedom, a kind of statue made of flesh and bones, put into motion by hidden springs. For the Christian, this oracle fell into the category of things of a material nature, of things whose laws can and must be subjected to the investigation of reason alone. A purely external and consequently rational law had replaced the living, ethical law which alone does not fear rationalism, since it embraces not only man’s reason but also the whole of his being. Some people assert that papal infallibility is given to the Church as a kind of reward for her moral unity. In what way, then, could she be rewarded for the insult borne by the whole Eastern Church? Others say that infallibility lies in the agreement between the pope’s decision and that of the whole Church convoked in council, or even if not actually gathered in council. How then was it possible to accept a dogma not subjected to prior examination and not even communicated to one entire half of the Christian world? None of these shifts stands up under serious investigation.

A this-worldly State took the place of the Christian Church. The single living law of unity in God was displaced by private laws, bearing in themselves the imprint of utilitarianism and juridical concerns. Rationalism grew up in the form of arbitrary definitions: it invented purgatory in order to explain prayers for the dead; it placed between God and man a balance of obligations and merits, weighing sins against prayers, crimes against meritorious exploits; it set up transferences from one man to another, legitimized the barter of illusory merits; in short, it brought the whole machinery of the banking house into the treasury of faith. At the same time, the Church-State introduced a state language: Latin. Then it appropriated to itself the judgment of worldly affairs; then it took up arm: and began to equip, first, informal bands of crusaders, and later, organized armies (the orders of knights-religious); and, finally, when the sword was torn from its hand, it moved into position the highly trained corps of the Jesuits. It is not now a matter of criticism. Seeking the sources of Protestant rationalism, I find it disguised in the form of Roman rationalism and I cannot avoid tracing its development. Without dwelling on abuses, I am concentrating on the principle. The Church inspired by God became, for the Western Christian, something external, a kind of negative authority, a kind of material authority. It turned man into its slave, and as a result acquired, in him, a judge.

“The Church is an authority,” said Guizot in one of his remarkable works, while one of his adversaries, attacking him, simply repeated these words. Speaking in this way neither one suspected how much untruth and blasphemy lay in the statement. Poor Romanist! Poor Protestant! No — the Church is not an authority, just as God is not an authority and Christ is not an authority, since authority is something external to us. The Church is not an authority, I say, but the truth — and at the same time the inner life of the Christian, since God, Christ, the Church, live in him with a life more real than the heart which is beating in his breast or the blood flowing in his veins. But they are alive in him only insofar as he himself is living by the ecumenical life of love and unity, i.e., by the life of the Church. Such is the blindness of the Western sects that, up to now, not one of them has understood how radically the ground on which they stand differs from that on which the original Church has been standing from earliest times, and on which she will stand eternally.

In this the Latinists are completely wrong. They themselves are rationalists, and yet they accuse others of rationalism; they themselves were Protestants from the first moment of their falling away, and yet they condemn the spontaneous rebellion of their rebellious brothers. On the other hand, while they have every right to return the accusation, the Protestants are unable to do so because they themselves are no more than developers of the Roman teaching. The only difference is that they have adapted it to suit themselves. No sooner did authority become external power, and no sooner was knowledge of religious truths cut off from religious life, than the relationship among people was altered too. Within the Church the people constituted a single whole; one spirit was alive in all. Now this bond disappeared, another replaced it: the common, subject-like dependence of all the people on the supreme power of Rome. No sooner did the first doubt of the legitimacy of this power arise than unity was destroyed, since the doctrine of papal infallibility was not founded on the holiness of the Ecumenical Church; nor did the Western world lay claim to a relatively higher level of moral purity at the moment when it arrogated to itself the right to change (or, as the Romanists say, to expound) the Creed and disregard the opinion of its Eastern brothers. No, it simply cited the accidental circumstance of episcopal succession, as if the other bishops established by the apostle Peter, regardless of their location, were not just as much his successors as the Bishop of Rome! Rome never said to the people: “Only the perfectly holy man can judge me, but such a man will always think as I do.” On the contrary, Rome destroyed every bond between knowledge and inner perfection of soul; it gave free reign to reason while at the same time obviously trampling it under foot.

It would not be difficult to show in the doctrine of the Reformers the indelible mark of Rome and the same spirit of utilitarian rationalism which characterizes papism. Their conclusions are not the same; but the premises and the definitions assumed and contained in these conclusions are always identical. The Papacy says: “The Church has always prayed for the dead, but this prayer would be useless if there were not an intermediate state between heaven and hell; therefore there is a purgatory.” The Reform answers: “There is not a trace of purgatory either in Holy Scripture or in the early Church; therefore it is useless to pray for the dead and I will not pray for them.” The Papacy says: “The Church appeals to the intercession of the saints, therefore this is useful, therefore this completes the merits of prayer and works of satisfaction.” The Reform answers: “The satisfaction for sins made by the blood of Christ and appropriated by faith in baptism and in prayer is sufficient for the redemption not only of man but also of all creation, therefore the saints’ intercession for us is useless, and there is no reason to appeal to them in prayer.” Clearly the sacred Communion of Saints is equally incomprehensible to both sides. The Papacy says: “According to the witness of the apostle James faith is insufficient, It is hardly necessary to prove that the apostle James is misinterpreted in this citation. He is obviously ascribing the name “faith” to knowledge, but this certainly does not mean that he is identifying the one with the other; he wishes to show in this way the complete illegitimacy of any claim knowledge might have to the name “faith” when it does not in fact have faith’s distinctive marks. therefore we cannot be saved by faith, and therefore works are useful and constitute merit.” Protestantism answers: “Faith alone saves, according to the witness of the apostle Paul, and works do not constitute merit, therefore they are useless.” And so on, and so on.

In this way the warring parties have gone back and forth at each other with syllogisms through the centuries, and are still going back and forth at each other, but always over the same ground, the ground of rationalism; and neither side can choose any other. Even Rome’s division of the Church into the teaching and the learning Church has been transmitted to the Reform; the only difference is that in the Roman confession it exists by right, by virtue of acknowledged law, while in Protestantism it exists only as a fact; and a scholar has taken the place of the priest.

I have tried to prove that Protestantism is impossible for us and that we can have nothing in common with the Reform, since we stand on completely different soil. But in order to make this conclusion quite plain I will present one more explanation of a more positive nature. Speaking through Holy Scripture, teaching and sanctifying through the sacred tradition of the Ecumenical Church, the Divine Spirit cannot be apprehended by reason alone. He is accessible only to the whole human spirit under the influence of grace. The attempt to penetrate into the realm of faith and its mystery by the light of reason alone is a presumption in the eyes of the Christian, a criminal and stupid presumption. Only the light which comes down from heaven and which penetrates the whole spirit of man can show him the way; only the power given by the Divine Spirit can raise him to those unapproachable heights where Divinity is revealed. “Only he can understand a prophet who is a prophet himself,” says St. Gregory the Wonder-worker. Only Divinity can comprehend God and His everlasting wisdom. Only he who bears within himself the living Christ can approach His throne without being annihilated by that glory before which the purest spiritual powers prostrate themselves in joyful trembling. The right and the power to contemplate the grandeur of heaven and penetrate its mystery are given only to the Church, holy and eternal; to the living ark of the Divine Spirit which bears Christ, her Lord and Saviour; to her alone, bound to Him by a close and inner unity which neither human thought can grasp nor human words express. I speak of the Church in her wholeness, of which the Church on earth is an inseparable part; since what we call the visible Church and the invisible Church are not two Churches, but one, under two different aspects. The Church in her fullness, as a spiritual organism, is neither a collective nor an abstract entity; she is the Divine Spirit, who knows Himself and is unable not to know. The whole Church wrote the Holy Scriptures and then gave life to them in Tradition. To put it more accurately, Scripture and Tradition, as two manifestations of one and the same Spirit, are a single manifestation. Scripture is nothing but written Tradition, and Tradition is nothing but living Scripture. Such is the mystery of this harmonious unity; it is formed by the fusion of the purest holiness with the highest reason, and only by way of this fusion does reason acquire the ability to comprehend things in that realm where reason alone, separated from holiness, is as blind as matter itself.

Will Protestantism rise on this soil? Will a man stand on this ground who thinks of himself as a judge of the Church and thus makes the claim to perfect holiness and perfection of reason? I doubt if such a man would be received as a welcome guest by that Church which has as its first principle the doctrine that ignorance and sin are the inevitable result of isolation, while fullness of understanding and incorruptible holiness belong only to the unity of all the members of the Church together.

Such is the teaching of the Ecumenical Orthodox Church, and I say boldly that no one will find in it the seeds of rationalism.

But, we are asked, whence comes the power to preserve a teaching so pure and exalted? Whence the weapons for its defense? The power is found in mutual love, the weapons in the communion of prayer; and divine help does not betray love and prayer, since God Himself inspires both.

Where, then, will we find a guarantee against error in the future? There is only one answer to this question: Whoever seeks beyond hope and faith for any guarantee of the spirit of love is already a rationalist. For him the Church, too, is unthinkable, since he is already, in his whole spirit, plunged in doubt.

I do not know if I have succeeded in making my thought clear, so that my readers will really see the difference between the basic principles of the Church and those of the Western confessions. The difference is so great that it is hardly possible to find one point on which they might agree. It even happens that, the more similar in appearance are the expressions or external forms, the more essential is the difference in their significance.

So many of the questions which have been argued for so many centuries in the religious polemic of Europe find a simple resolution within the Church; or, to speak more accurately, for her they do not even exist as questions. Thus, taking it as a first principle that the life of the spiritual world is nothing but love and communion in prayer, she prays for the dead, even though she rejects the fable of purgatory invented by rationalism; she asks for the intercession of the saints, not ascribing to them, however, the merits contrived by the utilitarian school, and not acknowledging the necessity for any intercession other than that of our Divine Mediator. Thus, aware of her living unity, she cannot even understand the question whether salvation lies in faith alone or in faith and works together. In her eyes life and truth are one, and works are nothing but the manifestation of a faith which, without this manifestation, would not be faith but logical knowledge. Thus also, feeling her inner union with the Holy Spirit, she offers thanks to the One Who is Good for every good thing, ascribing nothing to herself and to man except the evil which, in him, resists the work of God. Man must be helpless if the power of God is to be perfected in his soul.

Here I must fix the reader’s attention on a phenomenon which is especially significant. The bifurcation of the Church into the Teaching Church and the Church of Pupils (this name really ought to be given to the lower division), while acknowledged as a basic principle in Romanism (conditioned as it is by the structural properties of a Church-State with its division into clergy and laity), has passed into the Reform and is preserved in it as a result of the abrogation of legitimate tradition or the encroachment of knowledge on faith. Here then is the common feature of both Western confessions. Its absence in the Orthodox Church defines her character in the most decisive way.

In saying this I am not proposing a hypothesis, not even a logical conclusion from a combination of other principles in Orthodoxy (I drew such a conclusion and put it into writing many years ago). Khomyakov is probably referring here to his article, “The Church Is One,” first published in 1864 but written much earlier, perhaps in the forties. (Trans.) I am saying much more. The feature which I have pointed out is an indisputable dogmatic fact. The Eastern patriarchs, having assembled in council with their bishops, solemnly pronounced in their reply to the Encyclical Letter of Pius IX that “infallibility resides solely in the ecumenicity of the Church bound together by mutual love, and that the unchangeableness of dogma as well as the purity of rite are entrusted to the care not of one hierarchy but of all the people of the Church, who are the Body of Christ.” Encyclical dated May 6, 1848. This formal declaration of all the Eastern clergy, which was received by the territorial Russian Church with respectful and brotherly gratitude, has acquired the moral authority of an ecumenical sanction. This is unquestionably the most significant event in Church history over many centuries.

In the True Church there is no Teaching Church.

Does this mean that there is no edification in the Church? There is not only edification, but more edification there than anywhere else. Every word inspired by the feeling of truly Christian love, and living faith, and hope, is edification. Every deed carrying the imprint of the Spirit of God is a lesson. Every Christian life is a pattern and example. The martyr who dies for the truth, the judge who judges righteously (not as pleasing men, but God), the farmer in his humble labor continually being lifted in thought to his Creator — all such men live and die for the edification of their brothers; and not without reason, for the Spirit of God puts words of wisdom on their lips such as the scholar and theologian will never find. “The bishop is at the same time both the teacher and disciple of his flock,” said the modern apostle to the Aleutian Islands, Bishop Innokenti. Every man, no matter how high he is placed in the hierarchy, or conversely, no matter how hidden from view he may be in the shadow of humble circumstance, both edifies and is edified, for God clothes whom He wills with the gifts of His infinite wisdom, without regard to person or calling. It is not just the word that edifies, but a man’s whole life.

The question of edification brings us again to the question of investigation, since the one presupposes the other. Faith is always the consequence of revelation recognized as revelation; it is the perceiving of an invisible fact manifested in some visible fact; faith is not belief or logical conviction based on conclusions, but much more. It is not the act of one perceptive faculty separated from others, but the act of all the powers of reason grasped and captivated in all its depth by the living truth of the revealed fact. Faith is not known only or sensed only, but is known and sensed together, so to speak; in a word, it is not knowledge alone but knowledge and life. So, then, the process of investigation in matters of faith borrows from faith the essential nature of faith, and differs completely from investigation in the usual meaning of the word. First, in the area of faith, the world which is under investigation is not a world external to man, since man himself, and the whole man, with all his fullness of reason and will, belongs to this world and is an essential part of it. Second, investigation in the area of faith presupposes certain basic data, moral or rational, which, for the soul, stand above all doubt. Actually, investigation in the area of faith is nothing but the process of the reasonable unveiling of these data; since full doubt, knowing no limits (if such a thing could really exist), would not only exclude all possibility of faith but also any thought of serious investigation. Once admitted by an absolutely pure soul, the least of these data would give it all the other data by virtue of an unbreakable although perhaps unrecognized sequence of deductions. For the Orthodox Christian the sum of these data includes the whole universe, with all the phenomena of human life and the whole word of God, both written and expressed in the dogmatic ecumenical tradition.

Thus investigation itself in the area of faith, both by the variety of data subject to study and by the fact that its goal lies in living and not merely in abstract truth, demands the use of all intellectual powers in the will and reason, and beyond that also the inner investigation of these powers themselves. It is necessary to take into account not only the world that is seen, as object, but also the power and purity of the organ of sight.

The initial principle of such investigation is the humble acknowledgment of one’s own frailty. It cannot be otherwise; since the shadow of sin already contains the possibility of error, and the possibility turns into inevitability when a man unconditionally relies on his own powers or the gifts of grace bestowed on him as an individual. One would have to claim perfection of the perceptive faculty as well as moral perfection in order to be in a position to make a truly independent investigation of the subjects of faith. It would take more than just satanic pride to make such a claim; one would have to be quite mad. The truth exists only where there is pure holiness, that is, in the wholeness of the Ecumenical Church, which is the manifestation of the Spirit of God in mankind.

Edification, then, is accomplished, not by Scripture alone, as the Protestants think (nevertheless we thank them with all our heart for increasing the number of copies of the Bible); nor by verbal interpretation; nor by the Creed (the necessity of which, however, we by no means deny); nor by preaching; nor by the study of theology; nor by works of love; but by all these things together.

Of course Christianity is expressed in logical form in the Creed; but this expression is not separated from its other manifestations. Christianity is taught as a learned discipline under the title of theology; but this is no more than a branch of the teaching as a whole. Whoever truncates the teaching, that is, whoever separates teaching in the narrow sense of lecturing and interpreting from its other forms, errs grievously; whoever turns teaching into an exclusive privilege descends into foolishness; whoever makes of teaching a kind of official function, supposing that the divine gift of teaching is inseparably connected with this official function, falls into heresy, since in this very way a new, unheard-of sacrament is created: the sacrament of rationalism or logical knowledge. The whole Church teaches — the Church in all her fullness. The Church does not acknowledge a Teaching Church in any other sense.

I hope that I have said enough to prove that the second charge brought against us by Mr. Laurency, the Comte de Maistre, and by many others, is just as ill-founded as the first, and that Protestantism could arise in the Church only by way of the Roman schism, out of which it inevitably flows.

However, an objection may perhaps be raised on the strength of my own words. It could be said that in tracing the genealogy of Protestantism through Romanism I have proved that the rationalistic soil of the Reform was created first by the Roman schism; but since this schism (at the moment of its appearance) was an act of Protestantism, surely it must follow that Protestantism can arise directly within the Church. I hope, however, that my answer will justify me. Certainly, by its falling away from the Church, Rome performed an act of Protestantism; but in those times the ecclesiological spirit, even in the West, was still so strong and so opposed to the spirit of the later Reform that Romanism was compelled to hide its character from the sight of Christians and from itself too, masking the principle of rationalistic anarchy it had brought into the midst of the Church by a despotism in matters of faith. Even if it could be demonstrated, however, that in former times Protestantism or the Protestant principle could be generated in the bosom of the Church, it is nevertheless clear now that this possibility no longer exists.

From the very beginning of the Christian world, no small number of heresies have arisen to disturb its harmony. Even before the apostles had finished their earthly task, many of their pupils were seduced by falsehood. Later on, with each succeeding century, heresies multiplied. Many of the faithful were torn away from the Church by Nestorianism and Eutychianism, with all their ramifications, and especially by Arianism, which provided, incidentally, the occasion for the Roman schism. The question is raised: Can these heresies be revived? No! At the time when they arose, the dogmas which they opposed were not yet clothed in the form of clear definitions, even though they were included implicitly in the Church’s tradition. Thus it was possible for a frail, personal faith to fall into error. Later, by Divine Providence, by the grace of His eternal Word and the inspiration of the Spirit of truth and life, dogma received a precise definition at the councils — and from then on error (in its old form) became impossible even as a result of personal frailty. Unbelief is still possible, but not Arianism. The same is true with the other heresies; they too are no longer possible. They involved misconceptions concerning the revealed dogma of the inner being of God, or of God’s relationship to human nature; distorting the dogmatic tradition, they claimed to be the true tradition. These were more or less culpable errors, but they did not infringe upon the dogma of ecclesiastical ecumenicity; on the contrary, all the above-mentioned heresies tried to prove the truth of their teachings by referring to their supposed acceptance by all Christians. Romanism began at the moment it placed the independence of individual or regional opinion above the ecumenical unity of faith; it was the first to create a heresy of a new type, a heresy against the dogma of the nature of the Church, against her own faith in herself. The Reform was only the continuation of this same heresy under another name.

All the Western sects may be defined in this way; but an error once defined is no longer possible for members of the Church. Does this mean that members of the Church are immune to error? By no means. Just as it would be unreasonable to assert that they are immune to sin. Such perfection belongs only to the Church in her living wholeness, and cannot be ascribed to anyone individually.

Only the person able to call himself a living organ of the Spirit of God would have the right to claim infallibility. But does it follow from this that the faith of an Orthodox Christian is open to error? No. Since the Christian, by the very fact that he believes in the Ecumenical Church, lowers his belief (in questions that have not yet been clearly defined) to the level of a personal opinion, or to that of a regional opinion if the doctrine has been accepted by a whole eparchy. However, although an error in opinion holds no danger for the Church, it cannot be considered harmless for the individual Christian. It is always a sign and consequence of moral error or weakness, making a man to some extent unworthy of heavenly light, and, like every sin, it can be wiped out only by divine mercy. A Christian’s faith must overflow with joy and gratitude, but also with fear. Let him pray! Let him beg for the light he lacks! If only he will not lull his conscience to sleep, like the Reformer who says: “Of course I may be mistaken, but my intentions are pure and God will take them into account, as He does my weakness.” Or like the Romanist, who says: “Let us suppose then that I’m mistaken — so what? The pope knows the truth for me, and I submit in advance to his decision!”

I have clarified as well as I could the difference in character between the Church and the Western confessions. I have stated plainly the heresy against the dogma concerning the ecumenicity and holiness of the Church contained in both Latinist and Protestant rationalism. Now I must say a few words about our relations with these two confessions, their relations with each other, and their contemporary position.

Since the Reform is nothing but a continuation and development of Romanism, I must first speak about our relations with the latter. Is a rapprochement possible? One can only answer this question with a decisive “No.” Truth does not permit compromises. It is understandable why the papacy has devised the Greek Uniat Church. The Church-State can, if it sees fit, bestow certain rights of citizenship upon its former Eastern brothers, as helots in the realm of faith. It can give these rights to them as a reward for their humble submission to the authority of the pope, without demanding from them the oneness of faith expressed in the Creed. Of course, for the true Latinist such half-citizens can only arouse pity and contempt. They are far from being real Roman citizens, and not one theologian, not one teacher would undertake to prove the logic of their religion. It is an absurdity which is being tolerated — and nothing more. In the eyes of the Church such a union is unthinkable, but it is in complete harmony with the principles of Romanism. The Church admits no compromises in dogma or faith. She requires full unity, nothing less; on the other hand, she gives full equality, since she recognizes the spirit of brotherliness and not subjection. Thus a rapprochement is impossible without the full renunciation by the Romanists of an error which is now more than a thousand years old.

But would not a council bridge the chasm separating the Roman schism from the Church? No — since a council can be called only after the chasm has been bridged. It is true that people intoxicated by false opinions participated in the Ecumenical Councils; some of them returned to the truth, others were stubborn in their errors and as a result were finally separated from the Church. But the point is that these people, in spite of their errors, did not deny the divine principle of ecumenicity in the most fundamental dogmas of the faith. They held, or at least declared the hope of defining in clear terms, the dogma confessed by the Church, and also hoped to be worthy of the grace of testifying to the faith of their brothers. Such was the aim of the councils, such was their significance, such was the concept implied in the usual introductory formula to all their decisions: “It has pleased the Holy Spirit….” These words do not express a haughty claim, but a humble hope, justified or repudiated later by the acceptance or nonacceptance of the decisions by the whole people of the Church or, as the Eastern patriarchs put it, by the whole Body of Christ. There were, from time to time, heretical councils. Why were these councils rejected, when outwardly they did not differ from the Ecumenical Councils? Solely because their decisions were not acknowledged as the voice of the Church by the whole people of the Church, by that people and within that world where, in questions of faith, there is no difference between a scholar and an untutored person, between cleric and layman, between man and woman, king and subject, slaveowner and slave, and where, if in God’s judgment it is needed, a youth receives the gift of knowledge, a word of infinite wisdom is given to a child, and the heresy of a learned bishop is confuted by an illiterate cowherd, so that all might be joined in that free unity of living faith which is the manifestation of the Spirit of God. Such is the dogma lying beneath the idea of the council. Now then, why have a council if the Western world has been deemed worthy of such a clear revelation of divine truth that it has considered itself empowered to insert its revelation into the Symbol of Faith without waiting for confirmation from the East? What might a wretched Greek or Russian helot do at a council seated alongside these chosen vessels, these representatives of people who have anointed themselves with the chrism of infallibility? A council is impossible until the Western world returns to the idea of the council and condemns its own infringement of the council principle and all the consequences stemming from this infringement. Or, to put it another way, until it returns to the original Creed and submits its opinion, by which the Creed was impaired, to the judgment of the Ecumenical Faith. In a word, when rationalism is clearly understood and condemned, then and only then will a council be possible. So it is not a council which will bridge the chasm; the chasm must first be bridged before the council can assemble. This was the conviction of the great Mark of Ephesus who, at the Florentine Council, demanded that the Creed be restored to its original purity and the insertion be declared an opinion standing outside its formula. Excluded from the list of dogmas, the error would become harmless. This was what Mark wanted, leaving the actual correction of the error to God’s providence. Thus the heresy would have been removed and the possibility of communion restored. But the pride of rationalism has not yet permitted Rome to go this far.

It was noted above that Romanism had been forced to renounce its own nature, so to speak, as long as it bore anarchy within itself as a principle and feared its manifestation in practice. It was compelled to masquerade in its own eyes and transform itself into despotism. This transformation has not failed to bring important consequences. The unity of the Church was free; more precisely, the unity was freedom itself, the harmonious expression of inner agreement. When this living unity was rejected, ecclesiastical freedom was sacrificed for the maintenance of a contrived and arbitrary unity. The spiritual intuition of truth was replaced by an external token or sign.

The Reform followed another path. Remaining steadfast to the principle of rationalistic self-determination which had generated the Roman schism, it demanded its freedom (with every right), and was forced to sacrifice all semblance of unity. As with papism, so also with the Reform: everything leads to externality. Such is the nature of all the children of rationalism. The unity of papism is an external unity, deprived of living content; the freedom of the Protestant mind is also an external freedom, without real content.

The papists, like the Judaizers, base their position on a sign (or token); Protestants, like the Hellenizers, base their position on logic. A true understanding of the Church, as freedom in unity and life in reason, is equally inaccessible to both.

On the other hand, conflict is possible, even inevitable, since they occupy the same ground and have the same rights. Both Romanism and Protestantism have been plunged wholly (without suspecting it) into that logical antinomy into which every living thing falls as long as it sees things only from the logical point of view. But what are the results of the conflict? In all truthfulness, there is nothing comforting here for either side. Both are strong in attack and weak in defense, since both are equally wrong, and equally condemned by reason and the witness of history. At every moment each of the warring parties can pride itself on a spectacular victory; but in the meantime both are constantly defeated, and the field of battle is left to unbelief. If the need for faith had not compelled many people to close their eyes to the inconsistency of a religion accepted only because it was impossible to get along without it, and if the same need had not compelled even those who do not seriously believe in religion to continue to hold on to what they once accepted, unbelief would long ago have conquered the field.

Since the conflict between the Western confessions has been conducted on the soil of rationalism, one cannot even say that faith has been its real subject. Beliefs and convictions, no matter how sincere or passionate, have yet to deserve the name of faith. Nevertheless, as a subject of study this conflict is extraordinarily interesting and profoundly instructive. The characteristics of the parties are defined in it clearly.

A criticism that is serious but dry and imperfect; a learning that is broad but unsubstantial because of its lack of inner unity; an upright and sober morality worthy of the first centuries of the Church, combined with a narrowness of vision set within the limits of individualism; ardent outbursts of feeling in which we seem to hear a confession of their shortcomings and their lack of hope in ever attaining atonement; a constant lack of depth scarcely masked by a fog of arbitrary mysticism; a love of the truth combined with an inability to understand it in its living reality; in a word — rationalism within idealism: such is the fate of the Protestants. A breadth of view that is large enough, yet quite insufficient for true Christianity; an eloquence that is brilliant but too often marred by passion; a bearing that is majestic but always theatrical; a criticism that is almost always superficial, catching at words and not probing far into meaning; an illusory display of unity with an absence of real unity; a certain peculiar poverty of religious need, which never dares to raise its sights to higher levels and is always ready to settle for a cheap satisfaction; a certain uneven depth, hiding its shoals in clouds of sophisms; a hearty and sincere love for external order combined with a disregard for internal order, i.e., truth; in a word — rationalism within materialism: such is the fate of the Latinists. Nor do I mean to accuse all the writers of this party of deliberate falsehood, or to say that none of their opponents deserves the same reproach; but the inclination of the papist party to sophisms, its systematic side-stepping in the face of real objections, its feigned ignorance — which has finally become a regular habit of textual distortions, omissions, and inaccuracies in quotation — all this is so well known that it is beyond dispute. Not wishing, however, in such an important accusation, to limit myself to simple assertions, and having made it a rule for myself never to cite facts which are in any way doubtful, I will remind my readers of the long-drawn-out affair of the False Decretals, upon which the theory of papal supremacy rested until the belief became so entrenched that it was possible to remove the false props; I mention also the false Deeds of Donation which formed the basis for the temporal power of the Roman primate; and the endless series of deliberately mutilated editions of the holy fathers. Close to our own time, I mention the fact that the work of Adam Zernikavius, in which it is demonstrated that all the testimony drawn from the works of the holy fathers in support of the addition to the Creed was intentionally altered or misquoted, still stands unrefuted. Finally, moving into our own time, I point to the writings of the eloquent proto-sophist Comte de Maistre, Cf. the argument in defense of Romanism drawn by de Maistre from the works of St. Athanasius: “The whole world,” says St. Athanasius to the heretics, “calls the true Church the Catholic Church. This alone is enough to prove that you are heretics.” “But which Church is it,” de Maistre asks, “that all Europe calls Catholic? The Church of Rome. Consequently all other Churches are in schism.” But surely St. Athanasius was talking to Greeks, who clearly understood the meaning of the word “catholic” (as “world-wide,” “ecumenical”), so that his argument had full force. But, I ask, what does this prove in the case of modern Europe, where the word has lost all meaning? Let them ask about the world-wide or ecumenical Church in England, or Germany, or especially in Russia, and listen carefully to the answers! and to the remarkable work of Newman (“On the Development of Christian Doctrine”). In this work Newman supplements Moeller’s theory about the gradual perfecting and development of the Church. “All her doctrine,” he says, “was contained implicitly in her primitive teaching, and was gradually developed out of it, or more accurately, gradually acquired a clarity of logical expression. Thus it was with the basic dogma of the Trinity, thus also with the doctrine of papal supremacy in matters of faith, and so on.” And so Newman pretends that he has never heard about the apostasy of Pope Liberius, or about the condemnation of Pope Honorius by an Ecumenical Council and the acceptance of this condemnation by the whole West. What is important here is not the fact that Honorius erred, nor does it matter whether this was proved or not; what is important is that an Ecumenical Council acknowledged the possibility of papal fallibility, something Newman could not help but know. Thus the new doctrine of infallibility was not a development of ecumenical doctrine, but its direct contradiction. The author’s silence and pretended ignorance on this point is nothing more than a barefaced lie. It should be noted that this last writer was scrupulous indeed as long as he confessed Anglicanism, but after converting to Romanism out of scrupulousness (so I assume), there was a sudden loss of scruple. However, in pointing out the falsity which always marks the Roman polemic, I by no means wish to condemn too harshly the writers who have taken part in it, and I will not dwell on the question of the extent of their moral responsibility.

Neither Orthodox writers nor the defenders of Protestantism are above reproach in this matter, although occasions for just complaint are encountered much less frequently with them than with the Latinists; and the degree of personal guilt is far from being the same. A falsehood coming from the pen of an Orthodox writer is an absurd infamy, definitely harming the cause which he is undertaking to defend; in the case of a Protestant, a falsehood is a culpable absurdity and at the same time completely unprofitable; but with the Romanist, falsehood is a necessity, and to a certain extent forgivable. The reason for this difference is clear. Falsehood is essentially opposed to Orthodoxy, as it is to truth. In Protestantism, the realm of searching for truth, falsehood is simply out of place. In Romanism, however, the teaching which denies its own root principle, falsehood is inevitable. Here is the real source of that moral corruption which, in the Roman confession, perverts the brightest minds and discredits the loftiest intellects (we need only recall the remarkable Bossuet).

The moral exhaustion of the two parties becomes more and more apparent every day. A horror in the face of common danger is overwhelming the rationalistic sects of the West: Papism and the Reform. They still go on struggling with one another (they are unable to stop) but they have lost all hope of victory, having more or less clearly recognized their own inner weaknesses. Unbelief rapidly grows up before them, not that unbelief of the powerful, the rich, and the learned which marked the eighteenth century, but the unbelief of the masses, the scepticism of ignorance. Such are the legitimate offspring of the open or hidden rationalism which has passed for faith in the European world for hundreds of years.

I have fulfilled my duty. I have defended the Church against false accusations which I do not consider, however, to be deliberate slanders. In order to make my refutation intelligible I have had to develop the distinctive features both of Orthodoxy and of the Western schism, which is nothing but patched up rationalism, and to present the contemporary religious question in the light in which it appears to us. As I said at the beginning, I have not tried to gloss over my hostility of thought by an affected moderation of terms. I have boldly put forward the Church’s teaching and her attitude toward the different forms of the schism. I have openly expressed my opinion about the conflict between the sects. I dare to hope, however, that no one will accuse me of malice or conscious injustice.

I repeat: I have fulfilled my duty in answering the charges brought against the Church — not only my duty in relation to the Church, but still more in relation to you, my readers and brothers, who have unfortunately been separated from us by an error which arose in ages long passed out of view. No fear of any kind, or any sort of calculation, has constrained my pen, nor have I written out of any hope of profit.

Readers and brothers! A ruinous legacy has come down to you from the ignorance and sinfulness of past age — the embryo of death; and you are suffering punishment for it without being directly responsible, since you have had no definite understanding of the error involved. You have done much for mankind in science and art, in constitutional law and in the civilization of peoples, in the practical realization of the meaning of truth and in the practical application of love. More than that, you have done all you could for man in his relation to God, preaching Christ to people who had never before heard His Divine Name. All honor and thanks to you for your immeasurable labors, the fruits of which mankind is gathering now and will continue to gather in the future. But as long as it still inspires you, this ruinous legacy will kill your spiritual life.

The cure is within your power. Of course, as long as the disease is alive in popular prejudices and in the ignorance of the means to stop its spread (and this will last a long time), it is impossible to expect the healing of the masses; but the cure is accessible now to private individuals. If any one of my readers is convinced of the truth of my words, of the validity of my definition of the origins of the schism and its rationalistic character, then I beg him to consider. If he will make but one acknowledgment of the truth, then he must accept all the practical consequences flowing from it; if he will make but one confession of error, he must then repair it, to the extent that this is possible.

I beg him to undertake a moral exploit — to tear himself away from rationalism, to condemn the excommunication which was once pronounced upon his Eastern brothers, to reject all the later decrees flowing from this falsehood, to accept us once more in his communion with the rights of brotherly equality, and to restore in his soul the unity of the Church, so that by this fact he might have the right to repeat with her: “Let us love one another, and with one mind confess the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

The disease carries death within itself, but the cure is not difficult; it only requires an act of justice. Will people want to undertake this exploit, or will they prefer to perpetuate the reign of falsehood, deluding their own consciences and the minds of their brothers?

My readers, judge for yourselves!

Translated by Asheleigh E. Moorhouse
April, 1964

Source: ArchangelsBooks.com, http://www.archangelsbooks.com/articles/east_west/WesternConfessions_Khomiakov.asp


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