Billeder på siden

deed which either Church might ever set up to exclusive apostolic origin or universal authority. Primitive Church history was common to both, and pointed to the same origin; and the very existence of the two communities demonstrated that the authority of the other was at most only partial. Besides, it saved the Christian world from the resistless control of a single central supreme hierarchy. The result of the separation was a counterpoise between the ecclesiastical rule of the East and of the West. It secured for the people an alternative in case of need. The very existence of each served also to restrain and moderate the pretension and power of the other. Unlimited power and boundless jurisdiction are dangerous possessions in any government, and nowhere more dangerous than in the Church. Even now, thus held in check, the Roman hierarchy claims for itself infallibility, supremacy, and universality. With the co-operation of these hundred millions of Greek Christians in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Russian possessions of North America-equivalent when consolidated to an addition of two hundred millions, more than her entire membership at present-what would not the Roman Church claim and attempt in the exercise of authority? We need but recall the early history of the Protestant Church, to remind ourselves that it is not the force of opinion but of numbers that restrains the Roman Church from persecution. It was the Papal doctrine then, that it is right to crush a heretic. Rome exults in her motto "always and everywhere the same.". This doctrine reduced to practice directed the power of Catholic Spain against the feeble Protestants in the Netherlands, and incited the Papists in France to perpetrate the massacre of St. Bartholomew. But the increasing strength of Protestantism in the West has rendered this Papal rule nugatory here; so the strength of the Greek Church in Russia and the East has rendered Roman persecution inexpedient there.

But further, the separation refutes the Roman plea of infallibility. The Roman Catholic argues that the Papal Church is infallible, since there can be but one infallible Church, and this for the higher reason that he cannot conceive of one council in doctrine contradicting another. But the Eastern and the Western Churches were for centuries in union and communion, and constituted the one Christian Church. Yet

the Council of 754 contradicted the Council of 787: the one condemning the veneration of pictures, the other approving. The Council of Toledo, 589, contradicts the Nicene Council of 325: the one asserting the double procession of the Holy Ghost, the other asserting the single procession. The Council of Ephesus prohibited any new creed, and new creeds or articles of faith are enacted at Chalcedon by the next general council, by the Council of Toledo, by the second and third of Constantinople, and the second Council of Nice. The excommunication of the one contradicts the excommunication of the other. And since the separation, the councils of the East have contradicted the councils of the West in respect to government, faith, and practice.

The Eastern Church, then, both by its union and disunion, destroys the Roman argument in its major premise, that it is inconceivable that one council should contradict another; and in its minor premise, that there is one infallible Church; and in its conclusion, that therefore the Roman is the infallible Church.

Another advantage of the union was the easier transmission of light, religious and intellectual, throughout the whole Church. Communication between the East and the West was comparatively difficult. Books were scarce; learning was confined chiefly to the monks and ecclesiastics. In this state of things the utility of general councils is especially evident. The leading minds of the East and the West came together. Questions of general concern demanded their attention, requiring frequently philosophic, theologic, and historic research; questions which profoundly interest christendom at the present day and must for all time; questions which they answered by formularies whose correctness and utility are acknowledged after the lapse of almost a score of centuries; questions of inspiration, settling the canon of the Scriptures; questions of theology, in regard to the Trinity and the incarnation; and questions of practice, such as the observance of Easter, etc. Such intercourse, though occurring at intervals remote, could not fail to awaken the dormant mind of the Church, furnish material for reflection, and diffuse the combined light of the East and the West throughout the entire Church. If this was true of questions upon which they agreed, it was especially so in regard to

questions which they discussed during the period of their union. It was important that the Latins understand the language of the Greeks, and desirable that the Greeks know something of the Latins. Mosheim has remarked that although the general intelligence was low, yet the Eastern and the Western ecclesiastic each found it necessary to acquaint himself with the language and writings of the other in order to discuss the controverted topics successfully. The formal separation occurred in the eleventh century. The dark ages were settling down upon the world. The necessity, as just shown, for at least some light in the opposing sections of the Church, prevented the darkness from becoming total. The motive certainly was not the most exalted, but that it existed and exerted an influence is too evident to be denied, and too effective to be disregarded. We accept the facts of history as they stand, and while we might wish them better, we can readily discern an overruling Providence that did not permit them to be worse. If, with this stimulus, the Church and the world sank into darkness, without the stimulus how long and fearful would have been the medieval night!

The suspicion with which the East has looked upon the West, has been a great means of preserving the Greek Church from the later errors of Romanism. At the same time the rivalry between the East and the West has kept alive in both parties the anxiety to extend their respective territories by missionary efforts, such as they were, among the surrounding heathen. During that troublous period when the East and the West were in the throes of final separation, each was vigorously pushing its missionary work. Doubtless these efforts were often prompted by private and political interest. Yet, as Paul rejoiced that while "some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife, and some also of good will, notwithstanding every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached;" so in this case may we rejoice that the bounds of christendom were extended and the knowledge of the Gospel widely diffused. By the Western Church the Christian religion was published in Poland, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway; and these nations were converted to the Christian faith. The Eastern Church was instrumental in the conversion of Servia and Bulgaria, and above all, Russia, destined to become the representative nation of the Greek

Church. The countless millions of Russia thus received their Christian enlightenment from the "Orthodox" Church of the East. Vladimir the Great had been approached by Jewish, Mohammedan, and Roman missionaries. Listening to all and canvassing the arguments of each, he deliberately adopted the creed of the Greek Church, and "twice has the 'orthodox' faith preserved the national existence of Russia ;" once against Mohammedan and once against Catholic aggression. The close of the eleventh century saw indeed the separation of the Eastern and Western Church actually effected, so that there has been no successful reunion since. But it also saw Bulgaria and Hungary, Bohemia and Saxony, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Poland and Russia, converted to the faith of Christ, and numbered among the nations of christendom. As Gibbon finely remarks, "the triumphs of apostolic zeal were repeated in the iron age of Christianity." However nominal or real the conversion, it is certain that temporal benefits of no little importance were secured. Europe was thus delivered from the depredations by land and sea of the fierce nations of the North, who learned to spare their brethren and cultivate their possessions. "The establishment of law and order was promoted by the influence of the clergy, and the rudiments of art and science were introduced into the savage countries of the globe." (Gibbon, ch. lv.) So that Adam of Bremen, (de situ Daniæ,) A.D. 1080, exclaims with exultation: "Ecce populus piraticus. . . Suis nunc finitus contentus est. . . . Ecce patria horribilis semper inaccessa propter cultum idolorum. . . . Prædicatores veritatis ubique certatim admittit," etc.

But it is time to consider the causes of the separation between the Greek Church and the Roman. It has been already shown that the separation was beneficial rather than injurious. It might have been otherwise had the entire Church remained one in the spirit of the Master, zealous for his glory, loving onę another as he directed, and so manifesting their discipleship. And so it should have been. But it is evident to any observer of history that the tendency to centralization was rapidly and dangerously developing in the West; and that this lust of power was looking greedily toward the East, ambitious to gain universal control. No true Protestant will for a moment question that with this condition the separation from the West was

desirable for the Church and for humanity; desirable ecclesiastically and politically. The mission of the united Church had been achieved, and more: Paganism had been subdued, the empire converted, the canon of Sacred Scriptures settled, the central principles of a common faith well defined in formulas that christendom has received for fifteen hundred years; and by these very definitions heresies had been pointed out and eliminated. But these results had been accomplished; and now it was being demonstrated before the world that it was not designed nor desirable to have one ubiquitous Church swayed by a central, universal, despotic hierarchy. Rather than this, separation by far. The experiment had been proceeding under the divine supervision. The result of the experiment had become most evident. The demonstration was for all time. Protestants, at least, clearly see that it needs no repetition. Separation was desirable; Providence, which moves slowly in securing great issues, was preparing for it by the training of centuries. Both parties, East and West, struggled against it now and then, but never in the spirit which might have prevented it and for the purpose which would have rendered it unnecessary: the spirit of love, and the purpose of glorifying God. Hence these efforts proved unavailing. Ecclesiastical ambition, by being too grasping, frustrated its own design, and co-operated with other causes to effect the final separation. What these causes are may not be so easy to determine. The fact that historians are apt to specify some single one as the chief cause, and yet differ widely in their specifications, proves that the causes are various and none of them unimportant.

One historian declares: "We know with certainty that it was the extravagant attachment of Rome to image worship that chiefly occasioned the separation of the Italian provinces from the Grecian empire.”

Another historian asserts: "The question of the double procession rent asunder the East and the West."

Another affirms that the Western disaffection was produced and justified by the iconoclasm of the East, while "the immediate cause of the separation of the Greeks may be traced in the emulation of the leading prelates, who maintained on the one hand the supremacy of the old metropolis (Rome) superior

« ForrigeFortsæt »