CRITICAL EVALUATION

CRITICAL EVALUATION

  1. The position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

FROM THE preceding historical review based on the testimony of our writers, we come away with a picture quite different from the one we had until now. For example, according to I. Karmiris, “the few [sic] instances of rebaptism of Latins can be explained by the rousing of passions during the time of the Crusades, and by the doubts of certain Orthodox [sic] concerning the canonicity and validity of the Latin baptism by aspersion, which had  by then become general practice in the West.”286  But according to our writers, the (re)baptism of Western converts was essentially the rule. It was the political threat from the West that led to the application of economia and not acrivia. But this incidental use of economia had as necessary dogmatic – canonical condition the continued existence in the liturgical practice of the West, even until the eighteenth century, of the canonical baptism also; in other words, the fear of doing it again a second time. Of course, in both of these two views we can discern a ‘tendency’ of sorts. The first aims at justifying the way of economia, while the second the way of acrivia. We are assisted in finding the truth better still through a combination of the two.

In connection with this, however, the question unavoidably arises of how well our theologians’ explanation is historically substantiated. Their basic position is that the (re)baptism of Latins was not imposed originally, for, in addition to the innovation, the canonical form of baptism was also prevalent in the West until the Council of Trent; hence the fear of repeating it a second time. To be sure, the problem became more serious in cases of Orthodox who had Latinized (Uniates), and indeed upon their return to Orthodoxy. But let us see how Steven Runciman, the renowned historian of the Turkish rule, explains the Orthodox position: “The problem often arose because of the number of Greeks born in Venetian territory, such as the Ionian islands, who, either because they came to settle within the Ottoman Empire or because they married Orthodox spouses, wished to return to the Church of their forefathers.”287  Thus, the first to undertake to settle the issue was the Council of 1484, which exercised economia, despite the condemnation of the Latin innovation. In the way, the risk of repeating the canonical baptism a second time was definitely avoided. Yet, this decision was not universally accepted. For obviously the Western innovation regarding baptism was spreading daily. Runciman continues: “But as time went on doubts arose whether this [i.e. economia] was sufficient;… These doubts were not purely occasioned by dislike for the Latins, thought that motive was certainly not absent, but from a genuine suspicion that the Latin ritual of baptism was not canonically correct.”288  This explains the gradual suppression of the decision of 1484 among the Orthodox, especially in the see of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and also the “bold move” of Cyril V and his followers to proceed substantially and officially to abolish that decision through the official Oros of 1755, with the approval, moreover, of the Eastern Patriarchs. And just the Oros of 1755 by itself proves that those who, after 1484, were “rebaptizing” the Latins were not “few.”

Besides, it can be verified historically that the position on this issue of certain Patriarchs and hierarchs in general, that is of the responsible ecclesiastical figures (and, in practice, official organs of administration), was usually more moderate than that of the theologians, the clergy and the people, and particularly the monks, during the Turkish rule.289  Runciman provides us with sufficient information to form a clear picture on this point. In reference to the reply of Patriarch Jeremias II to Peter the Great (1718), which recommends to the latter not to (re)baptizer Western converts, he comments: “But in saying so Jeremias did not speak for the whole of his Church. He had on his side the Phanariot aristocrats and intellectuals, who prided themselves on their Western culture and their freedom from bigotry, and most of the upper hierarchy, men many of whom owed their posts to Phanariot influence and many of whom came from the Ionian islands, where the Orthodox lived on good terms with the Catholics and conversion was frequent. Such men saw no need for changing the existing practice.”290 They obviously did not have the inner presuppositions that would have enabled to evaluate these things in an Orthodox manner. And it is well known where the ever increasing intercourse between the Orthodox and Westerners was leading; namely, to the blunting of the Orthodox-patristic criteria.291 And this, at times, was tolerated – and even encouraged – by the local bishops in Latin dominated areas. Hence, the axiom should not be ignored here either: Only the actions of the authentically Orthodox, that is of the saints who have seen God, constitute an expression of Orthodox self-understanding.

  1. The action of Patriarch Cyril V

On this point, the case of Cyril V is even more characteristic. The mere fact alone, as we said, that this Patriarch dared to overturn the synodal decision of 1484 shows how little accepted it had been by the Orthodox conscience. The argument is usually propounded that the Orthodox position regarding the Latins would harden during periods when the passions were roused due to the political danger from the West. It is peculiar, though, that Cyril proceeded with his decision at a time of no particular tension, and moreover prompted by a mass accession of Latins from nearby Galatas to Orthodoxy.292  We consider it useful to dwell momentarily on this particular case.

Runciman gives very interesting descriptions of Cyril, his co-workers, and his opponents. The Patriarch is characterized as being “of good education, who had risen to the hierarchy on his merits.” The other metropolitans also recognized his ability, but they did not sympathize with him, and they fabricated many false accusations against him.293 According to the British historian, there were material and personal motives for the negative reactions to him: “He laid heavy taxes on the metropolitanates and richer bishoprics and relieved the burden on the poorer congregations…but it infuriated the metropolitans.”294  So, whereas the populace (the “rabble,” according to some theologians),295 the monks, and theologians of Argentis’ and E. Voulgaris’ caliber agreed with the (re)baptism of Western converts and supported Cyril, a strong reaction arose on the part of the metropolitans. But, as Runciman observes: “…somewhat to their embarrassment, they found that they had become the allies of the envoys of the Catholic powers,296 who at once protested to the Porte against this insult to the Catholic Faith.”297  As regards the Patriarch of Antioch, who did not sign the Oros of 1755, this same historian writes: “The Patriarch of Antioch would have done so, had he not been on an alms-seeking visit to Russia and had his throne not been snatched in his absence by a usurper.”298  As for Argentis, Runciman accepts that he was “a passionate theologian” who supported rebaptism on theological grounds, but that “he received no sympathy from the intellectual circles in which he moved.”299

To be sure, the opinions on Cyril and his decision on “rebaptism” are very contradictory.300 We shall not deal with this problem here. Yet in speaking about his motives, as well as those of his opponents, we shall cite the primary sources, that is, the synodal and other documents contemporary with Cyril, which, as far as we know, have not yet been taken seriously by those who portray Cyril in a negative light. Likewise, it should be emphasized here that any attempt to compose a historical picture of the Patriarch and his work cannot be considered correct or proven, at least academically speaking, if it is based on the “censorious” texts of the time, which in many ways are irresponsible and historically dubious, and which essentially are nothing but libel. Hence, the official documents of that time give us the following picture.

Having in mind the Council of Trent’s official synodal sanctioning of aspersion in the West, Patriarch Cyril denounces the Latin baptism as being “polluted,” in accordance with the spirit of the early Fathers of the Church as indicated in the first part of this study.301  Both he and his followers were characterized by those who disagreed with this as being “Calvinists,” “Calvinist-minded,” and “Lutherocalvinists.”302  It was customary, anyway, for all anti-papists either to seek the support of the Protestants, or, even without so doing, to be considered pro-Protestant, or even simply Protestant.

From the writings of Cyril’s opponents, however, it appears that what was of primary concern for them was to preserve the existing peace and quiet. Thus, the synod of metropolitans of the Ecumenical Throne, among other things, writes against Cyril: “And then, what, at this time, is the necessity, or the demand, or the benefit to our Orthodox nation, of the teaching on rebaptism? Or what nations have come over to us that required us to deliberate on this? Without need, why should there be such a racket and disturbance and scandal?”303  Their fear, as stated afterwards, was that “destructive and disastrous” evils would follow, and also “defamations and disgraces and derision against the Orthodox, and also hate and animosity and persecutions…” And if matters were not rectified, they would later result in “great danger and a disastrous end.”304  They speak about the disturbance “which overtook the Church,” at a time when the Great Church was distressed “woefully by the very heavy burden of excessive debts passed down and accumulated,” and therefore she had no greater need than of peace.305  Thus, they advocate preserving the officially prevailing practice, i.e. reception by chrismation and written statement.306 Their aim of preserving the prevailing calm is evident from what they write against a certain book by Christophoros Aitolos (A Denunciation of Sprinkling).

This “booklet,” they write, “has in no small measure disturbed Christ’s Church and all of us, wishing as it does to create factions…and to provoke public uprising and division within the Orthodox establishment…For this reason, colleague hierarchs heretofore present in this queen of cities took counsel with the prominent noble gentry of this pious City…and we deduced that from this venomous snake shall arise many adversities disastrous for the Church and the nation. For this booklet…which is causing such a disturbance and no incidental harm, appears to be castigating the Latins. But in so doing, it imperceptibly falls into an ignorant misinterpretation of the words of Holy Scripture and of the holy Fathers, as well as into overt Lutherocalvinist blasphemies. Therefore, we have unanimously resolved that we ought…to regard this booklet as spontaneous disaster, abominable, odious, unlawful, uncanonical, blasphemous, and excluded and rejected from Christ’s Church and from the reading of the pious Orthodox.”307

The official documents do not indicate any particular souring of relations with the Latins, and therefore the Patriarch’s action was seen as “a bolt from the blue.” Hence his opponents’ arguments are in proportion primarily seasonal-circumstantial, and less theological. What is predominant in them is the fear of provoking disturbances because of the affront to the West. The metropolitans saw no reason to harden the position towards the West. On the contrary, they judged it absolutely necessary to preserve the peace and quiet. Thus, in unanimity with the prominent gentry and leaders, they expressed their opposition to Cyril’s “unjustifiable” action, and felt they were adequately served by the decision of the Council of 1484. They maintained that the Latins “have never been judged by any Council or by our holy Fathers as being unbaptized and in need of rebaptism,”308 incorrectly, of course, as we saw above.

Hence the question arises: What were Cyril’s motives? In fact, Cyril was not motivated by any preceding strain with the West, as indicated above (cf. pp. 80f, 95ff). The Patriarch simply represented another tradition, namely the one described above by the Kollyvades and C. Oikonomos. With the spontaneous request of the Latins of Galatas to convert to Orthodoxy as the sole motivation, he proceeded with his well-known decision primarily for theological reasons. Moreover, it was the Orthodox priests of Galatas who posed the question to Cyril, “whether to anoint with chrism the Latins joining Christ’s blameless Church, or to baptize them, as having wholly rejected the Lord’s baptism…”309  This confirms that there existed widespread doubt concerning the validity of the Latin “baptism,” in spite of the above words of the metropolitans. Cyril simply permitted the priests “to baptize the joining…Latins as being unbaptized”310  This event, first of all, clearly proves that the decision of 1484 had never been universally accepted, as our writers maintained above. And he involvement of Eustratios Argentis in this issue is the biggest proof that Cyril’s action cannot be understood apart from the theological-dogmatic presuppositions, given that the opposing metropolitans were also “vehement anti-papists,”311 who preferred, however, to maintain a moderate attitude for the sake of peace.

To be sure, the reasons were never absent that made the Latin danger felt and the strain on Latin-Orthodox relations ever dawning anew. The age of Patriarch Cyril V knew a Rome which endeavored to conquer Orthodoxy by roundabout ways and means. Very simply, she circulated the claim that there was unanimity among the two Churches as far as the doctrines were concerned, and thus she drew in the Orthodox more easily. But here again is proof that Cyril’s theological presuppositions were Orthodox-patristic, in contrast with his bishop opponents. For the latter did not perceive, as he did, the necessity of guarding the Orthodox fold through a clear demonstration of the existing essential differences, among which was the one observed in sacred baptism.312

We believe that the above case studies adequately prove the realism of our theologians’ line of thought. These theologians do not deny that opposing views always existed among the Orthodox in their positions regarding the West. However, they also accept – and this too is proven to be true – that there existed – again, always – a significant segment of Orthodox who considered the Latins heretics, their sacraments without substance, and their (re)baptism wholly natural.313  The use of economia even by representatives of this segment was due to the fact that aspersion in the West was not universally predominant.314  But after the imposition of aspersion in the Roman Catholic world by the Council of Trent, then even the slightest doubt disappeared. To this segment belonged Patriarch Cyril V, and also our writers. It was that segment which, standing its ground even today, sees the differences between Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy in their real dimensions, i.e. not as mere ritual and administrative differentiations, but as buoys indicating the deep alteration which the Christian truth has sustained in the regions of the papal West.

  1. The policy in Russia

  2. Oikonomos, however, also found himself of forced to explain the opposite stands on Western baptism taken by the Church of Russia and the Ecumenical Patriarchate in his time. His answer is that the Russian Church does not overlook the acrivia of the holy Canons, despite her decision of 1667, although they use economia in Russia, “they do not declare implacable war on the Church’s perfect baptism by dismissing those who seek it.”315 Moreover, the Russian catechizers of Western converts “first and foremost instruct those who join about this acrivia of the Apostolic baptism, then about the reception by concession.”316  So, a discrepancy between the Churches such as this does not destroy the oneness of Orthodoxy, since the other Patriarchates accept “those perfected in Russia by concession as legitimate children.”317

Of course, in his personal correspondence, and indeed with individuals residing in Russia, Oikonomos could not point-blank condemn the practice prevalent there, for he not only had moral but also worldly ties with the Church in Russia,318 though he does not cease to side the decision of Patriarch Cyril V (1755). He does not neglect, however, to reprove it indirectly, writing: “I honor and respect the Russian Church as the undefiled bride of Christ and inseparable from her Bridegroom, and in addition as my own benefactress, by which the Lord has done and shall do many great and marvelous things, as she unerringly and verily follows the rule of piety. Hence, I do not doubt that it was in a spirit of discernment that she chose the older rule, in accordance with which she accepts the baptism of the other Churches [sic], merely chrismating those who join when they renounce their patrimonial beliefs with a written statement and confess those of the Orthodox faith.”319 Later, though, speaking “about the attitude of the Orthodox Churches outside Russia,” and advocating the necessity of exercising acrivia on the Latins, he asks: “What are we to do about the aspersion?…how shall we receive them who were never baptized at all?”320 And elsewhere, addressing the recipient A. Stourzas, he openly recommends to the “local servants and ministers of the Church” in Russia to do the opposite, that is to exercise acrivia!321

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.