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CHURCHMAN'S MONTHLY REVIEW
AN APOLOGY FOR THE GREEK CHURCH. By EDWARD MASSON, one of the Judges in the Supreme Court of Areopagus, and formerly Attorney-General for the Morea. Edited by J. S. HOWSON, M.A., of Trinity College, Cambridge. London: Hatchards. 1844.
THE position of the Greek Church has always been full of interest for thoughtful Protestants, inasmuch as it has, even in the times of its deepest depression, maintained a firm resistance to the usurpations of Rome. But it is more especially interesting to us at the present time, because we may expect a daily increasing intercourse between England and the Levant, and because we have already taken steps which must bring our national church into contact either friendly or hostile, with that of Greece. The establishment of one English bishop at Jerusalem, and another at Gibraltar, (the latter of whom has the English of the Ionian Isles under his superintendence) has already given two channels of intercourse between the churches. And it becomes, therefore, of great importance that English churchmen should be made better acquainted with the true character of the Greek church than they have hitherto been; for it is perhaps not too much to say, that the majority even of well-informed Englishmen know quite as little of the doctrines and condition of this great church, which, besides Greece itself, embraces the whole population of Russia,
and a large proportion of that of Turkey, under its allegiance,as they do of the comparatively insignificant churches of Armenia or Abyssinia.
The little volume before us contains, in a popular form, much interesting information, well calculated to meet this deficiency. And considerable weight is added to its statements, on matters of fact, by the circumstance that its author has resided in Greece for more than twenty years, and has been employed (as will be seen in the title-page) in public posts of very high importance under the Greek government. Mr. Masson appears to have left Scotland for Greece many years ago in the first fervour of the Philhellenic enthusiasm, and to have remained there without intermission till the present time, working steadily for the improvement and civilization of the nation, in whose early struggle for existence he took so lively an interest. It is not unimportant to remark that he is, in his ecclesiastical opinions, an ardent Presbyterian; for this fact gives great reason for relying upon his testimony in favour of a church so different from his own, against which all his prejudices must have been at first strongly excited. And we are, therefore, most happy that he is so hopeful as to the church whose working he has witnessed thus long, and that he entertains so firm a belief in the possibility of eradicating some superstitious observances which have been suffered to creep into her practice, if those who are willing to assist in educating her sons will only exercise that forbearance and caution which the circumstances so imperatively demand. His conclusions on this head are summed up in the following assertions:--
"First, that the complete regeneration of the Greek church is perfectly compatible with the integrity of her standards; second, that the principles of the Protestant Reformation and Eastern Orthodoxy (separated from practical abuse and fairly exhibited), are identical; and, lastly, that the most efficacious means that Protestants could employ to promote the revival of pure and practical Christianity in Greece, are such as the Greeks themselves, both clergy and laity, would cordially approve."—(p. 41.)
Mr. Masson expresses himself throughout most strongly opposed to the practice which has been adopted by some English missionaries, (mostly, we believe, the emissaries of dissenting bodies), of beginning their labours by endeavouring to gather round themselves a little church of their own, independent of and opposed to the Established Church of the nation. And we quite agree with him that nothing can be less likely to do good, than thus to proclaim war ab initio against that body which must command the hereditary affections of the people, and which possesses all the readiest means of influencing them effectually. The utmost which can be effected by such a method is to create, in some of the towns
upon the coast, a few small dissenting societies, at the cost of alienating the minds of the bulk of the population from truths which, by a different method, they might be brought willingly to receive. If any Christian church is in a state to justify such a mode of attack, it must be one which is not only utterly corrupt in its doctrines and practice, but also hopelessly pledged to maintain every corruption and abuse. And that this is very far from being the case with the Greek church, Mr. Masson's work will convincingly demonstrate to those who have not the opportunity of access to more recondite sources of information. Nothing, indeed, but extreme ignorance on the subject could have led to the views which have been entertained and acted upon in some of the missionary operations in the Levant; and we have therefore much pleasure in giving a few extracts from Mr. Masson's account of the actual state of the Greek church, in the hope that they may tend to dissipate such illusions. He quotes largely from the Greek formularies, catechisms, &c., to show how far they differ from those of Rome; but our readers will be more interested by those of his extracts which bear upon the present state of opinion among the modern Greek theologians, a subject on which Mr. Masson's superior means of information give him the power of affording us much interesting illustration. The following specimen is from the work of a writer of great authority in the Russian branch of the church, who is still professor of theology at one of the Russian universities. "On Traditions.-Traditions which are adduced concerning dogmas of faith or practice, involved neither formally or virtually in scripture, should have no weight, and ought to be rejected. Ist. Because scripture alone is the base of theology. 2nd. Because the said scripture is so necessary, that the faithful can draw all things belonging to the attainment of salvation from no other source except from itself. 3rd. Because it is so perfect, that it contains all dogmas necessary to salvation.
"On the authority of the Fathers.-The testimonies of the fathers are not to be placed on a level with the declarations of God, but generate only human faith 1st. Because scripture alone is the base of theology, and is sufficient and necessary for salvation. 2nd. Because the writings of the fathers are not canonical books. 3rd. Because the fathers, when they wished to confirm their sentiments, themselves recur to scripture. 4th. Because some of the fathers have erred. 5th. Because the fathers themselves testify that it is possible for them to hold views not in accordance with the truth, and are not willing that their writings should be taken for canonical. 6th. Because many fathers have given various interpretations of the same passage of scripture; and, therefore, all could not have perfectly ascertained the sense of scripture."-(p. 25.)
The second passage we shall quote is from a sermon "on Prayer" in a volume of sermons preached by the celebrated modern Greek theologian, Economus :
"If thou hast performed any good work, what else hast thou done but thy duty as an unprofitable and insignificant servant, (Luke xvii. 10). For we
do not present our supplications unto thee for our righteousnesses, &c., (Daniel ix. 18.) Who art thou, even among the ministers of the altar, that contendest for precedency? Unhappy man, whosoever thou art! poor boaster! dost thou not behold that thou art entirely poor and miserable,' &c. What hast thou which thou hast not received of God? My grace is sufficient for thee; my strength is made perfect in weakness,' (2 Cor. xii. 9.) Such confident persuasion is at once a proof and a result of our sincere faith in Jesus Christ, who employs almighty intercession with his heavenly Father for the acceptance and fulfilment of our prayers. We have an advocate with the Father, even Jesus Christ,' &c., (John ii. 1,) who is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us,' (Romans viii. 34). For without me ye can do nothing,' (John xv. 5).
"Faith is truly the gift of the Most High, which man attains through the intercession of Christ, as he himself hath assured us: No man cometh unto the Father but by me.' Yet that sublime gift of God, 'that wisdom which cometh from above,' endureth and flourisheth by meditation and the worship of God. As the bodily eye cannot see light except by means of rays of that very light; so the eyes of the soul cannot behold the light of faith except by means of meditation and prayer, themselves emanations of faith. The more eagerly the Christian ascendeth to God by prayer, and the more permanently he familiariseth himself with the knowledge of the grace of God, the more abundantly doth God pour upon him the light of faith. For this reason, the holy apostles, desiring an increase of faith, came to their Master and Saviour himself, and entreated him, saying, 'Lord, increase our faith.'
"Sin hath placed an iron wall of separation between the creature and his Creator, but our heavenly Father, through the mighty intercession of his onlybegotten Son, sendeth his gracious Spirit to them that earnestly ask it of him; and enableth them to pass that dreadful partition, and to approach boldly to behold, so far as mortals can behold, the Most High. Such Christians, ascending often, like Moses, the mount of prayer, behold, though from afar, the land of promise, the heavenly Jerusalem; and, in fancy, hear distinctly the new song, the thrice-holy hymn, which is sung on earth, in concert with the angels of God in heaven, by those who 'worship him in spirit and in truth.'"-(pp. 14, 15.)
Mr. Masson adds that the writer of the above extract
"Is a venerable-looking old man, of courteous and gentlemanly manners; and the most elegant Greek writer of the present day.
"During a conversation which took place, a short time ago, between this eloquent and learned author, and an amiable young Oxonian divine, the latter exclaimed, with surprise: 'Why, Sir, were you at Oxford, they would call you a Protestant.' The venerable Grecian seemed to enjoy the remark as much as I did. Economus is at the head of the high church party in Greece; yet, were he to visit Oxford, he would not only be considered a Protestant, but would, I think, in upholding the doctrines of his own church, do something towards converting certain divines there to the Church of England."―(p. 16.)
We think the above extracts are sufficient to incline our readers to sympathize, at least, in Mr. Masson's hopes for the church of Greece. We cannot, however, shut our eyes to the fact, that abuses and superstitions have been suffered to introduce themselves, and even to usurp a place in some of the liturgical formularies of that church. For this, great excuse may doubtless be made, when we remember that for many years the influence of Rome was ex
ercised to a fearful extent, through underhand channels, during the Venetian government of the Morea; and that the Greek servicebooks were all printed at Venice, and there (it is asserted) actually altered by the introduction of unauthorized interpolations. Mr. Masson observes that,
"Since the separation of the Eastern and Western communions, the efforts of Rome have been unremitted to accomplish the subjugation of the Oriental Church. The combined exertions of diplomacy and Jesuitism have, for centuries, been but too successfully employed at Constantinople and throughout the Turkish empire, in extending Papal influence. The success of Romish intrigue in the East may be estimated from the fact, that of the Greek ecclesiastics who, from the fall of the eastern empire to the beginning of the seventeenth century, a space of one hundred and fifty years, successively filled the patriarchal throne of Constantinople, thirteen were the mere tools of Rome. The fate of the patriarch Cyril Lucar is well known. For his firm resistance to papal domination he was, for many years, unrelentingly persecuted by the agents of Rome, who at last accomplished his murder in 1638."-(pp. 86, 87.)
In spite of these disadvantages, however, the Greek church is not as yet formally committed or pledged to any of her corruptions-she has had no council of Trent--and it is this which justifies the hope, which we cannot but join with Mr. Masson in feeling, concerning her future destiny. Everything, however, depends on the direction given to the minds of the present generation of her clergy; they are at present ready to respond to kindness, and to receive instruction from England, if it is not accompanied with the demand that they should renounce the claims of their church to be a true one. Every effort ought to be made to give them the means of obtaining a better education; for they will need the best, to enable them to cope with the torrent of French Infidelity, by which the youth of Greece are but too likely to be deluged.' And there are few things by which the cause of Christ could be more effectually advanced, than by supplying the young Greek clergy with the means of becoming better acquainted with the doctrines of our own Reformed Church, and endeavouring to win their affections to us, by dealing with them in the spirit of conciliation and brotherly love.
On this point we cannot forbear inserting the appeal of the friend who has edited Mr. Masson's letters, who "begs for gifts to the University and Library of Athens, or to the New College for priests, which has just been founded in the valley of the Illissus, near the very spot where Aristotle used to walk and lecture. No plan of charity would probably be so effective as to supply to one or more young men, destined for clerical duty in some particular district, the means of support during their college course. This has been done on a liberal scale by one member of the Greek Church; and it is understood that the same will be done by the bishop of Gibraltar, on behalf of the Christian Knowledge Society. The presentation of books, theological or otherwise, to the library of the University, would be an act of charity, the value of which is only known to those who know the poverty of Greece."