Why didn’t the reformation spread between Orthodox Christians?

By: | Post date: 2016-11-21 | Comments: 1 Comment
Posted in categories: History, Modern Greek

I encourage my followers stumbling on this to read the other answers. (I always do!) My perspective is rather different from theirs.

I’ll speak to Constantinople rather than Moscow, though I suspect it’s the same story.

Under the Ottoman Empire, the Orthodox Patriarchate was two things which would have blocked the Reformation.

  • The Patriarchate was the ethnoreligious authority for the entire Rum Millet, the Orthodox Christian subjects of the empire. If you gave up on being Orthodox, you gave up on being Roman, as far as both the Christians and the Muslims of the Empire were concerned. (And Greek Catholics were not Romans, they were Franks.) So switching denomination was not meant to be a casual thing, it was a wrenching thing with huge implications for you, both politically and socially.
    • It wasn’t really much different in Germany at the time, I guess…
  • The Patriarchate was a deepset force of reactionary conservatism. I’m sorry if that sounds harsh and Voltaire-ish, but it really was. Just the venom heaped on vernacular Greek renderings of the Gospels is enough to tell you that. And Greek nationalists may well not have learned this at school, but the Patriarchate condemned the emergence of nationalism in the 18th century, as an unwelcome Western heresy. Not because the Evil Turks told them to. But because the Millet system worked just fine for them too.

There are only two Patriarchs from the Ottoman Empire that anyone outside a seminary has heard of, and I would love to be proven wrong.

  • Gregory V of Constantinople was hanged at the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence. Not because he was a Greek nationalist: he was the guy condemning the emergence of nationalism. But a useful martyr to have on your books.
  • Cyril Lucaris

OK, you may not heard of Lucaris. But plenty of Greek intellectuals have.

Know why people have heard of Lucaris? He was a thinker. He promoted education. He sponsored the first vernacular translation of the Gospels. He was in dialogue with Calvinists and Anglicans. He may have been responsible for a Calvinist-oriented Confession, and of course there was raging controversy, both then and now, about whether he had crossed over to Calvinism himself.

He was the closest the Patriarchate came, in fact, to the Reformation.

He had lots of enemies in the intrigue-ridden Church, he was deposed four times (!), and he was hanged by the Ottomans in 1638, on the pretext of disloyalty.

His legacy within the church?

The Council of Constantinople in 1638 anathematized both Cyril and the Eastern Confession of the Christian faith, but the Council of Jerusalem in 1672, specially engaged in the case of Cyril, completely acquitted him, testified that the Council of Constantinople cursed Cyril not because they thought he was the author of the confession, but for the fact that Cyril hadn’t written a rebuttal to this essay attributed to him.

In my opinion, that’s why the Reformation didn’t spread between Orthodox Christians.

One Comment

  • Piers says:

    Hey, I’ve heard of Lucaris. But then again I have vested interest in the Reformation.

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