Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Celtic & Anglian


Orthodoxy and the Conversion of England
By the Rev’d Derwas J. Chitty
Source: http://www.westernorthodox.com/chitty.html

A paper read at the Conference of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, on 31st July, 1947, and subsequently revised, by the Rev. Derwas J. Chitty.


In the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Almighty.

I have entitled this paper Orthodoxy and the Conversion of England. First, I would ask you to keep in mind throughout that there is no conversion save to the utter simplicity of the Christ—in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. But this is no plea for false simplification—a simpliste solution—in the true simplicity, all the intricate details of all universes can find the reason of their being.

Two days ago, my brother-in-law, Mr. Kitson Clark, ended his paper on the note of the Daphni Pantokrator (image below).

I would begin with another ikon akin to it—that ivory relief in the Cabinet des Medailles in Paris (image below) which shows the Emperor and Empress, Romanus and Eudocia, in all the jewelled trappings of Byzantine Royalty: between and above them stands the Lord Jesus of Nazareth, the King of All, in the meek robes of His humanity, with no splendour save that of the Uncreated Light: His hands are upon their heads in blessing.

To be converted is not just to gaze upon Him, or to imitate Him as from outside, but to have our life taken into His Sonship, by the Spirit of Adoption whereby we cry Abba, Father.

Is it necessary to press the urgency of the need, for the world, for this country, and for ourselves? What I do urge is that we have no time to-day for things that are inessential. If we have not, in that which has brought us here, the key to the treasure which is above all treasures, let us go away at once and seek for it elsewhere. If we can get on without each other, let us do so. But I say we cannot. Beware lest the Lord’s words thunder against us—Woe unto you, for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and those that were entering in ye hindered.

Perhaps this is, in the first instance, a challenge to the Church of England Council of Foreign Relations, which may seem to be concerned mainly with diplomatic relations with foreign Churches. Surely what is required of it is an all-out drive to give to world-wide Christendom, as already in being, at least as important a place in the mind of the ordinary Englishman as is occupied to-day by the foreign missions of our own Church. Too long we of the Church of England have been concerned, in an ominously self-conscious manner, with asserting that our Church is all that any other Church is. And, in consequence, the habit has grown on us of thinking and acting as if we could afford to stand alone. Problems of India are thought of in terms of England, and it does not appear to us incongruous that the Cingalese or the South-Sea-Islander should be expected to find their spiritual home in Canterbury.

So long as we are confined to a West-European view of History, this is inevitable. Within this view, we must either submit to Rome or claim that we are as good as she is. And within this view, Rome is historically the centre. Those who cannot stomach this at any price are left without any true centre, perhaps without any faith at all in history since Christ. I suppose the Church of England has tried to hold a balance, neither accepting nor rejecting Rome completely. I would like to suggest that herein she has given evidence of her vocation—her appeal is to history: but she has been awaiting a world-view of History for which she has not hitherto been ready.

Actually, the only heart of the Church on Earth, the only heart of the world and of all History, is neither Canterbury nor Rome—nor Constantinople or Moscow—but Jerusalem. When that is properly understood, the seat or seats of government of the Church become of secondary importance.

This is the context in which I believe we are to see the great vocation of our Fellowship.

For several generations now there have been men whose names we honour, working for friendship between our Churches. But in that friendship, while I know not how much we have wished the Orthodox to learn from us, it has been too commonly assumed that all we have to gain from Russian or Greek, apart from support for our determination to be Catholic without being Papist, was in the nature of caviare or rose-petal jam—a spiritual luxury delightful in its place, and even salutary, but not to be indulged in to excess—for we must remain Western—and not indispensable. Even Birkbeck seems to miss the point of Khomiakoff’s reply to the Magdalen tractarian’s question how to arrest the pernicious effects of Protestantism—Shake off your Roman Catholicism. And for a more recent example, I would refer you to a passage in Brother George Every’s new book on the Byzantine Patriarchate, in which I am not at all convinced that the writer expresses his real mind.

The Fellowship also has been guilty in this matter, too often slipping through the fingers of any attempt to concentrate it on real dogmatic study. When it was our duty to proclaim to the world an Orthodoxy that was not peculiar to any one country, we have sought to find in the Russian word "Sobornost" some idea not contained (though really it is contained) in the original Catholicity—while protecting ourselves with the bizarre, Russian sound of the word, from any idea that it was binding on us English. Or, instead of turning our minds to the classic teaching of the Fathers, we have fastened on the Holy Wisdom philosophy of some outstanding Russian thinkers, classing in our minds as typical of Eastern Orthodoxy just those elements which other Orthodox themselves feel to be exotic, and perhaps due to Western influence. It is greatly to be hoped that Vladimir Lossky’s book on the Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church will appear in English as soon as possible as a counterblast to this.

Perhaps it is not fair to describe all this as fiddling while Rome burns.  Perhaps it was inevitable that we should not be ready until now for a greater work. But perhaps we are ready to-day. At least I know that I am no longer by any means alone in the point of view which I intend to sketch for you. Others, perhaps many more than I know, have come to it quite independently of me.

Twenty years ago I found myself in Jerusalem with, as it were, scales falling from my eyes. I had been there for the best part of two years, as an Anglican student enjoying the genial hospitality and admirable teaching of the French Dominicans of the Ecole Biblique of St. Stephen. But almost imperceptibly, through what I saw in the Holy City of the Church Universal, and through the influence of one close Russian friendship, and the warmth of Russian Church Life to which that admitted me so freely, I found my view of life revolutionized:

I slept, methinks, and woke,
And, slowly gazing, found me stripped in sleep.

It was as if I had, without noticing it, unlearned everything that I had known before, and started as a child to learn it all over again. The truths I now saw were the same truths: but a new light bound them together and interpreted them differently, explaining apparent contradictions, and leading in many ways to implications hitherto unnoticed. At the same time I had a deep conviction that herein the simpler faith of my country-rectory boyhood was somehow being vindicated against the siren voices with which Oxford had, to some extent, confused it.

I returned to Cuddesdon to find myself reading between the lines of all ordinary books of history and theology, testing this new view, and finding that it seemed to fit the facts. I went to the St. Alban’s Conference at which our Fellowship was founded, to see whether Orthodox theologians would actually interpret their Faith in the way which seemed to me implicit in the somewhat general impressions I had so far gained of their worship. Again I found I had not been mistaken. So the process of growth went on.

Of course a new question presently arose. Orthodoxy now appeared to show me the true vocation of the Church of England. But, having once seen the fuller, freer truth, could I personally remain tied up in the knots of our chequered history? Back in Palestine in 1929, I was very near, or so it seemed, to taking the bull by the horns—to becoming a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church in a land where it was native, and serving it there, leaving aside as not to concern me personally the question of the validity of the Anglican Church. But then I became painfully aware of an attitude all too common among Anglicans—fortunately never universal—an attitude which, as it seemed to me, however polite and friendly on the surface, fundamentally despised Orthodoxy, and had no room for it either inside or outside our Communion. My combativeness was roused. I might not be a very good Anglican, but at least I represented the true heart of our Church better than these—and if I could remain, I must, to prove that. And here I should say that I am never so sorely tempted to doubt the validity of our Church as when I hear people arguing that she is the best Church. What need of that? Knowing that she has her faults, we must not presume to compare her with other empirical Churches, but only with that perfect heavenly Church, the Church of the First born in which is no spot or wrinkle. For all her faults, it was here that Christ first called me, and there is only one Christ.

So, after another two years, I found myself in my country parish, convinced that we must follow Christ and build from the bottom if we are to attain true unity, and to save the world. I have not been a great success, either as a country parson or as a Naval chaplain—but I am convinced that that experience of the wider mind of the Church which has sometimes made me appear exotic to men of my own type of English training, has brought me closer to the ordinary people of England and not separated me further from them.

A warning for Anglican ecclesiastics, whose task it should be to know and understand foreign Churches, and to interpret them to their people:—again and again I have found non-conformists, and Anglican laymen of no specially ecclesiastical interests, who have met the Orthodox Church, in Greece or elsewhere, and have understood her and appreciated her better, it would seem, than they have appreciated our Church, or than our ecclesiastics have appreciated the Greek. We have started with too many presuppositions, and our knowledge, incomplete and in a different framework of thought, has been a hindrance rather than a help to the understanding of Eastern Orthodoxy. Such an understanding is not possible for a Western unless he is ready to start again as a child from the very simplest beginnings—or rather, it is not possible for any man, Eastern or Western, unless he learns to be doing this continually.

Moreover, this Church, which at first sight appears so highly hierarchical, is much more of a layman’s Church than either ours or the Roman. I had already long surmised what I found clearly before my eyes when I went to Greece for the first eight months of her liberation in 1944—Here is a Church from which we may perhaps learn the secret for bridging the gulf between our clergy and laity. Here also Church and community remain identical with a lack of self consciousness which makes it possible to find room for free expression within one undivided Church of very many varied movements of the Spirit which have with us usually resulted in multiplication of sects. Let us lay aside, for the moment at least, the assumption that we of the Church of England are called to be the bridge between Catholic and Protestant or Reformed, and face the possibility that there may be points on which Orthodox and Free-Churchmen (Methodist, Presbyterian, or Congregationalist) may be better fitted in the first instance to understand and be understood by each other than is the Anglican or the Roman Catholic to understand either. I will not now elaborate this point—what Fr. Edward Every will have to say about the Church in Greece will, I think, have a bearing on it. Meanwhile, I would already suggest to you that our task may be to discover in Orthodoxy that miraculous glue which alone is capable of reuniting the shattered fragments of Western Christendom. I should like to call this possibility urgently to the attention of all whose impatience for unity with other Churches of their own country may otherwise lead them to wreck their cause on the rocks of betrayal of principle.

But this brings me back to my main contention. I do not ask you to accept it in a hurry, lock, stock and barrel. But I do ask you not to rule out of court, as most of us appear to have done in the past, the possibility that in the 11th Century Schism between East and West there were fundamental issues involved, and that in these the East was right and the West wrong; and that this breach was but one aspect of a disastrous, tyrannical revolution within the Western Church itself. In the light of this possibility, I would suggest as a fruitful field of research for a Mediævalist, the hints in the Spiritual Franciscans, Wycliff, the Moravians, and perhaps elsewhere, of an underground tradition in the West—or was it only a wistfulness?—that the pure Faith, lost or obscured in Rome, had remained with the Greeks. And I would urge on your notice the fact that on every issue on which the Reformers of the 16th Century broke from Rome, Roman faith and practice were deeply, if subtly, different from the Greek. I would suggest that, both then and subsequently, all the divisions of Western Christendom have been rooted in the search for some elements of Christian Life which would have been found in Orthodoxy.

Do not think that I am asking the Western to become Eastern. I can, in some measure, consent to Michæl Ramsey when he says that East and West sorely needed each other, and ever since they went their separate ways, neither has been able to present the wholeness of Christian and Church life. Only I would remind you that it is not less true that the apostasy of the old Isræl, the defection of the Arab to a false prophet, the refusal of the Indian to see those elements in Christianity which are not to be found in his own religions, have also thwarted our presentation of the wholeness of Christ. But we do not, therefore, say that Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, are on the same level as the Christian Church. Moreover, the Easternism of Orthodoxy is apt to be exaggerated, as if it expressed only one national or racial culture. Here the Fellowship has suffered in the past by seeing too little of anything but Russian Orthodoxy—and, at that, of one element within Russian Orthodoxy. Anyone who has become used to the Orthodox Liturgy at home in several different milieux—say Russian, Greek and Syrian—will know what vast differences of culture and racial character can express themselves fully and freely through the medium of what remains clearly the same Liturgy and the same Faith—differences at least as great, in the first instance, as any which distinguish Eastern and Western Europe. In fact, one begins to wonder whether, in practice, any Christian Liturgy is so well fitted for naturalization into the mind and language of every people in the whole world, as that of St. John Chrysostom. And yet the Orthodox Church has never in theory denied that, for instance, the Roman Mass was, in its purity, an Orthodox Liturgy. And Fr. Evgraph Kovalevsky is showing us to-day the practical possibility of a Western Orthodoxy.

Furthermore, we must beware, lest our desire to remain Western should be a mere cloak for our clinging to those restrictions of Christian outlook which nine centuries of separation have planted upon us. Everyone of us does, in fact, shrink from the task of this return to the simplicity of the Christ which must involve for us, not a rejection, but, as it were, a divesting ourselves, without passing judgment, alike on Newman and Pusey, Laud and Cromwell, Loyola and Luther, Thomas a Kempis and Richard Rolle, Francis and Aquinas, Bernard and Anselm; Rafæl and Botticelli and Leonardo; King’s College Chapel, Chamber Court at Winchester, Salisbury Spire, and the wonder of Chartres:—even further back, as we seek towards the roots of the trouble, Jerome and Augustine must be called in question. For most of us, the process seems far too like being flayed alive—this putting off of our coats of skins. But when we do get back behind the division, is it not true that the comparatively unformed architecture of our fragmentary Anglo-Saxon survivals seems to have links with Byzantine and Universal Christendom which are lost as soon as the Saxon sets into the Norman. I put it to you—were Jerome and Augustine themselves, Patrick and Columba, Gregory of Rome and Benedict, Wilfrid and Chad, to return to earth to-day, may it not be that they would all alike find in modern Eastern Orthodoxy something more recognizably identical with the Church they had known in their own countries than anything they would find now in the Western Churches?

I am not suggesting that there have not been Saints in the West, whose holiness has penetrated behind the middle wall of division to the simplicity of Christ our God. But I do know how, especially in Jerusalem, one could feel even in the least satisfactory representative of the Orthodox Church an unhindered continuity with the Church of the Fathers such as one could not feel in any Western Church there.

Why do I not ask the Orthodox to divest themselves of Gregory Palamas or Seraphim of Sarov? In a sense I do: but in another sense it is not necessary for me to do so: for the Saints themselves, and the heart of accepted Orthodox Theology, have always called us to such a divesting, saying Not I, but Christ living in me; forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Is not this the secret of the survival power of the Byzantine Church, cleansed through the loss of so much that was once its highest outward expression—Haghia Sophia, that Heaven on earth which converted Vladimir’s envoys: the Christian empires of Old and New Rome, of Serbia, and of Russia—so that a Syrian village, without art or learning, perhaps without even a priest, and surrounded by Islam, can in some ways reveal to us more of Orthodoxy than the Byzantine Court? The apophatic or negative mystical way rules over all Orthodox theology. It is the way of humility, which cannot fall because it sets itself from the beginning in the lowest place; the way by which the Mother of God was prepared for the Incarnation—for he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

If we cannot approach the Western Church of the last nine centuries with the same confidence, is it not precisely because, since the clerical revolution of the 11th Century, she has not dared to submit herself or her theology to the primacy of this path? Desiring an assurance of salvation which her reasoning could apprehend, she has not dared to throw herself entirely on the mercy of a God whose Essence remains unknowable. Where her Saints have penetrated to this, she has been tempted to explain them away—to treat their path as an extra, to which some few mystics are called concerning devotion rather than theology—whereas, for Orthodoxy, devotion and theology are more clearly inseparable. The inner bond which bound the Saints together is thus gradually lost from view, until the Reformers thought it necessary to call for a turning from saints seen in practice as separate individuals to the one Christ. But the true Fathers, and the True Church, are taken into the Tabor-light of the Christ Himself just because they are at every moment submitted to the touchstone of the God who is beyond all knowledge and all essence.

I know little of the "Palamite" controversy of the 14th Century: and in England it has been either overlooked completely or assumed to be of no real importance. But I strongly suspect that if we studied it closer we should find it to have been a real seeking out of the spiritual and theological meaning of the breach between East and West. Until we have studied it, we have no right to assume that these differences are of a superficial character. I do suggest that just because of this clear distinction between the unknowable Essence of God and His Activities—the Uncreated Light—the Orthodox are able to develop a teaching of Deification bolder than is ever found in the West, and at the same time to be preserved from the danger of Creature-worship. As soon as the Doctrine of the Church as the Body of Christ is in any way watered down into a metaphor, the justification for worship of the Saints is lost—and no theoretical distinction between veneration and adoration will be felt to be a sufficient safeguard: each saint stands like a solid image, self contained, whatever light he may reflect. But when each is seen but as a star keeping his place in the firmament of the Church—a window through which the light of the Christ shines in upon us—one ikon among all which cover the walls of a Church—then we can fearlessly offer through each all our devotion to God.

There cannot be within the Heaven of the Church any gnostic descending hierarchy, each level one stage further from the purity of the Godhead. Even the historical earthly life of Jesus of Nazareth, the Incarnate Son of God, cannot without idolatry be treated in isolation from His continued Incarnation in the Church. Hence the not unimportant fact that Orthodox instinct, believing fully in the reality of the Eucharistic Body and Blood of Christ, does not in practice isolate the Sacred Elements for any special veneration outside their place in the Liturgy. This mystery is part, albeit a central part, of the whole mystery of the Church as the Body of Christ: nor can it be understood or have any meaning outside that universal mystery. I know next to nothing of the Schoolmen, but wonder if they did not fall into the error of allowing the profane, the unconverted or imperfectly converted regions of their minds, to pry into matters which should have been reserved for their minds fully converted—;I will not tell Thy secret to Thine enemies.

In this context it surely becomes impossible to speak either of the Pope or of the Hierarchy as the earthly Vicars of Christ: for He, being truly present in His Church, needs no vicar Here we do feel that the Hildebrandine Revolution set the seal upon a false tendency in the West which had already been encouraged by the failure to translate the Liturgy into the vernaculars (connected, we cannot help suspecting, with a certain intellectual laziness in the Latin language itself), and by the position in which the clergy found themselves as purveyors of Roman Civilization to the Western Barbarians. The clergy tended to become the purveyors of Christ in doctrine and sacraments, rather than the essential organs of a living body which is all equally Christ. This is an error from which we did not at the Reformation really succeed in freeing ourselves. It is doubtful whether the Presbyterians succeeded either. Possibly at a later date the Methodists may have been nearer success. But it is worth considering whether, in the face of what appeared as an Apostasy of the Hierarchy, the method of amputation (if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out) may not have had gains, in approach to Orthodoxy which is the Simplicity of the Christ, to counterbalance in part our retention of the outward form and succession at the price, perhaps, of our continuing to be in some measure a Church in which the Faith is imposed rather than elicited.

Here we come to another fundamental point. As in standards of personal righteousness, so in doctrine of the Church, there is for Orthodoxy no such distinction of esse and bene esse as is sometimes made among Protestants—the only righteousness is the perfection of the Christ, the only true Church the perfect Church of the Consummation: and no Saint save the Lord Jesus Himself, and no actual empirical Church on earth, has attained to the full measure of this. The lower standards which we tolerate, and employ economically as stages in our working towards the higher, are in no sense substitutes for it— both we and the Orthodox look askance at doctrines of Merit, and Works of Supererogation. Yet, in so far as we are truly aiming at the Perfection of the Christ, His Grace is with us and we have attained it. I t may be that the Papacy, purified of error, will be found to be as much of the esse of that perfect Church as is the Episcopate (Thou, when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren). And yet the Orthodox Church does, I believe, represent on earth to-day that perfect Church in a truer sense than does the Roman. I, as an Anglican, must believe that the one Spirit did and does continue, however imprisoned, in the Roman Church, if I am to believe that the same Spirit has been handed down through History to us. Only, may it be that in some sense the Faith has remained in the West like the Sleeping Beauty needing the kiss of Orthodoxy to raise it back to full life? And remember, that kiss might come too late.

Here again we seem to be approaching, as near the root of the issue, a difference in conception of Nature and Grace—wherein the Reformers, seeking blindly, only stumbled further into the mire— witness the preconceptions which made the translators of the Authorized Version able to spoil the contrast of I Corinthians—animal man and spiritual man—by translating [psychikon] as natural—a mistake (retained in the Revised Version) which must surely be due to their inadvertently reading [physikon] as a result of their preoccupation with Augustine. To the Orthodox, Nature and Grace are complementary rather than contrasted. Natural man is Adam before the Fall, or the New Adam. What the West calls natural man is unnatural man—[para physin]. Certainly Grace also introduces what is supernatural. But remember that St. John Climacus argues that the highest gifts of Grace—Faith, Hope and Charity—are among the natural virtues, and are found even among the animals—although no supernatural gift can be as important as these.

Man’s true nature is neither altered in its fundamental essence nor obliterated, but imprisoned and corrupted, by the Fall. Its penitence and its prayer go up through the thousands of years before Christ, until at last it is enabled in Mary to see the Angel visitor, and to submit itself to God’s Will. It is here that both we and the Orthodox are suspicious of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Holy Mother of God, lest in reducing a mystery to the definitions of human logic, we should obscure our whole conception of Human Nature, bound up with the fact that she is one of us, needing her Son to be her Redeemer too, though she be fore-cleansed by the Spirit [prokathartheisa to pneumati]—a phrase used also in the Menæa in reference to Jeremiah and other prophets) to become His Mother. The freewill of a woman set right the disobedience of the first Eve. Undisturbed, as it were, by all the ages of the fallen creature, God takes the creature itself to be the means of His own redeeming Epiphany. We are not to be saved from our Nature—our Nature is to be saved by union with His Divine Nature. If we pay special honour to the God-Bearer, it is to safeguard this double truth—that He truly took Manhood of Her, and that He makes her and us (and here, too, she is our prototype) truly partakers of His Divine Nature.

His Grace is such that His Creation, transfigured by Him, shall show a rightly balanced outshining of the Divine Nature. Here, I believe, at its simplest, is the reason why we feel the Filioque clause to be impossible for Orthodox Theology—The Trinity is primarily revealed in Jordan, where the Holy Ghost is seen proceeding from the Father and resting on the Son. Surely this is more than the consecration of His Manhood, and embodies an eternal truth of the Godhead Itself. And even in the temporal mission, though He with the Father sends His Spirit to prepare the way for Him, and to extend His Incarnation in the Church, yet at every point He Himself, in the unity of His Incarnate Person, remains the goal of the Spirit’s work. Is it fanciful to suppose that the Filioque clause has in fact either represented or been responsible for the general Western failure to treat the doctrine of the Church as the Body of Christ as other than a metaphor—the Son remaining aloof upon His Father’s throne, sends the Spirit as a kind of deputy to do His work for Him, through earthly vicars? So, in effect, it may seem that the Papal tyranny stultified for us the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit and the Doctrine of the Trinity—took away that key of Faith which is the deification in Christ of the human understanding, to leave us only a faith of blind obedience, a logic over-confident in itself because it must not question its own premises, and too often, as a result, a liturgical worship becoming the formal execution of a duty, and private prayer entrusted to the emotions at the expense of the intellect. It is a significant tragedy that there is no proper translation for [nous] and its derivatives in Latin or its daughter languages, or in English—the Schoolmen were forced to borrow the Greek word—I should like to know whether there was a word in Anglo-Saxon: certainly there are Greek distinctions which could be made in Anglo-Saxon, but not in Latin, and can no longer be made satisfactorily in English.

The picture I am drawing of the Western Church may be something of a caricature. Much of it would be outrageously unjust if applied to the Roman Church at its best. But any account of error and distortion in a Church is bound to stress that error in a manner disproportionate to the great body of truth retained. The indictment is not against the Roman Church alone. Nor would I suggest that, in the fragmentation of Western Christendom, Rome did not retain faithfully against the Reformers elements as necessary for the fullness of Orthodoxy as any after which the Reformers were striving against Rome. It remains, however, true that it was the Papal Revolution of the 11th Century—itself following on the Cluniac departmentalizing of the Church—which necessitated the fragmentation in the process of recovery of the fuller freedom of Orthodoxy. If the view I am trying to present, of the West as she might be seen through Eastern eyes, is unfamiliar, it is all the more necessary that we should realize what that view may be. Having done so, you can examine for yourselves how far it is justified.

What, then, is that distortion of the Faith towards which the West was being led—against which it kept no sufficient safeguard—and to which, in some points at least, it might seem to have become committed?

Organization here takes the place of organism. Dogma, liturgy and personal devotion are pigeon-holed into separate compartments of life, and their organic bond is obscured. Faith becomes imposed and not elicited—a blind acceptance of what you are told. The Mother of God loses her solidarity with mankind. The Spirit (whom God giveth not by measure) is dispensed by measure through the earthly vicars of a Christ aloof. Worship is conducted for you in a foreign language by a clergy who even in Heaven or hell retain a higher dignity. Even the parish priest, by reason of his enforced celibacy, or his special education, ceases in some measure to represent his people, and becomes the agent among them of a foreign power or of a strange class. A legalistic God and a feudalized Redemption are partly imposed by fear, partly made acceptable by the sentimental appeal of the Child Jesus, or by pity for the sufferings of the Crucified (as if we should presume to pity the brave man in his fight, let alone the victorious Son of God). The heavenly ratification promised by Christ to the decisions of the Church (Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven) is narrowed and twisted to a right (in some measure at least) to decree the fate of souls even after death. A legal minimum, which comes short of the Glory of God, is accounted for righteousness, and merit attributed to what goes beyond it in prayer or good works—and where are Our Lord’s words, Say, we are unprofitable servants? The Cup of which Our Lord said Drink ye all of this is denied to the laity. The simple bread over which He gave thanks, hallowing the every-day food of life (wherefore Greeks and Russians treat all bread as holy) gives way to the unfamiliar Azymes (contrary even to the earlier Western practice, and, if the Greeks are right, against the necessary meaning of the Greek word, [artos], used in the Scriptural accounts). Rebellious against its tedious vocation to convert the kingdoms of this world, the Papal Church sets itself up impatiently as an earthly kingdom. Holy Scripture, the free, the living word, becomes once again the deadening letter of old law—and what does it matter, then, whether that letter be defined still further by Jerome’s translation, and the interpretations of Councils and Popes, or whether it be limited to the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New? In either case it is reduced to little better than a Our’an, imposed from a heavenly throne to which we cannot in the full sense attain. The Holy Mysteries of the Church, wherein all life is hallowed, become the isolated points at which an extraneous God breaks in—and what does it matter, then, whether they be two or seven?

The Reformers failed to escape from the prison of Western categories of thought; for the real issue was not the limits, but the character, of infallibility; not the number, but the nature, of the Sacraments. But it is at least arguable that, in narrowing the limits of the infallible text, they were groping after a right instinct of human freedom, and that their concentration on Baptism and the Eucharist represented a sincere seeking to recover the simplicity of the Christ. Through all their errors, their rejections, losses, and neglectings of Christian Tradition, have not the Churches of the Reformation still in the last resort been anchored to this appeal?

But old habits of mind die hard. It has taken all the force of modern science to knock us off our fundamentalist pedestal—and still we do not realize that the process has only been restoring to us the possibility of true, Orthodox Christian Faith.

For nine hundred years, the West has not dared to have full faith in God Himself, but has sought for an infallible earthly rock on which to build. There was more than a flutter when Luther set about dethroning the earthly Church, and Copernicus the Earth itself, from a false fixity and centrality. But neither had gone far enough: for Luther had but put the Bible in place of the Church, and Copernicus the Sun in place of the Earth. With modern development of historical and physical science, Scripture and Sun alike are gone the way of Earth and earthly Church, and we find ourselves, from the unredeemed point of view, without any rock or fixed point, afloat—if indeed we are afloat—on a boundless and bottomless Ocean. And then at last we have our eyes opened to see the only true centrality of Earth, the only unshakeable fixity of the Church, as we interpret the texts about the Rock in the light of others—Thou hast founded the Earth upon the waters: An anchor of the soul, sure and steadfast, and which entereth in to that within the veil. Or we turn to St. Gregory of Nazianzus—For He hath in Himself gathered up all that to be can mean, which neither had beginning nor shall have an end, like some Ocean of Being, endless and illimitable, falling outside and beyond every thought both of time and of nature; by the mind alone sketched in, and that all too dimly and in a measure, not from the things on His level but from the things about Him, with fancies gathered one from here and one from there into a single image of the Truth, which frees us before we have a hold upon it, and escapes us before our mind has grasped it, shining just so much about our master-faculty, even when that is cleansed, as the speed of lightning which stays not shines about our sight; as it seems to me, that by its apprehensibility it may draw us to itself (for that which is completely inapprehensible cannot be hoped for nor attempted), but for its inapprehensibility it may be wondered at, and being wondered at may be longed for the more, and being. longed for may cleanse us, and cleansing may make us God-like, and, when we are become so, may hold converse with us as its own—my word here dares some youthful boldness—God unto gods united and made known—and even so much, perhaps, as He knows already those that are known.

This is a different paper from what I had intended to write. Perhaps my pen has run away with me. I meant to be practical: but perhaps it was necessary first to set forth something of the Vision. I must content myself now with urging the Orthodox to realize to the full their vocation—that in their tradition they have the answer to modern science and social theory, the way of union for the Church, and the key to the world’s Salvation: and with urging my brother English, of whatever party or denomination they may now be, to use this light to rediscover the same treasure hidden in our own past, in the days when the One Christ first came to our forefathers. I am not urging this as a means to outward unity. That would be a joy and a strong weapon: but even when we have attained explicit unity of Faith sufficient for it, it is not unlikely that international politics would still, in one way or another, long hinder its attainment. No—it is simply for the conversion of ourselves, of our country, and of the world, that we must act upon what we have discovered.

Here I must bring you to earth. For such action must, among other things, involve our seriously considering a revision, in several respects, of our teaching, and our liturgical and devotional practice. n some cases, this may mean a return from modern Anglo-Catholic practice to something more like the older ways of the Church of England. n others, points may need to be stressed which have been much longer forgotten. ere are a few examples. Perhaps you can add others.



Has long been recognized by historians to be an addition to the Creed made without the authority of the whole Church, and retained in the face of Eastern protest. Even the Pope at first disallowed it. It may well be that the clause has had a disastrous effect on our doctrine of the Holy Spirit: at least we cannot deny that it is precisely on the point of the nature of the Holy Spirit’s work in the Church that both we and the Orthodox believe Rome to have erred. Surely it cannot be mere chance that the only point of credal divergence should concern the Holy Spirit. The natural supposition is that there lurks in the clause something expressive of Rome’s error. To Dollinger, I believe, it appeared quite incomprehensible that any Church should accept it save on Papal authority. It is not in the Nicene Creed, and it is not in the Scripture. I cannot, therefore, believe that I am acting contrary to the true mind of the Church of England in omitting it. Surely the time has come for us to act. History, honesty, and humility alike demand that it should go.


Here (small point though it may seem) is one of many examples of the disastrous haste of our fathers. Commonly to-day the first sign in an Anglican Church of movement in a Catholic direction is the use of wafers in the Eucharist. This was not the primitive practice in Rome or in the West any more than in the East. It came in in the West not earlier than the 9th Century, if as early. Its reintroduction has added an extra, quite unnecessary difference between us and the Orthodox. The Greeks (through whose language we have all our knowledge of the Institution of the Eucharist) agree with the naive Englishman in saying It is not bread. The Scriptural evidence, itself uncertain, must be interpreted in the light of Church tradition. We have no right to defend a sacramental practice on grounds of mere convenience. Azymes, too, surely must go.

The Consecration of the Eucharist

Whatever may have been written of late, I believe the Eastern rite as we now have it to sum up within itself in a true balance the primitive practice and belief. Where the principle of organic growth allows it, the Scottish Liturgy provides a good pattern for us. And were I quite sure that the 1928 Canon had the unquestioned authority of the Church behind it, I should certainly use it—without being personally satisfied with it at all points. Meanwhile, I very tentatively suggest that, provided the people are taught what is happening, it may provide a better balance and an easier organic development for us if, after reciting the Words of Institution aloud, without elevation or genuflection, we kneel, with the people’s Amen, and make the Anamnesis and Epiclesis silently (as they are made to-day in the Orthodox Liturgy), then proceed with the Prayer of Oblation and the Lord’s Prayer. This gives the Words of Institution the same centrality that they have in the Orthodox Liturgy—a pleading of the One Sacrifice by right of which we act—while its application to our particular Mass in the Epiclesis would be clearly subordinated thereto.—The placing of the Prayer of Oblation and the Lord’s Prayer in their more historical position, before Communion, does seem to me to be required—partly on the ground that I do not believe that Cranmer’s theory at the moment when he produced the present order has ever won acceptance in the mind of the Church: at any rate, I doubt if anyone holds it today: and to continue using one form and meaning another can only result in inconsequence of mind a condition not uncommon in the Church of England!

The separation, within the last two generations, of Communion as a semi-private act from the Mass as corporate worship is a disaster from which we must seek an escape. So also, in general, we should aspire towards the Orthodox ideal of one Mass of each Church, and of each Christian, in the day. Something is involved here of far more primary importance than the ancient and pious practice of fasting before Communion, for the sake of which the disaster has been allowed to occur. Once the liturgical and dogmatic balance has been recovered, we may expect that practice, where it has been lost, to grow up again inevitably: and then, fasting until midday may not after all appear an excessive demand (in any case, whatever spiritual value there is in early rising, there is none in fasting until 8 a.m.!) Until then, let us concentrate on inculcating that sacramental Faith from which the outward reverence will arise, and not trouble the consciences of others over a secondary practice.

Herein, too, we need to learn again from the Orthodox what our fathers knew of the importance of both Matins and Evensong, and their organic connection with the Mass. For the Orthodox they are not, as they may appear in Western tradition, mere monastic and priestly offices, but are shared in fully by the people, and are an essential part of the liturgical whole. It is absurd that we should have allowed the natural order to be inverted as it has been—8.00 Mass; 1l.00 Matins; 6.00 Evensong—whereas clearly the right order, psychologically and liturgically, is Saturday Evensong (the Scriptural beginning of Sunday, as Sabbatarians have failed to observe), Sunday Morning Matins, Litany, and Mass. Duplication of the Mass, and virtual obliteration of Matins, is no remedy. Spiritual valetudinarianism, and the memories some of us have of those Sunday mornings of our boyhood when Matins was followed by both Litany and Ante-Communion, have robbed us of a great liturgical tradition, which we should aim at recovering—though we might well copy the Orthodox in making it easier for people to slip in and out in the course of the service! In any case, there should be no isolation of the central act of Divine Service ([theia leitourgia]) from the rest of the worship of the Church. However incomplete their worship, it is not true that people have not been to Church if they have not been to Mass.

Then as to the veneration of the Holy Mother of God and the Saints—you will have realized, I hope, how very important I believe this to be. Its absence in our Church leaves a void which must be filled. But I do not think—I wish I could—that Anglo-Catholic preaching has often succeeded in really making this a practice of the mind and heart of the Englishman—too often it appears as a sentimental trapping of devotion, in shallow imitation of Roman methods. This is far too serious a matter to be played with. There is a Christian obligation upon us. But it can only be fulfilled by devotion welling up sincerely from the mind and heart. And there is only one way to this—the way by which the Church gradually learnt it in the first centuries of her history. Turn first to the fullness of the Christ’s simplicity, and as you begin to realize the need of it for the right understanding and worship of Him, you will find the right veneration of His Mother and of His Saints taking its place in your mind’s devotion. I think the Orthodox will understand this quiet way, of development to be the right way for us.

The same principles apply to images and pictures—we have been too ready, in our reaction against bareness, to accept anything in the way of Church Art—be it Italian peasant women posing as the Mother of God, or members of the Girls’ Diocesan Association dressed up as angels, or fairies pretending to be the Child Jesus. Perhaps the next Oecumenical Council might well be concerned with anathemas, not on verbal heresy, but on the heresies implied in some types of Church Art. Here we must try to be rigorous. I do not in the least mean that we should reject all Western art, or accept all Eastern. But we should search, in the light of Orthodoxy, for true principles of discrimination—remembering that æsthetics may be conditioned by dogma just as much as metaphysics or ethics—the Good, the Beautiful, and the True, are equally ultimate. Rightly or wrongly, I confess to a feeling in favour of Fra Angelico, perhaps of Botticelli, while I would reject utterly much of Rafæl—including the ikon of the Mothers’ Union. In Eastern Art, as against many ikons which, whatever beauty and truth they have, are marked also with a local and temporal character which makes it too easy for them to be preserved, at least in England at present, as mere curiosities, I would urge the speedy publication of a series of coloured reproductions of the great classic, universal types of Byzantine ikonography—;the mosaics of Agia Sophia as soon as that is possible: the Daphni and Cefalu Pantokrators; the Daphni Crucifixion, the St. Mark’s Anastasis; the Blachernæ, Vladimir and Kazan ikons of the Mother of God; and so on—these to help to restore the balance in our country’s knowledge of Christian Art, and mould our minds towards our own Christian Art of the future. Probably we should, from henceforth, accept the Orthodox distinction, and give up tile making of solid images for Churches—psychologically they err by being either more (as if containing what they represent) or less (as mere statues) than the flat ikon which is a window onto Heaven: and they are more apt to stand out in isolation from their place in the whole ikonography of a Church. We should also feel that a series of ikons of the Great Feasts of Our Lord would be a better first step in introducing ikonography into our Churches than the Stations of the Cross, which are typical of the Western tendency not to pass beyond the Cross to the fullness of Resurrection. In any case, we must do nothing to spoil Orthodox balance in our Churches—better no pictures than the wrong pictures.

Perhaps I should remind Anglo-Catholics of the fact that, very often, Orthodox people actually seem to find themselves more at home in Evangelical English Churches—just as also Evangelicals and other Anglicans have been known to find themselves more at home in the Orthodox Liturgy than in some of our Masses. This cannot be treated as insignificant.

Hymns, again, are a matter onto which we shall have to turn the light of Orthodoxy—and the resultant sifting may have some surprising results, both in rigorous exclusiveness and in inclusiveness. It is surprising how thoroughly in place I found on one occasion, in Greece, a child-like English (or American) revival hymn sung, at home after a baptism, among a whole series of Byzantine troparia. And in another direction, the poetry of Francis Thompson has certain qualities which are perhaps nearer than anything else to the best style of Byzantine Church poetry—a style which we are not accustomed to expect in hymns.

In regard to the Church’s year—we must feel a great loss in the fact that our Church has no feast of Our Lord’s Baptism—and may even have a suspicion that this was at some time purposely obscured in the West, because of its possible implications in regard to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. While it may appear out of the question for us now to adopt the Orthodox use of Epiphany for this purpose, at least we could, on a basis of Western practice, restore thc commemoration of the Baptism on the Octave of Epiphany, and stress this as a major Feast of the Church. Then, we may doubt if it is possible now for us to take Trinity back into Whitsun, and use its Octave, as in the last, for the Sunday of All Saints. But we should at least take note how forcibly, coming so as the culmination of the Gospel Feasts, this brings home the doctrine of the Church as the Body of Christ.

In regard to Scripture—we need to realize that neither Authorized nor Revised Version can be regarded as an infallible translation of the Infallible Book. We should also recognize that, once a truer, more historical, and more Orthodox conception of inspiration is attained, the Septuagintine books which we call Apocrypha (a term which, if only because it is open to gross misunderstanding, could well be changed) are seen—whatever distinction may rightly be drawn between them and the other books—to have an organic place in the unfolding of the whole body of Scripture. We must also face the fact that, if you do not want to treat the lost original documents—JEDP, etc.—as the only really inspired works, there is a great deal to be said for the view that the Greek translation of the Old Testament, as being on the line of development by which the Holy Spirit led up to Our Lord’s coming, is perhaps more authoritative for Christians than the Hebrew original—apart from the fact of its probably preserving in some cases a text closer to this latter than is the Masoretic.

In regard to Confirmation—there is a lot to be said for having some service wherein the child, on coming towards full growth, openly accepts his obligations in the Church. But it is probable that this ought not to be Confirmation—apart from the difficulty of explaining theologically the halfway position of the baptized and unconfirmed child. It is probable that the organic conception of the Church is better inculcated when, as with the Orthodox, the child is confirmed and admitted to Communion immediately after Baptism, and from the first learns the Faith by sharing to the full in the Life.

But these are details, though not such as can be neglected. More important is it that we should learn, in the light of Orthodoxy, to look at exact Trinitarian and Christological Dogma, not as the outworn relics of old councils, but as the living test of a true Christian response to God—Hallowed be Thy Name: to develop a new sense of the Christian Society, and of the Unity of all Life—Thy Kingdom Come: and that we should make a new scrutiny of our methods in the Spiritual Life (hitherto taken somewhat uncritically from the Mediæval and Post-mediæval West) in the light of greater knowledge of the Greek Fathers and of the Eastern tradition (and in particular, of the ancient Jesus Prayer of humility)—Thy Will be done.

In all these matters there is an urgent duty, after prayer, for deeper study, and more general translation and publication of sources.

Oh, for an Orthodox monastery in England to bring to our service not books, but the living tradition of Orthodox Spiritual Life!

I am suggesting matters which we, as English Churchmen, must examine in the light of our experience of Eastern Orthodoxy, with a view to the conversion of ourselves, of our country, and of the world. I believe we are on an organic path for the fulfilment of our Church’s vocation. At the same time we must seek first, not England, but the Kingdom of God. So for years the words have been ringing in my ears—Hearken, O daughter, and consider, incline thine ear: forget also thine own people and thy father’s house. So shall the King have pleasure in thy beauty: for He is thy Lord God, and worship thou Him…In stead of thy fathers, thou shalt have children: whom thou mayest make princes in all lands.

(Many thanks to Project Canterbury for the text of this article.)


Article published in English on: 30-3-2011.

Last update: 30-3-2011.