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The Consensus and Dissensus between the Greek and Latin Churches

No two churches in the world are at this day so much alike, and yet so averse to each other as the Oriental or Greek; and the Occidental or Roman. They hold, as an inheritance from the patristic (pertaining to the Church Fathers) age, essentially the same body of doctrine, the same canons of discipline, the same form of worship; and yet their antagonism seems irreconcilable. The very affinity breeds jealousy and friction. They are equally exclusive: the Oriental Church claims exclusive orthodoxy, and looks upon Western Christendom as heretical; the Roman Church claims exclusive catholicity, and considers all other churches as heretical or schismatical sects. The one is proud of her creed, the other of her dominion. In all the points of controversy between Romanism and Protestantism the Greek Church is much: nearer the Romans, and yet there is no more prospect of n union between them than of a union between Rome and Geneva, or Moscow and Oxford. The Pope and the Czar are the most powerful rival-despots in Christendom: Where the two churches meet in closest proximity, over the traditional spots of the birth and tomb) of our Savior, at Bethlehem and Jerusalem, they hate each other most bitterly, and their ignorant and bigoted monks have to be kept from violent collision by Mohammedan soldiers. 

I. Let us first briefly glance at the consensus. 

Both churches own the Nicene creed (with the exception of the Filioque), and all the doctrinal decrees pf the seven ecumenical Synods from A. D. 325 to 787, including the worship of images. The Filiogue Controversy was a dispute, which concerned one of the principal differences between the Eastern and the Western Churches, arising from the fact that the latter adds the wordfiliogue to its creed. The Apostles’ Creed has simply, “And in the Holy Ghost,” to which the Constantinopolitan Creed added, “Who proceedeth from the father.” There the Greek Church stopped, while the Latin Church, without the sanction of an ecumenical council, or even consultation with the Greek Church, added, “and the Son” (filioque). The Greek Church protested as soon as it discovered the addition; and attempts which have since been made to reestablish union between the two churches have been wrecked chiefly on this word. 

They agree moreover in most of the post-ecumenical or mediaeval doctrines against which the evangelical Reformation protested, namely: the authority of ecclesiastical tradition as a joint rule of faith with the holy Scriptures; the worship of the Virgin Mary, of the saints, their pictures (not statues), and relics; justification by faith and good works, as joint conditions; the merit of good works, especially voluntary celibacy and poverty; the seven sacraments or mysteries (with minor differences as to confirmation, and extreme unction or charisma); baptismal regeneration and the necessity of water-baptism for salvation; transubstantiation and the consequent adoration of the sacramental elements; the sacrifice of the mass for the living and the dead, with prayers for the dead; priestly absolution by divine authority; three orders of the ministry, and the necessity of an episcopal hierarchy up to the patriarchal dignity; and a vast number of religious rites and ceremonies. 

In the doctrine of purgatory, the Greek Church is less explicit, yet agrees with the Roman in assuming a middle state of purification, and the efficacy of prayers and masses for the departed. The dogma of transubstantiation, too, is not so clearly formulated in the Greek creed as in the Roman, but the difference is very small. As to the Holy Scriptures, the Greek Church has never prohibited the popular use, and the Russian Church even favors the free circulation of her authorized vernacular version. But the traditions of the Greek Church are as strong a barrier against the exercise of private judgment and exegetical progress as those of Rome. 

II. The dissensus of the churches covers the following points: 

1. The procession of the Holy Spirit: the East teaching the single procession from the Father only, the West (since Augustin), the double procession from the Father and the Son (Filioque). This doctrine of the Filioque, incidentally, is a tremendously important doctrine, inasmuch as it maintains the absolute equality between the Father and the Son, teaching that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (H.V.). 

2. The universal authority and infallibility of the pope, which is asserted by the Roman, denied by the Greek Church. The former is a papal monarchy, the latter a patriarchal oligarchy (a form of government in which the absolute authority and power is restricted to a few—H.V.). There are, according to the Greek theory, five patriarchs of equal rights, the pope of Rome, the patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandrian, Antioch, and Jerusalem. They were sometimes compared to the five senses in the body. To them was afterwards added the patriarch of Moscow for the Russian church (which is now governed by the “Holy Synod”). To the bishop of Rome was formerly conceded a primacy of honor, but this primacy passed with the seat of empire to the patriarch of Constantinople, who therefore signed himself “Archbishop of New Rome and, Ecumenical Patriarch. 

3. The immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary, proclaimed as a dogma by the pope in 1854, disowned by the East, which, however, in thepractice of Mariolatry fully equals the West. 

4. The marriage of the lower clergy, allowed by the Eastern, forbidden by the Roman Church (yet conceded by the pope to the United Greeks). 

5. The withdrawal of the cup from the laity. In the Greek Church the laymen receive the consecrated bread dipped in the wine and administered with a golden spoon. 

6. A number of minor ceremonies peculiar to the Eastern Church, such as trine immersion in baptism, the use of leavened bread in the eucharist, infant-communion, the repetition of the holy unction in sickness.

Notwithstanding these differences the Roman Church has always been obliged to recognize the Greek Church as essentially orthodox, though schismatic. And, certainly, the differences are insignificant as compared with the agreement. The separation and antagonism must therefore be explained fully as much and more from an alienation of spirit and change of condition.

Note on the Eastern Orthodox Church

For the sake of brevity the usual terminology is employed in this chapter, but the proper name of the Greek Church is the HOLY ORIENTAL ORTHODOX APOSTOLIC CHURCH. The terms mostly in use in that church are Orthodox andOriental (Eastern). The term Greek is used in Turkey only of the Greeks proper (the Hellens); but the great majority of Oriental Christians in Turkey and Russia belong to the Slavonic race. The Greek is the original and classical language of the Oriental Church, in which the most important works are written; but it has been practically superseded in Asiatic Turkey by the Arabic, in Russia and European Turkey by the Slavonic. 

The Oriental or Orthodox Church now embraces three distinct divisions: 

1. The Orthodox Church in Turkey (European Turkey and the Greek islands, Asia Minor, Syria and Palestine) under the patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. 

2. The state church of Russia, formerly under the patriarch of Constantinople, then under the patriarch of Moscow, since 1725 under the Holy Synod of St. Petersburg and the headship of the Czar. This is by far the largest and most important branch. 

3. The church of the kingdom of Greece under the Holy Synod of Greece (since 1833). 

There are also Greek Christians in Egypt, the Sinaitic Peninsula (the monks of the Convent of St. Catharine), the islands of the Aegean Sea, in Malta, Servia, Austria, etc. 

Distinct from the Orthodox Church are theOriental Schismatics, the Nestorians, Armenians, Jacobites, Copts, and Abyssinians, who separated from the former on the ground of christological controversies. The Maronites of Mount Lebanon were originally also schismatics, but submitted to the pope during the Crusades. 

The United Greeks acknowledge the supremacy of the pope, but retain certain peculiarities of the Oriental Church, as the marriage of the lower clergy, the native language in worship. They are found in lower Italy, Austria, Russia, and Poland. 

The Bulgarians, who likewise call themselves orthodox, ground of christological controversies. The Maronites of Mount Lebanon were originally also schismatics, but submitted to the pope during the Crusades.

The Causes of Separation

Church history, like the world’s history, moves with the sun from East to West. In the first six centuries the Eastern or Greek church represented the main current of life and progress. In the middle ages the Latin church chiefly assumed the task of Christianizing and civilizing the new races which came upon the stage. The Greek church has had no Middle Ages in the usual sense, and therefore no Reformation. She planted Christianity among the Slavonic races, but they were isolated from the progress of European history, and have not materially affected either the doctrine or polity or cultus of the church. Their conversion was an external expansion, not an internal development.

The Greek and Latin churches were never organically united under one government, but differed considerably from the beginning in nationality, language, and various ceremonies. These differences, however, did not interfere with the general harmony of faith and Christian life, nor present cooperation against common foes. As long and as far as the genuine spirit of Christianity directed them, the diversity was an element of strength to the common cause. 

Having quoted Philip Schaff until now, and intending to continue these quotations in subsequent articles, we wish to make a few remarks. The reader may recall that the learned author designated the differences between the Western and Eastern Church as insignificant in comparison with the points of agreement between. And he also states that the Roman Church has been obliged to recognize the Greek Church as essentially orthodox, though schismatic. Now, in the first place we wish to remark that we question whether a church can be schismatic and continue to remain orthodox. Secondly, the reason for the orthodoxy of the Roman Catholic Church lies in its hierarchical form of church government, its being ruled by powers without rather than by inner spiritual forces. And, thirdly, the denial of the “Filioque” is by no means an insignificant departure from the truth. 

H.V.