Chapter VII. Patriarch Jeremiah II and the Lutheran Divines
The letters between the Ecumenical Patriarch Jeremiah II and a group of Lutheran theologians at Tubingen, in the last quarter of the XVIth century, are ecumenical documents of great importance and interest. It was the first systematical exchange of theological views between the Orthodox East and the new Protestant West. It was private and informal. It was none the less significant for that. Eminent people took part in the correspondence. The Patriarch himself was a man of strong convictions and great experience, a staunch churchman and a statesman. He wrote «individually, not synodically,» but he had the advice and cooperation of the best Greek scholars available, including John and Theodosius Zygomalas and, probably, Gabriel Severus, the titular Metropolitan of Philadelphia. His replies were carefully prepared and drafted. On the Lutheran side, there was an illustrious company of University professors: Jacob Andreae, Lucas Osiander, John Brenz, Jacob Heerebrand and others, and especially Martin Crusius, who seems to have been the real promoter of the cause. We have every reason to assume that a much larger circle of Lutheran divines was taking interest in the negotiation. The immediate outcome of this epistolary contact, however, was definitely negative. No agreement was reached, ________________
«Patriarch Jeremiah II and the Lutheran Divine» appeared as «An Early Ecumenical Correspondence» in World Lutheranism of Today (1950), pp. 98 – 111. Reprinted with permission by AB Verbum (Svenska Kyrkans Diakonistyrelses Borkförlag), Stockholm, Sweden.
and little hope of reconciliation was left. There was an obvious disillusionment and disappointment on both sides, and even some bitterness and resentment. It is most doubtful whether the whole negotiation would have ever been disclosed, had not a third and uninvited partner joined in. Roman Catholics watched with keen concern and anxiety these unusual deliberations of the Ecumenical See with German dissenters. They utterly detested what was, in their opinion, an unlawful «appeal» from the West to the East. A copy of the first Patriarchal reply, by inadvertance or indiscretion, came into the hands of a Polish priest, Stanislaus Socolovius, and he published it, with his comments, under an offensive title: Censura Orientalis Ecclesiae: de praecipuis nostri saeculi haereticorum dogmatibus etc. (Dillingae 1582; cf. the Adnotationes by the same writer, Krakow 1582). The book had a wide circulation, as the edition was reprinted shortly at Köln and Paris (1584) and a German translation made (Ingolstadt 1585). Some other Roman polemists intervened (as, for instance, W. Lindanus, Bishop of Roeremond: Concordia discors Protestantium etc., Köln 1583). The Pope himself (Gregory XIII), through a special messenger, congratulated the Patriarch upon his noble rejoinder to the schismatics: the Patriarch could reassure the Holy Father that he was not prepared to make any concessions in the matter of faith. This unexpected and unwelcome publicity compelled the Lutherans to vindicate their cause and to publish all the documents, the Greek replies in full and their own letters. The book appeared in Wittenberg, in 1584, in two languages, Greek and Latin, with an explanatory and defensive preface by Crusius: Acta et scripta theologorum Wirtembergensium Patriarche Constantinopolitani D. Hiererniae, quae utrique ab anno MDLXXVI usque ad annum MDXXXI de Augustana Confessione inter se miserunt. It was immediately commented upon by the Catholics (by the same Socolovius and some others). An irenical approach proved to be a call to battle. And yet, in spite of all this unfortunate entanglement, there was an obvious gain: an important step had been taken, silence had been broken.
The initiative in the correspondence was taken by the Protestants. Stephen Gerlach, a young Lutheran theologian from Tübingen, was going in 1573 to Constantinople for a prolonged stay, as a chaplain to the new Imperial ambassador in Turkey, Baron David Ungnad von Sonnegk. He was carrying with him two private letters for the Patriarch, from Martin Crusius and Jacob Andreae, chancellor of Tubingen University. It might seem that Crusius had originally no ecclesiastical concerns: he was interested rather in getting some information on the present state of the Greek Church and nation, under the Turkish rule. But that was rather a diplomatic disguise. Probably from the very beginning Gerlach had some other commission as well. In any case, even in the first letters the unity and fellowship of faith had already been mentioned. In any case, only a few months later, a new letter was dispatched from Tubingen, under the joint signature of Crusius and Andreae, to which a copy of the Augsburg Convention in Greek had been appended. Gerlach was directed to submit it to the Patriarch for his consideration and comment. A hope was expressed that the Patriarch might see that there was a basic agreement in doctrine, in spite of a certain divergence in some rites, since the Protestants were not making any innovations, but kept loyally the sacred legacy of the Primitive Church, as it had been formulated, on the scriptural basis, by the Seven ecumenical Councils. At Constantinople Gerlach established personal contacts with various dignitaries of the Church and had several interviews with the Patriarch himself. Finally he succeeded in obtaining not only a polite acknowledgement, but a proper theological reply. It was very friendly, but rather disappointing. The Patriarch suggested that the Lutherans should join the Orthodox Church and unconditionally accept her traditional teaching. The Lutherans persisted in their convictions. The correspondence went on for some years and then broke off. In his last reply to Tubingen the Patriarch simply declined any further discussion of doctrine. Nevertheless he was prepared to correspond in friendship. And in fact he kept in touch with Tubingen for some time after the formal termination of theological deliberations.
What was the main reason for and purpose of the Lutheran approach to the Orthodox East? The matter was complex. Two main points should be stressed. First of all, the early Reformers had no intention of «innovating» in doctrine. On the contrary, they struggled to purify the Church from all those «innovations» and accretions which, in their opinion, had been accumulated in the course of ages, particularly in the West. They had therefore to appeal to Tradition, i.e. to the witness of the Early Church. The argument from Christian Antiquity has been constantly used in the controversy with Rome from the very beginning, from the famous Leipzig Disputation of Luther himself, in 1519. It was more than a reference to the Past. It was also a timely reminder that Christendom was larger than the Romanized West. Luther might have been occasionally very irreverent to and critical of the Fathers, but he would not disregard their witness altogether, and the argument from tradition had a considerable place in his writing. It was quite natural that, at a larger state, a consensus quinquesaecularis should be suggested as a criterion and basis of doctrinal settlement, along with the Scriptures. No wonder that in the Formula Concordiae references to Tradition were numerous and conspicuous. Ecclesiastical History, as a distinct theological discipline, was introduced in the University curriculum just at that time of controversy, first by the Protestants and precisely for polemical purposes. Now, the Church of the East was notoriously the Church of Tradition. It was but natural to ask, could not the Christian East be an ally or a companion in the struggle against the Roman innovations? The age-long resistance of the East to the Papal claims seemed to justify these expectations. Eastern «traditionalism,» in this concrete situation, could be interpreted rather as a token of promise, than as an impediment. It was in this mood that the Lutherans of Tubingen presented the Augsburg Confession to the Patriarch. The witness of the East could have enormous weight in the Western dispute. For the same reason, the Romans would insist on the perfect agreement («perpetua consensio») of the East and the West on all basic doctrines and rites and quote for that purpose the Council of Florence. On the contrary, the Protestants, for several generations, used to emphasize the ultimate irreconcilability of the East with Rome. The witness of the Eastern Church, both ancient and modern, has been extensively exploited for polemical purposes both by Catholics and Protestants. There was a special reason for the intervention of a Polish theologian in an Orthodox-Lutheran discussion. One has to remember the ecclesiastical situation in Poland at that particular time. The expansion of the Reformation in the Slavic East was one of the vital concerns for German Reformers, – Melanchthon himself was deeply interested in the matter. Yet, by that time, the Reformation in Poland, after a short-lived success, was just about to collapse. There was indeed still a strong Protestant minority in the country, and Protestant leaders were in friendly contact with the Orthodox. They had a common danger to face: Roman propaganda. A plan for an Orthodox-Protestant «confederation» of defense was under way. On the other hand, just at the same time, a Union with Rome was negotiated by the Orthodox bishops in Poland. It was ultimately consummated in 1595, but with partial and precarious success, since the rank and file of the Orthodox clergy and laity vigorously resisted that submission to Rome. In these circumstances, the voice of the Ecumenical Patriarch was of the utmost importance, especially because the Church in Poland was at this time under his direct authority and jurisdiction. This brings us to our second point. We cannot ignore the «non-theological factors» of the ecumenical problem. Reformation from the beginning had some obvious political and international implications. The Unity of Christian Europe was seriously threatened. Europe was about to be split into two hostile camps, precisely on the religious issue. The political situation itself, to a great extent, was created by religious dissent. Political alliances and confessional unions were intimately interlinked. The problem was at once political and religious, both international and «ecumenical.» It would not be an exaggeration to say that in the XVIth century the main problem of the European international politics was exactly «the Eastern Question.» And it had an obvious religious aspect. Protestant and Catholic powers were struggling at that time for supremacy in the Near East. It was an urgent problem: was the Christian East to be on the Protestant, or on the Roman, side? The Ecumenical Patriarch was not only the head of the Church, but also the leader of the Greek nation. European diplomats at Constantinople were seriously concerned with his attitude. As a matter of fact, all European contacts with the Patriarchate in the XVIth century were intermingled with political intrigues. The Greeks were still seeking help from the West, against the Moslem invaders. It could come from either side: from Rome or from the Protestant federation. Again, there was an imminent «Turkish peril.» A divided Christian West could easily become the prey of Oriental aggressors. Political security itself lay in Christian Reunion.
It was exactly in this political context that the first attempt to get in touch with the Patriarch was made by Melanchthon in 1559. He was deeply impressed by the suffering of Christians under the Turkish rule. It was an eschatological sign for him. He could but hope that in the last days Christ himself would reunite the whole Church. He wrote in this sense to the Patriarch Joasaph and urged him to believe that Lutherans were loyal to the teaching of the Scriptures and of the Fathers. This letter was never acknowledged or replied to. Probably it was delivered after great delay, already after Melanchthon’s death. What is especially interesting is that, along with the personal message, Melanchthon sent the Patriarch a copy of the Augsburg Confession in Greek, obviously as a proof of the doctrinal orthodoxy of the Lutheran communion. This translation was published in Basel, 1559, under the name of Paul Dolscius (reprinted again in Wittemberg, 1587). Prof. E. Benz has recently proved that this translation was not an accurate rendering of the final and official text of the Augustana, but a document of a very peculiar character. First of all, the text used for translation was a special version of the Variata 1531, and not the later revision. Strange as it may appear this fact was completely overlooked both by contemporaries and by later scholars (only Lebedev noticed that it was the earlier version, somewhat amplified). Secondly, it was a free «interpretation» rather than a literal rendering. It was a skilful transposition, as it were, of the Augsburg Confession into the traditional theological idiom of the East. It betrays the interpreter’s intimate acquaintance with Greek patristic and liturgical phraseology. It is highly improbable that Dolscius could have done it. There can be little doubt that Melanchthon himself was responsible for that piece of work. But even such an expert Greek scholar as he could not have done it so effectively and consistently without the help of somebody to whom this Eastern idiom came naturally. Demetrios, a deacon of the Greek Church, was staying with Melanchthon precisely at the time when the translation was being made, and we have any reason to believe that his share in the whole work was considerable. Demetrios was an enigmatic person. He seems to have been sent to Germany by the Patriarch on some business. But he was obviously in deep sympathy with the Reformation and was active in the expansion of Protestantism in Hungary and Moldavia. He was commissioned by Melanchthon to deliver his letter and a copy of the Greek version to the Patriarch. Obviously, the Greek Augustana was intended primarily for the Greeks. It was not intended for domestic circulation and Melanchthon was much annoyed by its publication, as he alleged, without his consent and advice («sine meo consilio»). On the whole, this version itself was already an important ecumenical achievement. In fact, it was an attempt to present the main doctrines of the Lutheran communion in the language of the Greek Fathers and Liturgy. Was this just a diplomatic disguise, or an adaptation to the Greek usage? Or rather, was the whole venture inspired by a deep conviction that, basically and essentially, the Augsburg Confession was really in agreement with the Patristic tradition? Melanchthon was a good Patristic scholar and his respect for the Early Fathers was genuine. He could sincerely believe that the Augustana might be acceptable to the Patriarch. As a matter of fact, even in this special Greek draft, it proved to be unacceptable. The question remains, however, whether this version was an adequate and authentic presentation of the official Lutheran teaching. In any case, the Tubingen divines did not hesitate to send this document to the Patriarch, and Crusius was prepared to reprint it, as even at that time it was already difficult to obtain copies. This Greek version was never disavowed on the Lutheran side. It is possible, however, that it was simply forgotten. It must be borne in mind, on the other hand, that no commonly accepted «Lutheran» doctrine existed at this early date, – it was still a period of transition and controversy, there was still ample room for free interpretation. Let us remember that Formula Concordiae, with its attempt to reconcile various and divergent opinions, belonged precisely to that same time when the negotiations between Tubingen and Constantinople were in progress. The main tendency of the Greek version of the Augustana was to avoid the use of scholastic phraseology, which was alien to the East, and to tone down the Western emphasis on the forensic aspect of the doctrine of Salvation. Emphasis was shifted from Justification and Forgiveness to Life Eternal, New Birth or Regeneration, and Resurrection. It was a substitution as it were of the Johannine idiom for the Pauline. Again, the dogma itself was treated rather from the point of view of worship, than simply as a piece of scholastic doctrine.
The first Patriarchal reply was signed on 15 May, 1576, and immediately dispatched to Tubingen. It was, undoubtedly, a corporate work, and Theodosius Zygomalas was apparently the main contributor. But the final draft was carefully revised by the Patriarch himself. The document was by no means an original composition, nor did it claim any originality. On the contrary, all novelty was strictly avoided. It was a deliberate compilation from traditional sources. It was not so much an analysis of the Augustana itself, as a parallel exposition of the Orthodox doctrine. It has been suggested that the main value of the document lies precisely in its un-originality. It was the last doctrinal statement in the East, in which no influence of Western tradition can be detected, even in terminology. It was, in a sense, an epilogue to Byzantine theology. The sources of this document were carefully checked by modern scholars (by Philipp Meyer first of all and his observations are commonly accepted). The main authorities were: Nicolas Cabasilas, Symeon of Thessalonica, Joseph Bryennios, and of the early Fathers especially St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom. The same authorities were used in the later replies of the Patriarch. He laid the greatest emphasis on loyalty to Tradition. This constituted probably the greatest difficulty for the Lutherans, with their emphasis on the Sola Scriptura. On the whole, the Patriarch was most conciliatory and balanced in his comments or criticisms. In his covering letter he expressed his hope that «both Churches» could be reunited. This unity, however, could be established only on the basis of a complete doctrinal agreement, i.e. of an integral acceptance of the Holy Tradition.
There were some special points on which the Patriarch could not agree with the Lutheran teaching. Of course, he had to object to the Filioque clause. Yet, obviously, there was nothing specially Lutheran about it. He could agree, in general, with the Lutheran conception of Original Sin, but he would still stress human freedom (he quotes St. Chrysostom extensively at this point). Nothing can be done without Divine initiative. Yet the Grace of God is freely received, – there is no coercion in its action. And therefore, Faith and «good works» cannot be separated, nor should they be opposed to each other or contrasted. In any case, an actual forgiveness depends upon penitence. Again, in the chapter on Sacraments the Patriarch presents the Orthodox teaching: there are seven sacraments, and he dwells at some length on each of them. In this particular chapter we have to admit some Western influence: not only because the number «seven» had been fixed in the West (at a comparatively late date – Peter Lombardus) and only gradually accepted in the East (in some documents of the XIVth and even XVth centuries we have still some other lists of the Sacraments), but also because, probably for the first time in the East, a scholastic distinction between «form» and «matter» is mentioned (we have, perhaps, to attribute this terminological turn to Gabriel Severus, who made an extensive use of this scholastic phraseology in his treatise «On the Sacraments,» published in 1600). The Patriarch could not accept the doctrine of the Holy Eucharist, as expounded in the Augsburg Confession. Without going into a detailed criticism, he makes a plain statement on Orthodox teaching. A «conversion» of the elements into the very Body and Blood of Christ is effected by the consecration (μεταβάλλεσαι). He does not use the term «Transubstantiation,» which was adopted by some Orthodox theologians at a later date. The Eucharist is not only a sacrament, but a sacrifice. The Patriarch stresses the importance of the sacrament of Penance, both from a sacramental and a moral point of view. He disavows all abuses which have crept into penitential practice, but strongly insists on penitential exercises, as a helpful remedy for sinners. Strangely enough, he was satisfied with the Augustana’s statement on Holy Orders, i.e. that nobody could administer Sacraments and preach the Word of God publicly, nisi sit rite vocatus et ordinatus ad hanc functionem. It was a vague and ambiguous statement and could be variously interpreted. Obviously, the Orthodox interpretation was not the same as the Lutheran. Very little is said of the Church. Nothing special is said de novissimis. But the Patriarch dwells at length on some controversial points of practice: the Invocation of Saints and monastic vows.
The document was obviously irenical. And possibly for that very reason it was not convincing, A modern reader is tempted to style it as evasive and non-committal. In fact, one may feel that the most important points of divergence were touched upon rather slightly: the doctrine of the Church and Ministry, and even the doctrine of Justification. Yet the Patriarch himself was of another opinion. His purpose was not to criticize, but to expound a sound doctrine. He concludes his message to the Lutherans with a concrete proposal: if they can wholeheartedly adhere to this traditional doctrine, he will gladly receive them in communion, and so the «two churches» will be made one. He was really not going to make any concessions. We have to bear in mind that in Constantinople very little was known of the Reformation. As far as we can judge by the Diaries of Gerlach and his successor Salomon Schweigger, the Orthodox were scantily informed, and much of this information was coming through occasional and often tendencious channels, namely from the Roman Catholics. There was, however, some reason to sympathize with the Reformed movement, simply because it was a movement Los von Rom. But knowledge of the Reformed doctrine was very inadequate at this early date. Jeremiah himself had some idea of the movement, as we can judge by the questions he put to Gerlach, in their personal conversations. We do not know exactly how extensive was his information. Again, the Augsburg Confession can be properly understood only in a wider historical setting. Possibly, the Patriarch was interested in one thing: to what extent it was possible to expect the Western dissenters to join the Orthodox Church. For him it was the only natural approach to the problem of unity, and possibly it was the only approach available in the XVIth century. The East was for centuries separated and estranged from the West, and the chief reason for that lay precisely in the «Roman claims.» Now there was a new anti-Roman movement in the West. Was it not to be a return to that Tradition for which the East so persistently stood? We cannot expect any comprehensive evaluation of the Lutheran doctrine from Jeremiah. He was concerned only with the question of whether the Protestants were prepared to embrace the sound doctrine, of which the Orthodox Church had been a faithful steward through the ages. On the other hand, the Lutherans in Tubingen were interested in exactly the same thing, from an opposite point of view: was the Orthodox East prepared to accept their own «sound doctrine,» as stated in the Augsburg Confession.
The Patriarchal comment on the Augustana was a sad disappointment for them. They felt compelled to offer some explanations. This new message to the Patriarch was signed by Crusius and Lucas Osiander. It was, in the main, an apologia. They were offended by the Patriarch’s hint that they were following human devices. On the contrary, they were sure that they stood on safer ground than he, – it was the Word of God. There was, in fact, a conflict between the two doctrinal principles; the principle of Tradition, on the Orthodox side, and the Scriptural principle, on the side of Reformation. The Lutherans were, by that time, fully aware of this ultimate clash of principles. Yet, it seemed to them that the measure of agreement was still quite considerable. The points of disagreement were as follows. What was the authority in the matters of doctrine? Of course, Filioque. Again, the whole doctrine of Freedom and Justification by Faith only. There were but two Sacraments. It was not lawful to pray for the departed. The Eucharist was not to be regarded as a sacrifice. Finally, both the Invocation of Saints and Monasticism were unacceptable. The Patriarch had very little to add to his previous statement. The Lutherans sent him this time some fresh material on their teaching, namely Compendium theologiae by Jacob Heerebrand; it was translated into Greek by Crusius (published in Wittemberg, 1582). In the preparation of the second Patriarchal reply some new experts took part: Metrophanes, Metropolitan of Berrhoea, Methodius, Metropolitan of Melonike, Hieromonk Matthaeus, and, as before, Theodosius Zygomalas. There was nothing new in that second message, except the stronger insistance on a total acceptance of the whole of the Orthodox teaching. Still, it was not yet an end. The Lutherans wrote once more to the Patriarch, defending their position. The Patriarch felt himself obliged to put an end to these deliberations which were obviously now of no promise. He suggested a termination of the hopeless theological dispute, but was quite prepared to continue friendly contacts. The Lutherans wrote once more, again to express their hope that in the future a better mutual understanding and closer unity might be possible.
This early ecumenical correspondence between Wittenberg and Constantinople had no practical consequences. It was superseded by later developments, which, unfortunately, led to a serious deterioration in the relationship. There was more sincerity and openmindedness in the beginning. An extensive study of this friendly exchange of convictions between the Eastern Church and the emerging world of the Reformation yields more than matter for historical curiosity. There was an attempt to discover some common ground and to adopt a common idiom. Melanchthon’s Greek version of the Augustana deserves the close attention of modern ecumenical theologians. His attempt to interpret the message of the Reformation in the wider context of an ecumenical tradition embracing the East and the West should be repeated. And all controversial points, dividing the East and the non-Roman West, should be analyzed again in the larger perspective of Patristic tradition.