Protestantism was bursting out of the seams of the Roman Catholic Church wherever it had the opportunity in the 16th century. Yet, there was not a single reformation in the Orthodox East resembling the reformations of the Lutherans, the Reformed, the Radical Reformers, or the Anglicans. The reason for this is not entirely a geographical or political coincidence. While geography and politics certainly played a role, I will show how the differences between the Christian East and West in matters of faith and practice greatly hindered the potential for reformation in the Christian East. The ideas coming out of Germany could not inspire the Greeks to reform to the extent that they inspired Westerners such as the Scots. To show this, I will primarily examine the correspondence between the Lutheran Tubingen Theologians and Orthodox Patriarch Jeremias II of Constantinople from the years 1573-1579.
The relationship between Orthodoxy and Lutheranism was present at the beginning. Luther, based on his knowledge of Church history, expressed appreciation for the faith and practice of what he called the “Greek Church” over and against certain aspects of Roman Catholicism. The first real contact occurred when Patriarch Joasaph of Constantinople sent the Serbian deacon Demetrios to investigate the Reformation in Germany. Demetrios was taken in by Philip Melanchthon, whom he greatly admired. In 1559, Melanchthon wrote [his authorship is disputed] a Greek edition of the Augsburg Confession called the Augustana Graeca. This document has a few alterations for the intention of making it more understandable to the Eastern Orthodox. Melanchthon sent Demetrios with the Augustana Graeca and a cordial letter to Patriarch Joasaph. However, it appears these documents never arrived. Demetrios was diverted in Wallachia, and died before reaching Constantinople.
In 1573, a group of theologians in Tubingen, led by Martin Crusius and Jakob Andreae, set out to reestablish contact. The opportunity arose when Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II chose a devout Lutheran as his ambassador at the imperial embassy in Constantinople. Ambassador David Ungnad was a graduate of the University of Tubingen, and requested a court chaplain from there. Crusius was the classics professor at the university and was supposedly the greatest classicist in Europe at the time. He was naturally excited at the prospect of contact with the Greeks for academic purposes. Andreae was the most highly renowned theologian at Tubingen, and he and Crusius had religious interest in contacting the Eastern Orthodox. They selected a promising graduate named Stephen Gerlach to be the embassy chaplain for Ungnad. Crusius often exercised his incredible linguistic talent by translating Andreae’s sermons into Greek as he preached them on Sunday. They sent one of these sermons with Gerlach, in addition to a letter from each of them to the Patriarch. On October 15, 1573, Gerlach ceremoniously delivered the letters from Andreae and Crusius to Patriarch Jeremias II, initiating the first meeting between a clerical representative of the Protestant Reformation and the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church.
Having established contact with the Orthodox, the Lutherans followed up by sending the 1559 Augustana Graeca on September 15, 1574, asking the Patriarch for a response. Their motives of initiating a reformation in the East are expressed by Crusius, who wrote, “If they wish to take thought for the eternal salvation of their souls, they must join us and embrace our teaching, or else perish eternally!” Gerlarch received five more copies of the Augustana Graeca, which he distributed to the theological advisors of the Patriarch. After receiving his copy on May 24, 1575, Jeremias set to work on a careful point-by-point response, which he completed on April 30, 1576, urging the Lutherans to convert to Orthodoxy. The Lutherans, realizing that uniting the Orthodox to their cause was unlikely, shifted their efforts from conversion to apologetic defense. The Lutherans replied to Jeremias’s response, as well as to two other letters sent by him. In his third doctrinal response, Jeremias signals an end to the correspondence with the words, “Therefore, going about your own ways, write no longer concerning dogmas; but if you do, write only for friendship’s sake. Farewell.”
Before discussing the lack of potential for Reformation in the Christian East, it is appropriate to examine the extent that the Protestant reformation did have impact. Several Orthodox, such as the previously mentioned Demetrios, were greatly sympathetic to the cause of the Reformation. Michael Katakouzenos was a Greek prince who received one of the five copies of the Augustana Graeca. He held the document in such high esteem that he had it bound in red leather and translated into contemporary Greek. Under the yoke of Turkish rule, most Greek theologians had to receive training in the West by Protestants or Catholics. Ecumenical Patriarch Cyril Lukaris published his Confession in 1629, a work that expressed Calvinist teaching. His Protestant influenced work was quickly rejected by several Church councils. To secure power for himself, Peter the Great abolished the Russian patriarchate and established a Holy Synod. He modelled this after the infrastructure of the Lutheran Church in Germany rather than Orthodox precedent. Under Peter’s Synod, the Orthodox Church in Russia experienced a temporary and partial Westernization in art, music, and theology. Despite all this, it must generally be said that, “The forces of Reform stopped when they reached the borders of Russia and the Turkish Empire, so that the Orthodox Church has not undergone either a Reformation or a Counter-Reformation.” None of the Western influenced theologians became an Eastern Luther or Zwingli, and Peter the Great did not come near to matching King Henry VIII’s legacy.
The first formal declaration of a Catholic abuse in the Augsburg Confession is Article 22, which complains against the restriction of the laity from the blood of Christ in the Eucharist. The Patriarch’s response to this is the shortest of all the article responses, reaching 44 words [English translation]. It gives a simple statement of agreement with the Lutherans, with the clarification that the Orthodox use leavened bread. This contrasts greatly with the official Roman Catholic response in The Confutatio Pontificia. The Catholics zealously defend the practice of withholding the wine in a 1,258 word [English translation] refutation of the article. Using Scripture and Tradition, they argue that to offer the blood of Christ to the laity, rather than just the clergy, is an “abuse and disobedience.” Even the Catholic Church has ultimately found the practice of withholding the wine to be undesirable, as Catholic laity now frequently receive wine at the Eucharist. Many found the practice to be undesirable before the Catholic Church changed its position, and the Reformation was a potential solution here. However, there is no need for a solution if there is no problem. Luther himself highly praised the Orthodox Church for its administering of both elements, saying the practice,
still continues among the Greeks, whom even Rome itself dare not call heretics or schismatics because of it. . . I now say that on this point the Greeks and Bohemians are not heretics or schismatics but the most Christian people and the best followers of the Gospel on earth.
When considering this quote, it is little wonder that no parallel to Luther rose up in the Orthodox Church. Melanchthon also praises the Greeks, saying, “in the Greek churches this practice [Communion in both kinds] still remains, as it also once prevailed in the Latin Church, as Cyprian and Jerome attest.” The desire for allowing both kinds is also expressed by the Anglicans on article 30 of The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. On the point of the Eucharist, the Catholic Church had a weakness against the Protestantism not shared by the Orthodox Church.
The second abuse declared in the Augsburg Confession is the restrictions of the clergy from marriage. To this, Jeremias replies, “We too permit those priests who are unable to remain celibate to marry before ordination. God has ordained marriage, and we are not ignorant that severe disorders take place among those in the clergy who have been prevented from being married.” One difference here is that the Orthodox restricted priest from marrying after ordination, whereas the Lutherans encouraged former Catholic clergy to disregard their vows of celibacy. The Confutatio reaffirms the Catholic position of celibate clergy. The Anglicans also complain against the Catholics on this point in Article 32 of their Articles. This is a complaint that the Orthodox Church was far less vulnerable to than the Catholics.
The third abuse listed in the Augsburg Confession is the way in which the Catholics perform the mass. The Lutheran theologians argue that using the vernacular teaches the common people what they should know about Christ. It is also commanded by Paul in 1 Cor. 14:19. Jeremias makes no comment on this aspect of the complaint, for the Orthodox Church has always encouraged, rather than restricted, the use of the vernacular. The Divine Liturgy was performed in Greek for the Greeks, Arabic for the Arabs, Slavonic for the Slavs, Georgian for the Georgians, et cetera. There are examples of parishes in the West using Greek, but this is due to the fact that these parishes are often composed of Greek-speaking immigrant communities. On the other hand, the Confutatio defends the use of Latin for the sake of unity. Some Catholics point to examples of vernacular use in the Roman Catholic Church before the Protestant Reformation, but this does not change the fact that, as a rule, Latin was used at the expense of the vernacular. As the Confutatio states, “First, it is displeasing that, in opposition to the usage of the entire Roman Church, they perform ecclesiastical rites not in the Roman, but in the German language...” In Article 24 of their Articles, the Anglican Reformers express their shared concern with the Lutherans over the use of language, “It is a thing plainly repugnant to the word of God and the custom of the primitive Church, to have public prayer in the Church, or to minister the sacraments in a tongue not understood by the people.” Like the issue of the two substances, the Roman Catholic Church has, in practice, adopted the position of the Protestants and Orthodox by using the vernacular during mass. This is an issue that pressured Reformation in the Western Church and could not be applied to the Church in the East.
The seventh and final complaint against the Catholic Church in Augsburg Confession is the power of the Bishops. They criticize the Catholic Church for having its clergy exercise religious matters with the authority of a position of the State, saying, “the power of the Church and the civil power must not be confounded.” Jeremias expresses agreement, saying, “there is not small difference among the [civil and religious] commandments.” It should be noted that Patriarch Jeremias himself was assigned by the Ottoman Empire to be the ethnarch, a religious and civic representative of the Christian Greeks. However, any secular powers of Orthodox bishops hardly paralleled those of many Catholic bishops, who often ran theocracies and led armies into battle. This is the fourth, and final, major criticism the Lutherans weighed against the Catholic Church in which they did not find fault in the Orthodox Church.
It has been shown that several protested issues the reformers used against the Catholic Church could not be equally applied as reasons to reform the Orthodox Church, but what about where the Orthodox and Catholics agree against the Protestants? Even here, while the Catholics and Orthodox have many external similarities, they often have a different foundational reasoning for these similarities. The Protestant Reformers shared with the Roman Catholics certain Western understandings of the Christian faith, and were therefore able to fight on the same ideological battlefield. However, the Tubingen theologians and Jeremias often spoke past each other when they argued during the correspondence. As Jorgenson says it,
Lack of previous contact enhanced a myopic insensitivity to the church life and theological perspectives of the other. The Greeks were profoundly unaware of the pervading spiritual and theological restlessness which sparked the revolt against the medieval Roman Church. The Lutherans, on their part, shared, in general, the unfamiliarity of the Latin West with the theological, spiritual, and liturgical tradition of the Greek Church.
Certain Protestant positions could not be applied as easily on an Eastern foundational understanding as they could on a Western one.
The responses to Article III of the Augsburg Confession reveal a difference between the East and West. Article III is a short relatively short statement concerning the nature and mission of Christ. The Catholic Confutatio offers a short statement of agreement, saying, “In the third article there is nothing to offend...” For some reason, Jeremias neither confirmed, nor denied the Lutheran statement. Rather, he responded by restating the 12 Articles of the Creed, and by discussing what Christ accomplished using reasoning independent of what the Lutherans had stated. The Augustans Graeca put it this way:
So then one Christ, truly God and truly man, born of the ever-virgin Mary, truly suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried, in order to reconcile the Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for the ancient transgression and the calling to account of the human race, but also for all things whichsoever are worthy of condemnation which are done by man in transgressing the law.
While Jeremias provides a far more exhaustive explanation of the work of Christ, nowhere in his response to article III does he explain Christ’s work as reconciling the Father to humanity as a sacrifice for transgressing the law. Today, the Orthodox reject a penal substitution understanding that the Lutherans would have had, and would say Christ worked to reconcile humanity to the Father. In his response to the fifth article, Jeremias does present a penal substitution metaphor, but, like Jesus’s parable of the vineyard workers, it is narrowly applied for a specific purpose. Jeremias was likely unprepared to understand the extent that the West had taken a judicial understanding of salvation after Anselm.
In his response to the third article, rather than explaining Christ’s salvific work in the Creed by a satisfaction for transgression, Jeremias expands upon the incarnation and life of Christ:
Humility is aroused by the descent of God, the Logos, from the heavens; modesty, by the Incarnation; poverty, fasting, and purity, in that He was like that; patience and forbearance because He had all these, and finally endured the cross and death. The Savior abolished every iniquity. By humility, He abolished pride from which comes unbelief and blasphemy against God. By lowliness, He abolished ambition from which are engendered madness, envy and murder. By poverty, He abolished greed from which come stealing, deciet, lying, and treachery against God.” (Mastrantonis 35)
This is only a section of Jeremias’s larger discussion on the work of Christ. According to Jeremias, the salvific work of Christ was to fix human nature by living and dying properly as a human. Through his incarnation, life, death, and resurrection, the Logos overcame sin and death in the human person. To clarify the distinction: the West has an emphasis on the death of Christ not shared by the East, and the East has an emphasis on the incarnation of Christ not shared by the West.
The concern in the West was how to attain the merit of Christ by having His condemnation cancel out one’s own condemnation. From this, the Catholics developed the idea of a treasury of merit to which the Church had access. If a Christian does a certain act of penance for a post-baptism sin, the Church can bestow merit on the individual and release that person from penalty for sin. The Lutherans argued that Christ’s merit is fully accessible by faith alone, “The Holy Scriptures ascribe righteousness before God and everlasting salvation not to our virtues and works, but alone to the superior merit of Christ, which we can acquire only through faith.” Rather than attaining the merit of Christ on account of His death, the concern in the East was how to grow in the nature of the Second Adam on account of the incarnation. This renders the Protestant Reformation as far less effective in addressing Eastern concerns than Western concerns.
While arguing on the topic of justification and good works, Jeremias emphasizes the link between salvation and the incarnation, “the Logos of God, out of merciful compassion, has set us free by becoming man.” This shows that when Jeremias speaks of “justification,” he hardly means what the Lutherans do when they speak of it. As Jorgenson says, “The Orthodox Christian has no way of relating immediately to the sharp cleavage between the three levels of faith, to justification as a forensic non-imputation of sins, and to the separateness between justification and sanctification.” On this topic, Jeremias and the Lutherans frequently spoke past each other. For example, the Lutherans wrote,
it is a matter lacking merit that our salvation be divided between us and Christ, as if we are able to absolve our own sins together with God in such a manner that a part of the achievement of the Mediator Christ would be attributed to us, also, and that it might happen to be said that we would in some way also be saviors, which would be an extreme absurdity.
The book Orthodoxy and Catholicity explains the disconnect between this Western way of thinking and that of the Orthodox:
In Christ, our will is active, but in a redeemed, new manner; it does not only “receive,” it acts, but not in order to fulfil a “requirement” which would have been left unfulfilled by God; our will acts in Christ in order to fulfil in itself the image of the Creator which was obscured by the fall but which has been restored in Jesus- in its former beauty.
It is from this framework that Jeremias reasons for the necessity of human effort in his third response. Man was made in the image of God, with the potential for attaining His likeness, for Genesis never mentions the completion of the likeness. By definition, Jeremias understands attaining the likeness of God (deification) to be salvation. If, Jeremias argues, it were not necessary for us to participate in attaining the likeness, then why did God not grant it to us at creation as He granted the image? Jeremias argues that the attaining the likeness of God demands our participation by its very nature. Both the Lutherans and Jeremias argue brilliantly, but they fail to address each other’s arguments, as they were working from different theological foundations. This shows one aspect of why the Protestant Reformation was not compatible with the East: the Protestant ideas could only be constructed well if they were built upon a Western foundation.
The Protestant Reformation had less to complain about when it reached the Orthodox. The Lutherans expressed great joy at this, saying, “We are very glad indeed (how think you?) that between Your Holiness and us there is agreement on many of the subjects in question.” Jeremias felt they had enough in common that the Lutherans did not have many obstacles preventing conversion, “since we have agreed on almost all of the main subjects, it is not necessary for you to interpret and understand some of the passages of the Scripture in any other way than that in which the luminaries of the Church and Ecumenical Teachers have interpreted.” The fact that many Protestant complaints against the Catholic Church could not apply as easily to the Orthodox Church prevented the Orthodox from feeling the necessity of a Protestant Reformation. While some of the Protestant arguments were aimed at Orthodox positions, which were shared by the Catholics on a surface level, many of these arguments missed the Orthodox theological foundations on which these positions are built. These two things considered, the Protestant Reformation did not stop at the Eastern borders by coincidence, but because it was less applicable in matters of faith and Practice.
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