Our Mother Tongue

“The Eastern Church was held by the fathers of the English Reformation in respectful veneration.  The Book of Common Prayer bears traces of the influence of Eastern liturgies.  The Thirty-Nine Articles, while unhesitatingly affirming that the Churches of Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch and Rome have erred, expressly omitted any such allusion to the Church of Constantinople.  The Apology of the Church of England constantly refers to Eastern practice and doctrine, in refutation of the assertions of the Bishop of Rome that is the head of the Church or that he and the clergy and laity under his rule alone form the Holy Catholic Church, or that communion with the See of Rome is essential to the unity of the church.

            The innovations of the See of Rome are constantly test by the faith and practice of the unchangeable East, and are thus shown to have no primitive authority.  The cool assumption by the Council of Trent of oecumenical rank and authority is shown to be baseless by the absence not only of the Bishops of England, but by the absence of the Bishops of the orthodox Churches in the East. Jewel vindicates the right of the church of England to reform herself without the permission of the See of Rome by citing the example of the Grecians, who certainly would take whatever action they might choose in a similar reform without thinking of first consulting any Bishop of Rome.  Great Britain owes much more than most are willing to acknowledge to the Eastern Church. Rome may have been the stepmother of the Church of England, but assuredly the orthodox East was her mother.

            The first Christian emperor assumed the royal purple when his father died at York on July 25, 306.  The consensus of tradition cannot be lightly set aside when it teaches that it was to Eastern missionaries that England owed the planting of the Gospel in her midst.  Whether the faith came by missionaries sent direct from the East to the shores of Great Britain, or whether it reached the white shores through missionaries of the Eastern Church who had evangelized Gaul, or whether they came from Vienna, the See of Ireneaus, or from Marseilles, the great port connecting the East and the West, is a matter which cannot with the present means at our command be decided. But that the British Christians when Augustine, that narrow minded and autocratic Roman monk, found in Britain, owed their Christianity to the East and not to Rome is beyond dispute.  The very points of difference between the British Bishops and the monk are sufficient evidence of this fact.  The mode of reckoning Easter, the triune immersion, the tonsure, women to be veiled at the reception of the Sacrament and not to approach the altar, the Communion of  infants, Episcopal benediction bestowed in Eastern fashion, crowns for mitres, Antidoron, the use of fans, Wednesday fast, all show an Eastern origin. The very structures of some of the ancient Churches were reared according to Eastern and not to Roman architecture. Whether it be true or not that the veil before the sanctuary can be traced to have been a British custom, or that Oxford was founded by Greek scholars, the acknowledged doubts on these matters are straws in the current showing the constant tradition that to the East do we Anglicans owe homage and veneration as our orthodox mother. To Rome we may owe our cannon law, our legal enactments, our pride of power, out tendency to put practice before precept, our ‘common sense’ squaring of customs and doctrines with practical needs, our dislike of mystical interpretations, our fatal readiness to demand signs so that we may believe and be satisfied, and even our preference for that which is material in religion rather than that for which is spiritual. And yet it is to Theodore of Tarsus, a Greek and not a Roman, that the present Church of England owes her wonderful organization. He was the first Archbishop of Canterbury whom all the English Churches obeyed.  At that time the scholars of the Church of Ireland were students of Greek rather than of the Latin Fathers.  We must remember that in those centuries the maritime commerce was in the hands of the East, and that consequently it is natural to suppose that tradition is correct when it points to Ireland as well as Britain receiving Christianity from Eastern preachers and missionaries.  Even as late as the sixteenth century Archbishop Ussher stated that there still existed ar Trim, in the County of Meath, a ‘Greek church.’

            It is singular that the only detailed account we have of the acts of the Synod of Caesarea, held in 198, to try to determine the Paschal controversy, have been preserved to the world by Venerable Bede.  ‘But,’ as Neale remarks, ‘it was likely that in a country where the Paschal controversy raged so long and so furiously as in our own, a document of this kind should have been preserved with more than usual care, while the ecclesiastical intercourse between Britain and the East adds a still greater probability to the authenticity of the document.

            The sack of Constantinople caused the dispersion of the Greek MSS. Throughout Europe, and hence was born the new learning. The study of Greek had never been so set aside in England as it had been in other countries under the Roman rule, and consequently the new learning found its readiest adepts in England. The Reformation bore different fruit in England than it did on the Continent, for he English fathers had drunk deep of the Pierian well of Greek philosophy.

            It has been said that the Reformation is the child of the Renaissance, but, if so, the Renaissance was the child of Constantinople,  in her hour of sorrow and humiliation Greek thought was born again, and once more the Greek intellect triumphed over the Latin.  Modern civilization sprang from the ashes of Constantinople. And in Greek thought the moderns have found the key of that learning which has enabled Christian men to find that the higher their thoughts and loftier the range of their intellectual activities, yet higher still did the Christian faith bid them reach out. To the Latin the faith finds her foe in knowledge. To the Greek the faith finds her greatest foe in ignorance.

            And so once again has the true sacred language of Christianity taken her rightful position.  It  is no longer to a bastard inheritor that the Christian scholar turns for the words of the Lord, but to its rightful guardian, the Greek text.  The Church of England owes her new birth, her Reformation, to those living waters of Greek though which the all wise God allowed the Mussulman to overturn, overflowed Europe, and by many a rill brought life and wisdom to a dried, parched and withering Christianity.

            As a matter of romantic interest, it may be mentioned that in 1615 Theodore Palaeologus migrated to England with his daughter and son in law. From the inscription on his tombstone in the churchyard of Landulph, in Cornwall, it appears that he re-married. There are now in England descendants of this imperial house.”

Arthur Lowndes,  A Vindication of Anglican Orders, 1897, pp. 544-548

5 Responses to Our Mother Tongue

  1. Roland says:

    I do not think it is correct to say that the British mode of reckoning Easter shows an Eastern origin. Until 664, the British tradition, which came from Iona, employed the old Roman 84-year lunar cycle in calculating the date of Easter. Rome itself had long since adopted the Alexandrian 19-year lunar cycle. So, at the Synod of Whitby, it was ironically, the Roman side that advocated an Eastern-based rule and the British side that advocated the Roman rule.

  2. […] history, church of england, eastern orthodox, england, God, reformation, religion by Polycarp I picked this post up last week, but was to busy to repost it – in it’s entirety because it is a reprint of an older […]

  3. Englishman says:

    Well aren’t we all glad it all worked out? We left the protection of the Papacy, and jumped headlong into our own version of caeseropapism, and religion has almost being destroyed by denominationalism in these parts. Yeah its not as bad as Islams close to utter destruction of the East and the Orient. but its still bad. Let me know how it works out in another 20yrs.

  4. Ad Orientem says:

    Megan,
    Yes. The custom has died out. In the old days the the British had their own liturgical customs and rites. The missals of Sarum and York both used fans during their masses. I believe there are a handful of Western Rite Orthodox parishes which employ a revived Sarum Rite but I am not well informed on the details.

    Christ is risen!
    John

  5. Megan says:

    “the use of fans”

    In all the old churches I visited in England, I never saw any fans. To what does this refer? Was this a custom that passed away?

%d bloggers like this: