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Alcuin Club Tracts


A paper read before the Alcuin
Club on November
20, 1924

Fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge.

LONDON: 28 Margaret Street, Oxford Circus, W. 1.
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Printed in Great Britain

Mr. J. H. Arnold, Organist of S. Mary's, Primrose Hill, has kindly allowed the following photographs, taken by him while on active service at Baghdad in March, 1918, to be reproduced as illustrations to this paper. In Nos. 1, 2, and 9 note the sticharion, phelonion, and the cuffs (epimanikia) which take the place of the Western maniple: also the Eastern form of the stole (epitrachelion), which is still more clearly shown in No. 8.


A paper read before the Alcuin Club on
20, 1924.

THE liturgical history of the Church, looking at it upon the broadest lines, is a series of endeavours, largely but fortunately never completely successful, to establish uniformity; we may say 'fortunately,' not only on account of the historical loss which would be caused by the disappearance of subsidiary rites, but also because the rites which the authorities have endeavoured to make universal have never, perhaps, been the best from the standpoint of history, doctrine, or aesthetics.

The energy with which these endeavours have been prosecuted has varied from time to time; on the whole they have been the least violently and despotically urged when there has been most learning among the Church authorities, though political considerations have sometimes pulled the other way. Look at our own Church: the Reformers of the sixteenth century were learned men, but desired to institute a single use for the whole of England for political reasons; the rulers of the Church of England in the middle of the nineteenth century were poor liturgiologists, and acted after their nature in the series of tyrannical enactments by which they sought—and failed—to crush the liturgical outcome of the Oxford Movement. In the Orthodox East the rite of Constantinople, liturgically inferior to that of the other patriarchates, was forced upon them about the year 1200 by the advice of Theodore IV (Balsamon) of Antioch—a learned canonist, but a Byzantine Greek, who for reasons of patriotism, as he believed, and to consolidate Eastern Christians against the advancing power of Islam, desired all the Orthodox East to worship according to the rules of the centre of Christian defence against the [5/6] unbeliever. Among Christians owing obedience to the See of Rome, times of liturgical enlightenment have been, in general, times of liturgical freedom: the suppression of varieties of ceremonial in the dioceses of France and among some of the religious orders came about when liturgical study was at a low ebb, either through lack of interest in the subject generally, or because the minds of the European clergy were turned to the immediately weightier matters of which the French Revolution was either the outcome or the source.

This paper deals with divergencies of ceremonial, and incidentally of organization, among Christians in communion with the See of Rome; but not with all such divergencies. In the West there are large variations from the normal Roman rite in the Province of Milan and in a single Mass said daily in Toledo Cathedral, which is indeed of a totally different family from anything else in the West; there are very minor differences elsewhere in Spain and Portugal, and the close observer may note infinitesimal particularities in almost every country. But the followers of the Ambrosian and Mozarabic rites are not called Uniats; and a Uniat is generally considered as a Christian in communion with Rome who is following some Eastern rite—a rite usually (but not always, as with the Maronites) similar to a rite existing in the Orthodox Church, or one of the dissident Churches, of the East.

Books on this subject are unfortunately rare for English readers: indeed, I know but one which is both modern and fairly trustworthy, and that is unhappily incomplete. It is called, rather misleadingly, The Uniate Eastern Churches, though it is qualified by the sub-title of 'The Byzantine Rite in Italy, Sicily, Syria, and Egypt'; it was published in 1923, and is by the late Dr. Adrian Fortescue, one of the most truly learned of the Roman clergy of this country. He had already published excellent volumes—allowing for a natural and excusable bias—on the Orthodox Eastern Church and the Lesser (i.e. the dissident) Eastern Churches, and he was beginning to write on the Uniat Churches; but he had unfortunately only completed those parts of his work which dealt with the Italo-Greeks (Uniats in Southern Italy and Sicily) and the Melchites, or those Arabic-speaking Christians [6/7] of Syria, Palestine, and Egypt who are in communion with Rome; two groups of considerable historical interest, but numerically only a small part of the whole body of Uniats. At the beginning of Dr. Fortescue's book there is a bibliography, drawn from the author's notes by the Rev. Dr. George Smith, who edited it after his death; it is very painstaking and thorough, and will be an indispensable guide to any one who wishes to make a deep study of the subject.

It is exceedingly difficult to make even an approximately accurate estimate of the numbers of the Uniats throughout the world. The census statistics—especially since the changes in population and forms of government consequent on the War—are not to be trusted; and in many countries they do not distinguish between forms of religion. In a comparatively small district there are often Roman Catholics of the Latin rite and of some Eastern rite living side by side in villages only a few miles from one another, or even in the same village; and though it is necessary to attempt some kind of estimate, I fear that in many cases it is little better than guesswork. The following figures will serve as a basis:—

The largest single body of Uniats is that of the Ruthenians. This word used to be defined as 'those of the Little Russians who were Austrian subjects': they are about three and a half million in number, three million in Galicia and the rest in what used to be Hungary. Most are now in Poland. Their intellectual centre is Lemberg, where the University provides lectures in their language: in their liturgies they use the Slavonic language written in the curious Glagolitic character, whereas the Orthodox employ the Cyrillic alphabet. [See the very important book, which was unknown to Dr. Fortescue, by Stanislaw Pawlowski, Ludnosc Rzymsko-katolicka w Polsko-ruskiej czesci Galicji (Lemberg, 1919). It has a French translation, and a full bibliography, especially of Polish works on the subject unknown to English readers.] There is some indication that the Vatican is pursuing a policy in regard to these Uniats, not precisely of Latinization, but of exercising pressure in the direction of a celibate clergy. It is possible that the Holy See regards them as future missionaries to attract Russia, when Bolshevism is past, towards itself.

[8] Next to the Ruthenians in number come the Roumanian Uniats in Transylvania, numbering about three-quarters of a million. The other Uniat bodies of Europe are much smaller: there are about 50,000 Italo-Greeks, mostly in Calabria and Sicily; 15,000 Uniat Bulgarians and some 5,000 Armenians at Lemberg and elsewhere in Poland and in Austria.

Outside Europe the largest body of Uniats is that of the Syro-Maronites depending on Antioch, about a quarter of a million in all; the Melchites (mostly in Syria) are about 120,000 in number; they are called 'of Antioch,' but their patriarch divides his time between Cairo and Damascus. Then the Armenians depending upon Constantinople, who were about 100,000 before the War: I fear the number is greatly lessened now. The Uniat Christians of S. Thomas in Malabar (Southern India) have been said also to number about 100,000, but I have reason to believe that this is a serious overestimate, and that they are not really much more than 20,000; the Chaldeans of Babylon (formerly Nestorians) about 50,000; the Syrians of Antioch (formerly Jacobites) about 20,000; and there is a handful of Coptic and Abyssinian Uniats who may amount to 5,000 in all.

There are thus no less than three different Roman Catholic patriarchs of Antioch, each at the head of a different rite. Matters have indeed changed from the early days of the Church, when the presence of more than one bishop in the same place was a sure sign of schism!

Now as it is impossible within the limits of this paper to examine the origin and present conditions of all these bodies, let us take one as typical of the rest. The Italo-Greeks, though not many in number, are nearest home, and their present status has been closely examined of recent years by competent scholars; also their literature is more accessible than that of the greater bodies farther East.

Southern Italy—in which for convenience I include Sicily—was once a mass of Greek colonies; so numerous indeed were the Greek settlers that the district was called Magna Graecia: there are still villages in certain Calabrian valleys of which the language is Greek, not Italian; but their inhabitants are Latin in rite, not Uniat. (I believe that priests from the district are chosen to sing the Gospel [8/9] when, on certain very solemn occasions, the Pope says Mass in S. Peter's at Rome, and the Gospel is read in Greek as well as Latin, an inheritance from the earliest days of the Roman Church.)

It seems on the whole probable that, before the days of the great schism between the Eastern and Western Churches, Rome held a rather vague primacy in the south of Italy and Sicily, and that in the centuries immediately before and immediately after the schism, the Emperors at Constantinople were, for political reasons, bringing Christianity in those parts into closer touch with themselves and the Oecumenical patriarchs at Constantinople; they succeeded widely in their object except at Naples itself. Perhaps Lower Italy would be Eastern now in religion if it had not been for the invasion and conquest of the Normans who, in the two centuries after about A.D. 1080, turned back its allegiance to Rome. The Greek rite did riot, however, by any means disappear at once, and about the year 1300 we find it existing side by side with the Latin, though performed by priests in communion with the Pope. But there was no motive for keeping it indefinitely alive, and bishops—often translated from other parts of Italy—thought that they would gain favour at Rome (though they were sometimes deceived in this idea) by substituting the Latin rite when possible; in the fifteenth century the Greek rite was dying, and the last Byzantine priest of the Diocese of Reggio passed to Latinity early in the seventeenth century. The influence of the mendicant orders seems to have tended in the same direction.

If therefore it had depended only on the descendants of the ancient population of Magna Graecia, the Greek rite in Italy would be long dead and gone; but meanwhile another event had given it a new lease of life, and that life is not yet extinct. As the Turks extended their domination across the Balkan Peninsula, many native Christians fled before them; and in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries a good number of Albanian Christians crossed to Italy. It is not certain what the ecclesiastical allegiance of these had been in their native country; there were probably both Orthodox and Uniat among them, but doubtless the former would have had little countenance in Italy, and all professed [9/10] a desire to be, or become, in communion with the Pope.

All through the second half of the fifteenth century, and early in the sixteenth, a stream of these Albanians was entering the kingdom of Naples; we know of a single great act of immigration when two hundred ships-full arrived in 1532; and it is certain that they continued to come, in varying numbers, for another hundred years. It is really from these alone that the present Uniats in Lower Italy and Sicily are descended, with the single exception of the Monastery of Grottaferrata, of which I shall have more to say later: they have always been to a great extent a group of foreign colonies living among their Italian and Sicilian neighbours, and a great proportion of them speak the Albanian language to this day. For two centuries the great difficulty in dealing with their organization was that they had no bishops; they were sometimes considered subject to the ordinary of the place, who was of course a Latin, and sometimes a travelling bishop of the old Italo-Greek rite would ordain their priests: from both of these expedients came endless friction and angry appeals from both sides to Rome. The question was finally settled by Pope Clement XII, who died in 1740, and his successor Benedict XIV, whose Bull Etsi pastoralis of May 26, 1742, still controls the procedure; and this is, to put it shortly, that there should be ordaining bishops of the rite attached to its three seminaries or training colleges. These are (1) the Greek College in Rome, (2) the Calabrian College at San Benedetto Ullano, and (3) the Greek-Albanian College at Palermo. Each of these has, or should have, an ordaining bishop of the Byzantine rite attached to it; I am not sure, however, that the second is at present in existence: the last bishop lived at Naples, the college buildings at San Benedetto having been secularized, and since his death a year or two ago I am not certain whether a successor has been appointed. These bishops are considered as auxiliaries to the Latin ordinaries, who have in theory full jurisdiction over all the faithful of their dioceses, of all rites; but in practice the bishops of the Byzantine rite have a considerable delegated jurisdiction in minor matters, and visit the churches to see that the rite is properly performed. Similarly, each Latin Bishop of a diocese in which these Albanian colonies have settled must have a vicar-general of the Greek [10/11] rite. There is a further protection to the Uniat faithful in that the Metropolitan must appoint a Greek judge, or at least an assessor, if cases come up to him for appeal. The clergy of the rite marry when in minor orders and remain married as priests; but may not marry again if their wives die.

Before I speak of the actual rites and ceremonies which they observe, I must describe a place which is really the only remnant of the older Italo-Greeks, before the coming of the Albanians, and one which is even now, I think, regarded by them as their greatest spiritual centre. It is also the only monastic institution which they have. I speak of the Monastery of Grottaferrata, near Frascati just outside Rome; there is only one monastic rule in the East, the Basilian, and the monks of Grottaferrata are under this rule. It was founded by S. Nilus, a Greek of Calabria, flying northward before Saracen invaders from Sicily, who died in the year 1004; and the Greek monks have held it ever since, though it has suffered from occupying a too important position from a military point of view, and has often been used as a fortress: particularly by Giuliano della Rovere, afterwards Pope Julius II. It will be remembered that Julius was the first Pope, since the infant days of the Church, to wear a beard: I wonder if he acquired the habit when he was Commendatory Archimandrite of Grottaferrata, for of course all his monks of the Byzantine rite would be bearded?

The present monks have a high reputation as scholars and artists; they have a Scriptorium in which they copy manuscripts in a good Byzantine hand, and they produce the service-books used by all the Italo-Greeks; they also train youths of the rite for future service as priests among the Albanian colonies and for missionary work. I was fortunate enough to spend a long day there once: it was Whitsunday, 1907. We attended the liturgy in the church, and afterwards lunched with the Abbot and saw all over the Monastery. I was much impressed with the magnificence of the service, the singing, Eastern in style but not so nasal as in the Balkans, and the accuracy with which the Greek liturgy was performed: perhaps a better evidence still may be found in the testimony of the person I was accompanying. I was at that time in the suite of [11/12] the late Duchess of Coburg, who remained Orthodox until the end of her life. She had, as a Russian Grand Duchess, seen the Divine Liturgy performed with the utmost splendour in all the great churches of her country, and she told me at the time that, with the exception of the singing voices— for nothing can approach the best Russian Church singers—she considered the service one of the finest presentations of her own rite that she had ever seen. I believe that its restoration to pure Byzantinism was comparatively recent; in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries many Latinisms had crept in, such as the use of unleavened bread and Italian vestments. All these innovations have now been swept away, beginning in the eighties of the last century, and more completely now; leavened bread is used, the phelonion for the chasuble, the elements are not elevated after the consecration, there is an iconostasis before the altar, the monks wear beards and long hair, all the interpolations in the Latin language have been removed: I really doubt if there is anything now un-Byzantine in the liturgy except the mention of the Pope's name in the diptychs. I asked the Abbot whether he recited the 'Filioque' clause in the Creed; he said 'No; but we should have to repeat it if the Pope asked us to do so, in his own presence. But,' with a smile, 'we know that he never will ask us.' I fear that they observe feasts by the Gregorian, and not the Julian Calendar; but as the East generally seems likely to come into line in the matter, this too may cease to be a point of difference.

What has been done so fully and well at Grottaferrata has been carried out to some extent, and is still being carried out, elsewhere. It is possible that unleavened bread and Italian vestments are now nowhere in use, and that any church that can afford it will build an iconostasis when money is available. The clergy too in their outdoor dress are beginning more and more to have the appearance of the ordinary priest one sees in the streets in Greece or pre-Bolshevik Russia. In short, Rome, who has not been too kind to her Western subjects in toleration of divergencies of ceremonial or ritual, and at one time seemed to be tending towards a similar desire for uniformity among Easterns in communion with her, has now reversed the process as far [12/13] as the latter are concerned (I fear it is too late now, however, to hope for Western revivals, such as those interesting French diocesan peculiarities which disappeared in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries). I am told—though I cannot speak from personal experience—that the same inclination is to be seen in the Uniats in Europe further east, the Ruthenians, etc., and those in the Middle East: that Romanizing is being discouraged, and the proper use of the rite being regained to a considerable extent, though not so completely as in Italy; and that real Latinization can now only be said to exist in some of the quite small bodies such as, for instance, the Uniat Copts. [See, however, p. 7, on the increasing pressure on the Ruthenian clergy to practise celibacy.] It is doubtless more likely to happen when any specific body of Uniats is a new foundation—that is converts from a dissident Eastern body—than when there has long been a body in communion with Rome. Roman Catholic controversialists like to allow it to be thought—they are generally too wise to state it openly—that any given body of Uniats is an original faithful remnant which has remained true to Rome and refused to go into schism ; whereas most (though not all) Uniats, to tell the truth, have been detached by Roman missionaries from their own mother Church, and the way has been made easy for them to enter into communion with Rome by leaving them as much as possible of their own rites and customs.

I propose to conclude by a few reflections as to what lessons, if any, the past history and the present conditions of the Uniats have for us of the Church of England. We are all bound to work for unity, but not necessarily for uniformity; and the Uniat position is one that need have no terrors for us. I trust that if we were the mother Church, and there were Uniat bodies in communion with us, we should not regard them with the sort of 'poor relations' attitude with which many Latins look upon their Uniat brethren. There would appear, for instance, to be no reason why the Irvingites, now a small and not very important body, should not join us as a Uniat Church, keeping their own liturgy and most of their eschatological theology; to go to greater bodies, there are many who have [13/14] hoped that the Wesleyans would some day return to the rock whence they were hewn (for we should probably be ready to admit that the fault of their departure was not all on one side), keeping most or all of their present observances; if this happened, other nonconformist bodies would doubtless follow suit. The obstacles indeed are doctrinal rather than ceremonial, and if the question of valid ordination could be settled, it is conceivable that some such arrangement would not be long in coming.

Now take the other point of view, in which we should be the Uniat Church. Imagine that there is some day an arrangement with Rome which other interested parties have not been able to hinder, as they have always succeeded in doing hitherto: should we, for the sake of unity, feel any repugnance in forming a Uniat Church, keeping our own rites and canon law, in communion with the Pope? This is a question which will be very differently answered by different individuals: I can only say that I personally should not hesitate for an instant, believing as I do that unity is a very great prize and uniformity a very small one.

The ultimate possibilities, political as well as ecclesiastical, of any such development are so impressive that it would be almost universally admitted that they would be worth any sacrifice short of principle: and the object of this paper has been to endeavour to show that, granting certain premises, not only would no question of principle be involved but that, if the lines are followed which are advocated by this Club and not less, I believe, by the Vatican when well informed and advised, there need be no serious interference with the practice endeared to us by association and history. Is it not possible that in such circumstances we and the Uniats might form common ground for a rapprochement of Rome and Constantinople?

But all this, it may be said, is very chimerical. Perhaps, but we cannot put it totally out of view; and if it is ever possible, what should our present tendency be in matters of rite?

I need not recount the history of the last seventy years in this matter, in which we have not been wholly fortunate. For political reasons the Tudor reformers, who desired absolute uniformity in Church and State, swept away the [14/15] varying rites which had existed side by side in England, and desired to replace them with one alone; it is only fair to add that the use of the Cathedral Church of Salisbury had already made considerable steps in the direction of ousting others, and, if there had been no Reformation, would perhaps finally have gained the whole South of England. Then, when in the middle of the nineteenth century we awoke to the beauty of the heritage we had forgotten, and found that it was inferior to that of no part of Christendom in Catholicity and aesthetic merit, we were ill instructed, and had lost touch with our own antiquity. The nearest models, in France and Belgium, were the easiest to copy, and many things were enthusiastically adopted which had no claim either to beauty or to the venerability of age; and in some circles the tendency which thus started has been deliberately accentuated for doctrinal reasons, by those who believe that the actual identification of ourselves with modern Romanism in all its aspects, except perhaps that of the infallibility of the Pope, is the short cut to end our present discontents.

Probably few of my readers are of that opinion; and the position which I wish to put forward here is that future unity will not be hindered, but actually helped, if we behave, in matters of rite, as nationally as possible, modelling ourselves on our own antiquity, not on either the antiquity or modernity of any other part of the Church. We have a ceremonial which is, if properly performed, at least as beautiful and significant of inner truth as that of any part of the Western Church: it is that which we believe ourselves bound by law and by the dictates of conscience to carry out; and it may be held that if the Papacy continues in its present temper and standard of scholarship, it is that very rite to which it might require us to conform as part of the terms of union. By following blindly the present practice of Rome or Brussels we shall lose much beauty, the satisfaction of compliance with the law, and even the respect of those with whom we desire to be on good terms now and the better terms of fraternity and union some day—to say nothing of the surprise and sorrow which we shall cause to our Eastern brethren. I do not want to see the Uniat rites disappear from the Church of Rome; but [15/16] much less do I desire to see our rite disappear from our own Church, and I believe it can continue to exist in undimmed glory in that happy day when there will be but one undivided Church in the West and later in the whole world. The Pope does not think that the monks of Grottaferrata have dug out and practise a 'museum religion'; and do not let us be deterred by any taunts or ridicule from finding out, by all the investigation and study we can apply, what we ought to do, and then doing it!


1. PRIEST AT THE ALTAR. Note the corporal raised above the paten by the asterisk.



4. ARCHDEACON: i.e. priest acting as principal deacon on certain occasions, such as the Mass of the Pre-sanctified.




8. PRIEST VESTED FOR ASSISTING BISHOP AT LOW MASS. Note bells on chains of censer.


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