Project Canterbury


The Divisions of Christendom:
A Retrospect


By the Reverend C. Beaufort Moss


London: SPCK, no date.





THE origin of the Christian Church is to be found in the loose federation of tribes, known to their neighbours as the Hebrews, which, towards the end of the second millennium before Christ, occupied the hills between the Mediterranean Sea and the Arabian Desert. Before they were welded into a centralized kingdom by the strong hands of Saul and David, they were united by their common language, common institutions, and above all by their covenant with their national God, by which, unlike the nations round (which in other respects they resembled so closely), they were obliged to observe laws not merely ceremonial but also moral.

The united kingdom of David did not last more than two generations. Ten of the twelve tribes revolted, under Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and set up an independent kingdom. The causes of this schism reappear again and again in later history. The central government imposed heavy burdens: the worshippers at the old local sanctuaries did not approve of the new Temple which Solomon had built at Jerusalem: and their influence, combined with the demand for tribal independence (which is seen already under David in the revolt of Sheba the son of Bichri; see 2 Sam. xx. i) and the general hatred of the taxation necessary to maintain the central government (i Kings xii. 16), broke the Chosen People in two. We see the same causes at work in the opposition of Alexandria to Constantinople, and in the revolt of Luther against the Papacy. The golden calves, which later writers denounced as the great transgression of “Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin,” were probably not regarded at the time as contrary to the true religion. They were never denounced by Elijah or Elisha, who devoted their lives to the fight against the worship of the Phoenician gods introduced by Jezebel.

The rise of the power of Assyria led to the destruction of the Hebrew kingdoms and their conversion into a religious community with members in all countries. The great prophets of the last period of the kingdom brought about a great change in the Hebrew religion. They taught that the God of Israel was not merely a national God, but the Creator of the universe, and that the conquering hosts of Assyria, Babylon, and Persia were only instruments in His hand. After the Exile the whole Hebrew nation accepted the religion of the prophets. As Ezekiel had foretold (xxxvii. 19), there was no longer any difference between “Israel” and “Judah”: the schism, with one exception to be mentioned directly, was at an end. It is a mistake to suppose that the Ten Tribes carried away by Sargon were ever “lost.” Individuals, no doubt, were absorbed into other nations, and the Hebrew descent claimed by some Afghan tribes is not impossible. But the Israel of New Testament times was undoubtedly the whole nation, not merely a fragment of it, and was quite aware of the fact (Luke ii. 36; Acts xxvi. 7; James i. i).

But there remained a survival of the schism in the separate existence of the Samaritans. In the old territory of Ephraim, north of Jerusalem, there was a community which maintained a primitive kind of Hebrew religion, and which recognized only the Law, not the Prophets, as Scripture. Their centre of worship was not Jerusalem but Mt. Gerizim. According to the Jews, the Samaritans were a mixed race, descended partly from Assyrian colonists brought in to take the place of the deported Ten Tribes. But they themselves claimed to be true Israelites (John iv. 20). Through all the changes which have passed over Palestine, the Samaritans have survived; and though reduced to 120 persons, this ancient community still exists at Nablus (Shechem), offering on Mt. Gerizim their sacrifices according to the Law, which the Jews have not done since their Temple was destroyed 1,860 years ago. In the Samaritans we have the most striking example in all history of the persistence of schism: after nearly 3,000 years we can still see in the flesh the heirs of Jeroboam the son of Nebat.






THE supreme moment in the history of our religion is the moment when the Eternal Word became Flesh.


The whole history of Israel had been its preparation for that moment.


“Blessed was the Chosen People

Out of whom the Lord did come.

Blessed was the Land of Promise

Fashioned for His earthly home.

But more blessed far the Mother,

She who bare Him in her womb.”


Our Lord Jesus Christ was a member of the Church of Israel. He was circumcised according to the Law, and He was careful to keep all its rules, while pointing His disciples forward to the time when it should be transcended by His own commands.

He claimed to be the Anointed King foretold by the Prophets, but the priests, who were the leaders of the Church, rejected His claim, and were supported in doing so by the main body of the people. As their predecessors had refused to hear Jeremiah, Caiaphas and his colleagues not only refused to hear, but put to death, the Son of God. Therefore, like the princes and priests of Zedekiah’s court, they were rejected. They ceased to have any share in the promises made to the Chosen People, because they had broken the Covenant.

The true Israel now consisted of the little band who gathered round our Lord. “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He the right to become the children of God.” The faithful remnant was organized on a new basis. The Aaronic priesthood was now no longer needed, for the true High Priest was come. His representative and Vicar upon earth was God the Holy Ghost: and His twelve Apostles, guided by the Holy Ghost, were made the leaders of the Chosen People. Circumcision was replaced by Baptism: the Passover by the Breaking of Bread, the Holy Eucharist. Membership was no longer confined to one nation, nor was any one place on earth to be preferred to another as the centre of worship. “The hour cometh, when neither in this mountain, nor at Jerusalem, shall ye worship the Father.”

The purpose of the Christian Church, formed out of the faithful remnant of the old Congregation of Israel, was fourfold:

(1) To lead, in the world of things that can be seen and touched, the chorus of praise and worship to the Father who created, through the Son who has redeemed.

(2) To keep as a precious treasure the teaching which the Saviour gave to His disciples.

(3) To bring all human beings to receive the gift of union with His risen and glorified Life, which He died to win for them.

(4) To distribute the treasures of divine grace, without which no one can follow Him.

As under the Old Covenant, so under the New: to be united with God a man must be a member of His visible Church. The answer to the question “What must I do to be saved?” is always, “Repent, and be baptized”: baptism is the ceremony of admission to the Chosen People organized under the Apostles, as circumcision had been before under the Aaronic priesthood. There is no instance in the New Testament of anyone being a follower of Christ without being a member of the Church.

But the Aaronic priesthood and the Jewish people still remained: and the first problem which the Church had to settle was her relation to them. It was not for some time that the Apostles realized that the old order was abolished. Though the priests had rejected Jesus Christ, they did not at once repudiate His followers: it was possible for some years to belong to both Churches at once. The breach was caused by the teaching of St. Paul. He saw, what the older Apostles had not seen, that the teaching of the Lord involved a complete break with the narrow nationalism and the theology of salvation by merit in which he had been brought up: and he succeeded in bringing round the whole Church to his view. If he had not done this, the Christian Church would have remained a mere Jewish sect, with no message for the world.

But the Apostles and their followers maintained that they were the true Israel, and that their Jewish persecutors had no longer any share in the inheritance of the patriarchs and prophets. “Beware of the concision” (i.e., the Jews), writes St. Paul to the Philippians, “for we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and glory in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. iii. 2). The Jews who have rejected Christ are typified by Hagar, who is in bondage with her children, while the Christian Church is represented by Sarah, the mother of us all. It is necessary to realize that the Christian Church has always claimed to be the only true heir of the Church of the Old Testament. The Jews are rejected because they rejected Christ: they are the “wicked husbandmen” of the parable, from whom the vineyard has been taken away.

Nevertheless, the refusal of Israel to accept Him who came to bring their religion to its completion has been the greatest disaster in the history of that religion. The schism of the Jews is the greatest of all schisms, and the most fatal. St. Paul, in Romans xi., looks forward to a time when this schism shall be healed. But it is impossible to exaggerate the loss to the Christian Church caused by the refusal of the Jews to accept the Gospel. The Jews are brethren who have fallen away, not strangers who have never been in. No greater advantage could be gained by the cause of Christ than the acceptance of their own Messiah by the Jews. For “if their fall is the riches of the world, and their loss the riches of the Gentiles, how much more their fulness? And they also, if they continue not in their unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again” (Rom. xi. 22, 23)






So the Christian Church, which had started as a sect within Judaism, parted company with Israel, and sailed out into a world which was intellectually Greek and politically Roman. The destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70 broke the last link with Israel. For the Jewish Christians took no part in that desperate war of independence, and it became clear to all that they were not Jews, but had a distinct religion of their own.

The Church became so Greek in her thought and life that it is even maintained by some that she is the heir of the Greek philosophers rather than of the Hebrew prophets. It is true that the religion of Christ the Incarnate Word is the completion of all that is true in human philosophy, whether Greek, Indian, or any other, because all that is true and good in man is the work of God the Holy Ghost. The book called “The Wisdom of Solomon” and the Epistle to the Hebrews show traces of the influence of Plato; the metaphysical terms used by the Greek Fathers, and still more the theology of the medieval Schoolmen, are based upon the philosophy of Aristotle. But it is not true that the Church and her religion have any other origin than Israel. The Holy Scriptures were written almost entirely by Hebrews: our Lord Himself was a Hebrew: so were all His Apostles. The constant reference of the Fathers, Greeks or Latins though they were, to the Hebrew Scriptures shows that they recognized that all Christian doctrines and all necessary Christian institutions come from Hebrew sources: for it was to Israel alone that God gave His unique Revelation: “salvation is of the Jews.”

The Christian Church in the Roman Empire was a society whose existence was contrary to the law, and whose members were liable to be put to death if they could be proved to belong to her. She had therefore some of the marks of a secret society. Membership was extremely definite, and discipline strict. The moral standard was kept at a high level. Even so, there were some who felt that it was not high enough, and who separated from the Church because they refused to allow that certain sins could ever be forgiven.

As soon as the Christian Church entered the world of pagan thought and speculation, she was compelled to explain her message in the language of philosophy. For imitations began to be formed, pseudo-churches whose teaching was very different from the Gospel. According to tradition, the founder of the earliest of these sects was Simon Magus, the theosophist whose encounter with St. Peter is related in Acts viii. They used Christian language and organization similar to that of the Church, just as modern theosophists do. But whereas theosophy is now based on Hinduism, in the first two centuries it was based on the religions of Syria and Persia. Its fundamental assumptions were that matter is evil, and therefore that it was impossible that God should have taken human nature upon Himself: and that salvation was confined to the “spiritual” who possessed a particular “gnosis” or knowledge: hence these people were called Gnostics.

It was necessary for the Church to show that these false doctrines were not those which had been preached by our Lord and His Apostles. She did this by appealing to the witness of her sacred books, and to the succession of her ministers. This was the cause of the formation of the Canon, or authorized list, of the books of the New Testament, and of the fixed hierarchy of bishops, priests and deacons, which has governed the Church ever since.

A great deal of irrelevant controversy has raged round the origin of the Christian ministry, since the Continental reformers of the sixteenth century established their new ministry in the place of the hierarchy of the Church. The evidence for the period between the New Testament and the middle of the second century is so slight that it can be made to support almost any theory. But the question is purely historical, and has nothing to do with modern controversies. The present issue is between the conception of the ministry as a prophetic office and the conception of it as also a sacerdotal order for the distribution of sacramental grace: and between the view that its authority is derived from below and the view that its authority is derived from above. There was no such issue in the primitive Church. Whether the original form of government in a local church was a single bishop or a board of presbyter-bishops (and it seems probable that both forms existed in different places), there was no doubt as to the purpose of the ministry, or as to its derivation from the Apostles, to whom all authority in the Church was entrusted by the Lord (Matt. xix. 28; Luke xxii. 30; Acts i. 2, ii. 42, v. 13, xv. 23, 28; Gal. i. i, etc.).

Long before the end of the second century only one form of government was known throughout the Church. Each local church had its bishop, with his priests and his deacons. The bishop was the link with other local churches; and all the local churches together made up the Catholic or Universal Church, the New Israel. The doctrine, like the organization, of the Church gradually became standardized in fixed creeds, that the faithful might be protected from teachers of false doctrine as well as from the sects which they founded. When it was safe to do so, the bishops began to meet in council: each bishop represented his local church, by which he had been elected to his office, in the council of bishops: while in his own city he represented the whole “college” of bishops, by some of whom he had been consecrated and from whom he derived his authority. The work of the councils was to legislate in matters of discipline, but in matters of doctrine to bear witness, and, if need be, to define. No council could add anything to the traditional faith recorded in the books of Holy Scripture: but it might condemn the doctrine of a particular teacher as contrary to that faith, and might even authorize a particular formula as necessary to exclude some particular false doctrine. The authority by which this was done was regarded as the authority passed on to their successors by the Apostles. St. Peter, to whom had been given the keys—that is, the authority to decide what might and what might not be taught—was the leader of the Apostles: so that the authority of the bishops came in the third century to be sometimes called the authority of St. Peter. The doctrine that the see of Rome possessed the sole right to the authority of St. Peter had not yet appeared. The Roman Church, both because it occupied the capital of the Empire, and because it had witnessed the martyrdom of St. Peter and St. Paul and still possessed their bones, always held the first place among the local churches: but the great influence which it possessed had not yet hardened into the claim to command: though the legend that St. Peter had been himself the first Bishop of Rome, upon which such vast claims were later to be built, already begins to appear before the end of the second century.






FOR more than two centuries the Roman Government had been trying to destroy Christianity. Not all the time, nor everywhere at once: but the profession of the Name of Christ had always been a crime for which death was the penalty: and the law might at any time be enforced anywhere.

The reason for this persecution was that the policy of the emperors had always been to unite their empire on a religious basis. (Religion to them meant sacrifices, festivals, and priests: it had nothing to do with belief or morals.) Alone among all their subjects, the Christians and the Jews refused to join in the official religion. As we have seen, Judaism was to Christianity what the religion of the Samaritans had been to Judaism: its development had been arrested: it remained the religion of a nation, while Christianity was a religion for all nations. For this very reason the Jews, as a nation, could be given special exemption. But the Christian Church claimed the souls of all men: of the emperor and all his subjects: so that the imperial policy and the existence and growth of the Church could not be reconciled.

In 312 Constantine, by the Edict of Milan, made the profession of Christianity legal. Constantine adopted a new policy. Himself a firm believer in one God (he was not baptized till just before his death), he admired the moral standard and the organization of the Church, and he determined to make Christianity the religious basis of his Empire.

The Church was only too ready to welcome the emperor’s favour. The immediate result was the lowering of the Christian standard of faith and morals: for multitudes of unconverted heathen applied for baptism, now that Christianity had become the emperor’s religion: and they brought with them into the Church heathen beliefs and practices. The clergy thought it better that these people should be imperfect Christians than heathen: but the effect on the Church was disastrous. For the lowering of the standard of the Church was the cause of the schisms of the following centuries.

The ultimate result was that the Church became nationalized. This was for a long time not perceived, because the Roman Empire seemed to include the whole world. But the Roman Empire was narrowing down into two cultures, the Latin and the Greek, at first combined, but afterwards separated. And when the Church had become identified with the Empire, those who could not or would not be Roman subjects separated themselves also from the Catholic Church.

The new state of things is illustrated by the great controversy which broke out in Constantine’s own lifetime.

Arius was an Alexandrian priest who taught that Jesus Christ was not eternal God, but had been created by the Father. He was excommunicated by the first General Council of the Church, the famous Council of Nicaea (325), through the influence of St. Athanasius, afterwards Archbishop[1] of Alexandria, who perceived that the teaching of Arius would be a death-blow to the Christian religion, and insisted on the words “of one substance with the Father” as a safeguard against it.

Unfortunately many of the bishops had not been completely convinced that Arius’ teaching was so dangerous as Athanasius made out. Arius had powerful friends at court. The Government was anxious that the Church should be united (for otherwise, how could she help to keep the Empire together?), but was not interested in theological disputes. A formula (“the Son is like the Father”) was devised, which it was hoped that the followers of Athanasius and of Arius would accept: and the bishops who would not accept this compromise were sent into exile.

But St. Athanasius in the East and St. Hilary in the West, supported by the main body of the laity, made such a stand that the compromise failed. As soon as the court influence of the Arians was removed by the accession of the orthodox Theodosius to the throne, Arianism perished almost immediately, except among the Goths beyond the frontier. It was a great victory for the Gospel over an imperial attempt to paganize it: for to those who had always believed in “gods many and lords many,” belief in Christ as a “second God” (which was Arius’ teaching) was extremely attractive.

Omitting the Second Council (Constantinople, 381), we come to the great disputes of the fifth century about the Godhead and Manhood of our Lord which produced divisions which exist to this day. In this story there are three different issues:


(1) The theological rivalry between the schools of Alexandria and Antioch.

(2) The jealousy of the rising power of Constantinople felt by the Patriarchs of Alexandria.

(3) The growing separatist feeling among the Syrians and Egyptians, as the Empire became more centralized and more narrowly Byzantine Greek.


The contrast between the mystical and the rationalist temperament is always with us. In the early Church, the theologians of Alexandria, backed by the Coptic monks of the desert, represented the mystical element in religion, and tended to emphasize our Lord’s Godhead at the expense of His Manhood: while the theologians of Antioch had a practical and scientific outlook, were to some extent the forerunners of modern biblical criticism, and tended to emphasize our Lord’s Manhood at the expense of His Godhead. Nestorius, Archbishop of Constantinople, a pupil of the great teachers of Antioch, was condemned by the Council of Ephesus (431), under the influence of Cyril of Alexandria backed by Celestine of Rome. Twenty years later the tables were turned: Dioscurus, the successor of Cyril, was deprived of his see by the Council of Chalcedon, under the influence of St. Leo of Rome, whose famous “Tome,” or theological statement, was adopted by the Council (451).

The Council of Chalcedon was the last of the great Councils of the whole Church, for the three later ones which are accepted by both Rome and Constantinople are of less importance. It took up a middle position: it confirmed the decrees of Ephesus against Nestorius, but also condemned the interpretation which the followers of Cyril had put upon his teaching. The whole of Egypt rose at once against the Greek Council which had condemned an Egyptian Patriarch: and a similar revolt took place in Syria, a large part of which had come round to the Alexandrian standpoint. The ancient Coptic Church of Egypt, with its dependent the Abyssinian Church, the “Jacobite” Church of Syria, and the Armenian Church, which, being outside the Roman Empire, was not represented at Chalcedon and has never accepted its decrees, remain out of communion with the Orthodox Eastern churches to this day.

Meanwhile that part of the Church which was subject, not to the Roman Emperor, but to the King of Persia, had been developing independently. It had its own organization, its own Patriarch, its own language (Syriac), and to some extent its own theology, which was influenced by the school of Antioch. Not being within the Roman Empire, it had no share in Œcumenical Councils, and little knowledge of what took place at them. Even the decrees of Nicaea were not received in the “Church of the East,” which was not troubled by Arianism, for eighty years: and those of Ephesus were never brought to its notice at all. The East Syrians, or Assyrians as they are now called, sympathized with Nestorius, without fully understanding the grounds on which he was condemned: they thought Cyril had treated him badly, and they accepted the decrees of Chalcedon, which condemned Cyril’s successor, even though it confirmed the decrees of Ephesus. Gradually the East Syrian or “Nestorian” Church drifted away from the rest of the Church. Its face was turned eastward, not westward: it sent out missionaries who preached the Gospel as far as China and India. In the thirteenth century it extended all over Asia, and twenty-five metropolitans, one of them in Pekin, were subject to the Patriarch at Baghdad. But it was almost completely destroyed in the campaigns of Timur Khan (early fifteenth century), and is now represented only by the small remnant of the Assyrians of Kurdistan, who, driven from their country during the Great War, and permanently exiled from it by the unhappy decision of the League of Nations which gave their mountain valleys to Turkey, are now living in Iraq with their young Patriarch, Mar Shimun.

One more dispute must be mentioned, not for its own sake, but for its effect on the later doctrine of the ministry. After the last great persecution, a large part of the Church in Africa (that is, the country now called Tunis and Algeria) refused to accept Caecilius as Archbishop of Carthage, because, as they alleged, he had given up sacred books to the persecutors: they set up a rival hierarchy, and claimed to be the whole Catholic Church (A.D. 315). They were called Donatists from their leader Donatus. This dispute proved very difficult to heal: the Donatists were fanatical Berbers who proceeded to all lengths in their hatred of their opponents. St. Augustine of Hippo, in order to reconcile them, offered to receive their bishops without reordination. The original practice of the Church had been to recognize no Sacraments in heretical or schismatical sects, and to baptize heretics and schismatics who were reconciled to the Church. This view is still held in the Eastern churches, modified by the doctrine of “economy,” according to which the Church has power, in certain conditions, and as an act of grace, to recognize Sacraments in themselves invalid. (Ordination, of course, is regarded as one of the Sacraments.) In the West, heretical baptism had beer, recognized as valid since the third century. St. Augustine extended this recognition to heretical ordination. And so the ordinary Western theory grew up, that the Church is obliged to recognize the validity of the orders of heretics and schismatics, if they have been regularly ordained and can prove their succession. This theory, however, is not part of the Catholic Faith, but has only been adopted for convenience by the Western churches.

It was when the Church was distracted by these disputes that Mohammed (571-632) proclaimed his new Arabian religion, “There is one God and Mohammed is His Prophet.” The Moslem Arabs burst forth upon Christendom, and all the countries where the Church was divided—Egypt, Syria, North Africa, and Spain—were overwhelmed. Palestine, Syria, Egypt, North Africa, and ultimately also Anatolia, became Moslem countries. The Moslem conquest upset the balance of Christendom. Until the seventh century the Church was far more Greek than Latin, and her real centre, since the reign of Constantine, had been his great city of Constantinople. The loss of so many provinces in the East was accompanied by the evangelization of many tribes of barbarians in the West: France, Germany, and the British Isles became Christian. The leadership of the Greeks, which had lasted ever since the Fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, passed over to the Latins, and to their head, the Bishop of Rome.





SINCE the earliest times the bishoprics situated in the great cities had had a dominating influence over the rest of the Church in their neighbourhood. The three greatest cities of the Empire were Rome, Alexandria and Antioch: at the time of the Council of Nicaea the bishops of these cities were the rulers of the Church in Central and Southern Italy, Egypt and Syria respectively. When Christianity became the religion of the Empire, the possession of these bishoprics became the object of ambitious politicians, and jealousy arose between them. The Council of Chalcedon divided the Empire into five “patriarchates,” giving Constantinople the second place and Jerusalem the fifth, in addition to the original three: the special purpose of the patriarchate of Jerusalem has always been the guardianship of the Holy Places. But this division did not extend to the whole Church. Cyprus was “autocephalous,” or independent of the patriarchates: so was Georgia (from the eighth century). The Assyrian Church, being outside the Empire, had its own Patriarch at Seleucia: the Armenian Church was autocephalous too, at any rate from about 400. The patriarchate of Rome developed more slowly than the others: it was long before it extended to France, Spain, or Africa, which were all now under barbarian rulers. The Celtic Churches were in practice completely self-governing until the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

After the barbarian invasions, when there ceased to be an emperor in the West, the Bishop of Rome inherited much of the imperial prestige and the imperial duties. I cannot, for want of space, tell again the well-known story of the rise of the papacy,[2] or trace its growing claims, from Clement to Victor, from Victor to Damasus, from Damasus to Leo, from Leo to Gregory, from Gregory to Nicholas, from Nicholas to Hildebrand, from Hildebrand to Boniface VIII., and so to the Councils of Trent and the Vatican. Each step forward became the basis for the next, and some of them were buttressed by documents which everyone now recognizes to have been forged.

On the other hand, the Arab conquests reduced the patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem to insignificance: and Constantinople was left facing Rome. These two sees were the leaders respectively of the Greek and the Latin sections of the Church, which were gradually becoming more and more estranged from one another. There had been several long breaches of communion before the final catastrophe. When the Pope crowned Charles the Great as emperor, on Christmas Day, 800, the Latin world, as well as the Greek, was complete with its own emperor and its own ecclesiastical system: each side regarded the other as rebels and probably schismatics.

In these circumstances, the claim of Photius to the see of Constantinople, and the support of his rival Ignatius by Rome, brought about a breach which was only nominally healed (869-891). In the tenth century the see of Rome sank to the lowest depths of degradation: its revival in the eleventh century led to a fresh outbreak of the old rivalry. In 1054 the papal legates excommunicated Michael Cærularius, Patriarch of Constantinople: and the Church was permanently split in two. The schism might possibly have been brought to an end, like its predecessors, but for the sack of Constantinople in 1204 by a band of pirates calling themselves Crusaders, headed by the Doge of Venice. After this the Greeks would not listen to any proposals for reunion.

Western Christendom, thrown into confusion by the barbarian conquests, needed above all things unity and discipline, and these could only be supplied by the Roman see. Therefore the popes kept pitching their claim to universal obedience higher and higher. In that uncritical age no one doubted that Rome was the see of St. Peter, or that the words of our Lord about the Rock and the Keys meant what the Roman Church had for centuries said they meant. No one guessed that many of the documents upon which the Roman claims were built were forgeries. The papacy was the only possible resort of the oppressed against injustice, and its authority rested not on force but on the conscience of Western Christendom. But the civilized Byzantines would not submit to claims which their forefathers had never known. To them the Latins were barbarians, and rebels against their lawful sovereign. The Church had become identified with the Roman world: and now that the Roman world had split into two parts, neither of which understood the other, the Church was bound to split too.

The result was fatal. The Greeks were left to fight the growing power of Islam without help from the West. Weakened by the sack of 1204, and the Latin occupation which followed, the Byzantine Empire could no longer defend the gate of Europe, and in 1453 Constantinople was captured by the Turks, who have held it ever since. On the other hand, the papal claims became still more exaggerated, and the Latin emphasis on law, authority and obedience still more dominant. All the Western churches followed Rome: the Greeks had the support of the Roumanians and (after some wavering) of the Serbs and Bulgars, and above all of the great Russian Church which had received the Gospel from Constantinople.

But we must not suppose that this disastrous quarrel, which still divides the Catholic Church into two main sections, represents an irreconcilable difference between “eastern” and “western” Christianity. The real “Church of the East” was the Assyrian Church, which was Asiatic and Semitic. The Greeks and Russians are “eastern” from the standpoint of Rome, but they are Europeans: the Byzantines may not have been descended from the ancient Greeks, but they were undoubtedly the heirs of Greek civilization; and all western civilization began in Greece. The difference between Rome and Constantinople is national, not universal: both Latins and Greeks are Mediterranean peoples, and differ widely from the peoples of Northern Europe, still more from those of Asia and Africa. The theological issue can be reduced to one point: “Is the Papal claim to supremacy by Divine Right justified?” And every Christian who answers “No” to this question, whatever the longitude of his birthplace, is on the side of Constantinople against Rome in this controversy. The Roman claim supplied what was needed for the time: but because it was based on unhistorical foundations it was destined to lead to more divisions in the future. Whatever the faults of the Greeks, they did maintain, perhaps unconsciously, the freedom of local churches to develop on their own lines in things not essential. It is because the Orthodox Eastern Churches are not finally committed to a false historical theory, nor to a doctrine of society that is contrary to human nature (see Figgis’ “Churches in the Modern State,” ch. 4), that the key to future unity is to be sought among them and not among the Latins.






DURING the thousand years between the destruction of the Roman Empire in Western Europe by the barbarians and the revival of ancient learning which we call the Renaissance, the Church had been busy Christianizing and civilizing vast masses of baptized but still half-heathen people. During the Dark Ages (sixth to eleventh century) much had come to be generally taught and believed which was certainly not to be found in the New Testament. The great schoolmen of the thirteenth century, of whom St. Thomas Aquinas was the chief, undertook the task of justifying the teaching of the Church at the bar of reason: but they did not attempt to criticize that teaching itself. The great period of the medieval Papacy ended with Boniface VIII. (1294-1303), who had proclaimed the dogma that “it is necessary to the salvation of every human being that he should be subject to the Roman pontiff.”

In 1305 Pope Clement V. settled at Avignon, where he and his successors remained for seventy years under the protection of the French King: and for forty years more there were two or even three rival popes, excommunicating each other. This scandal permanently weakened the moral authority of the papacy. In 1415 the Council of Constance deposed two of the claimants, accepted the resignation of the third, and appointed Martin V. in their place. Since then there has only been one pope who has not been an Italian.

The Council of Constance (1414-7) was the greatest achievement of the “Gallican” party, led by the theologians of Paris, who held that a general council was superior to the pope. Their aim was to reduce the papacy to a constitutional monarchy, and to give the other nations equal rights with the Italians; and they arranged that the bishops in the council should vote by nations, so that the Italian bishops, who were in the majority (for there were hundreds of bishoprics in Italy, and very few in the northern countries), should have no more votes than the French or the English.

But the reformers of Constance did not want doctrinal changes: and they burned John Huss, the Czech priest, in spite of his safe-conduct, because he refused to recognize the decisions of the council as final. This led to the rebellion of the Czechs, who were the first nation to repudiate the medieval Church system. After the rest of Europe had failed to crush the Czechs, the more moderate party among them was given certain concessions, such as communion in both kinds, which were, however, never officially sanctioned at Rome.

The Council of Constance had no permanent effect, because it made the mistake of electing a new pope before the proposed reforms were decreed. The bishops were anxious to go home, the Council was dissolved, and the pope took care that the opportunity should not occur again.

Three kinds of reform were needed:

(I) The removal of practical abuses, such as the ignorance and immorality of the clergy, the non-residence of bishops and parish priests, the holding of many bishoprics and livings by one man, the abuses connected with the sale of indulgences, the enormous wealth of the higher clergy, many of whom, especially in Germany, were secular princes, the greed and corruption of the officials at Rome, and the “provision” of worthless Italians to non-Italian bishoprics and livings, of which they enjoyed the revenues and paid someone else to do the work. These abuses were admitted by all except the Italian officials whose interest it was to maintain them. The pope was one of these officials: and so the papacy, once the only hope of justice and liberty, had become the greatest obstacle to reform.

(2) Constitutional reform—that is, the decentralization of the Church. The great popes of the eleventh and twelfth centuries had gathered the control of the Church everywhere into their own hands; this had been the only possible way to check the abuses of feudalism and royal tyranny. As long as Western Europe thought of itself as one great Christian community with the pope and the emperor at its head, and Latin as its common language, this system worked, if not well, at any rate better than any other would have done. But the nations were becoming conscious of their separate interests: and the pope was no longer simply the head of the Church: he was a Frenchman, or a German, or an Italian, and he could not be trusted to treat the nations equally. Besides, he was a secular prince: and his spiritual powers, such as excommunication, were freely used to bring about political objects, such as the conquest of his neighbour’s territory. He was supposed to be the supreme judge of faith and morals: but the personal character of the Renaissance popes did not inspire confidence. The vices of Alexander VI. (Rodrigo Borgia) are well known. Julius II. was a soldier whose main object was to increase his territory: Leo X. was a sceptical dilettante whose chief interest was the building of the new St. Peter’s. Such men were not fit to be trusted with the leadership of Christendom.

(3) Doctrinal reform, which was rendered necessary by the new critical spirit. The leaders of the Italian Renaissance were irreligious and sceptical, but in Northern Europe there were men eager to bring the new learning to the service of Christ. The leaders of this group were Erasmus of Rotterdam and his friends Sir Thomas More and John Colet, Dean of St. Paul’s. They hoped to reform the Church by making ignorance and superstition ridiculous, by improving education and by publishing the Bible and the Fathers with the best available texts. But Erasmus, though he was a kind of king among the scholars of Europe, and was honoured by the pope and the sovereigns, had not the health, nor the personality, nor even the wish, to head a great popular movement. And the evils of the age needed more drastic remedies. The discovery of America and the Cape of Good Hope, the invention of printing, the growing autocracy which was taking the place of feudalism, were causing vast political and economic changes. Medieval Europe was worn out: and those who were weary of the failure of all efforts to reform abuses which everyone admitted, could not be satisfied by better schools or editions of the Greek Testament.

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk and a Doctor of Theology at the newly founded University of Wittenberg in Saxony, published a set of ninety-five propositions against the abuse of indulgences. An indulgence had originally meant that a man who had committed some grievous sin, and had been forbidden to receive the Holy Communion for a certain time, in order that he might make amends in public for the injury his sin had caused to his fellow-Christians, was let off his punishment for some good cause. But a system had been developed by which the Pope claimed to let men off the punishment due to their sins, not only in this world, but also after death in Purgatory, by a formal document called an indulgence, which could be obtained for money. A friar named Tetzel had been sent to sell indulgences in Germany: the proceeds were to be divided between the Pope, for the building of St. Peter’s, and the Archbishop of Mainz, to pay his debts to the Pope.

Luther’s protest aroused great excitement in Germany: and Pope Leo X. sent Cardinal Cajetan to order Luther to withdraw it. Luther refused to submit: and Cajetan’s comment was: “This fellow wants fresher eggs than are to be had in the market.” The Pope could not afford to lose the money which the indulgences brought in: the cynical Italians could not understand Luther’s protest against a great moral abuse: and the Saxon monk was excommunicated. His views developed rapidly. Convinced that no reform could be expected from Rome, he appealed to a General Council: his appeal was published without his consent, and made the basis of a charge of heresy. But he did not stop there. “Both Popes and Councils,” he said, “have erred: I refuse to obey any authority but Holy Scripture.” He burned the Pope’s Bull of Excommunication in public. He published three books, “Address to the Christian Nobility of Germany,” “The Babylonish Captivity of the Church,” “The Freedom of a Christian Man,” in which he set forth his system. In 1521 he was summoned to plead his case before the Diet or Assembly of the Empire. Asked to withdraw his books, he refused to withdraw anything unless it could be refuted by Holy Scripture. “I neither can nor will revoke anything, since to act against conscience is neither safe nor upright. So help me God. Amen.” Luther’s central doctrine of “Justification by Faith Alone” was like a mine, which blew the system of the Church into fragments. He produced a new version of the Christian religion, unlike anything that had appeared before. He had passed through a great religious experience, and he held that this experience, and this alone, was necessary for salvation. To him faith was not so much complete submission of the whole self in love and trust to Christ (the meaning of the word in St. Paul’s Epistles), the fruits of which are good works, as an intellectual act of belief in Christ, detached from St. Paul’s doctrine of the Church. Luther held that the visible Church, as it had hitherto existed, was wholly corrupt, and he founded a new organization to take its place. But he did not regard either Church or Sacraments as necessary. Hitherto all Christians, except a few unimportant sects, had held that salvation is given to men in and through the Church, which is the New Israel, and within which alone men are united with God by partaking in the risen life of Jesus Christ.

Luther taught that men are united with God as individuals: that no particular organization of the Church is necessary: and that the clergy are merely office-holders, who derive their authority from the State. He laid great emphasis on the preaching of the Gospel—that is, of the message of Holy Scripture as interpreted by himself.

Erasmus, who was popularly supposed to be the cause of Luther’s revolt, repudiated him. He had devoted his life to the removal of medieval errors, but he said: “I cannot believe that the whole Church for thirteen centuries has been entirely wrong.” Nevertheless, Luther’s movement swept over the whole of Northern Europe. It is impossible to tell here the complicated story of the Reformation. It was broken almost at once into three sections: the Lutheran, which was German; the Calvinist, which was in origin French, but which was accepted by no nation so completely as by the Scots; and the Sectarian, which, though it appeared in all the Protestant countries, ultimately prospered most abundantly in the United States of America.

(i) Luther taught that in the Christian community or Church-State the temporal power is superior to the spiritual. He retained three Sacraments—Baptism, Holy Communion, and Penance: he denied that any grace is conveyed in Confirmation, Ordination, or Marriage. He believed strongly in the objective presence of Christ in the Eucharist (though he had peculiar theories about it), but he denied that the Eucharist is in any sense a sacrifice, or that there is any special order of priests. His followers retained many of the ornaments and the usual pre-Reformation furniture of the churches.

Lutherans have always had a tendency to weakness on the ethical and social side of religion, because Luther was so much afraid of suggesting that we can merit salvation by good works (through reaction against the late medieval system of “salvation by dodges,” such as indulgences, etc.). They also have a horror of “legalism,” and an intense reverence for the power of “the living word.” Lutheranism is the religion of two-thirds of Germany, Scandinavia, Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Esthonia and Latvia. The Church of Sweden, though it accepts the Lutheran formulary, the Augsburg Confession, differs from other Lutheran bodies in having kept the Apostolic succession of bishops, and in not being officially styled Lutheran.

(2) Calvin (Jean Chauvin) was a Frenchman from Picardy who settled at Geneva, and his system displays the rigid logic of France. He set the spiritual authority above the temporal, and thus saved his followers from the servility of Lutheranism to secular princes. Both Luther and Calvin denied the freedom of the will, but Calvin taught that God created some of His creatures for damnation, that Christ did not die for all men but only for the “elect,” and that when we sin we do so by God’s decree. This terrible doctrine, which is seldom held by modern Calvinists, was the logical conclusion of the teaching of St. Augustine.

Zwingli, the Swiss predecessor of Calvin, taught that the Sacraments are mere symbols, which convey no grace. Calvin did not go so far, but held that the Body and Blood of Christ are received by the communicants, but are not present apart from communion.

Calvin’s form of church government is a hierarchy of synods, the members of which, whether “ministers” or “elders,” are ordained men. There is nothing necessarily uncatholic in the Presbyterian system of government, but the Presbyterian minister’s position and functions are quite different from those of the Catholic priest: nor did the original Presbyterians, either at Geneva or in Scotland, claim to be carrying on the pre-Reformation ministry.

The peculiar views of morals and art which we call Puritan are due to Calvinism. All ornaments and sacred pictures were to be destroyed as being idolatrous; all relaxation on Sunday (wrongly identified with the Jewish Sabbath) was forbidden. In a Calvinist church the chief place is occupied by the pulpit, the communicants sit round a table in the centre. Strict Calvinists rejected the Church kalendar (which was retained by Luther), and would not even keep Christmas or Easter, because they were not mentioned in the Bible.

The two great advantages of Calvinism over Lutheranism are:

(i) It makes the authority of the Church (“the crown rights of Jesus Christ”) independent of the State: the Calvinists were the first in modern times to perceive that the Church and the State are not one community but two.

(ii) It emphasizes strict morals, though its moral system is out of proportion.

Its weakness is its tendency to deny the Godhead of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament is popularly regarded as equal, if not superior, to the New: and the omnipotence of God is so much emphasized that the Incarnation becomes unimportant.

How powerful an appeal Calvinism (shorn of its denial that Christ died for all men) can still make is shown by the enormous influence exercised by Karl Barth in Protestant Germany today.

Calvinism was accepted by some parts of Germany, by Geneva (which was then independent) and some Swiss Cantons, by Holland and Scotland. The Puritan colonies in America were Calvinist in doctrine but Congregationalist in Church government. At one time a third of the French nation and a powerful minority in England were Calvinist.

The “Evangelical Church” in Prussia is the result of the union of the Lutherans and Calvinists enforced by the King in 1819.

Originally, the followers of Luther were called “Protestants” and those of Calvin “Reformed.” But the word “Protestant” has long been applied freely to all who accept the teaching of the Continental Reformation.

(3) Whereas the Catholic Church includes members of all nations, the Lutherans, and to a less extent the Calvinists, set up independent national establishments. There was a third section in the Continental Reformation, more revolutionary than either. Luther was repudiated by the Anabaptists as not sufficiently thoroughgoing. The wild excesses of the Anabaptists of Munster brought them into general discredit. But other sects arose, and succeeded in establishing themselves, especially in England and America.

The fundamental idea of the Independent sects (which include Congregationalists and Baptists)[3] is the “Gathered Church.” We have seen how the Roman Empire and the Catholic Church became identified. This belief in the identity of Church and State as one community was common to Catholics, Lutherans, and (where they were in a majority) Calvinists. In Germany and other countries the principle was adopted that the national form of religion must be decided by the Government, and minorities must accept it or go into exile.

The “Gathered Church” was a protest against this. A number of earnest men met and agreed that the mass of people round them, though baptized, were not real Christians. They therefore formed an independent congregation, and elected one of themselves as their minister. They claimed that the original Christian communities were of this kind, and that no visible Church other than the independent congregation was necessary or right. With the growth of religious toleration and democracy, this kind of community became more and more widespread.

In the English-speaking world the influence of Congregationalism is immense. It is democratic and individualistic: it spreads easily: and it is supported by the indifference to objective truth which has been the result of modern German philosophy. For the Independent congregation is usually not bound by any confession of faith, and can believe and practise anything it chooses, from the high sacramentalism of King’s Weigh House to the Pantheism once preached at the City Temple.

All the Continental Protestants were agreed in rejecting the idea of continuity. The preaching of the Word to the individual was all-important: the organization of the Christian community was quite secondary. The Lutherans, Calvinists, and Sectarians alike claimed no succession from the pre-Reformation Church. That was held to be all darkness and Popery. The outward sign of the rejection of continuity was the deliberate casting aside of the episcopal succession. In France, Germany, Denmark, and Scotland there were bishops who at various times accepted the Reformation: but no use was made of them to carry on the succession. The preaching of the Word needed no succession or continuity. Only in the Swedish Church, which stands apart from the rest, was the episcopal succession carefully preserved.

Meanwhile the Reformation had forced Rome itself to undertake the work of reform. The impulse came from Spain, at that time the most powerful State in Europe. The Spanish bishops were more independent of Rome than those of other countries, and a strong movement for practical reform had been begun before the Reformation. The loyalty and chivalry which had been developed in Spain by centuries of war against the Moslems was turned by a young Basque knight, Ignatius Loyola, into enthusiasm for the cause of the Church against heresy. He founded the “Society of Jesus,” a new kind of religious order based on military discipline, absolute obedience to the General of the Order, and personal devotion to the Pope.

The long-deferred General Council met at Trent from 1546 to 1552 and 1562-4. The general result of the Council was that many practical reforms were effected, such as the institution of seminaries for the instruction of the clergy and the abolition of the abuses connected with indulgences. The papal control over the Church was tightened up, and local churches had less independence than ever. Philip II. of Spain said that his bishops went to Trent bishops, and came back parish priests. Many of the doctrines and practices which had become current during the Middle Ages, especially in connexion with the sacraments, with the life after death, and with the papal authority were made dogmas of faith: since they could not be proved from Scripture, Tradition was for the first time formally made equal with Scripture as the source of dogma, and a new creed was drawn up, called the Creed of Pius IV., which all had to subscribe. The peculiar doctrines, practices, and habit of mind which we call “Roman Catholic” were permanently fixed at Trent. They had their roots far back in the Middle Ages, but the medieval Church should not be called “Roman Catholic,” which is, properly speaking, the name for the type of Christianity which is founded on the decrees of Trent. The immediate result of this Council was the great movement called the Counter-Reformation. The Jesuits, equipped with the best learning of the day, obtained control of education in all the countries where Rome had still any hold. Utterly devoted to the Papal cause, the absolute truth of which they did not for a moment doubt, directed from one centre, and supported by the armies of the absolute monarchs of Europe, they swept back the Reformation into Northern Europe, and opened up new fields of missionary enterprise in India and Japan, in Canada and South America. But for the jealousy between France and the House of Austria the Reformation might have been suppressed altogether: as it was, Austria, Hungary, Bavaria, Poland, Southern France and Bohemia, which had been almost completely Protestant, were recovered for the obedience of Rome.

About the middle of the seventeenth century the geographical boundary between the two religions became fixed, and has not been altered since. The ecclesiastical and sacramental elements in Christianity were concentrated and exaggerated by the disciples of Loyola: the evangelical elements by those of Luther. The government of the Roman Communion became more and more despotic, its sacramental doctrine and practice more and more emphatic, its devotion more and more peculiarly Latin. The strength of Protestantism was its insistence on the free use of the Bible, and the support which it gave to the movement for constitutional government, especially in England and Holland. Each side, through reaction against the other, exaggerated its own claims: and the Word and the Sacraments, the Bible and the Eucharist, the Prophet and the Priest, became divided by an impassable gulf.






THE English Reformation was in origin, character, and results entirely different from the Reformation on the Continent and in Scotland.

Luther had demanded a doctrinal revolution; when the Church condemned his teaching, he broke away and founded a new organization. But the English Reformation began with a constitutional change—viz., the rejection of the Papal authority and the restoration of the ancient right of the Church of England to govern herself. Having secured her freedom from Rome, she was able gradually to introduce such doctrinal reforms as were needed.

The Continental Reformation was a great popular movement, an outbreak of new religious forces which swept all before it. The English Reformation was a series of changes carried out by the Government and acquiesced in by the people: it produced no great religious leader, it was followed by no religious revival.

The reformed bodies on the Continent were entirely new. They neither had nor claimed any continuity with the immediate past (except in Sweden). But the reformed Church of England has always claimed to be identical with, and continuous from, the pre-Reformation Church: and has declared in her canons that she had no intention to separate from the Churches of the Roman obedience, but only from their errors. Nothing was changed in her doctrine or in her government, except the Papal supremacy and certain medieval additions to the original Faith. She continued to teach that Baptism and Holy Communion are “necessary to salvation;” to require Confirmation (the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands) to be normally received before Communion; and to permit no man to celebrate Holy Communion without ordination by a bishop. Of none of the Continental Protestant bodies can this be said.

The Continental Reformation substituted the Infallible Book for the Infallible Church. Holy Scripture, interpreted by the individual as he pleased, was regarded as the supreme authority (though in practice this right was limited in various ways). But the English Church appealed to Holy Scripture as understood by the Fathers. On the one hand, she repudiated the teaching of the Council of Trent, which made Tradition equal to Scripture, and she required her clergy to promise “to teach nothing, as required by necessity to salvation, but that which they should be persuaded might be concluded and proved by the Scripture” (Service for the Ordering of Priests). On the other hand, she declared that “the Church hath authority in controversies of faith,” and instructed her clergy, by canon, to be guided in their interpretation of Scripture by the Fathers and Councils. The English Reformation had six stages: (I) Henry VIII. threw off the Papal supremacy, but made no change in doctrine. The monasteries were dissolved, not through any objection to monasticism in principle, but because the King coveted their property, and perhaps also feared lest they might become centres of foreign influence. Later, some minor reforms were made, but only such as would have been accepted by the school of Erasmus. The reason why More and Fisher were beheaded was their refusal to accept the “supreme headship” of the King: but this “supreme headship” (distinct from control of the Church in temporal matters) was afterwards repudiated by Elizabeth.

(2) The members of the Council which ruled the kingdom during the minority of Edward VI. introduced Calvinism as an excuse for enriching themselves with Church property, and forced it on the nation with the help of foreign mercenaries. It was then that the treasures of the parish churches, the result of centuries of devotion, were destroyed or stolen. On the other hand, this reign gave us the First Prayer Book, which may be regarded as the culminating point of Henry VIII.’s reforms, though it was issued after his death: while the Second Prayer Book represents the furthest advance towards Calvinism which the English Church ever made.

(3) Under Mary I. the English Church submitted to Rome, and the Counter-Reformation was introduced. But it became associated in the English mind with “the fires of Smithfield,” Spanish domination, and the loss of Calais. The mass of the people, which had welcomed the accession of Mary, welcomed her death still more: and England definitely took the side of the Reformation.

(4) Elizabeth, beset by almost insuperable difficulties, took the course which would divide her subjects least. She accepted neither the Continental Reformation (which reached England in its Calvinist form) nor the Counter-Reformation: she made it possible for moderate men of both parties, and the great multitude who belonged to no party, to accept the Prayer Book and the government of the bishops. The old constitution of the Church and the episcopal succession were carefully preserved. No general scheme of doctrine was drawn up: the English Church possesses nothing corresponding to the decrees of Trent or the symbolic books of the Continental Protestants, for the Thirty-Nine Articles are merely Articles of Peace, an ambiguous statement designed to prevent the clergy from being too definite on doubtful points. The Elizabethan Settlement was never expected to be permanent: but the theological school of Hooker and Andrewes discovered that it had a broader and more historical basis than the elaborate systems of Rome and Geneva.

(5) The struggle with Calvinism, which lasted from 1560 to 1660. Under Elizabeth those of the clergy who had adopted Calvinism formed “classes” on the Presbyterian model, which were gradually to take the place of the dioceses and to supersede the authority of the bishops. This attempt was suppressed, and the school of Hooker and Andrewes drew attention to the inadequacy of Calvinism. Charles I. and Archbishop Laud tried to suppress it altogether, not only in England but in Scotland. This led to civil war: Charles and Laud suffered martyrdom, and Anglicanism, which had been first adopted as a political compromise, was found to be a religion for which men were ready to die. Nevertheless, the alliance between the Calvinists and the Sectarians triumphed for the moment. Cromwell crushed the Scottish Presbyterian army at Dunbar (1650), and under the Commonwealth the use of the Prayer Book was forbidden, the clergy were driven from their parishes and in some cases sold as slaves in the West Indies, and Independent ministers occupied the pulpits.

(6) When Charles II. came back in 1660 the Church came back too. The survivors of the expelled clergy were restored to their parishes: the Presbyterian and Independent ministers who had been given livings during the Commonwealth were turned out, unless they were willing to accept ordination from the bishops. Those who could not conscientiously do this formed their own organizations. Hitherto the whole English nation, except the diminishing “recusants” who refused to accept the Reformation at all (the Pope had excommunicated Elizabeth in 1570 and forbidden the faithful to attend the parish churches), and the small groups of Independents, had belonged to the Church of England. But now the Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Baptists formed sects outside the Church. The Friends or “Quakers,” a society of mystics founded by George Fox, who had no Sacraments or ministry, but relied only on the Inner Light, came into existence about this time, in reaction against the Bibliolatry of the Puritans.

The Anglican ideal, which has been very imperfectly put into practice, was to carry on the work, not of Luther, nor of Loyola, but of Erasmus. The use of the Prayer Book requires a high level of religious and intellectual education. The Church of England appeals to sound learning: the faithful are expected to have the knowledge and the intelligence to judge for themselves. Superstition, which seems to be inevitable in all popular religions, is firmly discouraged. The characteristic Anglican form of piety is restrained, severe, and rational, such as is found in Law’s “Serious Call” and Keble’s “Christian Year.” There is room for a great variety in temperament, opinion and practice, but the English Church has never learned how to make use of enthusiasts. Only fundamental doctrines are required to be believed, and even these not rigorously. Two things are absolutely excluded: the authority of Rome and the acceptance as priests of men not ordained by a bishop. If the Church were to yield either of these points she would fall to pieces at once, because one would mean loss of Freedom, and the other loss of Continuity.

The two insular Churches of England and Ireland have grown in the last 150 years into the world-wide Anglican Communion, with its 300 bishoprics and its thirteen self-governing national Churches. Wherever it goes it retains its peculiar character. Freedom and Continuity, the Prophet and the Priest, the open Bible and the Sacramental Life, are here, and here only, combined. In such a man as Henry Scott Holland we find the two elements completely fused.

The Anglican Communion is not committed to the infallibility of the Church, or of the Bible, or of the individual conscience: it believes that God the Holy Ghost speaks to us through all three, and that the testimony of each must be checked by the other two. To the Anglican the Reformation is not, as to the Protestant, a kind of new revelation from Heaven, nor, as to the Romanist, an outbreak of the powers of Hell. It is simply an attempt, not wholly right or wholly wrong, to remedy the crying evils of that age, which were quite different from those of our own day. We are not bound either to carry on the tradition of the Reformers, or to undo their work. We are free to deal with the problems of the twentieth century unfettered by the traditions of the sixteenth, but holding fast to those things which really are primitive and universal—the Bible and the Creed, Baptism and the Eucharist, Confirmation and the threefold Apostolic ministry.






THE Scottish Church just before the Reformation was perhaps more corrupt than any other in Northern Europe. In 1560 she was completely swept away, and the Scottish nation accepted Calvinism, under the guidance of John Knox. After thirty years of confusion the Presbyterian system of church government was established by Andrew Melville. In 1611 James VI., now also James I. of England, restored episcopacy in Scotland, and in 1618, Confirmation, kneeling at Communion, a few chief festivals, private Baptism, and private Communion of the sick (the Five Articles of Perth) were accepted by the General Assembly, but they were seldom observed in practice.

In consequence of Charles I.’s attempt to introduce a Prayer Book into Scotland, all this was undone: in 1638 Presbyterianism was set up again. In 1661 bishops were restored for the second time. The extreme Calvinists, known as Covenanters, refused to recognize the Government in Church or State, and the persecution which followed has left an indelible mark on Scottish national traditions.

The struggle between episcopacy and Presbyterianism in Scotland was not entirely doctrinal. The General Assembly of the Church was the only representative body which the Scots possessed. The Stewart Kings tried to suppress it, and to govern the Church through bishops appointed by themselves. Therefore episcopacy is inseparably associated in the Scottish Presbyterian mind with autocratic government.

In 1689 the bishops were expelled from their sees and Presbyterianism was set up again. The whole north of Scotland adhered to the bishops, but as it was impossible to minister to the scattered parishes (for the Episcopal Church was for political reasons subjected to severe penal laws), the faithful remnant was reduced to a small minority of the nation. The great majority of the Scots became, as they remain, Presbyterians. The various divisions among them were all concerned with the relations of Church and State: we cannot here relate their complicated history, especially as the chief divisions have now been brought to an end.

Presbyterianism is the representative in the English-speaking world of the system of Calvin. In Scotland it possesses a national establishment, and hence is sharply distinguished from the sectarian form which the Continental Reformation takes in other English-speaking countries. Presbyterianism has a great historic tradition and a strong Church life, and has produced theologians and missionaries to whom Christendom owes much. But the Presbyterian doctrine of the Church is quite different from the Catholic: the Presbyterian communion service, solemn and highly valued as it is, takes quite a different place in the Christian life from the Catholic Eucharist: and the historic prejudice of the Presbyterians against bishops raises a practical bar to reunion which appears to be for the present insuperable.






THE English Church has never had a fair opportunity to put her system into practice on a national scale. The struggle with Calvinism was followed almost at once by the dynastic dispute. This led to the schism of the Nonjurors, which deprived the Church of some of her best bishops and priests, and to the suppression of the Provincial Synods by the Government (1717) for political reasons. Then came the Industrial Revolution, when vast masses of the population slipped away from the influence of the Church altogether.

The great controversies of the seventeenth century had left Western Christendom, and England in particular, weary of strife. The leaders of the Church were seeking to prove that Christianity was before all things “reasonable:” they feared “enthusiasm” as the most serious danger. The higher clergy were worldly and self-indulgent, the lower were dreaming of the restoration of the exiled Stewarts.

In the midst of this age there appeared suddenly the amazing figure of John Wesley. The son of the Vicar of Epworth in Lincolnshire, and Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford, he became one of the greatest mission preachers that Christendom has known. For over fifty years he preached on the average ten sermons a week in all parts of the British Isles. His message was the simple gospel or the necessity of personal acceptance of Jesus Christ as Saviour. No such message to the poor had appeared since the Reformation: thousands accepted it and joined the “Methodist Society,” of which Wesley was the head. He was not only a mission preacher but a great organizer. His converts were associated in groups called “classes.” They were obliged by the law to register the buildings in which they met as chapels: and though Wesley was all his life a priest of the Church of England, and forbade his followers to separate from it, his teaching was so different from that of the Church in his time that as soon as he was dead the Methodists, who owed little to the Church and everything to their own society, disregarded his commands, and began to separate themselves from the Church by holding their own communion services. Wesley in his old age became convinced that a priest might ordain in cases of necessity; the difficulty caused by the refusal of the Government to allow bishops to be consecrated for America appeared to him to be such a case, and he laid hands on Coke and Asbury, appointing them superintendents or bishops for America. The comment of his brother and fellow-worker, Charles Wesley, the great hymn-writer, was:


“How easily are bishops made

By man or woman’s whim:

Wesley his hands on Coke hath laid,

But who laid hands on him?”


The Methodist Society founded by John Wesley now numbers in its various branches thirty millions.

The American Methodists have “bishops” derived from Coke and Asbury: but these bishops are not a separate order, they have no sees, and no special importance is attached to episcopacy.

Methodism is a by-product or the Continental Reformation, but it has little formal theology. It is popular, undenominational, and emotional: it has not entirely lost its original character of a mission: its services consist largely of hymn-singing and revivalist preaching. Had it remained within the Church it might have supplied that popular appeal which Anglicanism lacks: standing alone, it fails through the absence of the sacramental life, and of the moral and intellectual discipline of the Catholic and the Presbyterian systems.

Wesley had two special doctrines, which he appears to have derived from the “Pietist” Movement in Lutheran Germany, through the Moravians, a small sect with an episcopal form of government and a history going back to the more radical followers of John Huss. These two doctrines were the necessity of instantaneous conversion and the possibility of being absolutely perfect in this life: they would probably have made the schism inevitable even if the Church had been more ready to receive Wesley’s message.

There was another section of the Methodists which held Calvinist doctrine, and which was headed by George Whitefield. These for the most part remained within the Church. The Evangelical Revival in the Anglican Communion was one result of the work of Wesley and Whitefield, and it attracted the remainder of the old Puritan party which had not seceded in 1660. The Evangelical party still shows traces of Calvinism in its dislike of ornaments and ceremonies, its objection to the use of the Apocrypha (peculiar to Calvin among the Reformers), and its insistence on a low doctrine of the Eucharist. But it has dropped Calvin’s teaching about Predestination, and it never accepted the strongest point in Calvinism, the independence of the Church from the State. The defenders of the spiritual independence of the Church have come, in the Anglican Communion, from the opposite quarter—from the Catholic Revival, to which we must now turn.

The Oxford Movement began with John Keble’s University Sermon on National Apostasy, July 14, 1833. It stood, above all, for the doctrine that the Church is a supernatural society, deriving her authority, not from the State, but from the Apostles through the succession of bishops. But it had nothing to do with the Counter-Reformation. Neither the Oxford Movement nor the Anglo-Catholic Movement which has sprung out of it has ever been a movement towards Rome, although it has always been accused of Romanism (as Wesley was in his day).

Anglo-Catholics (with the exception of small eccentric groups) have not made the decrees of Trent the basis of their teaching, but the belief of the Undivided Church, based on the Bible and interpreted by the Prayer Book. The great difference between the High Churchmen of the seventeenth century and modern Anglo-Catholics is that the former regarded Church and State as a single community, and were disposed to rely on the authority of the State for support: whereas the latter repudiate altogether the authority of the State in faith and morals, and many would welcome a complete separation between Church and State.

The revival of a high doctrine of the Church by the Anglo-Catholics has been one of the chief causes of the modern reunion movements. To the Anglo-Catholic, who believes, with the Roman and the Eastern Communions, that membership of the visible Catholic Church is necessary to salvation, and also, as neither Romanists nor Eastern Orthodox do, that the Catholic Church on earth is divided by schism, the present condition of Christendom is intolerable. On the other hand, his high doctrine of the Church makes him a determined opponent of union with any denomination whose doctrine of the Church is different from his own. This has caused grave misunderstanding: for very few Protestants really understand the traditional doctrine of the Church, especially in its Anglican form.

This difficult point will be clearer if we enquire why there has never been an important schism in the English Church in spite of its acute internal differences. The Nonjurors were expelled against their will, and the sect founded by Bishop Cummins is negligible: Bishop Colenso was excommunicated for heresy about the Atonement: the Methodists, as we have seen, were not really Anglican at all.

In 1843 the Presbyterian Kirk of Scotland was split in two. The State would not sanction the abolition of certain rights of patronage, which the General Assembly held to be contrary to the fundamental rights of the Kirk. A large body of ministers and people seceded, and set up a rival Assembly in Edinburgh and a rival church in every parish. But the Free Kirk, as it was called, did not cease to be in communion with the Kirk of Scotland. They did not differ in any matter of doctrine or discipline: and the division has now been successfully healed.

It has been asked why the Anglo-Catholics have never even considered doing as the Free Kirk did. The answer is that their doctrine of the Church is entirely different. No section of the Anglican Communion, least of all the Anglo-Catholics, could secede from the Church as long as they continued to regard it as the true Church. For Anglicans, as for other Catholics, there is and can be but one Church, to secede from which is to confess oneself a schismatic. The position in Presbyterian Scotland after 1843 is quite inconceivable on Catholic principles. When the Old Catholics seceded from Rome, they did so because they held that the Roman Church, by making the Vatican decrees dogmas of faith, had ceased to be Catholic. If one section of the English Church were to secede it could only do so because, through some particular action taken by the Church, it had come to the conclusion that the rest of the Church had fallen into heresy, and therefore ceased to be a true Church, and that itself alone was now the only true Church of England. If it be asked, “Why did you secede from Rome, since you admit that the Roman Church is still a true Church?” Anglicans reply, “We never did: we were, unjustly and for no sufficient cause, excommunicated.”

I have laboured this point because it is fundamental, and because it is so easily missed. The controversy about the ministry is merely a side issue: the real point of difference between “episcopalian” and “non-episcopalian” Christians is the nature of the Church. The test question is, “Which is the true Church?” To the Roman, Eastern, and Anglican Communions this question is vital, though they answer it in different ways. The Roman Catholic says, “That which is communion with Rome.” The Eastern Orthodox says, “That which holds the Faith of the Seven Councils, without addition or diminution.” The Anglican says, “That which has right faith, valid orders, and jurisdiction” (see Article XIX). But to the Presbyterian, the Methodist, or the Congregationalist, the question seems to be meaningless: any society of Christians producing holy lives is a true Church.

To illustrate the difference: a distinguished Methodist recently said, “The Church consists, not of baptized communicants, but of pardoned sinners.” But who is a pardoned sinner? He who truly repents. And who, except God, knows who has truly repented? A Church consisting of pardoned sinners is an invisible church. But the Anglican Communion, with all other ancient Churches, believes in a visible Church, membership of which is attained by external rites, not by spiritual conditions known only to God, and to which continuity with the Apostolic Church, united with God by the New Covenant, is absolutely necessary.






AT the end of the eighteenth century a movement called the “Enlightenment” (Aufklarung) began in Germany, the tendency of which was to deny that God is knowable by reason, or that He has revealed Himself to men. The followers of the “Idealist” philosophy, of which Kant was the chief representative, held that theology is the study, not of what God has taught us about Himself, but of what men have thought about God.

In the nineteenth century, the application of historical and literary criticism to the books of the Bible, and Charles Darwin’s discovery of the animal ancestry of man, made it impossible any longer to regard the early chapters of Genesis as historical. Then came the study of Comparative Religion, which showed that some Hebrew and Christian institutions have their parallels in other religions.

The whole of Christendom has been profoundly affected by the modern way of looking at things. Church formularies drawn up before the rise of modern criticism sometimes have little to do with the present beliefs of members of the Church which is supposed to hold them.

Modern criticism has made those who accept its results unable any longer to believe in the infallibility of the Bible on all subjects. Catholic Christendom has not been so seriously affected, because it has not been so deeply committed to the theory of verbal inspiration.

The central mysteries of the Faith, enshrined in the Creed, are less open to attack than the whole Bible when treated as if all equally inspired.

There are three attitudes towards modern criticism: the Fundamentalist, the Modernist, and the Orthodox Liberal.

(1) The Fundamentalist believes that all the books of the Bible are verbally inspired, and rejects all critical results incompatible with this dogma. A large proportion of the faithful laity in all communions is Fundamentalist, but the number is decreasing rapidly. American Protestantism is aggressively Fundamentalist (except where it is Modernist). The Roman Communion is on the whole Fundamentalist: Rome has never formally accepted verbal inspiration, but in practice the critical attitude is frowned upon, and many of its generally accepted results have been condemned. The Eastern Churches have not yet really faced the problem.

(2) The Modernist rejects all creeds as relics of an outworn philosophy. He claims that Christians should not be bound to accept the truth of any particular historical facts, even the Virgin Birth and Resurrection of Christ. Some Modernists have adopted a philosophical position which denies the essential difference between the Creator and His creatures, and is therefore incompatible with the doctrine of God common to Christians, Jews, and Moslems. Many Protestant theologians and a number of the educated laity are Modernists. There is a small but influential Modernist party in the Anglican Communion.

(3) The Orthodox Liberal accepts critical methods, but holds that so far from making belief in the traditional faith impossible, they have greatly strengthened it. He recognizes that we cannot now use the Bible in the way our forefathers did, but believes that modern criticism has made it far more interesting and valuable, and has destroyed nothing really important: and that since the Church exists partly to proclaim a particular set of historical facts, those who deny them should not be admitted to the benefits of membership. The Anglican Communion is the special home of this school of thought, and the great majority of the Anglican clergy belongs to it. The Anglo-Catholic Movement has been more and more associated with it since the publication of “Lux Mundi” in 1889. Many of the best Roman Catholic and Orthodox scholars are also Liberal, but the Roman censorship creates special difficulties for those under its jurisdiction.

These differences cut across all denominational divisions. But historical and biblical criticism and belief in the animal ancestry of man have raised a new barrier between Rome and the rest of Christendom. Rome forbids her priests to mention publicly many things which, though not contrary to any dogma, might shock the faithful. There are men who are otherwise attracted by Rome, but who are quite unable to accept her official teaching that, for instance, Moses wrote Deuteronomy, and that St. Matthew’s Gospel is not dependent on St. Mark’s. The Roman services are full of statements which rest, not merely on a pre-critical use of the Bible, but on mere legend and pious fancy, such as the last two Mysteries of the Rosary. The difference between the heirs of Erasmus and those of Ignatius Loyola becomes more profound with each succeeding generation.






As M. Wilfred Monod, the distinguished French Protestant, said at Lausanne, “Christendom today exhibits four main types of Christianity: Greek, Roman, Anglican, Protestant.”

For Greek we should read “Eastern,” so as to include all the Eastern Churches, Orthodox and Separated.

The principal difference is between those who believe that present (as distinct from final) salvation can only be obtained through membership in the visible Catholic Church, secured by Baptism and maintained by Communion: and those who believe that salvation is only a personal relation between the individual and Christ, and that the Church, visible or invisible, is simply the sum of all the faithful, to which neither continuity nor the sacramental life is of fundamental importance. To the former the question “Which is the true Church?” is vital: to the latter it is meaningless. The former include the Eastern, Roman, Old Catholic, and (according to its formularies) Anglican Communions: the latter include the Protestant Communions and many individual Anglicans.

We may speak of them as the Traditional and the Reformed or Evangelical version of Christianity. The chief point at issue within Traditional Christendom is the question of the Divine right of the Bishop of Rome to the obedience of the whole Church and of every individual Christian. The Roman Communion believes the acceptance of this claim (and others which depend on it) to be necessary to salvation. The Eastern, Old Catholic, and Anglican Communions believe it to be false, uncatholic, and contrary both to Scripture and to the facts of history.

The Orthodox Eastern and the Anglican Communions are divided less by dogmatic than by psychological differences. The former emphasize right belief: the latter intellectual freedom. The difference might be expressed by two verses of Scripture. The Orthodox motto is, “Contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints”: the Anglican, “Prove all things, hold fast to that which is good.” These are, after all, only different aspects of religion, each of which needs the other. The relations between the two Communions are excellent, and are becoming closer year by year.

The Old Catholic Communion is a small body which originated in a dispute between the Pope and the Chapter of Utrecht in the eighteenth century, and became enlarged by the revolt against the Vatican Council of 1870. The only difference between it and the Anglican Communion is that it is free from the ambiguity characteristic of Anglicanism, and that it has no Calvinistic element in its tradition. Old Catholics and Anglicans recognize each other’s orders, and intercommunion is permitted in certain cases.

The differences between the various Protestant denominations are differences of outlook, Church government, and nationality. They are willing to communicate with one another, which shows that they do not consider their differences fundamental. Union does not bear the same meaning for them as it does for those who hold the Traditional doctrine of the Church.

The much disputed question of Episcopacy and Apostolic Succession is really a dispute as to the nature of the Church and the place to be given to the Sacraments. Those who believe that membership of the one historic Church is necessary to salvation require the Apostolic ministry as the guarantee of continuity and of the validity of the Sacraments. Those for whom Church membership is secondary can see no need for any succession. The issue is confused by the inability of the Anglican Communion, owing to its internal differences, to put forward any reason for its rigid adherence, in practice, to the necessity of the Apostolic ministry.

The three stages of any possible reunion are:

(1) Mutual love, leading to desire for union.

(2) Settlement of doctrinal differences.

(3) Practical adjustments.

No union can be brought about without a strong and continued spiritual impulse, which requires a high level of saintliness, and without a long period of growing mutual understanding before the beginning of formal negotiations.

[1] “Patriarch” is the highest rank among bishops, above a metropolitan; most metropolitans in the West have the title of archbishop. But the formal division of the Roman Empire into patriarchates did not take place till 451. It was never applied to countries outside the Empire. The claim of the British churches to be extra-patriarchal is quite sound.

[2] The title of Pope (“Father”) originally applied to any leading bishop, became restricted to the Bishops of Rome and Alexandria: the latter still retains it in his official style. It is also used as a title for parish priests in Russia.

[3] Baptists refuse baptism to any but adults, and administer it only by immersion.