Project Canterbury

Russia and the English Church
During the Last Fifty Years

Volume I.
Containing a Correspondence between Mr. William Palmer,
Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford
And M. Khomiakoff, in the years 1844-1854

Edited by W. J. Birkbeck, M.A., F.S.A.

Published for the Eastern Church Association.
London: Rivington, Percival & Co. 1895.

Chapter III

Mr. Palmer's book of poems and hymns--Its contents and objects--Letter dedicatory--The English Church and the sign of the Cross--Invocation of Saints--Prospects of the Reunion of Christendom--Duty of the Russian Church in the matter--Reply to Mr. Khomiakoff s strictures upon Rome--Union of the English Church more possible with the East than with Rome--The question of Filioque.

MR. PALMER'S reply took the form of a small volume, privately printed, entitled 'Short Poems and Hymns, the latter mostly Translations,' printed by T. Shrimpton at Oxford, 1845. [Not 1843, as is erroneously stated in the list of Mr. Palmer's works given at the end of his Visit to the Russian Church, edited by Cardinal Newman.] On the English title-page occurs the following quotation from the great Ectene of Eastern Liturgies:--

'For the peace that is from above,
For the welfare of the holy Churches of God,
And for the union of all,
Let us pray unto the Lord.'

Upon the outside paper cover a Russian title is printed in an amusing combination of English, Russian, and Greek capital letters. ['Poems of the deacon V. V. Palmer, Oxford.' The initials V. V. stand for 'Vassili Vassilievich,' or 'Basil, the son of Basil,' 'Basil' being always used in Russia as the nearest equivalent for 'William' to be found in the Calendar of the Eastern Church.]

This shows that Russian type was at this time not so accessible at Oxford as it has since become. The volume commences with five poems by Mr. Palmer himself, the first of which is entitled 'Anticipations, on hearing of the events of the three so-called Glorious Days at Paris, in July 1830,' while the last is his translation of Mr. Khomiakoff's poem as already given in the first chapter. A collection of hymns follow, which are mostly translations from the Latin made by Mr. Palmer himself or others. It also contains some well-known English hymns, including Bishop Ken's for the Morning and Evening. Mr. Palmer's first object was to show how much nearer Anglicanism was to Eastern Christianity than the ordinary Protestantism of Germany, with which at that time the English Church was usually identified by uninstructed people in Russia. Although it cannot be denied that Mr. Palmer's collection was in considerable advance of the hymnals in ordinary use at that time, they would not now be thought so; indeed, they contain no expression for which a parallel may not be found in Hymns Ancient and Modern, and many other popular collections at the present time. But the main object of this book was to give expression to Mr. Palmer's longing for the Reunion of Christendom. This is apparent from cover to cover. That he realised that the task was not an easy one is evident from the heading which precedes the metrical paraphrase of the psalm Qui regis Israel with which the volume concludes. Besides the passage from the Liturgy already quoted, this heading contains the following sentences: 'Ask those things that be great, and the lesser shall be added unto you'; 'The things which are impossible with men are possible with God; for with God nothing is impossible'; and, in Slavonic, (God, wheresoever He willeth it, oyercometh the order of nature). But the chief interest in this little volume undoubtedly lies in the 'Letter Dedicatory' to Mr. Khomiakoff with which it commences, which is, in fact, his reply to Mr. Khomiakoff's first letter, which we now reprint.


MY DEAR SIR,--While I thank you for your letter of the 10th of December last, and for the poems of M. Yazikoff which accompanied it, you must allow me to offer you a small return in kind in the following pages, and at the same time to add a few reflections of my own on ecclesiastical matters, partly suggested by what you have been pleased to write to me.

1. You say that the sympathy of an Anglican with the feelings which inspired those verses of yours, which I translated, and which you will find again printed below at p. 6 of these present sheets, 'was in one respect a pleasure greater than you could have anticipated, as the sign of the Cross and the belief of a communion of prayers between living and dead are generally rejected by the over-cautious spirit of the Reformation. You are, methinks,' you continue, 'very right in approving of them. Those who believe that the Holy Cross has been indeed the instrument of our salvation cannot but consider it as the natural symbol of Christian love; and if they reject a most natural and holy sign for fear of idolatry, they seem to be almost as inconsistent as a man who should condemn himself to voluntary dumbness for fear of idle words. In the like manner, I think it reasonable to believe that no bond of Christian love can be rent asunder by death in the spiritual world, whose only law is love. The Episcopal Church of England seems in our own times to have admitted this principle.'

Upon this passage I need not say anything for myself, as the contents of the following pages will sufficiently show how cordially I agree both with your belief and your feelings; but I wish to draw your attention to a point of some interest and importance as regards the character of the Anglican or British Church, of which I am a member. It is unhappily but too true, and too notorious to all the world, that Anglicans have practically laid aside that salutary use of the sign of the Cross by which Christians have ever been distinguished from Jews and heathens; also that they have now no Invocations of the Blessed Virgin or of the Saints in the public Offices of their Church; while in their private opinions they commonly reject all such things as tending to separate us from Christ, in Whom alone, and not apart from Whom, they ought properly to be viewed and considered. However, you may not, perhaps, be aware, and I am sure you will be pleased to learn, that the Anglican Church in herself is not nearly so corrupt on either of these two points as she is in the prejudices of her members, and so is quite capable of a very great improvement, whenever it may please God to turn our hearts from our own deep spiritual and intellectual idolatries to Himself. She actually requires the use of the sign of the Cross in Baptism, which, you will agree with me, is the root and germ of all other subsequent use of it, whether in the worship of the Church or in daily life; and in one of her canons she defends at length its frequent use on all occasions against the objections of the Puritans or Calvinists, and signifies her own sympathy with the Primitive Church in regarding those who revile this most holy sign as the enemies of the Cross itself and of Christ crucified.

On the other point, of addresses to spirits and souls departed, I will only remark here, that even those Anglican Bishops who are least inclined to favour the spiritual movement called Puseyism do not fail, nevertheless, to acknowledge that their Church has never in any way condemned apostrophes and poetical addresses to Saints and Angels; for in truth it would be most absurd to retain the Psalms and Hymns of the Old Testament, in which holy David and others speak spiritually both to Angels and to the souls of the righteous, and to their own souls too, and to all things, absent or present, animate or inanimate, and remind God of His departed servants, in order to give efficacy to their own prayers; it would, I say, be most absurd to retain all these addresses from the Church of the Old Testament, as we do still in the Offices of the Anglican Church, and yet refuse to the Church of the New Testament the like liberty of speaking spiritually and in Christ to all Angels and spirits, to all persons and things, in all such manners as may be natural and suitable under the new dispensation. But the truth is, the real objection of intelligent and well-disposed Anglicans is not against such poetical addresses as are to be found in your verses, or in the Hymns of your Church, or in those which I now send you, and which are mostly translations, but against prayers in prose seriously addressed to spirits or souls not present in the body, as a service of homage and devotion. This is a subject into which I will not now enter; nor indeed is it necessary, for if we Anglicans would only practically re-admit and appreciate that most beautiful and touching sacred poetry, which is common both to the Greek and Latin Churches, and even to the long-separated Nestorian and Eutychian communities, and which our own Anglican Church has never condemned, there would be no fear of any great difficulty remaining afterwards on this point in the way of peace.

You complain of some calumnious reports which originated, as you say, in the writings of an Oratorian, Theyner, and wore repeated by Jesuits, whom you charge, not unjustly, I fear, with a deep and implacable hatred against Russia and the Oriental Church. It is indeed true that almost everything relating to Russia comes to us doubly dyed in the religious and political gall of the Poles and of the German and French democrats. Still, setting politics aside, I must confess that I think both we in England and you in Russia will do well to say as little as possible about the faults of the Roman Catholics, at least till such time as we ourselves shall set them a better example, either by a general spirit of prayer and intercession for their improvement and reconciliation, or else, if we really think them external to the true Church, by an active zeal for their conversion.

In allusion to what I had written about the duty of praying for unity, you tell me you 'are convinced that there are very many in Russia who repeat those words in the Offices of their Church, to which I referred, "for the union of all," not only with their lips and breath, but from their inmost heart and soul.' You say of yourself that you 'were taught to join sincerely in that beautiful prayer of the Church; and that while very young, almost a child, your imagination was often delighted by the hope of seeing all the Christian world united under one banner of Truth; that later, however, this hope became less vivid, as the obstacles grew more and more visible. At last,' you conclude, 'I must confess it, what was a hope has dwindled into a desire relieved from despair by nothing but a faint glimmering of a possible success after many and many ages. The south of Europe in its dark ignorance is out of the question for a long while; Germany has in reality no religion at all but the idolatry of Science; France has no serious longings for truth, and but little sincerity; England, with its modest (?) science and its serious love of Religious Truth, might have offered some hope; but, permit the frank expression of my thoughts, England is held by the iron yoke of Traditionary Custom.'

In answer to this passage, I must say, that nothing can be more thankfully received by us, nothing can be more consolatory and refreshing, than to be assured that there are in the Eastern Church some hearts, at least, which beat for unity and peace, some, at least, that pray not vaguely and mechanically, but intelligently and fervently for the reunion of the West. Would to God that this were more distinctly known and felt among us here in England! Would to God that you in Russia knew and felt more distinctly how many thousands, both of clergy and laity, there are in England who day and night most earnestly implore God for the reconciliation of Christendom! Such mutual knowledge might do much to increase our zeal, and prevent that despondency which, as it is, you are obliged to confess has crept over many. Now, that there are difficulties in the way of a general reconciliation I well know; that these difficulties should become more and more visible and seem insuperable, as we advance in years and experience, is no wonder at all; but, still, my dear sir, you must allow me to say that even if there were no such counterbalance of encouraging circumstances as I think there is in our days, I should feel it a duty to entreat you never to give way as long as you live to that evil despair of which you speak. Even supposing that the thing desired seems impossible, still, 'What is impossible with men is possible with God'; 'With God nothing is impossible.' 'If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed,' says our Saviour, 'ye shall remove mountains'; and 'Whatsoever two of you shall agree to ask here upon earth, it shall be done for you in heaven.' 'Whatsoever two of you,' He says: how much more, then, if many of us agree now to ask together upon earth that which our Saviour Himself asked for us beforehand so earnestly on the night of His agony? The very thought of Christians ever despairing in such a cause should be an intolerable thorn to Christian souls.

This, I say, even on the supposition that all appears absolutely dead and stiff,--that to recall Christians in the divided Churches to the practice of earnest prayer for reunion is as hopeless, humanly speaking, as to attempt to raise the Dead,--and yet even the Dead might be raised by Faith. But in truth things are not so; there are several plain grounds for hope in the prospect before us; I will notice one or two on different sides. First, if you in Russia sincerely and heartily believe that the Eastern Catholic, or Orthodox, or Greek Church is really, as it has pretended to be since the Schism, the whole of the true Church, that it alone and exclusively is the depository of the True Faith, the Ark of Salvation, this of itself ought always and under all conceivable disadvantages to be a sufficient motive for the most unwearied energy, both in prayer and action, and for the most confident and unbounded hope of success in the work of evangelising the unbelieving world, and bringing back all heretics or schismatics, whether Romanists, Anglicans, Lutherans, or Calvinists, into the true Fold. On the other hand, if you do not feel quite sure of this theoretical position of the Eastern Church, or if your eyes and senses tell you, that, whatever she may say upon paper, she herself does not practically believe her own pretensions, then, I grant, you would have among yourselves some reason at first for perplexity and dejection. But, still, the very circumstances of the world and of the present age, circumstances which are daily bringing all men into closer communication, which are popularising all questions and all knowledge, and unchristianising and demoralising all Governments and all nations, especially the higher classes,--this gigantic development, I say, of general sensualism and infidelity, horrible though it be, and a plain sign of the last days, has still an element of hope in it for those whose hearts seek Christ and the Unity of His Church. 'Then lift up your heads,' He says Himself, 'for your redemption draweth nigh': and indeed this may be true, in some sense, even before the end, even in our own time. If steam-communication and railroads go on multiplying, if what is called civilisation and education, and with them sensualism in practice and liberalism in belief, go on spreading in all countries from the higher classes to the lower, then neither in England, nor in Rome, nor in Russia, can the well-disposed minority remain exactly where they now arc. They have been fixed and crystallised, perhaps, by influences partly political and partly religious for generations: but now all is broken up; and as for you, in Russia, either the Eastern Church must evolve from herself a new spirit, to stem the torrent of evil flowing in from the West, to convert and heal, not the 'heretical' and 'schismatical' Latins only without, but too often also her own people within,--or she must eventually submit to Rome,--or else, for these are the only three alternatives, she must come to think of a fair reconciliation, on whatever terms it may be effected. Thus the very development of evil in society all around us both suggests grounds of hope and will also afford some considerable facilities for the pressing and fusing together of the divided elements of good.

As regards England more particularly, there is at the present moment a very striking promise of future good. Nowhere, perhaps, is the development of evil more tremendous, both in a religious and in a social point of view; and yet nowhere is there more ground for hope. Only, we may fear lest, while all the world is beginning to be inquisitive about the Religious Movement in England called Puseyism, the Eastern Church should present to Englishmen nothing to engage towards herself any share of those sympathies, which are returning towards Rome. It matters comparatively little whether you seek our conversion, as of heretics or schismatics, or our reconciliation, as of brethren, who may perhaps be able to explain their seeming heresies, and show that they have never absolutely denied the Orthodox Faith. It matters little, I say, whether you take the one line or the other, either with Anglicans, or with Roman Catholics; only, pray, do one or the other; show something like Christian zeal and energy; either such as may become the whole, if you are the whole, of the true Church, or else such as may become a part, if indeed you are so much as a part: only do one or the other; and that 'proud disdain' of which you accuse us will be at an end,--we shall be drawn towards you by any sign of life, even though its first energy may seem to be directed against ourselves. Not only France, but North America also, and England, are quite open to all religions. Why does not then the sole true Orthodox Greek Church send at least one Missionary to England?--to Oxford? which now, all the world knows, is the centre of an important religious movement. Seek whichever you please, I repeat, it matters little,--either our conversion or our reconciliation: but do one or the other. Do not go on for ever folding your hands in a shocking self-complacency, outwardly showing not tolerance only, but something very like fraternal recognition to worse heretics than either Romanists or Anglicans, while you inwardly say in your heart, 'We alone are the true Church, and they are all heretics in the way of darkness and destruction,'--they, whom you do not so much as move a finger to bring into your exclusive Ark of salvation!

You say 'it seems to you very natural that serious people in England should think only of union with Rome: because a union cannot be understood by any Orthodox Christian,' (i.e. by Christians of the Greek or Eastern Church) 'otherwise than as the consequence of a complete harmony, or perfect unity of doctrine, (you do not speak, you say, of rites, excepting so far as they may be symbols of any dogma). The true Church has in itself nothing of a state, and can admit nothing like a conditional union. It is quite a different case,' you proceed, 'with the Church of Rome. That Church is a State. It admits easily the possibility of an alliance even with a deep discordance of doctrine. Great is the difference between the logical slavery of Ultramontanism and the illogical half-liberty of Gallicanism; and yet they both stand under the same banner and the same head. The union of Nicene Creed and Roman obedience in the Uniat Church of the Polish provinces was a thing most absurd; and yet that Church was admitted into Communion by Rome very naturally, because the Church of Rome is a state and has a right to act as a state. Union is possible with Rome, unity alone is possible with Orthodoxy.'

Upon this passage I must remark, that we in England, and the Pope too, and all Roman theologians entirely agree with you and with the Eastern Church in holding that the true Church can never admit any political or conditional union, nor anything short of absolute unity in doctrine; but the Roman Catholics would think your remarks upon their admission of the Uniats and upon their toleration of Gallicanism unjust. For the Uniats by communicating with the Pope and his Churches, in which the Creed is sung with the addition, and that not as equals with equals, but as inferiors with their superior, virtually submitted to the Latin doctrine, although the Pope tolerated the prejudice or weakness, as he would think it, in the merely external point of form. And as for Gallicanism, that again is viewed as an evil tendency in an inferior and particular Church, by no means recognised as of right, but distinctly condemned by the superior authority, and only tolerated de facto within certain limits, so long as not fully developed to its consequences; just as in every society, and in the Eastern Church herself no less than in the rest, many particular opinions contrary to the ruling spirit have ever been, and ever will be, tolerated, until they are so developed or rise to such practical importance, as to force the supreme authority either to add to its authoritative decrees, or to require submission to those which exist already with more minute and strict vigilance. Thus, in the Eastern Church, it was at one time free for a bishop, say for Epiphanius, to reject pictures; but when the controversy in later times was developed, such toleration ceased. And now in the Latin Church it is free to deny that the Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived without sin, while in the Eastern it is free to assert the contrary proposition, though the general sentiment in the Latin Church is in favour of the Immaculate Conception, and in the Eastern perhaps against it. [That is to say, in the year 1845. The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary was declared to be a dogma of the Roman Church on December 8, 1854. The Greeks have long kept upon December 9 the festival of the 'conception of St. Anne, the Mother of the Mother of God,' and the Canon for the day was written by St. Andrew of Crete (A.D. 660-732), but nothing which cither this Canon or any other part of the service for the day contains refers in any way to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Indeed the whole service is, as was the mediaeval office in the English service books for that day, merely a complement to the offices for the Nativity of B. V. M. on September 8.-- [W. J. B.]] But, to dwell no more on this, it is enough to say that you greatly mistake the present religious movement in England, if you think it has been characterised by any desire of a hollow, political, or conditional union, or that any such desire has prompted that inclination which now shows itself in many towards Rome. It began in a spirit of the most loyal Anglicanism evoked by the successful attacks of the Protestant sectaries and the Roman Catholics, aided by a Liberalist Government, upon the Established Church; it proceeded, up to a certain point, in a spirit of resolute hostility to Popery no less than to Sectarianism; and it was only as increased knowledge and continued efforts after self-improvement and certain unhappy signs of the dominancy of evil among ourselves, revealed more and more the inconceivable mass of traditionary prejudice and ignorance under which we are all buried, that some of the most earnest and influential minds were carried on to doubt even of the Spiritual existence of the Anglican Church, and to desire reconciliation with Rome not conditionally, but simply, and with feelings of the most abject self-abasement and self-renunciation.

For myself, I do not profess to go all lengths with this feeling in favour of simple and absolute submission to Rome; not, I hope, from any unwillingness to confess myself or my Church heretical or schismatical, if truth require it; but because as a matter of fact I have not come to the conviction either that the Anglican Church has lost the continuity of her spiritual life, or that simple and absolute submission to Rome is at present either possible or desirable for her as a body. So far as my studies have gone, I am persuaded that the declaration of unity, not the negotiation of any political or conditional union, with the Eastern Church is much more possible and much more desirable at present than with the Roman: though God forbid that I should ever think or speak of any such thing otherwise than as a step both for us and for the Easterns towards ultimate union with Rome. I repeat it, I think that unity (not union) with the Eastern Church is a thing most desirable and possible for the Anglican Church: not immediately indeed, nor even soon, but eventually: and that, by no organic or violent change on cither side, but by a natural and gradual development of what exists at present. I do not suppose that the Eastern Church ought cither now or at any future time to alter one jot of her doctrine in favour of any prejudices or reasonings of Anglican bishops, nor that she should admit the Anglican Church in her present state, or any of her members to her communion: for that would only be to introduce anarchy among her own members, and to declare it free to admit or reject upon private judgment the greater part, or at least a very great part, of what are now rightly held in her for holy and inviolable traditions. Still less do I suppose that the Anglican Church or her members could ever gain any good thing by becoming professors of Greeko-Russicism or Orientalism:--not that they should be withheld by feelings of pride or of disdain: but the thing is in itself impossible, that any man of understanding, whatever his opinion may be of the particular character of the particular Eastern Church, should ever come to be drawn to her as a convert upon the general ground of Catholicity. Without any such vain anticipations, I declare to you seriously, as one who has passed some years of his life in Ecclesiastical studies, that I am perfectly sure of the existence in the Anglican Church of an element of faith and doctrine not only like, but identical with, the faith and doctrine of the Eastern Church: so that though union with the present Anglican Church, which is made up of conflicting and undeveloped tendencies, partly orthodox and partly heretical, is out of the question, union with the orthodox element of the Anglican Church, whenever it shall have asserted its own exclusive ascendency, and expelled its heretical antagonist, will be perfectly natural and easy, and scarcely need any negotiation or conference, except for merely subordinate matters of discipline and ritual. To illustrate what I mean, I may mention the Armenian Church, which scorns, in like manner with the Anglican, to have had a double existence from a very remote period. Now, though union with the Armenians without explanation or change on their part would be union with heresy, still, if that Church were to do again what she has already done more than once, that is to say, explain her heretical language in an orthodox sense, and formally reject and disuse the language as well as the spirit of heresy for the future, Unity being thus declared and received, Union would be no longer objectionable.

But what I have here said needs some reservation; for there is certainly one point on which, though I have a very strong opinion of my own that your faith virtually agrees with ours, yet I cannot speak with such absolute certainty as 1 can on questions relating to my own personal Faith, or the Faith of that Church of which I am a member, and which so I contemplate from within, while I know the Eastern Church only by external evidence. And this brings me to the last part of your letter, in which you speak of the great difference between the Western and Eastern Churches, the question of the addition of the words 'Filioque' to the Creed. This difference you judge 'to be the greatest obstacle not only to union, but even to the thought of union.' I fully admit that this is indeed so; and, far from inviting a member of the Greek or Eastern Church to underrate this difficulty, I agree with him in thinking that it is right and natural, and even his duty, in the first instance, to think the Latins heretics (not schismatics merely) upon this point, just as it is right and natural for us on our side also, in the first instance, to think the Greeks schismatics at least, or, as I should rather say, heretics, upon the same. Still, this should not be done on cither side by an ignorant and bigoted tradition, which neither seeks to understand its own faith aright, nor to estimate rightly the error of the heretics, nor sighs with charity for their return to the truth, nor seeks diligently to remove all unnecessary obstacles, whether on the one side or the other; but rather, I contend, if this point of the 'Filioque' is really the wall of separation which causes our distinct Churches to regard each other as heretical, then surely the minds and prayers of all Christians on both sides, according to their ability, should be constantly turned upon this point, seeking not from any foreign conferences, or even from Synods, but from the Holy Ghost Himself, the Bond of union between Father and Son in the Holy Trinity, and the Giver of all truth, peace and concord upon earth, that this also may be revealed to us. We should be constantly trying to make progress in the knowledge and appreciation of our own faith on this point, constantly trying to discover what stumbling-block there may be in the way of our separated brethren, which prevents them from agreeing with us; while, on the other hand, we should be jealously fair and charitable in ascertaining that we do not misrepresent or calumniate their belief, and so wilfully make a difference where there need be none, or, where there is one, make the difference greater than it really is. Michael the Archangel, it is written, feared to bring a railing accusation, even against the Devil. How much more, then, should we be cautious how we speak bitterly even against heretics! And if even civil judges are careful to give all prisoners who are brought before them every possible allowance, and every fair advantage toward, their defence, how much more should the members of Christ be careful in judging two-thirds of the Christian world, and the first Bishop, as when you accuse the Latins, or one-third of the Christian world, and five patriarchs, as when they accuse you? But I will not attempt now to go deeply into this question. I do not desire, even if I were able, to suggest the thought that all difficulties can be overcome at once, even theoretically; but rather I would entreat you to sympathise yourself and bring others to sympathise with that moral and spiritual yearning for unity, which, with all our faults, we certainly have now in some degree in the Anglican Church, and which, if it showed itself among you also, would sooner or later obtain from God all that may be necessary to enable us to arrive at the desired end. For the present it will be enough if you on your side seek daily to realise more and more within yourselves that faith, which is indisputably the tradition of your Church, that the Holy SPIRIT is from all eternity truly and properly the SPIRIT of the Son, even as He is the SPIRIT of the Father; while it is heresy to say that the SON is the SON of the Spirit: and seeing that there are many among us in England who certainly desire unity, and you assure us that there are some at least in the Eastern Church who desire the same, let us strive henceforth with one another in our prayers, each asking, both for ourselves and for the others, that we may grow ever more and more in the truth which we have, and that whatever is lacking to us on either side may be supplied. And so I conclude my letter, begging you to believe me to be, my dear Sir, yours most sincerely and respectfully,

W. PALMER (Deacon),
Fellow of St. Mary Magdalene College, in the University of Oxford.
OXFORD, June 4, 1845.

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