ANGLICANS AND ORTHODOX: Unity and Subversion (1559-1725)
by Judith Pinnington
(Gracewing, Herefordshire, 2003, 260 pages, $39.95. Available from AD Books)
This work is a mixture of social history and biography focused on the Anglican interest in eastern Orthodoxy and written by a member of the Russian Orthodox parish of St Ephraim the Syrian, Cambridge, whose academic speciality is the history of the Anglican tradition. The work will mostly be of interest to historians of British religious thought from the 16-18th centuries.
The work is not advancing any grand thesis but is rather a meticulous attention-to-detail account of the lives of Anglican scholars who in the years following the reign of Elizabeth I developed an interest in Orthodoxy. These so-called "Caroline Divines" rediscovered the Greek Fathers and this discovery had a marked impact on their way of looking at issues in Protestant theology. When the outcome of the Civil War led to the collapse of the Church of England in any way they could recognise it, and the social ascendency of Puritans and Whigs, they became increasingly interested in the Eastern Church.
Archbishop Michael Ramsey makes the point that whereas the Edwardian and Elizabethan divines had been interested in the Fathers chiefly as a means of proving what had or had not been the primitive doctrine and practice, the Caroline Divines went further in using the thought and piety of the Fathers within the structure of their own theological exposition. The degree to which they faithfully represented the thought of the Fathers is not a theme treated in this work, though it was of course a major issue for John Henry Newman in the 19th century.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, captures well the tone of the book in this paragraph from his foreword:
"[W]e meet here a succession of well-meaning but rather puzzled Westerners, trying to make sense of Levantine churches which have every claim to be the kind of primitive non-papal paradise they could approve of, yet which look remarkably different from what a Western reformed historian would have imaged. There is a good deal of entertainment to be had from these pages in the misfire of perception and interpretation so typical of these encounters."
Chapter four is particularly entertaining. It deals principally with John Covel, described by the author as an irritant and maverick, who was for a time the English ambassador at Constantinople and later a chaplain in Cambridge. He claimed to know everyone significant in Greece and amassed many documents about Orthodoxy but only managed to write one book when he was close to death. Pinnington suggests that his great love was not so much Greek thought and religion but botany, and indeed that he accepted the chaplaincy at Cambridge as a way of being gainfully employed while having the time to pursue his botanical interests.
Pinnington's overall assessment is that "the problem for the Caroline Anglicans was that they encountered Orthodoxy at a particular 'broken' stage of its pilgrimage - fighting, as it were, to escape from the brokenness of their own 'establishment' - they made demands on their Orthodox brethren which they were unable to grasp". By the 17th century, the Greek Church had fallen into the mode of phyletism, an attitude which associated the Orthodox faith almost entirely with Greek language and culture.
At the end of the work the author offers some contemporary "orthodox and ecumenical reflections". She suggests that what is needed for the restoration of organic unity is not schemes and devices, even less endless theological reports, but an "ecumenism of litany" - "for the peace of the whole world, for the good estate of the holy churches of God and for the union of all". She cites the judgment of Dietrich Bonhoeffer that God waits for sincere prayers and responsible actions. In the Cost of Discipleship Bonhoeffer says: "there are no direct relationships, not even between soul and soul. Christ stands between us, and we can only get into touch with our neighbours through him".
Dr Tracey Rowland is the Dean of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family (Melbourne).