Orthodox and Catholic Use of Protestant Polemics

Adrian Fortescue was an English Roman Catholic priest and Eastern Christian scholar who was active during the turn to the 20th century (died 1923). As one may guess from when he lived and wrote, before the papacy of Pius XII and before Vatican II, he was highly critical of both Anglicans and Orthodox (what annoyed him most was Anglican-Orthodox ecumenism; he wrote articles in Roman Catholic magazines sharply attacking it). Yet he did write a bit about the Orthodox, not all of it polemical, and some of it very well informed and profitable even today. His great work seems to be The Orthodox Eastern Church. Writing about the 1895 Patriarchal encyclical written by the Patriarch of Constantinople Anthimos VII against the Roman Catholic Church, Fortescue remarks:

He even affects to doubt that St. Peter was the first Bishop of Rome – a fact that the Orthodox liturgy continually asserts, and that none of the old Churches have ever doubted. This is a little piece of rationalism from Tübingen, of the kind that Orthodox bishops generally strongly resent in their clergy; but anything will do here if only it is anti-papal (pp. 436-437).

This is a very good point. Anthimos does seem to be trying to use (liberal) Protestant anti-Catholic rhetoric here. What is funny, though, is that about a hundred pages back, Fortescue does the same thing:

The Greeks often bitterly complain of the mighty progress of the Catholic Propaganda; but they must themselves own that the best schools and hospitals in Turkey belong to the Catholic Orders. . . . It is no good scolding and complaining. If the monks, like their Western brethren, would work for the education and social improvement of their people, then the monasteries would have a real reason for their existence. . . . The more cultured people, who are full of Western ideas, look on monks with scorn, even with hatred, and the unlimited reverence that simple folk once had for the ‘good old man’ is visibly disappearing.

This certainly appears to be a use of Protestant anti-monastic polemic against the Orthodox. The Anglican John Hartley, in an earlier work, Researches in Greece and the Levant uses an extremely similar argument, although in a way which would have irritated Fortescue:

The Greeks are also superior to the adherents of the Romish Communion in regard to the marriage of the clergy. To contract marriage is indeed forbidden after orders have been received; and bishops, and the prelates of superior rank, are debarred from it; but ordination may be conferred on married persons: hence a very large number of the clergy are married. As Monasticism had its origin in the East, and received high reputation from the encomiums bestowed upon it by many of the Fathers, and from their own example, it is not to be wondered at, that, by many of the superstitious class, it is still considered as a superior degree of sanctity, and that by some it is still styled “the angelic life.” But, amongst well-informed persons, a strong feeling of hostility to monasticism is gaining ground. The corruptions of religion are constantly charged on the monks, and a strong wish prevails to put a stop to the whole system by Legislative enactments.—”We have resources susfficient for the education of all the Youth in Greece,” was common language in Aegina.—”Appropriate the revenues of the monasteries to this purpose, and nothing else is requisite.” (pp. 76-77).


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