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The Myth of the "Calvinist Patriarch"

by Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna

Webmaster's Note: The Orthodox Christian Information Center asked Archbishop Chrysostomos, the Academic Director for the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies,  to review the comments made by a Protestant publication called Credenda Agenda in their articles "Confessio Fidei" and "The Reformation that Failed" (by Chris Schlect; see Vol. 6, No. 5). His Eminence graciously replied and made a number of comments about the issues at hand, excerpts from which are presented in a condensed and selected form below. This is the first of numerous forthcoming installments responding to the articles in Credenda Agenda.

Just as today one must see the Orthodox world in its greater historical context, so in Patriarch Kyrillos’ day, too, Orthodoxy existed in a world of political reality that must be carefully studied, in order to see what implications rise above his specific witness and faithfully address Orthodoxy at a general level. To this end, let me just say, as a general observation, that with the fall of Constantinople the Orthodox East fell under Latin domination and the Turkish Yoke. Its survival threatened, its spiritual and intellectual primacy relinquished to the West, Orthodoxy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries took on an historical character that cannot be applied universally to the Church’s experience and ethos, and especially, again, without careful examination and precision.

Too much scholarship today comes from secondary and from encyclopedic sources, offered up by inadequate scholars who ignore primary sources and who, in the field of Orthodox studies, fail to capture the thinking of the Fathers. For example, the political intrigue surrounding the reign of Patriarch Kyrillos is very complex. It involves theological and political issues dating back to the time of his mentor and (most probably) relative, Patriarch Meletis (Pegas) of Alexandria, and to Loukaris’ strong opposition to the Latin Church and the Unia, an opposition that brought him into conflict with certain circles (both in Alexandria and in Constantinople) which had primarily political reasons for their sympathy with Rome. To reduce these complicated factors to some supposed opposition within the Orthodox Church to Patriarch Kyrill’s so-called Protestantism is absurd. Such a faulty reduction also creates a myth about the Patriarch that is to a great extent a fabrication of Western scholarship and of those Orthodox captured by the West. It also ignores the standard historiographical assumptions of Orthodox Greek writers, who have a far more expansive knowledge of Orthodoxy in the age in question than their Western counterparts. In this vein, it is rather amazing that one of these articles in Credenda tries to make something of the fact that the Patriarch’s "Confessio fidei..." was published in Geneva. Could we imagine it being published in post-Byzantine Constantinople? Anyone with even an elementary knowledge of intellectual life of the Greeks at this time would readily understand why men of Greek letters published throughout the West, and especially in Italy and France. It is astonishingly naive for anyone to attach to the publication of Loukaris’ confession in Geneva any special significance at all. The notion that these particular writings were "composed" by Loukaris in Latin is another troubling statement. It needs careful scrutiny and actually says nothing to support the thesis that Loukaris had, by implication, a keen appreciation and knowledge of Western (Reformed) theology. It leads us, rather, in another direction, as we shall see.

While he knew Latin, it is clear from his many letters and writings, as well as from biographical data from contemporaries of his, that Patriarch Kyrillos could not have produced a polished text such as that of the original Latin "Confession." Indeed, many Greek scholars even dispute the claim that the Greek text, which appeared together with the Latin text four years later, was the work of Loukaris. Rather, it is argued by most Greek scholars that the text was essentially the work of Calvinist scholars with whom Cyril communicated on a regular basis and who condensed many of his letters and exchanges into a conveniently Calvinistic confession that ignored the Patriarch’s Orthodox understanding and grasp of reformed theology. For a brilliant textual analysis in support of these assumptions, see Professor Ioannis Karmiris, Orthodoxia kai Protestantismos (Athens, 1937). (Cf. Chrysostomos Papadopoulos, Kyrillos Loukaris [Athens, 1938].)

It is only by ignoring his many sober theological works and writings, wholly in concord with traditional Orthodox theological concepts, and his synodal confessions and justifications, that one can argue that Patriarch Kyrillos was a supporter of Calvinism. The whole idea of a "Protestant" Patriarch who was forced to betray his Protestant leanings is a bit of Western fancy that the Reformers used to slap at Rome (beset as it was by the "problem" of the Eastern Church only a few centuries after having, however fruitlessly, "united" with it, a "problem" which the Lutheran Reformers had also exploited at the Diet of Worms). This fanciful idea was also one that the Latins used in their struggles against Loukaris, on account of his many years of opposition to the Unia and the Jesuits in Eastern Europe, characterizing him as a betrayer of his own Faith. (Remember that the Latins had a deep hatred for this Patriarch. Through the machinations of the Jesuits and other anti-Orthodox agents in Constantinople, the Papists were finally able, through the Austrian Embassy, to bribe the Turks to condemn and kill Patriarch Kyrillos in 1638, and thus to silence him. His body was, indeed, unceremoniously thrown into the Bosporos.)

Let us also say that the Orthodox Church, which in Her mind constitutes the successor of the very Church established by Christ, has a theology and spiritual life quite foreign to those of the West, whether Latin or Reformed. Soteriology, the sacraments (or, more properly, the Mysteries), and Christian anthropology and cosmology, however misunderstood and misrepresented by the West (we think, here, of the gross stupidity of Western scholars who imagine our theological traditions to be neo-Platonic—an accusation which shows an ignorance both of Orthodoxy and of Neo-Platonism), are concepts that we discuss in a context and with nomenclature foreign to the Papists and Protestants. When addressing Roman Catholics, our Church has, however, spoken about seven sacraments and about various administrative structures in Western language (though, in fact, our Mysteries are without number and order always yields to prophecy in Orthodoxy); speaking with Protestants, we have spoken of the interaction of Faith and good works and of Divine Providence and Grace in ways that they understand (when, in fact, the first distinction is unknown to us and the apophatic and Hesychastic traditions of Orthodox theology approach the second issue in a way largely mystifying to Western theologians). Admittedly, less-gifted Orthodox thinkers today also seek to form a "systematic theology" in response to the West (notwithstanding the fact that it is in the realm of spiritual practice, not confessional theology, that any notion of the systematic properly applies in Orthodoxy). But all of this does not mean that we are speaking the language of the heterodox in our hearts, let alone that we share their theological precepts.

When we address Westerners on their own terms, we are reaching out to them in the limited language that they grasp. Setting aside the issue of the authenticity of his confession, when Loukaris reached out to the Protestants, then, whatever his motives and whatever his language, his writings, his witness, and his Orthodoxy were in no way compromised by these actions. Nor did he become that which he addressed. I leave it to others to judge the wisdom of his actions. But to characterize them in any way than that which I have is to argue, once more, against all that one can glean from studying his life and reading his writings as a whole. If the modernist Orthodox can make "Popes" of their Patriarchs and create a melange of Orthodoxy, Protestantism, and Papism that they pass off as "official" and "canonical" Orthodoxy, Protestants sectarians can make of Patriarch Cyril a Protestant. But these creations do not change the truth. Both in the case of modern Orthodoxy (which has created its own religion from the language of mission by which Orthodoxy has been preached in the West) and a phantom "Protestant" Patriarch, we are dealing with false creations of theological nomenclature that are separated from true experience.

Despite Western references to Patriarch Kyrillos’ wide contacts with the Reformers, he is in fact most famous in the Orthodox world for his anti-Papist stand against the Uniate menace and for his opposition to Jesuit missions in Eastern Europe. His contacts in Eastern Europe, where he studied, served, and traveled, were extensive. His opposition to Uniate Catholicism after the Brzeesc-Litewski Treaty of 1596 was so strong and widespread, that his so-called "Confession," whatever its true source, is a mere footnote to his struggle against Papism. It was THIS anti-Latin Loukaris who supported Protestant opposition to Papism, who perhaps allowed his views to be restated and published by his Calvinist contacts in Geneva, and who earned the enduring hatred of the Papacy, which has played an essential role—if one reads the intellectual history surrounding this issue—in perpetuating the idea that the "Confessio" was the direct work of Kyrillos and that he was a Protestant in his thinking. If one ignores almost all of his scholarship and accepts the "Confessio," and if one ignores almost all of his activities and accomplishments in Eastern Europe and in resisting Uniatism, then it might be argued that Loukaris was the author of an Orthodox "reform" that almost was. But this fantasy, so favored by Protestants and so boldly bequeathed to them by Latin polemicists, is much like modernist Orthodoxy in America. It has the press. It has attention. It can dismiss arguments against it as those of fringe elements and cultists. But just as a thorough study of those who hold forth as Orthodoxy’s "official" spokesmen today show these people to be something other than what they are, so with a careful study of the facts surrounding the "Confessio fidei" of Kyrillos Loukaris the myth of a "Protestant" Patriarch goes the way of Pope Joan.