St. Raphael: Epistle to Pope Leo XIII

On the Churches of the East


This document is St. Raphael of Brooklyn's response to the papal encyclical promulgated by Pope Leo XIII in 1894 "Orientalium Dignitas" concerning eastern churches. Originally published in a journal titled "Faith and Reason" in 1898, it was translated into Russian & English and published in the March 1899 edition of "Russian Orthodox American Messenger". This latter document was ran through OCR software and edited to correct for conversion errors but is not guaranteed to be without fault.

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Anyone not familiar with the subtle methods of the Roman Curia may possibly imagine, on reading this epistle (editor: Orientalium Dignitas), that it guarantees, entirely and forever, the inviolability of the sacred rites and patriarchal rights of the various Christian communities united to Rome, against any attempts at Latinization or attacks on the part of papal legates and the numerous varieties of Latin priests and monks. But is it so in reality? We will not bring out here the long series of historical facts which prove to evidence the flimsiness and fallaciousness of papal declarations and promises even more solemn than these, in the matter of preserving intact the local usages, rites, and even dogmas peculiar to churches which have become "united" to the Roman Church. To become convinced of the fallaciousness of such promises, it is enough to read with attention this epistle of Pope Leo XIII, in which he, on one hand, forbids his legates and monks to interfere in future with the church affairs of the Eastern Christian communities subject to the papal See, and, on the other hand, permits and authorizes those same Latin legates and monks to conduct the education of native children and youths... Anyone who knows anything at all about the methods of instruction followed in Latin schools will easily see that this prohibition to monks and priests to interfere in local church affairs amounts to nothing compared to the authority given to the same monks to conduct the schools. Who does not know that all young people who have received their education in Latin schools, come out of them more Latin than the real born Latins? What is the sense, then, of this papal epistle, when it gives into the hands of Latin priests and monks the most important thing of all - the bringing up of the young generation? True, the epistle imposes upon these Latin priests and monks the obligation to see that those who study in their schools be brought up in the spirit of the rites and usages accepted in their communities. But who shall stand security that the Latin priests and monks - more especially the Jesuits - will forevermore and invariably observe this ordinance of the aged Pope Leo XIII? Why, every community, at the time of its first joining the Roman Church, receives from the popes solemn declaration and written promises, to the effect that its rites and usages, and even dogmas, shall be left absolutely unchanged: and yet impartial history shows that not one of the communities which have been "united" to Rome has been able to preserve its rites and usages, or even dogmas, from Latin influence. The professor of the St. Petersburg Theological Academy, A. P. Lopukhin, is perfectly right when he says, in his reply to the Pope's encyclic, that history in this respect (i.e. as regards the solemn assurances of the Pope of Rome concerning the preservation of their rites and customs by the communities which are united to the Roman Church) presents evidence too tangible to allow of any importance what ever being attached to any such assurances. It is enough to call to mind the violences which signalized the most unfortunate "Union" in Western Russia, when the most unscrupulous, indeed one might say impudent, Latinization strove to destroy in the midst of the Uniate communities the very traces of their Greek ritual, and even their Russian nationality. Such Latinization is going on to this day in Western Russia. And as though in mockery of the protestations of the encyclic, the Jesuits in Galicia violently force an entrance into Russian monasteries, those historical strongholds of the Galician people's religious and national consciousness, and turn them into hearths of the Latino-Polish propaganda. All this, we say, is being done before our eyes—truly, sufficient security for the sincerity of the assurances given by the "Vicar of Almighty God on earth"...

But, apart from the promises concerning the preservation of local rites and usages, the papal epistle holds out the promise to safeguard the rights of the Uniate Patriarchs and Bishops against any attacks or encroachments on the part of Latino-Roman legates and nuncii. But, if Pope Leo XIII has really determined to restore and confirm the rights of the Uniate Patriarchs and Bishops which have been trampled underfoot by his representatives in the East, if he really considers those Patriarchs and Bishops as being such in very truth - de facto - where is the sense of his appointing any Latin Bishops and even Patriarchs at all for the Syrian communities united with the Roman Church, when each of them already has its own native Patriarch or Bishop? If all that these Latin Patriarchs and Bishops are appointed to look after the spiritual needs of various foreign Catholics - German, French, Italian, etc. - residing in Syria, and not to manage the church affairs of the Uniate communities and restrict the rights and dignity of their native Patriarchs and Bishops, then those foreign Catholics, if they do not wish to be subject to the native Uniate clergy in church matters (although such refusal is contrary to the true spirit of the Union), are free to enjoy the spiritual ministrations of the Jesuits, Franciscans, Dominicans, Capuchins, or any other of the Latin monks, of whom there are ten times as many in Syria as of foreign Catholic residents. And if the monastic rules of those numerous orders do not allow their members to perform any ministrations for laymen, would it not be more just for the Pope to send over for this purpose mere Latin priests, instead of Latin Patriarchs and Bishops, if only out of respect for the dignity of the native Patriarchs and Bishops, and for the Apostolical ordinances and rulings of the Ecumenical Councils, which strictly forbid appointing two bishops to the same diocese? Where, for instance, is the sense of appointing a Latin Patriarch for Jerusalem, where the native Catholics already have a Patriarch of their own? More than that, what meaning has the alleged union between various Eastern churches in Syria and the Roman Church, when each of them has its own Patriarch, and each of these Uniate Patriarchs calls himself Patriarch of Antioch? The question now is, which of them is to be considered the true successor of the Apostle Peter in the Apostolic See of Antioch? Is it the Maronite Patriarch, or the Melchite, or the Syrian, or the Chaldean, or tho Armenian or, lastly, the Latin Patriarch? What is still more anomalous in the position of these Uniate Patriarchs is this, that some among them, as for instance the Melchite Patriarch, consider themselves Patriarchs not only of Antioch, but of Jerusalem and Alexandria, in direct opposition to the apostolic rulings, which do not admit of one bishop ocupying two Sees - how much less three! And still more curious is the fact that this same patriarch, enthroned in three apostolic Sees, is subject, with all his three Sees, to the See of Rome!

It follows from all this that the chief object of all such papal encyclics and epistles is not the union of churches or the preservation of rites and dogmas, but simply the subjection and enslavement of all Christian peoples to the Pope of Rome, And in the eyes of the Popes, neither rites nor dogmas are of such importance as the recognition of the dogma of the Pope's supremacy. Let any community, though it be downright heretical one, recognize that, and it will be considered a member of the Roman Catholic Church, That this is really so, is sufficiently shown by the contradictory and even heretical doctrines found among many Christian communities in Syria, which, notwithstanding, are "united" with the Roman Church. Thus for instance, some of them (the Jacobites, Armenians, Copts), hold the false doctrine of Jesus Christ's single nature; others recognize two natures in Him; some confess two wills in Christ, others (the Maronites), only one; some hold to the Nestorian doctrine on Christ (the Chaldeans); others repudiate it; some again accept the addition Filioque ("and from the Son") in the Creed, while others reject it; some (the Armenians), admit the use of unleavened bread in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, while others condemn it; some approve the marriage of priests; others forbid it; others again turn their churches facing the East - or the West, - or indiscriminately, North or South, etc. etc... And in spite of all these contradictions in rite and dogma, all these communities are accounted members of the Church of Rome, because they acknowledge the supremacy of the Pope over them! What is this, if not a patent proof that the Popes of Rome think nothing either of church rites or of the fundamental Christian dogmas, in comparison with the dogma of their own supremacy, invented by themselves?

Then let the Popes write and publish as many encyclics and epistles as they please - they never will be able by such means to bring the Eastern Orthodox Church into subjection to their authority. The Orthodox Church was, is, and will be for all time the One Catholic, Holy, Apostolic Church, against which not only the Pope's scheming, but not the gates of hell itself, shall prevail.