On Crypto-Romanism

Orthodox Bishop being symbolically baptized by a Roman Catholic Bishop

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

[T]here was [a] far more important reason for the hardening of the Orthodox attitude around this time. The Orthodox authorities, while prepared to make use of the Latin missionaries, had at the outset little desire to become Roman Catholics. But the missionaries were gifted and persuasive advocates for the Papal cause: friendship with them inevitably produced converts to the Roman Catholic faith, and the Orthodox gradually came to realize with alarm how numerous and influential these converts were. Here, then, was another factor which caused an increase in hostility — the success of Latin penetration and propaganda.

Matters were made worse by the policy of concealment which the western clergy adopted. The missionaries, when they collaborated with the Orthodox, had naturally but one ultimate aim — the reconciliation of the Eastern Church to the see of Rome. but they realized that the best way to achieve their purpose was not to embark at once upon official negotiations, still less to undertake open and aggressive proselytism among Orthodox congregations, but rather to win the confidence of the Greeks, to infiltrate among them, and so work upon them from within. Converts, as we have seen, were told to continue outwardly as members of their previous Church, and to receive communion there as before. Thus, in the course of the seventeenth century there was built up a powerful crypto-Roman party within the outward boundaries of the Orthodox Church — ‘un noyau catholique’, as Father Charon terms it. The crypto-Romanists included a number of Greek bishops: the missionaries persuaded them to send professions of faith to Rome, but told them not to make their submission public, nor to cease from holding office as before in the Orthodox hierarchy. The missionaries naturally hoped that when this Papalist party had gained sufficient strength, the corporate union of a whole area, or even of an entire Patriarchate, could be proclaimed as fait accompli. The Greeks, when they woke up to what was going on, viewed the missionaries with suspicion rather than friendship. The westerners, so the Greeks thought at first, had come to bring them light; now it turned out that they had brought fire to burn the Greeks’ house about their ears.

This strategy of secret conversion had been used by the Jesuits with great success in the Ukraine during the decade preceding the Union of Brest-Litovsk (1595-6); and during the following century it looked for a time as if it might succeed in the Patriarchate of Constantinople as well. The Jesuits founded a house at Constantinople in 1609, and almost immediately they opened a school, which was attended by Greek children as well as Latin: naturally it served as a most valuable means for propagating ‘unionist’ ideas among young Orthodox. The Jesuits and the other Latin missionaries, aided by the French and Austrian Embassies, aimed to create an ‘alliance’ between the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Pope of Rome, and so to counteract the Protestant tendencies of the Patriarch of Alexandria, Cyril Lukaris — ‘the forerunner of antichrist, Cyril the Calvininst’, as one of his enemies called him (Cyril Kontaris to the Austrian Ambassador Rudolph Schmidt).

Several Patriarchs of Constantinople were won over to the Roman cause. Even before the establishment of the Jesuits, in 1608 Patriarch Neophytos II sent a formal profession of faith to Pope Paul V, signed in his own hand: needless to say, this act of submission was not made public. Timothy II, Patriarch from 1612 to 1620, was also very friendly towards the Roman Church: ‘bene de fide catholica sentit, nos amat’, as a Jesuit at Constantinople put it. In March 1615 Timothy wrote a letter to Pope Paul V, in which he declared that he acknowledged the Pope as his ‘head’, and was willing to obey him in all things; he did not, however, make a formal profession of faith.

During the reign of Cyril Lukaris at Constantinople, his opponents — as was only to be excepted — appealed to Rome for assistance, Gregory IV of Amasia, who for a short time replaced Lukaris as Patriarch (12 April to 18 June 1623), was on friendly terms with the Roman Catholics. Athanasius III Patellaros, who was Patriarch for forty days in 1634, after his deposition made a formal act of submission to Rome (21 October 1635): he occupied the Ecumenical Throne once more in 1652, but only for a few days. The chief opponent of Lukaris, Cyril II of Berrhoia (Cyril Kontaris), on 15 December 1638 sent a formal profession of faith to Rome, while actually in office as Patriarch. Shortly after this, he was deposed and sent into exile; while journeying to his destination he was strangled. Joannikios II, four times Patriarch in less than ten years (1646-56), was very cordial towards Rome, but he avoided committing himself to any formal act of submission.

A future Patriarch of Constantinople, Parthenios II, while Metropolitan of Chios, in 1640 wrote as follows to Pope Urban VIII: ‘…To your Beatitude I render all due obedience and submission, acknowledging you to be the true successor of the leader of the Apostles, and the chief shepherd of the Catholic Church throughout the whole world. With all piety and obedience I bow before your holy feet and kiss them, asking your blessing, for with full power you guide and tend the whole of Christ’s chosen flock. So I confess and so I believe; and I am zealous that my subjects also should be such as I am myself. Finding them eager, I guide them in the ways of piety; for there are not a few who think just as I do… (Hofman, ‘Der Metropolit von Chios, Parthenios’, in Ostkirchliche Studien, vol. i, pp. 297-300)

It seems likely that after his appointment to Constantinople, he continued to do all he could to ‘guide his subjects in the ways of piety’!

The diary of John Covel, chaplain to the English Embassy at Constantinople from 1670 to 1677, supplies interesting information about Roman activities at this date:

‘Feb. 7th came a young priest — he wrote down his name himself, D. Hilarione Bubuli — to me from Padre Jeremiah, to know if any letters were for Venice from my Ld., me, etc.; amongst other discourse he made a great discovery to me. He was a Basilian (a Greek), but in orders (by Rome), a Venetian, born and bred under the Greek Archbp. there. He was not informed well by Padre Jeremiah (who is Greek of another stamp), and, taking me for a Romanist, told me there were many other Metropolites now Romans in their hearts, and that some money wd. do anything amongst them; they question’d not but shortly to make Metropolites enough of their own way.’

There was a plan afoot, so Covel continues, whereby the Ambassador of France and the other Roman Catholic residents at Constantinople were to secure the removal of the present Patriarch: he was to be replaced by the Metropolitan of Paros, ‘a true man in his heart to them’. ‘The businesse’, Covel states, ‘is committed to the Italian Archbp. now at the new church (St. Francesco): he [Father Hilarione] told me the Jesuits and the Capuchins know of it’. As Covel put it in his dairy, ‘Though the Ch. of Rome boast their Emissaryes here (as, indeed, there are many, many), Jesuits, Dominicans, Franciscans, yet, believe me, they have other designes than converting of Turkes.’

The Latin missionaries secured illustrious converts at many other places besides Constantinople itself. Josaphat, Metropolitan of Lacedaemon in 1625, three Patriarchs of Ochrid between 1624 and 1658, Meletios, Metropolitan of Rhodes (1645-51), six Greek bishops in the Kyklades in 1662, the monastery of Saint John, Patmos, in 1681 and again in 1725, a convent of nuns on the island of Santorin in 1710, an abbot from the monastery of Iviron, Mount Athos, in 1726, the abbot of a monastery on Hydra in 1727, Kallinikos, Metropolitan of Aegina, with many of his clergy, 1727: so the cases of submission continue. Even the protestantizer Cyril Lukaris wrote to Paul V in 1608, in terms that which imply a recognition of Papal supremacy! (Griechische Patriarchen ind Romische Papste, Orientalia Christiana, vol. xv, No. 52, pp. 15, 44-46.) This list is by no means exhaustive: no doubt there were many other conversions, for which the documentary evidence has perished, or remains unpublished. It must be kept in mind, of course, that the motive in many cases was not so much religious conviction as the hope of material aid and temporal advantage; in each instance the good faith of the ‘convert’ needs to be carefully examined. But whatever the motives, conversions undoubtedly took place.

Yet at Constantinople and in most areas these conversions remained the acts of individuals. They did not lead, as the missionaries had hoped, to the corporate reunion of whole dioceses and Patriarchates in bloc. In one place only was the process of infiltration more successful: the Patriarchate of Antioch. During the seventeenth century a number of Patriarchs here, as at Constantinople, came under Roman Catholic influence. In 1631 Ignatius III made what amounted virtually to an act of submission to the Pope, although nothing formal was concluded. His successor, Euthymios II (Patriarch from May to December 1634), negotiated secretly with Rome. The next Patriarch, Euthymios III (reigned 1634-47), was on friendly terms with the Latin missionaries, and assured them that he acknowledged the supremacy of the Pope; but he refused to sign any act of submission, however secret, saying that he was surrounded by spies, and that if he signed, he would as a result undoubtedly be poisoned.

Macarius III (1647-72) was less timorous. In 1662 he sent a secret profession of faith to Rome; and at a dinner in the same year with the French Consul at Damascus, also attended by the Syrian and Armenian Patriarchs, he openly proposed a toast ‘to the health of our Holy Father the Pope: and I pray God that there may be but one flock and one shepherd, as once there was in the past. Two later Patriarchs, Athanasius III around 1687 and Cyril V around 1716, also sent secret submissions to Rome, but the good faith of Athanasius was somewhat in doubt, since in practice he showed himself a fierce and active opponent of Roman Catholicism.

Matters eventually came to a head in 1724, when an open division occurred between the Romanist party within the Patriarchate and those who wished to continue Orthodox. In this year Patriarch Athanasius III died. The clergy and leading laity of the pro-Roman group at Damascus assembled in great haste and elected Seraphim Tanas as successor. Seraphim, who took the title Cyril VI, had been educated at Rome, and his attachment to the Roman Catholic cause was well known. Meanwhile, when news arrived at Constantinople of the death of Athansius III, the Holy Synod promptly elected as Patriarch a young Greek monk aged twenty-eight, named Silvester. When the Synodof Constantinople learnt of the election of Tanas at Damascus, they refused to recognize it in any way. Thus from 1724 onwards, there were two rival Patriarchs claiming the Antiochene throne, the one owing allegiance to the Pope and the other recognized at Constantinople.

Silvester, who reigned from 1724 to 1766, did his utmost to bring the schism to an end, displaying a pastoral zeal not always found in Orthodox prelates of the Turkish period. Eustratios Argenti, in a letter of 1751, terms him ‘a second Athanasius’, ‘a truly apostolic man’; but he was unable to exercise any effective control over a great part of his nominal Patriarchate, which continued to recognize Cyril VI. The two rivals made life equally unpleasant for one another. In 1725 Cyril was forced to flee from Damascus to the Lebanon. But Silvester in his turn encountered such lively opposition from the Roman party (supported by the French Consul) that he too was obliged to withdraw: leaving Aleppo, he went first to Tripoli and then to Macedonia and Rumania. After seven years outside his Patriarchate, Silvester returned to Syria in 1723 and tried to establish himself at Damascus, but the Roman party caused him so much trouble that he retired to North Syria. So matters continued: with the help of Turkish authorities, Orthodox and Roman Catholics harassed and persecuted one another, until both sides were utterly exhausted.

The debacle at Antioch made the Orthodox realize once and for all the dangers to which they were exposed through infiltration and propaganda from western missionaries. A bishop in virtual exile from his own see, an ancient Patriarchate rent in two, and its very survival as part of the Orthodox Church threatened: such were the results which the Greeks saw as following from Latin penetration. Is it astonishing that they should no longer extend the same welcome to the Latin missionaries?

…Thus the Venetian occupation of the Peloponnese, the success of Latin missionary infiltration culminating in the schism at Antioch, and the increase of Orthodox counter-propaganda, together with other factors of lesser import, combined around the beginning of the eighteenth century to accentuate the separation between Rome and the Orthodox Church. In places, the older situation persisted: as late as 1749, for example, Patriarch Cyril V of Constantinople found it necessary to reprimand the Orthodox of Siphnos and Mykonos for sharing in worship and sacraments with the Latins, and for behaving in general as if there was no division between the Orthodox Church and Rome. But while the attitude displayed here by the people of Siphnos and Mykonos was very common in 1650, by 1750 it had become exceptional; and whereas in 1650 it was widely tolerated by the Orthodox hierarchy, a hundred years later the Patriarch sharply condemned it. After 1700 the sharing of churches and pulpits, together with all forms of communicatio in sacris, became less and less frequent, although they did not entirely cease (Indeed, in parts of the Near East a measure of communicatio in sacris has been continued right up to the present day). To an ever-increasing extent the Greeks came to regard the Latin missionaries no longer as fellow-workers whose collaboration they gladly accepted, but as enemies dedicated to overthrow of the Orthodox faith. (Eustratios Argenti: A Study of the Greek Church Under Turkish Rule, pp. 24-30, 32-33)