Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Question from KG - Knowledge and views of the Eastern Orthodox Church

Did people in Henry VIII's reign know about the Eastern Orthodox Church? Did any of them write about it, were they considered heretics?


Foose said...

Technically, Eastern Christians were considered schismatics, not heretics. Heretics hold doctrinal opinions contrary to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church - on the sacraments, for example - while schismatics are "separate" because they recognize a different authority and have organized themselves into a different religious jurisdiction. The Roman Church and Orthodox Church were once one, and only divided in the 11th century (the "Great Schism").

Contemporary "people" who would have been aware of the Orthodox Church, and able to appreciate the difference between schismatic and heretic, were largely the clerics and intellectuals of Tudor England.

Tudor intellectuals embraced ancient Greek texts, but you don't hear of them studying Orthodox Church texts much - possibly because of lack of interest, possibly because the Roman Church frowned on it, possibly because Byzantine religious treatises tend to be highly abstruse. However, when Cromwell was amassing historical precedents and examples proving that England had always been an "empire" and preparing for the break from the Roman Church, he and Henry VIII evidently reviewed a lot of material about the role of the Byzantine emperor, who has supreme authority over the Orthodox Church. Clearly Henry was tempted, but Cromwell apparently talked him down from this absolutist position because he anticipated objections from Parliament.

Regarding "views" of the Eastern Orthodox church - perspectives may have been affected by the Western view of Greeks, traditionally regarded as treacherous and deceitful, thanks to the foundational role in the culture of Virgil's Aeneid and the prevailing mindset that Rome and England (through the legendary Brutus) were descended from the heroic Trojans. Even the fall of Constantinople, while regretted, was offset by a popular belief that saw the Turks as another branch of Trojan descendants who had now returned and reclaimed their rightful heritage.

KG said...

Thank you very much, Foose, that's wonderfully detailed.