Has anyone asked the following question: why didn’t the so called Reformation happen in the East? Why didn’t it happen in Russia, Serbia, Romania, Greece, Armenia and other Eastern Countries that call themselves Christian. This is something that I’ve thought about for a long time and I believe that I’ve found the answer.
In the year 1500, the West was all Catholic under the Church which was governed by the Pope of Rome. A few decades later, many nations abandoned the Catholic Church for various Protestant groups. In my previous posts I mentioned that this happened because of a rise in nationalism. Various groups wanted to have a local Church that they could relate to rather than have a Universal Church headquartered in a far away land. Monarchs and Dukes didn’t want their bishops to answer to the Roman Pope, but they wanted their own autonomy. National Churches won out in England, Scotland, Scandinavia, many Swiss cantons and most of the Germany principalities.
Let’s look out East. What do we see? We have three Eastern Churches and all of them claimed apostolic succession. These are the Orthodox Church, the Monophysites, and the Nestorian Church. The Nestorian Church ceased to be a force in the 13th Century as Tamerlane destroyed much of their holdings in Central Asia. They were reduced to Iran and Iraq at this point. In other words, they were a minority under Islam. Much of the Orthodox and Monophysite Churches were under Islam as well. When one is a minority religion there is more of a survival instinct and not a reforming instinct.
However, why didn’t the Orthodox Churches that weren’t under Islamic control have a reformation? Churches such as Russia, Romania and others. The answer is simple. They already had national Churches. The Orthodox Church doesn’t have one head like the Catholics in the Pope, but has a body of governing Patriarchs. It’s technically not one Church but a family of Churches. These Churches all have the same doctrine but they have multiple and equal administrative centers so there was no fear of alienation. If you lived far away from a certain Patriarch of Metropolitan, you lived close to another one. One who spoke your language, had your customs and that you could relate to. There was no need to start what was already in existence.
This actually makes a lot of sense. The reason that Protestantism is splintered into many factions and the Orthodox Churches are a family of Churches under one doctrine is that the Protestants adopted the doctrine of Sola Scriptura since they had no pre-existing Church to interpret the Scriptures for them. Orthodoxy didn’t have that problem since they didn’t have this doctrine.
Also, when I say that nationalism caused the reformation, I’m not saying that Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Tyndale and others didn’t care about Scripture and doctrine. They certainly did. However, one person preaching their own ideas didn’t get them anywhere without support from the local monarch. If he liked your movement and wanted a national Church, the state promoted you. If your movement wasn’t liked, then the state would crush you like it did in the medieval era.
The fact that politics has often had a hand in Church affairs is quite disturbing. I’m currently reading the biography of Pope Gregory VII, one of the greatest Popes who ever lived. During the 11th century, if a powerful monarch of Europe didn’t like the Pope, they didn’t promote a heretic to start a national Church, they just created an anti-Pope and promoted him against the true Pope. It never worked but it would wreak havoc and run interference across Europe. This is what Emperor Henry IV did against Pope Gregory VII. This also happened during the reign of Pope Nicholas II, and Pope Alexander II who were the predecessors of Gregory VII.
I will end this post with one quote from Scripture and one quote from a Pope.
St. Paul says in his Epistle to the Ephesians the following:
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.
One thing about the Reformation national Churches is that they weren’t of one faith. As I mentioned, this is where Sola Scritpura came in. As I previously mentioned, the Orthodox Church didn’t embrace this so they can properly claim one faith.
The last quote is a statement that was condemned in the Syllabus of Errors of Pope Pius IX:
National churches, withdrawn from the authority of the Roman pontiff and altogether separated, can be established.