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CHURCH OF ENGLAND
ART. I.-Medieval Greece and Trebizond. The History
of Greece, from its Conquest by the Crusaders to its Conquest by the Turks, and of the Empire of Trebizond. By GEORGE FINLAY, H.M.R.S.L. Edinburgh and London: Blackwood.
THE time is come when the Eastern and Western Empires and the Eastern and Western Churches give tokens of amalgamation, which we regard rather as a foreboding of evil than as a good sign, since it seems to portend in its civil aspect a mustering of the hosts of Armageddon or of the great day of God Almighty; and shows in its Church aspect a degree of ignorance or indifference concerning doctrines of the most vital importance, which leads to a suspicion that all doctrine must be very loosely held by such persons, and would speedily give way under the trials and temptations which the Church will have to pass through in these latter days.
It has been remarked by all thoughtful men, who have been regarding the East merely as politicians, that the Turkish empire is gradually wasting away on all sides ; and that the only question is, to which of the great powers Constantinople shall ultimately fall a prey. They see that the power of the Sultan is become insufficient to maintain him in his place, were it not backed and upheld by the great States of Europe in their desire to maintain the balance of power; and who feel a very natural jealousy lest the possession of so important a position as that of New Rome, con
stand the onpire is the East by all that
necting Europe with Asia, and the Euxine with the Mediterranean seas, should give too great a preponderance to the fortunate possessor, and make that power the master of the other States of Europe. And Mr. Macfarlane has pointed out internal causes of decay in Turkey itself, eating out its strength like a dry-rot, so as to render it utterly unable to resist any violent shock.
And those who have studied history in the light of prophecy have found in these unmistakeable signs of decay, which are apparent to all men, a very remarkable fulfilment of many predictions applicable to the Eastern empire, both as to the time and as to the manner in which the power of Turkey is crumbling away. An extract from Conder's “ Harmony of History with Prophecy” will show at once what we mean, both as to the weakness of Turkey, and of the support it receives from foreign powers, without which it would in all probability have already fallen :-
• It surely must be regarded as a signal fulfilment of the prophecy that the Turkish power, upheld by European policy, should thus be exhausted and dried up by internal causes of decay; nor is it less rcmarkable that every Mohammedan power should exhibit a similar exhaustion and decline. Persia presents, in this respect, a counterpart to Turkey. In India, Affghanistan, Bokhara, Barbary, and Morocco, the same process has been going on. The Moors, many years ago, were known to have long entertained forebodings of the year 1844 as the 1260th year of the Hegira. Whatever may have been the ground of this superstitious impression, it is a singular coincidence that, in this year, at the requisition of the European powers, the law of the Koran, which rendered it a capital crime to embrace the Christian faith, was formally abrogated by the Porte. The language of the Earl of Aberdeen, in his dispatch to the British Ambassador at the Porte, will show the importance attached to this concession-Her Majesty's Government require the Porte to abandon, once for all, so revolting a principle. They have no wish to humble the Porte by imposing upon it an unreasonable obligation ; but, as a Christian Government, the protection of those who profess a common belief with themselves from persecution and oppression, on that account alone, by their Mohammedan rulers, is a paramount duty with them, and one from which they cannot recede. Your excellency will, therefore, press upon the Turkish Government that, if the Porte have any regard for the friendship of England—if it has any hope that, in the hour of peril and adversity, that protection, which has more than once saved it from destruction, will be extended to it again-it must renounce, absolutely and without equivocation, the barbarous practice which has called forth the remonstrance now addressed to it. The concession was not obtained without long negociation ; but at length, on the 21st of March, 1844, au official declaration of the Sublime Porte, relinquishing the practice of executions for apostacy, was issued ; and at an audience on the following day the Sultan declared to Sir Stratford Canning-Henceforward, neither shall Christianity be insulted in my dominions, nor shall Christians be in any way persecuted for their religion’” (Conder, 438).
Whensoever the Turkish empire shall actually fall, the possession of Constantinople will be the bone of contention among the great powers of Europe, since the hand which holds the point of connection between the Eastern and Western Roman dominions will be in a fair way of grasping the sceptre of both, and becoming Cæsar, indeed.
And touching the Eastern Church, which has been for so many centuries separated from the Western in many points of ritual and discipline, and also on the great doctrinal question of the procession of the Holy Ghost, we have seen strange symptoms of a desire, on the part of some who call themselves High Churchmen, but who are commonly called Tractarians, to amalgamate with the Greek Church. The same phenomenon appeared among the Jacobites or Nonjurors more than a century ago, and it can be compared to nothing better than straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel; since, for the sake of retaining some fopperies of dress, and some dogmas of tradition which have only dubious patristic authority and have no scriptural warrant, they profess a willingness to merge or leave in abeyance a doctrine second only in importance to the doctrines concerning the Person of our Lord-even if we may call it only secondary, since it also pertains to a Person in the blessed Trinity, all of whom are the one God, of glory equal, of majesty co-eternal.
The rupture, however, between the Greek and Roman Churches did not begin on this point of doctrine: it began in a contention for supremacy between Old and New Rome. Both parties found it convenient to keep their ambition, which was the real cause, in the background; and to put forward the more respectable pretence of a difference in doctrine as the cause of separation between the Churches of the East and the West. For this difference of doctrine, unquestionably, subsisted long before the rupture began; and it might, perhaps, have not been heard of, and certainly would not have taken its present decided form of opposition, if Rome had been less domineering and Constantinople had been more obsequious. Both were endeavouring to push their opponent to the very utmost length of divergence in doctrine, to obtain thereby a better pretext for resisting each others' claim of being regarded as head of the Churches.