Lastly, there can be no doubt—and while so truth-loving a man as Origen confirms the fact for us, heathen writers like Lucian also attest it— that the hope of an eternal life, the full confidence in Christ, a readiness to make sacrifices, and a purity of morals, were still, in spite of all frailties— here, too, not lacking—the real characteristics of this society. Origen can challenge his heathen opponents to compare any community whatever with the Christian community, and to say where the greater moral excellence lies. This religion had, no doubt, already developed a husk and integument, to penetrate through to it and grasp the kernel had become more difficult; it had also lost much of its original life. But the gifts and the tasks which the Gospel offered still remained in force, and the fabric which the Church had erected around them also served many a man as the means by which he attained to the thing itself.
We now pass to the consideration of the Christian religion in Greek Catholicism.
I must invite you to descend several centuries with me and to look at the Greek Church as it is to-day, and as it has been preserved, essentially unaltered, for more than a thousand years. Between the third and the nineteenth century the history of the Church of the East nowhere presents any deep gulf. Hence we may take up our position in the present. Here, in turn, we ask the three following questions:—
What did this Greek Catholicism achieve? What are its characteristics?
What modifications did the Gospel here undergo and how did it hold its own?
What did this Greek Catholicism achieve? Two facts may be cited on this point: firstly, in the great domain which it embraces, the countries of the eastern part of the Mediterranean and northwards to the Arctic Ocean, it made an end of heathenism and polytheism. The decisive victory was accomplished from the third to the sixth century, and so effectually accomplished that the gods of Greece really perished—perished unwept and unmourned. Not in any great battle did they die, but from sheer exhaustion, and without offering any resistance worth mention. I may just point out that before dying they transferred a considerable portion of their power to the Church’s saints. But what is more important, with the death of the gods, Neoplatonism, the last great product of Greek philosophy, was also vanquished. The religious philosophy of the Church proved the stronger. The victory over Hellenism is an achievement of the Eastern Church on which it still subsists. Secondly, this Church managed to effect such a fusion with the individual nations which it drew into its bosom that religion and church became to them national palladia, nay, palladia pure and simple. Go amongst Greeks, Russians, Armenians, etc., and you will everywhere find that religion and nationality are inseparable, and the one element exists only in and alongside of the other. Men of these nationalities will, if need be, suffer themselves be cut in pieces for their religion. This is no mere consequence of the pressure exercised by the hostile power of Mohammedanism; the Russians are not subject to this pressure. Nor is it only — shall I say— in the Moscow press that we can see what a firm and intimate connexion exists between Church and nation in these peoples, in spite of “sects” which are not wanting here either; to convince ourselves of it we must read—to take an instance at random—Tolstoy’s Village Tales. They bring before the reader a really touching picture of the deep influence of the Church, with its message of the Eternal, of self-sacrifice, of sympathy and fraternity, on the national mind. That the clergy stand low in the social scale, and frequently encounter contempt, must not delude us into supposing that as the representatives of the Church they do not occupy an incomparably high station. In Eastern Europe the monastic ideal is deeply rooted in the national soul.