The Catholic Church the True Church: Part 4
Fr. W. Devivier, SJ
Edited by Bishop S.G. Messmer, DD, DCL
Bishop of Green Bay, Wisc.
Imprimatur, 1903


REMARKS.----1st. We have not to concern ourselves here with the various heretical sects----Nestorians, Jacobites, or Eutychians----which arose in the East, and which existed long before the Greek schism. It is too evident that these religious factions, the origin and authors of which are known to us; which were formally condemned in Ecumenical Councils; which, far from possessing unity of faith and communion, are enemies one of another; which are limited to certain countries and have no power of expansion, cannot be the true Church of Christ.

2d. We must beware of confounding the Schismatic Greek Church with the United Greek Church, which, though it has a special liturgy of its own and differs from us in matters of discipline, forms part of the Catholic Church. It is important to remark here that the Church has at all times authorized customs proper to certain nations for the celebration of the Divine office and the administration of the Sacraments, when these customs were not contrary to the dogmas of faith. Thus the General Council of Florence, in the memorable act publishing the solemn reunion of the two Churches, decreed that the customs of each one should be preserved unchanged. And Benedict XIV, following the example of several of his predecessors, severely prohibited changing from one rite to the other, and he demonstrated in his encyclical that Rome had always endeavored to preserve the Oriental rite intact and had forbidden the mingling of customs and the changing from one rite to the other. This was also the line of conduct pursued by Pius IX, and such also has been that of Leo XIII. Therefore we see how vain is the fear entertained on this point by Greek schismatics, jealous of preserving their ancient customs.

HISTORICAL NOTICE.----Under the generic name of Schismatic Greek Church are included the various religious factions, issues of the great schism of the East begun in the ninth century by Photius, patriarch of Constantinople, but which was not really consummated until the eleventh century, thanks to the ambition of Michael Cerularius, one of his successors (1054). [1]

Before Constantine chose Byzantium for his new capital the episcopal see of that city was dependent upon the Metropolitan of Heraclea. But hardly had this city received from the great emperor the title of second Rome, eldest and cherished daughter of old Rome, than ambition awoke in the hearts of its bishops. Proud of the favor which they enjoyed at court, and abusing the Third Canon of the Council of Constantinople (381), which conferred upon the Bishop of Byzantium "the primacy of honor after the Bishop of Rome," they hastened to claim primacy of jurisdiction which had always belonged to the sovereign Pontiff, claiming that Constantinople ought to be as exalted and glorious in ecclesiastical affairs as in political. John the Faster (583) first assumed the title of ecumenical or universal patriarch, and preserved it despite the vigorous protestations and adjurations of Pelagius II and St. Gregory the Great.

Let us remark here with Pope St. Leo, who as early as the fifth century had to protest against the usurpation by Byzantine prelates of the rights of the Church of Rome, that "the presence of the emperor may constitute a royal residence, but it does not create an apostolic see; Divine things not being regulated after the manner of human affairs." [2] It is evident that if the contrary principle were ever admitted, if we were obliged whenever a political change occurred in a country to make corresponding changes in the order of the Church's hierarchy, we should be logically forced to say that Christ built His Church upon shifting sands, and not, as He affirms, upon a foundation against which even the gates of Hell cannot prevail. In fact a handful of soldiers or the caprice of a sovereign would suffice to raze the Divine edifice to the ground.

 Notwithstanding the increasing ambition of the bishops of Constantinople the Pope's confirmation of every new patriarch continued, before as well as after Photius, to be regarded as indispensable, or at least of great importance as establishing the orthodoxy of the newly elected bishop. Thus Photius himself, though he usurped the see of Constantinople, did not fail to send an embassy to Rome to ask Pope Nicholas I to confirm him. Photius's letter to the sovereign Pontiff contained a profession of orthodox faith for which he was commended by the head of the Church, but the confirmation was refused, and the usurper excommunicated in a Roman Council. It was only after a reconciliation, followed by a new excommunication uttered by Pope John VIII, that Photius removed his mask and threw off what he called the yoke of Rome. Then, to give his revolt a semblance of reason, he claimed that the popes, by tolerating the addition of the word Filioque to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed, had become heretical. It is worthy of remark, however, that this protest was never made until four hundred years after the addition of the word. Also that it was only later, after the separation, that the dispute concerning the opportuneness of the addition of the word Filioque3]

After Photius the two Churches remained united until the time of Michael Cerularius (1054-1059), who renewed the charges formulated by Photius against the Church of Rome, and completed the separation from the universal Church. Later a reconciliation was effected and solemnly proclaimed in the Council of Florence held in 1439 under the pontificate of Eugene IV; but the bad will of the clergy of Constantinople rendered this reconciliation, which would have been so salutary, almost null. [4]

The Greek schism has spread through Turkey, Greece, Austria, and Russia; but the importance of the Russian nation requires that we give a few special details of the introduction of schism into this country. [5]

It would be a great mistake to suppose that this vast country was won over to schism at the period of its conversion to Christianity. It was only at the end of the tenth century, when the Eastern and Western Churches were united in faith and government, that Russia received in a stable and definite manner the benefit of the Catholic faith. It owed this benefit to the Princess Olga, regent of the kingdom from 945 to 955. Her sincere conversion accelerated the movement toward Christianity; but the movement was not definite and complete until the reign of her grandson Vladimir the Great, or the Apostolic. The zealous prince brought Greek priests to teach the Russian people the principles of the Christian religion. This fact explains the great influence which the Byzantine clergy exercised from the beginning over this neophyte people----an influence which led later to the introduction of schism into the powerful nation.

As a matter of fact the present religion of Russia is not more Greek than Prussian or Anglican. Though at the period when it embraced the schism it had a metropolitan immediately dependent on the Patriarch of Constantinople, it has long since broken the bond which united it to this great centre of the schism of the East.

 In 1589 the Metropolitan of Moscow was raised to the patriarchal dignity; but Peter the Great suppressed the patriarchate, and from that time the Russian Church has been governed by the so-called Holy Synod, which acts in the name and by the authority of the emperor, and is usually presided over by an officer of the court. Thus, separated not only from Rome and Constantinople, but from any patriarch whatever, united most intimately with the autocratic government which rules all the Russias, it is simply the national religion of Russia, and should be called Muscovitism. [6]

It is not surprising that the Church of Russia should of late years assume the title of "Orthodox." Has there ever been a heretical or schismatic sect which did not claim to possess the true doctrine? Moreover, we readily acknowledge that the entire Greek Church, very different in this respect from Protestant sects, has always preserved, and still preserves unaltered, almost all the dogmas of faith as it held them before the separation, and as the Church of Rome teaches them. This is very evident from the institutions of the Greek Church, from the writings of the Fathers most revered by it, from the prayers, the canticles, daily chanted in the offices and ceremonies of its worship, from the religious practices and traditions of the people belonging to the Eastern rite. [7]


A. Unity of belief, to be possible, necessarily requires an authority, a tribunal capable of giving infallible decisions in matters of faith. Now the Greek Church is deprived of such a tribunal. Perhaps it will be said that the Patriarch of Constantinople constitutes such a tribunal. But, first of all, whence does the patriarch derive his authority? Christ gave but one head to His Church, and this head, as we shall presently show, is St. Peter, and after him his successors, the bishops of Rome. What could deprive the successor of St. Peter of his Divine authority, recognized for more than eight centuries, and cause it to be transferred to the Patriarch of Constantinople? Certainly not, as we have just proved, Constantine's choice of Byzantium as the capital of his new empire. The authority which the Church of Rome has received immediately from Christ resides so intrinsically in her that no Council can modify or alter it.

On the other hand, the third decree of the first Council of Constantinople (381) which raised the patriarch of this city above those of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, ranked him second to the Bishop of Rome. Now it is important to bear in mind that the Schismatic Greek Church acknowledges the authority of the first seven Councils. The Greek Schismatics have been logically forced to adopt a conciliary system. They admit in principle that in doubtful questions of faith the patriarchs united in council have the right to give doctrinal decisions. But no such assembly of patriarchs has ever been convened since Michael Cerularius. In doubtful points of dogma recourse is had to the first seven General Councils. But who would venture to affirm that all points of dogma and morals were fixed in these early Councils, or that they could possibly settle all controversies which may arise to the end of time? Moreover, there is an evident contradiction in the system of the Greeks: if, as they allege, the General Councils can decide doubtful questions in matters of faith, on what ground do they reject the authority of the Ecumenical Councils which were held after the first seven? Finally, this is decisive: if it is true that the first seven General Councils furnish the reply to all controverted questions, let them cite the Ecumenical Council which defines that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone.
B. As to unity of government, there is no trace of it in the Greek Church. The dependence of the patriarchs of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch upon the Church of Constantinople is merely nominal; that of the Russian Church is null. In one the patriarchs and bishops are subject to the head of the Turkish empire, in the other the Russian Synod is completely controlled by the czar. Such is the deplorable state of the Eastern Church. It would be difficult to recognize it as the one free Church which Christ founded upon Peter, the one fold under the care of the one and the same shepherd; or to believe that it was to these temporal rulers that Christ addressed the Divine command: "Feed My sheep, feed My lambs."

It is evident from the historic sketch that the only bond which unites the various factions forming the Schismatic Greek Church and entitles them to a generic name is their common refusal of obedience to the successors of St. Peter in the see of Rome: it is their common and persistent revolt against the religious authority established by Christ. Yet this authority of Rome was recognized by the Greeks themselves until the ninth century, or, to be more exact, until the middle of the eleventh, and again formally accepted by them at the Council of Florence in 1439.


Who would venture to say that the authors of the Greek schism have signalized themselves by sanctity, and that their revolt against the lawful and ancient authority of the see of Peter was founded upon virtuous motives, and not upon ambition or still less avowable passions?

 Undoubtedly among the million schismatics born and reared in good faith in the Greek Church, who have with Catholics the grace of the Sacraments, the benefits of the holy Sacrifice, and of devotion to the Blessed Virgin, there are many souls pleasing to God and worthy of His favors. But where, we ask, are the Saints produced by this Church since its separation; where the men of constant and heroic virtue worthy to be compared with the Saints of the Church of Rome? By what striking and incontestable miracles has God manifested the heroic virtue of persons held up in Russia to the veneration of the masses? We refrain from speaking of the moral degradation and the vices with which large numbers of the Russian clergy are charged. If such things are the result of human frailty in the ministers of the altar, we have a right to expect, at least on the part of the ecclesiastical authorities, earnest and constant efforts to raise the priesthood from this state of ignorance and abasement and render it less unworthy of the respect of the people.

Web Master Note: The author wrote long before the moral corruption in the modern clergy in the  Church. I do not know what he would say apropos this segment so as to not appear scoring one of his own arguments, but perhaps he would enumerate the Saints elevated to the honors of the altar in the Catholic Church, still yet today, despite the clergy who have fallen so low, the victim souls who suffer for sinners, including priests, Our Lady of Fatima, and Our Lady of several apparitions who did not appear to the schismatics, and so forth.


Since it ceased, by its revolt, to form part of the Catholic Church, it is not only confined to a few countries of the East and to Russia, but it is far from being everywhere the same. As to the Russian Church in particular, its very name clearly demonstrates that it is not the Church of Christ, for Our Saviour did not establish national Churches; He decreed, on the contrary, that there should be but one fold under one shepherd. If the Russians claim that their Church forms part of the Greek Church, it is contrary to all evidence, since no hierarchal tie unites the two Churches, the Patriarch of Constantinople being no less a stranger to the Russian Church than to the Bishop of Rome. We are aware that epistolary relations are now established between the Synod of St. Petersburg and the schismatic Greek patriarchs. But we fail to see in what way these recent relations essentially modify the present situation, and particularly in what way they change the situation which existed during the previous centuries. Nor is this schismatic Church, despite the immense territory of the empire which protects it, Catholic in numbers. According to a recent census the schismatic Slavs number little more than eighty million. Though closely united by the strongest national spirit, they are far from possessing religious unity. Notwithstanding the iron hand of the autocracy which endeavors to prevent the irruption of schisms, the country swarms with sects of every kind, known as Raskolniks, chief of which are the Starowierzi, or "Men of the Old Faith." These dissenters, who have broken with the Holy Synod, just as the Synod broke with the Patriarch of Constantinople and as the latter broke with Rome, may be counted by millions. How long would this religious body stand if the temporal power which holds it together were to withdraw its support and abandon it to its fate?

The spirit of proselytism established by the words of the Divine Master: "Go teach all nations," hardly exists in the Russian Church. True, every year the Procurator of the Synod submits to the emperor and publishes a report in which a special chapter is devoted to propagandism. There is no denying that the number of recruits increases in proportion as the empire increases its frontiers; but this is not due to the apostolic devotion of its missionaries, or to the blood of its martyrs. The first page of its martyrology is still unwritten; but to make amends it counts by millions the unhappy children of Catholic Poland, from whom it endeavors to wrest their faith by violent and persistent persecution.


Her doctrine varies, hence it is not that of the Apostles. During the first nine, or rather eleven, centuries of the Catholic Church, the East as well as the West believed in the primacy of the Pope of Rome and in the procession of the Holy Spirit as we ourselves believe and teach it. Numerous and most convincing proofs of this are to be found in Pitzipious' L' Eglise Orientale, and in the Bibliotheca græca orthodoxa of Assemani. The Greek Church now no longer admits these two dogmas, hence it has varied. It teaches that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone and that He rests in the Son; it makes the personal distinction between the Son and the Holy Spirit consist in the mode of receiving existence, one by generation, the other by procession, while denying at the same time that this difference comes from any relation in their origin. [8]

Nor have they preserved apostolicity of ministry, for their revolt against the authority to which they had been submissive for so many centuries broke the chain which united them to the Apostles by the legitimate transmission of pastoral jurisdiction.


In concluding our remarks upon the Greek schism we are happy to call our readers' attention to the movement indicating a return toward the centre of Catholic unity which begins to be manifested in the Greek Church. This is so marked that the historian Pogodine and several other Russian writers frankly acknowledge that if religious liberty were tolerated in Russia half the orthodox peasants would become Raskolniks, who are very powerful despite all the persecutions they have endured, and half the higher classes would embrace Catholicism. Quite recently a learned Russian, who is not a Catholic, M. Soloviev, son of the celebrated historian of the same name, addressed to an archpriest and through him to all the prelates of the separated Eastern Church, a series of nine questions which not only show the perplexities and doubts of a number of distinguished minds in regard to the alleged orthodoxy of the schismatic Church, but seem to indicate a serious step toward Catholic unity. It is curious also to read in L'idee rosse, a work of this same Soloviev, the very significant judgment pronounced upon his own Church by I. S. Aksakov, one of the heads of the Russian party and a declared enemy of the Church of Rome. After justifying his statements by a long series of incontestable facts he concludes his examination of the Russian Church thus: "The spirit of truth, the spirit of charity, the spirit of life, the spirit of liberty, these are what the Russian Church is deficient in" (Euvres complètes d'Ivan Aksakov, t. iv.).

Let us redouble our prayers that this Russian people, so remarkable for its vigor, its religious spirit, and its patriotism, may finally understand that its salvation, from a social as well as religious point of view, lies in the Catholic Church; and that it may be convinced that no sacrifice is asked of its national pride; that the popes desire less than ever to impose upon it the rites and disciplinary customs of the Latin Church. Only recently has Leo XIII, far from attempting to Latinize the Catholics of Roumania, constituted himself a sincere and earnest defender of the rites and customs of the ancient Churches of the East. If he earnestly desires to bring back his separated children to the faith, it is with no idea of injuring or weakening their national and religious traditions.

After all, the Russian Church has only to unite again the broken chain of its ancient traditions, to return to the doctrine taught it by the first Apostles of the Slavs, St. Cyril and St. Methodius, consecrated bishops by Pope Adrian II; to return to the doctrine of the most illustrious Doctors of the East, of Athanasius, of Gregory, of Chrysostom, of Theodorus the Studite, of Cyril, of Ignatius, all of whom remained faithfully united with the see of Rome, and received its teaching and decrees with filial submission. The Russian Church's claim to be the daughter of the schismatic Church of Constantinople rests on a false historical basis. Her true mother is the Catholic Church, formerly acknowledged by the patriarchs of Constantinople, as well as by the missionaries who brought her the faith.

We may fitly end this article by giving the consoling words of Leo XIII's admirable encyclical to the Princes and Peoples of the Universe, June 20, 1894: "We cannot give up the consoling hope that the time is not far distant when the Churches of the Orient, so illustrious by the faith of their ancestors and their ancient glories, will return to the doctrine upon which they parted from us." "You have no reason," he further tells them, "to fear, as a consequence of your return to Catholic unity, any curtailment of your rights, of the privileges of your patriarchs, or of the rites and customs of your respective Churches. For it has always been and will ever be the intention of the Holy See, as it has been her most constant tradition, to treat all nations with a noble spirit of condescension and to show the greatest consideration for their origin and customs."


degenerated into a dogmatic question relative to the procession of the Holy Spirit, the Clergy of Constantinople claiming that the Holy Spirit proceeded only from the Father. [ 1. See Church Histories. On the Greek schism see also Murphy, ch. 8; Tondini, The Pope of Rome; Preston (Ch. Unity); Spalding, J. M., Miscell. xxxi.; Parsons, Studies, II., ch. 4, 9; Allies, Per Crucem, I., p.46; C. W.iii.l,x.758; D.R. OldSer.xvii. 447, xxiii. 406, III. Ser. iv.22; A. C. Q. xxvii. 67ff'. On Nestorians seeD. R. Old Ser. xiv. 122. On the Copts, ib. xxviii. 314, New Ser. i. 33. On Armenians, D R. OldSer.vii.333; C. W.lx. 212. On Maronites, D. R. Old Ser.xviii. 43. On the Abyssinians, D. R. New Ser. i. 30. On the Portuguese Schism in India, D. R. Old Ser. xxvi. 179, Jan. '93, p. 27.
2. The principle invoked by St. Leo is so obvious that even theclergy of Constantinople still follow Catholic traditions on this point. We know, in fact, that the metropolitans of Chalcedon, Ephesus, Nicomedia, Heraclea, Cyzicus are members of the supreme council of the Patriarch of Constantinople and have enjoyed numerous and important privileges. The reason of this is that these cities now only unimportant towns or villages were formerly celebrated places or capitals of great provinces. If the vicissitudes of human politics involve corresponding changes in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, these metropolitans should long since have resigned their privileges to the bishops of Candia, Smyrna, Thessalonica, Rhodes, and of many other cities. Moreover, if the Greek schismatics were consistent, if the motive alleged by John the Faster had a reasonable foundation, the Bishop of Constantinople should long since have resigned the title of Universal Patriarch, for Byzantium has ceased for centuries to be the capital of the Byzantine empire. The ostentatious title is all the more ridiculous that at the present day this patriarch's jurisdiction does not include even a sixth of the Christians of the Eastern Church.
3. It would be easy to prove that this procession of the Holy Ghost, as the Catholic Church teaches it, has always been universally believed; it was, moreover, authentically recognized by the Greeks in the Ecumenical Council of Florence, in which the perfect agreement of the Greek and Latin Fathers on the subject of this dogma has been attested by both parties. In the Council held at Toledo in 448 the word Filioque itself was added only to cut short the heresy of the Sabellians and Priscillians, who used the Nicene Creed to deny that the Holy Spirit was consubstantial with the Father. Hunter, II., n. 415.
4. It is unnecessary to observe that this union of the two Churches established by an Ecumenical Council still exists legally. In fact, no later Council having abrogated or modified this solemn act, signed by spontaneous and universal consent, it preserves today its legal and canonical force; consequently in the eyes of every enlightened Greek of good faith the sovereign Pontiff, the successor of Peter, is the supreme and lawful head of the Eastern as well as the Western Church.
5. On the Russian Schism see Palmer, W., Visit to the Russian Church; Wallace, Russia; Gagarin, The Russian Clergy; A. C. Q. xi. 505; D. R. Old Ser. xxiii. 406, New Ser. xxviii. 277, III. Ser. v. 422, x. K 120, Jan. '93, p. 1; Tondini, Future of the Russian Church; Parsons, Lies and Errors, p. 304; C. W. Apr. 1900.
6. Peter I, by the institution of the Holy Synod and by the promulgation of ecclesiastical rule, destroyed even the appearance of independence in the Russian clergy. His successors have aggravated the evil. It is well known that the composition of this synod depends entirely on the good pleasure of the emperor, and that all its acts are subject to the approbation of a minister of the czar bearing the the of Procurator of the Synod. Moreover, in the ecclesiastical seminaries and academies the nomination and the deposition of the professors, the choice of classic works, the methods of teaching are all regulated by the government. Thus Protestants and notorious infidels have held professorships in the institutions; the text-books adopted were for a long time, and probably still are, Protestant. One can readily Divine what must be the fate of the faith of clergy and people under such a system. There is no reason to be astonished at the great progress which Protestantism has made among the Russian clergy.
7. Protestants are frequenfy heard to refer triumphantly to the obstinacy with which the Greeks have persisted in their schism and in their hatred of the Church of Rome, totally unconscious that these schismatics witness against them. In fact the dogmas which we believe, are, with but little difference, publicly taught by the Greek Church. Now these obstinate enemies evidently did not borrow these dogmas from the Church of Rome after their separation from her. Therefore we must admit that they have always been believed in the East as well as in the West. But what becomes, then, of the accusation of inventing new dogmas made by Protestants against the Church? And why did not they themselves join the Eastern Church when they revolted against Rome?
8. We shall not speak of other points of difference, for example Purgatory. In reality the difference between the two Churches here consists in the word used to designate this place of expiation. The schismatics reject absolutely the word Purgatory, but that they admit the reality of a place of temporary expiation, as well as the efficacy of prayers for the dead, is manifestly evident from their liturgy, their canticles, and their religious customs and institutions.