“Sola Scriptura :” The Protestant Reformation And The Eastern Orthodox Church -- By: Randall H. Balmer

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 03:1 (Spring 1982)
Article: “Sola Scriptura :” The Protestant Reformation And The Eastern Orthodox Church
Author: Randall H. Balmer


“Sola Scriptura :”
The Protestant Reformation And The
Eastern Orthodox Church

Randall H. Balmer

Princeton University

I

When Martin Luther tacked his Ninety-Five Theses to the cathedral door at Wittenberg, few observers doubted that his salvos were directed against the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church. Friar Martin was profoundly uneasy with the trafficking in indulgences, the sacrifice of the mass, and a soteriology which he believed to be nothing less than salvation by works.1 Early in his career Luther turned away from the teachings of the Church and directly to the Scriptures in order to formulate his responses to ecclesiastical corruptions. His recovery of the gospel led to the Protestant Reformation and altered forever the complexion of Western Christianity.

Although such figures as Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, Martin Bucer, and Thomas Cranmer are commonly associated with the Reformation, few people recognize that Reformed ideas also enjoyed a brief hearing in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Calvinist doctrine was entertained—and briefly adopted-by the highest echelons of the Eastern hierarchy.2

II

Orthodoxy’s flirtation with Reformation ideas centered on the person of Cyril Lucaris (1572–1638), sometime patriarch of Constantinople early in the seventeenth century.3 From the middle of the sixteenth century, Orthodox

theology, buffeted by attacks from Latin theologians, was characterized by an increased receptivity to Protestant ideas and a concomitant aversion to the Roman Church. The East was affected also by the appearance of popular literature in the vernacular. All of these developments found their ultimate expression in Lucaris, whose ideas, in turn, prompted a marked conservative reaction after his death in 1638.4 The patriarch’s movement toward Wittenberg and Geneva grew out of his loathing for the Latin church, primarily because of Jesuit missionary efforts in the Orthodox East. Influenced by ambassadors from Reformed countries and by such Calvinist theologians as Cornelius van Haga, J. Uytenbogaert, and David Le Leu,5 Lucaris’ theology took a decidedly Calvinist turn and culminated in his Eastern Confession of the Christian Faith, published at Geneva in 1629 and at Constantinople in 1631.6

In this document, replete with biblical proof texts, the patriarc...

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