The Principles of Dogmas
If, on the one hand, it be true that all branches and denominations of Christianity have their roots sunk deep in the gospels, which are, in the first place, rounded off by the epistles of the New Testament, and, in the second place, by the books of the Old Testament; on the other hand, we see the various communions of which it is composed, not only differing among themselves on essential points, but frequently appearing to be in flagrant contradiction on questions of doctrine. And yet, in spite of these disagreements, not one of them disclaims the gospels as their groundwork; all with one accord claim to derive their doctrines from that self-same source. The phenomenon is at once strange and true. We must search for the cause in the tenor and the style of those books which only present doctrine in its primordial state, and, if we were allowed to use a common expression, in a crude and material form, which is capable of assuming the shape which the artist means to give it.
In the matter of doctrine, however, one cannot permit an arbitrarily free scope, or one dependent on individual or collective fancy, for the purpose of enunciating a doctrinal proposition. Liberty of this kind has been, however, permitted by the Protestant reformers, whose principles glide by unconscious descent until they reach complete rationalism, so much so that at the present time it is scarcely possible to discern any trace of revealed Christianity in their beliefs. [Main Protestant bodies possess and hold specific doctrinal formulas.] Their doctrine, properly speaking, amounts to a purely philosophical concept.
As loyal disciples of the Armenian Church, clinging with fervency to her ancient traditions, we have taken good care not to enter a similar path; it is our intention to adhere to positive and traditional ground, and suitably to consider only those principles which have the sanction of recognized authority.
All Christian denominations are comprised within two main branches, of which one is constituted on the basis of a hierarchy and of ritual. All the ancient Churches, without exception, were connected with that branch. The others are comprised in the category of Churches which sprang from the Reformation of the sixteenth century. Among the latter, only the Anglican Episcopal Church, which has accepted both hierarch and ritual, can be classed in the category of ancient Churches.
In the system peculiar to the first category, to the Ecumenical Councils belonged exclusively the power to evolve correct doctrine from the original matter of the holy books, and to formulate dogmatic propositions. Nevertheless, it was incumbent on them neither to deviate from the basis of tradition, nor to arrogate to themselves the liberty to follow their own inspirations, nor the arguments, pure and simple, of individual judgment.
To make ourselves better understood, we should settle, first of all, the distinguishing feature between a dogma and a doctrine. The dogma is a proposition drawn from the sacred books and expressed in formula which is both clear and distinct. It should be accepted b the followers of a given Church, on pain of estrangement from the bosom of that Church. The doctrine is a statement or explanation, equally drawn from the sacred books and corroborated by tradition. Consequently, it may be accepted as an assertion which is sound and positive, or it may be quasi-positive; but it imposes no obligation on the faithful to comply with it absolutely. In any case, they cannot be shut out of the Church unless they deny her. The dogma is the teaching of the Church; the doctrine is but the statement of the school. Dogmas belong to religion; doctrines to theology.
The ancient Churches referred to the authority of Ecumenical Councils all beliefs which were in question, in order that any difficulty raised in connection with a dogma might be solved. That rule has never ceased to be rigorously observed from the early centuries until our present time.
The Roman Church alone deemed it necessary, in the second half of the nineteenth century, to take away that prerogative from the Councils and to fix it on the person of the pope. But, in order to justify such a usurpation of authority, she could not do less than refer to that self-same authority which she had despoiled, thus compelling it to commit a moral suicide. But we need not dwell on this.
It is said that the authority of the Ecumenical Councils for the formulation of dogmas was the outcome, in the first place, of the promise of divine assistance; that is to say, it is based on the spiritual aid which was promised to the Church. On the other hand, it is equally the resultant of the logical efficacy derived from the main body, and the immediate nearness of traditions. Therefore, it is not so much the number of individuals, in the Ecumenical Councils, who are accepted as authorities, as the number of the Churches which are there represented. It follows, therefore, that the members of a Council which only concerns a single Church, though they may number a thousand, can only reflect the tradition of that particular Church; whereas, if they represent different Churches, they become the mouthpiece of the dominant opinion of the Universal Church. Likewise, if there is proximity of time between the origin of the tradition and its attestation, we are impressed by the force of the testimony. Can we reasonably attach any importance to a testimony which is connected with events or remarks which are about nineteen centuries old.
The Dogmas of the Armenian Church
We have said that the Ecumenical Councils were the official source from which emanated the dogmas of the ancient Churches. The Latin Catholic, otherwise the Roman, Church is the one which has known best how to turn that tradition to account. She accepts as valid twenty Ecumenical Councils, beginning with the one of Nicaea in the fourth, and ending with the Vatican Council in the nineteenth, century. The Byzantine, otherwise the Greek Orthodox, Church ceased sooner to lay down dogmatic decisions. She accepts as valid only seven Councils, the second of Nicaea, which was held in the eighth century, being the final of the series. The Armenian Church is even more radical in this respect. She acknowledges as lawful only the first three, which were equally recognized by both the Latins and the Greeks. She denies the ecumenical character of the remaining four, against the views of the Greeks and the Latins, and of the thirteen which are accepted by the Latins alone. The Councils of the Armenians are those of Nicaea and of Constantinople, held in the fourth, and that of Ephesus, in the fifth, century. We have referred, in the historical portion of this work, to the dissensions which were stirred up in connection with the fourth Council, that of Chalcedon.
It is necessary to recognize that every dogma with its mysteries constitutes a difficulty for the human understanding. And, seeing that the Christian religion, which we profess, imposes on it such a strain, to which it is our duty to submit, it is but wise that we should never increase the difficulty. It is never wise, we assert, to increase needlessly the burden of mysteries, nor the number of dogmas, nor of Councils. No one will dispute what we say on this point, especially at this critical hour of stress that the faith is going through.
If we wished to express, in the shape of a mathematical formula, the difference there is in the number of dogmas adopted by the Armenian, Greek, and Latin Churches respectively, we should be able to make the following proportion: ARM. : GRC. : LAT. : : 3 :7 : 20. Obviously, this is all to the credit of the Armenian Church. We think that it would be appreciated as it deserves if it were sufficiently understood by those who apply themselves to ecclesiastical questions. For instance, we have taken the opportunity of referring the point to a European scholar. Having asked him his opinion on the point, he made no difficulty in acknowledging that the advantage lay in having the least possible number of dogmas. We think that this testimony in favor of the Armenian Church will be confirmed by all men of sense.
If, by a happy chance, the chief ancient Churches ever succeed, we do not say by amalgamating into complete unity, but at all events by establishing among themselves a mutual understanding, they would most certainly, be able to find the best foundation for an agreement only on the basis of that Church. A closer connection is only possible when it rests on a position which I free from controversy; a minimum of conditions is of assistance in eliminating discords.
The small number of dogmas which is peculiar to the Armenian Church must not be ascribed to mere chance, or to a result which has not been weighed. It is the outcome , above all things, of a sober principle in matters of doctrinal regulation. We have laid down the principle that the chief basis of the authority of Ecumenical Councils lay in unanimity of the various Churches; for, by that alone are expressed effectively and truly the views of the Universal Church. That unanimity had been practically realized in the three Councils summoned from 324 to 431; that is to say, in the course of the century which kept pace with the Church’s triumph. During that period all the great Churches were of one mind as to the way in which dogmas should be understood. Where opinions differed – and there were many such cases, as with the Arians – these were only the opinions of individuals, and were never brought forward as the general opinion of a given Church. It will be noticed, too, that during this early period there were no disputes among the Churches, either regarding precedence or authority. The situation changed, however, totally after the third Council, when the antagonism of the patriarchal sees began to prepare a fertile field for dogmatic questions. Each patriarchate, in turn, summoned a general Council in opposition to another. Such was the case when the question relating to the nature of Christ was raised. The opinion, based on the tradition of the entire Alexandrine Church, was set aside by the Roman and Byzantine patriarchates combined, and they had the support of the emperor Marcian. During the period of half a century there were unfolded declarations of a most contradictory type on the authority of the Council of Chalcedon, the fourth Ecumenical Council of the Greeks and the Latins. It is not, therefore, without reason that the Armenian Church has thought it her duty to look upon the Council of Ephesus of 431 as the last whereby the unanimity of the Churches was maintained, in the conviction that we have in it the true traditional groundwork of the Universal Church.
One other reason for rejecting the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon was the very object it had of laying down dogmatic definitions. That object should have restricted itself to affirmation, and not the explanation of a given truth. The three earlier Councils complied with this rule by proclaiming the divinity of Jesus Christ, the divinity of the Holy Ghost, and the union of the divine and human natures in Christ. The essential truths, on which were based the dogmatic constitution of the Christian mysteries, that is to say, the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Redemption, had been perfected by the definitions of the three Councils. Breaking with this rule, we see the Council of Chalcedon entering on a path of explanations, and endeavoring to determine the circumstances either of the form or mode, and not the essence, of the incarnation, or of the union of the divinity and the humanity in Christ. But it is impossible that the explanation of a dogmatic fact should become the object of a definition or the substance of a dogma. Explanations can only assist us by providing material for study. The duty, therefore, of explaining dogmas devolves, not on Ecumenical Councils, but on schools and doctors of divinity. The authority of the Universal Church cannot be called upon to perform the part of a scholastic faculty.
The Profession of Faith
In the early centuries the profession of faith in each Church was expressed by an official formula: the Symbol or Creed. The Latin Catholic Church retains still in her liturgy a short creed known by the name of the Apostles’ Creed, but it is wanting in all the characteristics of an official declaration in the matter of faith. The Councils and the popes were in the habit of constantly remodeling the creed, with the sole object of suiting it to their dogmas, which the produced one after another according to their requirements. The Vatican Council, in 1870, also added new expressions to it. But it was the Council of Trent especially which most of all enlarged the limits of dogmatic canons. It elaborated all those theological and scholastic opinions, as well as those rigid dogmas, which it has laid down, and which the faithful are forced to believe under pain of anathema; and all this has been done with the sole purpose of enhancing the papal authority. The Roman Catholic, hemmed in on all sides, is therefore able at the present time, neither to discover a loophole whereby he can bring to the light his own personal opinions, nor a clear field for enlarging the horizon of his studies. What should he do? Even to think is forbidden him. He is obliged togive up his reasoning powers, nay, even the free exercise of his intelligence, for he cannot take a step without running afoul, on his path, of the inevitable dogmatic canon, which puts a stop to his inquiries. The recent syllabus, leveled against the Modernists, is but a bid for that position without any escape. Under the term modernists it stamps all men of science, as well as ecclesiastical scholars, who are endeavoring to break down the cramped circle of the canons of the Councils and the decisions of the popes. It may be said that the last encyclical of Rome has definitely pronounced the divorce between her Church and science.
Now, there can be no occasion for anything of this nature within the pale of the Armenian Church. Of a truth, she, too, has her national synods, and she does not fail to lay down her decisions on doctrinal matters. Nevertheless, she never sets forward the claim to ascribe validity to dogmas, nor does she condemn as heretics or schismatics those who would not conform to the teaching of her doctrines. All the doctrinal points which fix a line of demarcation between the Armenian and the other Churches, and which are in no way designed to trespass on the prerogatives of these latter, are so many instances which corroborate our statement.
The Armenian Church only recognized Councils to be truly ecumenical, and having the authority to pronounce dogmatic definitions, which embrace all branches of Christianity, assembled together in accordance with a revealed principle. Such unanimity will never present itself again after the split of the fifth century, and we would add that it cannot recur so long as the disputes which divide the Churches endure.
The creed adopted by the Armenian Church, for its offices, is the Athanasian formula, which had its beginning during the Council of Nicaea. It contains almost exclusively the dogma of the Incarnation, which she preserves with neither modification nor addition. However, this same Church possesses a second creed, which was drawn up later and is represented in the ritual. It is recited by the clergy on the occasion of their ordination; but it differs from the former only in amplifying the formulas, the chief of which relates to the natures of Jesus Christ.
That formula should be deemed sufficient for the purpose of rebutting the imputation of Eutychianism, once maliciously or thoughtlessly made against the Armenian Church. The interpretation in question consists in the expression ‘One nature united’ (in Armenian: ‘Miavorial mi bnoothiun). Eutyches treats of a blend and a confusion of the two natures, which result in the individual unity of Christ; whereas the unity of nature, or the monophysitism, which is accepted by the Armenian Church, is identical with the Ephesian formula, which is that of St. Cyril: ‘One nature of the Word Incarnate.’ If, in the mystery of the Incarnation, the divinity and the humanity – that is to say, the two natures- had preserved their duality, that circumstance would have been fatal to the virtue in the passion of Jesus Christ, who is in the character of one indivisible Person, God and Man; and, as affecting the Redemption, the self-same reason suffices. Were it not so, we would find ourselves landed in the doctrine of Nestorius. Of all the kinds of union which, in our opinion, could be compared with the supernatural union of Christ, that of the union of mind and body seems to supply us with the best explanation. For one cannot deny the unity of human nature, in spite of the distinction between the mind and the body. Such, therefore, is the monophysitism of the Council of Ephesus, which the Armenian Church upholds, and which is altogether different from that of Eutyches. The name of the latter is officially and solemnly anathematized by the Church, under the same head as those of Arius, of Macedon, and of Nestorius. No one can, therefore, accuse this Church of Eutychianism without incurring the reproach of ignorance or of dishonesty.
With regard to the differences which divide the Armenian and the Greek orthodox Churches, these apply solely to the rejection by the former of the Council of Chalcedon, and in the non-recognition of the succeeding Councils. On all other dogmatic questions, the two Churches are in perfect accord. For it behoves us to declare that if the Councils which are in question have not been recognized by the Armenian Church, nevertheless the points which were determined by them have never been rejected ipso facto. For instance, the condemnation of the Three-Chapters, pronounced by the fifth Council, which was but a return to the decrees of Ephesus, may be looked upon as favorable to the doctrine of the Armenian Church. The question of monothelitism, which was handled at the sixth Council, was on the other hand a repetition of the Chalcedonian policy. The worship of images, dealt with at the second Council at Nicaea, aimed only at a point which bore rather a ceremonial than a doctrinal aspect. Without being altogether banished from the Armenian Church, this worship has ever been confined to the narrowest limits. With regard to pictures and bas-reliefs, they are blessed and anointed with holy oil, in order to differentiate them from ordinary works of art; and it is only after their consecration that they are placed over the altars. Contrary to the practice of other communions, which decorate the interiors of their houses with icons, the Armenian possesses no holy images.
As to the expression of dogmas, this Church hold strictly to the ancient formulas; she therefore no more admits the addition of the ‘Filioque,’ the particular judgment, the pains of purgatory, the immediate beatific vision, that she does transubstantiation, indulgences, and papal infallibility. All these innovations couldonly have been accepted by the Latin world by an improper interpretation of the practices of the primitive Church.
It is with simpleness of purpose and a minimum of encumbrances that the Armenian Church has steered her course in the matter of dogmas. The lofty principle expressed by a learned divine of the Western Church, but of which that Church has been neglectful, has been and ever remains the watchword of our Church. The expression ‘Unitas in necessariis’ (Unity in essentials) has been brought by her to a point of the most stringent necessity; that of ‘Libertas in dubliis’ (Liberty in doubtful matters) she has applied in the broadest of senses; and it is only on the basis indicated by common sense that it will be possible, to our thinking, of ensuring to the Universal Church the ‘Caritas in omnibus’ (Charity in all things).
The Spirit of Tolerance
The Latin Catholic Church, whose spirit of exclusiveness is well known, proclaims the intolerant axiom that whoso is beyond the pale of the Roman Church has no part in eternal salvation. The Greek Orthodox Church, on her side, refuses to allow the sacraments to be administered where there is not strict conformity with her own practices, so much so that she is obliged to resort to re-baptism and re-ordination. [Nowadays the Greek Orthodox Church does not resort to such excessive measures.] So that these two Churches, which have adopted the stately names of Catholic and Ecumenical, as a proof of their universality, are, in fact, isolated and confined within the circle of their own individuality.
Such an intolerance is altogether foreign to the spirit of the Armenian Church, which cannot admit that any particular or national Church, however vast she may be, has the power to arrogate to herself the character of universality. In the sentiment that true universality can only be brought about by the combination of all the Churches, she upholds the principle, Unitas in necessariis, wherein are summed up the fundamental principles of Christianity. Having once admitted that condition, each one is at liberty to differ on points of secondary importance. Such are the principles on which the Armenian Church places the strongest emphasis. She admits as essential only the dogmatic definitions of the first three Ecumenical Councils, definitions whose origin can be traced to a single period, during which the particular Churches still maintained among themselves unity, mutual love, and communion. So that every Church which accepted the dogmas of the Trinity, of the Incarnation, and of the Redemption, could, though following her own views, form a part of the Church Universal, and, by such title, assure to her faithful followers the right to eternal salvation. They all maintained among themselves the communion in spiritualibus, whereby the union of faith and of charity was exalted – a necessary condition if we are to have the unity of Christendom.
The other points, concerning doctrine or opinion, can be admitted or rejected, wherher thay be the outcome of the decision of a particular Council, or are based on the authority of theologians; and unless this is done, harm must come to the completeness of unity. For all these points bear a secondary character, as we have already said. They but bear the import of simple matters of doctrine, devoid of dogmatic force, and, in in consequence, are amenable to latitude in thought. It is enough for us that the view we take should not be opposed to the dogmas authorized by the three Councils, Particular Churches, in following different systems, should not, therefore, be debarred from perfect unity; no more can they be recognized as having the right to inflict their doctrines upon others.
Our purpose in writing these lines, whereby we assert with emphasis the theological and ecclesiastical liberalism of the Armenian Church, is to prepare a way for Christianity in the future. That claim would bear a justifiable aspect, if one reflects that its spirit is in keeping with that of the present day; it is that we should look upon every man as sincere. It cannot be denied that these principles resolve themselves into the only means whereby we can reconcile with the tendencies of our time the eternal heritage of Christ.
It is proper to add that the spirit of tolerance and of liberalism, which forms the groundwork of the Armenian Church, is often turned against herself. It in on this account that foreign proselytism has been made easy among the followers of the Church. That fact has been established, not only during the Middle Ages, but also in our own time. It is known what success has attended Catholic and Protestant missionaries, who come with the intention of establishing separate communities among the Armenians. If we were to look into the historic side of the matter, we should find that the facility in passing from one communion to another owes itself to the special upbringing of the Armenian, nurtured in respect for the beliefs of others From his infancy he is never heard to say that that portion of humanity which exists outside the pale of his own Church must of necessity be deprived of eternal salvation; he has never been threatened with chastisements in the future life in the even of his breaking from hi national Church. In order to secure for himself eternal salvation, he knows that it is sufficient that his works should be good, and that his conduct should be in keeping with the morality of the gospel. Such is his broad understanding of the Christian conception which leads him often to embrace, without question, professions of faith which are foreign to him, whenever he thinks that by such a change he is able to reconcile his material interests with those of his salvation. It is by taking advantage of this phase of his mind that foreign missionaries are doing their best to undermine the fabric of Armenian unity. It is not that the Church fails to notice the facilities which she thus proffers to foreign proselytism. She has realized the disastrous effects which proceed from her principles of tolerance; but, in spite of that bitter experience, she is resolved to remain faithful to her sacred maxims of theological and ecclesiastical liberalism; she has upheld them, and will continue to uphold them unimpaired in the future. It will be to her a lofty title to glory if ever she be the means of tendering to Christianity the possibility of a reconciliation-a contingency which is ever probable.
The Doctrine of Sacraments
It is an admitted fact in ecclesiastical history that the number of sacraments was not fixed at the total of seven until about the middle of the twelfth century, and this circumstance, in fact, was brought about by the scholastics, who struggled hard to make them stand at that number. However, neither the holy Fathers nor ancient theologians make any mention of them. The early Christians treated of but two sacraments; by degrees their number rose to a dozen. The oldest definition by which their number was fixed at seven may be traced to the Council of Florence in the fifteenth century. Information of this reached the Armenians through Latin missionaries. It is clear, therefore, that the seven sacraments constitute not so much a dogma, as a simple article of doctrine. The question of the seven sacraments counts, however, for very little among the Armenians; indeed, it is of so vague a character that it would be very difficult to bring them all to a point of precision, if such an attempt were made. That which is called extreme unction is not in use; the various attempts that have been made to introduce it into the Church have hardly been successful. The wish expressed, to substitute for the unction the prayers used for the dying, cannot be accepted by the Armenians. Expecting extreme unction, all the others are administered in the Armenian Church. Let us see what information we have on the subject.
Infants receive baptism by complete and horizontal immersion; in cases of absolute necessity, however, baptism by sprinkling is not held to be invalid. Confirmation, or holy anointing, is administered conjointly with that sacrament by the priest who performs the baptism, and the baptized infant is at once admitted to labial communion-that is to say, the holy particle is placed in contact with the tongue. The three sacraments are administered at one time, and it is in their being thus carried out together that the completeness of baptism lies. It is not, therefore, admitted either that the practice of the first communion, or that of confirmation, should be delayed so as to be administered by the bishop.
The communion is administered without distinction of age, in both elements, by means of pieces of the consecrated wafer being soaked in the element of the wine. The wafer consists of unleavened bread, unfermented and of sufficient texture, which is prepared and baked by the priests on the day of the mass; it is of a circular form, and is stamped with the sign of the cross and certain ornamental designs. The wine must be pure, that is, without the addition of water. The wafer for consecration is always single, and its size is proportioned to the probably number of communicants The latter stand up, while the priest places on their tongue a broken portion of the soaked wafer. The custom has been kept up of reserving in the churches dried particles of the elements for sick persons and for those who, in exceptional cases, do not wish to communicate at the mass. These are suitably preserved in a recess on the side, made in the apse, without any display of coverings or lighted lamps.
The sacrament of penitence or confession takes place according to a general formula, by a declaration of the chief sins; he the confessor refrains from entering into details, and especially from broaching an examination. Ordinarily, it is usual to allow a delay of a few days between the confession and the absolution, so as to permit of a suitable preparation for the communion, which follows immediately after the absolution.
The sacrament of orders is conferred by the imposition of hands, and by the bestowal of appropriate badges for each order. The unction is given to the priesthood, the episcopate, and the Catholicate. The orders of the priestly office were formerly four in number, in keeping with Eastern tradition; but it was made into seven at the time of the Crusades under the influence of Western ideas; the sub-diaconate, however, has always been looked upon among the Armenians as a minor order, whereas the Latins regard it as a major or holy order. The officers of bishop and catholicos are distinct by the bishop, the episcopate by twelve bishops. The doctorate of theology, or the rank of vardapet, is invested with the form of an order. It is divided into two classes; the minor or particular doctorate (masnavor), and the major or supreme doctorate (dzayragooyn), which enjoys privileges equivalent to those of the episcopate. Doctorates can only be conferred by the bishops, who are themselves invested with the supreme doctorate. The rite is sufficiently lengthy, and comprises the epistles, the gospels, and the several books of the prophets.
The sacrament of marriage is known under the name of the sacrament of the crown (psak), and the proper minister for its solemnization is the priest, who consecrates the union under the authority of the bishop. Divorce is canonically permitted, and is pronounced under the authority of the catholicos or the patriarch. Cases of nullity are settle on general principles bearing on the validity and the legality of the acts, to the exclusion of every condition which is proved to be due to arbitrary action. The conditions for a bar to a divorce have been defined by the canons of the ancient Councils.
Such are the doctrinal points concerning the sacraments; as for those which are of a disciplinary and liturgical character, they will be found dealt with in special chapters.
Precision in Doctrine
It has been alleged that the Armenian Church lacks precision in the attestation of her doctrine, and that her theologians and her books of catechism sometimes contradict each other. We have no desire to scrutinize to what extent such an allegation is justified; nevertheless, we are prepared to recognize its value. Such an admission, however, far from weakening our point of view, establishes, on the contrary, an argument which is decidedly on the side of her liberal spirit in matters theological. We have already shown that, if her dogmas are few in number, on the other hand her doctrinal sphere is extensive, and that doctrinal differences cannot create an impediment from the point of view of union.
It is known by experience to what extent the spirit of the age and the circumstances of time exert their influence on opinions and teaching in general. Opinions and teaching of an ecclesiastical character cannot escape from such a rule; whether, therefore, we wish it or not, all, whether they be pastors, theologians, ministers, or the faithful, must submit to it, and, in consequence, the effects are apparent on the doctrine itself. That theory once accepted, it has to be allowed that every doctrine which is encumbered under the influence of passing circumstances, can eventually lose whatever it may have of the incidental. Would it not, therefore, be a question of elementary prudence to keep an open path for the natural evolution of things? Such a course would, we think, be for the highest welfare of religion.
The principle of distinguishing between dogmas and doctrines, viz. the immutability of the one and the mutability of the other, guides us, by a logical inference, in recognizing the policy of the open path; that is to say, on the one hand by solemnly approving of a limitation in the matter of dogma, and on the other hand, in allowing liberty in the matter of doctrine. Thanks to such a policy, the Church is able to maintain her stability, which is essential for her; but without it she must needs stand in the way of all efforts at intellectual progress. She avoids in this way the accusation of being arrayed against science, and refuses to look upon herself as the accredited defender of retrograde ideas.
Of a very truth, the cause of complaint against the Church’s zeal to dogmatize every doctrine, to reduce every opoinion into a binding formula, to put an end flatly to every discussion, is more than justified. It is precisely in that very way that the Roman Church has got herself entangled, more especially after the Council of Trent, where every doctrinal opinion of the Church was defined, stereotyped, and enacted. That work was brought to a completion by the syllabus of the popes, and by the incomprehensible decrees of the Council of the Vatican; so thoroughly was it done, that the divines and the followers of that Church were forced to the extent of giving up even their faculty of reasoning; they were forced to comply blindly with the thought of theologians and bishops of the sixteenth century.
We cannot blame these latter for having belonged to their times; their only fault lay in dogmatizing their ideas and their bare opinions, so as to close for ever to posterity the door to reasoning. It is not rash to presume that if these men of the sixteenth century were to return to us again, they would think differently of their handiwork. But let us return to the Armenian Church.
The differences which, it was alleged, existed between the divines and the catechisms arose precisely from such an evolution and by the influence of circumstances. The Armenian Church herself, firmly attached though she is to her ancient traditions, cannot remain altogether oblivious of new influences. We have no reluctance in even admitting that she was more liable to change than any other, destitute as she had been for long centuries of the advantages of uninterrupted progress which had been vouchsafed to human society. Thrown into disorder by the political changes of Eastern countries, and tossed about by cross currents, she was bound to suffer under the shock and the effect of these opposing influences. In fact, she has suffered, sometimes through Greek, and sometimes through Latin influence; she has been compelled, whether by force and superior power, or by delusion and trust, to adopt points of view and teachings which were alien to her character. Peculiarities, more or less strange and foreign, have crept almost insensible into her customs, inter her rites, and into her modes of thought. We do not deny that certain patriarch and theologians have expressed ideas which are little in keeping with ancient tradition. Nevertheless, such ideas only pledge the person giving utterance to them; and the discord which is the outcome of them cannot taint the Church’s fundamental dogmatism, which cannot change.
Certain opinions which were formerly accepted it has found possible to ignore; but, as these have at most only a doctrinal importance, they were subject to modification. It is natural that, as they have been at the mercy of the fluctuating thought of bygone ages, they should submit also to the changes of the times to come. Such a view cannot hinder the Church from remaining unchangeably identical within herself as regards her essential principle, and unshaken on her foundations.
Such is the position which the Armenian Church has chosen. If we look at things closely, it would be found that other Churches do not stand on a different footing/ for they too must of necessity submit to some changes. It would be a mistake to believe that the Roman Church at the present time is identically the same as the Church of the times when investitures were conferred, and of the Inquisition. But she persists in not seeing it. She puts up with doings which embarrass her in her action, for she is acting in contradiction to herself. By this persistence in refusing to see what are matters of fact, she has earned for herself the reputation of acting against her conscience, and, in consequence, of being a danger to her very self.
Such is our meaning regarding the remarks expressed on the subject of the doctrine of the Armenian Church. It explains as much as one could wish, that her policy is inspired more than ever with a genuine Christian liberalism. So much so, that she presents the basis of a system which cannot but be studied and preferred by the true friends of the Church of Christ. For her isolation where she stands, and for the state of humiliation which is her portion after centuries, it would be a mistake to pronounce judgment against her. Truth does not belong to numerical strength; we have the gospel to bear witness that it is to be found in the pusillus grex (the little flock) to which the Heavenly Father promised His heritage.