The task of writing an Introduction to Mr. Gregory’s translation of Mgr. Ormanian’s book upon the Church of Armenia is not free from difficulty; nor is it made the less difficult because the Bishop who should have written it, had his life been spared, was a man of such wide and various learning as the later Bishop of Salisbury, Dr. Wordsworth. Yet in that Church there is much that is interesting to all Christians, and perhaps especially to members of the Church of England. For the history of the Church of Armenia is a witness to certain great principles of ecclesiastical life. It is a protest against the assumed infallibility and universality of the Church of Rome. For the Church of Armenia believes that ‘no Church, however great in herself, represents the whole of Christendom; that each one, taken singly, can be mistaken, and to the Universal Church along belongs the privilege of infallibility in her dogmatic decisions.’ (preface to French Edition) She takes her stand then upon the national character and prerogative of Churches. She holds, as the Church of England holds, that it is a fraternity of Churches tracing their pedigree backwards to an Apostolical origin, developing themselves on separate lines, yet knit together by a common creed and by spiritual union with the same Divine Head, which constitutes the true ideal of the Universal Church.
The Church of Armenia claims descent from the Apostles St. Bartholomew and St. Thaddaeus. Whether it is or is not true that ‘Armenia was the first state in the world to proclaim Christianity as its official religion,’ (preface from French Edition) there is no doubt that Armenia as a whole was converted to Christianity at the very beginning of the fourth century A.D. by the preaching of St. Grigor Partev (Gregory the Parthian), better known as St. Gregory the Illuminator. He became the first Catholicos of Armenia. He ruled and organized the Armenian Church, and it is curious to notice that he died in the year of the Council of Nicaea, A.D. 325.
From St. Gregory’s day to the present the Church of Armenia has pursued an independent course. In her early history she resisted the controlling influence of the Churches of Caesarea, of Antioch, of Constantinople. In later times she has been subject to aggressions from the Greek, the Syrian, and the Latin Churches, and in some degree from missionaries of the various Protestant denominations. But although individual secessions from her communion have taken place, she has never compromised her separate national life. To quote Mgr. Ormanian, she has ‘always understood the meaning of union in the true and strict sense of the term. She has desired to see its establishment on the basis of a spiritual communion between the Churches, of mutual respect for their several positions, of liberty for each within the limits of her own sphere, and of the spirit of Christian charity overruling all.
One special merit of the book now recommended to English readers is that it is an appreciation of the Church of Armenia not from without, but from within. The author, as having himself been the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople, is entitled to put forward the case of his own Church It is thus that he claims a hearing for his repudiation of the Eutychian heresy so frequently associated with the Church of Armenia. It is thus too that he dwells with authority upon the unfailing tolerance characteristic of that Church in all the ages.
Not only is the Church of Armenia a standing instance of Church developing on her own historical lines, but her independence is exemplified in numerous aspects of her past and present history. It will be enough to instance her recognition of three, and three only, Ecumenical Councils, the small number of the dogmas upon which she insists as necessary to salvation, her estimate and use of the sacraments, her hierarchical system, the strong influence of her laity in deliberations and administration, the dependence of her clergy upon voluntary offerings, her so-called dominical festivals, her special hagiology, and the democratic spirit which has endeared her to the nation.
It is probable that no other book gives so clear an account of the Church of Armenia in so brief a space as that of Mgr. Ormanian. If I do not mistake it, it will create in the minds of Anglican Churchmen not only a keen sympathy with the Church of Armenia, but a stronger confidence than ever in the strength of their own ecclesiastical position as accordant with the spirit and practice of the Christian Churches which are not merged in the Church of Rome, and as justified not only by ecclesiastical history, but by the Spirit and Will of Jesus Christ Himself.
J. E. C. Welldon (1912)