To interpret the reign of Peter Mogila with precision is difficult. It has been argued that Mogila sought to create an "occidental Orthodoxy," and thereby to disentangle Orthodoxy from its "obsolete" oriental setting. The notion is plausible. But however Mogila's motives are interpreted, his legacy is an ambiguous one. On the one hand, he was a great man who accomplished a great deal. And in his own way he was even devout. Under his guidance and rule the Orthodox Church in West Russia emerged from that state of disorientation and disorganization wherein it had languished ever since the catastrophe at Brest. On the other hand, the Church he led out of this ordeal was not the same. Change ran deep. There was a new and alien spirit, the Latin spirit in everything. Thus, Mogila's legacy also includes a drastic "Romanization" of the Orthodox Church. He brought Orthodoxy to what might be called a Latin "pseudomorphosis." True, he found the Church in ruins and had to rebuild, but he built a foreign edifice on the ruins. He founded a Roman Catholic school in the Church, and for generations the Orthodox clergy was raised in a Roman Catholic spirit and taught theology in Latin. He "Romanized" the liturgies and thereby "Latinized" the mentality and psychology, the very soul of the Orthodox people. Mogila's "internal toxin," so to speak, was far more dangerous than the Unia. The Unia could be resisted, and had been resisted, especially when there were efforts to enforce it. But Mogila's "crypto-Romanism" entered silently and imperceptibly, with almost no resistance. It has of course often been said that Mogila's "accretions" were only external, involving form not substance. This ignores the truth that form shapes substance, and if an unsuitable form does not distort substance, it prevents its natural growth. This is the meaning of "pseudomorphosis." Assuming a Roman garb was an alien act for orthodoxy. And the paradoxical character of the whole situation was only increased when, along with the steady "Latinization" of the inner life of the Church, its canonical autonomy was steadfastly maintained.
- Father Georges Florovsky, Ways of Russian Theology (1937)
I'll warn you right off that the subject of this post--the transformation in Russian Orthodoxy in the seventeenth century--is inside baseball even for me; I'm no more than an interested amateur, and left the church years ago. But the worldview implied in the idea that Orthodoxy was corrupted by a malignant Latin "pseudomorphosis," as many people have recognized, is of fundamental importance to anyone who wants to understand the development of Russian thinking in general and national consciousness in particular. (It is important that Florovsky's characterization, which was perhaps deliberately provocative, has not been popular, even if its ideas have been.)
A brief, textbook, historical overview. After the fall of the Byzantine Empire (and specifically after the Council of Florence in the 1430s-'40s, which briefly united the Eastern and Western churches), the Russian Orthodox community ruptured its ties with the other Orthodox churches and retreated into itself. Over a period of two centuries Russian Orthodoxy developed in what some have characterized as an anti-intellectual, ritualistic, and superstitious direction; illiteracy and ignorance of basic doctrine were, apparently, widespread among the clergy. During the reigns of Aleksei Mikhailovich (1645-1676) and Peter the Great (1682-1725), theologians and clerics educated in the Ukraine came to Russia and initiated a series of "modernizing" church reforms, the most famous of which provoked a schism in the church. These Ukrainians were trained at the Kiev Mohyla Academy, which was organized along Jesuit lines by Petro Mohyla in the early part of the century, in the context of the intense interconfessional debate in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
This narrative has been the standard one since at least the nineteenth century--and Florovsky only reformulates it slightly. Muscovite churchmen, he says, were aware of the need for reform; the crucial question was whether it would be a Latin or a "Slavono-Greek." The latter proved inadequate, and the former won out, bringing to Russia the fateful pseudomorphosis. Florovsky, curiously enough, does not seem to posit the retention of traditional Muscovite religion as either a possible or a desirable alternative. Everything, for him, boils down to what was truer to the organic essence--the "soil"--of Russian religion. (He is unapologetically associated with Toynbee and Spengler.)
But this is an unsustainable position. What "soil" could there be in a national religious tradition whose apocryphal founding myth involves a barbarian king rejecting Islam and Judaism because he likes wine and pork and accepting Orthodoxy because of its pretty churches? Centuries of habit do not turn accidents into substance. The truth is, Russian religion--and Russian enthonational consciousness--has always been sustained and nourished by the grafting of foreign tissues onto its body. It thrives when it is forced to confront and absorb the alien and unfamiliar; it stagnates when it turns around and insists that it was always one and indivisible, and must be kept that way at all costs.
The words of a Russian writer express this better than I ever could:
Kostomarov once rightly noted that the "Schism hunted for tradition and attempted to adhere as closely as possible to it; yet the Schism was a new phenomenon, not the old life." Therein lies the Schism's fatal paradox: it did not embody the past, but rather a dream about Old Russia. The Schism represents mourning for an unrealized and unrealizable dream. The "Old Believer" [Starover] is a very new spiritual type.
Division and split wholly constitute the Schism. Born in disillusionment, it lived and was nourished by this feeling of loss and deprivation, not by any feeling of power and possession. Possessing nothing, losing everything, the Schism, more with nostalgia and torment than with routine and custom, could only wait and thirst, flee and escape. The Schism was excessively dreamy, suspicious, and restive. There is something romantic about the Schism.
The writer? Georges Florovsky.