What was the attitude of the reformers (Martin Luther in particular) toward the Eastern Orthodox Church? Was the idea of becoming part of the Eastern church entertained?


Luther was generally positive toward the Eastern Orthodox church, especially because it rejected many of the things he most disliked about the Roman Catholic church: clerical celibacy, papal supremacy, purgatory, indulgences, and Communion by bread alone. He frequently referred to the beliefs and practices of the "Greek church," as he called it, as evidence that Catholics had deviated from principles upon which Christians formerly agreed.

Luther never attempted to build a bridge to the Eastern church, but some of his followers did. Philipp Melanchthon worked with Demetrios Mysos, a deacon sent by the patriarch of Constantinople to find out about the new religious movement in Germany, to complete a Greek translation/paraphrase of the Augsburg Confession, called the Augustana Graeca. Mysos was supposed to take the document back to Constantinople, but he died on the journey.

Some Lutheran theologians at Tubingen tried to establish an even closer connection. The "Eastern Orthodoxy" entry in The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation, edited by Hans J. Hillerbrand, reports:

The Lutherans were convinced that they, rather than Rome, were the true apostolic and catholic church, and thus to establish contact with the venerable Greek church, to enlist its support against the papacy, and perhaps even to enter into communion with this apostolic church would have been a sensational victory. Thus in 1575 they sent the Augustana Graeca to Patriarch Jeremias II (d. 1595), asking his opinion. There ensued over the next six years a friendly but candid exchange of extensive doctrinal correspondence (three letters from both sides totaling over four hundred printed pages). Prominent topics discussed included the authority of scripture and tradition; the filioque; the nature of the church; grace, free will, and synergism; justification, faith, and good works; eucharistic practices; the priesthood and the ministry; prayers for the departed; the invocation of saints; feasts and fasting; and monasticism. Except for those doctrines and customs of the Roman church that the East had never accepted, the changes in church teaching and polity advocated by the Lutherans were rejected by the Orthodox, who thus implicitly agreed on most issues with the Catholics.

For more information, see:

16th Century Lutheran & Orthodox Dialogue http://www.stpaulsirvine.org/html/lutheran.htm.

Jorgenson, Wayne James: The Augustana Graeca and the Correspondence between the Tubingen Lutherans

Patriarch Jeremias: Scripture and Tradition in Theological Methodology. Ann Arbor, 1979.

Mastrantonis, George: Augsburg and Constantinople. Brookline, Mass., 1982.

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