Volume III - Church History

Sixteenth Century

Patriarch Jeremias II and the Dialogue with the Lutherans

From about 1575 to 1581 a noteworthy correspondence and theological dialogue took place between the leading Lutheran theologians, teaching at the University of Tubingen in Germany, and Patriarch Jeremias II of Constantinople. The dialogue was initiated by the Lutherans, who were eager to gain an ally in their opposition to the Roman Papacy. They hoped that their Protestant theology, as summarized in a Greek translation of the Augsburg Confession of 1530, would find favor with the Patriarch. However, the Patriarch, with assistance from advisors, pointed out many theological errors in the Augsburg Confession. The dialogue collapsed principally on the issue of the role of the Church Fathers in the proper interpretation of the Holy Scriptures.

Such careful, extended theological dialogue would not take place again between Protestants and the Orthodox until 1716, when some Non-Juror Anglicans entered into theological discussion with representatives of the Patriarchate of Alexandria who were visiting London. Tsar Peter I of Russia (r. 1689–1725) even took interest in this dialogue, but it ended when it was denounced by the Archbishop of Canterbury on the grounds that the Non-Jurors were in schism from the Anglican Church.

The next substantial ecumenical dialogue would not occur until the middle of the nineteenth century, when certain Anglican theologians of the Oxford Movement showed much interest in the Church of Russia. Orthodoxy was very ably described and defended in this unofficial dialogue by the distinguished lay theologian, Alexei Khomiakov (1804–1860).