It came as a shock when this was first pointed out to me. Or rather, to be more accurate, it was a shock when I first realised how true it was of me. For a pastor friend was pointing out how perfectly capable we all are of justifying any action to ourselves; and worse, how perfectly capable we all are of justifying any action in specifically spiritual terms.

Now, I’ve been thinking a lot about this in recent days, in part because of the breathtaking events of hackgate and the like. It’s been shameful, not least because of the (dreadful) means that have been justified on the grounds of various (dubious) ends. But I’ve been very wary of the dangers of morally superior smugness.

This is in no sense to play denominational games. I’m well aware that ‘hot prots’ have gone off the ethical piste at various times. But this little episode did strike home from what was an admittedly dark chapter in the history of the Roman papacy.

For I’ve just this weekend finished in an interesting, if partisan, biography of the controversial (then and even now) seventeenth-century Patriarch of Constantinople, Cyril I Lucaris. I may post other thoughts from this book in due course (for Cyril was profoundly influenced by the Reformation, and has been credited with, and lambasted for, attempting to introduce a form of Calvinism into Greek Orthodoxy).

But one of his major troubles was caused by Rome’s attempts to undermine and even depose him, partly because the pope at the time, Clement VII, had designs on bringing the Greek church under his yoke. He wasn’t the first pope to try this, but the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide had become particularly annoyed by the fact that their monopoly of printing theological works in Greek was being threatened by a press Cyril had (quite reasonably) set up in Constantinople.

A further meeting of the Congregatio was called four days later, on July 25, 1628, and this time the Pope himself presided. Three possible methods of dealing with Lucaris were discussed. The first was toe establish proceedings against him before the Roman Inquisition. The second was to establish proceedings before a Synod of Greek patriarchs and bishops. And the third was the usual way of bribery, both in connection with the Greek clerics who had the right of electing the Patriarch and in connection with the Turkish authorities. After much deliberation, the third of these methods was adopted as the most effective. The Congregatio, however, was not willing to proceed with the application of this method without first ascertaining that it was right and just according both to human and divine law, as if this were the first time that the Roman authorities had recourse to bribery in their efforts to get rid of Cyril. A questionnaire was therefore submitted to the Inquisition on the following points: Whether according to divine and human law it was permissible to use bribery in order to bring about Cyril’s deposition; whether it was worthy of the dignity of the Holy See to have recourse to such a method; whether it was more worthy of the dignity of the Holy See to spend this money in bribing the Turks or in bribing the Greek bishops who had a part in the election of the Patriarch; whether this deposition could be rendered just and honest by any other leans.

It took the Holy See a long time to complete its investigations before giving an answer to the above questionnaire. On August 19, 1628, the Pope charged Cardinals Millini and Scaglia to hasten the Lucaris case, whereupon the Inquisition immediately began its long sessions. At last on March 23, 1629, the Pope informed the Congregatio that the Holy Office approved of the deposition of Cyril and declared that it was quite in accordance with divine and human law to use bribery in order to bring about this desirable end.

These decisions of the Congregatio, which would be executed by the Capuchins and Father Joseph behind the scenes and the imperial ambassador Rudolph Schmidt Schwarzenhorn in Constantinople, open up a new period in the struggle of the Church of Rome against Cyril and his reformation work.

Protestant Patriarch, pp89-90

Well… it’s all pretty grim and grubby… and yet, there but for the grace…

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  1. Marcus

    On one occasion I recall being on the receiving end of some very poor behaviour from other believers. It was justified in spiritual terms and an end-justifying-the-means argument was used. I don’t think this approach was simply self-justification, I think they actually believed it. Two things remain with me:

    1. What we think is likely to be a godly end never justifies ungodly means
    2. It was extremely tempting to respond in kind, more and more so the more I got hurt. And I would probably have done so if it hadn’t been for some very godly accountability partners who helped me to resist the pressure.

    When we experience the ungodly getting their way by ungodly means, it is an extremely subtle temptation to want to fight fire with fire, thinking that we can obtain godlier ends by using the same tactics. And simply become like them as a result. The reasons for doing so are (a) human pride and hurt and (b) assuming that God will bless any means we use. The latter assumes that we have to win the battle for the Lord rather than him winning it.

    It is much better to lose, humanly-speaking, and to miss our desired goals than to gain them by ungodly means.

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