Jack Turner (2015) The Orthodoxy of the Anglo-Saxons: conversion and loyalty in the pre-conquest English Church, International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church, 15:3, 199 213, DOI: 10.1080/1474225X.2015.1083780

The article cited above is very interesting. To anyone who has an interest in this topic, it is a must-read.

It is, in short summary, a critique of the main points put forward by John Romanides, Andrew Philips, and Vladimir Moss, that England before the Norman invasion of 1066 was an “Orthodox” land.

Turner deconstructs every argument that England was actually aligned with Constantinople and not Rome, which concludes with this rather forceful paragraph:

As can be seen, reform came with the Norman Conquest, but it was a reform that was already underway due to the presence in England of Anglo-Saxon and foreign prelates who were already interested in the reform, and the progress of reform was uneven in any case. For that matter, even though Moss and Phillips both suppose that the Conquest brought a new surge of papal influence to England, the evidence leads us to the opposite conclusion, and there is no reason to conclude, as Moss has,63 that the break in communion between Stigand and the papacy represents a deliberate stance of Orthodoxy. The circumstances related to Stigand’s suspension and possibly excommunication were wholly unrelated to the dispute of 1054. For that matter, even the 1054 dispute was not important in ecclesiastical relations a generation after the schism, and there was little recognition on either side that they were now unalterably separated; all of this comes much later than the period under discussion, hence it cuts to the heart of Phillips and Moss’s underlying point that the schism was final in 1054 and was recognised as such by the Orthodox at the time. As for the other evidence cited by Phillips and Moss, it is either at best mixed or at least has been misinterpreted or misrepresented. Overall, the evidence presents a mixture of continuity and change that is consistent with William’s desire to invade England to secure his inheritance and gain the honour of kingship rather than to make wholesale changes to England’s political or religious identity.64 In that regard, the Conquest is less crusade and more civil war, though the latter term may be considered inadequate by some. Nevertheless, it is still not the holy war to wrest Anglo-Saxon England out of the sphere of Greek Christianity, as would be argued by Philips and Moss.

There is a certain anti-Western and anti-Catholic strand in Eastern Orthodoxy which must make create such myths. It pops up most noticeably when Orthodox will only recognize as saints westerners who died before 1054. It is also inherent in the bias that every theological and spiritual development in the west in the second millenium is useless at best, heretical most probably, but that every theological and spiritual development in the east in the second millennium is not only good, but must be adopted by all those who wish to be a part of the “true” church. The preference for the “undivided church” of the first millennium in 20th century scholarship has been a positive one, but twisting it into amputating half of the heritage of Christianity is a negative deformation of that solid foundation.

Turner goes on to make a very good point in the conclusion:

In reality, Moss is attempting to address a very significant problem for Western converts to Orthodoxy, at least insofar as it relates to his native land. It is difficult to simply sweep away the ecclesiastical heritage of one’s home as if it were non-Christian, even though there are many Orthodox authors and theologians who understand the post-Schism West to be indistinguishable from non-Christian religions. One means of dealing with one’s pre-Orthodox Christian past (personal or national) is to determine what elements remain acceptable in one’s new confession. This is embedded in Moss’s stated aim, which he points out is neither political nor social, but spiritual in hoping to aid the future canonisation of Harold Godwinson as an Orthodox saint, and he relies almost exclusively on hagiographical sources because modern researchers are ‘bias[ed] against anything that smacks of the miraculous’.71 This further explains his selective use of modern Conquest studies and his preferences for hostile Anglo-Saxon accounts.

Secondly, we can detect an undercurrent of anti-Roman Catholic hostility in the entire enterprise. Moss’s anti-Catholicism is not a significant surprise. In one sense, it is little different from Anglican attempts to demonstrate that their church had always been jurisdictionally separate from Rome in an effort to support the separate course Anglicanism has taken since the English Reformation.72 By demonstrating England’s separateness from Rome, he and Phillips are able to justify the Orthodoxy of England’s ecclesiastical heritage, at least up to the point of the Conquest itself, and all the better if the early Anglo-Saxon conversion can somehow be linked with the East as well.73 Neither Moss nor Phillips takes the logical next step of considering the progress of reform in the other territories in Britain and Ireland; Moss considers the ‘end’ of the Welsh and Irish churches briefly,74 but does not provide any consideration of the Scottish Church. At what point can we think of Scotland as having entered Schism since it was never conquered by the Normans and did not have strong relations with the papacy prior to the twelfth century?75 And what of the point that 1054 was not considered a catastrophic break by those living at the time; what bearing does that have? These questions, neither asked nor answered, are serious challenges to the edifice erected by Moss and Phillips but are never given their due by the authors.

As an Anglican, I am also concerned that we do not ground ourselves to deeply in being simply not-Rome, whether that not-Rome happened at 1054 or 1066 or 1534. Being not-Rome, however, does not mean being Orthodox. In Orthodox ecclesiological terms, autonomous national churches are normal, and it seems to me odd that the only reason why Orthodox accept the Romanian church as valid, but the Anglican church as not. What it basically comes down to is that the Romanian rite is eastern and the Anglican rite is western. To bound the “true faith” together with a rite is something that if you push within Orthodox churches themselves obviously falls apart, so that doesn’t work. The argument that Anglicans have “jumped the shark” since the 70’s is a red-herring, as every Orthodox simply refuses to recognize the existence of the Continuum (or resorts to mocking it for stupid reasons if they do see it).

To put it plainly – what I see Moss et al. trying to do is bigotry. Just as people tried to desperately try to explain the away the pyramids because it was inconceivable that they were made by Africans, this refusal to acknowledge that the English could ever have their own valid church unless it was “Orthodox” and connected to Constantinople is likewise disgustingly biased. And much like racism itself, most Orthodox I meet do not even realize that they hold this bias. They nearly all think that even the most sacramental traditionalist continuers among the Anglicans need to be “fixed” to become acceptable. As if our problem is that we need to stop being so prideful, pull up our pants, and act white.

I believe there could be a lot of fruitful discussion between the Orthodox and the catholic Continuers. But the myths such as Moss et al are not helpful, and impede any flourishing of respect.