John Mason Neale and the Quest for Sobornost

John Mason Neale and the Quest for Sobornost

John Mason Neale and the Quest for Sobornost

John Mason Neale and the Quest for Sobornost

Synopsis

John Mason Neale (1818-1866), the famous Victorian divine, hymnologist, novelist, historian, and author of the carol "Good King Wenceslas," was also noted for his interest in ecumenism. This book traces Neale's interest in the Orthodox church, as expressed through his historical writings, translations of Greek hymns, and novels set in the Christian East. The work is based on a wide variety of manuscript and published sources for the subject, and demonstrates how this leading light in Anglo-Catholic revival acted as an exemplary interpreter of Byzantium and Eastern Orthodoxy to the Victorian England of his day. Neale's life and work provide a shining example of how two very different cultures and traditions can approach each other, with fruitful results for both.

Excerpt

In addition to the religious and theological factors which led Neale to investigate the Eastern Church, there were also secular, cultural, and historical motivations at work; these factors may be grouped under the general heading of 'orientalism'.

Neale had specific ideas on how the subject of the Orthodox Church should be approached. He believed that those Anglicans who had previously written about the Christian East, including Paul Ricaut (The Present State of the Greek and Armenian Churches, 1679) and John Covel (Some Account of the Present Greek Church, 1722), were biased in their attitudes. Some had not mastered the languages in which the source materials were written--a fundamental weakness, Neale thought. Others considered the Orthodox Church to be in error, and therefore inferior to their own; they claimed that the Orthodox were in need of instruction in Western practices in order to redeem themselves. This latter view seems to have been based on the idea that the steadfastness of Eastern tradition was synonymous with stagnation, and was presented in the earlier studies in the guise of a comparison between 'undesirable' Orthodox practices and the more attractive, 'acceptable' ways of the Western Church. in order to avoid being accused of doing likewise, Neale established the following general principle for himself in writing about the Orthodox Church: 'The historian should write, not as a member of the Roman, nor as a member of the English Church; but, as far as may be, with Oriental views, feelings and even, perhaps, prepossessions' (alx i, p. xvi). Thus Neale assayed for himself an Eastern frame of mind, which he believed would enable him to write about Orthodoxy freely, and avoid the shortcomings which he noted in his predecessors.

In spite of Neale's wish to do better than these earlier writers . . .

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