Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Political and Polemical Motives of Johann Fabri's Moscouitarum Religio (1525-26)

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Political and Polemical Motives of Johann Fabri's Moscouitarum Religio (1525-26)

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.)

Given the difficulty in determining certain details about religious life in medieval Russia using the available sources, conflicting accounts from foreign descriptions of Moscow need to be carefully scrutinized. A report, which Johann Fabri wrote in 1525 and published the following year, explains at least as much about Fabri's interests-and those of Archduke Ferdinand whom he served-as it does about religion in Muscovy. The strong degree of affinity that Fabri sought to demonstrate between the "religion of the Muscovites" and Catholic faith and practice attests to the political and polemical motivations that arose out of his immediate context.

Negant Rutheni sanctum Petrum vere papam, et verum Romanae sedis antistitem et ecclesiae militantis caput unicum fuisse, nec accepisse plenitudinem auctoritatis a Christo, quod et de quolibet Romano pontifice successore eius tenent, et communem eum cum aliis pontificibus esse dicunt . . . Negant Ecclesiam Romanam caput esse Ecclesiarum omnium, principem rectricem et magistram . . . Dicunt omnes obedientes Romanae ecclesiae veros christianos non esse, neque salvandos, eo quod ab ecclesia primitiva discrepant . . . Immo dominum papam cum ecclesia romana dicunt hereticum esse de heresi ariana et catholicos omnes arianistas vocant et anatematizant ipsum tempore cene domini cum suo Clero. Dicuntque non habere plenam potestatem ligandi et solvendi.

- Jan Laski to Fifth Lateran Council; Fathers.April 5, 1514(1)

Pontificem Ro. ut Christi uicarium et successorem Petri agnoscunt . . . haec religio, illa pietas, Serenissime princeps, quae in uniuersam inclyta tua in rebus diuinis procurandis sedulitas ignorare omnino noluit, ideoque iussu tuo haec certe illorum hominum perquisita sunt... nihil tamen minus quam sacrosanctam Mam fidem in Christum . . . pro genuine hactenus pietate sui sint amplexi omnem impietatem et in deos et in parentes maioreque, et in patriam.

- Johann Fabri to Archduke Ferdinand, September 18, 1525(2)

It is remarkable that the above excerpts from two of the earliest Western reports on religion in Muscovy were both produced by highranking Roman Catholic clerics within eleven years of each other. The two reports are in no way related to each other except for their obvious contribution to the Catholic Church's knowledge about religion and life in Muscovy. Clearly the authors differ in their aim and audience, due largely to their respective national perspectives and the attenuating political factors that motivated the composition of their reports, as will be demonstrated in the following study. It is in light of a critical contextual analysis of Fabri's report that the contrasting views offered in these two reports can be better understood in relation to the actual subject they are discussing. When contrasted with the perspective found in Laski's report, Fabri clearly demonstrates the underlying political aims of what at first glance may appear to be "interconfessional dialogue" between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church in Muscovy.

In 1514, Jan Laski, a Polish representative at the Fifth Lateran Council, used the basic contents of an already available report on Christianity as practiced by the Ruthenians, the inhabitants of eastern Slavic lands, and added his own introduction to frame the report. Another report on religion of the eastern Slavs appears in 1525 in Tübingen, written by an equally prominent cleric, Dr. Johann Fabri, confessor to Archduke Ferdinand. Fabri's report was based on his interview with two Russian diplomatic emissaries.

Taken at face value, these reports could be used as documentary sources on religion as it was practiced in Muscovy in the early sixteenth century. The problem with using either report is that their data are contradictory at numerous points. The task of this study is not to compare the two reports to discern which facts are correct and which are false;3 it is concerned primarily with the background and underlying motivations that can explain why Fabri's depiction of religion in Muscovy was so different from that of Laski and others. …

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