Written by Vladimir Moss



     Ecumenism has deep roots in European paganism. In a sense the Roman Empire was ecumenist, since it embraced all religions so long as they did not constitute a threat to the State.Thus in the year 384, Symmachus, the pagan leader of the Roman Senate, wrote to the Emperor Theodosius the Great, appealing to him to be tolerant towards the pagans because, as he said, many paths led to God… He chose the wrong emperor to appeal to, because St. Theodosius was the most anti-ecumenist of Christians.

     An excellent definition of the folly of ecumenism as understood by the Romans was given by St. Leo the Great in the fifth century: "Rome..., though it ruled almost all nations, was enthralled by the errors of them all, and seemed to itself to have fostered religion greatly, because it rejected no falsehood.” It was only the Christians and the Jews who did not accept the Roman thesis that all religions are to be respected. They asserted, by contrast, that “all the gods of the pagans are demons” (Psalm 95.5).

     The origins of ecumenism go back to Asia Minor in the second century, to Apelles, a disciple of the heretic Marcion. As the Athonite Elder Augustine writes: “Apelles, the head of the numerous sect, venerable both for his life and for his age, wanted to undertake the pacification and unification of all the shoots of the heretic Marcion under a single rule and authority. With this aim he exerted all his powers to come into contact with all the leaders of the sects, but had to admit that it was impossible to persuade each sect to abandon its unreasonable dogmatic teaching and accept that of another. Having come away from his attempts at mediation with no fruit, he decided a bridge had to be built, a way of living together peaceably, or a mutual tolerance of each other, with a single variety of ‘faith’…

     “Starting from this point of view, he established an atheist dogma of unity, which has been called, after him, ‘the atheist dogma of Apelles’, with the notorious slogan: ‘… We don’t have to examine the matter thoroughly, everyone can remain in his faith; for those who hope on the Crucified One,’ he declared, ‘will be saved so long as they are found to have good works.’ Or, to put it more simply: ‘it is not at all necessary to examine the matter – the differences between us – but everyone should retain his convictions, because,’ he declared, ‘those who hope on the Crucified One will be saved so long as they are found to practise good works!… ‘ It would be superfluous to explain that this atheist dogma of Apelles was first formulated by the heretic Marcion himself (whom St. Polycarp, the disciple of the Apostle John, called ‘the first-born of Satan’) and is entirely alien to the Christians. We Christians love the heterodox and we long for a real and holy union with them – when they become sober and believe in an Orthodox manner in our Lord Jesus Christ, abandoning their heretical and mistaken beliefs and ‘their distorted image of Christ’ (see Eusebius, History, bk. 5, 13-15; Dositheus of Jerusalem, Dodecabiblon, bk. 2, chapter 13, para. 3).”[1] 

     Apelles’ dogma was condemned at the Fifth Ecumenical Council, but reappeared at a later date. Thus the twelfth-century Arab philosopher and doctor Avveroes pleaded for a kind of union between Christians, Jews, Muslims and pagans that was avidly discussed in western scholastic circles.[2]

     Again, the variant of Apelleanism known as uniatism – that is, the union between Roman Catholicism and other religions – appeared after the schism of 1054. As Elder Augustine explains: “After the canonical cutting off of the Latins from the Church as a whole in 1054, that is, after their definitive schism and anathematisation, there was also the acceptance, or rather the application, of the atheist dogma of Apelles. The Catholic (=Orthodox) Church of Christ condemned the heresies of the Nestorians, Monophysites and Monothelites in the (Third, Fourth and Sixth) Ecumenical Councils. It anathematised the heretics and their heretical teachings and declared those who remained in the above-mentioned heresies to be excommunicate. The apostate ‘church’ of Rome took no account of the decisions of these Ecumenical Councils, but received into communion the unrepentant and condemned Nestorian, Monophysite and Monothelite heretics without any formality, with only the recognition of the Pope as Monarch of the Church. And not only the heretics, but also many others after this, were received into communion with only the recognition of the Monarchy of the blood-stained beast that presided in it.”[3]

     However, Apelleanism in its modern, ecumenist variety is a product of the Protestant Reformation. The Protestants rejected the idea of the Church as “the pillar and ground of the Truth” (I Timothy 3.15) and vaunted the power of the individual mind to find the truth independently of any Church. This led to a proliferation of Protestant sects, which in turn led to attempts to achieve unity by agreeing on a minimum truth, which in turn led to the idea that all faiths are true “in their own way”. Thus the Anglican Settlement of the mid-sixteenth century was a kind of Protestant Unia. The Anglican Church was allowed to retain some of the outward trappings of Catholicism, but without its central pivot, the papacy, which was replaced by obedience to the secular monarch as head of the Church. Being a politically motivated compromise from the beginning, Anglicanism has always been partial to ever more comprehensive schemes of inter-Church and inter-faith union, and many leaders of the ecumenical movement in the twentieth century were Anglicans.[4]

     In 1614 there appeared the first modern ecumenist, George Kalixtos, a man famous, according to Elder Augustine, “for the breadth of his knowledge and his ‘eirenic’ spirit in tackling various questions, including ecclesiastical ones. Propelled by this spirit, he declared that there was no need of, nor did he even seek, the union of the various Churches… Nevertheless, he did demand their mutual recognition and the retaining of reciprocal ‘love’ through the reciprocal tolerance of the manifold differences of each ‘Church’…”[5]

     As religious passions cooled round Europe at the end of the Thirty Years War, the Freemasons took the lead in preaching religious tolerance and indifference. The ecumenism of Masonry was linked to the crisis of faith in the Anglican church in the early eighteenth century, and in particular to the loss of faith in the unique truth and saving power of Christianity.

     Thus “in 1717,” wrote William Palmer, “a controversy arose on occasion of the writings of Hoadly, bishop of Bangor, in which he maintained that it was needless to believe in any particular creed, or to be united to any particular Church; and that sincerity, or our own persuasion of the correctness of our opinions (whether well or ill founded) is sufficient. These doctrines were evidently calculated to subvert the necessity of believing the articles of the Christian faith, and to justify all classes of schismatics or separatists from the Church. The convocation deemed these opinions so mischievous, that a committee was appointed to select propositions from Hoadly’s books, and to procure their censure; but before his trial could take place, the convocation was prorogued by an arbitrary exercise of the royal authority…”[6]

     Hardly coincidentally, 1717, the year in which Hoadly’s heretical views were published, was the same year in which the Grand Lodge of England was founded. And we find a very similar doctrine enshrined in Dr. Anderson’s Constitutions: “Let a man’s religion or mode of worship be what it may, he is not excluded from the order, provided he believe in the glorious architect of heaven and earth.” In accordance with this principle, Jews were admitted to the Masonic lodges as early as 1724.[7]

     But English Masonry went further than English ecumenism in positing that underlying all religions there was a “true, primitive, universal religion”, a religion “in which all men agree”: “A Mason is obliged, by his tenure, to obey the moral Law; and if he rightly understands the Art, he will never be a stupid Atheist, nor an irreligious Libertine. But though in ancient Times Masons were charged in every Country to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was, yet, ‘tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that Religion in which all men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves; that is to be good Men and true, or Men of Honour and Honesty, but whatever Denominations or Persuasions they may be distinguish’d; whereby Masonry becomes the Centre of Union and the Means of Conciliating true Friendships among Persons that must have remained at a perpetual Distance.”

     A new and extremely deceptive concept was here introduced into the bloodstream of European thought: “that Religion in which all men agree”. There is no such thing… Even if we exclude the “stupid Atheists” and “irreligious Libertines” (of whom there are very many), we still find men disagreeing radically about the most fundamental doctrines: whether God is one, or one-in-three, or more than three, whether He is to be identified with nature or distinguished from it, whether He is evolving or unchanging, whether or not He became incarnate in Jesus Christ, whether or not He spoke to Mohammed, whether or not He is coming to judge the world, etc. Upon the answers to these questions depend our whole concept of right and wrong, of what it is “to be good Men and true”. Far from there being unanimity among “religious” people about this, there is bound to be most radical disagreement...

     A critical role in the development of ecumenism was played by Rousseau, who insisted that men should believe in a “civil religion” that combined belief in “the existence of an omnipotent, benevolent divinity that foresees and provides; the life to come; the happiness of the just; the punishment of sinners; the sanctity of the social contract and the law”.[8] If any citizen accepted these beliefs, but then “behaved as if he did not believe in them”, the punishment was death. As Jacques Barzun writes: “Rousseau reminds the reader that two-thirds of mankind are neither Christians nor Jews, nor Mohammedans, from which it follows that God cannot be the exclusive possession of any sect or people; all their ideas as to His demands and His judgements are imaginings. He asks only that we love Him and pursue the good. All else we know nothing about. That there should be quarrels and bloodshed about what we can never know is the greatest impiety.”[9]

     Now Ecumenism may be described as religious egalitarianism, the doctrine that one religion is as good as any other. When combined, as it was in the lodges of Europe and America, with political and social egalitarianism, the doctrine that one person is as good as any other, it made for an explosive mixture – not just a philosophy, but a programme for revolutionary action. And this revolutionary potential of Masonry became evident very soon after it spread from England to the Continent…


February 7/20, 2019.

[1] Monk Augustine, “To atheon dogma tou Oikoumenismou Prodromou tou Antikhristou”, Agios Agathangelos Esphigmenites, 121, September-October, 1990, pp. 33-34, 1

[2] Monk Augustine, “To atheon dogma tou Oikoumenismou Prodromou tou Antikhristou”, Agios Agathangelos Esphigmenites, 120, July-August, 1990, pp. 21-21.

[3] Monk Augustine, “To atheon dogma tou Oikoumenismou Prodromou tou Antikhristou”, Agios Agathangelos Esphigmenites, 120, July-August, 1990, pp. 21-22.

[4] V. Moss, “Ecucommunism”, Living Orthodoxy, September-October, 1989, vol. XI, N 5, pp. 13-18.

[5] Monk Augustine, “To atheon dogma tou Oikoumenismou Prodromou tou Antikhristou”, Agios Agathangelos Esphigmenites, 121, September-October, 1990, pp. 33-34.

[6] Palmer, A Compendious Ecclesiastical History, New York: Stanford & Swords, 1850, p. 165.

[7] Jasper Ridley, The Freemasons, London: Constable, 1999.

[8] Rousseau, The Social Contract, London: Penguin Books, p. 286.

[9] Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence, New York: Perennial, 2000, p. 387.

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