Thursday, July 11, 2013

Fr. Brian W. Harrison on Saints Cyril and Methodius


Even though no formal rupture had yet occurred between East and West, the two brothers’ determination to maintain in practice the unity that still existed in principle proved very difficult and costly for them. The harassment and suffering they had to endure resulted partly from political expansionism of German princes seeking dominion over the Slavic peoples, but it was due even more to a heretical aberration that was then circulating among quite a few highly-placed German and Latin churchmen. This was the theory that became known as ‘Trilingualism’. (If you have never heard of this early heresy, don’t feel bad, because hardly anyone else today has heard of it either – probably because it was rather easily refuted and so quite short-lived.) Trilingualists exhibited a classic example of the pharisaical mentality that our Lord reproved so severely in the religious leaders of first-century Israel. But now it re-surfaced in Christian rather than Jewish garb. Elevating merely human, and in this case, geographically local, traditions to the level of divine revelation, they insisted vehemently that only three of the world’s innumerable languages were noble and ‘sacred’ enough to be used for divine worship or for translating the Sacred Scriptures: Hebrew, Greek and Latin. Some extreme Trilingualists apparently even insisted that all teaching and preaching be done in one or other of these languages. (Their God, it would seem, was imposing some pretty stiff linguistic requirements on most of the world’s inhabitants as a condition for citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven.) Rather curiously, for people who appealed loudly to Sacred Tradition, the Trilingualists’ favourite authority was a gentleman whom few would have included among the holy Fathers and Doctors of the Church: none other than Pontius Pilate! After all, had not the Roman procurator himself ordered the words above the crucified Saviour’s head to be written in these three languages, and no other?

I see this sentiment on the internet from time to time - the author may not limit the language of sacred scripture exclusively to these three, but there is a preference for one of them to be used, either as the language of scripture or the language of the liturgy. Should these three languages be privileged above all others?