Mr. Read to Mr. Fish.

No. 219.]

Sir: On the 1st of July, 1876, the minister of public instruction, on the demand of the holy synod, the supreme ecclesiastical authority and head of the state church of Greece, issued a circular prohibiting the dissemination or reading of certain books (a list of which is annexed in the translation of the above circular, marked 1) in the communal and private schools throughout the kingdom. On the same date the same minister issued a second circular, prohibiting the sale and circulation of the same books within the kingdom, on the ground that they were likely to entrap the simple-minded and interfere with their faith in the established orthodox church of Greece. This action, I am informed, was based upon article I of the Greek constitution, which is as follows:

“Article I. The prevailing religion in Greece is the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ. Every other known religion is tolerated, and whatever concerns the ceremonies of these tolerated religions may be performed without obstacle under the protection of the laws, proselytism being, however, forbidden, as also every other interference with the prevailing religion.”

A week ago the Rev. Mr. G. Leyburn, an American citizen, representing the American, and British and Foreign Bible Societies, and the Southern [Page 310] Presbyterian Board of Missions, and the Rev. Mr. Kalapothakes, a Greek citizen, also representing the above institutions, came to complain of the promulgation of the second order, saying that they had ten or twelve agents in different parts of Greece engaged in the sale of these work; that their shop in Patras had already been closed by orders of the government, and that further steps were about to be taken to stop the sale of the books in their charge belonging to the American and British Bible Societies, by which the said societies would suffer large pecuniary loss.

They desired me to see the minister of foreign affairs, to ascertain if some arrangement might not be made for the withdrawal of the second order.

I called unofficially upon the minister of foreign affairs, but did not find him at home. In the mean time Mr. Leyburn had published a letter in the Stoa which called forth a sharp reply from the Ephemeris.

* * * * * * *

Saturday morning I had an unofficial conversation with Mr. Contostaolos, in which I referred to the matter, saying particularly that the prohibition of the sale of the Bible had created great surprise, as its circulation was allowed now even in Turkey.

He replied that he was not informed with regard to this particular case, but that in general the holy synod was not opposed to the circulation of the Bible, but that it had a right to object to the sale of translations of which it did not approve, and which it considered contained passages injurious to the dogmas of the church. He said that he would inform himself particularly upon the subject, and communicate the result to me. In the mean time I made myself thoroughly acquainted with the laws and with the constitutional provisions touching the matter, especially article 14 of the Greek constitution, which contains this clause: “Chacun peut publier ses pensées oralement, parécrit ou par la presse, en observant les lois de l’état. La presse est libre. La censure, ainsi que toute autre mesure préventive, sont prohibées.” In the language of a distinguished Belgian commentator, “De cet article il resulte que la manifestation des opinions en toute matière est guarantie par la constitution, qu’elle ne peut être sujettée à des mesurespréventives, que notre systême ne peut être que répressif.”

Further investigation convinced me that while the minister of public instruction had a perfect right to issue the first circular, he was entirely wrong in issuing the second, which resulted in prohibiting the sale and circulation of the volumes in question and even the closing of the shop at Patras.

If the holy synod believed that these works contained passages antagonistic to the Greek Church, it had a right to make complaint to the minister of public instruction, whose duty it would then be, not to issue a prohibitory circular, but to bring the matter before the national tribunals, upon whose examination and subsequent decision all action must depend. From my knowledge of the government, and of the prime minister, I hoped and believed that a clear unofficial statement of the case would be taken into favorable consideration. Accordingly I called upon Mr. Commoundouros unofficially, as I took care to inform him, and related the facts and gave him my view of the case, observing in conclusion that while I thought that the minister had no right to issue the circular, I supposed that he might have a right to resort to legal measures, but that as a friend of the government of Greece, I believed it would be much better not to take such a step, but to nullify the second circular and say no more about the matter; that I felt sure that [Page 311] such a course would be appreciated by many friends of Greece in all parts of the world. Mr. Commoundouros received me with great cordiality, and, after a thorough discussion of the matter, said: “I agree with your view, and I will talk with the other members of the cabinet and give you a reply to-morrow.” On Tuesday I called again upon the prime minister, and he hastened to say that orders had already been issued to allow the free circulation and sale of the Scriptures and other books in all parts of the kingdom. He seemed to be much pleased by the friendly course which I had pursued in the matter, and I was happy to observe the enlightened spirit in which he met the case.

It is impossible to describe the jealousy entertained by the Greeks toward anything which has the slightest appearance of leaning toward proselytism. This feeling lies at the base of their political and religious existence, and few public men would dare even to seem to run counter to it.

The prompt and liberal action of the government, therefore, in this case, in response to a merely unofficial suggestion, reflects the highest credit upon their independence and liberality of sentiment.

I have, &c.,

[Inclosure 1 in No. 219.—Translation.]

Translation of circular extracted from the semi-official organ of the ministry, the Ethnicon Puevma of the 14th of July, 1876.

No. 4064, 4209.

Subject: On the suppression of some books in the schools.

Kingdom of Greece.

The ministry of ecclesiastical affairs and public instruction to the directors of the communal and private male and female schools in the kingdom:

The Holy Synod of the church of Greece transmitted to us by their letter of the 22d May / 33d June last, numbered 2985, 3118, a catalogue of such books as are now known to them, the reading and use of which is forbidden in the schools, because they may cause in the spirit of the pious youth impressions contrary to the dogmas, mysteries, rules, teachings, traditions, ceremonies and customs of the Orthodox Eastern Church.

Whereas we are informed that attempts are made to propagate these books among the people, we request you to pay strict attention that such books may not enter, for any reason whatsover, the schools under your direction.

We annex herewith a catalogue of these books for your information.

The minister,

Alex. I. V. Vlachos.

Catalogue of books suppressed as are now known to the holy synod.

The translations of the Old Testament from the original Hebrew into the modern Greek.
The translations of the New Testament into the modern Greek.
Paraphrase of the New Testament into the modern Greek.
Translation of the Old Testament, translated by the Septuagint into modern Greek.
The Gospel of John, with expository notes and practical observations.
Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.
Practical Examination of the Religious System of the Christian by Profession.
The Morning, or a course of primary religious education.
Line upon Line, or a second series, etc.
Precept upon Precept, or a third series, etc.
An Answer to Gibbon.
An Answer to Paine.
On the conversion of Saint Paul.
An abridged history of the Church of Christ.
A Collection of Useful Readings. Vol. I.
John Chrysostoine on the Reading of the Scriptures.
A Collection of Useful Readings. Vol. II.
Saint’s Rest.
Baxter’s Call to the Unconverted.
Butler’s Analogy.
Brief Observations on the History, the Authority, and Purpose of the Sabbath.
Examination of the Internal Evidences of the Christian Faith.
History of Mary Lithrope.
Dairyman’s Daughter.
The Friend of Sinners.
Moral Stories.
The Lord’s Day.
Scripture Narratives.
The Good Shepherd.
Dialogue on the Divine Inspiration of the Bible.
On Penitence.
Natural Theology.
A Mother Keeping her Room.
Infidel Objections Answered.
The Inconveniences of Deism.
The Noble Jean Grey.
The Faded Leaf.
Corae’s Commentary on the Epistles of Timothy and Titus.
[Inclosure 2 in No. 219.—Translation.]

Translation of circular No. 4064, 4209.

Subject: On the suppression of some books in the schools.

Kingdom of Greece.

The ministry of ecclesiastical affairs and public instruction to the prefects and subprefects of the kingdom:

Inclosing herewith sufficient copies of the circular issued to-day to the directors of the communal or private male and female schools, we invite you to send a copy to each one of these directors who may be in your district. At the same time we call your strict attention to what is therein prescribed; to attend to the execution of what is ordered by the above-mentioned circular, and also prevent the selling and circulation of such books; keeping in that way the simplest of citizens from the trap which is laid against their piety.

The minister,

The secretary,
Alex. I. V. Vlachos.
[Inclosure 3 in No. 219.—Translation]

Translation of extract from the Eastern Star, Athens, July 10/22, 1876.

The two circulars of the minister of ecclesiastical affairs and of public instruction.

The minister of ecclesiastical affairs and of public instruction, upon the instigation of the holy synod of the kingdom of Greece, has issued two circulars (one numbered 4064) to the directors of the public and private school, and another (numbered 4208) t o the prefects of the state. By the first he requests the directors of the schools to pay [Page 313] attention that certain books should not be introduced into the schools which they are directors of; a catalogue of these books he also annexed. By the second circular he prays the prefects to prevent the circulation of these books among the people, that the simplest may not purchase them to the damage of their souls, as being opposite “to the dogmas, the mysteries, the rules, the teaching, the traditions, ceremonies, and customs of the Orthodox Oriental Church.”

On every one of these books and requests, their contents we will treat in extenso at the proper time. At present we only say, that among them there are, which do you suppose? If you can help it, dear readers, do not be astonished, do not blush, do not cover your faces for shame for the wretched, degraded condition of the church and the state! Yes, among them, although incredible, are numbered the Holy Scriptures translated into modern Greek; not only from the original Hebrew, but also from the translation of the Septuagint; the translation of the New Testament by the late Typoldos and Th. Bamba; the collection made from the works of Saint John Chrysostome of passages relating to the reading of the Holy Scriptures; the beautiful and important explication of the St. John’s Gospel; the Corae’s commentary on the epistles of Timothy and Titus, and other moral books, the reading and study of which, instead of doing harm, confirm the Christian in his faith, books which we will prove in detail exercise a wholesome influence upon the whole Christian and non-Christian world.

The official act of the minister is very important in its consequences, and cannot do otherwise than cause sorrow to every one who loves Greece and her glory. As such we shall examine it with a sentiment of duty to the country and the church, both of them being badly recommended and dishonored in the Christian world, at a time especially in which fierce idolatrous nations open their doors to the gospel, and at a time when the East, in which Greece pretends to play an important part by Hellenism and Christianism, is shaken to its foundations.

For a more easy explanation of this important question we shall examine it under two points of view, the religious and political; we will show the injustice and mischievous and anti-Christian which is in it. But we hope that the government, examining this affair impartially and with care, will, before it takes a more important character, recall the circulars, which have been signed (we say it with regret) without the least attention; yes, they have been signed blindly by the educated, and up to this time distinguished for his liberal ideas, minister of public instruction, Mr. Milissis.

What is curious is, that at the time when by these circulars he deprives as far as he may do it, (because the people of Greece, we declare it with pleasure, is very far from “believing without examining,”) the people of Greece of the Holy Scriptures and other wholesome books; by another circular he imposes upon the professors and teachers, the bishops and the holy monasteries, a party journal, the purpose of which is not certainly to render the people moral.

[Inclosure 4 in No. 219.—Translation.]

Translation of extract from the Stoa, Athens, July, 27, 1876.

To the editor of the Stoa:

There was lately issued, upon the recommendation of the holy synod of Greece, by the minister of ecclesiastical affairs and public instruction, a circular by which the reading of some books in the public and private schools of the state is forbidden, “because they may inspire impressions contrary to the ordinations, mysteries and rules, the teaching, traditions, ceremonies, and customs of the Orthodox Oriental Church.”

That circular is very important, and worthy of every attention by all your countrymen, because the Holy Synod, this high ecclesiastical body of the free state of regenerated Greece, describes some books, a catalogue of which they also annex, as “to be able to inspire in the mind of pious young men impressions contrary to the teaching of the church,” which above all the others attributes to herself the name of orthodox.

Thinking the prohibition in the schools not sufficient, the minister advanced a step further, and by another circular to the prefects of the state directs them to strictly forbid the selling and circulation of such books among the people, “keeping in that way the most simple of citizens from the trap placed against their piety.” In other words, he entirely forbids their circulation in the entire kingdom of Greece. But what are the books that the holy synod considers so dangerous to the young, and that the minister entirely forbids being circulated as obnoxious to the public interests, as fatal to the studying youth, and in general to the citizens of Greece?

From the style of these circulars one would perhaps suppose that these books were nasty novels or romances, such as are to be seen every day sold in the market by boys and purchased and insatiably read by young men, whom they desire to protect by this order; or that they contain curses against God and Jesus Christ, or unfaithful theories subversive of the Christian faith and attacking good morals, or, at least, that they contain ideas against the prevailing church and the interest of the state.

[Page 314]

Certainly it would be thought that it is so; because one would have never believed that the holy synod and the minister would have blamed and forbidden the circulation of books, the contents of which were unknown to them, and which, I am obliged with sorrow to say, that they have never read.

That you may be convinced of the truth of these words of mine, take in hand yourself, Mr. Editor, the catalogue of the books, and look at it.

The first book forbidden in the schools and society is (“but do not tell it in Gad, do not announce it in Askalon,” for the enemies of Greece would rejoice) the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament; in the common language, that is to say, in the only language that can be understood by the people.

Yes; at the head of this catalogue you will meet the entire Word of God in general, and each part especially, whether from the original Hebrew or the translation of the Septuagint, or from the Greek original of the New Testament, the paraphrase was made.

In the same catalogue you will find another book, Butler’s Analogy, an admirable book and very useful to everybody, especially to the young, written by the pious and celebrated English Bishop Butler, one of the most profound savants of England, the purpose of which is to show the analogy between nature and revelation, and prove the logic of Christian truths from the likeness, as far as it is possible, of the teachings of God in the Bible, creation, and providence.

Two other pamphlets, containing answers against the objections of two famous infidels, Paine and Gibbon.

The Christian Traveler, a very Christian and instructive allegory, written by the Englishman John Bunyan, of which the learned Dean Stanley says: “All the English literature produced only two works of universal popularity; one of them is Pilgrim’s Progress.” The great historian Macaulay observes that Bunyan was one of the two only original minds that England produced in the seventeenth century.

The above allegory, which is numbered among the forbidden books, is, after the Holy Bible, the most propagated book in the world, translated in almost all the languages in which the Scripture itself is. In the English language alone it had 20 editions, each composed of many thousand copies, and numbers 20,000,000 of copies sold in all the languages of the earth.

“John Chrysostome’s on the reading of the Holy Bible,” while this father of the Eastern Greek Church recommends the reading of the Bibles to all men, and which a distinguished Greek, the now living respectable old warrior, Mr. Psyllas, who, having been once a minister of public instruction, recommended by a circular to all schools of the state as a book of reading.

These are the books, and these are the authors.

They have been written and published not for a warlike purpose, but for the defense and support of the Christian faith, and for the edification of the Christian church in general, guiding the ignorant, encouraging the disheartened, supporting the feeble, and enlightening and persuading and converting those who have a different opinion, infidels and those who do not know Christ in God, without distinction of race, language, or religion.

Many things could be said, Mr. Editor, upon this subject, but my object in the present article is to call the attention of the press, and through it of the public of Greece, to the subject. The public of Greece, indeed, judging from its favor to the Scriptures and to these books, does not partake of the ideas of the minister in this strange circular. I will show the difficult position in which, through this circular, the church and the state are placed before the Christian and enlightened world.

* * * * * * *

I will moreover pray the assistance of the enlightened press, that this unlawful circular may be recalled, which does not correspond to the sentiments and the liberal ideas of the Greek people, and which, if realized, would cause not little troubles to Greece. Because the great societies of England and America, to which these books belong, will not certainly remain impassive spectators of an act which is diametrically opposite to every divine and human right, as also to the Greek constitution, an act which prevents the free circulation of their works among the Greek people.

I am, &c.,

American Missionarg.

Note of the Stoa.

Having not any space to-day, we will write in a future time on this affair. We now only observe, that the minister ought not to be persuaded and issue a circular in such a way without examining, which is offensive for the country.

He could charge able men to judge whether it is not a shame to exclude books simply moral, which have nothing religious in themselves. It is sufficient to say of one o them, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, that it is translated into 200 languages, that is to say into as many as the Holy Scripture.

[Page 315]
[Inclosure 5 in No. 219.—Translation.]

Extract from the “Ephemeris,” Athens, July 28, 1876.

After the many things we have said at different times as to missionaries, and especially concerning those who appropriate to themselves the title of a new unknown Evangelical Greek Church, (as if our own was opposed to the gospel;) after we have proved, if nothing else, that the way that they seek to educate us in Christianity (as if we were savages) is not in conformity with our uses and customs; after so many accusations against the existence of a Greek Evangelical Church as being against the constitution (because it is an unknown dogma)—a minister, Mr. Milissis, is found who has laudably paid a little attention to this question, and has proceeded to the following measure, viz: he has issued a circular upon the request of the holy synod, by which he forbids the reading, of some books in the public and private schools of the kingdom, “because they may inspire impressions contrary to the decrees, mysteries, rules, teaching, traditions, ceremonies, and customs of the Orthodox Oriental Church;” and further says that these books “may inspire in the mind of the pious youth impressions contrary to the teaching of the church, which, above every other Christian church, appropriates to herself the name of orthodox.”* By another circular the minister requests the prefects to prevent the selling and circulation of such books among the people, “preserving in that way the simplicity of the citizens from the trap placed against their piety.”

Those books are American books, (viz: the Holy Scriptures in common Greek language, Analogy of Religion, Answers to Paine and Gibbon, The Christian Pilgrim, On the reading of the Scriptures, and some other pale moral novels for societies of other kind, &c.,) which are printed by a great society in thousands of copies in all the languages of the world, and distributed almost gratis in order to sustain Christianism, (as if it was shaken, and as if, should that be the ease, it could be saved by their means,) and for the edification of the church in general, (as if it was not edified.)

But while, for many reasons, which in case of need we will be obliged to repeat, we felt some relief in having seen the circulars of Mr. Milissis, an American missionary, Mr. George Leyburn, wrote yesterday in the “Stoa,” expressing his astonishment that this circular should be issued, while the books are moral and the Greek constitution does not recognize such severity.

The Mr. Missionary, (of whom we repeat it we do not understand the quality in these times in a nation which has its history, convictions, faith, communal instruction, high instruction, laws, arts, clergy, a great recognized church,) the Mr. Missionary, wet say, who can hardly be comprehended in the midst of savages, must know first that the books for instruction in the schools are approved by the ministry, who consider the national education, which they desire to give to the new generation, and after they have approved what they think worth approving they must not allow the use of others, and so put the pupil into chaos. As to the prohibition of the general circulation, the Mr. Missionary, before he gets astonished, must answer to these questions:

What is the meaning of a missionary in Greece? Are we perhaps Hong-Kong or India?
What does that great society seek, which prints and prints, expending millions, and distributes gratis these books?
What is its interest? To make Christians? We are Christians. To make us a different kind of Christians, more faithful? We do not desire her assistance. Greece by Greece. What does it want? What is its interest?
In these days a society which cannot account for so much per cent, gains, cannot exist. It must have another purpose to expend so much. Has it, perhaps, self-denial? A Christian mania? We do not want it; because that mania will come in opposition to other national traditions Very poetically and beautifully connected with our church as it is.
If this society succeeds here and sows among us all books and makes us believe and live as it desires, will it not have the right to say that we are offsprings of missionaries? We would not like such assistance, if by that system we could even save our bodies and souls.

When the Mr. Missionary reflects upon and answers all those facts, he will see that the Greek prefers and must prefer to read the Scriptures in the very poetical translation of the Septuagint and not in prose and corrupted phrase. He will see that some of those moral and evangelical novels can change our Christian character, with which we are entirely satisfied, and make us saints in behavior, but not Greeks.

Then we shall want the riches and machines of America, otherwise we should be unfortunate. Finally, he will understand that that scandalous gratuitous distribution will exercise some influence which will come inevitably into opposition with our ecclesiastical principles, or indirectly will undermine them, having as means the simplest of the citizens, will bring forth scandals, &c We pass over for the present, Mr. Missionary, the employment of whom we cannot really understand in Greece, the more accurate examination of these books, which in some parts are altered to the damage of our mysteries and rules and customs.

[Page 316]
[Inclosure 6 in No. 219.—Translation.]

Translation of extract from the Stoa, Athens, July 29, 1876.

To the Editor of the Stoa:

I saw with astonishment what the Ephemeris of yesterday wrote upon the article published in the publication of the Stoa of the day before upon the two circulars of the minister, Mr. Milissis. That is not a refutation; there are not any arguments, neither logical expressions, but many and various words put together without connection, without meaning and weight. I do not intend, therefore, to answer.

I desire only to say, and I say it with sorrow, that a paper boasting of its integrity shows an unpardonable inconsequence on this occasion, because, while on the one hand it declares that it does not understand the meaning of a missionary in Greece, on the other it regularly every week publishes a notice inviting the public to the sermon of another American missionary.

“If the editors of the Ephemeris do not understand the meaning of a missionary in Greece, why did they some time ago publish in the Ephemeris that among foreign travelers who visited the Areopagus were the Rev. Mr. Constantine, who delivered a sermon upon it?

This other missionary is perhaps preaching the decrees and dogmas and mysteries and traditions of the Orthodox Eastern Church, and for that reason he is understood by the editors of the Ephemeris, and they do not understand Mr. Leyburn.

Finally, we declare as false that the books of these societies are given gratis; on the contrary, we announce with pleasure, in honor of the Greek people, and in spite of the opposition of many who are not pleased by the evangelical truth, that the book-sellers of these societies sell yearly about eight thousand copies of the scriptures and of the other books; and we inform the Ephemeris that every prohibition of their circulation among the people is unlawful and cannot be executed without unpleasant consequences.

I am, sir, &c.,

  1. This last phrase is not contained in the circular.