Notes of a Visit to the Russian Church
by the Late William Palmer, M.A.
Selected and Arranged by Cardinal Newman

Kegan Paul & Co., 1882

Prefatory Notice

{v} WILLIAM PALMER, Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, eldest son of the Rev. William Jocelyn Palmer, Rector of Mixbury, and brother of Lord Chancellor Selborne, the Rev. George Horsley Palmer, and Archdeacon Palmer of Oxford, was one of those earnest-minded and devout men, forty years since, who, deeply convinced of the great truth that our Lord had instituted, and still acknowledges and protects, a visible Church—one, individual, and integral—Catholic, as spread over the earth, Apostolic as co-eval with the Apostles of Christ, and Holy, as being the dispenser of his Word and Sacraments—considered it at present to exist in three main branches, or rather in a triple presence, the Latin, the Greek, and the Anglican, {vi} these three being one and the same Church, distinguishable from each other only by secondary, fortuitous, and local, though important, characteristics. And, whereas the whole Church in its fulness was, as they believed, at once and severally Anglican, Greek, and Latin, so in turn each one of those three was the whole Church; whence it followed that, whenever any one of the three was present, the other two, by the nature of the case, were absent, and therefore the three could not have direct relations with each other, as if they were three substantive bodies, there being no real difference between them except the external accident of place. Moreover since, as has been said, on a given territory, there could not be more than one of the three, it followed that Christians generally, wherever they were, were bound to recognize, and had a claim to be recognized by, that one, ceasing to belong to the Anglican Church, as Anglican, when they were at Rome, and ignoring Rome as Rome, when they found themselves at {vii} Moscow. Lastly, not to acknowledge this inevitable outcome of the initial idea of the Church, viz., that it was both everywhere and one, was bad logic, and to act in opposition to it was nothing short of setting up altar against altar, that is, the hideous sin of schism, and a sacrilege.

This I conceive to be the formal teaching of Anglicanism; this is what we held and professed in Oxford forty years ago; this is what Mr. Palmer intensely believed and energetically acted on when he went to Russia. It was his motive-cause for going there; for he hoped to obtain from the Imperial Synod such a recognition of his right to the Greco-Russian Sacraments, as would be an irrefragable proof that the doctrine of the Anglican divines was no mere theory, and that an Anglican Christian was ipso facto an Oriental Orthodox also.

How Mr. Palmer's appeal for such a recognition of our "Anglo-Catholicism" was met by the ecclesiastical authorities of Petersburg is the main {viii} subject of this volume, though not the main object of its publication. It is published for the vivid picture it presents to us, for better or for worse, of the Russian Church, gained, as it was, without effort by the author's intercourse with priests and laymen, and with the population generally. As might be expected, they disallowed his claim; but, what was hardly to be expected, they felt no sympathy for his conception of the Church of Christ, in its necessary unity, which, even if novel and strange, could not have been altogether new to them, as being at least part of that ancient teaching which they so proudly claimed as their own peculiar prerogative.

Mr. Palmer demanded communion, not as a favour, but as a right; not as if on his part a gratuitous act, but as his simple duty; not in order to become a Catholic, but because he was a Catholic already. Now, if in refusing him they had confined themselves to the reason which they did also give, that, till he anathematized the Anglican {ix} Articles, they could not be sure he was not a Lutheran or a Calvinist, they would at least have been intelligible; or, if they had simply urged, as they also did, that they could not commit themselves to new precedents for the case of an individual, and that Synods must meet, and formal correspondence ensue, and authoritative canons pass, on the part both of Russia and England, before any acts of communion could take place, that too was a prudent and sensible course, and would give hopes for the future; but, instead of keeping to ground so clear and so easily maintained, some of their highest prelates and officials go out of their way to deny altogether, or at least to ignore, the Catholicity of the Church as recognized in the Creed, as if their own time-honoured communion was but a revival of the ancient Donatists. They say virtually, even if not expressly, "We know nothing about Unity, nothing about Catholicity; it is no term of ours; it had indeed a meaning once, it has {x} none now. Our Church is not Catholic, it is Holy and Orthodox; also, (because it came from the East, whence Divine Truth has ever issued,) it is Oriental. We know of no true Church besides our own. We are the only Church in the world. The Latins are heretics, or all but heretics; you are worse; we do not even know your name. There is no true Christianity in the world except in Russia, Greece, and the Levant; and, as to the Greeks, many as they are, after all they are a poor lot."

Let me not be supposed to impute to those distinguished personages any discourtesy, whether of language or of conduct, in their intercourse with Mr. Palmer. They gave him a welcome, which, considering how little they could at first understand his motives in coming among them, tells altogether in their favour; they listened to him with interest and earnestness, and, though political reasons were doubtless on the side of their being courteous to an Englishman, they {xi} were, as if by nature and habit, as frank and communicative in their conversations with him, as he was on his part with them. In consequence of this mutual good understanding, Mr. Palmer made many friends in Russia, and had no reason to regret his going there. He liked the people and country, and returned there again and again; and, though he failed from first to last in the direct object which started him on these expeditions, yet labours such as his, so Christian in their aim, so disinterested and self-sacrificing in their circumstances, are, in a religious point of view, never wasted, never lost. Mr. Palmer's earnest witness to the divine promise that the Christian Church, unlike the Jewish, should be spread all over the earth as Catholic and Ecumenical (however defective was his conception, as an Anglican, of its unity), had from the first its measure of success in Russia, and that success, whether greater or less, would of necessity tell upon the theological schools; {xii} moreover it would be the more important because it took place at a time when the so-called Tractarians had, independently of him, been inculcating the same great truth on their own people in England. It is no wonder then, that, struck by this coincidence, there were those in both countries who listened to a preaching which (as far as it proclaimed the Unity and the Catholicity of the Church,) was as primitive as it was out of date, and were led on in consequence to imagine, if not to contemplate, such a union in doctrine and worship of their respective Churches as would go far towards fulfilling the idea of a Catholic communion.

I have no temptation, and am in no danger, of committing myself to extravagant or over-sanguine speculations in such a matter. Here I agree with Mr. Wallace in his instructive and interesting work on Russia; a real and effectual union at this time is a simple chimera. "Of late years," he says, "there has been a good deal of {xiii} vague talk about a possible union of the Russian and Anglican Churches. If by 'union' is meant, simply, union in the bonds of brotherly love, there can be of course no objection to any amount of pia desideria; but, if anything more real and practical is intended, I may warn simple-minded, well-meaning people that the project is an absurdity," vol. ii. pp. 194, 195. Of course I do not sympathize in the tone of this passage; after all, pia desideria are not bad things, though nothing comes of them,—at least though nothing comes of them at once; however, as to the future, I am bound to ask all "men of good will," who pray for peace and unity, whether here or in the North, to ponder the words of a leading Russian authority introduced into this volume, to the effect that, "if England would approach the Russian Church with a view to an ecclesiastical union, she must do so through the medium of her legitimate Patriarch, the Bishop of Rome." {xiv}

So much on the contents of this volume, which I have brought together and put into shape, to the best of my power, out of the materials and according to the evident intentions of Mr. Palmer, and, I should add, with the valuable assistance of the Rev. Father Eaglesim of this Oratory. I need hardly say I have no acquaintance with the Russian language, a condition, if not necessary, at least desirable, for my present undertaking; but I have been called to it, as a religious duty, in the following way:—I had often heard speak of Mr. Palmer's journals of foreign travel at the date when they were written; and years after, when he was wont to pay me an annual visit here in the summer or autumn, the only seasons in which the English climate was possible to him, I used to urge upon him their publication. But he never gave me any hopes of it, and I ceased to trouble him on the subject. After a time his spells of serious indisposition became so frequent, that when we took leave of each other, {xv} it was on my part with the sad feeling that I was bidding him a last farewell. At length the end came, in 1879, just before I, in turn, was to have been his guest at Rome; and then I found to my surprise that, so far from passing over my wish about his journals, he had by will left me all his papers. This is how he answered my importunity, showing a loving confidence in me, though involving me in an anxious responsibility. Of course he did not anticipate that at my advanced age I could myself do much; but it will be a true satisfaction to me, if, as I am sanguine enough to expect, this volume, illustrative of his first visit to Russia, should prove interesting and useful generally to Christian readers.

I will say one word more:—I cannot disguise from myself that to common observers, Mr. Palmer was a man difficult to understand. No casual, nay, no mere acquaintance would have suspected what keen affections and what energetic {xvi} enthusiasm lived under a grave, unimpassioned, and almost formal demeanour. To unsympathetic or hostile visitors he was careless to defend, or even to explain, himself or his sayings and doings; and he let such men go away, indifferent what they might report or think of him. They would have been surprised to find that what in conversation they might think a paradox or conceit in him, was, whether a truth or an error, the deep sentiment and belief of a soul set upon realities and actuated by a severe conscientiousness. But, whatever might be the criticisms of those who saw him casually, no one who saw him much could be insensible to his many and winning virtues; to his simplicity, to his unselfishness, to his gentleness and patience, to his singular meekness, to his zeal for the Truth, and his honesty, whether in seeking or in defending it; and to his calmness and cheerfulness in pain, perplexity, and disappointment. However, I do not pretend to draw his character; {xvii} apart from all personal attributes, he was to me a true and loyal friend, and his memory is very dear to me.

J. H. N.
BIRMINGHAM, Easter, 1882.

P.S.—I add a notice of the principal dates of Mr. Palmer's life, taken from Mr. Bloxam's Register of Members of Magdalen College.

William Palmer, 1811, July 12th, born.
1823, went to Rugby School.
1820, matriculated at Magdalen College.
1830, University (Chancellor's) Prize for Latin Verse.
1830, First Class in Classics.
1833, University (Chancellor's) Prize for Latin Essay.
1833-30, Tutor at the University of Durham.
1837-39, University (Oxford) Examiner.
1838-43, College (Magdalen) Tutor,
1855, received into the Catholic Church.
1879, April 5th, died at Rome.

While this volume was passing through the press, I was grieved to read in the public prints a notice of the death of Sir. Blackmore, whose name occurs so often in it. He had taken a warm interest in my work, kindly aided me as he only could, and looked forward to its perusal, when finished, as recalling various pleasant memories of a valued friend.

Top | Works | Home

Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
Copyright 2007 by The National Institute for Newman Studies. All rights reserved.