A Virginian Apostle: The First Orthodox Catechism in the Americas?

Editor’s note: We’re extremely pleased to present another article by Nicholas Chapman, who continues to excavate the very earliest origins of Orthodoxy in America. To read more about Nicholas and his exciting research, check out the upcoming edition of the journal Road to Emmaus, which features a lengthy interview with Nicholas. Also, if you’re coming to our SOCHA symposium at Princeton later this month, you’ll have an opportunity to hear Nicholas present a 20-minute lecture on his work.

In my first article on Orthodoxy in Colonial Virginia published on this web site nearly two years ago, I mentioned in passing that the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in Russia had retrospectively approved of Colonel Philip Ludwell III’s translation of the Orthodox Confession of Peter Moghila, Metropolitan of Kiev. At that time I was not aware that this translation was in fact published and distributed.

I cannot presently be certain at what exact time Ludwell made this translation, but it must have been some time between his conversion to Orthodoxy at the end of 1738 and his move to London in the summer of 1760. In any event the first edition was published in London, England in 1762 and during a visit to the British Library this past spring I was able to handle and read a copy of the original edition. Aside from the translation of the catechism itself it contains a preface by the translator (Ludwell) as well as a few other inserted details, all of which have much to tell us about the mind and intention of the man who may be America’s first convert to the Orthodox Faith.

The book is slim brown leather bound volume of some 209 pages, printed in black ink. It has on the spine Greek Church Orthodox Confession  and London 1762. The front cover is marked only with a beautiful gold embossed crown. The title page contains the following (I was unable to make a digital copy so what follows is my copy typing of the original, leaving the mid eighteenth century English unchanged. If you remember to change that the letter f can be read, as s the meaning should be clear.) :

The Orthodox Confession of the Catholic and Apostolic Eastern Church; Faithfully Translated from the Originals

Meditate upon thefe Things, give thyself wholly to them; ———-

Take heed unto thyfelf, and unto thy Doctrine; continue in them: For in fo doing thou fhalt fave thyfelf.——

1 Tim. Iv. 15. & 16.


Printed in A.D. MDCC LXII

As Moghila’s work seems to have originally been published in both Latin and Greek, the title page information seems to suggest that Ludwell had access to both texts in making his translation. The biblical quotations chosen by Ludwell seem to indicate that the purpose of the catechism is the salvation of the individual reader. The translator’s preface that follows on the next page reveals more fully Ludwell’s purpose and mission:

The Translator

To The

Devout Chriftian Reader.

Be pleafed to accept this Labour of Love, of thine unworthy Fellow-Servant; who mindful of the Command, “When thou art converted, ftrenghten “thy Brethren,” prefenteth, with all Humility, thefe his Endeavours, for thine Attainment of the Truth, and everlafting Salvation: And, in return, affift him with thy Prayers, to the Throne of Grace and Mercy; that, whilft he offereth Inftruction to others, he may fo take Heed unto himfelf, that he become not a Caft-away.

Thus faith the Lord, Stand ye in the Ways, and fee, and afk for the old Paths, where is the good Way, and walk therein, and ye fhall find Reft for your Souls.

                                                                                              Jerem. Vi. 16.

Unto you that fear my Name, fhall the Sun of Righteoufnefs arife with healing in his Wings.                                                                                                    Mal. Iv. 2.

These words and quotations, although brief, clearly indicate an apostolic intention on the part of Ludwell, to reveal the fullness of the Orthodox Faith to his fellow British and British American countryman. At the same time he does not see them as being radically “other” but as fellow believers whose present understanding of the Faith needs to be strengthen by a return to the “old paths” which he understood to be found in the Orthodox Faith. As such he stands within the best tradition of Orthodox mission that seeks to recognize all that is good and of God in a culture and then to show how it may be completed within the Orthodox tradition.

I have not been able to ascertain how many copies of this original edition were published and how widely they were circulated. Clearly it did circulate. There is a fascinating article in the Scottish Review published in Paisley, Scotland in January 1892. The article is entitled Translated Greek Office Books. The author of this extensive article turns out to be no less than the Rev. Fr. Stephen Hatherly the late nineteenth century English convert to Orthodoxy who briefly attempted to start an Orthodox mission in New York in the 1880’s. (Click here for more information.) Hatherly writes as follows of Ludwell’s (aka Lodvel’s) work:

Another English writer on the subject of the Greek Church who preceded Dr. King is Col. Lodvel. The work attributed to him is one of the most important in the ample oriental ecclesiastical library. Dr. King alludes to the original of the work, and to three translation, though it publication had a ten years’ start of his book.

Here Hatherly is saying that Dr. King did not know of Ludwell/Lodvel’s translation. Dr. King was Dr. John Glen King D.D. who in 1764 had been appointed Chaplain of the English Factory in St. Petersburg, Russia. In 1772, he published in London his opus magnum The Rites and Ceremonies of the Greek Church in Russia; containing an account of its Doctrine,Worship and Discipline. Hatherly says of this work that it is now a scarce book and is likely to become scarcer, being bought up on every opportunity at American account. (Emphasis mine.)

Having pointed out that King did not seem to know of Ludwell/Lodvel’s translation, Hatherly then reveals that he has in front of him a personally inscribed copy. He writes:

After the word ‘originals’ in the title page, there is, in a clear old fashioned handwriting, the addition, ‘of Nectarius, Patriarch of Jerusalem; Parthenius, Patriarch of Constantinople; and the catechism of Petr Mogilaw, Archbishop of Kiow. And afterwards, with a coarser pen, and inferior ink, ‘By Col. Lodvel, father to Mrs. Paradise.’

Did Hatherly make use of Ludwell’s work during his abortive Orthodox mission in the USA and how many copies had already crossed the Atlantic in the 120+ years preceding it? A quick search suggests that no original physical copies are held in any US library, but given the sturdy, handsomely bound volume I held in my hands this past April, I find it difficult to believe that more copies have not survived.

Copyright – Nicholas Chapman, Herkimer, NY, September 11, 2011

5 Replies to “A Virginian Apostle: The First Orthodox Catechism in the Americas?”

  1. There is a physical copy in Austin, TX, but I don’t know how it got there.

    Fr. Overbeck, the Western Rite Orthodox Father wrote in March, 1889 to Olga Novikov “I am busy at bringing out Peter Mogila’s Confessio Orthodoxa in English, as since 1600 [sic, maybe 1800?] no English translation has been published. I hear that the book is greatly wanted in America.”
    Westliche Orthodoxie By Wilhelm Kahle

    The interest could have been prompted by the description of it in Schaff’s “Creeds of Christendom” 1st edition New York 1877.
    which Fr. Bjerring drew attention to in the original Herzog Relgious Encyclopedia article “Russia”

    Phillip Ludwell was known for his translation, given that it takes pride of place in his bio in the “Dictionary of Nathional Biography”
    which was written years before Overbeck came out with his re-edition, which is credited to Ludwell, in 1898.

  2. On the Confession itself, I came across this interesting bit by Neale, who had a lot to do with making Orthodox materials known in Great Britain:

    Voices from the East Documents on the Present State and Working of the Oriental Church
    By the Rev. J. M. Neale, M.A.
    London: Joseph Masters, 1859.

    “Among the expositions of faith, which have appeared in the Orthodox Church in the East, some are common to all this Church; others are peculiar to the Russian Church.

    These are the general symbols: 1. Two Confessions of the Orthodox faith, composed to serve as a guide to all members of the Eastern Church.

    A. The first, which appeared at Kieff [i.e. Kiev] in 1640, had for its object the preservation of the purity of Orthodoxy against the opinions of Lutherans and Calvinists, and still more against the doctrines of Roman Catholics, and the ci-devant Uniats. It is known by the name of The Orthodox Confession of the Catholic and Apostolic Church of the East. It was examined in the first place by the Council of Kieff: then in 1643 by that of Jassy. [For some account of the Council of Jassy, the reader may consult my History of Alexandria, Vol. II., p. 560.–TRANSL.] It was then reviewed and approved by the four Eastern Patriarchs. [That is, Parthenius (II.) of Constantinople, Joannicius of Alexandria, Macarius of Antioch, Paisius of Jerusalem.–TRANSL.] “We find,” write they, “that this book is in perfect accordance with the dogmas of the Church of CHRIST and with the sacred Canons; that it contains nothing contrary to the Church: and we declare, assembled in Synod, that every pious and orthodox Christian, who is a member of the Apostolic Church of the East, ought to read this book, and not to reject it. Nectarius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, expresses himself in a similar manner: “This book contains, it is true briefly, but also clearly, the orthodox doctrine, as you may see by its title: it is a true and pure profession of faith, without the least mixture of the corruptions of other Communions.” Finally, it was admitted by the whole Eastern Church, a fact attested by the Council of Jerusalem, held in 1672, under the presidence of Dositheus, Patriarch of Jerusalem. [Usually called, in England, the Council of Bethlehem.] It was again received by the Great Eastern Council of 1691. [No account, not even the briefest, of this Council has yet been published in English. It will be related at length in my History of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.–TRANSL.] It was approved and confirmed, for the Russian Church, by the Patriarch Joachim, in 1685, and the Patriarch Adrian in 1696. The latter went so far as to call the work inspired, but not in the strict sense of the word. Next it was received by the Holy Governing Synod: in 1837, by a decree of that assembly, 30,000 copies were published for the use of all the parishes in the Empire: in 1840, it confirmed a special ordinance of the Commission of Ecclesiastical Schools, which prescribed it as a work to be taught in the inferior section of seminaries. In 1845, it resolved that there should be every week a special class, when this book should be studied in detail; and that, before passing into the superior division, the pupils must go right through it again, as an introduction absolutely necessary to the study of theology. [This work, which, it should have been stated in the text, was the original composition of Peter Mogila, Metropolitan of Kieff, in opposition to the ravages of the Uniats in White Russia, has never been translated into English. I have a MS. translation of it, which any theological scholar wishing to study tbh subject should be very welcome to have lent him.–TRANSL.]”

  3. Since the post on Fr. Hatherly has closed comments, I might as well put this here. It is the publication of the Divine Liturgy by him, somewhat officially, from his introduction, by both the EP (Fr. Hatherly’s jurisdiction) and the Holy Governing Synod of Russia (per the Ober-Prokurator).
    What is interesting is that it is printed at “Bristol: Printing Office of the GreeK Church,” “with the sanction and blessing of his late All-Holiness Joakeim II” after the Anglicans got the Phanar to tell Fr. Hatherly to cease and desist, and after his failed mission in New York. The canon was translated by the Greek Consul at Syra, which see, IIRC, crops up a number of times in the history of American Orthodoxy and its Greek connections. It is also clear that the intent of the translation was for Orthodox believers to worship in English, including converts its seems (still a touchy subject in England with the Anglicans).

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