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The Catholic Historical Review 90.1 (2004) 147-149

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Mgr Petit, Assomptionniste, Fondateur des "Échos d'Orient", Archevêque Latin d'Athènes (1868-1927). Edited by Bernard Holzer, A.A. [Orientalia Christiana Analecta 266.] (Rome: Pontificio Istituto Orientale. 2002. Pp.229.)

This volume is a collection of the papers given at a colloquium at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome in December, 1997, on the life of Louis Petit, theFrench Assumptionist Byzantine scholar and Roman Catholic Archbishop of Athens from 1912 until 1926.

Petit entered the Assumptionist novitiate in Spain in 1885. He was ordained in 1891, and first experienced the Christian East in 1893 at age 25, when he served for a year as superior of an Assumptionist school in Constantinople. It was there that Petit first expressed interest in Eastern Christian studies, but—and this would be one of the great paradoxes of his life—an aversion for the Christian East itself, where he did not feel at home. Petit's future, however, would be determined in large part by Pope Leo XIII's new initiative to reconcile the "dissident" Orthodox churches, spelled out at the Eucharistic Congress of Jerusalem in 1893. Leo was convinced that the Orthodox churches—or at least large segments of them—were ripe for a return to Catholic unity, and that the best way to foster this return was to promote the activity of Catholic missionaries in the East, as well as scholarly publishing efforts that would help dissipate Orthodox antipathy toward the Catholic Church.

Leo XIII saw Petit's Assumptionists, who had been active in the East since 1863, as playing a vital role in this process. In 1895 he granted a Latin parish and surrounding buildings in Kadiköy (ancient Chalcedon, across the Bosporus fromConstantinople) to the Assumptionists, and charged them with setting up a houseof studies that would be a center of missionary activity in the region. Louis Petit was named the first superior. In 1897 the Assumptionists under his direction began publication of Les Échos d'Orient, a respectable scholarly journal that also served a missionary purpose among the Orthodox. Petit himself would contribute many articles to the journal. [End Page 147]

In 1912 Petit was named Latin Archbishop of Athens, and arrived in the city at a particularly difficult time, just as Greece was going to war with Turkey. He was now the head of a small Catholic community that was marginalized in Greek society and viewed with deep suspicion. He was not well received by the Latin clergy of the city or by the other Catholic bishops in Greece. He maintained very good relations with the Greek political world, but he could be very caustic about the country's Orthodox Church, dismissing it as full of corrupt bishops and ignorant faithful, or simply a political instrument, subservient to the state. Even though his erudition and advice were much respected at the Holy See (it was he who suggested to Benedict XV in 1916 that he should establish both an Oriental Congregation and Pontifical Oriental Institute), Petit's service as archbishop would come to an end in 1926, when Pius XI required his resignation, it seems because of a lack of pastoral abilities and for over-zealously promoting French interests in the country. He moved to Rome and died in 1927.

The papers in this volume, several by Petit's fellow Assumptionists, throw new light on Petit's life and ministry and examine his scholarly work in detail. There are essays on his contributions to Byzantine and Balkan church history (V. Tapkova-Zaimova), liturgical studies (E. Velkovska), and Eastern theology (D. Stiernon), his editing of the acts of eastern councils and Vatican Council I for new volumes of Mansi (A. Melloni), his period as editor of Les Échos d'Orient (E. Fouilloux), and his correspondence with the Bollandist Hippolyte Delehaye (B. Joassart). The remarkable story of how Petit's formidable collection of books and manuscripts found its way into the Vatican Library is told by A. Wenger...


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