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St. George

Lecture for: ChH 602 The Council of Florence

Lecture for: ChH 602 The Council of Florence

Title: A focus on the aberration of the councils in and around Florence resulting a partial union with Orthodoxy.


The Council of Florence was held in Florence, Italy, during 1438-1439, as a second reunion council to heal the Great Schism between East and West, the first being the Council of Lyons in 1274. The Florentine Council was itself a continuation of the Council of Ferrara, which was itself a continuation of the Council of Basel convoked in 1431 by Pope Martin V.

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Called by Pope Eugenius IV

In 1438 Pope Eugenius IV called a church council to consider reunion of the eastern and western churches. The Latin and Greek churches had been drifting apart for centuries and from the year 1054 onward had rarely been in communion with each other. The sack of the Byzantine capital of Constantinople by the western crusaders made it clear that they no longer considered the Greeks their coreligionists and proved to the Greeks of Byzantium that the Latins were not their brothers in faith. But by the fifteenth century, with the Ottoman Turks already in control of most of the territory of the Byzantine Empire and moving on its capital of Constantinople, reunion of the churches seemed to be a necessity if the Christian world were to respond with a united front to the Muslim threat to Europe.

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The Filioque Issue

The council convened in 1439 in the Italian city of Ferrara and then moved to Florence. Present were not only the Pope, the cardinals, and many western bishops and theologians, but also the Byzantine Emperor John VIII, the Patriarch of Constantinople, Joseph II, the foremost cleric of the eastern Christian world, and a number of leading officials and clergy of the Byzantine world (including a Russian delegation). The main points of dispute between the two churches were the legitimacy of a western addition to the creed (the "filioque") and the nature of the church: whether it should be ruled by the Pope or by all the bishops jointly. After much discussion and debate, the delegates of the eastern church, under political pressure, accepted the western positions on the "filioque" and Papal supremacy, and reunion of the churches was solemnly proclaimed.

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The Emperors

Manuel II – He first petitioned Pope John XXIII, an antipope, then later his successor Martin V, for a council to discuss union in the hopes of gaining his support in battle against Moslem forces whittling away at the Empire.

John Palaeologus VIII – He was the son of Manuel II, and his successor, was the prominent figure in the future discussions of the Council. He psychologically intimidated those whom he had brought with him to the council and to gain the support that he needed. He even went so far as to solicit the vote of his Chamber Master, the man servant who turned down his sheets at night.

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The Popes

Martin V – He was the Pope of the initial phase of planning. He sent delegates to the Emperor demanding that the Council be held in Italy. With threats and bribes, he managed to secure the promise of the Emperor to come to Italy with his delegates. A clever and conniving man, Martin realized that his own future job security required that the East back him as Pope since his bishops were already gathering in Basle to depose him.

Eugenius IV – He was in attendance at the Council of Florence. He held all the power. The Greek Emperor forbid his theologians from offending him. His aging counterpart, the Patriarch Joseph, was failing in health and was impotent to defend his place of honor and rights. Eugenius held the purse strings as well and the Greeks were even reliant on him for food, shelter, and transportation.

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The Greek Delegates

Mark, Metropolitan of Ephesus – He was by all accounts the most outspoken defender of Orthodoxy, he handled the discussions on the hard topics of Purgatory, the addition of the Filioque and their doctrinal errors. He was silenced in later debates by his own Emperor after harsh debates with John, the Dominican Provincial, in which it was obvious that the Latin position was faltering. He was the only delegate present for the signing of the end documents who refused to do so.

Bessarion of Nicea – He played the reluctant second chair to Mark during the initial debates and helped throw the match later after Mark was silenced. For his loyalty to the union the Pope rewarded him with the title of Cardinal and gave him lavish gifts.

George Scholarius, philosopher – He played a supportive roll in the discussions, was faithful to Orthodoxy. Later in life he was made Patrirach by the Moslems and took the name Gennadius Scholarius.

Joseph, Patriarch of Constantinople – He initially strongly opposed the council's locale, which was to have been in Constantinople, but capitulated due to weakness and age. He died mysterious in June before the documents were to be signed, but managed “supposedly” to have made all the necessary concessions to the Pope, as within his authority and dignity, in a letter left written two days before the request by the Pope was even made.

"To the other afflictions which the Orthodox delegation suffered in Florence were added the death of Patriarch Joseph of Constantinople. The Patriarch was found dead in his room.

"On the table lay (supposedly) his testament, Extrema Sententia, consisting in all of some lines in which he declared that he accepted everything that the Church of Rome confessed. And then: "In like manner I acknowledge the Holy Father of Fathers, the Supreme Pontiff and Vicar of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Pope of Old Rome. Likewise, I acknowledge purgatory. In affirmation of this, I affix my signature."

"There is no doubt whatever that Patriarch Joseph did not write this document. The German scholar Frommann, who made a detailed investigation of the "Testament" of Patriarch Joseph," said: "This document is so Latinized and corresponds so little to the opinion expressed by the Patriarch several days before, that its spuriousness is evident. "The Testament" appeared in the history of the Council of Florence quite late; contemporaries of the Council knew nothing of it."

The Patriarch was buried in the cemetery of a Dominican Church dedicated the Theotokos.

Isidore, Metropolitan of all Russia – He arrived late to the council in August, but managed to arrive before the transferal of the council from Ferrara to Florence due to “plague” conditions in the city of Ferrera. He made a grand tour of his territories before he came to Italy. After Mark was silenced Isidore takes a minor roll as second fiddle to Besserion as the two trip over each other trying to sell Orthodoxy out. For his attempts to promote the Latin cause he was made a Cardinal by the Pope and given authority not only over the Russian lands but the churches and dioceses of the former Russian lands. He was sent by the Pope to Constantinople to settle the uproar over the Patriarchal elections and to officially declare the union there. Due to the uproar, Metrophanes’ election by default resulted in his being forced to flee. He then went to the territory of Russia to announce the Union and received only slightly better treatment there.

Metrophanes of Cyzicus - The future Patriarch of Constantinople sold out to the Latins and was not even a strong figure. He was chosen after literally everyone else refused.

Minor Greek figures present Dorotheus of Trebizond , Anthony of Heraclea , Macarius of Nicomedia

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The Latin Debaters

Nicholas Albergati – Took the lead with the Purgatory issue.

Jullian Caesarini – Led debate on Filioque at first.

John, Dominican Provincial – the strongest of the Latin speakers an O.P. he was highly educated and used scholastic methods and arguments to craft his defense of Latin practice. He later led the discussion without opposition on ezymes and papal authority.

Andrew of Rhodes – Minor roll in the early discussions.

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Orthodoxy "Sold Out"

The bulk of the Greeks who left for Italy went with a sense of spiritual enthusiasm. Before their departure, patriarch Joasaph had said that they were going to the Council to contract a Union, but that they would not compromise any of the traditions of the Holy Church that had passed on to them, and that if need be, they were ready to die for those traditions, for what could be more glorious than a martyr’s crown?! Alas, everything turned out otherwise. As we know, the Patriarch never returned to Constantinople, but died in Florence. Orthodoxy was betrayed and sold out, and the Greeks returned to their Homeland not as conquerors bearing spiritual trophies, but in shame and sorrow.

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The Signing

The end came at last. An Act of Union was drawn up in which the Orthodox renounced their Orthodoxy and accepted all the Latin formulas and innovations which had only just appeared in the bosom of the Latin Church, such as the teaching on purgatory. They accepted also an extreme form of Papism, by this act renouncing the ecclesiology that was the essence of the Orthodox Church. All the Orthodox delegates accepted and signed the Union, whether for themselves or, in the case of some, for the Eastern Patriarchs, by whom they had been entrusted to represent them. The signing, on July 5, 1439, was accompanied by a triumphant service, and after the solemn declaration of the Union, read in Latin and Greek, the Greek delegates kissed the Pope's knee.

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The Lone Dissenting Voice

Administratively speaking, the whole Orthodox Church signed: Emperor John, the metropolitans and representatives of the Eastern Patriarchs, the Metropolitan of Kiev Isidore, and the Russian Bishop Abraham. Only one hierarch did not sign. St. Mark of Ephesus. This one man represented in himself the whole Orthodox Church. He was a giant of giants, bearing in himself all the sanctity of Orthodoxy and all its might! And this is why, when Pope Eugenius was solemnly shown by his cardinals the Act of Union, signed by all the Greek delegates, he said, not finding on it the signature of St. Mark: "And so we have accomplished nothing." All the success of the Vatican was illusory and short-lived.

The Pope attempted by every means to compel St. Mark to sign the Union, a fact that is attested both by Andrew of Rhodes and Syropoulos. The Pope demanded that St. Mark be deprived of his rank then and there for his refusal to sign the Act of Union. But Emperor John did not allow him to be harmed, because in the depths of his heart he respected St. Mark.

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The Pope's Threats

Syropoulos relates the final meeting of St. Mark with the Pope. "The Pope asked of the Emperor that St. Mark appear before him. And so Mark went to appear before the Pope, The Pope spoke long with Mark; his aim was to persuade him also to follow the decision of the Council and affirm the Union, and if he refused to do this, then he should know that he would be subject to the same interdictions which previous Ecumenical Councils laid upon the obstinate, who, deprived of every gift of the Church, were case out as heretics. To the Pope's words Mark gave an extensive, commanding reply. Concerning the interdictions with which the Pope threatened him, he said: 'The Councils of the Church have condemned as rebels those who have transgressed against some dogma and have preached thus and fought for this, for which reason also they are called ''heretics''; and from the beginning the Church has condemned the heresy itself, and only then has it
condemned the leaders of the heresy and its defenders. But I have by no means preached my own teaching, nor have I introduced anything new in the Church, nor defended any foreign and false doctrine; but I have held only that teaching which the Church received in perfect form from our Saviour, and in which it has steadfastly remained to this day: the teaching which the Holy Church of Rome, before the schism that occurred between us,
possessed no less than our Eastern Church; the teaching which, as holy, you formerly were wont to praise, and often at this very Council you mentioned with respect and honor, and which no one could reproach or dispute. And if I hold it and do not allow myself to depart from it, what Council will subject me to the interdiction to which heretics are subject?

What sound and pious mind will act thus with me? For first of all one must condemn the teaching which I hold; but if you acknowledge it as pious and Orthodox, then why am I deserving of punishment?' Having said this and more of the like, and listened to the Pope, he returned to his quarters."

Though the direct results of these unions were the restoration of prestige to the absolutist papacy and the bringing of Byzantine men of letters, like Bessarion, to the West, the outcome was on the whole disappointing. Of the complicated history of the "United" churches of the East it suffices to say that Rome succeeded in securing but fragments, though important fragments, of the greater organizations. As for the Greeks, the union met with much opposition, particularly from the monks, and was rejected by three Oriental patriarchs at a synod of Jerusalem in 1443; and after various ineffective attempts to enforce it, the fall of Constantinople in 1453 put an end to the endeavour. As Turkish interests demanded the isolation of the Oriental Christians from their western brethren, and as the orthodox Greek nationalists feared Latinization more than Mahommedan rule, a patriarch hostile to the union was chosen, and a synod of Constantinople in 1472 formally rejected the decisions of Florence.

Editor's Note: The military situation in the East was very dire. The muslim hoards were conquering the rest of the Byzantine Empire, the Christian Roman Empire of the East. They wanted help from the Latins. +DC

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