The Forced Union of Florence
Episode 1 – Ferrara
The fact of the matter is that many of the delegates, under the circumstances, were forced to leave the council and to literally flee. From Ferrara alone three priests returned to Constantinople at the onset of the plague in that city (Memoir 296). The delegates were under the strict control of the Emperor John VIII himself, who among the Orthodox was the main motivation for the entire idea of union with the Latins in order to politically and militarily salvage his empire from the Turks. Everything was made to serve that purpose. It would seem that no small number of the delegates, even the clergy, who were directly accountable to the throne for their positions, also shared this union with their sovereign. They were able to convince themselves of the desirability of compromise from the standpoint of economy. Their prime motivation, of course, was the preservation of the state, of the fatherland. Thus it is that Siropoulos in his memoirs often has reason to remark: “Without the will and decision of the Emperor nothing was done which concerned the Church” (Memoir 270). Some of the meetings of the council were suspended indefinitely without reason. There was open opposition to this. The Emperor, the main instigator of such suspensions, repeated often to the bishops, that they were there for the good of the Empire and that good could not be achieved easily but only through great labor and agony (Memoir 300).
One important attempt at escape from Ferrara was foiled. The brother of St. Mark of Ephesus who was the nomofilax (legal expert), Anthony the Metropolitan of Heraclia, and St. Mark himself had secretly left Ferrara and reached the town of Froncolino, from whence they were forcibly returned. From that point in time both the Emperor and the Patriarch sought a way to move the council from Ferrara to a place further inland away from the sea. The intention was, of course, to isolate the easterners, making flight impossible. Thus, secret negotiations were entered into with the Pope with the goal of moving the council to Florence (Memoir 309).
Concerning the dispute over the questions of the Faith, the first discussions dealt with the innovations of the Latins, one of which was the teaching about the so-called purgatorial fire, which was supposedly experienced by some people after death. Caesarini’s explanation of this is interesting. This belief, he claimed, had existed in the Church from ancient times, being handed down by the Apostles themselves. The souls of the righteous, those free of filth and sin, such as the saints, after their death proceed immediately to heaven. If, however, after baptism Christians fell into sin and had not produced the fruits of repentance through penance they would be cleansed through fire, some slowly, other quickly. Those who died in mortal sin and those unbaptized would proceed to the judgment (Memoir 280).
Siropoulos continues his narrative by returning to the beginning of the Council. The first sitting of the council was held on the 6th of October 1438. The opening address was given by Andrew, Latin Bishop from Rhodes, in Latin. There followed an address by Metropolitan Visarion of Nicea in Greek. Both of these were translated by Sekundinos who was knowledgeable in both languages. Siropoulos gives us the text of the address by St. Mark of Ephesus which stressed the importance of love and peace, which must be re-established.
“It is impossible,” says St. Mark, “to establish peace, unless the cause of the schism is removed” (Memoir 326). He states categorically that the proof of the present teachings of the council must be shown by its agreement with the Ecumenical Councils, whose decisions must first be read so that: “We may demonstrate our concord with the Fathers and the agreement of this council with those” (Memoir 326). The Latins with their innovations, who had undermined the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, refused to have the Conciliar decisions read at this council. Nevertheless it was conceded that they should be read, and this was done by St. Mark of Ephesus himself, who did so with commentary. During the reading the Latins did not pay close attention claiming that the decisions could not obligate them in any way. During the reading of the decisions of the Seventh Council the Latins presented in written form a document which stated: “From the Father and Son proceedeth (the Holy Spirit).” This took place at the third sitting of the Council held on 16th of October 1438. This fabricated document, totally unknown to the Greeks, was defended by the Latins who pointed to the original signatures and the antiquity of it. Cardinal Caesarini himself claimed that the document was very old and there could be no doubt as to its authenticity. “We have,” he continued, “an historian who has written much about it” (Memoir 330). He did not, however, mention the name of the historian, nor his work on the subject.
It might be of some interest to note that Siropoulos states that some Latin monks converted to Orthodoxy in Ferrara upon hearing the reading of the Ecumenical Councils together with the commentary. They made it at the time the following statement: “We have never known nor have we heard about any of this. Our teachers taught us nothing about it. Now we see that the Greeks speak more truthfully than we do” (Memoir 332). We can believe that Siropoulos did not exaggerate this particular incident.
Of course, one of the main dogmatic points in the discussion was the Latin teaching of the “Filioque” (and Son). Siropoulos gives the major portion of his space to this subject: the procession of God the Holy Spirit. Already at the fourth sitting on October 20th discussion was held on that theme. The first to speak on the subject was the Roman Bishop of Rhodes Andrew. This false teaching had been accepted at the Synod of Toledo in Spain as an addition to the Nicene Creed. As a matter of fact that Arian council anathematized all who refused to accept it (Memoir 334). In further defense of their filioque teaching the Latins quoted a letter to St. Maximos the Confessor which includes the addition. The Latins also said that the addition caused no response from the Eastern Church at the time it was adopted. Furthermore, it was said at the fifth sitting of the council that the schism was not the result of the Filioque but rather other causes (Memoir 334).
As was the case in other disputes Cardinal Caesarini was in the forefront of this one. He stated that he was in complete agreement with the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils which state that it is not allowed to make any additions to the Creed which are opposed to the teachings of the Church. On the other hand it was allowed to add things that were true or things that were of an explanatory nature. He goes on to say that the addition of the Filioque clause in the creed by the West was not an addition at all but an explanation, a clarification (Memoir 331).
The autumn session of the council in Ferrara ended at the close of November 1438. The council was interrupted without any explanation. Any further attempt at discussion, says Siropoulos, was terminated. Nothing at all was done. The representatives of the Orthodox Church found themselves in a very difficult position. They were running low on bare necessities and were not being provided with the promised funds. Many of the bishops were of the opinion that these new pressures were a deliberate attempt by their Latin hosts to motivate them to new concessions. For this reason they begged the Patriarch to approach the Emperor for permission for them to return home, “Since we are certain,” they said, “that we shall not be able to achieve a single ecclesiastical object here” (Memoir 348). To these objective difficulties must be added the pressure and prestige of the Emperor himself who had before him only the political and military interests of his now tiny state.
The Emperor was supported, for the most part, by the Patriarch who on one occasion was to state: “We cannot decide anything without the presence of the Emperor since it would seem that there is a difference of opinion between him and us” (Memoir 346). Of course, at the same time, there was always to be found among the Greeks those who shared the opinion of Gregory the elder who argued that “The Church must deliberate and decide on that which interests the Church” (Memoir 346).
To be continued: Florence