The Forced Union of Florence
Episode 1 – Ferrara
On the Eve of the Council
The head of the Vatican, at that time Pope Evgenius IV, called the East into unity with Rome. The Orthodox East, at that time personified by the Emperor John VIII Paleologus (1425-38) responded by saying that the idea was a good one which could, however, be actualized only by the summoning of an Ecumenical Council. Such a council should be held in the East, where indeed all previous Ecumenical Council have been held. Of course, such a council could be called only by the authority of the Emperor and no one else, as had always been the case in the past (Memoir 110). The Latins, however, at this time (15th century), considered that the calling of a council was an exclusively papal prerogative. Since the Roman Church was the Mother Church and the Eastern Church the daughter, it is the East which must be obedient to its mother (Memoir 114).
The easterners were acutely aware that the prevailing conditions surrounding the proposed dialogue with the Latins were not in their favor. This unequal status accorded them was obvious from the beginning. Knowing this, however, they were still willing to proceed.
They agreed to the prevailing Latin position that the council be held in the West, in Italy. This very fact tells us much. It is of no little importance that all all of the Ecumenical Councils were held in the East and not one in the West. This time, however, it became obvious that it was the westerners, taking advantage of the difficulties that the East was experiencing, that would dictate many important, and indeed fateful conditions for the work of the council. There were naturally many who were opposed to the entire idea. One of them, Hieromonk Joseph Brennios, who was to travel with the delegation, stood up in the council meeting at the Patriarchate and stated that he firmly believed that nothing good would come of this. He was not alone. Even the Patriarch himself forced into participation by circumstances completely out of his control, was well aware of the possible negative results of holding the council in Italy. Theological truth and the Faith itself were compromised by the very fact that the entire cost of the journey to the West, as well as maintenance and lodging of the numerous eastern delegates (700 persons), were paid for by the Latins. The Patriarch openly stated, having in mind these in no way insignificant details, that upon arrival in the West they would be treated as servants and hirelings, and as such would fulfill everything Latins sought from them. He reiterated his belief that the council should be held in the East since the conditions there made it much easier for them to travel and to support themselves (Memoirs 120).
At the same time in Constantinople, the possibility of covering the expenses for the council, should it be held in the East, was being seriously considered. Material assistance was expected from each of the Local Orthodox Churches. Siropoulos informs us that the Metropolitans of Kiev, Georgia and Serbia would donate substantial amounts (Memoir 122).
The delegates of the Eastern Churches were taken to Italy in papal ships and housed in the city of Ferrara. Siropoulos speaks in detail about the journey. He mentions earthquakes that happened on the way as a bad omen for the Orthodox. Of particular interest to us are the details dealing with the first meeting of the delegates with the Pope. Siorpoulos says, for example, that at the meeting with Evgenius IV, the archons kissed the papal feet while the bishops did not (Memoir 226). The Patriarch himself, Joseph II conducted himself with Christian courtesy. For example, before his meeting with the Pope teh Patriarch said: “If the Pope is older than I in years I shall treat him as my own father, if my age, then as a brother, and if younger than I then as a son” (Memoir 230). Siropoulos says that there were a number of discussions held before the meeting of the Pope and the Patriarch. The Latins were particularly insistent that the Patriarch should kiss the Pope’s feet. The Patriarch responded by saying: “We are brothers, we shall embrace one another.” One of the official delegates which came with such papal demands received the following response from the Patriarch: “Who gave the Pope such a right a right? Which of the councils granted this to him? The Pope claims to be the successor of St. Peter, and we are the successors of the other apostles…this is a total novelty. I cannot and will not accept such a thing, never! If, however, the Pope agrees that we should embrace, as is the ancient custom in the Church, then I will go to him” (Memoir 234).
To be continued.