The Siropoulos Project (v)

The Forced Union of Florence
Episode 2 – Florence

As we mentioned in the previous issue, the council at the beginning of 1439 was transferred deeper into Italy to the city of Florence. The first gathering took place there on the 26th of February the second week of Lent. From the 2nd to the 24th of March ten sessions were held. The position of the Orthodox in the new surroundings was much worse than it had been even in Ferrara. The Emperor even forbade them to leave the city on horseback, for fear that they would run away from the council. It is not surprising that under such circumstances many of the eastern delegates succumbed to the unyielding pressure of the Latins to conform to their wishes. The situation was such that the majority was forced into the realization that they would indeed be required to sign the document of union no matter what, and that under the circumstances there was nothing else for them to do. The small number who did not feel this was was branded by their fellows as traitors both to Church and Empire. They were, aside from that, the objects of intense pressure, not only from the Latins but from the Emperor and those of the easterners who had come to look upon the creation of the union as a patriotic gesture.

It is worth noting that at that particular time theological questions played no real part in the politics of the council. The Emperor began to consult more and more with those delegates who were in favor of the union, such as Visarion of Nicea and Isidor of Kiev. The Emperor on one occasion inconsistently said: “I am a defender of the Church,” meaning, as he went on to explain, one who defends the purity of doctrine as well as the internal unity of the universal Church (Memoir 400).

In Florence the Orthodox continued to insist that further dialogue with the Latins was impossible unless they removed the “addition” to the Creed. This was also the position of the Patriarch himself. In the beginning this was opposed only by Visarion of Nicea, the Emperor agreed with him and being moved by pragmatic interests asked the question: Why did they come here then if not to dispute questions of the Faith?

The Latins took full advantage of the opportunities given to them by having the council held in their own territory. In defense of the “addition” they called upon western writers and their works. For the easterners such proofs were totally unknown and for the most part unacceptable since it was impossible to verify their authenticity. To such arguments the Orthodox could only answer: “We will respond when we see the original” (Memoir 394). St. Mark of Ephesus also told them, “I don’t know if the quotes they have quoted are in actuality the quotes of the saints quoted. If I must answer I would have to say that they are forgeries. I have no desire to demean the saints but we have no writings in which these quotes are to be found, and we are totally ignorant of them, having never, until today, heard of them.” Not only that but concerning the “proofs” of the Latins St. Mark had this to say: “They do not conform to the teaching that the Church held to be true when it was yet undivided” (Memoir 396). The Latin use of the above mentioned letter by St. Maximos the Confessor was, according to St. Mark, highly disputable and unacceptable, while for the Emperor, Visarion of Nicea and others it was a means for union with the Latins. St. Mark of Ephesus answers as follows: “The Latins teach the exact opposite of what St. Maximos believed: ‘They (the Latins) should first of all confess our faith without double-mindedness and only then to unite with us,” and continues, “If we have differences of opinion concerning the faith it is not possible to unite us” (Memoir 400).

In Florence the Latins came up with some sort of Confession of Faith which they presented to the Emperor John VIII and which contained the concept of union. At one time in Ferrara the Latins published a small list of no less than 54 heresies which they attributed to the Orthodox. This small pamphlet was sold openly on the streets and in all public places. Siropoulos does not quote the Confession in its entirety but makes it clear that it was the sum total of all the Latin aberrations and innovations. In response to this the Emperor consulted with his people and said to them, “The Latins have presented us with a Confession. If we agree to it we will have union, if you need to, change any words so as to make it acceptable to you… Or rather produce a Confession of your own which would be acceptable to us and to them” (Memoir 416).

In the Confession it was all the same to the Latins whether the Creed stated “from the Son” or “through the Son”. Isidor, the Metropolitan of Kiev, was of the same opinion. This position was rejected by St. Mark who referred to the opinion of St. Gregory the Theologian who preferred expressions like “dia” and “meta” (“through” and “with”). Gregory Scholaris, at this point in time, suggested the phrase, “…we confess the Holy Spirit who proceeds eternally from the Father and is peculiar to the Son proceeding essentially from both, from the Father through the Son.”

To be continued

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