The Forced Union of Florence
Episode 2 – Florence
It had by this time become obvious that the Emperor was determined to sing the act of union at all costs. Metropolitan Dositheos of Monemvasia pointed out to him that he was well on the road to making the same mistake as his predecessor the founder of the Paleologus dynasty: “I beseech my most holy Lord not to do now what the Lord Emperor Michael the Latinophile did previously.” He was thinking of the Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII who, motivated entirely by secular interests, agreed to the ill-fated union with the Latins which was signed in the French city of Lyons in 1274.
It is interesting here to note the questions put to the Orthodox by the Latins, which required answers and which dealt with central issues of the faith. Siropoulos mentions twelve of these questions. Among others the Latins requested a more clear explanation of the phrase: “The Holy Spirit…is peculiar to the Son” (fourth question). “We ask you to tell us what is it that you mean by the word ‘peculiar’ (idion). Do you mean simply of one essence only (homousion monon), or perhaps that He eternally receives his being from the Son as from the Father?” (Memoir 430). Further questions, five and six, deal with the phrase “from Him”, (ex avtou). “To whom does this refer, the Father or the Son? If the Son then does this mean that the Holy Spirit is from Him eternally, essentially and personally (aidios, ousiodos, prosopikos) or not?”
The amount of time spent by the delegates in Italy was long and difficult. Siropoulos talks about this a great deal often mentioning specific incidents. They made themselves believe that this extraordinary sacrifice was for the good of the Empire. At the same time they felt strongly that in all of this they should guard against losing their souls. The bishops were often to point out that although they respected the immense effort expended by the Emperor for the sake of the union, nevertheless: “This is no reason for us to sell our souls.”
Siropoulos mentions here an incident that took place on May 22, 1439. On that day the Latins paid out the stipends to the delegates in order for them to buy food for the next two months. They did this selectively. St. Mark of Ephesus, for example, received nothing at all. At the time a certain Cardinal Christopher was heard to say, “Give nothing to Ephesus who has eaten the Pope’s bread and like Judas opposed him as an adversary…he should be given a rope with which to hang himself” (Memoir 436). Despite the treatment St. Mark remained steadfast and uncompromising in the Faith. “Many people,” he said, “believe that there is little difference between us an the Latins. The difference, however, is great.” On the question whether the Latins were heretics, there was a general feeling that they could not be considered as such, and St. Mark was told: “It is not heresy, nor can it be called by that name since none of the Holy Fathers who preceded you called it by that name.” The Saint responded: “It is indeed a heresy, and those who proceeded us considered it to be so. They, however, did not wish to condemn the Latins as heretics in expectation that they would repent of their error. If you wish I can prove to you that they did indeed consider them heretics” (Memoir 444).
When it was stated that St. Mark of Ephesus should moderate his position, to compromise, for the sake of “economy”, he responded by saying: “It is not allowed to compromise in questions of Faith.” After much pressure to compromise the Saint remained firm. The zealots for union said: “The differences are small, and small the compromise that would achieve union, if only you would agree to it.” To this he answered: “That is exactly what the exarch told St. Theodore (Graptos). He said to him: “Just this once accept our community, we ask nothing else of you, after that you can go where you wish.” The Saint answered him and said: ‘That which you have said is the same as if you were to say, let me cut your head off just this once and then you can go wherever you like!’ Things are not as small as they sometimes appear” (Memoir 447).
To be continued: The Death of the Patriarch