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Florence, Council of

FLORENCE, COUNCIL OF

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.

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.

When the Greek representatives returned home, however, their decision was greeted with derision. Church union was never accepted by the masses of the Eastern Christian faithful. In any case, it became a dead letter with the 1453 Turkish conquest of Constantinople, renamed Istanbul by the Turks. When the Greek Isidore, Metropolitan of Kiev and presiding bishop of the Russian church, returned to Moscow where he normally resided and proclaimed the Pope as the head of the church, he was arrested on the orders of Grand Prince Basil II ("The Dark") and then diplomatically allowed to escape to Poland. In 1448 he was replaced as metropolitan by a Russian bishop, Jonah, without the consent of the mother church in Constantinople, which was deemed to have given up its faith by submitting to the Pope. From now on, the church of Russia would be an independent (autocephalous) Orthodox church.

The ramifications of the Council of Florence were significant. The rejection of its decisions in the East made it clear that the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches were to be separate institutions, as they are today. Yet the concept of incorporating eastern ritual into Catholicism in certain places, a compromise that evolved at the council, became the model for the so-called uniate church created in Polish-governed Ukraine and Belarus in 1596, whereby the Orthodox church in those lands became part of the Catholic church while retaining its traditional eastern rites.

See also: basil ii; metropolitan; uniate church

bibliography

Cherniavsky, Michael M. (1955). "The Reception of the Council of Florence in Moscow." Church History 24:347359.

Gill, Joseph. (1961). The Council of Florence. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

George P. Majeska

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Ferrara-Florence, Council of

Council of Ferrara-Florence, 1438–45, second part of the 17th ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church; the first part was the Council of Basel, canonically convened but after 1437 schismatic (see Basel, Council of). The chief goal at Ferrara was to end the schism of East and West; it was vigorously promoted by John VIII, Byzantine emperor, who, hard pressed by the Turks, hoped Christian union might save his empire. The council, consummation of years of negotiations, was opened by the papal legate at Ferrara as the legitimate successor of the Council of Basel. The representatives of the East arrived soon after the council's beginning (Jan., 1438); they included the emperor, the patriarch of Constantinople, canonical representatives of the other Orthodox patriarchs, and the metropolitan of Kiev, head of the Russian church. The points at issue between East and West were the Filioque clause of the creed, the use of unleavened bread in the Eucharist, the definition of purgatory, and the nature of the papal jurisdiction. The discussions were generally conducted without acerbity, the leading figure being Bessarion, archbishop of Nicaea, leader of the moderates among the Orthodox. About a year after its commencement the council moved to Florence (Jan., 1439) because of the plague at Ferrara and the financial inducements of the Florentines. In July, 1439, the pope issued the bull Laetentur coeli, announcing the religious union of East and West. It had been ratified by both sides, except for a few Orthodox. On the questions at issue the Orthodox conceded that the Western Church might use the Filioque in the creed and unleavened bread at Mass without danger to faith or right custom; the Orthodox also accepted the Western definition of purgatory and the papal supremacy over the patriarchs, without prejudice to patriarchal jurisdiction in the patriarchates. With the departure of the Orthodox from Italy, the party opposed to union on the council's terms gained power, and, before any lasting strength could be given the union, Constantinople fell to the Turks, who controlled the patriarchate of Constantinople thereafter. After the union was announced, the council continued to sit until 1445, moving to the Lateran in 1443. Its principal business was then to bring back into union with the Holy See the smaller non-Orthodox churches, i.e., Armenian, Jacobite, Nestorian, and Maronite. Of these, as of the Orthodox, small groups entered the Roman communion, but there was no great reunion. The chief result of the council was probably the increase in prestige it lent to the Holy See. It was also important in bringing Bessarion and other Greeks to Italy, strengthening the cultural connection between East and West.

See studies by J. Gill (1959 and 1964).

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Florence, Council of

Florence, Council of (1438–45). Council which effected a brief reunion of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Long sessions at Ferrara, then at Florence, discussed the problems of the filioque, unleavened bread (see AZYMITES) in the eucharist, purgatory, the epiclesis, and the primacy of Rome. The union was doomed by the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and was formally repudiated in 1472. The Council of Florence also established short-lived unions with other Eastern churches. See also LAETENTUR COELI.

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Florence, Council of

Council of Florence: see Ferrara-Florence, Council of.

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