Florence, Council of

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By the bulls Doctoris gentium of Sept. 18 and Pridem ex iustis of Dec. 30, 1437, Pope eugene iv transferred the Council of basel to Ferrara. There it opened on Jan. 8, 1438, under the presidency of Cardinal albergati. Eugene arrived on January 24. The first sessions were occupied in asserting the canonical validity of the council, in declaring null the sanctions voted in Basel against it, and in imposing penalties on opponents. For voting the council was divided into three estates: prelates, abbots and religious, and lower church dignitariesthe consent of two-thirds of each estate being needed for a conciliar decision.

At Ferrara. The Greeks arrived in Venice on February 8 and in Ferrara, March 47: the emperor John VIII Palaeologus and his brother Demetrius; the patriarch of Constantinople, Joseph II; with Gregory, the emperor's confessor, 20 metropolitans (five of whom acted also as procurators of the patriarchates of alexandria, antioch, and jerusalem); deacons, monks, and courtiers. There were in all about 700. All their expenses in coming, returning, and maintaining themselves in Italy were to be paid by the pope. At the solemn inauguration on April 9, besides the Greeks, there were 118 Latin prelates. John VIII, however, had requested a delay of four months before any doctrinal discussion, to allow the Western secular powers time to send representatives, since from them he wanted military help for constantinople, which was threatened by the Turks. To satisfy Latin impatience, in June discussions about purgatory were instituted between two committees of ten. The Latins proposed a purgation of punishment by fire; the Greeks, accepting the possibility of relief for the departed, denied fire and asserted that souls await the Last Judgment before entering on their final state. No agreement had been reached when the plague descended on Ferrara. Isidore, Metropolitan of Kiev and All Russia, arrived during this time (August 1438).

The council proper began on October 8. Cardinal bessarion of Nicaea (one of the six spokesmen of the Greeks) gave an opening address and then Mark eugenicus, Metropolitan of Ephesus, introduced the subject chosen by the Greeks: the legitimacy of the addition by the Latins of the words filioque to the nicene creed. In 13 sessions, from October 8 to December 13, the Greeks contended that any addition to the creed, even of a word or syllable, even if true, had been forbidden by the Council of ephesus (431). Bessarion spoke in two sessions and Mark Eugenicus in all the rest. The Latins interpreted the prohibition of Ephesus as referring to the faith expressed by the creed, not to the formula of expression. Of the six appointed Latin orators, Andrew of Rhodes, OP; Aloysius of Forli, OFM; and especially Cardinal cesarini were the principal speakers. No agreement was reached. Instead the Greeks, weary, nostalgic, and discouraged, wanted to go home. Eugene, in financial straits, was in arrears in his payments to them and was threatened by Milanese troops. He persuaded the Greek delegation to go to Florence (Jan. 10, 1439) and to discuss the doctrine of the Filioque.

At Florence. After a preliminary meeting of two committees of 40 on February 26, there were eight sessions between March 2 and 24. The Latins contended that within the Blessed Trinity the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and from the Son (ex Patre Filioque ); the Greeks, that He proceeds from the Father only. John of Montenero was the sole speaker for the Latins; Mark Eugenicus, for the Greeks. Five sessions were spent largely in discussing which side had the more accurate texts of a few passages from the Fathers, especially from Basil's Adversus Eunomium. In the sixth, Mark quoted the Scriptures, the councils, and the Fathers as all supporting the Greek position. In the seventh and eighth, Montenero used the same sources in favor of the Latin doctrine. The result was a stalemate.

During the following two months in an atmosphere of frustration and pessimism, the Latins urged more sessions; the Greeks, weary of discussion, demanded another road to union, otherwise they would go home (April 11). Meetings of committees bore no fruit. The Latins presented an accurate statement of doctrine (cedula ); the Greeks amended it into ambiguity. Urged to clarify their reply, they again refused and threatened to depart (May 21). As a last resort Eugene addressed the council on May 27, congratulating, encouraging, chiding, and exhorting. His words gave a new impulse to the efforts for union.

The Greek prelates believed that every saint, precisely as a saint, was inspired by the Holy Spirit and therefore could not err in faith. If they expressed themselves differently, their meanings must substantially agree. At this stage of the council this axiom was pressed by those Greeks who favored union. Latin saints stated that the Holy Spirit "proceeds from Father and Son"; Greek saints (as abundantly quoted by Montenero, Bessarion, and others) variously wrote "comes forth from," "issues from," "springs from," "the Father," "the Father and the Son," "from Both," "from the Father through the Son." The patriarch tarasius had said: "proceeds from the Father through the Son." Once the Greeks accepted that the Latin Fathers had really written Filioque (they could not understand Latin), the issue was settled (May 29). The Greek Fathers necessarily meant the same; the faiths of the two Churches were identical; union was not only possible but obligatory (June 3); and on June 8 the Latin cedula on the Procession was accepted by the Greek synod. On June 10 Joseph II died and was buried in the church of S. Maria Novella.

During the next six weeks the Latins gave the Greeks cedulae on the primacy (see primacy of the pope) and the Eucharist (which were explained in two sessions, June 16, 18), and on purgatory. There were difficulties and tensions and concessions on both sides before agreement was reached. More friction arose over the wording of the decree, composed of the cedulae previously agreed on, to which an introduction and conclusion were added. The resulting Laetentur caeli was promulgated in solemn session, July 6, 1439, signed by Eugene and 116 Latins and by the emperor with 32 Greeks, four of whom acted as proxies of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. Both groups agreed that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son as from one principle and spiration, the Latin "from" and the Greek "through" being equivalent and causal. In the Eucharist, rites in fermented and unfermented bread are both valid. After death some souls are purified by purgatorial punishments; others immediately receive their eternal destiny in hell or, with different degrees of beatitude, in heaven. The pope is the successor of St. Peter, head and teacher of the whole Church, and successor to the plenitude of power given by Christ to St. Peter; the usual precedence of the patriarchates is included.

As the Greeks departed, two representatives of the Armenians arrived from Caffa (August 13). In the bull Moyses vir Dei (September 4), Eugene challenged the ecumenicity of the Council of constance when it decreed conciliar supremacy (see conciliarism [history of]) and condemned Basel for daring to "depose" him. Union with the Armenians was promulgated on Nov. 22, 1439, in Exultate Deo (the Decree for armenians). On Feb. 4, 1440, by Cantate Domino, union was established with the Coptic Church of Egypt and, after the council went to the Lateran in Rome (Sept. 24, 1443), unions were concluded with certain Syrians (April 30, 1444) and with Chaldeans and Maronites of Cyprus (Aug. 7, 1445). When the council ended is not certain, for no document of closure is extant. In the meantime, to fulfill the obligation undertaken in Florence, Eugene had raised a crusade to drive the Turks from Europe. Only Poland and Hungary by land and Burgundy and Venice with the papal ships by sea took part. At Varna (Nov. 10, 1444) the Christian army was defeated, and Cesarini and King Ladislas of Poland-Hungary were killed. A powerful argument for union, namely, aid for Constantinople, thereby lost all its force.

Conclusion. The union with the Greeks did not last long. Mark Eugenicus, its one consistent Greek opponent, found ready support in the ill-educated monks and populace of Constantinople, and the majority of the bishops, themselves with little theological formation, yielded to popular pressure. All the intellectuals remained constantMark, against union; and for union, Bessarion, Isidore, Dorotheus of Mitylene, Metrophanes (successor of Joseph II) with at least five others (of the 18 episcopal Greek signatories), and Patriarch gregory iii, successor of Metrophanes.

The reason commonly given for the general defection is that the union was never genuine, and was signed under duress. That some of the Greeks suffered hardship from the pope's inability to pay them punctually, and that their prolonged stay in Italy and ill success in convincing the Latins in argument distressed and depressed them is clear. The Greeks also desired to obtain help for their homeland. But that these influences did not amount to duress is shown by the events themselves. After the unsuccessful sessions in Ferrara the Greeks were prepared to return home. Also, after the sessions in Florence they twice gave the pope an ultimatum. In neither case, however, was there the slightest sign of their being cowed by want or oppressed by the plight of their country; on the contrary, they resisted Latin pressure obstinately. Similarly, it is said that the emperor, determined on union for his own ends, allowed no freedom of speech. In the sessions Greeks spoke as frequently as Latins and in all the sessions but 2, i.e., in 19 out of 21 (or, including the deliberations on purgatory, in all but 3, i.e., in 23 out of 26) the Greek spokesman, Mark Eugenicus, was the sole constant opponent of union, and that with the emperor's consent. Besides, Mark (as he himself later testified) always spoke freely in the Greek private meetings, did not sign the decree, and was taken back to Constantinople in the imperial ship. It must be concluded, therefore, that the Greeks in Italy, though suffering certain disabilities, retained freedom of action and expression; that in Florence all who signed the decree did so freely, though in some cases influenced more by example than by conviction; and that in Constantinople they again followed the prevailing example and recanted. Consequently, in Constantinople itself there was sharp division. The emperor, though himself faithful to the union, did little to impose it. It was not officially promulgated till Dec. 12, 1452, by Isidore of Kiev as papal legate, under the shadow of Turkish attack. Mahomet captured Constantinople on May 29, 1453, and the union there ended. Elsewhere the unions continued until Turkish arms prevailed.

Effects. Laetentur caeli is an infallible document, the only one of the council. The union it expressed in Florence was real and, in a sense, model. It defined that the Latin faith and the traditional Greek faith were identical and allowed difference in their expression. It did not impose on the Greeks the addition of the Filioque to the creed; it approved difference in Eucharistic rite. Thus it established the sound principle of any union, identity of faith with liberty in rite, that has since been followed by the Ukrainians, the Rumanians, and many others. As regards the primacy, though the definition and the previous explanation of it were more general, the Greeks probably regarded it as a canonical, not a theological, question. A more important effect of the council was perhaps the check it gave to conciliarism. The Councils of Constance and Basel had tended to alter the traditional constitution of the Church by making councils, nearly always in session, into the supreme authority of the Church, with power in the hands of the lower clergy. The fact of union and the definition of the primacy in Florence, together with the intense antipapalism of Basel, though it did not kill conciliarism, certainly rendered it largely harmless. Further, the council stimulated interest in the Christians of Abyssinia and India, occasioning the voyages of discovery that ended by opening China in the East and America in the West.

Bibliography: Sources. Concilium Florentinum: Documenta et scriptores (Rome 1940), esp. v. 5 Acta graeca, ed. j. gill andv. 6 Acta latina, ed. g. hofmann. e. cecconi, Studi storici sul Concilio di Firenze (Florence 1869). s. syropulos, πομνημονε, ed. and tr. r. creyghton as Vera historia unionis non verae (The Hague 1660). Literature. c. j. von hefele, Histoire des conciles d'après les documents originaux, tr. and continued by h. leclercq, 10 v. in 19 (Paris 190738) v. 7. j. gill, The Council of Florence (Cambridge, Eng. 1959); Eugenius IV: Pope of Christian Union (Westminster, Md. 1961); Personalities of the Council of Florence (New York 1964). t. ferguson, "The Council of Ferrara-Florence and Its Continued Historical Significance," Saint Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 43:1 (1999) 5577. g. e. demacopoulos, "The Popular Reception of the Council of Florence in Constantinople 14391453," Saint Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 43:1 (1999) 3753. g. alberigo, ed., Christian Unity: The Council of Ferrara-Florence 1438/391989 (Louvain 1991).

[j. gill]

Florence, Council of

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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


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

Florence, Council of

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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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