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§ 18. The Council of Ferrara-Florence. 1438–1445.

The council of Ferrara witnessed the submission of the Greeks to the Roman see. It did not attempt to go into the subject of ecclesiastical reforms, and thus vie with the synod at Basel. After sixteen sessions held at Ferrara, Eugenius transferred the council, February, 1439, to Florence. The reason given was the unhealthy conditions in Ferrara, but the real grounds were the offer of the Florentines to aid Eugenius in the support of his guests from the East and, by getting away from the seaside, to lessen the chances of the Greeks going home before the conclusion of the union. In 1442 the council was transferred to Rome, where it held two sessions in the Lateran. The sessions at Ferrara, Florence, and Rome are listed with the first twenty-five sessions of the council of Basel, and together they are counted as the seventeenth oecumenical council.340340    Hefele-Knöpfler, Kirchengesch., p. 477.

The schism between the East and the West, dating from the middle of the ninth century, while Nicolas I. and Photius were patriarchs respectively of Rome and Constantinople, was widened by the crusades and the conquest of Constantinople, 1204. The interest in a reunion of the two branches of the Church was shown by the discussion at Bari, 1098, when Anselm was appointed to set forth the differences with Greeks, and by the treatments of Thomas Aquinas and other theologians. The only notable attempt at reunion was made at the second council of Lyons, 1274, when a deputation from the East accepted articles of agreement which, however, were rejected by the Eastern churches. In 1369, the emperor John visited Rome and abjured the schism, but his action met with unfavorable response in Constantinople. Delegates appeared at Constance, 1418, sent by Manuel Palaeologus and the patriarch of Constantinople,341341    Richental, Chronik, p. 113, has a notice of their arrival. and, in 1422, Martin V. despatched the Franciscan, Anthony Massanus, to the Bosphorus, with nine articles as a basis of union. These articles led on to the negotiations conducted at Ferrara.

Neither Eugenius nor the Greeks deserve any credit for the part they took in the conference. The Greeks were actuated wholly by a desire to get the assistance of the West against the advance of the Turks, and not by religious zeal. So far as the Latins are concerned, they had to pay all the expenses of the Greeks on their way to Italy, in Italy, and on their way back as the price of the conference. Catholic historians have little enthusiasm in describing the empty achievements of Eugenius.342342    So Hefele-Knöpfler, Kirchengesch., p. 476; Hergenröther-Kirsch, II. 949; Funk, Kirchengesch., p. 377. Pastor, II. 307, says, "Die politische Nothlage brachte endlich die Griechen zum Nachgeben."

The Greek delegation was large and inspiring, and included the emperor and the patriarch of Constantinople. In Venetian vessels rented by the pope, the emperor John VI., Palaeologus reached Venice in February, 1438.343343    An account of the emperor’s arrival and entertainment at Venice is given in Mansi, XXXI. 463 sqq. He was accorded a brilliant reception, but it is fair to suppose that the pleasure he may have felt in the festivities was not unmixed with feelings of resentment, when he recalled the sack and pillage of his capital, in 1204, by the ancestors of his entertainers. John reached Ferrara March 6. The Greek delegation comprised 700 persons. Eugenius had arrived Jan. 27. In his bull, read in the synod, he called the emperor his most beloved son, and the patriarch his most pious brother.344344    Dilectissimus filius noster Romaeorum imperator Cum piissimmo fratre nostro, Josepho Const. patriarcha, Mansi, XXXI. 481. In a public address delivered by Cardinal Cesarini, the differences dividing the two communions were announced as four,—the mode of the procession of the Holy Spirit, the use of unleavened bread in the eucharist, the doctrine of purgatory, and the papal primacy. The discussions exhibit a mortifying spectacle of theological clipping and patchwork. They betray no pure zeal for the religious interests of mankind. The Greeks interposed all manner of dilatory tactics while they lived upon the hospitality of their hosts. The Latins were bent upon asserting the supremacy of the Roman bishop. The Orientals, moved by considerations of worldly policy, thought only of the protection of their enfeebled empire.

Among the more prominent Greeks present were Bessarion, bishop of Nice, Isidore, archbishop of Russian Kief, and Mark Eugenicus, archbishop of Ephesus. Bessarion and Isidore remained in the West after the adjournment of the council, and were rewarded by Eugenius with the red hat. The archbishop of Ephesus has our admiration for refusing to bow servilely to the pope and join his colleagues in accepting the articles of union. The leaders among the Latins were Cardinals Cesarini and Albergati, and the Spaniard Turrecremata, who was also given the red hat after the council adjourned.

The first negotiations concerned matters of etiquette. Eugenius gave a private audience to the patriarch, but waived the ceremony of having his foot kissed. An important question was the proper seating of the delegates, and the Greek emperor saw to it that accurate measurements were taken of the seats set apart for the Greeks, lest they should have positions of less honor than the Latins.345345    So Syrophulos. See Hefele Conciliengesch., VII. 672. The pope’s promise to support his guests was arranged by a monthly grant of thirty florins to the emperor, twenty-five to the patriarch, four each to the prelates, and three to the other visitors. What possible respect could the more high-minded Latins have for ecclesiastics, and an emperor, who, while engaged on the mission of Church reunion, were willing to be the pope’s pensioners, and live upon his dole!

The first common session was not held till Oct. 8, 1438. Most of it was taken up with a long address by Bessarion, as was the time of the second session by a still longer address by another Greek. The emperor did his share in promoting delay by spending most of his time hunting. At the start the Greeks insisted there could be no addition to the original creed. Again and again they were on the point of withdrawing, but were deterred from doing so by dread of the Turks and empty purses.346346    Hergenröther-Kirsch, II. 949, lays stress upon the Greek readiness to accept alms. A commission of twenty, ten Greeks and ten Latins, was appointed to conduct the preliminary discussion on the questions of difference.

The Greeks accepted the addition made to the Constantinopolitan creed by the synod of Toledo, 589, declaring that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, but with the stipulation that they were not to be required to introduce the filioque clause when they used the creed. They justified their course on the ground that they had understood the Latins as holding to the procession from the Father and the Son as from two principles. The article of agreement ran: "The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son eternally and substantially as it were from one source and cause."347347    Aeternaliter et substantialiter tanquam ab uno principio et causa. The statement ex patre et filio and ex patre per filium were declared to be identical in meaning.

In the matter of purgatory, it was decided that immediately at death the blessed pass to the beatific vision, a view the Greeks had rejected. Souls in purgatory are purified by pain and may be aided by the suffrages of the living. At the insistence of the Greeks, material fire as an element of purification was left out.

The use of leavened bread was conceded to the Greeks.

In the matter of the eucharist, the Greeks, who, after the words, "this is my body," make a petition that the Spirit may turn the bread into Christ’s body, agreed to the view that transubstantiation occurs at the use of the priestly words, but stipulated that the confession be not incorporated in the written articles.

The primacy of the Roman bishop offered the most serious difficulty. The article of union acknowledged him as "having a primacy over the whole world, he himself being the successor of Peter, and the true vicar of Christ, the head of the whole Church, the father and teacher of all Christians, to whom, in Peter, Christ gave authority to feed, govern and rule the universal Church."348348    Diffinimus sanctam apostol. sedem et Romanam pontificem in universum orbem tenere primatum et ipsum pontificem Romanum successorem esse B. Petri principis apostolorum, et verum Christi vicarium, totiusque ecclesiae caput, et omnium Christianorum patrem et doctorem existere, etc. Mansi, XXXI. 1697. This remarkable concession was modified by a clause in the original document, running, "according as it is defined by the acts of the oecumenical councils and by the sacred canons."349349    Quemadmodum et in gestis oecumenicorum conciliorum et in sacris canonibus continetur. The change placed an etiam in the place of the first et, so that the clause ran quemadmodum etiam in gestis, etc. See Döllinger-Friedrich, D. Papstthum, pp. 170, 470 sq. Döllinger says that in the Roman ed. of 1626 the Ferrara council was called the 8th oecumenical. The Latins afterwards changed the clause so as to read, "even as it is defined by the oecumenical councils and the holy canons." The Latin falsification made the early oecumencial councils a witness to the primacy of the Roman pontiff.

The articles of union were incorporated in a decree350350    The document, together with the signatures, is given in Mansi, pp. 1028-1036, 1695-1701. Hefele-Knöpfler, Conciliengesch., VII. 742-753, has regarded it of such importance as to give the Greek and Latin originals in full, and also a German translation. beginning Laetentur coeli et exultat terra, "Let the heavens rejoice and the earth be glad." It declared that the middle wall of partition between the Occidental and Oriental churches has been taken down by him who is the cornerstone, Christ. The black darkness of the long schism had passed away before the ray of concord. Mother Church rejoiced to see her divided children reunited in the bonds of peace and love. The union was due to the grace of the Holy Ghost. The articles were signed July 5 by 115 Latins and 33 Greeks, of whom 18 were metropolitans. Archbishop Mark of Ephesus was the only one of the Orientals who refused to sign. The patriarch of Constantinople had died a month before, but wrote approving the union. His body lies buried in S. Maria Novella, Florence. His remains and the original manuscript of the articles, which is preserved in the Laurentian library at Florence, are the only relics left of the union.

On July 6, 1439, the articles were publicly read in the cathedral of Florence, the Greek text by Bessarion, and the Latin by Cesarini. The pope was present and celebrated the mass. The Latins sang hymns in Latin, and the Greeks followed them with hymns of their own. Eugenius promised for the defence of Constantinople a garrison of three hundred and two galleys and, if necessary, the armed help of Western Christendom. After tarrying for a month to receive the five months of arrearages of his stipend, the emperor returned by way of Venice to his capital, from which he had been absent two years.

The Ferrara agreement proved to be a shell of paper, and all the parade and rejoicing at the conclusion of the proceedings were made ridiculous by the utter rejection of its articles in Constantinople.

On their return, the delegates were hooted as Azymites, the name given in contempt to the Latins for using unleavened bread in the eucharist. Isidore, after making announcement of the union at Of en, was seized and put into a convent, from which he escaped two years later to Rome. The patriarchs of Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria issued a letter from Jerusalem, 1443, denouncing the council of Florence as a synod of robbers and Metrophanes, the Byzantine patriarch as a matricide and heretic.

It is true the articles were published in St. Sophia, Dec. 14, 1452, by a Latin cardinal, but six months later, Constantinople was in the hands of the Mohammedans. A Greek council, meeting in Constantinople, 1472, formally rejected the union.

On the other hand, the success of the Roman policy was announced through Western Europe. Eugenius’ position was strengthened by the empty triumph, and in the same proportion the influence of the Basel synod lessened. If cordial relations between churches of the East and the West were not promoted at Ferrara and Florence, a beneficent influence flowed from the council in another direction by the diffusion of Greek scholarship and letters in the West.

Delegations also from the Armenians and Jacobites appeared at Florence respectively in 1439 and 1442. The Copts and Ethiopians also sent delegations, and it seemed as if the time had arrived for the reunion of all the distracted parts of Christendom.351351    See Mansi, XXXI. 1047 sqq.; Hefele-Knöpfler, VII. 788 sqq. The only meeting since between Greeks and Western ecclesiastics of public note was at the Bonn Conference, 1875, in which Döllinger and the Old-Catholics took the most prominent part. Dr. Philip Schaff and several Anglican divines also participated. See Creeds of Christendom, I. 545-554, and Life of Philip Schaff, pp. 277-280. A union with the Armenians, announced Nov. 22, 1439, declared that the Eastern delegates had accepted the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Son and the Chalcedon Council giving Christ two natures and by implication two wills. The uniate Armenians have proved true to the union. The Armenian catholicos, Gregory IX., who attempted to enforce the union, was deposed, and the Turks, in 1461, set up an Armenian patriarch, with seat at Constantinople. The union of the Jacobites, proclaimed in 1442, was universally disowned in the East. The attempts to conciliate the Copts and Ethiopians were futile. Eugenius sent envoys to the East to apprise the Maronites and the Nestorians of the efforts at reunion. The Nestorians on the island of Cyprus submitted to Rome, and a century later, during the sessions of the Fifth Lateran, 1516, the Maronites were received into the Roman communion.

On Aug. 7, 1445, Eugenius adjourned the long council which had begun its sittings at Basel, continued them at Ferrara and Florence, and concluded them in the Lateran.

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