Council of Ferrara-Florence - Encyclopedia

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COUNCIL OF FERRARA-FLORENCE (1438 ff.). The council of Ferrara and Florence was the culmination of a series of futile medieval attempts to reunite the Greek and Roman churches. The emperor, John VI. Palaeologus, had been advised by his experienced father to avoid all serious negotiations, as they had invariably resulted in increased bitterness; but John, in view of the rapid dismemberment of his empire by the Turks, felt constrained to seek a union. The situation was, however, complicated by the strife which broke out between the pope (Eugenius IV.) and the oecumenical council of Basel. Both sides sent embassies to the emperor at Constantinople, as both saw the importance of gaining the recognition and support of the East, for on this practically depended the victory in the struggle between papacy and council for the supreme jurisdiction over the church (see CouNcILs). The Greeks, fearing the domination of the papacy, were at first more favourably inclined toward the conciliar party; but the astute diplomacy of the Roman representatives, who have been charged by certain Greek writers with the skilful use of money and of lies, won over the emperor.

With a retinue of about 700 persons, entertained in Italy at the pope's expense, he reached Ferrara early in March 1438. Here a council had been formally opened in January by the papal party, a bull of the previous year having promptly taken advantage of the death of the Emperor Sigismund by ordering the removal of the council of Basel to Ferrara; and one of the first acts of the assemblage at Ferrara had been to excommunicate the remnant at Basel. A month after the coming of the Greeks, the Union Synod was solemnly inaugurated on the 9th of April 1438. After six months of negotiation, the first formal session was held on the 8th of October, and on the 14th the real issues were reached. The time-honoured question of the filioque was still in the foreground when it seemed for several reasons advisable to transfer the council to Florence: Ferrara was threatened by condottieri, the pest was raging; Florence promised a welcome subvention, and a situation further inland would make it more difficult for uneasy Greek bishops to flee the synod.

The first session at Florence and the seventeenth of the union council took place on the 26th of February 1439; there ensued long debates and negotiations on the filioque, in which Markos Eugenikos, archbishop of Ephesus, spoke for the irreconcilables; but the Greeks under the leadership of Bessarion, archbishop of Nicaea, and Isidor, metropolitan of Kiev, at length made a declaration on the filioque (4th of June), to which all save Markos Eugenikos subscribed. On the next topic of importance, the primacy of the pope, the project of union nearly suffered shipwreck; but here a vague formula was finally constructed which, while acknowledging the pope's right to govern the church, attempted to safeguard as well the rights of the patriarchs. On the basis of the above-mentioned agreements, as well as of minor discussions as to purgatory and the Eucharist, the decree of union was drawn up in Latin and in Greek, and signed on the 5th of July by the pope and the Greek emperor, and all the members of the synod save Eugenikos and one Greek bishop who had fled; and on the following day it was solemnly published in the cathedral of Florence. The decree explains the filioque in a manner acceptable to the Greeks, but does not require them to insert the term in their symbol; it demands that celebrants follow the custom of their own church as to the employment of leavened or unleavened bread in the Eucharist. It states essentially the Roman doctrine of purgatory, and asserts the world-wide primacy of the pope as the "true vicar of Christ and the head of the whole Church, the Father and teacher of all Christians"; but, to satisfy the Greeks, inconsistently adds that all the rights and privileges of the Oriental patriarchs are to be maintained unimpaired. After the consummation of the union the Greeks remained in Florence for several weeks, discussing matters such as the liturgy, the administration of the sacraments, and divorce; and they sailed from Venice to Constantinople in October.

The council, however, desirous of negotiating unions with the minor churches of the East, remained in session for several years, and seems never to have reached a formal adjournment. The decree for the Armenians was published on the 2 2nd of November 1 439; they accepted the filioque and the Athanasian creed, rejected Monophysitism and Monothelitism, agreed to the developed scholastic doctrine concerning the seven sacraments, and conformed their calendar to the Western in certain points. On the 26th of April 1441 the pope announced that the synod would be transferred to the Lateran; but before leaving Florence a union was negotiated with the Oriental Christians known as Jacobites, through a monk named Andreas, who, at least as regards Abyssinia, acted in excess of his powers. The Decretum pro Jacobitis, published on the 4th of February 1442, is, like that for the Armenians, of high dogmatic interest, as it summarizes the doctrine of the great medieval scholastics on the points in controversy. The decree for the Syrians, published at the Lateran on the 30th of September 1444, and those for the Chaldeans (Nestorians) and the Maronites (Monothelites), published at the last known session of the council on the 7th of August 1445, added nothing of doctrinal importance. Though the direct results of these unions were the restoration of prestige to the absolutist papacy and the bringing of Byzantine men of letters, like Bessarion, to the West, the outcome was on the whole disappointing. Of the complicated history of the "United" churches of the East it suffices to say that Rome succeeded in securing but fragments, though important fragments, of the greater organizations. As for the Greeks, the union met with much opposition, particularly from the monks, and was rejected by three Oriental patriarchs at a synod of Jerusalem in 1443; and after various ineffective attempts to enforce it, the fall of Constantinople in 1453 put an end to the endeavour. As Turkish interests demanded the isolation of the Oriental Christians from their western brethren, and as the orthodox Greek nationalists feared Latinization more than Mahommedan rule, a patriarch hostile to the union was chosen, and a synod of Constantinople in 1472 formally rejected the decisions of Florence.


Hardouin, vol. 9; Mansi, vols. 31 A, 31 B, 35; Sylvester Sguropulus (properly Syropulus), Vera historia Unionis, transl. R. Creyghton (Hague, 1660); Cecconi, Studi storici sul concilio di Firenze (Florence, 1869), (appendix); J. Zhishman, Die Unionsverhandlungen. .. bis zum Concil von Ferrara (Vienna, 1858); Gorski, of Moscow, 1847, The History of the Council of Florence, trans. from the Russian by Basil Popoff, ed. by J. M. Neale (London, 1861); C. J. von Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, vol. 7 (Freiburg i. B., 18 74), 6 59-7 61, 793 ff., 814 ff.; H. Vast, Le Cardinal Bessarion (Paris, 1878), 53-113; A. Warschauer, Uber die Quellen zur Geschichte des Florentiner Concils (Breslau, 1881), (Dissertation); M. Creighton, A History of the Papacy during the Period of the Reformation, vol. 2 (London, 1882), 173-194 (vivid); Knopfler, in Wetzer and Welte's Kirchenlexikon, vol. 4 (2nd ed., Freiburg i. B., 1885), 1363-1380 (instructive); L. Pastor, History of the Popes, vol. 1 (London, 1891), 315 ff.; F. Kattenbusch, Lehrbuch der vergleichenden Confessionskunde, vol. 1 (Freiburg i. B., 1892), 128 ff.; N. Kalogeras, archbishop of Patras, "Die Verhandlungen zwischen der orthodoxkatholischen Kirche and dem Konzil von Basel i.iber die Wiedervereinigung der Kirchen" (Internationale Theologische Zeitschrift), vol. I (Bern, 18 93, 39-57); P. Tschackert, in Herzog-Hauck, Realencyklopeidie, vol. 6 (3rd ed., Leipzig, 1 899), 45-4 8 (good bibliography); Walter Norden, Das Papsttum and Byzanz: Die Trennung der beiden Mcichte and das Problem ihrer Wiedervereinigung bis 1453 (Berlin, 1903), 712 ff. (W. W. R.*)

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