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Council of Basel-Ferrara-Florence
Date 1431-1445
Accepted by Catholicism
Previous council Council of Constance
Next council Fifth Council of the Lateran
Convoked by Pope Martin V
Presided by Cardinal Julian Cesarini, later Pope Eugene IV
Attendance very light in first sessions, eventually 117 Latins and 31 Greeks
Topics of discussion Hussites, East-West Schism
Documents and statements Several Papal bulls, short-lived reconciliation with Greek Orthodox, reconciliation with delegation from the Armenians
Chronological list of Ecumenical councils
Pope Martin V convoked the Council of Basel in 1431. It became the Council of Ferrara in 1438 and the Council of Florence in 1439.

The Council of Florence (originally Council of Basel) was an Ecumenical Council of bishops and other ecclesiastics of the Roman Catholic Church. It began in 1431 in Basel, Switzerland, and became known as the Council of Ferrara after its transfer to Ferrara was decreed by Pope Eugene IV to convene in 1438. The council transferred to Florence in 1439 because of the danger of plague at Ferrara, and because the city of Florence had agreed, against future payment, to finance the Council.[1] The initial location at Basel reflected the desire among parties seeking reform to meet outside the territories of the Papacy, the Holy Roman Empire, or the kings of Aragon and France, whose influences the council hoped to avoid. Ambrogio Traversari attended the Council of Basel as legate of Pope Eugene IV.

The council was convened at a period when the Conciliar movement was strong and the authority of the papacy weak. Under pressure for ecclesiastical reform Pope Martin V sanctioned a decree of the Council of Constance (9 October 1417) obliging the papacy to summon general councils periodically. At the expiration of the first term fixed by this decree, Pope Martin V complied by calling a council at Pavia. Due to an epidemic the location transferred almost at once to Siena (see Council of Siena) and disbanded—owing to circumstances still imperfectly known—just as it had begun to discuss the subject of reform (1424).

The next council fell due at the expiration of seven years in 1431; Martin V duly convoked it for this date to the town of Basel, and selected to preside over it the cardinal Julian Cesarini, a well-respected prelate. Martin himself, however, died before the opening of the synod.

The council at Basel opened with only a few bishops and abbots attending, but it grew rapidly and to make its numbers greater gave the lower orders a majority over the bishops. It adopted an anti-papal attitude, proclaimed the superiority of the Council over the Pope and prescribed an oath to be taken by every Pope on his election. When the Council was moved from Basel to Ferrara in 1438, some remained at Basel, claiming to be the Council. They elected Amadeus VIII, Duke of Savoy, as Antipope. Driven out of Basel in 1448, they moved to Lausanne, where Felix V, the Pope they had elected and the only claimant to the papal throne who ever took the oath that they had prescribed, resigned. Next year, they decreed the closure of what for them was still the Council of Basel.[2]

The Council transferred to Ferrara in 1438 and to Florence in 1439 had meanwhile successfully negotiated reunification with several Eastern Churches, reaching agreements on such matters as papal primacy, purgatory, and the word "Filioque" added in the West to the Nicene Creed. The most important of these unions, that with the Eastern Orthodox Church, though accepted by all but one of the Greek bishops at the Council, was rejected by popular sentiment and came to a complete end with the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The Council also declared the Basel group heretics and excommunicated them; and the superiority of the Pope over the Councils was affirmed in the bull Etsi non dubitemus of 20 April 1441.[3]


Composition of the council

The democratic character of the assembly at Basel was a result of both its composition and its organization. Doctors of theology, masters and representatives of chapters, monks and clerks of inferior orders constantly outnumbered the prelates in it, and the influence of the superior clergy had less weight because, instead of being separated into "nations", as at Constance, the fathers divided themselves according to their tastes or aptitudes into four large committees or "deputations" (deputationes). One was concerned with questions of faith (fidei), another with negotiations for peace (pacis), the third with reform (reformatorii), and the fourth with what they called "common concerns" (pro communibus). Every decision made by three of these "deputations" — and in each of them the lower clergy formed the majority — received ratification for the sake of form in general congregation, and if necessary led to decrees promulgated in session. For this reason papal critics termed the council "an assembly of copyists" or even "a set of grooms and scullions". One should note, however, that some prelates, although absent, were represented by their proctors.

Attempted dissolution

From Italy, France and Germany the fathers came late to Basel. Cesarini devoted all his energies to the war against the Hussites, until the disaster of Taus forced him to evacuate Bohemia in haste. Pope Eugene IV, Martin V's successor, lost hope that the council could be useful owing to the progress of heresy, the reported troubles in Germany, the war which had lately broken out between the dukes of Austria and Burgundy, and finally, the small number of fathers who had responded to the summons of Martin V. This opinion, added to his desire to preside over the council in person, induced him to recall the fathers from Germany, as his poor health made it difficult for him to go. He commanded the council to disperse, and appointed Bologna as their meeting-place in eighteen months' time, with the intention of making the session of the council coincide with some conferences with representatives of the Greek church, scheduled to be held there with a view to ecumenical union (18 December 1431).

This order led to an outcry among the fathers and incurred the deep disapproval of the legate Cesarini. They argued that the Hussites would think the Church afraid to face them, and that the laity would accuse the clergy of shirking reform, both with disastrous effects. The pope explained his reasons and yielded certain points, but the fathers were intransigent. Considerable powers had been decreed to Church councils by the Council of Constance, which amid the troubles of the Western Schism had proclaimed the superiority, in certain cases, of the council over the pope, and the fathers at Basel insisted upon their right of remaining assembled. They held sessions, promulgated decrees, interfered in the government of the papal countship of Venaissin, treated with the Hussites, and, as representatives of the universal Church, presumed to impose laws upon the sovereign pontiff himself.

Eugene IV resolved to resist the Council's claim of supremacy, but he did not dare openly to repudiate the conciliar doctrine considered by many to be the actual foundation of the authority of the popes before the schism. He soon realized the impossibility of treating the fathers of Basel as ordinary rebels, and tried a compromise; but as time went on, the fathers became more and more intractable, and between him and them gradually arose an impassable barrier.

Abandoned by a number of his cardinals, condemned by most of the powers, deprived of his dominions by condottieri who shamelessly invoked the authority of the council, the pope made concession after concession, and ended on 15 December 1433 with a pitiable surrender of all the points at issue in a Papal bull, the terms of which were dictated by the fathers of Basel, that is, by declaring his bull of dissolution null and void, and recognising that the synod as legitimately assembled throughout. However, Eugene IV did not ratify all the decrees coming from Basel, nor make a definite submission to the supremacy of the council. He declined to express any forced pronouncement on this subject, and his enforced silence concealed the secret design of safeguarding the principle of sovereignty.

The fathers, filled with suspicion, would allow only the legates of the pope to preside over them on condition of their recognizing the superiority of the council. The legates did submit to this humiliating formality but in their own names, it was asserted only after the fact, thus reserving the final judgment of the Holy See. Furthermore, the difficulties of all kinds against which Eugene had to contend, such as the insurrection at Rome, which forced him to escape by the Tiber lying in the bottom of a boat, left him at first little chance of resisting the enterprises of the council.

Issues of reform

Emboldened by their success, the fathers approached the subject of reform, their principal object being to further curtail the power and resources of the papacy. They took decisions on the disciplinary measures which regulated the elections, on the celebration of divine service, on the periodical holding of diocesan synods and provincial councils, which were usual topics in Catholic councils. They also made decrees aimed at some of the assumed rights by which the popes had extended their power and improved their finances at the expense of the local churches. Thus the council abolished annates, greatly limited the abuse of "reservation" of the patronage of benefices by the pope, and completely abolished the right claimed by the pope of "next presentation" to benefices not yet vacant (known as gratiae expectativae). Other conciliar decrees severely limited the jurisdiction of the court of Rome, and even made rules for the election of popes and the constitution of the Sacred College. The fathers continued to devote themselves to the subjugation of the Hussites, and they also intervened, in rivalry with the pope, in the negotiations between France and England which led to the treaty of Arras, concluded by Charles VII of France with the duke of Burgundy. Finally, they investigated and judged numbers of private cases — lawsuits between prelates, members of religious orders and holders of benefices—thus themselves committing one of the serious abuses for which they had criticised the court of Rome.

Eugene IV's eastern strategy

John VIII Palaiologos during his visit to Florence, by Pisanello (1438).

Eugene IV, however much he may have wished to keep on good terms with the fathers of Basel, found himself neither able nor willing to accept or observe all their decrees. The question of the union with the Greek church, especially, gave rise to a misunderstanding between them which soon led to a rupture. The Byzantine emperor John VIII Palaeologus, pressed hard by the Ottoman Turks, was keen to ally himself with the Catholics. He consented to come with the principal representatives of the Greek church to some place in the West where the union could be concluded in the presence of the pope and of the Latin council. There arose a double negotiation between him and Eugene IV on the one hand and the fathers of Basel on the other. The council wished to fix the meeting-place at a place remote from the influence of the pope, and they persisted in suggesting Basel, Avignon or Savoy. On the other hand, the Greeks wanted a coastal location in Italy for their ease of access by ship.

Council transferred to Ferrara and attempted union with the Eastern Orthodox Church

John Argyropoulos was a Greek Byzantine diplomat who was present at the Council of Florence in 1439.[4]

As a result of negotiations with the East, John VIII Palaeologus accepted the pope's offer, who, by a bill dated 18 September, 1437, again pronounced the dissolution of the council of Basel, and summoned the fathers to Ferrara.

The first public session at Ferrara began on 10 January 1438. Its first act was to declare the Council of Basel transferred to Ferrara and to nullify all further proceedings at Basel. In the second public session (15 February 1438), Pope Eugene IV excommunicated all who continued to assemble at Basel.

In early April 1438, the Greek contingent arrived at Ferrara over 700 strong. On 9 April 1438 the first solemn session at Ferrara began with the Eastern Roman Emperor, the Patriarch of Constantinople and representatives of the Patriarchal Sees of Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem in attendance and Pope Eugene IV presiding. The early sessions lasted until 17 July 1438 with each theological issue of the Great Schism (1054) hotly debated, including the Processions of the Holy Spirit, Filioque clause in the Nicene Creed, Purgatory and Papal Primacy. Resuming proceedings on 8 October 1438, the council focused exclusively on the Filioque matter. Even as it became clear the Greek Church would never consent to the Filioque clause, the Emperor continued to press for a reconciliation.

Council transferred to Florence and the near East-West union

With finances running thin and on the pretext that the plague was spreading in the area, both the Latins and the Greeks agreed to transfer the council to Florence.[5] Continuing at Florence in January 1439, the Council made steady progress on a compromise formula, "ex filio." In the following months, agreement was reached on the Western doctrine of Purgatory and a return to the pre-schism prerogatives of the Papacy. On 6 June 1439 an agreement was signed by Patriarch Joseph II of Constantinople and all the Eastern bishops but one, Mark of Ephesus, who held that Rome continued in both heresy and schism. Apparently, the Great Schism was over. However, after Patriarch Joseph II of Constantinople died only two days later, the Greeks insisted that ratification by the Eastern Church could be achieved only by the agreement of an Eastern synod. Upon their return, the Eastern bishops found their agreement with the West broadly rejected by the populace and by civil authorities (with the notable exception of the Emperors of the East who remained committed to union until the fall of the Byzantine Empire two decades later). The union signed at Florence, even down to the present, has never been accepted by the Eastern churches.


Copts and Ethiopians

The mutinational character of the Council inspired Benozzo Gozzoli's 1459 Journey of the Magi, featuring a black figure in the attendance.[6]

The Council soon became even more international. The signature of this agreement for the union of the Latins and the Greeks encouraged Pope Eugenius to announce the good news to the Coptic Christians, and invite them to send a delegation to Ferrara. He wrote a letter on 7 July 1439, and to deliver it, sent Alberto da Sarteano as an apostolic delegate. On 26 August 1441, Sarteano returned with four Ethiopians from Emperor Zara Yaqob and Copts.[7] According to a contemporary observer "They were black men and dry and very awkward in their bearing (...) really, to see them they appeared to be very weak".[8] At that time, Rome had delegates from a multitude of nations, from Armenia to Russia, Greece and various parts of north and east Africa. [9]

"Deposition of Eugene IV" and schism at Basel

During this time the council of Basel, though nullified at Ferrara and abandoned by Cesarini and most of its members, persisted nonetheless, under the presidency of Cardinal Aleman. Affirming its ecumenical character on 24 January 1438, it suspended Eugene IV. The council went on (in spite of the intervention of most of the powers) to pronounce Eugene IV deposed (25 June 1439), giving rise to a new schism by electing (4 November 1439) duke Amadeus VIII of Savoy, as (anti)pope, who took the name of Felix V.

Effects of the schism

This schism lasted fully ten years, although the antipope found few adherents outside of his own hereditary states, those of Alfonso V of Aragon, of the Swiss confederation and of certain universities. Germany remained neutral; Charles VII of France confined himself to securing to his kingdom (by the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges, which became law on 13 July 1438) the benefit of a great number of the reforms decreed at Basel; England and Italy remained faithful to Eugene IV. Finally, in 1447, Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor, after negotiations with Eugene, commanded the burgomaster of Basel not to allow the presence of the council any longer in the imperial city.

Schism reconciled at Lausanne

In June 1448 the rump of the council migrated to Lausanne. The antipope, at the insistence of France, ended by abdicating (7 April 1449). Eugene IV died on 23 February 1447, and the council at Lausanne, to save appearances, gave their support to his successor, Pope Nicholas V, who had already been governing the Church for two years. Trustworthy evidence, they said, proved to them that this pontiff accepted the dogma of the superiority of the council as defined at Constance and at Basel.


The struggle for East-West union at Ferrara and Florence, while promising, never bore fruit. While progress toward union in the East continued to be made in the following decades, all hopes for a proximate reconciliation were dashed with the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

The seventeen-year struggle to defend conciliarism carried on at Basel and Lausanne ended in a defeat. The papacy, so fundamentally shaken by the earlier schism of the West, came through this trial with a Pyrrhic victory. The era of the great councils of the fifteenth century closed and the constitution of the Roman Church remained monarchical. Yet, left unresolved were many of the tensions which provoked the Reformation in the next century.

Ironically, perhaps the council's most important historical legacy was the lectures on Greek classical literature given in Florence by many of the delegates from Constantinople, including the renowned Neoplatonist Gemistus Pletho . These helped catalyze the birth of humanism. [10]

See also


  1. ^ Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press 2005 ISBN 978-0-19-280290-3), article Florence, Council of
  2. ^ Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press 2005 ISBN 978-0-19-280290-3), article Basle, Council of
  3. ^ Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press 2005 ISBN 978-0-19-280290-3), article Florence, Council of
  4. ^ "John Argyropoulos.". Retrieved 2009-10-02. "Argyropoulos divided his time between Italy and Constantinople; he was in Italy (1439) for the Council of Florence and spent some time teaching and studying in Padua, earning a degree in 1443."  
  5. ^ Stuart M. McManus, 'Byzantines in the Florentine polis: Ideology, Statecraft and ritual during the Council of Florence', The Journal of the Oxford University History Society, 6 (Michaelmas 2008/Hilary 2009), pp. 4-6
  6. ^ Trexler, The journey of the Magi p.128 [1]
  7. ^ Quinn The European Outthrust and Encounter p.81 [2]
  8. ^ Trexler The journey of the Magi p.128 [3]
  9. ^ Trexler The journey of the Magi p.129
  10. ^ See Geanakoplos, Constantinople and the West (1989) [4]

Primary Sources

  • Mansi, vol. xxix.-xxxi.
  • Aeneas Sylvius, De rebus Basileae gestis (Fetmo, 1803)
  • Monumenta Conciliorum generalium seculi xv., Scriptorum, vol. i., ii. and iii. (Vienna, 1857-1895)
  • Sylvester Syropoulos, Mémoires, ed. and trans. V. Laurent, Concilium Florentinum: Documenta et Scriptores 9 (Rome, 1971)

Secondary Literature

  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
  • Deno J. Geanakoplos, ‘The Council of Florence (1438-9) and the problem of Union between the Byzantine and Latin churches’, in Church History 24 (1955), 324-46 and reprinted in D.J. Geanakoplos, Constantinople and the West (Madison, Wisconsin, 1989), pp. 224–54
  • J. C. L. Gieseler, Ecclesiastical History, vol. iv. p. 312ff (Eng. trans., Edinburgh, 1853).
  • Joseph Gill, The Council of Florence (Cambridge, 1959)
  • Joseph Gill, Personalities of the Council of Florence and other Essays (Oxford, 1964)
  • J. Haller, Concilium Basiliense, vol. i.-v. (Basel,1896-1904)
  • Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, vol. vii. (Freiburg-im-Breisgau, 1874)
  • Jonathan Harris, Greek Emigres in the West c.1400-1520 (Camberley, 1995), pp. 72–84
  • Johannes Helmrath, Das Basler Konzil; 1431 - 1449; Forschungsstand und Probleme, (Cologne, 1978)
  • Stuart M. McManus, 'Byzantines in the Florentine polis: Ideology, Statecraft and ritual during the Council of Florence', Journal of the Oxford University History Society, 6 (Michaelmas 2008/Hilary 2009) [5]
  • Donald M. Nicol, The Last Centuries of Byzantium, 1261-1453 (Cambridge, 1993, 2nd ed.), pp. 306–17, 339-68
  • G. Perouse, Le Cardinal Louis Aleman, président du concile de Bâle (Paris, 1904).
  • O. Richter, Die Organisation and Geschäftsordnung des Basler Konziis (Leipzig, 1877)
  • Stefan Sudmann, Das Basler Konzil: Synodale Praxis zwischen Routine und Revolution (Frankfurt-am-Main 2005), ISBN 3-631-54266-6 [6]

External links

Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

The Seventeenth Ecumenical Council was, correctly speaking, the continuation of the Council of Ferrara, transferred to the Tuscan capital because of the pest; or, indeed, a continuation of the Council of Basle, which was convoked in 1431 by Martin V. In the end the last-named assembly became a revolutionary conciliabulum, and is to be judged variously, according as we consider the manner of its convocation, its membership, or its results. Generally, however, it is ranked as an ecumenical council until the decree of dissolution in 1437. After its transfer to Ferrara, the first session of the council was held 10 Jan., 1438. Eugene IV proclaimed it the regular continuation of the Council of Basle, and hence its ecumenical character is admitted by all.

The Council of Constance (1414-18) had seen the growth of a fatal theory, based on the writings of William Durandus (Guillaume Durant), John of Paris, Marsiglio of Padua, and William of Occam, i.e. the conciliar theory that proclaimed the superiority of the council over the pope. It was the outcome of much previous conflict and embitterment; was hastily voted in a time of angry confusion by an incompetent body; and, besides leading eventually to the deplorable articles of the "Declaratio Cleri Gallicani" (see GALLICANISM), almost provoked at the time new schisms. Influenced by this theory, the members of the Council of Constance promulgated in the thirty-fifth general session (9 October, 1417) five decrees, the first being the famous decree known as "Frequens", according to which an ecumenical council should be held every ten years. In other words, the council was henceforth to be a permanent, indispensable institution, that is, a kind of religious parliament meeting at regular intervals, and including amongst its members the ambassadors of Catholic sovereigns; hence the ancient papal monarchy, elective but absolute, was to give way to a constitutional oligarchy.

While Martin V, naturally enough, refused to recognize these decrees, he was unable to make headway openly against a movement which he considered fatal. In accordance, therefore, with the decree "Frequens" he convoked an ecumenical council at Pavia for 1423, and later, yielding to popular opinion, which even many cardinals countenanced, summoned a new council at Basle to settle the difficulties raised by the anti-Hussite wars. A Bull of 1 Feb., 1431, named as president of the council Giuliano Cesarini, Cardinal of Sant' Angelo, whom the pope had sent to Germany to preach a crusade against the Hussites. Martin V died suddenly (20 February, 1431), before the Bull of convocation and the legatine faculties reached Cesarini. However, the new pope, Eugene IV (Gabriele Condolmieri), confirmed the acts of his predecessor with the reservation that further events might cause him to revoke his decision. He referred probably to the reunion of the Greek Church with Rome, discussed between Martin V and the Byzantine emperor (John Palaeologus), but put off by reason of the pope's death. Eugene IV laboured most earnestly for reunion, which he was destined to see accomplished in the Council of Ferrara-Florence. The Council of Basle had begun in a rather burlesque way. Canon Beaupère of Besançon, who had been sent from Basle to Rome, gave the pope an unfavourable and exaggerated account of the temper of the people of Basle and its environs. Eugene IV thereupon dissolved the council before the close of 1431, and convoked it anew at Bologna for the summer of 1433, providing at the same time for the participation of the Greeks. Cesarini, however, had already opened the council of Basle, and now insisted vigorously that the aforesaid papal act should be withdrawn. Yielding to the aggressive attitude of the Basle assembly, whose members proclaimed anew the conciliar theory, Eugene IV gradually modified his attitude towards them, and exhibited in general, throughout these painful dissensions, a very conciliatory temper.

Many reform-decrees were promulgated by the council, and, though never executed, contributed towards the final rupture. Ultimately, the unskilful negotiations of the council with the Greeks on the question of reunion moved Eugene IV to transfer it to Ferrara. The embassy sent from Basle to Constantinople (1435), Giovanni di Ragusa, Heinrich Henger, and Simon Fréron, insisted obstinately on holding at Basle the council which was to promote the union of the two Churches, but in this matter the Byzantine Emperor refused to give way. With all the Greeks he wished the council to take place in some Italian city near the sea, preferably in Southern Italy. At Basle the majority insisted, despite the Greeks, that the council of reunion should be convoked at Avignon, but a minority sided with the Greeks and was by them recognized as the true council. Hereupon Eugene IV approved the action of the minority (29 May, 1437), and for this was summoned to appear before the council. He replied by dissolving it on 18 September. Wearied of the obstinacy of the majority at Basle, Cardinal Cesarini and his adherents then quitted the city and went to Ferrara, whither Eugene IV, as stated above, had transferred the council by decree of 30 December, 1437, or 1 January, 1438.

The Ferrara Council opened on 8 January, 1438, under the presidency of Cardinal Niccolò Albergati, whom the pope had commissioned to represent him until he could appear in person. It had, of course, no other objects than those of Basle, i.e. reunion of the Churches, reforms, and the restoration of peace between Christian peoples. The first session of the council took place 10 January, 1438. It declared the Council of Basle transferred to Ferrara, and annulled in advance any and all future decrees of the Basle assembly. When Eugene IV heard that the Greeks were nearing the coast of Italy, he set off (24 January) for Ferrara and three days later made his solemn entry into the city. The manner of voting was first discussed by the members of the council. Should it be, as at Constance, by nations (nationes), or by committees (commissiones)? It was finally decided to divide the members into three estates:

  • the cardinals, archbishops, and bishops;
  • the abbots and prelates;
  • the doctors and other members. In order that the vote of any estate might count, it was resolved that a majority of two-thirds should be required, and it was hoped that this provision would remove all possibility of the recurrence of the regrettable dissensions at Constance. At the second public session (15 February) these decrees were promulgated, and the pope excommunicated the members of the Basle assembly, which still continued to sit. The Greeks soon appeared at Ferrara, headed by Emperor John Palaeologus and Joasaph, the Patriarch of Constantinople, and numbered about seven hundred. The solemn sessions of the council began on 9 April, 1438, and were held in the cathedral of Ferrara under the presidency of the pope. On the Gospel side of the altar rose the (unoccupied) throne of the Western Emperor (Sigismund of Luxemburg), who had died only a month previously; on the Epistle side was placed the throne of the Greek Emperor. Besides the emperor and his brother Demetrius, there were present, on the part of the Greeks, Joasaph, the Patriarch of Constantinople; Antonius, the Metropolitan of Heraclea; Gregory Hamma, the Protosyncellus of Constantinople (the last two representing the Patriarch of Alexandria); Marcus Eugenicus of Ephesus; Isidore of Kiev (representing the Patriarch of Antioch); Dionysius, Bishop of Sardes (representing the Patriarch of Jerusalem); Bessarion, Archbishop of Nicaea; Balsamon, the chief chartophylax; Syropulos, the chief ecclesiarch, and the Bishops of Monembasia, Lacedaemon, and Anchielo. In the discussions the Latins were represented principally by Cardinal Giuliano Cesarini and Cardinal Niccolò Albergati; Andrew, Archbishop of Rhodes; the Bishop of Forlì; the Dominican John of Turrecremata; and Giovanni di Ragusa, provincial of Lombardy.

Preliminary discussions brought out the main points of difference between the Greeks and the Latins, viz. the Procession of the Holy Spirit, the azymes, purgatory, and the primacy. During these preliminaries the zeal and good intentions of the Greek Emperor were evident. Serious discussion began apropos of the doctrine of purgatory. Cesarini and Turrecremata were the chief Latin speakers, the latter in particular engaging in a violent discussion with Marcus Eugenicus. Bessarion, speaking for the Greeks, made clear the divergency of opinion existing among the Greeks themselves on the question of purgatory. This stage of the discussion closed on 17 July, whereupon the council rested for a time, and the Greek Emperor took advantage of the respite to join eagerly in the pleasures of the chase with the Duke of Ferrara.

When the council met again (8 Oct., 1438), the chief (indeed, thenceforth the only) subject of discussion was the Filioque. The Greeks were represented by Bessarion, Marcus Eugenicus, Isidore of Kiev, Gemistus Plethon, Balsamon, and Kantopulos; on the Latin side were Cardinals Cesarini and Niccolò Albergati, the Archbishop of Rhodes, the Bishop of Forlì, and Giovanni di Ragusa. In this and the following fourteen sessions, the Filioque was the sole subject of discussion. In the fifteenth session it became clear that the Greeks were unwilling to consent to the insertion of this expression in the Creed, although it was imperative for the good of the church and as a safeguard against future heresies. Many Greeks began to despair of realizing the projected union and spoke of returning to Constantinople. To this the emperor would not listen; he still hoped for a reconciliation, and in the end succeeded in appeasing the heated spirits of his partisans. Eugene IV now announced his intention of transferring the council to Florence, in consequence of pecuniary straits and the outbreak of the pest at Ferrara. Many Latins had already died, and of the Greeks the Metropolitan of Sardis and the entire household of Isidore of Kiev were attacked by the disease. The Greeks finally consented to the transfer, and in the sixteenth and last session at Ferrara the papal Bull was read, in both Latin and Greek, by which the council was transferred to Florence (January, 1439).

The seventeenth session of the council (the first at Florence) took place in the papal palace on 26 February. In nine consecutive sessions, the Filioque was the chief matter of discussion. In the last session but one (twenty-fourth of Ferrara, eighth of Florence) Giovanni di Ragusa set forth clearly the Latin doctrine in the following terms: "the Latin Church recognizes but one principle, one cause of the Holy Spirit, namely, the Father. It is from the Father that the Son holds his place in the 'Procession' of the Holy Ghost. It is in this sense that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father, but He proceeds also from the Son." In the last session, the same theologian again expounded the doctrine, after which the public sessions were closed at the request of the Greeks, as it seemed useless to prolong further the theological discussions. At this juncture began the active efforts of Isidore of Kiev, and, as the result of further parleys, Eugene IV submitted four propositions summing up the result of the previous discussion and exposing the weakness of the attitude of the Greeks. As the latter were loath to admit defeat, Cardinal Bessarion, in a special meeting of the Greeks, on 13 and 14 April, 1439, delivered his famous discourse in favour of reunion, and was supported by Georgius Scholarius. Both parties now met again, after which, to put an end to all equivocation, the Latins drew up and read a declaration of their faith in which they stated that they did not admit two "principia" in the Trinity, but only one, the productive power of the Father and the Son, and that the Holy Ghost proceeds also from the Son. They admitted, therefore, two hypostases, one action, one productive power, and one product due to the substance and the hypostases of the Father and the Son. The Greeks met this statement with an equivocal counter-formula, whereupon Bessarion, Isidore of Kiev, and Dortheus of Mitylene, encouraged by the emperor, came out strongly in favour of the ex filio.

The reunion of the Churches was at last really in sight. When, therefore, at the request of the emperor, Eugene IV promised the Greeks the military and financial help of the Holy See as a consequence of the projected reconciliation, the Greeks declared (3 June, 1439) that they recognized the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son as from one "principium" (arche) and from one cause (aitia). On 8 June, a final agreement was reached concerning this doctrine. The Latin teaching respecting the azymes and purgatory was also accepted by the Greeks. As to the primacy, they declared that they would grant the pope all the privileges he had before the schism. An amicable agreement was also reached regarding the form of consecration in the Mass (see EPIKLESIS). Almost simultaneously with these measures the Patriarch of Constantinople died, 10 June; not, however, before he had drawn up and signed a declaration in which he admitted the Filioque, purgatory, and the papal primacy. Nevertheless the reunion of the Churches was not yet an accomplished fact. The Greek representatives insisted that their aforesaid declarations were only their personal opinions; and as they stated that it was still necessary to obtain the assent of the Greek Church in synod assembled, seemingly insuperable difficulties threatened to annihilate all that had so far been achieved. On 6 July, however, the famous decree of union (Laetentur Coeli), the original which is still preserved in the Laurentian Library at Florence, was formally announced in the cathedral of that city. The council was over, as far as the Greeks were concerned, and they departed at once. The Latin members remained to promote the reunion with the other Eastern Churches--the Armenians (1439), the Jacobites of Syria (1442), the Mesopotamians, between the Tigris and the Euphrates (1444), the Chaldeans or Nestorians, and the Maronites of Cyprus (1445). This last was the concluding public act of the Council of Florence, the proceedings of which from 1443 onwards took place in the Lateran palace at Rome.

The erudition of Bessarion and the energy of Isidore of Kiev were chiefly responsible for the reunion of the Churches as accomplished at Florence. The question now was to secure its adoption in the East. For this purpose Isidore of Kiev was sent to Russia as papal legate and cardinal, but the Muscovite princes, jealous of their religious interdependence, refused to abide by the decrees of the Council of Florence. Isidore was thrown into prison, but afterwards escaped and took refuge in Italy. Nor was any better headway made in the Greek Empire. The emperor remained faithful, but some of the Greek deputies, intimidated by the discontent prevailing amongst their own people, deserted their position and soon fell back into the surrounding mass of schism. The new emperor, Constantine, brother of John Palaeologus, vainly endeavoured to overcome the opposition of the Byzantine clergy and people. Isidore of Kiev was sent to Constantinople to bring about the desired acceptance of the Florentine "Decretum Unionis" (Laetentur Coeli), but, before he could succeed in his mission, the city fell (1453) before the advancing hordes of Mohammed II.

One advantage, at least, resulted from the Council of Florence: it proclaimed before both Latins and Greeks that the Roman pontiff was the foremost ecclesiastical authority in Christendom; and Eugene IV was able to arrest the schism which had been threatening the Western Church anew (see BASLE, COUNCIL OF). This council was, therefore, witness to the prompt rehabilitation of papal supremacy, and facilitated, the return of men like Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, who in his youth had taken part in the Council of Basle, but ended by recognizing its erroneous attitude, and finally became pope under the name Pius II.

Portions of this entry are taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907.


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