Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Talk on Christian Unity and the Council of Florence (1439)

The Hellenic Society of Professional People and Scientists in Great Britain (Εταιρεία Ελλήνων Επιστημόνων Μεγάλης Βρετανίας) organised a talk by Dr Charalambos Dendrinos (who is Senior Lecturer in Byzantine Literature and Greek Palaeography at the History Department of Royal Holloway, University of London). The talk, entitled “Christian Unity and the Council of Florence (1439)” took place at The Hellenic Centre, (16-18 Paddington Street, London W1U 5AS) on Thursday 13 March 2014, at 19.00.
This theme interests both East and West. The Orthodox Church wanted union with the West, according to Dr Dendrinos, for financial and ethical reasons in order to fight off the infidel Ottomans. The talk re-examined why union, during that instance, failed. An interesting fact, according to the speaker, was that there is not a lot of evidence to support that in 1054 there was a schism between East and West (known as the Great Schism). What we do have is the excommunication of the Patriarch of Constantinople by the West (and not the whole Orthodox Church), whilst Constantinople anathematised the delegates from the Rome and not the whole Latin Church. This is additionally supported by a number of sources from the 12th and 13th centuries. What is evident is the fact that both churches were moving apart from each other, due to two reasons: a. the 4th Crusade and b. the partition of Byzantium. Nonetheless, there were a number of attempts to ecclesiastical union, after the Latin occupation of Constantinople (1204) and at the Conference of Lyon (1274); these were, however, short lived unions.  The final attempt to a union between West and East was during the Council of Florence. Before that, even the Council of Basil (1414-1418) attempted a union. 

According to the Byzantine political scene, the Byzantine Emperor had the right to defend the Church and its dogmas, being able to select the Patriarch of Constantinople. During the 15th century Byzantium consisted of Constantinople, Thessaloniki, Mount Athos, Moria and a number of islands. On the other hand, the Patriarch had a much larger jurisdiction. However, the Church was under imperial control. That is why, the Byzantine Government used union for political reasons. Additionally, during this period both churches in East and West were in crisis.
What were the terms of union?  Both Latin and Greek Church had different views on this issue. The Byzantines believed that only an Ecumenical Council could determine and decide on this crucial matter. They would want it to be held in the East, specifically in Constantinople. Both churches would speak on equal terms. However, the Latin church demanded union and submission for their help they would give the Byzantines in order to fight of the Ottomans. Additionally they did not want to speak on equal terms. The Latin Bishops considered the Orthodox not as brothers, but as schismatics and heretics, who had to subordinate themselves back to Rome. The Council of union, during the 15th century was moved from the East to the West, in Florence.
Before the Byzantines travelled to Italy they had some hesitations, that this council could create division, suspicion and rivalry. The Byzantines worried that if they did not agree with the papalists, the latter would not pay for their return back to Byzantium. These worries are additionally based in a number of texts, found in St. Sophia’s Church (Constantinople).  On the other hand, some bishops returned to Byzantium richer, showing emphatically that corruption and bribery prevailed among a number of delegates.
A sense of betrayal was felt in the Byzantine capital. The issues discussed during the Florence Council were:
-          Addition of filioque
-          Ecclesiastical primacy
-          Purgatory
-          Liturgical practices
-          Sanctification of Gifts, Epiclesis.
The significant issue of the distinction between Essence and Energy of God was discussed briefly. During this synod there was much tension. As the speaker claimed, there was an ‘Arsenal of patristic sayings!’

Most of the Byzantine bishops voted for the filioque. However, Markos Evgenikos voted against it. He believed that precision should prevail and not the economy of the church – which did not apply here. Dr Dendrinos added that when the pope asked whether Mark had signed, and the delegates replied negatively, the Bishop of Rome then said: ‘Then we have achieved nothing’.
 On the other hand, despite everyone accepting that the Bishop of Rome is Primus Inter Paris, any attempt to go further from the spiritual area is inevitably wrong and goes against the councils and canons of the Church. An agreement was finally reached, whereby the Latins prevailed; however, the council failed. This council could not bridge the gap between the two ecclesiastical traditions. Interestingly, when the Byzantine Bishops returned back home, they recounted the decisions taken in Florence. The unionists were increasingly isolated. The union of the churches was condemned in 1443.
The union in Florence created a greater rift between unionists and anti-unionists. Interestingly, however, in 1452 there was a Liturgy were both East and West concelebrated in Constantinople, were a small lived union existed. The East, later understood the loss of the Empire to the Ottomans due to the apostasy of the Emperor.
How can we, today, use this knowledge, of the past? This knowledge could show the path we need to follow, through the World Council of Churches, through the Official Dialogue, relations, through hope. Nevertheless, we need to also be realistic. East and West have different ecclesiological views on primacy, on the reality of the Unites (also known as Greek Catholics). Dr Dendrinos concluded this thought provoking talk by supporting that dialogue should give fruits. However, dialogue needs to be done in a spirit of equality, where both views will be stated.

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