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Christian Unity: The Council of Ferrara-Florence, 1438/39-1989.

Like scorpions mating, intent on union but with stingers at the ready, so H. Chadwick graphically, but justly, describes the proceedings of the Council of Ferrara-Florence.

From these essays, in English, French, German, and Italian, intended to clarify the Council's history and draw from it lessons for future ecumenism, certain common themes emerge. Though both sides sincerely desired union, each had further political concerns. The Pope wanted to scotch the Council of Basel and strengthen papal primacy; the Emperor needed Western help to save his Empire from the encroaching Turks. Thus, differences were concealed behind acceptable formulae without deepening understanding of the bases of these differences. With each side defending long-fortified positions, there was no real effort to discover whether the varying positions on the Trinity, ecclesiology and, of lesser importance, purgatory, were in fact complementary, not contradictory.

The West was influenced by the trinitarian theology of St. Augustine; the Greeks by that of the Eastern fathers. The West conceived the Father as so sharing divinity with the Son that the Spirit proceeds from Father and Son; the Greeks insisted the Spirit proceeds from the Father. Thus the addition of the "filioque" to the Nicene Creed was heresy and further a violation of the Council of Ephesus' prohibition of any addition to the Creed. The fact that the popes had sanctioned this addition compromised for the Greeks the popes' claim to primacy. In Greek ecclesiology, papal jurisditional primacy was a distortion of the traditional government by the pentarchy, in which the pope had a primacy of honor, subject to the superiority of an ecumenical council called by the emperor. The doctrine of purgatory, analyzed by A. de Halleux in the most perceptive of these essays, was complicated by the West's penitential discipline assigning precise temporal punishment due to each category of sin and insistence on a temporary cleansing fiery punishment before final face-to-face vision of God. As Bessarion himself remarked, the whole scheme was incomprehensible to the Greeks, and was further complicated by the Greeks' rejection of any Orgenist-type temporary punishment and their acceptance of the Palamite distinction between the divine essence and energies.

The two sides also differed in theological method. Though the best of the Greeks were no novices in dialectic, they thought it applicable to cosmology and anthropology, not to theology, arguing instead from the Scripture and its interpretation by the Eastern Fathers. They were strongly opposed to Western Scholasticism with its logical precision and to the citation of Western authors of whom they knew nothing. Even when the Westerners dealt with the Greek Fathers, now increasingly known to the West during the Renaissance, they lacked understanding of the hermeneutical milieu familiar to the Greeks.

Opinions seem divided on two of the stalwarts of each side. Giovanni di Montenero is described by one author as a lucid and learned defender of papal primacy, by another as a defender of Dominican interests, insensitive to Greek views and convincing only to the papal curia. Mark Eugenicus, metropolitan of Ephesus, often seen by the West as a long-winded intransigent whose main argument against the Westerners was that they falsified patristic texts, appears (to N. Lossky) as Saint Mark, who well understood the dangers Latin theology and ecclesiology posed to the East and who had deep roots among the monks and faithful of the Empire. J. Meyendorff is more harsh in his judgment of the Greeks: "Equally tragic was the strictly defensive, uninformed and somewhat provincial attitude of the Eastern churchmen who came to Farrara-Florence" (167).

However, the agenda of the Council were set by Greek objections to Western tradition, and in the final decree the Greeks were not compelled to use the "filioque" in their Creed, nor to celebrate with unleavened bread, nor to accept the Latin theology of purgatory, and papal jurisdictional primacy was not to prejudice the rights of the patriachs. Nor did the West complain about Greek dependence on the civil authority in matters of episcopal appointments, synodal decisions and management of property.

Yet there was on the Latin side a lurking suspicion that the Greeks were schismatics to be "received" back into the Church. Nor did Pope Eugene lessen Greek suspicion of papal primacy by refusing to receive the whole Greek delegation publicly when they refused to kiss his foot, nor when he suggested making the papally appointed titular Latin patriarch of Constantinople the successor of the recently deceased Patriarch Joseph, nor when he insisted on retaining some uniate bishops in the Greek East. The Greeks felt justly slighted when their patriarchs were placed below the cardinals in order of precedence, when there was no public Greek Mass following the promulgation of the final decree because the pope and cardinals had first to "inspect" the Eastern liturgy, when there was no intercommunion at the public Latin Mass. Even the final decree issued in the pope's name and dated by his regnal year with a bow to imperial authority in matters conciliar offended the Greeks. Patriarch Joseph had been more sensitive to the niceties of ecclesiastical protocol when he refused to grant his blessing to the crowds until he had asked the pope's permission to do so in his patriarchate.

In the light of the resurgence of the Russian Church it is interesting that the Russians see the Greek Orthodox acceptance of the Council of Florence as the basis for the rise of the Moscovite patriarchate as the defender of orthodoxy but also as the cause of the breakup of the Russian Church by the secession of the Lithuanians, Ukrainians, and Bylo-Russians.

What lessons for the future can be drawn from the failure of the Council? There is need for both West and East to understand better each other's traditions not only at the speculative level but in every aspect of church life and thought. Both sides should examine the bases of their traditions in an attempt to arrive at a sound pluralism, wherever possible accepting variations in traditions as legitimately complementary. This intellectual deepening should be accompanied by pastoral review by the various hierarchies and a program of education of the faithful at the grassroots level. Perhaps Chadwick best summarizes one last concern of non-Roman Catholics: "Roman ecumenism has often found it difficult to allay a paralysing fear in its ecumenical partners, namely that when the Orthodox or the Anglican churches acknowledge Roman primacy in terms which are the maximum that they can truthfully grant, those terms will be for Rome a minimum, later to be amplified into centralized control and uncongenial uniformity" (239).
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Author:Davis, Leo Donald
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1993
Words:1088
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