The union of Florence 1439 and its aftermath

John succeeded his father in 1425. Why did the new emperor not follow his father's wise example and steer clear of too close an involvement with Rome? It was very largely because temporising over the union of churches became more difficult once a new pope, Eugenius IV (1431-47) - in the face of the challenge from the council of Basel - offered increasingly advantageous terms. Instead of the prospect of a dictated settlement there were guarantees of unfettered discussion of the points at issue between the two churches.49

At Byzantium there were fewer objections to negotiations with Rome, as one by one opponents of union died, to be replaced by a more open-minded generation. Prominent among the newcomers were Bessarion, Isidore and Mark Eugenikos,50 who at a comparatively young age were put at the head of important Constantinopolitan monasteries and then given prestigious sees. They were not Latin sympathisers but neither were they hostile to the west. Their assimilation of scholastic modes of thought meant that they did not dismiss Latin theology out of hand.

The driving force behind negotiations was the emperor John VIII Palaiol-ogos, who emerges as a man of some stature.51 Like his predecessors, he saw union as the only means of obtaining substantial help from the west. He had already as a young man made two journeys to the west in search of support. He had been entertained at the court of the emperor Sigismund, who admitted that the Orthodox Church had preserved a purer tradition than the Latin Church. And not only that: he anticipated that the Byzantines could help reform the Latin Church, but only if they accepted union. These were sweet words tailored to Byzantine amour propre. John made use of them to convince opponents of the union, who at this point included the patriarch Joseph II (1416-39), that a more tolerant spirit existed in the west.52 The patriarch was won over to union, though his agenda was different from that of the emperor.

49 J. Gill, The CouncilofFlorence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1959); G. Alberigo, Christian unity: the Council ofFerrara-Florence 1438/9-1989 (Leuven: Peeters, 1991).

50 See J. Gill, Personalities of the Council of Florence and other essays (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1964), 45-78.

52 Les 'mémoires' de Sylvestre Syropoulos sur le concile de Florence (1438-1439), ed. V Laurent (Paris: Editions CNRS, 1971), ii.xliv; 148-53.

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