Oxford history of the christian church

John V Palaeologus and John VI Cantacuzenus: Constantinople and the West

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8. John V Palaeologus and John VI Cantacuzenus: Constantinople and the West.

Negotiations for union continued intermittently until they culminated in the council of Ferrara-Florence (1438-9), but in a some what different atmosphere from that of the mid-thirteenth century. Politics still made western aid of first importance, but there was also a more genuinely religious feeling in the desire for union. Many factors had produced greater understanding of western thought and practice. Marriages in imperial circles, such as Irene of Montferrat and Andronicus II, or Andronicus III's wife Anne of Savoy with her Franciscan entourage, and indeed the increasing number of mixed marriages at every level (to the disapproval of papacy and Orthodox alike), as well as the proliferation of western ecclesiastics and religious orders, all contributed to familiarize fourteenth-century Byzantium with a different way of life. Many resented this, but some took the opportunity to explore a new world. It is noticeable that the private conversion of the Emperor John V Palaeologus to Roman Catholicism 145 caused little stir, something that could hardly have happened in Macedonian days. And the greatly admired Manuel II himself (contrary to views expressed by some modern scholars) showed no rigid hostility towards the Latins. After all, his intimate circle included men such as Demetrius Cydones.

John VI Cantacuzenus, who became senior co-Emperor in February 1347 after a struggle with the Empress Mother Anne of Savoy and the Patriarch Calecas, had been Andronicus III's Grand Domestic. He was committed to the cause of Palamas which was finally established in the synod of 1351. But he was equally anxious to found an acceptable basis for the union of the two Churches. Other factors, such as Aegean piracy, Turkish encroachment, and indeed the perilous position of all Christians in the East Mediterranean, were also in the forefront of Orthodox and papal negotiations. But pressing as such dangers were they could not obscure John VI's real concern with the ecclesiastical points at issue. As soon as he had secured his position as senior Emperor in 1347 he outlined his views to Bartholomew of Rome and sent envoys to the papal court, then in Avignon. Primacy he appeared to accord but doctrine was a matter for a general council. 146 Pope Clement VI temporized, promising to send his own envoys to Constantinople. He delayed and in 1348 and 1349 John wrote several times to remind him of his promise. 147 Discussions with Franciscans and Dominicans continued and in his History 148 Cantacuzenus says that he was given to understand that Clement VI would support a general council (which seems improbable). Certainly when Clement did send envoys, a Franciscan and a Dominican bishop, there was no mention of a council.

Cantacuzenus and Clement VI's successor, Innocent VI, continued the dialogue. Then for a time politics intervened when John V Palaeologus, the junior co-Emperor and Cantacuzenus's son-in-law, successfully asserted his right to sole rule and in December 1354 John VI retired and entered a monastery as the monk Joasaph. He did not die until 1383 and he continued to exert considerable influence on affairs outside the monastery. It is impossible to say exactly why he abdicated. But he was a religious man, of a reflective nature, historian and theologian, and he spent much of his 'retirement' in writing. 149 He remained on excellent terms with the imperial household, said to have been regarded by all as their father, and he had a place in circles containing some of the finest minds of his day, such as Demetrius Cydones (despite differing views on Palamite and western theology), or Nicholas Cabasilas, or Manuel II the second son of John V. For Cantacuzenus, retirement to a monastery was not the refuge of a political failure or the last home of a dying man. It was probably a deliberate choice. He had for some time had the desire to place himself under the direction of the Patriarch Philotheus in a retreat of this kind, perhaps with likeminded friends. He went to St George of the Mangana, and then possibly to the fourteenth-century foundation of the Charsianeites house where he was said to have lived in the abbot's lodging. 150 His conception of the monastic vocation was flexible and as in Byzantium and elsewhere did not necessarily prevent continued service to the state.

Both Cantacuzenus and John V continued to keep in touch with the papacy whose aid was even more urgently needed in view of the Turkish capture of Gallipoli (1354) and subsequent Ottoman establishment in Europe, a threat to Slav and western powers as well as to Byzantium. John V took his own initiative with rather unusual proposals set out in a gold bull dated 15 December 1355 151 which was taken to Avignon by a Calabrian Greek, Paul, then archbishop of Smyrna, accompanied by Nicholas Sigerus. John promised obedience to Rome, both his own and that of his subjects (this latter to be brought about within six months), provided that the Pope should send an expedition against the Turks now settling in Europe. His eldest son Andronicus was to learn Latin, as were the children of the magnates, and his second son, the five-year-old Manuel, was to be sent to Avignon as a hostage presumably to be brought up in Latin ways. A papal legate was to be resident in Constantinople with the right of appointing Greek ecclesiatics to help promote the union. Much of this was quite unrealistic and does not say much for John V's political sense, though it is understandable that he himself was well disposed towards the Roman Catholic Church, as were certain of his subjects — and his mother was the Italian Anne of Savoy. Unlike Cantacuzenus he was therefore not harassed by doctrinal problems. It was however in keeping with imperial tradition that he asked for the prompt dispatch of military aid before the actual achievement of union. The Pope did send envoys one of whom was Peter Thomas, bishop of Patti and Lipari, later nominated Latin Patriarch of Constantinople. Peter Thomas stayed in the capital for some months in 1357. Though the Greeks did not follow their Emperor, Peter Thomas got a statement from John V affirming his complete submission to the holy Roman Church. 152 The other points in John's original proposal of 1355 do not seem to have been taken up. Manuel for instance did not go to the papal court. But John himself expressed the strong desire to visit the curia as indeed he did later on.

But defence against the Turks was, as always, hindered by interChristian feuds both political and religious, and the Pope's crusading plans achieved little. In 1365 in desperation John V, who had no inhibitions about travelling abroad as a suppliant, set off for Hungary with his two sons. He got little help. Then on his return he was caught between the animosities of Catholic Hungary and Orthodox Bulgaria. He had to be rescued by the Green Count, his cousin Amadeo VI of Savoy, one of the few westerners to bring some effective aid to the beleaguered Empire. The Pope, then Urban V, hoped that with the goodwill of Louis of Hungary and the military expertise of Amadeo something might be achieved. John V, while he was staying in Hungary had again attested his acceptance of the Roman faith. Little came of the Pope's hoped-for expedition, except that Amadeo, acting independently, did have some success against the Bulgarians and Turks in 1366.

While travelling home through the Balkans John V continued discussions on union with Amadeo and with Paul, then the Latin Patriarch of Constantinople and a man familiar with Aegean problems. The dialogue was continued in Constantinople according to a surviving report. 153 John V (according to the document) stated that he was not capable of dealing with the question of the union of the Churches by himself but wished to act with 'the Emperor my father' (that is Cantacuzenus, then the monk Joasaph), the Patriarch, and bishops. He had certainly acted by himself in the past but he may have felt that the devout and learned Cantacuzenus was better able to sustain a public debate of this kind. He was present together with his wife Helena and two of his sons (Andronicus and Manuel — the latter left as hostage with Louis must have returned). Officials and clerics, including three metropolitans, were also present. The Byzantine Patriarch was then Philotheus (second patriarchate 1364-76), a friend of Cantacuzenus and though a Palamite not so rigidly anti-Latin as his predecessor Callistus I. He had to point out that he could not receive Paul officially as he had no written mandate from the Pope, but was willing to have informal friendly talks.

The discussion between Cantacuzenus and Paul took place in the Blachernae palace in early June 1367. To some extent the points made by Cantacuzenus and endorsed in part by Paul were similar to views which the ex-Emperor said that he had sent to the Pope in 1350 (according to his History). The two were agreed that arbitrary action would only exacerbate the situation (ch. 3). The tone of the report breathed reasonableness and a fraternal spirit and stressed the oecumenical nature of the Church. Division was an evil (kαkóν) which could only be removed, so Cantacuzenus argued, if Rome ceased to assume that the words of Peter's successor the Pope must be accepted as though they were the words of Christ. The settlement of differences must be through a catholic and oecumenical council to which all far and wide should be summoned. Why deepen the division by unilateral denial of the validity of our rites? 154 When Paul suggested that a general council was unnecessary because all decisions really rested with the Emperor whom he likened to a meat-spit — when he turned, all turned with him — this was rejected on the ground that obedience in matters of faith could not be forced (Michael VIII's failure was evidently not forgotten). In a sense the discussion as reported was somewhat imprecise, making no mention of certain specific points at issue, but offering a general protestation of willingness, offering to visit the Pope, even to kiss his feet (a curious custom thought Cantacuzenus), or to kiss the feet of his horse or the dust beneath him (ch. 20). To the assertion that surely papal aid would alleviate many ills for the Orthodox, Cantacuzenus replied with truth that they had managed to keep their faith even though some lived under infidel rule. Then after a short breathing space Paul was directly asked, 'Do thou think that what I have said is true and just?' and he agreed that it was, saying that he was in favour of a general council. Such a council was then fixed and was to be held in Constantinople between June 1367 and May 1369. There was to be free discussion on equal terms, 'and if we cannot agree, then let us each go our own way in peace', so ran Cantacuzenus's last words.

However well-intentioned, Paul had no official mandate for so firm an agreement which ran counter to papal policy, and still less to fix a date. But it was evidently regarded seriously by the Orthodox who took steps to implement the decision. Patriarch Philotheus wrote to inform the Bulgarian archbishop (later Patriarch) of the decision and invited him to Constantinople. 155 The Patriarchs of Jerusalem and Alexandria were in the capital at the time and together with Philotheus's envoys they were represented in an embassy which reached Viterbo in October 1367 accompanied by Paul and Amadeo. 156 But papal letters of 6 November 1367 addressed to various Byzantine authorities made no reference to any projected general council. They did however refer to the Emperor John V's promised visit. Behind the more public discussions on union John V had evidently been pursuing his unilateral and personal policy and this must have been known to his immediate entourage and to Latin envoys such as Paul. It was Demetrius Cydones, the minister and friend of both Andronicus III and John VI Cantacuzenus, the translator of Aquinas, and himself a convert, who went to Viterbo in the summer of 1369 to announce to Urban V the promised arrival of John V. 157 The Emperor reached Rome in September and on 18 October was received into the Roman Church. His profession of faith followed the pattern laid down by Clement IV in 1267 and agreed to by Michael VIII, and the Greek and Latin text of the gold bull is preserved in the Vatican. 158

The imperial conversion was a matter for rejoicing in curial circles but elsewhere it created a curious, and in some ways, an awkward situation. It meant that western powers, such as Venice, no longer had an excuse for hostility since John V was not now a schismatic as the Pope hastened to remind them. On the other hand, despite individual Byzantine conversions 159 and greater understanding of the Latin theological viewpoint, at any rate among individuals, the Orthodox Church remained in schism, as did the influential Cantacuzenus and John V's sons and grandsons. The Greek plea of 1367 for conciliar action remained unanswered until in 1370 a papal letter to the Greek clergy again specifically reiterated the usual refusal to hold a council of Greek and Latin prelates. 160 Within the Empire the conversion of John V seemed to have roused little, if any, comment, possibly because of the changed atmosphere due to the continued presence of Latin establishments and personnel and increased familiarity with individual conversions. Had John V attempted to enforce changes, as Michael VIII had done, it would have been different. John V lingered abroad, not entirely of his own will. After a stay of about five months in Rome he went on to Naples and then to Venice where he was virtually held captive pending payment of debts to the signoria. It was the autumn of 1371 before he got back to Constantinople.

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