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8-08-2015, 00:18

Negotiations on church union

Germanos II bowed to one of the facts of Byzantine political life: emperors were always likely to use orthodoxy as a weapon or a bargaining counter in their foreign policy. The emperors of Nicaea continued the practice. In 1207 Theodore I Laskaris turned to Pope Innocent III (1198–1216) for recognition as the leader of the orthodox community. This was done in conjunction with a request that the pope should authorise the election of a new orthodox patriarch of Constantinople. Innocent ignored both requests. Theodore therefore went ahead with plans for the creation of a new patriarch at Nicaea. Innocent despatched his legate, Cardinal Pelagius, in 1214; his main task was to discipline the Greek church, but he also entered into negotiations with the Nicaean emperor. There was a series of inconclusive debates about a reunion of the churches, first at Constantinople and then at Heraclea Pontica, where Theodore Laskaris was encamped. Laskaris used these as a cover for the completion of a peace treaty with the Latin emperor Henry of Hainault. The lesson was an old one: that there were political advantages to be gained from negotiating over the union of churches. Laskaris tried again in 1219. By this time he had married a Latin princess and had plans to marry one of his daughters to the heir to the Latin empire of Constantinople. The Latin patriarchate was vacant. Laskaris proposed summoning a council that would consider the possibility of the reunion of the churches, as a first step towards the peaceful recovery of Constantinople, but the emperor’s complicated manoeuvre was frustrated by opposition from within the orthodox church. It would have been unrealistic to expect anything concrete to emerge from negotiations over the reunion of the churches, given the hatred engendered by the conquest of Constantinople; this hatred intensified with the subsequent Latin discrimination against the orthodox under their rule. However, a new force was about to make itself felt. By 1220 the Franciscans had established a house at Constantinople and by 1228 the Dominicans too.19 They introduced a spirit of reasoned dialogue to which the Greeks responded. Patriarch Germanos II first came into contact with the friars in 1232. In that year a party of Franciscans was travelling overland through Asia Minor and was seized by the Seljuq authorities. With the emperor’s help, Germanos was able to ransom them and had them brought toNicaea. He was struck by the Franciscans’ poverty and by their humility – so unlike other Latin churchmen – and was also impressed by their desire for peace and reconciliation between Latin and Greek. It seemed that there was a new spirit abroad in the Latin church which would make possible a reunion of the churches by methods and on terms that were acceptable to the orthodox church. Germanos II induced the Franciscans to act as intermediaries with the papal curia. Theywere to sound out the possibilities for preliminary discussions that might pave the way for holding a general council of the church, which was the appropriate arena for a reunion of the churches. Some eighteen months later a delegation made up of two Franciscans and two Dominicans set out from Rome for Nicaea, where they were welcomed in January 1234 by emperor and patriarch. The friars’ remit went no further than an exchange of views with the patriarch, in which they had much the better of the argument. Their knowledge of Greek patristics made them formidable opponents. One of them read out in Greek the anathema pronounced by Cyril of Alexandria: against those denying that the spirit through which Christ performed his miracles was his own spirit. The friars argued that this supported the Latin position on the procession of the Holy Spirit: that it proceeded from the Father and the Son (filioque). Germanos wound up the proceedings on the grounds that nothing more could usefully be done until the orthodox patriarchs of Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria arrived to participate in a council. The friars departed; they had not received papal authorisation to take part in a council with representatives of the orthodox church, but they held out the prospect that the reunion of the churches would lead to the restoration of the orthodox patriarchate to Constantinople. They requested to be kept informed of future developments. Germanos II therefore invited the friars to take part in the council that was assembling at the imperial residence ofNymphaion near Smyrna. They sounded out opinion in Latin Constantinople. To accept the invitation would mean exceeding their instructions, but the situation at Constantinople was so desperate that any contact with the Nicaean court was to be welcomed. The friars therefore journeyed to Nymphaion, but they were simply playing for time. They had no authority to negotiate, but they did make one damaging admission. They insisted that the Latin conquest of Constantinople had never received papal approval. It was the work of ‘laymen, sinners and excommunicates presuming on their authority’. The implication was that the pope might one day abandon his support for the Latin empire of Constantinople. But the friars refused to accept that the onus for the sack of Constantinople should fall on the Latins alone. The Greeks had to take their share of the blame for the way they had treated Latins. The friars raised the old accusations that the Greeks washed altars after they had been used by Latins; that they forced Latins to renounce their sacraments as the price of attending orthodox services. The council broke up amidst displays of bad temper. The friars fled for their lives. The Nicaeans resumed the blockade of Constantinople.20 Though this episode produced no concrete results and only seemed to confirm the gulf that separated Greek and Latin, it was nevertheless important. Byzantine emperors and patriarchs remained susceptible to the appeal of the friars. Their ideals seemed so different from those of the church militant – the face that the Latin church normally presented to the outside world. Those friars operating out of Constantinople as often as not knew Greek and were well-versed in Greek patristics. They were willing to debate with representatives of the orthodox church on their own terms. Their knowledge of orthodox theology, even their appreciation of Byzantine art, made them seem more sympathetic than perhaps they were. Francis of Assisi was, indeed, to become one of the few western medieval saints to acquire a popular following in the Greek world. Their presence at Constantinople meant that there was always a temptation to enter into negotiations with the Latin church. The friars were not exclusively in the service of the papacy. Elias of Cortona, the minister general of the Franciscans, was close to Emperor Frederick II (1215–50). He was sent on a mission to Constantinople to broker a peace between the Latin empire and John Vatatzes, who presented him with many gifts and relics. These negotiations laid the foundations for a formal alliance between Frederick and Vatatzes, and this was sealed in 1242/3 by the marriage of the Nicaean emperor to Frederick’s bastard daughter, Costanza Lancia.21 The main advantage Vatatzes derived from this alliance was prestige, and it was under cover of the alliance that he accomplished his major conquests in the southern Balkans, culminating in the occupation of Thessaloniki in 1246. Thereafter the alliance seemed to offer little in the way of concrete reward. The recovery of Constantinople looked as remote as ever, and Vatatzes began to consider other possibilities. His sister-in-law was married to the Hungarian king. She tried to interest him in an understanding with Pope Innocent IV (1243–54), but her efforts only bore fruit when Vatatzes learnt that John of Parma had been made minister general of the Franciscans in July 1247. Why this appointment should have had such an effect on John Vatatzes is not immediately clear. It may have had something to do with Vatatzes’ choice of two Franciscans from Constantinople to act as his intermediaries with the papal curia. They may have been able to convince the Nicaean emperor that their new minister general favoured an understanding with the orthodox church. John of Parma received his commission from Pope Innocent IV on 28 May 1249. His task was to negotiate the return of the Greeks ‘in obedience and devotion to the Roman church . . . from which they have for so long withdrawn themselves’. He was given very precise instructions. Orthodox teaching on the procession of the Holy Spirit must conform to that of the Roman church.To this end John of Parma was empowered to convoke in the pope’s name a church council for discussions with the orthodox church.He reached theNicaean court by the autumn of 1249 at the outside. Preliminary discussions must necessarily have focused on one difficult question: under whose auspices was a council to be held? In his instructions to John of Parma, Innocent IV made the following claim: ‘some Greek theologians – as is true – assert that the Roman pontiff, who alone has the authority to convoke a council, is able to effect an agreement between our creed and that of the Greeks – once a council has assembled – on the basis of his authority and that of the council.’ Underlying such an assertion there must have been some concession made by the Nicaean emissaries, to the effect that any agreement over the creed reached by a council of the orthodox church must then receive papal approval. The claim that the pope alone has authority to call a council can only have been a papal gloss on the orthodox position. It would not have been acceptable to representatives of the orthodox church. A council assembled at Nymphaion in the spring of 1250 under the presidency of the Nicaean emperor. The question of the procession of the Holy Spirit was duly debated. John of Parma argued thatGod the Father operates through the Son and the Son through the Spirit. He then put forward as its corollary the following proposition: just as the Son is from the Father, so the Spirit is from the Son. This left the Greek representatives stunned. They turned for help to their most expert theologianNikephoros Blemmydes, who was present but had held aloof from the proceedings. Blemmydes protested that there was no scriptural authority for the Son operating through the Spirit. The Son operated in the Spirit, which was quite another matter. Blemmydes’ intervention does not seem to have spoiled the irenic atmosphere that prevailed, to judge by the letter sent at the close of the council by the orthodox patriarchManuel II to Innocent IV. The patriarch claimed that there had been a free and open discussion of the outstanding issues. The official Latin minutes of the council show that the Greeks were apparently willing to make unprecedented concessions over Roman claims to primacy and to accept papal authority over the general council with certain safeguards. In return, the Greeks – somewhat naively – requested the return of Constantinople and the removal of the Latin emperor and patriarch. A Nicaean delegation was despatched to the papal curia with full powers to continue the debate on these issues. Innocent IV gave his reply early in 1252. He approved the Greek concessions on papal primacy and authority over the council. The addition of the filioque to the creed remained a problem. The Greek delegates refused to countenance it unless it could be supported by scriptural authority or some divinum oraculum. Innocent IV did not think this reasonable, but in a spirit of reconciliation allowed the orthodox church to omit the filioque, pending the final decision of a general council. Innocent IV was unable to offer anything concrete over the return of Constantinople to the Greeks. Negotiations continued, but the pope made his intentions crystal clear by appointing to the Latin patriarchate of Constantinople which had been vacant. There was also vague talk at the papal curia of organising a crusade to aid the Latin empire. The almost simultaneous deaths in 1254 of pope, Nicaean emperor and patriarch put an end to this round of negotiations over the union of churches, but they had been doomed to deadlock ever since the death of Frederick II in December 1250.22 John Vatatzes understood that it was in his interests to play off western empire against papacy. To this end he strove to keep alive his alliance with Frederick II, while negotiating with the papacy over the reunion of churches. He continued to supply his father-in-law with troops until the latter’s death. Frederick remonstrated with his son-in-law: did he not realise that the pope was trying to drive a wedge between them? Had not this pope excommunicated the Greeks as schismatics, when the true blame for the schism lay with Rome? Frederick was nevertheless, at first, willing to put ships at the disposal of the Nicaean delegation that was making its way to the papal curia. They were playing a complicated diplomatic game. Vatatzes found his continued alliance with Frederick II a useful means of constraining the papacy. Frederick’s death in December 1250 meant that the papacy was no longer under such pressure to accommodate theNicaean emperor. It has become usual in recent years to emphasise the importance of this episode of Nicaean diplomacy. It is presented as the moment when a reunion of churches on terms acceptable to both sides was most likely to have come about, and that is how it was later seen by Michael VIII Palaiologos (1258–82), who used it as a precedent to justify his unionist policy. Unlike Michael VIII, John Vatatzes seems not to have encountered opposition to rapprochement with the papacy, despite the concessions over papal primacy that he was willing to make. This is all the more surprising in light of the bitter feelings often expressed about the Latins. The loss of Constantinople should have warned against any dealings with the west. The ideal was that in exile the Byzantines would rebuild their strength, but the reality was that the lands of the old Byzantine empire were permeated by western interests, a fact confirmed by the conquest of Constantinople in 1204. While the Nicaean empire was limited to western Asia Minor it was possible to preserve an isolationist stance. However, the moment Vatatzes felt confident enough to aim at the conquest of Constantinople, he had to come to terms with western hegemony. Conditions seemed propitious because of the conflict between western empire and papacy, which Vatatzes sought to exploit. In principle, this was little different from the line of policy pursued by Manuel I Komnenos (1143–80), but Vatatzes was operating, in comparison, from a position of weakness. This is clearest in his dealings with Frederick II. In the earlier exchanges of letters dating from the 1230s, Frederick fails to accord Vatatzes the imperial titles. After the marriage of his daughter to Vatatzes he addresses him as emperor of the Greeks, a title thatManuel I Komnenos would have found insulting. It was an unequal alliance, with Vatatzes as the junior partner. Frederick’s interest in the Byzantine world is hard to unravel. He inherited his father Henry VI’s ambitions, which included hegemony over Byzantium, although this is unlikely to have been one of his major concerns. But any ruler of Sicily had an interest in Corfu and the Ionian islands. George Bardanes, the orthodox bishop of Corfu, had the task of diverting this interest. In a letter written to Frederick in about 1236, he queried the value that such an insignificant possession could have for so great a ruler. He indicated that his lord Manuel Angelos (1230–7), the ruler of Thessaloniki and a younger brother of Theodore Angelos, was willing to recognise Frederick’s suzerainty.23 It was around this time that a rumour circulated in the west to the effect thatManuel Angelos, John Vatatzes and the Bulgarian tsar Ivan II Asen had offered Frederick homage in return for an alliance against the Latin empire of Constantinople. Homage is unlikely to have been strictly accurate, just a western gloss on an unequal partnership. There were plans at this time for Vatatzes to make a state visit to Frederick’s court.24 By 1238 Vatatzes was sending troops to Italy to help Frederick, and he continued to do so until the latter’s death. Frederick’s ascendancy extended to the other petty rulers of the Greek east. At the very end of his reign he wrote to the ruler of Epiros insisting that he allow Nicaean troops to pass through his territories on their way to Italy. This episode illustrates the dilemma of the Byzantine states in exile: their interests necessitated recourse to the papacy and the Hohenstaufen, yet the ideology of exile condemned any contact with the Latins. Vatatzes managed to avoid the consequences of this contradiction, but they would come back to haunt Michael VIII. After Frederick II’s death the kingdom of Sicily eventually passed to his bastard son Manfred of Hohenstaufen. He strove to retain Frederick’s hegemony over the various Greek rulers, but instead found himself being dragged into the struggle between Nicaea and Epiros. Michael II Angelos Doukas (1230–67), the ruler of Epiros, understood that only with Latin aid would he be able to capitalise on the internal divisions that opened up at the Nicaean court following John Vatatzes’ death in November 1254. The newNicaean emperor was Vatatzes’ son Theodore II Laskaris (1254–8), who adopted – perhaps in imitation of Frederick II – a more autocratic stance towards his aristocracy.His chief opponent wasMichael Palaiologos, the future emperor, who held the position of grand constable, giving him command of the Latin mercenaries in Nicaean service. Rather than face a charge of treason, Palaiologos preferred to seek refuge among the Seljuq Turks (see also above, pp. 721–2). He returned to the Nicaean court shortly before Theodore Laskaris’ death in August 1258. Thereupon Palaiologos organised a coup with the help of the Latin mercenaries under his command. He respected the constitutional niceties, in the sense that he claimed to rule in the name of Theodore’s son John IV Laskaris (1258–61), the legitimate heir to theNicaean throne. But this was merely a cover for usurpation, which took him inexorably from regent to co-emperor and finally to sole emperor. This dynastic interlude gaveMichael II AngelosDoukas his opportunity. He was able to draw both the Frankish prince of Achaia,25 William II of Villehardouin (1246–78), andManfred into an anti-Nicaean coalition. The allied forces met the Nicaean army in the late summer of 1259 at Pelagonia on the Egnatian Way and were completely defeated. The prince together with the flower of the chivalry of the Frankish Peloponnese fell intoNicaean hands. This victory left Michael VIII Palaiologos as the dominant force in the Balkans. It could only be a matter of time before his armies recovered Constantinople. This duly occurred in July 1261 when a small Nicaean force slipped into Constantinople while the Latin garrison was temporarily absent. On 15 August 1261 Michael VIII entered the City in triumph. It was a return to the Promised Land.26