Ferrara-Florence, Council of

Ferrara-Florence, Council of, 1438–45, second part of the 17th ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church; the first part was the Council of Basel, canonically convened but after 1437 schismatic (see Basel, Council of). The chief goal at Ferrara was to end the schism of East and West; it was vigorously promoted by John VIII, Byzantine emperor, who, hard pressed by the Turks, hoped Christian union might save his empire. The council, consummation of years of negotiations, was opened by the papal legate at Ferrara as the legitimate successor of the Council of Basel. The representatives of the East arrived soon after the council's beginning (Jan., 1438); they included the emperor, the patriarch of Constantinople, canonical representatives of the other Orthodox patriarchs, and the metropolitan of Kiev, head of the Russian church. The points at issue between East and West were the Filioque clause of the creed, the use of unleavened bread in the Eucharist, the definition of purgatory, and the nature of the papal jurisdiction. The discussions were generally conducted without acerbity, the leading figure being Bessarion, archbishop of Nicaea, leader of the moderates among the Orthodox. About a year after its commencement the council moved to Florence (Jan., 1439) because of the plague at Ferrara and the financial inducements of the Florentines. In July, 1439, the pope issued the bull Laetentur coeli, announcing the religious union of East and West. It had been ratified by both sides, except for a few Orthodox. On the questions at issue the Orthodox conceded that the Western Church might use the Filioque in the creed and unleavened bread at Mass without danger to faith or right custom; the Orthodox also accepted the Western definition of purgatory and the papal supremacy over the patriarchs, without prejudice to patriarchal jurisdiction in the patriarchates. With the departure of the Orthodox from Italy, the party opposed to union on the council's terms gained power, and, before any lasting strength could be given the union, Constantinople fell to the Turks, who controlled the patriarchate of Constantinople thereafter. After the union was announced, the council continued to sit until 1445, moving to the Lateran in 1443. Its principal business was then to bring back into union with the Holy See the smaller non-Orthodox churches, i.e., Armenian, Jacobite, Nestorian, and Maronite. Of these, as of the Orthodox, small groups entered the Roman communion, but there was no great reunion. The chief result of the council was probably the increase in prestige it lent to the Holy See. It was also important in bringing Bessarion and other Greeks to Italy, strengthening the cultural connection between East and West.

See studies by J. Gill (1959 and 1964).

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