Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire

Gibbon's The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire

Home | Prev | Next | Contents

Chapter LXVI: Union Of The Greek And Latin Churches. Part I.

Applications Of The Eastern Emperors To The Popes. -- Visits To The West, Of John The First, Manuel, And John The Second, Palæologus. -- Union Of The Greek And Latin Churches, Promoted By The Council Of Basil, And Concluded At Ferrara And Florence. -- State Of Literature At Constantinople. -- Its Revival In Italy By The Greek Fugitives. -- Curiosity And Emulation Of The Latins.

In the four last centuries of the Greek emperors, their friendly or hostile aspect towards the pope and the Latins may be observed as the thermometer of their prosperity or distress; as the scale of the rise and fall of the Barbarian dynasties. When the Turks of the house of Seljuk pervaded Asia, and threatened Constantinople, we have seen, at the council of Placentia, the suppliant ambassadors of Alexius imploring the protection of the common father of the Christians. No sooner had the arms of the French pilgrims removed the sultan from Nice to Iconium, than the Greek princes resumed, or avowed, their genuine hatred and contempt for the schismatics of the West, which precipitated the first downfall of their empire. The date of the Mogul invasion is marked in the soft and charitable language of John Vataces. After the recovery of Constantinople, the throne of the first Palæologus was encompassed by foreign and domestic enemies; as long as the sword of Charles was suspended over his head, he basely courted the favor of the Roman pontiff; and sacrificed to the present danger his faith, his virtue, and the affection of his subjects. On the decease of Michael, the prince and people asserted the independence of their church, and the purity of their creed: the elder Andronicus neither feared nor loved the Latins; in his last distress, pride was the safeguard of superstition; nor could he decently retract in his age the firm and orthodox declarations of his youth. His grandson, the younger Andronicus, was less a slave in his temper and situation; and the conquest of Bithynia by the Turks admonished him to seek a temporal and spiritual alliance with the Western princes. After a separation and silence of fifty years, a secret agent, the monk Barlaam, was despatched to Pope Benedict the Twelfth; and his artful instructions appear to have been drawn by the master-hand of the great domestic. ^1 "Most holy father," was he commissioned to say, "the emperor is not less desirous than yourself of a union between the two churches: but in this delicate transaction, he is obliged to respect his own dignity and the prejudices of his subjects. The ways of union are twofold; force and persuasion. Of force, the inefficacy has been already tried; since the Latins have subdued the empire, without subduing the minds, of the Greeks. The method of persuasion, though slow, is sure and permanent. A deputation of thirty or forty of our doctors would probably agree with those of the Vatican, in the love of truth and the unity of belief; but on their return, what would be the use, the recompense, of such an agreement? the scorn of their brethren, and the reproaches of a blind and obstinate nation. Yet that nation is accustomed to reverence the general councils, which have fixed the articles of our faith; and if they reprobate the decrees of Lyons, it is because the Eastern churches were neither heard nor represented in that arbitrary meeting. For this salutary end, it will be expedient, and even necessary, that a well-chosen legate should be sent into Greece, to convene the patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem; and, with their aid, to prepare a free and universal synod. But at this moment," continued the subtle agent, "the empire is assaulted and endangered by the Turks, who have occupied four of the greatest cities of Anatolia. The Christian inhabitants have expressed a wish of returning to their allegiance and religion; but the forces and revenues of the emperor are insufficient for their deliverance: and the Roman legate must be accompanied, or preceded, by an army of Franks, to expel the infidels, and open a way to the holy sepulchre." If the suspicious Latins should require some pledge, some previous effect of the sincerity of the Greeks, the answers of Barlaam were perspicuous and rational. "1. A general synod can alone consummate the union of the churches; nor can such a synod be held till the three Oriental patriarchs, and a great number of bishops, are enfranchised from the Mahometan yoke. 2. The Greeks are alienated by a long series of oppression and injury: they must be reconciled by some act of brotherly love, some effectual succor, which may fortify the authority and arguments of the emperor, and the friends of the union. 3. If some difference of faith or ceremonies should be found incurable, the Greeks, however, are the disciples of Christ; and the Turks are the common enemies of the Christian name. The Armenians, Cyprians, and Rhodians, are equally attacked; and it will become the piety of the French princes to draw their swords in the general defence of religion. 4. Should the subjects of Andronicus be treated as the worst of schismatics, of heretics, of pagans, a judicious policy may yet instruct the powers of the West to embrace a useful ally, to uphold a sinking empire, to guard the confines of Europe; and rather to join the Greeks against the Turks, than to expect the union of the Turkish arms with the troops and treasures of captive Greece." The reasons, the offers, and the demands, of Andronicus were eluded with cold and stately indifference. The kings of France and Naples declined the dangers and glory of a crusade; the pope refused to call a new synod to determine old articles of faith; and his regard for the obsolete claims of the Latin emperor and clergy engaged him to use an offensive superscription, -- "To the moderator ^2 of the Greeks, and the persons who style themselves the patriarchs of the Eastern churches." For such an embassy, a time and character less propitious could not easily have been found. Benedict the Twelfth ^3 was a dull peasant, perplexed with scruples, and immersed in sloth and wine: his pride might enrich with a third crown the papal tiara, but he was alike unfit for the regal and the pastoral office.

[Footnote 1: This curious instruction was transcribed (I believe) from the Vatican archives, by Odoricus Raynaldus, in his Continuation of the Annals of Baronius, (Romæ, 1646--1677, in x. volumes in folio.) I have contented myself with the Abbé Fleury, (Hist. Ecclésiastique. tom. xx.

  1. 1--8,) whose abstracts I have always found to be clear, accurate, and impartial.]

[Footnote 2: The ambiguity of this title is happy or ingenious; and moderator, as synonymous to rector, gubernator, is a word of classical, and even Ciceronian, Latinity, which may be found, not in the Glossary of Ducange, but in the Thesaurus of Robert Stephens.]

[Footnote 3: The first epistle (sine titulo) of Petrarch exposes the danger of the bark, and the incapacity of the pilot. Hæc inter, vino madidus, ævo gravis, ac soporifero rore perfusus, jamjam nutitat, dormitat, jam somno præceps, atque (utinam solus) ruit . . . . . Heu quanto felicius patrio terram sulcasset aratro, quam scalmum piscatorium ascendisset! This satire engages his biographer to weigh the virtues and vices of Benedict XII. which have been exaggerated by Guelphs and Ghibe lines, by Papists and Protestants, (see Mémoires sur la Vie de Pétrarque, tom. i. p. 259, ii. not. xv. p. 13--16.) He gave occasion to the saying, Bibamus papaliter.]

After the decease of Andronicus, while the Greeks were distracted by intestine war, they could not presume to agitate a general union of the Christians. But as soon as Cantacuzene had subdued and pardoned his enemies, he was anxious to justify, or at least to extenuate, the introduction of the Turks into Europe, and the nuptials of his daughter with a Mussulman prince. Two officers of state, with a Latin interpreter, were sent in his name to the Roman court, which was transplanted to Avignon, on the banks of the Rhône, during a period of seventy years: they represented the hard necessity which had urged him to embrace the alliance of the miscreants, and pronounced by his command the specious and edifying sounds of union and crusade. Pope Clement the Sixth, ^4 the successor of Benedict, received them with hospitality and honor, acknowledged the innocence of their sovereign, excused his distress, applauded his magnanimity, and displayed a clear knowledge of the state and revolutions of the Greek empire, which he had imbibed from the honest accounts of a Savoyard lady, an attendant of the empress Anne. ^5 If Clement was ill endowed with the virtues of a priest, he possessed, however, the spirit and magnificence of a prince, whose liberal hand distributed benefices and kingdoms with equal facility. Under his reign Avignon was the seat of pomp and pleasure: in his youth he had surpassed the licentiousness of a baron; and the palace, nay, the bed-chamber of the pope, was adorned, or polluted, by the visits of his female favorites. The wars of France and England were adverse to the holy enterprise; but his vanity was amused by the splendid idea; and the Greek ambassadors returned with two Latin bishops, the ministers of the pontiff. On their arrival at Constantinople, the emperor and the nuncios admired each other's piety and eloquence; and their frequent conferences were filled with mutual praises and promises, by which both parties were amused, and neither could be deceived. "I am delighted," said the devout Cantacuzene, "with the project of our holy war, which must redound to my personal glory, as well as to the public benefit of Christendom. My dominions will give a free passage to the armies of France: my troops, my galleys, my treasures, shall be consecrated to the common cause; and happy would be my fate, could I deserve and obtain the crown of martyrdom. Words are insufficient to express the ardor with which I sigh for the reunion of the scattered members of Christ. If my death could avail, I would gladly present my sword and my neck: if the spiritual phnix could arise from my ashes, I would erect the pile, and kindle the flame with my own hands." Yet the Greek emperor presumed to observe, that the articles of faith which divided the two churches had been introduced by the pride and precipitation of the Latins: he disclaimed the servile and arbitrary steps of the first Palæologus; and firmly declared, that he would never submit his conscience unless to the decrees of a free and universal synod. "The situation of the times," continued he, "will not allow the pope and myself to meet either at Rome or Constantinople; but some maritime city may be chosen on the verge of the two empires, to unite the bishops, and to instruct the faithful, of the East and West." The nuncios seemed content with the proposition; and Cantacuzene affects to deplore the failure of his hopes, which were soon overthrown by the death of Clement, and the different temper of his successor. His own life was prolonged, but it was prolonged in a cloister; and, except by his prayers, the humble monk was incapable of directing the counsels of his pupil or the state. ^6

[Footnote 4: See the original Lives of Clement VI. in Muratori, (Script. Rerum Italicarum, tom. iii. P. ii. p. 550--589;) Matteo Villani, (Chron.

  1. iii. c. 43, in Muratori, tom. xiv. p. 186,) who styles him, molto cavallaresco, poco religioso; Fleury, (Hist. Ecclés. tom. xx. p. 126;) and the Vie de Pétrarque, (tom. ii. p. 42--45.) The abbé de Sade treats him with the most indulgence; but he is a gentleman as well as a priest.]

[Footnote 5: Her name (most probably corrupted) was Zampea. She had accompanied, and alone remained with her mistress at Constantinople, where her prudence, erudition, and politeness deserved the praises of the Greeks themselves, (Cantacuzen. l. i. c. 42.)]

[Footnote 6: See this whole negotiation in Cantacuzene, (l. iv. c. 9,) who, amidst the praises and virtues which he bestows on himself, reveals the uneasiness of a guilty conscience.]

Yet of all the Byzantine princes, that pupil, John Palæologus, was the best disposed to embrace, to believe, and to obey, the shepherd of the West. His mother, Anne of Savoy, was baptized in the bosom of the Latin church: her marriage with Andronicus imposed a change of name, of apparel, and of worship, but her heart was still faithful to her country and religion: she had formed the infancy of her son, and she governed the emperor, after his mind, or at least his stature, was enlarged to the size of man. In the first year of his deliverance and restoration, the Turks were still masters of the Hellespont; the son of Cantacuzene was in arms at Adrianople; and Palæologus could depend neither on himself nor on his people. By his mother's advice, and in the hope of foreign aid, he abjured the rights both of the church and state; and the act of slavery, ^7 subscribed in purple ink, and sealed with the golden bull, was privately intrusted to an Italian agent. The first article of the treaty is an oath of fidelity and obedience to Innocent the Sixth and his successors, the supreme pontiffs of the Roman and Catholic church. The emperor promises to entertain with due reverence their legates and nuncios; to assign a palace for their residence, and a temple for their worship; and to deliver his second son Manuel as the hostage of his faith. For these condescensions he requires a prompt succor of fifteen galleys, with five hundred men at arms, and a thousand archers, to serve against his Christian and Mussulman enemies. Palæologus engages to impose on his clergy and people the same spiritual yoke; but as the resistance of the Greeks might be justly foreseen, he adopts the two effectual methods of corruption and education. The legate was empowered to distribute the vacant benefices among the ecclesiastics who should subscribe the creed of the Vatican: three schools were instituted to instruct the youth of Constantinople in the language and doctrine of the Latins; and the name of Andronicus, the heir of the empire, was enrolled as the first student. Should he fail in the measures of persuasion or force, Palæologus declares himself unworthy to reign; transferred to the pope all regal and paternal authority; and invests Innocent with full power to regulate the family, the government, and the marriage, of his son and successor. But this treaty was neither executed nor published: the Roman galleys were as vain and imaginary as the submission of the Greeks; and it was only by the secrecy that their sovereign escaped the dishonor of this fruitless humiliation.

[Footnote 7: See this ignominious treaty in Fleury, (Hist. Ecclés. p. 151--154,) from Raynaldus, who drew it from the Vatican archives. It was not worth the trouble of a pious forgery.]

The tempest of the Turkish arms soon burst on his head; and after the loss of Adrianople and Romania, he was enclosed in his capital, the vassal of the haughty Amurath, with the miserable hope of being the last devoured by the savage. In this abject state, Palæologus embraced the resolution of embarking for Venice, and casting himself at the feet of the pope: he was the first of the Byzantine princes who had ever visited the unknown regions of the West, yet in them alone he could seek consolation or relief; and with less violation of his dignity he might appear in the sacred college than at the Ottoman Porte. After a long absence, the Roman pontiffs were returning from Avignon to the banks of the Tyber: Urban the Fifth, ^8 of a mild and virtuous character, encouraged or allowed the pilgrimage of the Greek prince; and, within the same year, enjoyed the glory of receiving in the Vatican the two Imperial shadows who represented the majesty of Constantine and Charlemagne. In this suppliant visit, the emperor of Constantinople, whose vanity was lost in his distress, gave more than could be expected of empty sounds and formal submissions. A previous trial was imposed; and, in the presence of four cardinals, he acknowledged, as a true Catholic, the supremacy of the pope, and the double procession of the Holy Ghost. After this purification, he was introduced to a public audience in the church of St. Peter: Urban, in the midst of the cardinals, was seated on his throne; the Greek monarch, after three genuflections, devoutly kissed the feet, the hands, and at length the mouth, of the holy father, who celebrated high mass in his presence, allowed him to lead the bridle of his mule, and treated him with a sumptuous banquet in the Vatican. The entertainment of Palæologus was friendly and honorable; yet some difference was observed between the emperors of the East and West; ^9 nor could the former be entitled to the rare privilege of chanting the gospel in the rank of a deacon. ^10 In favor of his proselyte, Urban strove to rekindle the zeal of the French king and the other powers of the West; but he found them cold in the general cause, and active only in their domestic quarrels. The last hope of the emperor was in an English mercenary, John Hawkwood, ^11 or Acuto, who, with a band of adventurers, the white brotherhood, had ravaged Italy from the Alps to Calabria; sold his services to the hostile states; and incurred a just excommunication by shooting his arrows against the papal residence. A special license was granted to negotiate with the outlaw, but the forces, or the spirit, of Hawkwood, were unequal to the enterprise: and it was for the advantage, perhaps, of Palæologus to be disappointed of succor, that must have been costly, that could not be effectual, and which might have been dangerous. ^12 The disconsolate Greek ^13 prepared for his return, but even his return was impeded by a most ignominious obstacle. On his arrival at Venice, he had borrowed large sums at exorbitant usury; but his coffers were empty, his creditors were impatient, and his person was detained as the best security for the payment. His eldest son, Andronicus, the regent of Constantinople, was repeatedly urged to exhaust every resource; and even by stripping the churches, to extricate his father from captivity and disgrace. But the unnatural youth was insensible of the disgrace, and secretly pleased with the captivity of the emperor: the state was poor, the clergy were obstinate; nor could some religious scruple be wanting to excuse the guilt of his indifference and delay. Such undutiful neglect was severely reproved by the piety of his brother Manuel, who instantly sold or mortgaged all that he possessed, embarked for Venice, relieved his father, and pledged his own freedom to be responsible for the debt. On his return to Constantinople, the parent and king distinguished his two sons with suitable rewards; but the faith and manners of the slothful Palæologus had not been improved by his Roman pilgrimage; and his apostasy or conversion, devoid of any spiritual or temporal effects, was speedily forgotten by the Greeks and Latins. ^14

[Footnote 8: See the two first original Lives of Urban V., (in Muratori, Script. Rerum Italicarum, tom. iii. P. ii. p. 623, 635,) and the Ecclesiastical Annals of Spondanus, (tom. i. p. 573, A.D. 1369, No. 7,) and Raynaldus, (Fleury, Hist. Ecclés. tom. xx. p. 223, 224.) Yet, from some variations, I suspect the papal writers of slightly magnifying the genuflections of Palæologus.]

[Footnote 9: Paullo minus quam si fuisset Imperator Romanorum. Yet his title of Imperator Græcorum was no longer disputed, (Vit. Urban V. p. 623.)]

[Footnote 10: It was confined to the successors of Charlemagne, and to them only on Christmas-day. On all other festivals these Imperial deacons were content to serve the pope, as he said mass, with the book and the corporale. Yet the abbé de Sade generously thinks that the merits of Charles IV. might have entitled him, though not on the proper day, (A.D. 1368, November 1,) to the whole privilege. He seems to affix a just value on the privilege and the man, (Vie de Petrarque, tom. iii.

  1. 735.)]

[Footnote 11: Through some Italian corruptions, the etymology of Falcone in bosco, (Matteo Villani, l. xi. c. 79, in Muratori, tom. xv. p. 746,) suggests the English word Hawkwood, the true name of our adventurous countryman, (Thomas Walsingham, Hist. Anglican. inter Scriptores Camdeni, p. 184.) After two-and-twenty victories, and one defeat, he died, in 1394, general of the Florentines, and was buried with such honors as the republic has not paid to Dante or Petrarch, (Muratori, Annali d'Italia, tom. xii. p. 212--371.)]

[Footnote 12: This torrent of English (by birth or service) overflowed from France into Italy after the peace of Bretigny in 1630. Yet the exclamation of Muratori (Annali, tom. xii. p. 197) is rather true than civil. "Ci mancava ancor questo, che dopo essere calpestrata l'Italia da tanti masnadieri Tedeschi ed Ungheri, venissero fin dall' Inghliterra nuovi cani a finire di divorarla."]

[Footnote 13: Chalcondyles, l. i. p. 25, 26. The Greek supposes his journey to the king of France, which is sufficiently refuted by the silence of the national historians. Nor am I much more inclined to believe, that Palæologus departed from Italy, valde bene consolatus et contentus, (Vit. Urban V. p. 623.)]

[Footnote 14: His return in 1370, and the coronation of Manuel, Sept. 25, 1373, (Ducange, Fam. Byzant. p. 241,) leaves some intermediate æra for the conspiracy and punishment of Andronicus.]

Thirty years after the return of Palæologus, his son and successor, Manuel, from a similar motive, but on a larger scale, again visited the countries of the West. In a preceding chapter I have related his treaty with Bajazet, the violation of that treaty, the siege or blockade of Constantinople, and the French succor under the command of the gallant Boucicault. ^15 By his ambassadors, Manuel had solicited the Latin powers; but it was thought that the presence of a distressed monarch would draw tears and supplies from the hardest Barbarians; ^16 and the marshal who advised the journey prepared the reception of the Byzantine prince. The land was occupied by the Turks; but the navigation of Venice was safe and open: Italy received him as the first, or, at least, as the second, of the Christian princes; Manuel was pitied as the champion and confessor of the faith; and the dignity of his behavior prevented that pity from sinking into contempt. From Venice he proceeded to Padua and Pavia; and even the duke of Milan, a secret ally of Bajazet, gave him safe and honorable conduct to the verge of his dominions. ^17 On the confines of France ^18 the royal officers undertook the care of his person, journey, and expenses; and two thousand of the richest citizens, in arms and on horseback, came forth to meet him as far as Charenton, in the neighborhood of the capital. At the gates of Paris, he was saluted by the chancellor and the parliament; and Charles the Sixth, attended by his princes and nobles, welcomed his brother with a cordial embrace. The successor of Constantine was clothed in a robe of white silk, and mounted on a milk-white steed, a circumstance, in the French ceremonial, of singular importance: the white color is considered as the symbol of sovereignty; and, in a late visit, the German emperor, after a haughty demand and a peevish refusal, had been reduced to content himself with a black courser. Manuel was lodged in the Louvre; a succession of feasts and balls, the pleasures of the banquet and the chase, were ingeniously varied by the politeness of the French, to display their magnificence, and amuse his grief: he was indulged in the liberty of his chapel; and the doctors of the Sorbonne were astonished, and possibly scandalized, by the language, the rites, and the vestments, of his Greek clergy. But the slightest glance on the state of the kingdom must teach him to despair of any effectual assistance. The unfortunate Charles, though he enjoyed some lucid intervals, continually relapsed into furious or stupid insanity: the reins of government were alternately seized by his brother and uncle, the dukes of Orleans and Burgundy, whose factious competition prepared the miseries of civil war. The former was a gay youth, dissolved in luxury and love: the latter was the father of John count of Nevers, who had so lately been ransomed from Turkish captivity; and, if the fearless son was ardent to revenge his defeat, the more prudent Burgundy was content with the cost and peril of the first experiment. When Manuel had satiated the curiosity, and perhaps fatigued the patience, of the French, he resolved on a visit to the adjacent island. In his progress from Dover, he was entertained at Canterbury with due reverence by the prior and monks of St. Austin; and, on Blackheath, King Henry the Fourth, with the English court, saluted the Greek hero, (I copy our old historian,) who, during many days, was lodged and treated in London as emperor of the East. ^19 But the state of England was still more adverse to the design of the holy war. In the same year, the hereditary sovereign had been deposed and murdered: the reigning prince was a successful usurper, whose ambition was punished by jealousy and remorse: nor could Henry of Lancaster withdraw his person or forces from the defence of a throne incessantly shaken by conspiracy and rebellion. He pitied, he praised, he feasted, the emperor of Constantinople; but if the English monarch assumed the cross, it was only to appease his people, and perhaps his conscience, by the merit or semblance of his pious intention. ^20 Satisfied, however, with gifts and honors, Manuel returned to Paris; and, after a residence of two years in the West, shaped his course through Germany and Italy, embarked at Venice, and patiently expected, in the Morea, the moment of his ruin or deliverance. Yet he had escaped the ignominious necessity of offering his religion to public or private sale. The Latin church was distracted by the great schism; the kings, the nations, the universities, of Europe were divided in their obedience between the popes of Rome and Avignon; and the emperor, anxious to conciliate the friendship of both parties, abstained from any correspondence with the indigent and unpopular rivals. His journey coincided with the year of the jubilee; but he passed through Italy without desiring, or deserving, the plenary indulgence which abolished the guilt or penance of the sins of the faithful. The Roman pope was offended by this neglect; accused him of irreverence to an image of Christ; and exhorted the princes of Italy to reject and abandon the obstinate schismatic. ^21

[Footnote 15: Mémoires de Boucicault, P. i. c. 35, 36.]

[Footnote 16: His journey into the west of Europe is slightly, and I believe reluctantly, noticed by Chalcondyles (l. ii. c. 44--50) and Ducas, (c. 14.)]

[Footnote 17: Muratori, Annali d'Italia, tom. xii. p. 406. John Galeazzo was the first and most powerful duke of Milan. His connection with Bajazet is attested by Froissard; and he contributed to save and deliver the French captives of Nicopolis.]

[Footnote 18: For the reception of Manuel at Paris, see Spondanus, (Annal. Ecclés. tom. i. p. 676, 677, A.D. 1400, No. 5,) who quotes Juvenal des Ursins and the monk of St. Denys; and Villaret, (Hist. de France, tom. xii. p. 331--334,) who quotes nobody according to the last fashion of the French writers.]

[Footnote 19: A short note of Manuel in England is extracted by Dr. Hody from a MS. at Lambeth, (de Græcis illustribus, p. 14,) C. P. Imperator, diu variisque et horrendis Paganorum insultibus coarctatus, ut pro eisdem resistentiam triumphalem perquireret, Anglorum Regem visitare decrevit, &c. Rex (says Walsingham, p. 364) nobili apparatû . . . suscepit (ut decuit) tantum Heroa, duxitque Londonias, et per multos dies exhibuit gloriose, pro expensis hospitii sui solvens, et eum respiciens tanto fastigio donativis. He repeats the same in his Upodigma Neustriæ, (p. 556.)]

[Footnote 20: Shakspeare begins and ends the play of Henry IV. with that prince's vow of a crusade, and his belief that he should die in Jerusalem.]

[Footnote 21: This fact is preserved in the Historia Politica, A.D. 1391--1478, published by Martin Crusius, (Turco Græcia, p. 1--43.) The image of Christ, which the Greek emperor refused to worship, was probably a work of sculpture.]

Prev | Next | Contents

Preface | Volume 1 | Volume 2 | Volume 3 | Volume 4 | Volume 5 | Volume 6 |

Fall of Roman Empire