Medieval Byzantine Theology

As you might be able to tell from the title of this blog, named in honor of Georgios Gennadios Scholarios, I have a liking toward 14th and 15th century Byzantine theology, though I am certainly not a scholar on it. St. Gregory Palamas, St. Neilos Kabasilas, Nicholas Kabasilas, St. Mark of Ephesus, and Gennadios Scholarios were all extremely intelligent. Here are some links to learn more about this era: is a website that tries to make accessible French journals. Some of these journals are about the study of Byzantium, so quite a few articles are available there (in French) about theological figures such as St. Gregory Palamas, St. Mark of Ephesus, and Gennadios Scholarios:

Fr. Christiaan Kappes also has very good articles about these theologians on his page:

And for fun I translated Martin Jugie’s short biography of Gennadios Scholarios from pp. 301-305 of this article:

Georges Kourteses Scholarios was born in Constantinople to parents well-off, if not rich, around the year 1405. This date is suggested: (i) by the fact that in 1420 the young Francesco Filelfo became acquainted with the young Scholarios in Constantinople; (ii) because, before the year 1425, Georges heard Symeon of Thessalonica preach; (iii) because before the council of Florence, he is already one of the dignitaries of the imperial court and because he appears in the council in the fullness of his oratory power; (iv) because in 1450, when he is about to enter the cloister, he declares that for him old age is approaching. The name of Kourteses or Kourtesis only occurs in the manuscripts of the works of his youth. After, it disappears, and one finds only Georgios Scholarios or Gennadios. It seems that it was abandoned the moment he became an imperial dignitary.

In a letter to Mark of Ephesus, Scholarios says rather clearly that, in respect to the humanities, philosophy and theology, he is self-taught and received almost no help from his compatriots. He learned Latin at a young age and drew from the writings of western philosophers and theologians, especially Saint Thomas, a good deal of his knowledge: which earned him the accusation of ‘Latinism’ by the jealous. He responded to them vivaciously on at least two occasions [in the footnote, Jugie cites the Lettre à ses disciples, τοῖς ὁμιληταῖς, and the Discours justificatif]. After having made himself a living, he opened in his own home a school very popular among Greeks and Italians. One of his students was his own nephew, Theodore Sophianos. His lessons revolved mainly around grammar and philosophy. It was in this period of his life, that is, his youth, that he composed a Greek grammar, translated and commented on several philosophical writings of western authors, and took a great deal of pleasure in Aristotle.

Honors did not escape him. Before the council of Florence, and until 1450, he entered the imperial palace with the titles of “καθολικὸς κριτὴς τῶν ’Ρωμαίων” (General Judge of the Romans) and “καθολικὸς σεκρετάριος τοῦ βασιλέως” (General Secretary of the Emperor). At the same time he was, although a mere layman, a popular preacher of the court and each Saturday would give a sermon in the imperial palace, in the presence of the Senate and the entire city. He also gave speeches and polemicized with eloquence on subjects as they arose with the other courtiers. He was among those who went to Ferrara and Florence with the emperor John and the metropolitans in order to discuss the union of the churches. The “judge of the Romans” knew how to make himself loved all while remaining honest. The “secretary of the emperor” was praised almost to the level of his master. Some composed elegies addressed to the preacher of the court. He himself tells us this. And his new roles did not distract him from study and he continued to give lectures as before.

This calm life of hard work lasted until the death of Mark of Ephesus (June 23, 1444). Since the council of Florence, Georgios, who had then recommended the union, kept a prudent silence. At a time when the fighting between the unionists and anti-unionists was ardent, one could hardly guess what his true feelings were. Mark of Ephesus knew them. On the verge of passing away, it was Georgios Scholarios whom he designated as his replacement for the head of the anti-union party. Flattered by Mark’s show of confidence, he accepted. He promised to the dying metropolitan to follow in his footsteps and he kept his word. From the autumn of 1444, he threw himself fiercely in the fight and held long discussions on the filioque with the bishop of Cortona, Bartholomew Lapacci, which he quickly put into writing, giving them the form of a long polemical treatise. The dissertations, the dialogues, the letters against the dogma defined at Florence followed one another almost without cease until the death of the emperor John VIII Palaiologos in 1448 [here Jugie accidentally wrote John VII Palaiologos, who died forty years earlier]. At this moment, Scholarios’s fortune ran out. His enemies succeeded in giving him the opposition of the successor to the emperor John, Constantine, who no longer took a clear position regarding the union. Under disgrace, the anti-Latin polemicist felt a profound dislike for the world and its cabals, and three years before the fall of Constantinople, in 1450, he upheld the vow that he had made, during his 30th year, to embrace the monastic life. He took on the holy habit in the Kharsianites monastery and took the name Gennadios. He did not, for all this, stop his fight against the unionists of Byzantium and the Latins of the West. In the autumn of 1451, the Hussites of Prague sent to Constantinople a diplomatic envoy headed by the English priest Constantine Platris to complete a union with the Eastern Church. Constantine asked to be instructed in the Greek faith. He was given as a catechist the monk Gennadios, who perfectly fulfilled his mission [in the footnotes Jugie suggests there may have been a tentative union between the Hussites and anti-union Greeks]. It was above all at the arrival of the cardinal Isidore of Kiev (in November 1452), sent by Pope Nicholas V to promulgate the decree of union, that our monk intensified his activity to prevent what he considered the worst of catastrophes.

On May 29, 1453, Constantinople fell into the power of the Turks and the next day, the monk Gennadios was taken in the company of his nephew Sophianos and several others, and being subjected, was led to Andrinople. He had the fortune of falling to a rich Muslim man who treated him with honor. Soon fortune would smile upon him in an unexpected way. Mehmed II wanted to give the Greek nation a sort of autonomous organization under the direction of its religious leader. Having learned that the Patriarchal See was vacant, he brought about the election of a new patriarch, following the canonical prescriptions. The monk Gennadios turned out as the clergy’s choice, and the sultan had him tracked down. He had to, despite himself, return to Constantinople and accept the role that was imposed upon him. This was what he calls his first forced return to the capital.

Gennadios II – that is the name in the list of the patriarchs of Constantinople – occupied the ecumenical see for only a short time. For reasons he never clearly explains, but which he mentions in several of his writings, he stepped down voluntarily in the spring of 1456. On June 29 of this year, in fact, we find him in a Monastery of Athos – probably Vatopedi – giving a panegyric on the feast of the Apostles. On September 28 of the same year, he will weep in Vatopedi on the grave of his dear nephew, Theodore Sophianos, and will give him a moving elegy. After a profoundly afflicting mourning, he did not delay to leave Athos to fix himself permanently in the monastery of Saint John the Baptist (or Forerunner), established on the south part of Mount Menecee, to the north-east of Serres, an hour and a half walk from the city. He is already found there in 1457. It is here that he passed, save a few months, the years that he had still to live. He however had to return two more times, despite his wishes, to Constantinople to occupy the patriarchal see. The second forced return – the first being that of 1454 – must have taken place in 1462 after the death of Isidore II (1456-1462). His new patriarchate lasted about a year. The opposition of the clergy forced Gennadios to retire once again. He returned a third time, always against his own wishes, in 1464. On August 15 of that year, he gave in Constantinople a beautiful homily on the Assumption of the Virgin. That year had not finished before giving him a new freedom in the election of Joasaph I. This time his retirement will be definitive. Gennadios led on Mount Menecee a life of contemplation and intellectual labor. It is there where he composed his best theological writings, there where he wrote some of his most beautiful homilies. We do not know the date of his death, but we know by a note glossed in Cod. Graec. 1289, one of his autographs, that he was still alive in 1472. It is, in fact, to his monastic life on Mount Mencee that we owe the main autographs that have preserved for us the great part of his works.


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