June 4, 2015

"The City Has Fallen", But It Also Lives (2 of 3)

Sultan Mehmet II and Patriarch Gennadios Scholarios

...continued from part one.

3. The Causes of the Fall of Constantinople

There is a brilliant work by the Byzantinist Steven Runciman called The Fall of Constantinople, in which one can find many essential elements to understand both the causes that led to the fall of the Queen City, as well as the facts and events that preceded the fall and followed it. We will look at the most important of them to understand these events.

There were two main causes for the fall of Constantinople.

The first cause was with what happened during the Fourth Crusade in 1204, which overthrew the Eastern Roman Empire, having functioned as a supranational state. After the overthrow of Constantinople by Crusaders from the West, the political and ecclesiastical leadership left, the City was plundered, and since then it was unable to gain its former glory. Parts of the Roman Empire divided into fiefdoms and were given to various Frankish rulers. Alongside there were created three large Centers, such as the Empire of Nicaea, the Empire of Trebizond and the Despotate of Epirus. But after the restoration of Constantinople, more than half a century later, the Empire was not as it once was, "it was no longer the dominant force in the Christian East." This weakening of the Roman Empire after the Fourth Crusade allowed the Seljuks to expand their territories. After regaining the Empire in 1261, it had major problems and faced major threats, not only from the Balkan State, the Serbs, but also by westerners.

The English historian Arnold Toynbee argues that the conquest of Constantinople by the Venetians and the Franks in 1204 and the installation in Constantinople of a Frankish Emperor were the pinnacle events that led to the collapse of the Byzantine world. Indeed, 1204 "was the first time that Constantinople fell into enemy hands since its inauguration in 330 A.D." And he aptly observes: "The shock of 1204 was therefore higher than that of 1453 when the City fell for a second time. This time the disaster had a precedent and did not come as a surprise. In 1453 Constantinople was already encircled and besieged for a century, during which the loop tightened harder and harder."

The second cause of the fall of Constantinople is connected with the previous one; it was the hatred of the Franks against the Roman Empire. This hatred was manifested even by the Seventh Ecumenical Synod, which introduced the veneration of holy icons, and continued after. The policy of the Franks was associated with a theology that was contrary to the theology of the Orthodox East. The schism between the Churches, which was in fact the secession of Old Rome from New Rome, when Old Rome was conquered by the Franks, increased the gap between the two parts of the Roman Empire. This gap not only failed to bridge the efforts for the union of the Churches, but further increased it.

It is significant that the easterners, under pressure from the expansions of the Ottomans, wanted to achieve union with the Western Church, and this was despite the disagreement of St. Mark the Evgenikos, Metropolitan of Ephesus, at the Synod of Ferrara-Florence in 1438-1439. Despite the union, however, westerners did not help and could not help Constantinople. But it seems that they were not only unable to help, but they did not want to. Steven Runciman cited many examples from the ecclesiastical and political leaders of the West, which clearly shows that they were not able and willing to help financially and militarily. Despite the union and the refusal to help, though, some Venetians and Genoese came spontaneously from Italy to fight against the Ottomans. And finally the Venetians and the Genoese took part in the resistance to the siege, although there were many disagreements between them, and indeed the Genoese withdrew at the last moment from the fight.

It should be noted that on the eve of the fall of Constantinople there were three trends that were expressions of the three ideological currents that had developed over the past century in the Empire. It is known that the Synod of Ferrara-Florence presented the finest at that time of what Roman Orthodoxy had to offer. Three of them were representatives of these trends. One was Gennadios Scholarios, who after the fall of Constantinople became the first Patriarch of the enslaved Nation. Gennadios saw that the greatest danger came from the West, with the distortion of the Orthodox Faith and the subjugation of the Orthodox Church to the Pope. The second representative of another trend was Bessarion, Bishop of Nicaea, who believed the union of the Churches had to take place, and that by this means to be sent aid from the West, to maintain the freedom of Constantinople. And the third representative of these trends was George-Gemistos Plethon, who proposed the reorganization of the State according to Platonic philosophy, and the ancient Greek tradition in general. He made suggestions for various social, economic and military issues, which were largely unenforceable. Even the Christian God he called Zeus.

From these three trends it proved that the most realistic was represented by Gennadios Scholarios. And this because the views of George-Gemistos Plethon were not applicable, for they were idealistic and utopian, and the views of Bessarion was inapplicable. Besides, Bessarion on the eve of the fall of Constantinople, namely after the Synod of Ferrara-Florence, left Constantinople and went to the West, joined the Latin Church, became Cardinal, and nearly missed being elected Pope, but ultimately this failed, despite his efforts, to motivate westerners to hasten to the aid of Constantinople. The little help that came could not actually help. Bessarion competed to attract the interest of Papists to preserve the independence of the Nation, and to assemble crusades by the rulers of the West against the Turks. The Congress of Mantua (1459) and the gathering in Ancona (1464) showed that a crusade could be accomplished, but because of disputes between the rulers eventually the European rulers were reluctant. Bessarion as a papal representative traveled to Naples, Venice, Hungary and Germany to unite political leaders and take a holy war against the Turks. While he was old in age, he went to France in 1472, and King Louis XI did not show willingness for this project. When he returned to Rome from France and while he was in Ravenna, he died on 18 November 1472, twenty years after the fall of Constantinople, having achieved absolutely nothing. Thus, the hope of finding substantial help from the West to rescue Constantinople and the expulsion of the Turks was unsuccessful, although he was recognized as a major figure and even abandoned the Orthodox Faith and became papal.

But the group of Gennadios Scholarios had more realistic views, since he believed that Byzantium, which was a vestige of the old glory, would be condemned one way or another, but effort had to be made to keep the unity of the Church. Because with the alteration of the Faith and the union with the Western Church, there was a serious risk that could cost the Ecumenical Patriarch over three-quarters of its Bishops. Steven Runciman asks in this regard: "Could Greek integrity be maintained better with a united people under Muslim domination rather than as a piece stuck to the side of the Western world?" And he notes: "The remark attributed by his enemies to the last great Proto-Notarios of Byzantium, Loukas Notaras, which said, 'Better the Sultan's turban than the cardinal's hat,' was not as scandalous as it might seem at first sight."

The great English historian Toynbee writes that on the eve of the fall of Constantinople the Grand Duke Loukas Notaras proclaimed: "I would rather see a Turkish turban in the midst of the City [Constantinople] than the Latin mitre." But this was included by Toynbee in the whole perspective of dislike by Constantinopolitans against the aggression of Western Christians. This perspective was the earlier events of the fall and plundering of Constantinople by the Franks and all the offensive actions of the Popes to assimilate the Orthodox Church. Toynbee writes that the Greeks saw as incomprehensible the "triumphal attack of the West." This was unlike "the attacks of the Muslim neighbors of the Greeks in the East which caused fewer Greek resentments, because it [the Latin attacks] brought the Greeks so much shock ... Greeks could easily reconcile with the prospect of being conquered by the Seljuks and Ottomans, heirs of the Arabs, rather than to be dominated by fraudulent westerners."

This was the general feeling of the Romans. That is why "the sister of Emperor Michael VIII is said to have exclaimed in 1275," after the efforts were made to submit the Orthodox Church to the papacy: "Better to destroy the empire of my brother, rather than the purity of the Orthodox Faith."

Also, the "popular sentiment of the same era was that the state will fall into the hands of the Turks or the Franks." And as Toynbee says: "The same preference was expressed by Patriarch Michael III, who held his office during the years 1170-1178, a century before the issue of being redeemed by western military aid at the cost of submission of the Byzantine Empire to the ecclesiastical primacy of the Pope."

Therefore, the view that interested Romiosini was their subjugation to the Ottomans rather than the Franks, and this dominated from the twelfth century, and it was a general view of the people that was associated with the barbaric attacks of the West against the East, primarily the Franks against the Romans.

This historic compromise, when imposed by historical circumstances, without the Romans seeking it, has been fully vindicated by history. This is why Gennadios Scholarios became the first Patriarch of the Nation, "because he understood the interests of his countrymen better than Bessarion." And according to Woodhouse, when Gennadios Scholarios headed the newly formed Rum Millet, "the integrity of the Church remained, and with it, the integrity of the Greek people."

The fact is that the Orthodox Church with its unity and its hesychastic theology was maintained through four hundred years of slavery by the enslaved race, not only in Faith but also in its Hellenism, and this is what prepared them for the Revolution of 1821, while the Greek Orthodox population of Lower Italy and especially Sicily, the so-called Great Greece, lost its Orthodoxy and Hellenism. Thus, despite the wounds of slavery, the view of St. Mark of Ephesus and St. Gennadios Scholarios was vindicated.

Translated by John Sanidopoulos.