The Epiclesis Debate at the Council of Florence
- ISBN: 9780268106379
- Published By: University of Notre Dame Press
- Published: October 2019
The meeting of Greek and Latin ecclesiastical leaders in the Italian cities of Ferrara and Florence in the middle of the 15th century forms one of the most important attempts at achieving a re-union between Christians in the eastern and western parts of the empire. Christiaan W. Kappes, inThe Epiclesis Debate at the Council of Florence, seeks to fill a particular gap in scholarship, namely, the history of Mark of Ephesus’s role in debates about the eucharistic epiclesis at the Council of Florence in June of 1439. “Epiclesis” referred principally to the invocation of the Holy Spirit to transmute the eucharistic elements into Christ’s flesh and blood. Following Thomas Aquinas, Dominicans like John of Torquemada held that transubstantiation occurred in the recitation of the words of consecration. Kappes’ intention is to share with his readers both Mark’s story and his solution to the epiclesis debates by comparing the contributions Mark and Torquemada made at Florence.
The book contains a short introduction, nine chapters, and three appendices. In the introduction, Kappes frames the efforts towards reunion at Florence in the light of the residual conflict between Greek Palamites and Dominican Thomists. The first chapter situates Mark’s view by attending to the importance of precedents such as Nicholas Cabasilas, Manuel Calecas, and Andreas Chrysoberges. He also signals the abiding influence Mark would have on Greek Christianity and the alignment his theology would find with the post-Vatican II Roman Catholic Church. Chapter 2 contextualizes Mark’s life within the milieu of the 15th century. Kappes frames Mark as a peaceable and well-educated scholar appointed by Byzantine emperor John VIII Palaiologos to join Georg-Gennadius Scholarius in the pursuit of union with the Latins. He also explains why mounting tensions between the Palamites and Dominicans were bound to be an unavoidable obstacle to successful union (31). The second chapter concludes with a basic state of the question regarding scholarly work on Mark’s life and works and the third follows it up with an outline of Catholic scholars’ consistently negative assessment of Mark’s theology. The thrust of the third chapter resides, however, in the way Kappes relates the debates on the eucharistic epiclesis at the Council of Florence to earlier developments among Greeks and Latins.
Chapters 4 through 6 examine the exchange between the Ephesine and Torquemada at Florence. In chapter 4, Kappes offers a critical reconstruction of Torquemada’s no longer extant cedula (proposed wording for the conciliar decree) by means of the Sermo prior (June 16) and Sermo alter (June 20) present within the Acta Latina, the Latins’ record of the conciliar proceedings. Kappes presents Torquemada as a Dominican who bordered on being sectarian in his neglect of the breadth of contemporary Latin views on the epiclesis (e.g., Franciscan) and impetuous both in his derivative use of patristic sources (e.g., Ambrose, Chrysostom, Augustine) and his elision of the difference between Greek and Armenian views. Chapter 5 turns to the Libellus (i.e., brief document) Kappes ascribes to the Ephesine, which was written for the emperor as the Greeks’ response to Torquemada’s cedula and Sermo prior on the epiclesis. Kappes argues that Mark represented a robust, twofold Byzantine tradition of the multiple moments of the epiclesis (via substantial and perfective change). He explains how the Ephesine followed John Damascene in relating the epiclesis to the relationship between the Annunciation and Incarnation, Christ’s being conceived in Mary’s womb and later born (see Lk. 1:35). Kappes suggests that this logic was also supported the seed-to-plant analogy. Mark’s openness to the alternate two-moment tradition shows some flexibility, for it permits the connection of the discourse of the Word to the words of consecration rather than the epiclesis per se. In chapter 6, Kappes critiques Torquemada’s Sermo altera as an inadequate response to Mark’s Libellus, narrates the conclusion of the Council of Florence, and excuses Mark’s abstinence from its declaration of union.
In chapters 7 through 9, Kappes moves from his reconstruction of the Florentine debates over the epiclesis to a theological assessment. The seventh chapter suggests that the unfortunate fate of history was the inability of Scholarius to participate in the debates because his position would have offered an account acceptable to Franciscans and certain “eclectic Thomists” (198). Chapter 8 traces growing openness in papal decrees since Florence. Chapter 9 contends that the Catechism of the Catholic Church records a view more representative of Ephesine and Scholarius than Thomas and Torquemada. The book closes with three appendices that contain fine translations of Torquemada’s Sermo prior, Mark’s Libellus, and John’s Sermo alter.
Kappes’ monograph is to be commended for several reasons. It shows deftness with numerous untranslated sources, even providing translations of those most central to the argument. Noteworthy are the connections he draws between the debates of Palamites and Dominicans and specific discussions at the Council of Florence. Kappes does well to examine not only the arguments levied but the sources to which his 15th-century actors appealed as well as what these appeals suggested about their relative preparation for debate. Kappes integrative study effectively draws together the historical and the theological, the practical and the doctrinal, the descriptive and the normative, the medieval and modern.
For all the merits of the book, allow me also to list some notable concerns. First, the book’s organization felt ad hoc at times, shifting between different modes of analysis. For instance, naming the third chapter as the status quaestionis is misleading since it only briefly treats secondary literature before offering an extended analysis of the historical context. Second, it is unclear at times on what basis Kappes draws conclusions, or what textual evidence supports his claims. Likewise, Kappes does not always clarify when he is reporting on a text and when he is reconstructing a non-extant text based upon related evidence. Third, Kappes uses the terms “Roman Catholic” and “Eastern Orthodox” to refer to Greeks and Latins in the medieval and modern periods (17). Fourth, while I agree that Mark of Ephesus deserves more interpretive charity from scholars considering his role in the Council of Florence and elsewhere, this suggestion was marred by Kappes’ own penchant for exaggerated criticism of Torquemada, Mark’s Latin counterpart. One might wonder, since Kappes was reconstructing a non-extant cedula, why he did not consider in greater detail Torquemada’s own commentary on Laetentur Caeli (the papal bull Kappes leaves unnamed), published just a couple years after the debates at Florence, the Apparatus super decretum florentinum unionis Graecorum (1441). Notwithstanding these quibbles, this study has much to offer students of eucharistic theology, the Council of Florence, and relations between Greek and Latin Christians.
Alexander H. Pierce is an assistant postdoctoral teaching professor in the Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame.Alexander PierceDate Of Review:July 29, 2022