Gennadios II Scholarios

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Gennadios II Scholarios or Gennadius II (in Greek, Γεννάδιος Β') (lay name Georgios Kourtesios Scholarios, in Greek, Γεώργιος Κουρτέσιος Σχολάριος) (ca. 1400 –ca. 1473), Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople from 1454 to 1464, philosopher and theologian, was one of the last representatives of Byzantine learning, and a strong advocate of Aristotelian philosophy in the Eastern Church. As a civil court judge, he accompanied John VIII Palaeologus to the Council of Basel, held in 1438-1439 in Ferrara and Florence to discuss a union between the Greek and Latin Churches, and made several speeches strongly in favor of such a union. Upon his return to Constantinople, however, he completely changed his point of view and began to write polemical literature against the Roman Catholic Church. Because of this, when Constantinople fell in 1453 to the Ottoman Turks, Sultan Mehmet II appointed Gennadios patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church and gave him both civil and religious authority over the Christian community. Gennadius remained patriarch for ten years, establishing the relationship between the Ottoman Turks and their Christian subjects.

Gennadios produced over one hundred works, including commentaries, treatises on the works of Thomas Aquinas, polemical tracts supporting Aristotelian thought, and compositions in liturgy, ethics, and poetry. He was a student not only of Western philosophy but of Jewish and Muslim philosophical debates.


Georgios (original name Georgios Kourtesios Scholarios) appears to have been born at Constantinople in c. 1400 and to have been a teacher of philosophy before entering the service of emperor John VIII Palaeologus (1425-1448) as a theological advisor. Georgios first appeared in history when, as judge in the civil courts under John VIII (1425-1448), he accompanied his master to the Council of Basel, held in 1438-1439 in Ferrara and Florence with the object of bringing about a union between the Greek and Latin Churches and was at that time in favor of the union. He made four speeches at the council, all exceedingly conciliatory, and wrote a refutation of the first 18 of Mark of Ephesus' syllogistic chapters against the Roman Catholics.

The celebrated Platonist, Gemistus Pletho, the most powerful opponent of the then dominant Aristotelianism, and consequently an antagonist of Georgios, also participated in the Council. In church matters, as in philosophy, the two were opposed — Pletho advocated a partial return to Greek paganism in the form of a syncretic union between Christianity and Zoroastrianism. The more cautious Georgios urged the necessity for ecclesiastical union with Rome on doctrinal grounds, and was instrumental in drawing up a form which, from its vagueness and ambiguity, might be accepted by both parties. As a layman, Georgios could not directly take part in the discussions of the council.

Despite his advocacy of the union between the Greek and Latin Churches at the Council, and his criticism of many of the Orthodox bishops for their lack of theological learnedness, when he came back to Constantinople, like most of his countrymen, he changed his mind. This was apparently at the behest of his mentor Mark of Ephesus, who converted him completely to anti-Latin Orthodoxy. From that time until his death he was known (with Mark of Ephesus) as the most uncompromising enemy of the union. He wrote many works to defend his new convictions, which were so different from the earlier conciliatory ones that Leo Allatius thought there must be two people of the same name [1]; to whom Gibbon: "Renaudot has restored the identity of his person, and the duplicity of his character" (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, lxviii, note 41).

After the death of John VIII in 1448, Georgios fell out of favor with Emperor Constantine XI Palaeologus (1449–1453), and entered the Pantokratoros monastery in Constantinople taking, according to the custom, a new name, Gennadius.

Before the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Gennadios was already well known as a bitter opponent of the union. He and Eugenikos (Mark of Ephesus) were the leaders of the anti-Latin party. In 1447, Mark of Ephesus on his deathbed praised Gennadius's irreconcilable attitude towards the Latins and the union (Patrologia Graeca, CLX, 529). It was to Gennadius that the angry people went after seeing the Uniate (Eastern Catholic Church) services in the great church of Hagia Sophia. It is said that he hid himself, but left a notice on the door of his cell: "O unhappy Romans, why have you forsaken the truth? Why do you not trust in God, instead of in the Italians? In losing your faith you will lose your city." (quoted by Gibbon, ibid., ed. J. B. Bury, VII, 176).

After the fall of Constantinople, Gennadius was taken prisoner by the Turks. The Ottoman Empire approached the problem of governing large non-Muslim populations by establishing “millets,” hierarchical groups organized according to religious convictions. The ruling millet was made up of Muslims, and the second in importance was that of the Greek Orthodox Christians. Sultan Mehmed II, wanting to preclude any kind of alliance between his newly-conquered Christian subjects and the Western princes, sent for Gennadius because he was a known opponent of union with Rome, and appointed him patriarch. On June 1, 1453, the new patriarch's procession passed through the streets that were still reeking with blood; Mehmed received Gennadius graciously and himself invested him with the signs of his office, the crosier (dikanikion) and mantle.

Mehmed vested Gennadius with both ecclesiastical and political authority over the Greek Orthodox community by making the patriarch Ethnarch of all Orthodox Christians (the so-called "Roman nation"), the main non-Muslim millet in the Turkish Empire, before the Porte (official court of the Ottoman Empire). He gave Gennadios and gave him a berat (diploma) exactly defining his rights and duties, which is still given to every patriarch before his consecration (or enthronement), and as a result, for five hundred years, the Greek Orthodox Church of Constantinople became a civil as well as a religious entity.

Gennadius, who was not in holy orders, was then ordained to each grade, and in the spring of 1454 he was consecrated by the metropolitan bishop of Heraclea Pontica. Since both the Church of St. Sophia and the palace of the patriarch were now in the hands of the Ottomans, he used as his patriarchal church, first that of the Apostles (where the emperors were buried), then that of the All-Blessed (tes pammakaristou, the Blessed Virgin). Although he continued his dislike of Latin Catholics, he seems to have kept good relations with the sultan. One of the symbolic books of the Orthodox Church is the Confession (Homologia) of the Christian faith which he made to Sultan Mehmed, by which he is said to have secured a certain measure of tolerance for his people (see below). This was translated into Turkish by Ahmed, judge of Beroea (and first printed by A. Brassicanus at Vienna in 1530).

Gennadius was unhappy as patriarch, and tried to abdicate his position at least twice because of tensions between the Greeks and Arabs. In 1456 [2], he resigned. His resignation is commonly attributed to his disappointment at the Sultan's treatment of Christians, though Mehmed seems to have kept the fairly tolerant conditions he had allowed to them. Some writers hint darkly at other motives [3]. Gennadius, like many of his successors, ended his days as an ex-patriarch and a monk, living in the monastery of John the Baptist near Serrae in Macedonia (north-east of Saloniki), where he wrote books till he died in about 1473. There he produced a wealth of theological and philosophical literature, including commentaries, on the works of Thomas Aquinas, polemical tracts supporting Aristotelian thought; and many other compositions in liturgy, ethics, and poetry.

Thought and Works

Gennadios fills an important place in Byzantine history. He was the last, and one of the greatest, of the old school of polemical writers. Unlike most of his fellows he had an intimate acquaintance with Latin controversial literature, especially with Saint Thomas Aquinas and the Scholastics. He was as skilful an opponent of Catholic theology as Mark of Ephesus, and a more learned one. His writings show him to be a student not only of Western philosophy but of controversy with Jews and Muslims, of the great controversy over Hesychasm (an ascetic practice of prayer followed by the monks on Mount Athos and attacked by Barlaam in 1337) and of all the theological debates that were important in his time.

Gennadios has another kind of importance as the first Patriarch of Constantinople under the Turks. From this point of view he stands at the head of a new period in the history of his Church; the principles that regulated the conditions of Orthodox Christians in the Turkish Empire are the result of the arrangements he established with Mehmed II.


Gennadios was a prolific writer during all the periods of his life. [4]. About 100 to 120 of his alleged writings exist, the majority in manuscript and of doubtful authenticity. As far as is known, his writings may be classified into philosophical (interpretations of Aristotle, Porphyry, and others, translations of Petrus Hispanus and Thomas Aquinas, and defenses of Aristotelianism against the recrudescence of Neoplatonism) and theological and ecclesiastical (some regarding the union of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, and some in defense of Christianity against Muslims, Jews, and pagans), in addition to numerous homilies, hymns, and letters.

The Patrologia Graeca [5] contains the chief collection of what has been published. To this can be added the works in Simonides[6], Jahn [7] and others mentioned below.

First period (while he favored the union, 1438 - c.1445)

The chief works of this time are the four "speeches" made at the Council of Florence [8], and a number of letters addressed to various friends, bishops, and statesmen, mostly unedited. An Apology for five chapters of the Council of Florence[9] is doubtful[10]. A History of the Council of Florence under his name (in manuscript) is actually identical with that of Syropulos[11].

Second Period (as opponent of the union, c. 1445-1456 or 1459)

Gennadios wrote a great number of polemical works against Roman Catholics during this time, including two books about the Procession of the Holy Ghost[12]; another one "against the insertion of the Filioque in the Creed"[13]; two books and a letter about "Purgatory"; various sermons and speeches; and a Panegyric” of Marcus Eugenicus (in 1447). Some translations of works of Thomas Aquinas, and polemical treatises against his theology by Gennadius are still unedited, as is his work against the Barlaamites. There are also various philosophical treatises, of which the chief is a Defense of Aristotle (antilepseis hyper Aristotelous); against the Platonist, Gemistus Pletho[14].

His most important work is his "Confession" (Ekthesis tes pisteos ton orthodoxon christianon, generally known as Homologia tou Gennadiou) addressed to Mehmed II. It contains 20 articles, of which, however, only the first 12 are authentic. It was written in Greek; Achmed, Kadi of Berrhoea, translated it into Turkish. This is chronologically the first of the Orthodox Symbolic books. It was published first (in Greek and Latin) by Brassicanus[15], again by Chytræus[16]. Crusius printed it in Greek, Latin, and Turkish (in Greek and Latin letters) in his Turco-Græcia[17]. Rimmel has reprinted it (Greek and Latin)[18]; and Michalcescu in Greek only[19]. An arrangement of this "Confession" exists in the form of a dialogue in which Mehmed asks questions ("What is God?"—"Why is he called theos?"—"And how many Gods are there?" and so on) and Gennadius gives suitable answers. This is called variously Gennadius's Dialogue (dialexis, διάλεξις), or Confessio prior, or De Via salutis humanæ (Peri tes hodou tes soterias anthropon). Rimmel believed that this was the original version of the Confession[20], but it is more probably a later compilation made from the Confession by someone else[21]. The Confession has overtones of Gennadius's quasi-Platonic philosophy; such as the statement that God cannot be interpreted.

During the third period, from his resignation to his death (1459-1468), he continued writing theological and polemical works. An encyclical letter to all Christians In defense of his resignation is unedited, as are a Dialogue with two Turks about the divinity of Christ, and a work about the Adoration of God. Jahn (Anecdota græca) has published a Dialogue between a Christian and a Jew and a collection of Prophecies about Christ gathered from the Old Testament. A treatise About our God, one in three, against Atheists and Polytheists (Patrologia Graeca, CLX, 667 sqq.) is chiefly directed against the theory that the world may have been formed by chance. Five books, About the Foreknowledge and Providence of God and a Treatise on the manhood of Christ, are also in Patrologia Graeca, CLX. Lastly, there are many homilies by Gennadius, most of which exist only in manuscript at Mount Athos (Codd. Athous, Paris, 1289-1298).

… I never considered myself great because of words, yet of those who master the words I think that they bring to cities a very special glory; and I think that cities gain profit not so much from anything else whatever, than from words. Because words are the only fathers of all good; personal and common.

… Words legislate and order, they award virtue and punish evil and as much as possible they adorn each person's manners bringing the conscience and life of the city to perfect goodness. Words judge and decide, it is their work to advise intelligently both keeping peace well and using weapons on time. They tame men, who are defined by some by the serenity of their nature, providing more of what they are said to be and making them social, and while they are not famous they despise the dangers of the body and they abstain alltogether from carnal pleasures. As for the arts, without which a city could not have been even established nor secured, who ignores the words being their spring? They find out the honors of the divinity, and after they are found they alone have the power to keep them, and the future bliss no one can gain if not by the words, because we know that even them who searched without words for this bliss, they layed down as exemplar in life those who rushed to it with words. Gennadius Scholarios II, Words are the father of all good


  1. (Diatriba de Georgiis in Fabricius-Harles Bibliotheca Græca, X, 760-786)
  2. Gedeon in Patriarchikoi Pinakes, Constantinople, 1890; others say it was in 1459
  3. Michalcescu, op. cit. infra, 13
  4. Michalcescu, op. cit., 13.
  5. Patrologia Graeca CLX, 320-773
  6. Simonides. Orth Hellen. theologikai graphai (London, 1859), 42-72
  7. Jahn. Anecdota græca theologica (Leipzig, 1893), 1-68.
  8. Printed in Hardouin, IX, and Patrologia Graeca, CLX, 386
  9. Edited first (in Latin) at Rome in 1577, and again in 1628.
  10. In Patrologia Graeca, CLIX it is attributed to Joseph of Methone.
  11. History of the Council of Florence. Ed. Creighton, (The Hague, 1660.)
  12. One in Simonides, loc. cit., the other in Patrologia Graeca, CLX, 665
  13. Ibid., 713
  14. Patrologia Graeca, CLX, 743 sqq.
  15. (Vienna, 1530)
  16. Frankfort, 1582.
  17. (Basle, 1584) reprinted in Patrologia Graeca, CLX 333, sqq.
  18. In his Monumenta fidei Eccl. Orient. (Jena, 1850), I, 1-10.
  19. Die Bekenntnisse und die wichtigsten Glaubenszeugnisse der griech.-orient. Kirche (Leipzig, 1904), 17-21.
  20. op. cit., 1-10
  21. Otto, op. cit.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Barbour, Hugh C. The Byzantine Thomism of Gennadios Scholarios and his translation of the commentary of Armandus de Bellovisu on the De ente et essentia of Thomas Aquinas. Studi tomistici, 53. Città del Vaticano: Libreria editrice vaticana, 1993.
  • Livanos, Christopher. Greek tradition and Latin influence in the work of George Scholarios: alone against all of Europe. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2006. ISBN 1593333447
  • Schaff, Philip, and Henry Wace. Nicene and post-Nicene Fathers. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994. ISBN 978-1565631168
  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
  • This article incorporates text from the public-domain Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913.

External links

All links retrieved April 18, 2024.

General Philosophy Sources


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