Another Look at the “Union Council” of Lyons

The Second Council of Lyons (1272-1274) failed to bring about union between East and West.

Recently, I came across an older article by Dr. Aristeides Papadakis entitled Ecumenism in the Thirteenth Century: The Byzantine Case, discussing the events surrounding the Second Council of Lyons — one of the failed union councils attempting to reconcile the Eastern and Western Churches held in 1272-1274. Dr. Papadakis, the author of two excellent studies of the period, The Christian East and the Rise of the Papacy and Crisis in Byzantium, succinctly explains how and why this so-called “union council” failed.

Dr. Papadakis discusses a letter from Patriarch Joseph 1 of Constantinople to the Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII, in which the Emperor was counseled:

All the same, peace between the churches could never be achieved unless the theological issues that had caused the division … were first discussed in a fully representative assembly of the Church. Specifically, [the Byzantine Emperor] could not be a party to a settlement, [Patriarch Joseph 1] adds, that did not first air out these difficulties in a free dialogue in the presence of all the churches.

After demonstrating how this “free dialogue in the presence of all the churches” did not occur at the Council, Dr. Papadakis concludes:

Union could not possibly be restricted to the protocol items — what was needed was a discussion of the substantive issues. I suspect, moreover, that the hostility and forced latinization of the thirteenth century created a religious landscape in which ecumenism could hardly prosper. More important, the two radically different ecclesiologies, spiritually and theologically so different, made union almost impossible.

I was given permission to share this article by Dr. Papadakis and it can be downloaded in PDF format here. I believe many from both Churches — Catholics and Orthodox — would consider the article an interesting read.

Of course, we’ve come a long way in the ecumenical dialogue from those days and hopefully the lessons we’ve learned from the failure of the Council of Lyons will ensure that any future possible union is solidly based from the result of “free dialogue in the presence of all the churches” that tackles the substantive issues, particularly their differing ecclesiologies, which divide East and West.

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