In 2003 appeared a truly remarkable volume “1453 Fall of Constantinople: Muhammad II Imposes the Orthodox Schism” (Editions Francois-Xavier de Guibert, Paris - contact www.fxdeguibert to see if English or French copies are still available).
Beautifully printed and containing splendid illustrations, this work is by a distinguished Greek Orthodox Lebanese art historian and expert on the Renaissance, Lina Murr Nehme who teaches at the Lebanese University in Beirut. Receiving a degree from the Beaux-Arts of Paris, this historian, painter, poet, and professor of Art and Architecture, has written extensively on the nature of the Renaissance and has focused in this volume on a major historical factor contributing to the maintenance of the Byzantine Greek Schism - one that has failed to receive sufficient attention from historians - namely, the role of Muslims in opposing and preventing the Reunion of the Churches from 1274 on, and who fostered the traitorous collaboration of key Byzantine leaders who preferred Islamic conquest of the City to the Reunion of the Byzantine Church with Rome.
She focuses especially on the period of the 15th century marked by the holding of the Reunion Council of Florence (1439) and the tragic Fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottoman Turks led by Sultan Muhammed II. During that critical period with immense consequences for both Western and Eastern Christendom, Professor Nehme presents another and much needed version of the Fall of Constantinople - one not only of sickening betrayal by cowardly Western rulers but also by Byzantine Christians who would deliver the Imperial city into the hands of Mohammed II and leave it drowned in torrents of blood. After the Fall of the city, it was, she noted, the propaganda of Byzantine anti-unionists and collaborators which proved effective in downplaying the actual pro-Union sentiments of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI and the people of the city. Such poisonous propaganda would leave centuries of Greek, Syrian and Arab Christians in the Middle East with a sad legacy of religious hostility to the Catholic Church.
The writing of her book was influenced by the ecumenical sympathies of Ignatius IV Hazim, the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Antioch:
“We are lucky to have a Patriarch who desires union and has the courage to say the truth.”
It was he who declared in Notre Dame in Paris, in June 1983:
“The disagreement between Orthodox and Catholics is not dogmatic... We are able to unite with Rome because we are stubbornly loyal to our roots”.
Thus encouraged, our author engaged in 7 years of research. She also received help from an Orthodox journalist hoping the book would promote Church unity. When published in French, English, and Arabic, she was gratified that her volume received favorable comment from Lebanese Orthodox who for some time have been sympathetic to the Union of the Churches. The true version of the Fall of the Imperial capital of Byzantium, she notes:
“was not written [by the inhabitants of the city] or if it was, it has not reached us, because the only Patriarchs accepted by the Ottomans were those who repressed the freedom of expression. Hence, the truth of what the eyewitnesses really felt, died with them. And out of ignorance, we Orthodox, have been repeating through the centuries the version the Sultans wished us to repeat:
The thrust of our author's detailed study is to show that the Council of Florence was, in fact, a true Ecumenical Council and remains valid whereas the leaders of the anti-unionists engaged in a shameful collaboration with Mohammed II, and are responsible for an illegal and invalid Schism.
Singled out for special opprobrium as one of the chief collaborators with the Muslim enemy is the Byzantine philosopher and theologian George Scholarios who was rewarded by the victorious Sultan Mohammed II's decree to become the Patriarch Gennadios of Constantinople. It is ironic that he originally supported ending the Schism in speeches at the Council of Florence, but on returning home he did a turn-around to replace Mark of Ephesus as the leader of the opposition to the Council of Florence. Also among those who betrayed the Christian people were the chief politicos in the Imperial capital, Demetrios Paleologos, a “man debauched, venal, unpopular, a collaborator with the Turks, and almost completely irreligious”, and the Grand-Duke Lucas Notarios who financed riots in the city to create an atmosphere of violence to intimidate the population and would become infamous for his “It would be better to see the turban of the Turks reigning in the centre of the City than the Latin mitre”.
Our author argued convincingly that:
"the time has come to see what really happened [in 1453] by confronting the numbers, the texts and the deeds and to rehabilitate the victims of Constantinople by exposing the true faces of their executioners and of those who betrayed them.”
In an interview on her book after publication, she asked a very grave question of her fellow Orthodox:
"Can Orthodoxy be represented by the leaders of the collaboration with the enemy? The chief collaborators were thus those who worked to replace Orthodoxy with Islam. Conversely, the leaders of the party in favor of the Union were also the leaders of the defense of Constantinople. I show with facts that are generally not noticed, that the Orthodox were in their majority favorable to the Union at the time. It is the contrary of what one generally reads in books, but so be it. As for me, I prove what I say.”
She noted a persistent pattern in historical writing:
"Traitors will accuse the others of treason in order to camouflage their own treason. And their accusations have endured, because history is written by the victors. It is not the fault of the Orthodox of today if, for four centuries, they have been prevented from seeing the truth of the betrayal that took place.”
She shows Mohammed II obsessed with capturing the City. He was “a perfect incarnation of the antique Greek ideal and of the humanist religion of the Italian Renaissance”. Highly cultured, he was a poet, and also a pederast and paedophile, unbelievably selfish and cruel, and “willing to lead to their deaths hundreds of thousands of Turkish or allied troops, and to massacre, humiliate, sell into slavery, torture and rape hundreds of thousands of Christian civilians whose only crime was not to have surrendered without fighting.”
Other historians have declared he was perhaps the most dangerous enemy Christendom ever had to face. Amassing a horde of over 300,000 troops and with the aid of bribed Christians, he built the largest cannons ever seen to assault the walls of the City inhabited by a population of 100,000, and defended by the Emperor Constantine XI with 7,000 troops (2,000 being foreigners: Catalans, Venetians, Genoese, and a few Muslim allies led by Prince Orkhan whom the Sultan hated and regarded as “the most dangerous man on earth because he was the only one who could challenge his legitimacy.”
In the midst of the incredible fighting that took place, the great mass of the people forgot past hatred and rancor, and prepared to die with their heroic and beloved Emperor who, as the fanatical Janissaries broke through the defenses, stripped himself of the Imperial insignia, and sword in hand, fought and died like a simple soldier. Thus ended New Rome under a Catholic Emperor who would receive popular acclaim to this day as a Saint by both Catholics and Orthodox. Professor Nehme vividly describes the slaughter and butchery following the fall of the City. Another modern writer, the famous Italian journalist,Oriana Fallaci (+2006) has given a similar account, one directed at the European and American “hypocrites who have become Pro-Islamic apologists”:
“[We have today] a Europe that weeps only for the Muslims, never for the Christians or Jews or the Buddhists or the Hindus; it would not be Politically Correct to know the details of the Fall of Constantinople. Its inhabitants who, at daybreak, while Mohammed II is shelling Theodosius's walls, take refuge in the cathedral of St. Sophia and here start to sing psalms, to invoke divine mercy. The patriarch who by candlelight celebrates his last Mass and in order to lessen the panic, thunders: 'Fear not, my brothers and sisters! Tomorrow you'll be in the Kingdom of Heaven and your names will survive till the end of time.' The children who cry in terror, their mothers who give them heart repeating, 'Hush,baby, hush! We die for our faith in Jesus Christ! We die for our Emperor Constantine XI, for our homeland!' The Ottoman troops who beating their drums step over the breaches in the fallen walls, overwhelm the Genoese and Venetian and Spanish defenders, hack them to death with scimitars, thus burst into the Cathedral and behead even new born babies.
Little remembered is that after the Fall of Constantinople, the forces of Mohammed II proceeded to invade Italy with their cries of “Rome, Rome”:
“The fate of Otranto was particularly terrible: of a population of 22,000 people, 12,000 died in the siege or in the assault. When 800 men were dragged away and told to become Muslims, they all refused. They were all killed. Terror reigned in Rome... Suddenly, on May 3, 1481. Mohammed II died, saving the Europeans from the fate they had condemned the Christians of the East. Italy only remained Christian because the Ottomans never found a genius like Mohammed II.”
Whatever the shortcomings of Western Kings and princes and rulers and their disunity highlighted in Professor Nehme's remarkable study, she does not fail to note the heroism of those warriors, bishops, and Popes, who spent themselves in trying to arouse the conscience of Europe to stem the Islamic tide of conquest.
“A lot”, she concluded, “can be reproached to the Popes of the Renaissance [but] the Popes who were the most slandered sovereigns in Europe, were also the only ones not to succumb to the crime of Scholarios by collaborating with the bloody-handed Sultan. Good or bad, they all took pity on the Christians of the East and continued to finance costly Crusades to return to them their capital.”
It is to the credit of the Popes that they tried desperately to convince myopic, greedy, and Macchiavellan princes not to abandon their Eastern Christian brethren. The following comment by our author may be said to conclude this brief review of a fascinating work:
“Only the true Christians of Europe, those who hated the antique gods, would have risked their lives for Constantinople, even, and especially if they were friends of the Pope. All the Saints of the West had been friends of both the Pope and Christians of the East, and to them apply Christ's words: 'By the love you have for one another, men will know you are My disciples.'”
In an anonymous "Song of Lamentation for the Fall of Constantinople in 1453" (translated by Richard Stoneman), one reads:
“God's will has made our city now into a Turkish city.
The above article was published in the October 13, 2011, issue of the National Catholic newspaper, The Wanderer.
James Likoudis is the author of "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church", the most comprehensive work in English dealing with Eastern Orthodox objections to Catholic doctrines. It is available from the author, P.O.Box 852, Montour Falls, NY 14865, for $27.95 (covers S&H). For other articles of interest visit: James Likoudis' Homepage