Medieval and Early Modern Greek Manuscripts : Treatise on the Eucharist by Cardinal Bessarion

Medieval and Early Modern Greek Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'>This manuscript, produced in the years around 1550, contains a <i>Treatise on the Eucharist by Cardinal Bessarion</i>. A cleric born in Trebizond, Bessarion became a leading Orthodox proponent of unification between the Eastern and Western Churches, and a central figure in the intellectual life of the Greek-speaking world in the mid-15th century. As Metropolitan of Nicaea, he formed part of the delegation which agreed Church Union at the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438-1439), and was appointed Cardinal shortly afterwards. Settling in Italy and becoming a major force in the papal Curia, Bessarion continued to campaign against Orthodox resistance to the Union, became the titular Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem and Constantinople, and was twice seriously considered for election to the papacy. He also acted as the most important patron of Greek scholars settled in the West and worked vigorously to preserve and propagate the Greek cultural heritage in the face of Ottoman conquest, organising the acquisition, copying and translation of manuscripts on a grand scale, as well as producing his own translations and contributions to philosophical and theological disputes.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The tract contained in this manuscript, composed in 1464, formed part of Bessarion's advocacy of the Catholic doctrines accepted in the Union of Florence. It focuses on the subject of transubstantiation, specifically on a dispute over which words of the liturgy constitute the essential act of consecration of the bread and wine. Though not a central bone of contention in the schism between East and West, this had been an area of dispute at the Council and remained a live issue. In the text Bessarion responds to arguments made by the leading Orthodox anti-unionists Markos Eugenikos and Nikolaos Kabasilas, and prompted the former to write a tract of his own refuting it.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The manuscript was written in an informal hand and in a rather disorganised fashion, with abrupt changes in the size of script. This haphazard production suggests that it was the work of a scholar rather than a professional scribe, and more likely to have been produced for personal use than for pay. Not many years after its creation, it was in the possession of the Hungarian humanist scholar Johannes Sambucus / János Zsámboky, who became official physician to the Hapsburg Emperor Maximilian II (1527-1576, r. 1564-1576), and was an exceptionally prolific collector of books. However, the presence of multiple annotating hands using only Greek suggests that the manuscript circulated initially in a Greek-speaking environment. Among the additions made to the manuscript were two brief excerpts copied onto blank folios at the end, including one from the main text.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>In 1568, in Vienna, Sambucus gave the manuscript to his friend, the German Protestant scholar Joachim Camerarius the Elder, as recorded by a note on <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(9);return false;'>f. 1r</a>. Camerarius, a professor at the University of Leipzig, was a leading Lutheran intellectual who had participated in the drafting of the Augsburg Confession of 1530, the defining Lutheran confession of faith. As an advocate of reconciliation with the Catholic Church, in 1568 he was invited by Maximilian II for discussions in Vienna, and it was during this visit that Camerarius must have received this manuscript. He is known to have visited Sambucus and perused his library on this occasion, and Sambucus lent him a number of Greek manuscripts in the years that followed, including a collection of Bessarion's letters (Gábor Álmasi, <i>The Uses of Humanism: Johannes Sambucus (1531-1584), Andreas Dudith (1553-1589), and the republic of letters in east-central Europe</i> (Leiden, 2009), p. 219).</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Dr Christopher Wright</p>


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