A Greek Thomist
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Matthew Briel examines, for the first time, the appropriation and modification of Thomas Aquinas’s understanding of providence by fifteenth-century Greek Orthodox theologian Gennadios Scholarios. Briel investigates the intersection of Aquinas’s theology, the legacy of Greek patristic and later theological traditions, and the use of Aristotle’s philosophy by Latin and Greek Christian thinkers in the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries. A Greek Thomist reconsiders our current understanding of later Byzantine theology by reconfiguring the construction of what constitutes “orthodoxy” within a pro- or anti-Western paradigm. The fruit of this appropriation of Aquinas enriches extant sources for historical and contemporary assessments of Orthodox theology. Moreover, Scholarios’s grafting of Thomas onto the later Greek theological tradition changes the account of grace and freedom in Thomistic moral theology. The particular kind of Thomism that Scholarios develops avoids the later vexing issues in the West of the de auxiliis controversy by replacing the Augustinian theology of grace with the highly developed Greek theological concept of synergy. A Greek Thomist is perfect for students and scholars of Greek Orthodoxy, Greek theological traditions, and the continued influence of Thomas Aquinas.



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Date de parution 15 avril 2020
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A Greek Thomist
Providence in Gennadios Scholarios
University of Notre Dame Press
Notre Dame, Indiana
University of Notre Dame Press
Notre Dame, Indiana 46556
Copyright © 2020 by the University of Notre Dame
All Rights Reserved
Published in the United States of America
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Library of Congress Control Number: 2020932820
ISBN: 978-0-268-10749-9 (Hardback)
ISBN: 978-0-268-10752-9 (WebPDF)
ISBN: 978-0-268-10751-2 (Epub)
This e-Book was converted from the original source file by a third-party vendor. Readers who notice any formatting, textual, or readability issues are encouraged to contact the publisher at undpress@nd.edu
Don Joseph Briel
January 28, 1947–February 15, 2018
A Note on Transliteration
Why Was Providence a Pressing Question?
God’s Wrath? Affliction and the Christian Understanding of Divine Governance
Why Was Providence a Pressing Question in 1458?
Apocalypse, Tyche , and Qismet
Predecessors to and Sources of Scholarios’s Theology of Providence
Greek Patristic and Byzantine Tradition on the Question of Providence
Thomas Aquinas

The Development of Scholarios’s Thought on Providence, 1432–72
The Challenge of Pletho and the Development of Scholarios’s Theology of Providence, 1432–58
Scholarios’s Study of Aquinas’s Metaphysics
Historical and Theological Analysis of First Tract on Providence
Epilogue: Influence and Significance
This book is an adaptation of a dissertation that I wrote under the direction of George Demacopoulos at Fordham University. Its completion would have been inconceivable without him. I took my first, faltering steps in the academic year 2011–12 in a tutorial with Franklin Harkins, who read my translations of Scholarios with care and drew my attention to Thomistic parallels. Work was supported by a number of grants from both the Graduate School and the Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University. I began work in earnest in the summer of 2012 while a summer fellow at Dumbarton Oaks and continued it with a grant from the University of Notre Dame’s Medieval Institute in the summer of 2013. A Fulbright grant for 2013–14 to work with Professor Claudia Rapp and others at the University of Vienna’s Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies gave me both leisure and a stimulating group of conversation partners that greatly strengthened the project. The Vatican Library graciously gave me access to some manuscripts of Scholarios and the Greek translations of Aquinas. While I was in Rome, Bernhard Blankenhorn, O.P., opened up the stacks of the Angelicum Library for me, thus complementing my research in the Vatican. John O’Callaghan and the University of Notre Dame’s Jacques Maritain Center provided a home and a setting that allowed me to study Aquinas with great rigor and breadth from 2014 to 2015. A grant from my new home, Assumption College, allowed me to put the finishing touches on the manuscript in the summer of 2018.
A number of friends helped along the way. Brian Dunkle, S.J., provided crucial help at several stages. Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Yost, Christiaan Kappes, John Demetracopoulos, Marie-Hélène Blanchet, Andrew Hofer, O.P., Marie-Hélène Congourdeau, Denis Searby, John Monfasani, Georgij “Yury” Avvakumov, Aristotle Papanikolaou, Alexander Riehle, Joseph Lienhard, S.J., Robert Davis, Ty Monroe, Judith Ryder, Frances Kianka, John Betz, Charles and Lauren Yost, and Mary-Ellen Briel all provided help at different points. Stephen Little of the University of Notre Dame Press expertly guided this project from rough proposal to final draft. Robert Banning carefully read the manuscript and corrected a number of misspellings, obiter dicta, and infelicities of style. My family, especially my father and the Cronins, supported me in numerous ways by providing me with a place to stay and financial support. Megan Briel provided support and encouragement in the final stages of the project. Mary Irene Briel inspired this work from beginning to end. This book is dedicated to the memory of my father, my first teacher, who made innumerable sacrifices for my education and read several drafts of this work.
Portions of this work appeared in a different form in my article “A Palamite Thomist? Gennadios Scholarios and the Reception of Thomas Aquinas in Byzantium,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 62, no. 3 (2018): 267–85. My thanks to the journal for permission to reproduce some of the text in this book.
Most, but not all, well-known Greek names are given in their Latin form. Less common names are given in their Greek form.
AB Assyriologische Bibliothek
ACO Acta Conciliorum Oecumenicorum . Edited by Eduard Schwartz. Berlin: de Gruyter, 1914–84.
Acta med-hist Adriat Acta medico-historica Adriatica
BF Byzantinische Forschungen
BZ Biblische Zeitschrift
CAG Corpus aristotelicum graecum
CCSG Corpus Christianorum: Series Graeca. Turnhout: Brepols, 1977–.
CCT Cuneiform Texts from Cappadocian Tablets in the British Museum
CFHB Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae
CSCO Corpus scriptorum christianorum orientalium
CSHB Corpus scriptorum historiae byzantinae
DictSpir Dictionnaire de spiritualité . Edited by Marcel Viller, F. Cavallera, J. de Guibert, et al. Paris: Beauchesne, 1937–94.
DOML Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library
DOP Dumbarton Oaks Papers
DTC Dictionnaire de théologie catholique. Edited by Eugène Mangenot and Émile Amann. Paris: Letouzey et Ané, 1899–1950.
EEBS Ἐπετηρὶς ἑταιρείας Βυζαντινῶν σπουδῶν

ÉO Échos d’Orient
GCS Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller
GRBS Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies
JÖB Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinistik
LSJ Liddell, Henry George, and Robert Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon . With revisions by Henry Stuart Jones and Roderick McKenzie and a supplement by P. G. W. Glare and A. A. Thompson. Oxford: Clarendon, 1996.
MEG Medioevo Greco
Miscell. G. Mercati Miscellanea Giovanni Mercati
OC Œuvres Complètes de Georges Scholarios. 8 vols. 1928–36.
OCP Orientalia Christiana Periodica
OCT Oxford Classical Texts (from Oxford University Press)
ODB The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium . Edited by Alexander Kazhdan, Alice-Mary Talbot, Anthony Cutler, Timothy E. Gregory, and Nancy P. Ševčenko. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
PG Patrologia graeca. Edited by Jacques-Paul Migne. 162 vols. Paris, 1857–86.
PL Patrologia latina. Edited by Jacques-Paul Migne. 214 vols. Paris, 1844–64.
PLP Prosopographisches Lexikon der Palaiologenzeit. Edited by Erich Trapp, Rainer Walther, and Christian Gastgeber. Vienna: Verlag der österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaft, 1976–96.
PP Palaiologeia kai Peloponnesiaka [ Παλαιολόγεια καὶ Πελοποννησιακά ]. By Spyros Lampros. 4 vols. Athens: 1912–30.
QD Quaestiones et dubia
RÉB Revue des études byzantines
SC Sources chrétiennes. Paris: Cerf, 1943–.
SCG Summa contra gentiles
ST Summa theologiae
SVTQ St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly
TAPA Transactions of the American Philological Association

TDNT Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Edited by Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich. Translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley. 10 vols. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–76.
ZRVI Zbornik Radova Vizantološkog Instituta
Old Testament
Gn Genesis
Ex Exodus
2 Chr 2 Chronicles
Neh Nehemiah
Ps(s) Psalm(s)
Eccl Ecclesiastes
Is Isaiah
Jer Jeremiah
Ezek Ezekiel
Dn Daniel
Hos Hosea
Joel Joel
Zep Zephaniah
New Testament
Mt Matthew
Jn John
Rom Romans
1 Cor 1 Corinthians
2 Cor 2 Corinthians
Eph Ephesians
Col Colossians
Hb Hebrews
2 Pet 2 Peter
1 Jn 1 John
Rv Revelation
We usually begin the study of the history of “modern” Hellenism with the Fall of Constantinople (1453), the final act in the collapse of what we call “Byzantine” Hellenism. . . . [However,] from the point of view of the development of Greek culture . . . the starting-point of the “modern” period is not 1453 but 1354, when Demetrios Kydones . . . translated into Greek the Summa contra Gentiles of Thomas Aquinas.
—Christos Yannaras, Orthodoxy and the West: Hellenic Self-Identity in the Modern Age
Gennadios Scholarios, perhaps the greatest Orthodox theologian of his generation, seems to have died peacefully in the book-rich monastery of St. John the Forerunner, fifty miles northeast of Thessaloniki, in 1472. This area had been under Turkish control for nearly a century by the time he died. Scholarios was in many ways a liminal figure. Faithfully Orthodox, he was an avid reader of the Latin Thomas Aquinas. Born in the center of Byzantium, Constantinople, around 1400, Scholarios came to maturity during a period of artistic and intellectual brilliance, a period all the more luminous in its intellectual flourishing when contrasted with the accelerating decline of the empire.
However, after 1453 Constantinople was conquered and many Eastern Orthodox nations wished to claim its august legacy. Moscow had claimed unofficially the title of Third Rome by the reign of Vasilii III (r. 1505–33). This claim was based in large part upon the lineage of his mother, Sophia Palaiologina, niece of the last emperor of the Romans, Constantine XI, who died without issue while defending Constantinople from the Turks.
It is not only significant that the idea of Rome was claimed by Moscow in the fifteenth century. There is a parallel in Moscow to Scholarios’s use of Aquinas. Sophia arrived in Moscow in the year of Scholarios’s death and married Grand Duke Ivan III, who was most certainly interested in empire building. That same year Ivan III commissioned the local architects Kryvtsov and Myshkin to build a new Church of the Dormition, part of a larger plan for the reconstruction of the Kremlin. 1 This church is recognized today across the world as a symbol of Russia and of pre-1917 Russian Orthodoxy in particular. It is in this church that all the Russian tsars between 1547 and 1917 were crowned and most Moscow patriarchs were buried. 2 The construction of the new church, however, was not a simple feat. Indeed, two years after construction began, the entire edifice collapsed. The walls were not strong enough to support the ambitious dome.
Frustrated but not deterred, in 1475 Ivan sacked his local architects and hired the Bolognese architect and engineer Aristotele Fioravanti. He told Fioravanti that the building must be stable and that it must be modeled after the twelfth-century Church of the Dormition in Vladimir-Suzdal, the cradle of the Grand Duchy of Moscow. Fioravanti introduced several internal structural modifications that had been recently developed in Italy. In addition to laying a much deeper foundation and driving oaks into that foundation for stability, he also designed lightweight but hardened bricks for construction and employed iron tie-rods for the vaults. 3 Finally, he used groin vaults and transverse arches to support the massive dome, giving the interior a light and airy feel. 4 This was to be a model for many other churches in Russia.
The Church of the Dormition in Moscow, then, is entirely traditional in its appearance and its effect on the worshiping community yet employs new Italian technology in order to support its lofty aspirations. It can be profitably contrasted with a church built nearly four hundred years later, St. Petersburg’s nineteenth-century St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the world’s largest Orthodox church. This neoclassical building’s exterior was influenced by Andrea Palladio’s Villa Rotonda. Its interior decoration, much influenced by Italian Renaissance and Baroque church interiors, fits well in Peter the Great’s westernized city. The architect, August Montferrand, clearly imported Roman ecclesial architecture to Russia. When in St. Isaac’s, one feels as if one were in France rather than Russia.
Moscow’s traditional Church of the Dormition and St. Petersburg’s Cathedral of St. Isaac illustrate two ways of using Western, especially Latin Catholic, forms in the Orthodox Church. The earlier project seems a clear instance of active appropriation or, in John Henry Newman’s terms, assimilation: “Whatever has life is characterized by growth, so that in no respect to grow is to cease to live. It grows by taking into its own substance external materials ; and this absorption or assimilation is completed when the materials appropriated come to belong to it or enter into its unity .” 5 Newman compares Christianity to a particular kind of idea that has its existence and lives in individual minds and in the mind of the church and yet greatly stimulates human beings to deeper thought and action. It does this in part by drawing on the imagination. Newman says of the power of an idea’s development and assimilation:
Thus, a power of development is a proof of life, not only in its essay, but especially in its success. . . . A living idea becomes many, remains many, yet remains one.
. . . The idea never was that throve and lasted, yet, like mathematical truth, incorporated nothing from external sources. So far from the fact of such incorporation implying corruption, as is sometimes supposed, development is a process of incorporation. 6
The goals of the builder of the Dormition Cathedral were clear: Ivan wished to continue on a larger scale the traditional Russian ecclesial form. However, to continue this tradition he used Western technologies in order to support his project. St. Isaac’s, on the other hand, is clearly an instance of the wholesale application of Western forms to Russian Orthodox ecclesial architecture.
Indeed, St. Isaac’s Cathedral mimics Western forms and in this way is a parallel to the Western captivity of Orthodox theology described by Georges Florovsky in which the forms—and, to a certain degree, substance—of Latin scholastic theology were incorporated into Orthodox theology. However, this incorporation did not change the Latin forms and substance into Orthodox theology but rather, like a virus, infected Orthodox theology or, in Florovsky’s image, made Orthodox theology a prisoner of the West. The problem with this captivity is that it is a denial of Russian Orthodoxy’s own spiritual nature: “the ages of Russian Westernism which was a departure and even a flight to the West, a denial of Russia.” 7
Christos Yannaras carries forward Florovsky’s insight and claims, in the epigraph to this chapter, that it was in particular the adoption of Aquinas that brought about the modern period in Orthodox theology, a period defined by Orthodoxy’s enthrallment to the West. Gennadios Scholarios, we shall see, played a key role in weaving Aquinas more tightly into the fabric of Greek thought than had been accomplished by Aquinas’s translators in the fourteenth century.
But is this necessarily a kind of captivity to the modern West or a mimicking, in the mode of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, of Western forms? A betrayal of the Orthodox patrimony? When an Orthodox theologian draws on Aquinas, must the result be a kind of hybrid of Eastern and Western thought? That may well happen, but it need not happen. In the case of Scholarios’s use of Aquinas, as in Ivan’s use of Fioravanti, we do not have a tertium quid, neither Catholic nor Orthodox. Rather, the result is a healthy development of the Orthodox theological tradition. The dynamic is better explained by Newman’s model of assimilation.
Indeed, like the Cathedral of the Dormition, Scholarios’s theology is faithfully Orthodox. But like Ivan, Scholarios uses some of the technical insights of an Italian specialist in order to make his Orthodox edifice larger or more comprehensive than had ever been possible using the less developed traditional Greek Christian philosophical resources. 8 In particular, Scholarios uses Aquinas (as well as Scotus) in order to effect a more comprehensive Orthodox theology that makes a substantial advance in the Orthodox tradition concerning providence. Rather than a corruption of the Orthodox tradition, Scholarios’s use of Aquinas is, in Newmanian terms, a sign of that tradition’s inherent vigor.
Why has such an advance in the Orthodox theological tradition been overlooked until now? Although a critical edition of Scholarios’s texts on the question of the predetermination of death was published in 1928, they have thus far received little scholarly attention, apart from undefended claims that the texts reflect the summit of Greek theological reflection on the question of providence. 9 Even though manuscript evidence indicates that these tracts were widely read from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries, 10 there are no modern translations of Scholarios’s treatises, and the longest historical treatment they have received is a seven-page section of a dissertation from 1937. 11 How can one explain this modern neglect? The answer may lie in the biographies of Scholarios himself and in the editor of his works, Martin Jugie.
Scholarios (ca. 1400–1472), then a layman, ran a school of philosophy in Constantinople in the 1420s and 1430s. 12 He was especially interested in and devoted to Aristotle and, in the course of his studies, came to admire Thomas Aquinas, whose texts, translated into Greek in the 1350s, circulated among the scholars of Constantinople for the last century of its existence as a Christian capital. 13 At the Council of Florence in 1439, Scholarios argued strongly for union with the Latin West. However, after returning to the city, he changed his mind for reasons that remain unclear and took up the mantle of the anti-unionist party from Mark of Ephesos while the latter was on his deathbed.
And so from 1445 until 1453, Scholarios, out of favor with the prounion imperial court, retired to a monastery on the edge of the city and wrote pamphlets, including one in demotic Greek, against the union while at the same time intensively studying the theology of Aquinas. Meanwhile, Mehmed II (“the Conqueror”) took over the Byzantine territory surrounding the Sea of Marmara and made preparations for attacking Constantinople. As Mehmed built up his massive Rumeli Hisari (the fortified operations base for his attack) within the sight of the Queen of Cities, Scholarios and the members of his synaxis continued their campaign against union with Rome. 14
Constantinople fell on May 29, 1453, and Scholarios was enslaved. Mehmed released him from slavery and ordered that he be consecrated bishop and made patriarch of Constantinople. More the scholar than the statesman, he was on the patriarchal throne for the next two years and then retired to the Monastery of the Prodromos outside of Thessaloniki, where he wrote his first tract on providence, which draws deeply from Aquinas’s theology of providence.
While Scholarios is much revered by the Orthodox, 15 his reputation now rests more on his popular legacy as an opponent of union with Rome than on any appreciation of his theological contribution. Indeed, he is seen to be an opponent of the West tout court . This is ironic because one quarter of his surviving works are commentaries on Thomas Aquinas written after he began to oppose union with Rome, a fact of which any serious engagement with Scholarios’s thought must be cognizant. 16 In other words, in the popular mind he became more Orthodox—that is, anti-Western—precisely when he was becoming more theologically influenced by the Angelic Doctor.
But this very assumption, that to be Orthodox is to be anti-Western, is itself a twentieth-century creation, one of whose remote causes is Martin Jugie. An infamous entry by Jugie on the fourteenth-century Palamite Controversy in the Dictionnaire de théologie catholique 17 in 1932 was one of the main catalysts for Vladimir Lossky’s 1944 The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church , whose impact on twentieth-century Orthodox self-consciousness was immense. Among other things, Lossky’s book defends Palamas and his teaching on the distinction between the essence and energies of God. Lossky claims that Palamas’s opponents in the fourteenth-century dispute were strongly influenced by Aristotle and even quote the Greek translation of Aquinas’s Summa theologiae . 18 The true Orthodox of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, it is assumed by Lossky, must be free of any Western contamination. In the second chapter of his 2012 monograph, Marcus Plested describes how this scholarly presupposition was the foundation for the hegemonic narrative of the Orthodox theological tradition in the second half of the twentieth century. In fact, Orthodoxy begins to be defined simply negatively as non-Western, in opposition to Augustine and especially Aquinas.
When one turns to the past in the work of historical theology with this vision of Orthodoxy, one either flattens out subtle nuances by overlooking the possibility of Western influence or, in the cases where the influence is very strong, purposefully excludes authors and texts from consideration as Orthodox theologians. This is the main cause for overlooking the man whom John Meyendorff called an “intellectual enigma awaiting modern scholarly investigation.” 19
The story is that of an advance in the Greek theological tradition. This advance has been assimilated fully by the Greek theological tradition to such an extent that the very fact of its advance has been overlooked. 20 The story is an examination of a significant and influential development of Greek Orthodox theology on the question of providence that occurred in Scholarios’s creative reception of Aquinas. It is significant because it marks an important achievement: to the question, Is God omnipotent or are human beings free?, Scholarios answers “yes” rather than choosing either of the alternatives. It is influential in that this theology was received and accepted by leading theologians for five hundred years after it was written.
It is the argument of this book that a particular use of Western scholastic thought, Gennadios Scholarios’s use of Thomas Aquinas’s theology of providence, is in fact more like the instance of the Kremlin’s Church of the Dormition than like St. Petersburg’s St. Isaac’s Cathedral. Specifically, Scholarios’s presentation of this theology of providence is in the traditional manner and in continuity with the previous Orthodox theological traditions. Like Ivan III, however, Scholarios faced a problem. New times called for new articulations of the same Orthodox truth. Scholarios in particular had to respond to intellectual difficulties and to a particular philosophical challenge that had not been faced before, just as the Muscovite architects had to continue the same architectural tradition but with the new requirements of grandeur to match Grand Duke Ivan’s ambitions for his realm.
Scholarios used and transformed Thomas’s ideas on the question of the predetermination of death in a way that allowed him to remain fully in accord with the Greek theological tradition as he inherited it. Thomas provided Scholarios with technical scholastic distinctions, precisions of the Greek patristic tradition, especially John Damascene, that allowed him to articulate a coherent account of the antinomies of divine foreknowledge and human freedom that had previously remained in tension in the Greek theological tradition.
In addition to providing a constructive contribution to the Greek theological tradition, Scholarios also evinces a powerful and heretofore unknown reception of Aquinas’s thought on the issue of nature and grace. The particular kind of Thomism he develops avoids the later vexing issues in the West of the de auxiliis controversy by rejecting the hyper-Augustinian theology of grace and replacing it with the Greek theological concept of synergy. In short, Scholarios’s use of Aquinas in his first tract on providence provides a powerful testimony to the ecumenical potential of bringing Greek and Latin theologians into conversation with one another.
The first tract on providence, which has not been translated, is complex, and Scholarios’s achievement of a cogent account for the predetermination of death deserves an extended analysis. 21 In bringing light to this text I also draw attention to a theological debate that was of great concern to medieval Greek Christians but has been largely ignored by modern scholars. As a work of intellectual history, this monograph illuminates both an aspect of Byzantine mentality and an important development of the Greek theological tradition.
In addition to adding to our understanding of the medieval Greek theological tradition, this book modifies our understanding of that tradition, for now it is not a hermetically sealed museum piece, but rather a living organism open to new insights. I argue, then, that to the extent that Orthodox doctrine is true and living, it must have the assimilative power spoken of by Newman:
Since religious systems, true and false, have one and the same great and comprehensive subject-matter, they necessarily interfere with one another as rivals, both in those points in which they agree together, and in those in which they differ. That Christianity on its rise was in these circumstances of competition and controversy, is sufficiently evident. . . . It was surrounded by rites, sects and philosophies, which contemplated the same questions, sometimes advocated the same truths, and in no slight degree wore the same external appearance. It could not stand still, it could not take its own way, and let them take theirs: they came across its path, and a conflict was inevitable. The very nature of a true philosophy relatively to other systems is to be polemical, eclectic, unitive: Christianity was polemical; it could not but be eclectic; but was it also unitive? Had it the power, keeping its own identity, of absorbing its antagonists, as Aaron’s rod, according to St. Jerome’s illustration, devoured the rods of the sorcerers of Egypt? Did it incorporate them into itself, or was it dissolved into them? Did it assimilate them into its own substance, or, keeping its name, was it simply infected by them? In a word, were its developments faithful or corrupt? 22
Finally, by examining the constructive use of Aquinas by a Greek Orthodox author and the incorporation of Latin Catholic theology into the Greek Orthodox theological tradition, this book will also examine a productive cultural and ecclesial translation of Aquinas. In Scholarios’s analysis of the good human act, which builds upon Thomistic conceptions of the human being as the instrumental cause, one finds a new kind of Thomism that places greater emphasis on the human contribution in any good moral act and in the very reception of grace to do that act.
Like Ivan, Scholarios had recourse to an Italian master for his technical prowess: Scholarios went to Thomas Aquinas for his knowledge of Aristotle’s philosophy and his mastery of dogmatics, whereas Ivan went to Aristotele Fioravanti for his mastery of engineering. Like Ivan’s Church of the Dormition, the product of Scholarios’s effort would have an enormous impact on later ecclesial culture. This book attempts to trace its development in three stages. In the first two chapters I examine the historical pressures that led Scholarios and his contemporaries to think with greater intensity about the question of divine providence than anyone had before. In the second section, chapters 3 and 4, I briefly describe the theological resources that Scholarios had at hand in order to address the problem of his day. In the third stage, chapters 5–7, I examine the particular challenge that pressed on Scholarios and how he came to a deep understanding and active appropriation of Thomas Aquinas to solve that problem.
Why Was Providence a Pressing Question?

NO ONE THINKS IN A VACUUM. THE GREATEST ADVANCES IN an intellectual tradition result in large part from pressure to answer a question. There would be no Athanasius without Arius. Modern notions of human rights and just war stem from Francisco de Vitoria’s criticism of Spanish colonial practices in the New World. 1 And the development of the Orthodox theological tradition on the question of providence that occurred in the fifteenth century was in large part a response to the Byzantines’ collective experience of affliction in the last century of their free existence.
Although that last century has been well documented and analyses of the sense of decline are ubiquitous, in the next two chapters I examine the collective experience of the Byzantines from 1348 to 1466. I draw upon a variety of both known and obscure texts that illuminate how these events were felt both by the population in general and especially by the literati. I do this because it is important to understand what kinds of pressures Scholarios experienced that forced him to grapple with the perennial problems of divine omnipotence, human freedom, and the existence of evil. These social existential pressures led to an intellectual dilemma, a problem that Scholarios confronted in a new situation; and because of that new social situation and the existential demands on him and his community, he had recourse to new intellectual resources—the Latin theology of the West and of Thomas Aquinas in particular—in order to address the question of whether God guides the world, and if so, how.
It will become clear in the course of these two chapters that the confluence of certain events, briefly sketched above, and, more importantly, the Byzantines’ reactions to them indicate that the community as a whole was undergoing a particular experience—affliction. After defining this religious category I identify a convergence of probabilities that together lead me to conclude that the Byzantines of the fifteenth century did indeed endure affliction. It is this sense of affliction that drove the Byzantines to ask: Where is God in the midst of our destruction? How does God care for us? Is he involved in all of this? Or, in their own idiom from the psalms, “How long, O Lord, will you look on?” “Why have you cast me off? Why must I walk about mournfully because of the oppression of the enemy?” “Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not cast us off forever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?” Or, most ominously: “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?” 2
The concept of affliction can help us better understand how it is that, for instance, an anonymous author (possibly John Chortasmenos) wrote about the miraculous intercession of the Theotokos in saving Constantinople in 1402. He tries to convey traditional confidence in the divine safety of the Queen of Cities; but unlike earlier thanksgivings for delivery from enemies, his expresses a note of anxiety.
It was necessary that he who had given his blood as a ransom for us not abandon the acme of his legacy. For she was in danger of becoming subject to the devil and completely destroyed unless some aid would be given to this city which surpasses all other cities, the eye of the universe, the lamp of religion, virtue’s workshop where his holy and venerable name is invoked; [she was in danger of ] being betrayed to the hands of her enemies, that is, into the hands of her lawless and apostate enemies and to a king who is more wicked than any other man in the universe. 3
Although the old exceptionalism of Constantinople and the empire is still being claimed, it begins to ring hollow as the Turks come back again and again in their grand scheme to take the city, the “Red Apple” of Turkish desire for world conquest.
But it was not just the sight of their city surrounded by Turkish fleets and soldiers for eight years (1394–1402) that contributed to the psychological pressure experienced by the Byzantines in the fifteenth century. A cascade of experiences affected their mentality. In fact, the Romans were undergoing affliction (θλῖψις). Let me here define what I mean by affliction by drawing on its use in classical texts and the biblical canon, as well as the modern mystic philosopher Simone Weil, who was so deeply influenced by Greek thought (especially Homer’s Iliad ). 4
The verb from which θλῖψις is drawn, θλίβω, means, among other things, “to press,” “squash,” “hem in,” “crush.” Figuratively, this meant “to afflict” and was used by Epictetus to refer to the afflictions of life that must be overcome by the philosopher. The Septuagint’s use of θλῖψις is especially illuminating for the Byzantine experience of the fifteenth century. Psalm 106 describes wandering in the desert (v. 6), imprisonment (v. 13), illness (v. 19), and shipwreck (v. 28) as afflictions. One would think that the theological development of this idea in the New Testament, especially in Paul’s epistles, would also illumine the Byzantine experience in the fifteenth century, but in fact it does not. Remarkably, the Byzantine experience of affliction in the fifteenth century is closer to the Old Testament account of affliction than to the New Testament’s. Whereas Paul’s ecclesiology understands afflictions as the afflictions of Christ in which the church, as Christ’s body, participates, the pastors of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries see the various disasters that are catalogued below as a παιδεία, a chastisement in the idiom of the Septuagint. 5
Of course, in both the Old and the New Testaments, there is also a sense of a great affliction that is to come at the end of time (Dn 12:1; Hb 3:16; Zep 1:15 (= Sophonias LXX); Rv 3:10; 7:14). The Byzantines, including Scholarios, certainly saw their current afflictions as related to this great day of affliction to come. Indeed, as with the early Christians, this day of affliction has already, in a sense, begun. That is, all Christians live to a certain extent in apocalyptic times. Although there is much evidence for this apocalyptic sense of affliction, one does not find much evidence that the Byzantines of the fifteenth century sensed that their tribulation was a redemptive washing in the blood of the lamb as it was in Revelation 7:14. Here again, the New Testament teaching on the meaning of affliction and its adaptation of the Old Testament’s teaching on affliction is not very much in evidence in the last century of Byzantium.
Instead, the Old Testament is very much foregrounded. There was a great anxiety that God had forgotten this Christian nation (Hos 4:6). As in the Old Testament, fifteenth-century Byzantines experienced their sufferings as punishment for their sins, for breaking their covenant with God. Experiences such as the four hundred years in Egypt and the Babylonian exile threatened the very existence of the people of Israel in the Old Testament, and it was only because of God’s intervention that they were able to retain their identity as a people in a humanly impossible situation. 6 Would Byzantium and Eastern Orthodox Christianity survive in any meaningful way if Constantinople fell?
This, of course, is the situation of the Byzantines after 1453, when they were no longer an independent kingdom. 7 And yet, these various theological descriptions of affliction do not seem sufficient to explain the catastrophe of 1453, nor do they perfectly correspond to the experience of those who lived through it except, perhaps, for a few heroic saints. Although the Byzantines had all of these intellectual and theological resources at hand, only some of them were used—and even then not nearly by all. Some indeed did lose their faith in the Christian God. By incorporating Simone Weil’s account of affliction into that of the Greek philosophical and theological tradition one can perhaps better understand that experience of the Romans in the last century of their state’s existence and the first two decades of their existence as former Romans, as Ottoman Dhimmi, a protected but heavily taxed group of noncitizens, under the Ottomans.
Weil’s essay describes the following characteristics of affliction, malheur , which I argue the Byzantines experienced in the fifteenth century. 8 Primarily, affliction is a state of the soul. We see affliction in the soul of the Byzantines as they struggle to understand why they are undergoing so many disasters. According to Weil, however, this interior element depends upon a physical element. 9 The catalogue of natural disasters, in addition to the threatening Turks, provides this for the Byzantines. This affliction is something done to a person; it cannot be chosen or avoided: “The man to whom such a thing occurs has no part in the operation. He quivers like a butterfly pinned alive to a tray.” 10 We see here how one who is afflicted becomes, in a sense, less than human: “But I am a worm and no man.” 11 Furthermore, there must be an element of social degradation, something the Byzantines experienced as their great patria was slowly lost to the Turks and as their divine emperor Manuel II Palaiologos paid tribute to Turkish sultans, was commanded to assist the sultans personally in their wars, and went begging throughout Western Europe for aid, only to be placed in prison in Venice when he could not pay his debts. The nadir in the community’s sense of self, perhaps, was reached at the Council of Florence in 1439 when they submitted to papal primacy with the hope that their brothers in Christ would deliver them from the Turkish threat.
The most important contribution of Weil’s sketch of affliction, however, is her understanding that affliction involves the experience of being abandoned by God. “Affliction causes God to be absent for a time, more absent than a dead man, more absent than light in the utter darkness of a cell. A kind of horror submerges the whole soul. During this absence there is nothing to love. . . . The soul has to go on loving in the void, or at least to go on wanting to love, though it may be only with an infinitesimal part of itself. . . . But if the soul stops loving it falls, even in this life, into something which is almost equivalent to hell.” 12
This experience of affliction was all the more keenly felt since the Byzantines’ sense of themselves had earlier been so elevated. In order to understand better the dynamics of the last century of Byzantium and the great affliction that the Eastern Romans underwent during that century, it is helpful to contrast the attitudes revealed in various texts with early and middle Byzantine official imperial rhetoric on the special purpose of the emperor and God’s guidance of the affairs of the Roman state. 13 The traditional imperial ideology of God’s acting through the person of the emperor to bless the eternal Roman state is summed up well in the prologue to Justinian’s seventh edict, written in 542: “Now, just as the power of virtue is clearly seen in difficult circumstances, so in the same way royal providence and guidance are made clear in difficult circumstances of the subjects. Indeed, while we desire that no obstacle obstruct our city, nevertheless if the instability of human affairs or the motion of the divine spirit were to cause [ἐνσκήπτει- instat ] evil for human beings, the correction [παιδεία- castigatio ] brought on by heavenly love of man becomes an occasion of royal providence and love of man.” 14
Although it must be admitted that this justification of the right of an emperor to inflict suffering on his people seems unjust if not sadistic, we can glean from Justinian’s rhetoric the idea that the emperor’s authority, like God’s, is absolute. 15 This confidence in God’s action through the emperor was matched by confidence in the Roman state during times of prosperity, such as that enjoyed under the Komneni (1081–1185), when Konstantinos Manasses wrote his popular chronicle in fifteen-syllable (political) verse. At one point he contrasts present-day New Rome (Constantinople) with the old Rome at the time of its sack in 455: “And these things happened to the old Rome. But our [Rome] flourishes, grows, rules, is renewed, grows almost to perfection, indeed she rules almost everything.” 16 There is an important shift in the Palaiologan period (1261–1453). For instance, the statesman Theodore Metochites (1270–1332) manifests an understanding of Rome that is quite similar to that provided by Eusebios in his Praeparatio evangelica . 17 However, for Metochites, Rome’s prosperity for the sake of the gospel has vanished. Scholarios, too, betrays a Eusebian vision of the role of New Rome in a 1456 explanation of Christian doctrine. 18 For both these authors, however, this central role for New Rome was most definitely in the past.
By the middle of the fourteenth century it was clear that Byzantium’s glory was deeply tarnished. The Byzantine Empire was reduced to Constantinople, its suburbs, and part of the Peloponnese. These two pieces of earth were separated by over seven hundred miles of largely enemy waters. So it was that the historian Doukas (ca. 1400–after 1462) could report that the Sultan Bayazid (1354–1403) threatened Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos (1350–1425): “If you do not wish to do and grant all that I command you, then shut the gates of the City and reign within. Everything outside the City is mine.” 19 It was clear that Constantinople itself was in grave danger and that the source of that danger was not just the Turks. The city had been struck by several earthquakes, and in 1346 the roof of the Hagia Sophia collapsed, which was interpreted by Alexios Makrembolites as a sign that God had abandoned the city. 20 At the same time the second Palaiologan Civil War was greatly weakening morale and emptying the state coffers. Constantinople may have been otherwise capable of defending itself from the massive land grabs of the Turks in the late fourteenth century had it not been for the Black Plague, which struck for the first, but not last, time in Byzantium in 1348. In July 1420 a massive earthquake struck Thessaloniki. 21 That same summer Constantinople (where Gennadios Scholarios lived) was besieged by the Turks, who, for the first time, brought cannons to bear on the city walls. It must have been a terrifying sound. The popular consensus was that the city was saved only by the intervention of the Theotokos. 22 The next year Thessaloniki gave up hope of being able to defend itself from the Turks and so entrusted itself to the Venetians, the one-time Byzantine vassals, more recently Byzantine oppressors, and now their only hope for salvation from their Muslim enemies. Seven years later Thessaloniki fell to the Turks.
By examining these experiences we will see clearly that the Byzantines did indeed feel themselves abandoned by God during the last century of their existence as Romans and into the first decades as Dhimmi. This experience of affliction, examined in the first chapter, culminated in the fall of the city, a calamity that seemed “to be the greatest that ever took place throughout the world in its excess of suffering, similar to the fall of Troy.” 23 This affliction led to four related strands of thought in the last century of Byzantium that will be examined in chapter 2. One of those four strands, apocalypticism, was a traditional Christian attempt to understand God’s actions in a period of suffering. The second was the claim that God favored the Turks and their religion over the Byzantine Christians. The other two strands of thought, tyche and qismet , were heterodox doctrines that betray an abandonment of the Christian doctrine of divine providence. It is especially the popularity of the idea of fate, a mixture of the last two ideas, which seems to have spurred Scholarios to think through more fully the Christian doctrine of providence.
God’s Wrath?
Affliction and the Christian Understanding of Divine Governance
As Weil indicates, the affliction that leads to a sense of having been abandoned by God must have an element of physical pain. Many Byzantines did feel abandoned by God and so were drawn to accounts of how God acts in the world other than the account provided by the doctrine of providence as they had received it from the Greek fathers; their recourse to these alternatives is the subject of chapter 2. In order to understand why the Byzantines felt abandoned by God and so had recourse to those four strands of thought, we must first look at the physical dimension of their affliction.
Our knowledge of most of the disasters of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries comes from contemporary histories written by those who were undergoing this great pressure. While one might object that the Byzantines were apt to exaggerate the various events that will be discussed in this chapter, this does not overturn the basic thesis of this chapter: they perceived themselves as experiencing disasters of greater diversity and intensity than their forebears of previous centuries did. Whether in fact the Byzantines suffered greater natural disasters than they had in previous centuries is not important for understanding their collective emotional state. What is important is that, as their empire was dying, they recorded more natural disasters and frequently interpreted them as signs from God. 1

Earthquakes were one of the most dramatic of these natural occurrences. Byzantines did not normally take earthquakes as chance events, or seismic activities due merely to gas pressures, as Aristotle had explained. 2 Rather, the much more common explanation is that of Cosmas Indikopleustes (fl. 550), who argues against the later Aristotelians: “If one considers another of their sophisms, I mean about the earth being inflated and the occurrence of earthquakes, so that whenever the wind is trapped, [it] therefore violently shakes the earth, one is stupefied by their deceit and the contradiction of their opinions.” 3 Instead, Cosmas proclaims that earthquakes are produced by the order of God. Even for a theologian such as Anastasios of Sinai, who believed that God left nature to act according to its own rules, earthquakes were the exception to this rule. 4 They are clear indications of God’s disruption of the usual course of nature. 5
The reason for this disturbance in the course of nature was explained in two main ways in the Byzantine philosophical and theological tradition. The first, with roots in Irenaeus, is that God uses such disruptions to teach us and especially to correct us. 6 As Basil the Great writes: “Therefore God removes evil, and evil is not from God, since likewise the physician removes illness but does not produce it in the body. But razings of cities, earthquakes and floods, and destruction of armies, and shipwreck, and every occasion when many people are killed either by earth, or by sea, or by air, or fire, or by whatever cause it befalls, these happen for the correction of the survivors, as collective wickedness is corrected by a public flogging from God.” 7 Romanos the Melodist reflects at greater length on God’s use of earthquakes to train his children in his hymn on earthquakes and fires. 8 Writing during the season of Lent just after the Nika riots in Constantinople, Romanos celebrates both God and Justinian: that is, the creators, respectively, of the cosmos and the new Hagia Sophia, then under construction. 9 God uses earthquakes and fires to train us only when we will not accept the more gentle medicine: “But if the patient resists the gentle treatment, then in the future God changes his manner, and from then on he practices the art of the physician through more vigorous works in order that we might have eternal life.” 10
While this view of God as physician is more palatable to modern readers than the image of God as punisher, it was not the dominant Byzantine interpretation of earthquakes. 11 Justinian in particular codified the traditional sensibility in his law—for instance, in Novella 77, where he associates divine anger expressed in natural disasters such as earthquakes with God’s wrath over homosexual acts:
Certain men, seized by diabolical incitement, practice among themselves the most disgraceful lusts and act contrary to nature. We enjoin them to take to heart the fear of God and the judgment to come, and to abstain from such diabolical and unlawful lusts so that they may not be visited by the just wrath of God on account of these impious acts, 12 with the result that cities perish with all their inhabitants. For we are taught by the Holy Scriptures that because of this sort of impious conduct cities have indeed perished, together with the men in them. . . . 13 For because of such crimes there are famines, earthquakes, and pestilences. 14
The sense that earthquakes are due to the direct intervention of God can be found in nearly every literary genre from Byzantium. One finds again and again in the direct prose of the Byzantine chroniclers the equation of earthquakes with the wrath of God. Thus, for instance, one of the anonymous chroniclers of the thirteenth century, in order to describe the terrible earthquake that occurred on May 11, 1222, on Cyprus, simply writes that “on the eleventh of May, the fourth day of the week, at noon, the divine wrath occurred, bringing about a great earthquake in the year 6730 [= 1222 CE].” 15 This sensibility was so deeply engrained that the chroniclers and many historians typically referred to earthquakes by saying simply, ἔπαθεν ὑπὸ θεομηνίας, “it happened because of the wrath of God.” 16 Perhaps more disconcerting than the wrath of God, however, is that earthquakes could also be taken as a sign of abandonment by God, a necessary component of Weil’s understanding of affliction and an aspect of apocalyptic imagery.
Indeed, apocalyptically minded Byzantines had much biblical material with which to work as they tried to understand the series of earthquakes in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In addition to the earthquake at Jesus’ crucifixion (Mt 27:51–54), Jesus himself had told his disciples that an earthquake is the beginning of sorrows, the coming of the end (Mt 24:8 and parallels). 17 The sixth chapter of Revelation describes a great earthquake that is near the end of time: “When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale; the sky vanished like a scroll that is rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.” 18 In this description an earthquake violently dismantles the universe as the various elements are destroyed, changed, or moved. They become what they were not supposed to be. The cosmos is torn asunder. Similar feelings were aroused when part of the microcosm of the Hagia Sophia collapsed on the night of Friday, May 19, 1346, after more than a year of earthquakes. 19 The people were shocked. 20 The historian Nikephoros Gregoras does not hesitate to attribute it to Empress Anne of Savoy’s sins, in particular her violation of the right of asylum in that church and her robbing the holy icons of their precious-metal decorations.
Just as the support of the church broke and the dogmas of the church [regarding asylum and icons] were overturned, and the canons of the fathers obliterated and trampled upon, so too the support of the temple was cut off and thrown to the floor, for God was clearly showing in this way and through clear signs the extremity of the transgression of the laws as if he were foretelling and threatening the punishment to come. And it seems to me that this misfortune happened independently of the tremor and stirring of the earth. 21
Indeed, the collapse of the Hagia Sophia was taken to be a sign of the end of God’s punishment and even as a sign of the end of the world. For the Hagia Sophia had been understood to be in some ways the cosmos itself, “reaching from God’s throne upon the Cherubim to the lower realm where human life is enacted.” 22 Prokopios, too, describes the Hagia Sophia as God’s place of contact with the earth, designed by divine power.
But who could fittingly describe the galleries of the women’s side, or enumerate the many colonnades and the colonnaded aisles by means of which the church is surrounded? Or who could recount the beauty of the columns and the stones with which the church is adorned? One might imagine that he had come upon a meadow with its flowers in full bloom. For he would surely marvel at the purple of some, the green tint of others, and at those on which the crimson glows and those from which the white flashes, and again at those which Nature, like some painter, varies with the most contrasting colors. And whenever anyone enters this church to pray, he understands at once that it is not by any human power or skill, but by the influence of God, that this work has been so finely tuned. And so his mind is lifted up toward God and exalted, feeling that he cannot be far away, but must especially love to dwell in this place which he has chosen. 23
The destruction of this cosmos in 1346 must have been terrifying, a reminder of the destruction of the cosmos in Revelation 6 and elsewhere in Scripture. The middlebrow teacher Alexios Makrembolites draws heavily from the apocalyptic twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel to see in this earthquake the coming end of the world. 24 He thought that the earthquake and collapse of the Hagia Sophia “was a sure, manifest sign of God’s abandonment and the end of the cosmos.” 25
Other, more sanguine individuals in the fourteenth century did not despair of God’s protection and providence, although such despair would become much more common in the fifteenth century. They were, however, at least discomfited by the great number of earthquakes in the Palaiologan era. Indeed, at least as far as the Constantinopolitans themselves were aware, there were far more earthquakes in the Palaiologan period than there had been in any other period of Byzantine history. 26 The increase in earthquakes around the city was perhaps nearly three times what it had been in the past. The historical accuracy of their observations is less relevant to my argument than their perceptions, which can be summed up in Gregory Palamas’s account of the earthquake at Kallipolis (Gallipoli) of March 2, 1354, the evening of the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy in the Greek Rite when the church celebrates the true faith given by God and the saints’ fidelity to that faith. “For I do not know whether I should call the things that have happened to our people, and especially the earthquake, pedagogy or abandonment [ἐγκατάλεɩψις] from on high.” 27 This earthquake damaged the walls of the city, thereby allowing the Turks to enter the city and take it. Among other captives, they were able to take Gregory himself, who was on a nearby ship. 28
This was not the last earthquake. Thessaloniki suffered an earthquake in July 1420, just before the Byzantines handed control over to the Venetians, their historic enemies. Ten years later the city was conquered by the Turks. After the fall of Constantinople in May 1453, a new kind of life began for Orthodox Christians, with Scholarios as their new spiritual ruler, the patriarch of Constantinople guiding his flock in their new status as dhimmi in the Turkish empire. Even then, Christians in Constantinople experienced another series of earthquakes that reminded them of the end of the world. If a sixteenth-century compiler of earlier histories is to be believed, a series of small earthquakes occurred in the spring of 1454, stretching over eighteen days. 29
Earthquakes, however, were not the only scourges from God afflicting the Byzantines at this time. There were also outbreaks of the plague. As Gilbert Dagron and Marie-Hélène Congourdeau have chronicled, outbreaks of the plague, like earthquakes, frequently led to conversion and reflection on the meaning of these events in Byzantium. In the sixth century and again at the end of the Byzantine Empire plagues broke out and drove the Byzantines to think through the question of fate. 30 The fundamental biblical passage, according to Congourdeau and Mohammed Melhaoui, for both Byzantine Christians and early Muslims (and Jews as well, presumably), was 2 Samuel 24. 31 Here David sins by counting the people of Israel. As punishment God offers him the choice between three disasters, and David chooses a pestilence, which kills seventy thousand.
In both Byzantium and the Old Testament pestilence was often understood to be a punishment or scourge. In fact, Byzantines found it difficult to adopt scientific explanations that were present in their intellectual tradition because of this basic orientation. 32 One such theological tradition that included medicinal or scientific explanations for the plague includes Basil, and in particular his Quod deus non est auctor malorum homily (That God is not the cause of evils), 33 which plays an important part in fifteenth-century discussions of providence. 34 His teaching on the plague is consistent with his account of earthquakes discussed above: God intervenes directly in natural affairs in order to teach humanity. Anastasios of Sinai develops Basil’s thought by borrowing from sixth-century medicinal literature to explain the mechanics of the plague from a scientific view even as he subsumes these intermediate causes under the guiding providence of God, who uses plagues to call us to repentance. 35 Anastasios’s theology, however, has a troubling aspect. For Anastasios, God seems almost to hand over the guidance of the physical universe to nature.
Basil’s development, however, of Irenaeus’s theology of the divine pedagogue, infused with scientific explanations of how that pedagogy occurs, gets overlooked in middle Byzantium. In the hagiography of this period, as well as in official imperial documents, the scientific discourse of the plague was replaced by the immediacy of God’s action. 36 The Irenaean-Basilian account resurfaced only sporadically. 37 Toward the end of Byzantium, in times of great pressure, other explanations seemed more convincing to Byzantine intellectuals and common people. Punishment, wrath, and abandonment (ἐγκατάλειψις) figure much more prominently in the fourteenth- and fifteenth-century consciousness than the peaceful image of a benevolent teacher inherited from Irenaeus.
Gregory Palamas’s homilies, for instance, frequently interpret calamities as stemming from sin. In his homily during the plague of 1348, for instance, he declares that God is inflicting the plague because of sin: “It is on account of behavior such as this that we are being punished and shall be again.” 38 Or in another homily he exclaims that the Byzantines ought to marvel that God has not yet wiped them off the face of the earth:
So we are amazed that God has abandoned [ἐγκατέλιπε] us, that we have become a laughing stock for our enemies, that every nation has overpowered us and overruns our country, plundering without mercy. We should marvel at God’s exceeding tolerance, that he has not brought down fire on us from above, as on Korah and those around him, or sent us alive into hell, dividing the earth for us and opening up a chasm and a pit as happened in the case of Dathan, Abiram and their whole congregation, or delivered us up to complete and utter destruction, as he did on many occasions to many nations which had committed deadly sins. In fact, we have been scourged very little for our sins. 39
It is clear to Palamas that this was not caused by the habitual nature of things, as earlier Byzantines such as Anastasios of Sinai had claimed, but rather was something inflicted by God on human beings as a chastisement. John Kantakuzenos, clearly drawing on Thucydides, reports of this same plague: 40
But worst of all was the despondency caused by the plague, for whenever someone perceived that he was ill, no hope of salvation remained, but his acquaintances turned themselves toward him as having no hope, and they gave up hope for themselves and died soon afterwards, for they added a great strength to the disease by their desperation. Indeed, the form of the disease was so much worse than words can express. Whence it is especially clear that [this was not caused] by the habitual nature of things and belonging to human beings but rather it was something else which was inflicted by God on human beings as a chastisement . 41
Indeed, 1347–48 was certainly a year of wrath for both Eastern and Western Christians. 42 The Black Plague affected all of the Byzantine Empire. Cyprus lost between one third and two thirds of its population, according to the chroniclers. 43 The young Demetrios Kydones was in Constantinople and vividly describes the scene to an unknown monastic correspondent:
But worst of all is that the great city empties every day. What was the biggest city becomes the smallest, as the abundance of graves proves. Every day we are busy bringing friends to the grave. And what stings a man the most is that people flee from each other, for they are cautious about communicating the disease. So the father does not bury his children, nor even grant them their last rites. And the remaining doctors do not even know how to say a vain word but hide themselves and write their wills. 44
This sense of affliction could not be assuaged by medical explanations. 45 The spiritual and ecclesial leaders tried to comfort their flocks, but one wonders how effective they could have been. The existential pressure was enormous.
As in the Latin West, this was a turning point. However, unlike the middle of the fourteenth century in Western Europe, where cities, trade, technology, and intellectual culture began to develop (cities had never stopped developing in the Eastern Roman Empire), 1348 was the start of a precipitous fall for Byzantium. According to Costas Tsiamis, the average duration of epidemics in the eleven hundred years of the Byzantine Empire was 2.3 years, whereas in the fifteenth century the average was 4.2 years. 46 Constantinople was affected by the plague and its recurring outbreaks more than any other place in the Byzantine Empire because it had the most trading networks and therefore the most contact with other cities. 47
Constantinople was struck again by the plague during Scholarios’s childhood. The plague of 1409–10 was again terrifying. Ten thousand died in Constantinople alone, according to one chronicler. 48 Many at the imperial and patriarchal courts died. 49 The following year the city was besieged by the Turks. The plague struck the city again in 1417, taking the wife of the future John VIII. 50 It struck the city again in 1430–31 and then again just four years later, taking two of Scholarios’s nephews, one of whom was a beloved student. Finally, a plague of 1447–48 took the life of the emperor’s brother. 51
Where was God in the midst of this suffering? How could God allow such calamities? The Byzantines had understood themselves to be God’s chosen people. Now he seemed to be handing them over to destruction. Or was it possible that God was not involved in acts of nature? Did God, as the Enlightenment Deists would later claim, simply set the clock and let it run? Some in the Byzantine theological tradition seemed to think along lines quite like this.
In the early Byzantine period it seems that some understood the plague as caused directly by God; others, as due to physical causes (that is, as explainable “scientifically”); and still others, as a combination of the two. 52 In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries a new, non-Christian term crops up in discussions of the plague: automaton (αὐτόματον). 53 Over and above this emerging shift in vocabulary, Scholarios and other Orthodox theologians were even more worried about the claim that there is no one guiding the world. Thus, near the end of his Histories , Michael Kritoboulos describes the impact of the plague on the Byzantines: “And there was great despair and unbearable grief and noise and lamentation everywhere; dejection and hopelessness ruled everyone’s spirits. Belief in providence melted away entirely, and [everyone] thought that everything had to be borne as if it happened without plan, as if there were no one presiding over events—this is how the irrational event drove everyone out of their senses.” 54
It was a terrifying time. People were losing their faith. There was the challenge of Islam. This notion of chance or even fate seemed to offer a sort of explanation to otherwise inexplicable events. Those who wanted to remain Christian believers felt driven toward the apocalyptic. This experience of affliction in its various senses led to intense thought about the future (apocalyptic literature), fate ( qismet ), and chance ( tyche ), as well as a sense of abandonment, which will be discussed in the following chapter.
Why Was Providence a Pressing Question in 1458?
Apocalypse , Tyche, and Qismet
The affliction experienced in the last century of Byzantium was consummated on May 29, 1453, when the city fell to the Turks. The sense in which this was experienced as a calamity, especially in the Orthodox world, can be seen in both Russian and Greek sources. The Queen of Cities had become a slave. 1
It is a story that—O tragedy!—not only causes men, but the very stones and even the elements to cry, scream, and sob. 2
A dirge, lamentation, tears, groans, and pain, sadness beyond words have fallen upon the Romans! 3
The trauma of the fall of the city, which had been foreseen for decades, along with the increase of plagues and earthquakes, led the Byzantines to grasp at various solutions to their existential problems. One solution within the Christian tradition was an apocalyptic narrative and theology: the various events occurring are signs of the end of this world and the coming of the future world.
In the course of this chapter I outline Scholarios’s and others’ interpretations of their times. The great question for all of them was: How do we account for our belief in an all-powerful God and the extraordinary events in our age? For Scholarios, these experiences would impel him toward an apocalyptic outlook and the development of a more compelling explanation of divine providence than the one he had inherited. 4
There were other answers to this existential crisis. One answer could be found in the popular Turkish idea of qismet, a strong view of fate adapted from the more standard Arab Islamic teaching of qisma , or portion, which seems also to have been taken seriously by many Byzantines. Then there was a revival of the Hellenistic concept of tyche among the very well educated. Further, there was something called automatism, an unstudied intellectual trend or atheistic mentality in late and post-Byzantium that held that all events happen automatically. That is, there is no outside force or agent (whether God, fate, tyche, or the laws of nature) engaged in guiding or influencing events. The evidence for this strand of thought is slim and scattered. I adverted to it in the conclusion of the previous chapter, and it will come up again periodically.
Byzantine apocalyptic literature has its roots in the interpretation of chapters 2 and 7 of the book of Daniel and of chapter 20 of Revelation. 5 There were precedents for Byzantine apocalyptic interpretation of these and other apocalyptic texts in Jewish and early Christian exegesis and literature. The crystallizing period for Byzantium, however, was in the sixth to the ninth centuries, a period much like the fourteenth to fifteenth centuries in terms of the plague, consciousness of earthquakes, and loss of territories to Muslim conquerors. It was also a period of flowering apocalyptic literature, probably in the face of the Byzantine losses of the Holy Land to the Caliphates. 6 As I mentioned above regarding the chroniclers’ notice of more earthquakes and plagues in the fifteenth century, Paul Magdalino remarks that the sixth-century chroniclers record a great number of wars, famines, and plagues (Mt 24:7), signs of the end times, and suggests that “it is hard to avoid the suspicion that the events were being chronicled precisely because people were watching for them.” 7
Earlier Byzantine apocalyptic literature has received much more attention than later texts in part, perhaps, because the earlier period is better known historically than the tangled fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and in part because that earlier tradition was the foundation for all later Greek apocalyptic literature. Indeed, later apocalyptic theology often took the form of commentary upon or expansion of earlier texts. Finally, scholarship tends to sift through the later evidence to search for the Ur-myths. 8 However, it is the additions to the earlier apocalyptic texts and traditions that are of interest to us in understanding the mentalities of the last century of Byzantium.
The apocalyptic experience of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, although far less studied than that of the sixth and seventh centuries, was the most intensely apocalyptic moment of the Byzantine period. One strong indication that the Byzantines’ vision was proleptic (digging in the past only in order to understand the future) is that no histories were written between October 8, 1364, and May 29, 1453. This is not simply because, as Donald Nicol argued, the Byzantines lost their nerve, but rather because they expected the imminent end. 9 That is, an apocalyptic expectation seems to have precluded the need for histories: there would be no future generation to read these histories, so why write them?
Indeed, in the fourteenth century there were many signs that the end was near. Barlaam the Calabrian’s teaching was considered by Palamas—if we are to believe the latter’s biographer—to be a sign of the end of the world. 10 Palamas’s contemporary Nikephoros Gregoras also saw many signs of the end of the world. In addition to the collapse of the dome of Hagia Sophia, mentioned in the previous chapter, 11 Gregoras describes simultaneous eclipses of the sun and the moon in 1341–42 and then relates that “from these eclipses and also on account of the colors that appeared around the heavenly lights there came to be a prediction, [namely,] a calamity of great terrors to those who see deeply.” 12 These images presage the civil war that would cripple Byzantium and leave her helpless in the face of the conquering Turks. The disaster of the fourteenth century is appropriately understood using the same imagery as that found in apocalyptic passages in the Bible. 13
The sense of the impending end of the world was not just in highbrow literary texts, however. Mysterious, ancient objects in the city pointed toward the end. 14 Perhaps the most striking of these stories comes from the imperial monastery of St. George of Mangana, which, according to the anonymous Russian pilgrim to Constantinople in the late fourteenth century and other late Byzantine sources, contained two icons: 15 “Leo the Wise painted these icons; on one are painted the patriarchs, and on the other the emperors. From his reign up to the end of Constantinople he painted eighty emperors and one hundred patriarchs. The last emperor will be Kalojan’s son—and then God knows; the last patriarch will be John.” 16 In his letter to Pope Nicholas V written less than three months after the fall of the city in May 1453, Leonard of Chios (d. 1482) confirms this prophecy, but now, understandably, reserves the last space for Constantine XI.
That panel, which they ascribe to Leo the Wise, was set up at the Monastery of St. George at Mangana and was most hidden in ancient times in Constantinople, but now [its meaning] has been uncovered as a mysterious sign, for it reveals the fall [of the city]. This panel, blessed Father, was separated into four sections and set the order and succession of the emperors, ending in this last Constantine. 17 Another panel recorded the succession of patriarchs as well along the bottom. Now he [Leo] was illuminated by a prophetic spirit, for he inscribed just as many spaces for depictions of emperors on the panel as there would be all the way from the first Constantine the Great, the founder of Constantinople, to that final capture. 18
Emperor Leo the Wise (r. 886–912), in addition to being considered the patron who put up the icons of the emperors and patriarchs, was also thought to be the author of a number of oracles. Most of these oracles were collected together some time near the end of the twelfth century. 19 One in particular, the tenth, described the destruction of a city of seven hills (Constantinople): “Woe to you, city of seven hills, when the twentieth letter is praised in your walls. Then your destruction will be close and the ruin of your rulers and those who unjustly exercise judgment. He whose fingers are pruning hooks 20 and who is the sickle of desolation and a blasphemer against the Most-High will destroy you.” 21 The twentieth letter of the Greek alphabet, Υ, is not particularly illuminating for understanding this text, but the Greek way of writing the number twenty, Κ, is, for that is also the first letter of the last emperor’s name, Konstantinos XI Palaiologos. This oracle concerning “K” was combined with Leo’s thirteenth oracle, which described the return from the dead of someone hidden to rule as emperor over the seven-hilled city (Constantinople). This thirteenth oracle seems to have been expanded into an account about a poor emperor who will wake up, reveal himself, and chase away the Ishmaelites (Muslims). 22
The tenth oracle may have been composed in the fourteenth or fifteen century and added to the earlier collection of Leo’s oracles. 23 It has had a long afterlife, continuing up the present day. 24 Other apocalyptic texts and ideas were circulating, and not only among the highly educated elite. One may, perhaps, be found in three manuscripts on Mount Athos that record a prophecy allegedly given by a holy man to Manuel II Palaiologos. 25 S. Kourouses suggests that this text is based on the important apocalyptical moment in the popular piece of hagiography known as The Life of St. Andrew the Fool (lines 4003ff.). 26
Such oracles seemed very popular among all classes in the fourteenth century. 27 Their popularity would increase after the fall of the city in 1453, as can be seen in an original collection of letters from that year found in the cover of a Latin manuscript in the Ambrosian Library in Milan. 28 They are one of the few unedited collections of letters from this period. That is, they were not preserved for their literary quality, as most surviving letters from Byzantium were, but rather, like the Egyptian Oxyrhynchus papyri, give us a glimpse into the private communications of our subjects of study, including the semiliterate classes.
Among these letters from 1453 is one, with instances of demotic spelling, written by the priest or deacon Demetrios “the miserable” (τοῦ ταλαιπώρου), a husband and father, addressed to his spiritual father, in which he attributes the fall of the city to “our sins.” 29
Nevertheless, glory be to God, who has decided that things turn out thus. For we have no complaints against the one who judged rightly and well, [and in fact he has meted out] far less than what was due to us because of our sins. I pray Your Kindness to send me the book of St. Methodios of Patara, an old or even a recent copy if you have it. And do not neglect to do this, I pray, and I will gladly send it back to Your Reasonableness immediately, and, for the sake of our friendship, nothing will happen otherwise than how I have described it; for I have need of it. 30
Jean Darrouzès argues that Demetrios asks for the book of Pseudo-Methodios because it gives a description of the decline of the Arabs. 31 Perhaps, however, an Orthodox cleric would be much more likely to be drawn to the revelation of the end times. Indeed, this text of Pseudo-Methodios was very popular at this time, and it must have been the confidence of the vision of the future that drew so many readers and copyists: thirteen of the surviving manuscripts date to the fifteenth century. 32

The year 1453 was indeed apocalyptical for Byzantine Christians. The secondary literature on the subject is vast, as was the response in the fifteenth century. 33 Immediately after the fall of the city to Mehmed II we have our first records of an apocryphal legend that said that “the city, just as it had been built by Constantine, son of Helen, now has been miserably lost by another Constantine, son of another Helen.” 34 A week earlier Isidore had informed the Signoria of Florence of the event and blamed the fall of the city on its citizens’ sins, even calling Mehmed the Conqueror a precursor to the antichrist: “But now, woe-is-us! that most worthy city has, because of our sins, been destroyed by the Turkish precursor to the antichrist, Mahomet, and this not by human power, but rather it has been laid low by his power because God has now finally allowed it.” 35
The stories and legends from the apocryphal tradition, especially from Pseudo-Methodios, were so widely read at this time that they may have even influenced the behavior of the Constantinopolitans. 36 According to Doukas, in their last desperate moment when they realized that flight was impossible and that they faced the wrath of the Lord, they streamed toward the Hagia Sophia and filled the church. 37 But then they recalled a saying:
Why were they all seeking refuge in the Great Church? Many years before, they had heard from some false prophets that the City was to be surrendered to the Turks, who would enter with great force, and that the Romans would be cut down by them as far as the Column of Constantine the Great. Afterwards, however, an angel, descending and holding a sword, would deliver the empire and the sword to an unknown man, extremely plain and poor, standing at the Column. “Take this sword,” the angel would say, “and avenge the people of the Lord.” Then the Turks would take flight and the Romans would follow hard upon then, cutting them down. They would drive them from the City and from the East as far as the borders of Persia, to a place called Monodendrion. Because they fully expected these prophecies to be realized, some ran and advised others to run also. This was the conviction of the Romans, who long ago had contemplated what their present action would be, contending, “If we leave the Column of the Cross behind us, we will avoid future wrath.” This was the cause of the flight into the Great Church. In one hour’s time that enormous temple was filled with men and women. There was a throng too many to count, above and below, in the courtyards and everywhere. They bolted the doors and waited, hoping to be rescued by the anonymous savior. 38
Note how closely this account parallels the prophecy in the tenth-century Life of St. Andrew the Fool . There too, some claim that the Hagia Sophia alone will be saved on the last day of Constantinople. 39 But St. Andrew corrects them: “What are you saying, my son? . . . However, what they say is not [entirely] false, although it is only the column in the Forum that will remain because it contains the precious nails.” 40 It seems that either the historical record was written to comply with apocalyptic prophecies or perhaps the citizens themselves actually did flee to the Hagia Sophia in order to be saved from the destruction of the city. 41 Although the role of the Column of Constantine is unclear, nevertheless, it is clear that both monuments, the column and the Hagia Sophia, played an important role in the apocalyptic imagination of the Byzantines.
The Byzantine Christians were not the only ones who thought that the end of the world had come in 1453. There were rumors among the Jews that with the fall of Constantinople, understood to be the modern Babylon, the Messiah would soon be coming. 42 Meanwhile the Turks saw this great transition not as the end of the world but as the ushering in of a new age, the seventh age and the seventh empire, which would be the greatest and last. 43
There were other indications that Byzantines took as portents of the end of the world. Since the Byzantines, on the basis of their interpretation of biblical chronology as found in the Septuagint, reckoned their time since creation and considered the creation to have occurred in 5509 BCE, 1453 to them was 6962. They were very aware that the years were getting close to 7000, which could be the end of the world if one interprets the world’s age in terms of the millennial week along with Psalm 90:4: “For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday”; thus the Byzantines were expecting the end. 44 It may be for this reason that the liturgical books and ecclesial inscriptions stopped calculating the Easter dates after 1492, or 7000 years after creation. 45
In the next generation Joseph Bryennios concurs that the seventh age is nearly over 46 and that the only reason why the world has not yet come to an end is that the full number of the saved must be filled. 47 This sense was not restricted to Byzantium. Russia, too, thought that 1492 would be the end of the world. And so Archbishop Gennady of Moscow sent Demetrios Trachaniotes to the West to inquire about the precise date of the consummation of the cosmos. 48
However, among all who had an apocalyptic inclination, perhaps none is more remarkable than Scholarios. Indeed, since the publication of his complete works in 1936 several scholars have commented on passages in which Scholarios expects the imminent end of the world. 49 Like the other Gennady, Patriarch emeritus Gennadios, too, thought that the world would end in 1492. Indeed, what appears to be his last work is a chronography that draws on the Bible and various Greek historians and concludes that the world will most likely end in 1492, although he concedes that another possible calculation of the creation of Adam would make it in 1512. 50
In this chronography and elsewhere Scholarios looks both forward to the eschaton and backward to history. He concludes that Rome has grown old. 51 Indeed, the entire cosmos has come to its fulfillment. 52 However, perhaps to encourage his beleaguered unionist sovereign sometime before 1453, he tells Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos that the end is near but not imminent. 53 In the early 1450s Scholarios saw the corruption of the Roman state and her people as indicating that the end of the world was at hand. 54 Union with Rome was another sign to Scholarios to the same effect. 55 Indeed he tells the monks of Vatopedi on Mount Athos, where he stayed after retiring from the patriarchate, that the end of the world is approaching. 56 The signs of the times are the same as those of the end times and point to the coming of the antichrist. 57 Scholarios was concerned about the theological meaning of Christ’s second coming and the resurrection of the body, and so, late in his life, after his retirement to Mount Menoikeos in 1458, he composed a treatise on this topic in which he argued that God no longer desires that that generation should continue, a strong echo of early Christian apocalypticism, especially that of St. Paul. 58
Later, Scholarios calls the establishment of the Caliphate and its laws in former Christian lands a sign that the end of the world is near. 59 By 1467 Scholarios claims to Theodore Branas that no one is unaware that the end is near. 60 And so, toward the end of his life, after he has had some distance from 1453 and has settled into retirement, he repeatedly asserts that the end is near, and specifically that Christ is coming very soon. 61

The apocalyptic was one way of making sense of this cataclysm. But there were others, and these other accounts competed with the apocalyptic account given by Scholarios. Tyche, or chance, was one explanation given by both intellectuals and the commons. It was the intellectual account of τύχη, especially that of Theodore Metochites, that would have driven Scholarios and other Orthodox Christians such as Mark of Ephesos to think more deeply about their theology of divine providence. At the same time, the diversity of ways of explaining success and disaster would provide an impetus for thinking about how God guides the world. And Byzantines reacted in a number of ways to the tragedies of the last century of Byzantium.
Patriarch Kallistos I mentions people blaspheming God during the plague of 1362 instead of repenting for their sins. 62 Battles with the Turks were explained in different ways. Just as the Theotokos was thanked for protecting her city in 626, so she was thanked again in 1402 for the defeat of the Turks at the battle of Ankara and the subsequent lifting of the siege of the Turks. 63 Demetrios Chrysoloras attributes the salvation of the city exclusively to Mary. 64
Another account of the events of 1402, 65 of disputed authorship, also attributes the lifting of the eight-year Turkish siege of Constantinople to the miraculous intervention of God and his mother. 66 The Christians were on the brink of despair. 67 How could God let “the city that surpasses all other cities, the eye of the world, the lamp of piety, the workshop of virtue in which his holy and pious name is purely called upon, fall into the hands of its lawless and apostate enemies, into the hands of an unjust king, [who is] even more unjust than the most evil [king] on the whole earth[?]” 68 Their salvation was that much more spectacular when Mary, acting through the Mongol Timur, defeated the Turks at Ankara, setting back the Turkish conquest of Constantinople by fifty years.
Not everyone, however, understood the lifting of the siege to be a miracle. 69 The anonymous narrator closes his thanksgiving with a curse against those who attribute the salvation of the city to chance: “Let them perish who maintain that what happened here was without cause and due to luck, for they consider that such an outcome came to pass by an irrational chance, as if it would have happened sooner or later.” 70 It is clear to this anonymous witness that something automatic (τὸ αὐτόματον) or some irrational chance (ἀλόγῳ τινὶ συντυχίᾳ) is not sufficient for explaining the lifting of the siege and the events of 1402 that saved Europe. 71

The choice of words here is important for this anonymous witness, Scholarios, and Metochites (see below): all indicate that the idea that everything happened by chance—that is, without God’s guidance—was becoming a plausible and not idiosyncratic viewpoint. The anonymous author’s description of those who hold that everything happens without cause (οἱ τὸ αὐτόματον . . . πρεσβεύοντες) uses the same vocabulary to describe a group that Scholarios refers to several times in his polemics regarding fate, providence, and automatism (the Epicurean position). So, for instance, Scholarios writes his defense of Orthodox Christian belief in the Τrinity “against the atheists, that is, the automatiston and the polytheists” (κατὰ ἀθέων ἤτοι αὐτοματιστῶν καὶ κατὰ πολυθέων). 72 It seems that toward the end of the empire several people held that everything happened without any external guidance but rather by chance. Indeed, Scholarios’s reference to this group has vocabulary similar to that of the anonymous description of 1402, the English translation of which I have provided above.
Ἐρρέτωσαν οἱ τὸ αὐτόματον ἐνταῦθα καὶ τὴν τύχην πρεσβεύοντες καὶ νομίζοντες ἀλόγῳ τινὶ συντυχίᾳ τὸ τοιοῦτον συμβεβηκέναι καθάπερ ἄλλοτε πρότερον ἢ ὕστερον. 73
Μὴ αὐτόματόν τινα εἴπῃς συντυχίαν τῶν γινομένων ἀνθρώποις, ὡς μηδενὸς προστάτου τὸν κόσμον οἰκονομοῦντος. 74
Οὐκοῦν ἡ τοσαύτη περὶ ἡμᾶς τοῦ Θεοῦ πρόνοια πάρεργον ἔσται τῶν ποικίλων καὶ πολυτρόπων αἰτιῶν τοῦ θανάτου καὶ τύχης καὶ αὐτομάτου καὶ τῶν κατὰ συμβεβηκὸς λεγομένων καὶ πάντων τῶν ὁπωσοῦν ὄντων; 75
This aspect of late Palaiologan elite mentalities has not been much studied. It is not clear how the Hellenistic concept of chance, tyche, resurfaced after a thousand-year dormition. 76 I suspect that it comes from a deeper reading in ancient philosophy, especially the Stoics and Epicureans, during the Palaiologan Renaissance. One can certainly see this in the Ἠθικός ἢ περὶ παιδείας of Theodore Metochites, which has a strong doctrine of chance as well as many affinities with Stoicism, especially Epictetus, on the question of fate and chance, according to its editor. 77 Although it had been common in some earlier historians such as Leo the Deacon 78 (tenth century) and John Kinnamos (twelfth century) to speak of tyche as a quasi-personal force guiding human affairs, 79 when Metochites speaks of tyche in the early fourteenth century, it seems to have taken on a new valence. 80 Indeed, in 1454 Scholarios mentions both tyche and a rigorous Greek polytheism in the same breath. 81 The use of the term is now no longer an unreflective borrowing from the classical past in writing about history, 82 but part of a larger philosophical system, a conception of the cosmos that includes every human being. 83 In the face of such a strong conception of fate, one should, as Epictetus recommended, control oneself. I need to judge myself and prepare myself in the face of tyche. 84 All pain and suffering is not caused by the external world but rather by my attitude in confronting it. 85 Although there is no evidence that this mentality was widespread, its prominence in the writings of one of the most intelligent and influential authors of the last century of Byzantium, Scholarios’s evident concern with rebutting those who hold this claim, and the evidence of Kritoboulos and Demetrios Kydones for a popular holding of this view all indicate its importance.
Theodore’s Stoic self-help book, reminiscent of Seneca’s letters, is also reminiscent of a book that was extremely popular and influential among the Ottomans, the thirteenth-century Bustan (garden) of the Persian writer Sa’di. 86 Because of its popularity among the Ottomans as well as in Western Europe, it seems that this text was influential among Greek speakers in the Palaiologan Period, although I have not found any scholarship arguing for its influence. 87 Indeed, although Theodore Metochites was more likely to be reading Epictetus, his care of the self is much like that described in chapter 6 of Sa’di’s long poem, where he exhorts his student, “O irresolute one! Be tranquil, for grass grows not upon revolving stones.” 88
Like the Arabian Nights , 89 the Bustan ’s stories of fate or qisma (Turkish: qismet ) in chapter 5, entitled “Ridā” (acceptance), found a receptive audience among the Ottomans. 90 This development of the more foundational and earlier Islamic concept of al-qada’ wa-l’qadar is vividly found in the Sa’di’s Bustan . The day of death, much like in the Arabian Nights and in Byzantine discussions of providence, 91 is a central concern here. One is fated to die, and there is nothing that one can do about it: “If your life is destined to be long, no snake or sword will harm you; when the fated day of death arrives, the antidote will kill you no less than the poison.” 92 Fate is immobile: “Fate is the helmsman of the ship of life, no matter though the owner rends his clothes.” 93
And yet, the Bustan and the Ottoman theological tradition do not seem to be unanimous on this question of fate. For instance, one story of the Bustan indicates that while fate is influential, there is room for maneuvering around it. Thus in chapter 5, story 1, an old warrior speaks not of an absolute day of death, but rather of his realization that if he does not leave a certain battle, he will be killed.
I am one who, in combat, could take with a spear a ring from the palm of the hand, but as my star did not befriend me, they encircled me as with a ring. I seized the opportunity of flight, for only a fool strives with fate. How could my helmet and cuirass aid me when my bright star favored me no more? When the key of victory is not in the hand, no one can break open the door of conquest with his arms. . . . Not one of our troops came out of the battle but his cuirass was soaked with blood. Not that our swords were blunt—it was the vengeance of stars of ill fortune. Overpowered, we surrendered, like a fish that, though protected by scales, is caught by the hook in the bait. Since fortune averted her face, our shield was useless against the arrows of fate. 94
Although not quite monolithic in their own tradition, there seems to be a clear, strong sense of fate in the Byzantine construction of the Turks. The Byzantines were very aware of this conception of qismet. The historian Doukas, in narrating a meeting between Manuel II Palaiologos and Mehmed I in 1413, reports Mehmed saying to the other emperor: “But I say to you, everything on a man’s brow was written by the finger of God, and thus it will happen. Prayer changes nothing.” 95 This is a key moment for understanding the Byzantine perception of foreigners’ views of fate. It is also similar to Georgios Gemistos Pletho’s view, as will be seen in chapters 5 and 6. Laonikos Chalkokondyles provides another example of the late Byzantine historians’ awareness of qismet. A young, callow soldier shows great bravery on the field, and his commanders are mystified that an inexperienced infantryman showed greater courage than the veterans. He is brought before the sultan to explain himself. He explains that he learned that one is fated to die on a particular day and that there is nothing one can do about it: “The insight has been firmly implanted in me, O King, that I should have no fear of sword, spear or arrow, since if it has been established that I should survive that day, no spear can take away my life. And so, O King, I faced the great Pannonian warrior with courage, believing that if it had been decreed by fate that I would survive, I could be confident of victory.” 96
In addition to this discussion of the power of fate, Greek sources also report on another widespread Turkish belief: that the Christians were no longer favored by God. During his captivity in Nicaea in 1355, Gregory Palamas had a conversation with a Muslim and reported the conversation to the monk David. 97 The report of the conversation rings true, especially since Palamas seems to give the Muslim the last word. The Muslim asks Palamas how he can believe that his beliefs are from heaven:
He turned about and said this to me: “But how do you not believe our prophet and that his book came down from heaven?”
[Palamas gives his response]
But it was clear that Tasimanes was annoyed. But he responded anyway, saying: “There was something written in the Gospel concerning Mohammed but you all cut it out. However, he set forth from the farthest rising of the sun and has swept all the way down to its setting, as you now see.” 98
That is, now that Mohammed’s disciples are sweeping down and taking over the whole earth, from the rising of the sun to its setting, how can you doubt that his revelation in the Qur’an is true?
The little-known John Kananos reports a particularly violent version of this mentality, in his “Narration of the battle that happened at Constantinople.” 99 The Turks had been roused to believe that it had been decreed by Muhammad and revealed to their “patriarch” Mersaite that the city would fall to them. 100 With this confidenc

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