Demetrios Kydones, Latinized as Demetrius Cydones or Demetrius Cydonius (Greek: Δημήτριος Κυδώνης; 1324, Thessalonica – 1398, Crete), was a Byzantine theologian, translator, writer and influential statesman, who served an unprecedented three terms as Mesazon (Imperial Prime Minister or Chancellor) of the Byzantine Empire under three successive emperors: John VI Kantakouzenos, John V Palaiologos and Manuel II Palaiologos.
As Imperial Premier, Kydones' West-Politik effort during his second and third stints was to bring about a reconciliation of the Byzantine and Roman Churches, in order to cement a military alliance against the ever-encroaching Islam, a program that culminated in Emperor John V Palaiologos' reconciliation with Catholicism.
His younger brother and somewhat-collaborator in his efforts was the noted anti-Palamite theologian Prochoros Kydones.
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Kydones was initially a student of the Greek classical scholar, philosopher and Palamite Nilos Kabasilas. Emperor John VI Kantakouzenos, a staunch follower of Palamism, the Hesychast or Quietist doctrine of Gregory Palamas, had befriended Demetrios Kydones as a young man and had employed him as his Imperial Premier or Mesazon (1347–1354) at the age of 23; at the Emperor's request, Kydones began to translate Western polemical works against Islam, such as the writings of the Dominican Ricoldo da Monte Croce, from Latin into Greek, and which the Emperor John VI Kantakouzenos used as references in his own writings against Muhammad and Islam (although his own daughter was married to the Turkish Muslim Emir Orhan of Bithynia). At Emperor John VI Kantakouzenos' urging, Kydones acquired knowledge of Latin, and learned to speak, read and write it well. This led Kydones to undertake a deeper study of Latin theology, particularly St. Thomas Aquinas, and he attempted to introduce his compatriots to Thomistic Scholasticism by translating some of Aquinas' writings into Greek. John VI Kantakouzenos also encouraged him in his Latin studies and he himself read some Thomist literature. However, this put Demetrios Kydones on a journey that eventually ended with his conversion to Catholicism.
Anxious to concentrate on his Latin studies, Kydones retired for a time to private life from the Imperial Premiership in 1354, just before John V Palaiologos succeeded in ousting John VI Kantakouzenos.
When Kydones entered the service of Emperor John V Palaiologos, as he soon did, he remained friendly to his former employer Emperor John VI Kantakouzenos. On the other hand, he found himself unable or unwilling to follow John VI Kantakouzenos into his Palamism, preferring the more logical and intelligible Thomism.
His younger brother Prochoros Kydones was a monk on Mt. Athos, and he too learned Latin, but did not follow Demetrios to Rome. Prochoros admired and translated some of the works of Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas, but parted company with Kantakouzenos by becoming an argumentative anti-Palamite.
On retiring from public office in 1354, Demetrios Kydones went to Italy where he studied the writings of the leading medieval philosophical theologians, and made Greek translations of the major works of Western writers, including tracts by Augustine of Hippo (5th century) and Thomas Aquinas' Summa theologica. By 1365 he had made a profession of faith in the Catholic Church.
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In 1369, Emperor John V Palaiologos recalled Kydones to Constantinople and named him Imperial Prime Minister or Mesazon, the second time he held this position, 1369-1383. At the same time, Patriarch Philotheos Kokkinos of Constantinople was removed and his deposed predecessor Patriarch Kallistos of Constantinople restored. At that point, things began to take a bad turn for the Palamites. John V did not cherish such tender feelings towards them as did Kantakouzenos and his son the Emperor Matthew Kantakouzenos; instead, he saw their doctrines as an obstacle to the union of the Churches which he envisaged as a way of obtaining help from the Pope and Western rulers against the Turks. Thus, the persecuting measures that had been taken against the Anti-Palamites after the synod of Blachernae of 1351 were rescinded, and Nikephoros Gregoras was able to come and go freely to his cloister. In the course of the year 1355, the Emperor John V Palaiologos called Nikephoros Gregoras to hold a public disputation with Gregory Palamas, in his own presence and that of the papal legate, Paul of Smyrna. In the ensuing years, the imperial government of John V Palaiologos refused to involve itself, in a practical way, in the intestine quarrel that still divided minds; but the patriarch and the episcopate were henceforth wedded to the new dogmas of Palamism or Hesychasm, and sanctions of a religious nature continued to be leveled against anyone who showed hostility to them. One of these sanctions was the deprivation of church burial.
Patriarch Kallistos, who died in August 1363, was succeeded once again by Philotheos Kokkinos on February 12, 1364; Kokkinos had been reconciled with John V Palaiologos through the good offices of Demetrios Kydones as part of an agreement restoring Philotheos Kokkinos to the Patriarchy; according to the terms of this agreement, Patriarch Philotheos was to allow those who did not subscribe to the Palamite doctrine to live in peace. But Philotheos, a fervent disciple of Palamas, did not keep his promise for long, and in 1368 he moved to crack down on Demetrios Kydones' own brother Prochoros, a monk and priest at Mount Athos. It is true that Prochoros was a formidable adversary to the Palamites. Possessing a good knowledge of Latin, very well versed in Augustinian and Thomistic theology, and practiced in Aristotelian dialectic, he demolished the theses of the hesychast theologian (Gregory Palamas) with astonishing ease and clarity. It is to him, and not to Gregory Akindynos that one must ascribe the work De essentia et operatione, in six books, of which only the first and the beginning of the second have been published (cf. PG 151, 1191–1242). It gives a true summary of Thomistic theology; Barlaam of Seminara himself never wrote anything as plain and forceful.
Prochoros composed other treatises and shorter works (On the light of Tabor, On the Anti-Barlaamite Synodal Tome of 1351, etc.), and turned many Athonites away from Palamism.
Accused before Patriarch Philotheos Kokkinos and called to adhere to official Palamite orthodoxy, he continued to argue against it and to throw his opponents into inextricable quandaries.
Finally, in April 1368, Philotheos Kokkinos gathered a synod against Prochoros Kydones. In spite of the delicate handling he received and the delays that were employed to bring him back to his senses, he remained unshakable in his convictions, and appeared a number of times more or less openly to mock his judges. In the end, they pronounced against him in his absence — for he did not show up at the final session — a sentence of excommunication and of perpetual suspension from the priesthood. A long tome was put together on that occasion; its contents are very curious, and it concludes with a decree declaring the canonization of Gregory Palamas.
The Tome of 1368 brings to an end the series of Palamite councils, with the Greek Church's canonization of Palamas, and with the establishment of the second Sunday of Lent as his feast, confirming once more the triumph of his doctrine in the Greek Church. The doctrine nevertheless met with strong opposition, even during the latter part of the fourteenth century, by authors like John Kyparissiotes and Manuel Kalekas, who continued the earlier critiques of Palamism by men like Gregory Akindynos and Nikephoros Gregoras. Contrary to Byzantine tradition, the reigning emperor, John V Palaiologos, unable to accept the Palamite dogma, distanced himself from his Church's own theology and eventually abandoned it by making profession in 1369 of the Catholic faith.
In the spring of 1369 John V Palaiologos set sail from Constantinople with Demetrios Kydones and a large retinue. The destination was Italy; their immediate goal was to meet with Pope Urban V and his cardinals in Rome. The purpose of that extraordinary journey, however, and the subsequent meetings between Pope and Emperor in the fall of that year, was twofold: to assure Pope Urban V that the Byzantine Emperor was no longer a schismatic, and to persuade the Pope and his Curia to support a new military initiative that would aid the Byzantines in fending off the ever-increasing threat to the Empire from the Ottoman Turks.
Kydones' efforts culminated in Emperor John V's profession of faith as a Catholic in the presence of the Pope and cardinals in Rome on October 18, 1369.
However, with the weakening of Byzantine resistance to the Turks, Kydones retired to private life about 1383. In 1390 he journeyed to Venice, which helped introduce Greek culture to Italy, and is credited with fostering the nascent Renaissance. He formed, moreover, the nucleus of a group of Byzantine intellectuals that strove to defend and propagate Uniatism, the return of the Greek Church to Catholic Unity.
Recalled to Constantinople in 1391 by his former pupil Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos, the son of Emperor John V Palaiologos, Kydones resumed the position of Prime Minister ("Mesazon"), but in 1396 hostility to his Catholicism compelled him to retire permanently to the island of Crete, then ruled by the Venetians. He died there the following year, in 1398.
With the support of his younger brother Prochoros, Demetrios opposed as polytheistic or pantheistic the Palamites' commitment to hesychasm (Greek, silence or stillness), at the time a controversial practice of mystical contemplation through uninterrupted prayer, taught by the Orthodox monks of Mount Athos and articulated by the 14th-century ascetic theologian Gregory Palamas. Applying Aristotelian logic to hesychasm (sometimes claimed by Latin critics to be rooted in Platonism), the Kydones brothers accused Palamas of promoting pantheism or polytheism, only to be condemned themselves by three successive synods that concurred with Palamas' theology and affirmed hesychastic practice.
His reply to the hesychasts upon his excommunication under Patriarch Philotheos Kokkinos is a classic Roman Catholic opposition against hesychastic Orthodoxy. He is the author of the moral philosophical essay De contemnenda morte ("On Despising Death"), an Apologia for his conversion to Catholicism, and a voluminous collection of 447 letters, valuable for the history of Byzantine relations with the West.
One of the principal documentary sources for the Eastern Roman Empire's gradual submission to the Turks is Kydones' Symbouleutikoi ("Exhortations"), urging the Byzantine people to unite with the Latins in order to resist the Turkish onslaught.
Against the Greek Schism
Kydones' most famous statement against the Greeks who opposed his efforts at reuniting the East and the West is from his Apologia:
- "So when someone comes along and says the Pope is in error and everyone ought to abjure such error, we really have been given no proof for such an allegation, and it makes no sense for anyone to pass judgment on what has first to be proven. What is more, we will not succeed in finding out why and by whom the Pope is to be judged, no matter how earnestly we try. But aside from the prospect that the one who has the Primacy in the Church is in error, what confidence can be placed in those of lower rank? If we continue to carry on like this, all shepherds of the Christian people will become suspect because what we accuse the Head Shepherd of is even more likely to befall all those who are less than he. Would not every matter of faith have to end with a question mark if there indeed be no final seat of authority in the Church? There can be no certitude anywhere, if none is worthy of credibility. Then we are no longer talking about the religion which St. Paul described as one; rather there will be as many religions as there are leaders, or worse still, none at all! Every believer will suspect everyone else and will proceed to pick and choose whatever belief suits him. Then, as in a battle fought in the dark, we will be striking at our own friends, and they at us. How the non-believers will enjoy our antics, because we Christians are now engaged in endless bickering among ourselves, since none of us wants to concede anything to anyone else. The whole missionary effort to spread Christian beliefs will be stopped in its tracks since no one will pay any attention to those who cannot even agree among themselves."
- Donald M. Nicol, The Reluctant Emperor
- Text in PG 151, 693-716, following the edition of Dositheus in the Τόμος ἀγάπης, Bucharest 1698, Prolegomena, pp. 93–114
- Kianka, Frances (1995). "Demetrios Kydones and Italy". Dumbarton Oaks Papers (Washington, D.C.). 49: 99–110. doi:10.2307/1291711.
- Demetrios Kydones, Apologia
- Demetrios Kydones at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
- Downloadable Greek OCR of Heinrich Deckelmann's Teubner edition of De contemnenda morte oratio (1901) from the Lace collection at Mount Allison University.
- Encyclopædia Britannica
- Martin A. Jugie The Palamite Controversy
- Martin A. Jugie The Condemnation of Prochoros Kydones (1368)
- Martin A. Jugie The Triumph of Palamism