Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy

Living Edition
| Editors: Marco Sgarbi

Bessarion, Cardinal

Born: 2.01.1399/1400/1403/8, Trebizond
Died: 18.11.1472, Ravenna
  • Sergei MarievEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02848-4_25-1


Bessarion was a Byzantine scholar, theologian, philosopher, and cardinal of the Roman Church. He was born in Trebizond on the Black Sea and was brought to Constantinople where he received a literary and philosophical education. In 1430–1431, he joined the circle of Georgios Gemistos’ (Plethon’s) students. in 1438–1439, he participated in the council of Ferrara/Florence as a speaker of Byzantine delegation. After the council, he was made cardinal of the Roman Church. In 1455, he nearly became pope. He was a legatus a latere to Germany, Republic of Venice, France, Burgundy, and England. Almost all of B.’s political activities were directed towards advancing the preparations for the crusade against the Turks. In addition to a number of theological works, Bessarion composed two major philosophical treatises, On Nature and Art and Against the Calumniator of Plato. In Against the Calumniator of Plato, he defends Plato against a number of charges which Georgios of Trebizond had formulated against Plato in his treatise Comparatio philosophorum Platonis et Aristotelis et de praestantia Aristotelis. In On Nature and Art he evinces an agreement between the Platonic and the Aristotelian philosophies and also suggests an accord between Platonic philosophy and Christian theology.


Christian Religion Christian Doctrine Divine Providence Diplomatic Mission Aristotelian Philosophy 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Alternate Names

Also known as “John Bessarion” or “Basileios Bessarion.” He was baptized with the name Basileios and not John (Bianca 1999, pp. 141–149) and adopted the name of an Egyptian anchorite Bessarion upon becoming a monk. He frequently referred to himself as “Bessarion Nicenus” and, on rare occasions, “Bessarion Venetus.” Since the monastic name is meant to replace the baptismal name, the combination “Basileios Bessarion” is misleading and should be avoided.


The year in which he was born is disputed; the month and date, on the contrary, are certain. While most of the older secondary literature (Vast 1878; Mohler 1923, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1942; Labowsky 1967, 1979) follows the testimony of Capranica and gives 1403 (cf. also Coluccia 2009) as the year of his birth, Saffrey (1964) puts it as early as 1399 or 1400, and Monfasani (1986) has convincingly demonstrated that B. was born in 1408. Our knowledge of B.’s early years is mainly derived from the following sources: Niccolò Capranica’s funeral oration (text in Mohler 1923, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1942, vol. III, pp. 404–414), Bartolomeo Platina’s panegyric of B. (PG 161, 104–116), Michael Apostoles’ funeral oration (PG 161, 127–140, material for a new critical edition in A. Riehle’s unpublished master thesis, LMU Munich 2006), and Pietro Ronsano’s essay, composed ca. 1470 (cf. Termini 1915, pp. 163–167). It is very likely that all of these sources, with the exception of Michael Apostoles, were influenced by or indirectly derive their information from the biography of B. that had been composed by Niccolò Perotti, but which was never published and is now lost (cf. Monfasani 1986).

According to these sources, B. was born in Trebizond on the Black Sea and was brought to Constantinople by Dositheos (PLP 5642, cf. Laurent 1933, pp. 153–155) in 1415–1416. There he received a literary and philosophical education under John Chortasmenos (PLP 30897) and Georgios Chrysokokkes (PLP 31142). From the autograph curriculum vitae preserved in Cod. marc. gr. 14, we know that he entered the Basilian order on 30 January 1423 and became a monk on 30 July 1424, taking upon himself the name of the Egyptian anchorite Bessarion. In reference to B.’s early years, Platina and Capranica mention a certain archbishop of Selymbria who was in charge of B.’s education. This information inspired the hypothesis about B.’s sojourn in a monastery in Selymbria (cf. Mohler 1923, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1942, vol. 1, pp. 43–45). However, the fact that B. studied under John Chortasmenos, who is identical with the archiepiscopus Selymbriensis mentioned by Platina and Capranica, does not necessarily imply that B. had actually stayed in Selymbria. As demonstrated by Loenertz (1944, p. 129) and Hunger (1969, p. 18), John Chortasmenos, who was in charge of several monasteries at the time, in fact continued to live in Constantinople and so it is safe to conclude that B.’s education, as he himself stressed on several occasions, took place in Constantinople. B. became a deacon on 8 December 1425 and a priest on 8 October 1430. In 1430–1431, he left the Byzantine capital for the Peloponnese, where he joined the circle of Georgios Gemistos’ (Plethon’s) students and remained until 1436. In his letters dating from this period, he refers with considerable reverence to his teacher Plethon, calling him “most godly leader” and “admirable master” (cf. letters 1, 4 and 8 in Mohler 1923, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1942, vol. 3). This stay proved extremely beneficial not only for his intellectual development but also for his career: B. was soon included, together with his teacher Plethon, in the Byzantine delegation to the Council of Ferrara/Florence (cf. also Ronchey 2002). In fact, B. was made bishop of Nicaea on 11 October 1437, shortly before the Greek delegation departed from Constantinople. Later B. assembled his own early works written during this period in a single manuscript, now known as Cod. marc. gr. 533.

The Byzantines traveled to Italy to negotiate the Union of the Churches, but above all they were seeking military assistance from the West. Their delegation comprised such important intellectual figures as Georgios Scholarios, Mark Eugenikos, Georgios Gemistos (Plethon), Georgios Amiroutzes, and many others. Not all members of the Byzantine delegation were in favor of the union with the Latin Church, and even fewer were disposed to make any concessions to the Latins. Mark Eugenikos, for instance, viewed the council as a kind of tribunal at which he would denounce the heresies of the Latin Church and thought that the Union was only possible if the Latins were ready to accept the teachings of the Greeks. For B. participation in the council was a turning point in his life and a first step towards a brilliant ecclesiastical career in the West. Soon after his arrival in Italy he was chosen to be one of the two spokesmen of the Byzantine delegation (the other being Mark Eugenikos) and was accorded the privilege of pronouncing the opening discourse on 8 October 1438. In it he encouraged the participants of the council to seek the truth and try to suppress the natural tendency of man to wish to prevail. The most controversial issue debated at the council was the question of filioque, which was considered both by the Latins and the Byzantines to be a significant impediment to the Union. Next in the order of importance and closely connected to it was the debate about the legitimacy of additions to the Nicene Creed, followed by discussion of the implications of the primacy of the pope and a series of other minor questions. B. played a central role in finding and negotiating solutions to each of these issues. On 13 April 1439 and 14 April 1439, he delivered his Oratio dogmatica to the assembled Greeks (text in Candal 1958, cf. also Lusini 2001). In it he tried to demonstrate that the teachings of the western saints on the issue of the filioque do not in fact disagree with those of the eastern saints. He also discussed the differences between the prepositions dia (through) and ek (from), thereby envisaging a solution that was approved by the Byzantine patriarch on 04 June 1439 and eventually accepted by the Greek delegation. The remaining issues, such as the doctrine of purgatory and the use of leavened and unleavened bread in the Eucharist, were discussed with much more haste as the Byzantine emperor urged that the negotiations be brought to a successful conclusion. The Byzantines signed the decree of Union on 05 July 1439. In a ceremony which took place in the cathedral of Florence, Cardinal Cesarini read the text of the decree in Latin and B. in Greek. The Union was achieved and the Byzantine delegation prepared to return home. B. left Florence for Venice on 20 July 1439. Either on his way back from Florence to Venice or already in Venice he received a breve of Pope Eugenius IV, who invited him to collaborate with the Roman Church. B. accepted the papal offer and departed for Constantinople on 19 October 1439. On his way to Constantinople, B. was made a cardinal. The Byzantine fleet reached Constantinople on 01 February 1440. B. participated in the election of the new patriarch of Constantinople on 04 May 1440 and used his time in Byzantium to undertake research in libraries, seeking proofs for the Latin doctrine of the filioque in the oldest manuscripts of Basil he could find. This work was described by B. himself in a dogmatic letter addressed to Alexios Laskaris (text of the letter in PG 163, 321–406, research into the manuscripts of Basil mentioned in col. 325).

B.’s presence in the West is securely attested on 05 February 1442, when he signed the decree of Union between the Coptic and the Roman Churches, even though he must have been present in Italy much earlier, possibly as early as 10 December 1440. The bull of Eugenius IV granted B. the possession of houses and gardens adjacent to the Basilica of the Holy Apostles in Rome, which must have increased the cardinal’s financial means. In the same year, he became protector and apostolic visitator of the Basilian Monasteries in southern Italy and Sicily. It was not until 1450, however, that he was entrusted with an important ecclesiastical mission on Italian soil, when Pope Nicholas V made B. his legate to Bologna, Romagna, and the March of Ancona. The objective of B.’s legation was to put an end to the ongoing unrest in Bologna and to reinforce the ties between that city and the Vatican. B. arrived in Bologna on 16 March 1450 and was to remain there for the next 5 years. During this time, he implemented a number of important regulations and reorganized the University of Bologna, establishing the chair of rhetoric. It was in Bologna that he finished his Latin translation of Aristotle’s Metaphysics (Mioni 1960) and came to know Niccolò Perotti, who later became his secretary and close friend. It was also in Bologna that he received the sad news of the capture of Constantinople (1453) and the death of his teacher Georgios Gemistos (Plethon). On 23 March 1455 B. was informed about the grave illness and the imminent death of Pope Nicholas V and departed immediately to Rome. He stood a fairly good chance of becoming the new pope. In fact, during the conclave he was supported by 8 cardinals out of 15, and during the night of 04 April 1455 the probability of his being elected seemed very high. On 08 April 1455, however, Alfonso De Borja was elected as Calixtus III. In the same year, B. departed for Naples, seeking to obtain the support of King Alfonso V for a crusade against the Turks. In the course of the following years, B. was appointed to a number of important ecclesiastical offices. In 1456 he was nominated archimandrite of the monastery of San Salvatore di Messina; in 1458 he was nominated Bishop of Pamplona (he renounced this title in 1462, in which year he became perpetuus administrator sive commendatarius of the monastery of Grottaferrata); in 1458 he also became protector of the Order of Friars Minor.

The year 1458 marked the beginning of B.’s polemics against Georgios Trapezuntios (cf. Monfasani 1976, 2008, 2012, 2013a). It was in this year that B. was informed about the pamphlet distributed by Georgios in which he attacked B.’s views on the role of deliberation in art and nature and about Georgios’ publication of the Comparatio philosophorum Platonis et Aristotelis et de praestantia Aristotelis (henceforth cited as Comparatio). In response to these publications, B. composed his two major philosophical treatises, On Nature and Art (De Natura et Arte, henceforth cited as NA) and Against the Calumniator of Plato (In Calumniatorem Platonis, henceforth cited as ICP), which were completed and published 10 years later in 1469 (cf. also Hankins 1991).

Following the death of Calixtus III on 14 August 1458 and the election of Enea Silvio Piccolomini as Pius II, B., who in the conclave of 1458 opposed his candidature mostly in consideration of his ill health, was able to quickly gain confidence of the new pope. Almost all of B.’s activity during this time was directed towards advancing the preparations for the crusade against the Turks. This political project had occupied B.’s attention from the time of his participation in the Council of Ferrara/Florence, but had become even more important to him after the capture of Constantinople in 1453. In January 1460, at the end of the Council of Mantua, which had been convened by Pius II in 1459 and in which B. had taken an active part, he was appointed legatus a latere and entrusted with a difficult if not impossible diplomatic mission of communicating the decisions of the Council of Mantua in favor of war against the Turks to the German princes and gaining their support. His other objective was to mediate in the conflict between the Holy Roman emperor Frederick III and Matthias Corvinus over dynastic succession in Hungary. In spite of a number of important results that B. was in fact able to achieve in Germany, his mission as a whole is rightly considered a failure as he was not able to obtain the support of the German princes for the war against the Turks. After prolonged stops in Nuremberg in February 1460 and in Worms, B. proceeded to Vienna, which he reached on 04 May 1460 and where he remained until autumn of 1461, when he returned to Italy (he arrived in Bologna on 23 October 1461 and in Rome on 20 November 1461).

Next important diplomatic mission with which B. was entrusted was an embassy to Venice. He departed for Venice as a legatus a latere on 05 July 1463 and arrived there on 22 July 1463. After only a week of negotiation, the Republic of Venice declared its intent to break off diplomatic relations with the Turks; the crusade was proclaimed in the Piazza San Marco on 28 August 1463. B. firmly believed that the outbreak of war was imminent and worked fervently on the final preparations. The pope asked Cristoforo Moro, the doge of Venice, to place himself at the head of the fleet, and the doge confirmed his intent to lead the crusade. However, these preparations came to an abrupt end with the death of Pope Pius II on 14 and 15 August 1464. During the conclave of 1464, Pietro Balbo was elected as Pope Paul II on August 30. The newly elected pope declared that the “chapters” or binding agreements that determined the conduct of elected prelates were only advisory rather than obligatory, which antagonized some the cardinals and in particular B., who had played an important role in drafting this document. For this reason and on account of his ill health, B. chose to reduce his political engagement and decided to dedicate more time to his studies (cf. Monfasani 2011). However, he did not retire completely from public life but continued to fulfill a number of important ecclesiastical functions. In 1468 he successfully interceded with Paul II on behalf of Platina who had been imprisoned together with other members of the Roman Academy (Palermino 1980). After the death of Paul II on 26 July 1471, the humanistic circles of Rome favored the candidacy of B., and in the conclave of that year B. could count on a number of votes. However, Francesco della Rovere was elected as Sixtus IV. The newly elected pope continued the policy of his predecessors towards the Turks and decided to send five legates to a number of European rulers in order to negotiate a new alliance against the Turks. B. was nominated legatus a latere to France, Burgundy, and England. One of his main objectives was to negotiate between King Louis XI of France and the Dukes of Burgundy and Brittany. B. was also supposed to obtain their support for a crusade against the Turks and to discuss several questions of importance to the Pope. B. was initially hesitant to accept this charge, but finally agreed, leaving Rome on 20 April 1472. On his way to France, he made frequent stops (in Urbino, Cesena, Bologna, Modena, Reggio Emilia, Parma) and reached Lyon on 20 June 1472. After a period of waiting, he was finally received by the king in Château Gontier on 23 and 24 August 1472, but his encounter with the king failed to bring the desired results. B. refused the king’s request to excommunicate the Dukes of Burgundy and Brittany and was obliged by the king to return to Italy without meeting the dukes. B. died in Ravenna on 18 November 1472 on his way back from France. His corpse was transferred to Rome and a funeral service was held on 03 December 1472 in the Basilica of the Twelve Apostles in the presence of the pope. Niccolò Capranica gave a funeral oration in B.’s honor. B. was buried in the grave he had prepared for himself in advance, decorated with his emblem showing two hands upholding the cross.

Heritage and Rupture with the Tradition

In addition to a number of theological works (Rigo 1994, 2012), Bessarion composed two major philosophical works, NA and ICP, which appeared in print in Latin as one book in 1469. For a partial translation and summary of the content of the ICP cf. Del Soldato (2014). In the first book of the ICP, B. defends Plato against a specific charge which Georgios of Trebizond had formulated against him in his Comparatio, namely of being an ignorant person who was incapable of writing down the principles of any art. B. does not limit himself to an explanation of Plato’s motives, but also praises his wisdom by demonstrating Plato’s mastery of every art and science, from rhetoric to dialectic, from mathematics to physics, and, above all, theology. In particular, B. adopts a conciliatory strategy which had been characteristic of Simplikios: on the one hand, he praises Plato as theologian while, on the other hand, he describes Aristotle as an excellent physicist, who focuses on natural beings (ICP I, III.1; cf. e.g., Simpl. In Phys., 404.21–405.5).

In the second book of the ICP, B. states explicitly his own intentions (ICP II, I.1): since both Plato and Aristotle were far removed from Christian religion, he is certainly not going to demonstrate that Plato was a Christian, but to show instead that Platonic philosophy is in closer harmony with Christian doctrine than is Aristotelian philosophy, so that it is easier to corroborate the truth of Christian religion using Plato’s writings rather than using those of Aristotle. Since Georgios of Trebizond, on the contrary, dares to present Aristotle as a Christian, B. intends to demonstrate that Aristotle had in fact never defended the theses characteristic of the Christian doctrine which Georgios attributes to him. B. aims to show that Georgios’ conviction that Aristotle had defended Christian theses is simply due to a misunderstanding and to his ignorance of the principles of Aristotelian philosophy (ICP II, III.2). It is important for B. to stress that it is not his intention to offend Aristotle in any way, because he honors both Aristotle and Plato (ICP II, III.2); B. also declares that he is aware of the fact that some aspects of Platonic philosophy are incompatible with Christian doctrine (ICP II, III.3) and cannot, therefore, be approved or shared by Christians. Nonetheless, Platonic philosophy exhibits a closer affinity with Christian doctrine than does Aristotelian, and B. intends to demonstrate this by confuting point by point each of Georgios’ theses. In the Comparatio II 3,20, Georgios makes reference to a passage from On the Heavens I,1 in which Aristotle introduces the concept of the triad (De cael. I 1, 268 a 9–13), and he uses this passage to prove that Aristotle had arrived at the idea of the Trinity; he then contrasts Aristotle with Plato and maintains that Plato not only had never known or grasped the Trinity, but had even professed the most abominable polytheism. B. replies that the Aristotelian passage referred to by Georgios in no way has the meaning which George wishes to attribute to it; this is made evident by the interpretation of the same passage by such authorities as Thomas Aquinas (ICP II, V.1). In this way, B. succeeds in showing both Georgios’ lack of skill as an interpreter of Aristotle’s thought and Georgios’ superficial knowledge of Scholastic authors. B. is convinced that neither Plato nor Aristotle had arrived at knowledge of the Trinity, since the human mind is unable to acquire by itself such knowledge. This knowledge is in fact acquirable only by faith and through divine instruction (ICP II, V. 3). And yet, B. makes reference to Plotinos’ treatise On the Three Primary Hypostases and to those passages in the Platonic dialogues which had been used by Plotinos himself in this context in order to prove that his theory was the true doctrine of Plato (ICP II, V. 4–9; cf. Plot. Enn. V.1,8), and he shows that Plato and the Platonists – and not Aristotle, who never speaks about the Trinity (ICP II, V. 10) – had somehow arrived at an understanding of the Trinity, even though their comprehension of it was far removed from the teachings of the Christian religion (ICP II, V. 3). B. has no difficulties in dismissing Georgios’ accusation of polytheism too: he points out that Aristotle also assumed a plurality of Gods, which becomes evident if one considers the Aristotelian doctrine of the 55 movers (Arist. Metaph. XII 8, 1073a37ff.). Thus, both Plato and Aristotle are guilty of an error that Georgios would like to ascribe to Plato alone (ICP II, V.12–13), and both are extraneous to the Christian religion. In Comparatio II 10–11, Georgios maintains that while in Plato’s view all beings come to be only through a process of production out of a preexistent matter, Aristotle arrives at the idea of creation out of nothing and in virtue of the sole will of God (ICP II, VI.1). B. replies that the opposite is true: Aristotle denies that something can come into being absolutely out of nothing (Arist. Phys. 191 a 30–31) and teaches that matter is eternal and nongenerated (Arist. Phys. 192 a 25ff.), whereas Plato is of the opinion that matter has been produced by God and is, therefore, “generated” in the sense of having a cause (ICP II, VI.5; II, VII). In order to demonstrate that for the Platonists matter does not constitute an independent principle or a cause which is equal to God and itself uncaused, B. relies on the Proklean doctrine according to which matter, as ultimate unlimitedness, proceeds both from the One and from the primary Unlimitedness, and cites almost verbatim passages from Proklos’ Commentary on Plato’s Timaeus (cf. ICP II, VI.11, p. 120, 15–21 Mohler; cf. Prokl. In Tim. I 384, 30–385, 10). B. is aware that Plato himself declared in the Timaeus that “there are Being and Space and Becoming […] even before the heavens were created” (Pl. Tim. 52d 2–3; ICP II, VI.7, p. 114, 12–13), which had led some to believe that for Plato matter is uncaused and precedes the generation of the universe. However, B. explains that this interpretation is erroneous. Taking up a well-known Proklean argument, he explains that it is only the account (λόγος) that divides things that have been set up together and introduces a succession where all is at once (cf. Prokl. In Tim. I 382, 30–32; II 101, 5–7; cf. ICP II, VI.7, p. 114, 17–19, where B. quotes verbatim Prokl. In Tim. II 101, 5–7). This means for B. that in Plato’s view matter and cosmos are distinct merely conceptually (epinoia) and with respect to the account, but not in reality (pragmati) (ICP II, VI.7). It is true that matter constitutes a principle of things that come to be, but it is not the principle simpliciter. Moreover, for B., who takes up here the Neoplatonic distinction between the causes, properly so-called, and the by-causes (cf. Prokl. El.Th. prop. 75), matter is not even conceived by Plato (and the Platonists) as a cause, but as a by-cause (ICP II, VI.16). In order to define its essence, B. basically reassumes Simplikios’ doctrine (cf. ICP II, VI.16 e cf. Simpl. In Phys. 227, 23–231, 30).

Since Georgios also criticizes the Platonic doctrine of soul (Comparatio II, 12), B. felt the need to demonstrate that Plato had a “sublime” opinion on this issue. B. admits that some of Plato’s opinions are unacceptable for a Christian (e.g., the idea of the preexistence of souls, cf. ICP II, VIII.16), but he points out that Plato’s teaching is nonetheless in accord with Christian doctrine. Against Georgios who criticizes Plato’s idea that souls transmigrate into the bodies of irrational animals, B. points out that Plato had spoken of the bodies of wild beasts only in order to instill fear into the common people and to keep them away from vice. Moreover, B. remarks that even if Plato had admitted this kind of transmigration, it should not be understood in the way Georgios understands it (ICP II, VIII.23). Georgios also contends that Plato had denied providence (Comparatio, II, 17). So B. lists all passages in which Plato speaks of divine providence, pointing out that especially in Book X of the Laws Plato accuses of impiety anyone who denies providence and presents a doctrine of providence that in many respects is quite similar to Christian teachings on the same subject (ICP II, IX.11). What is more, B. points out that it is Aristotle who seems to deny providence, since he conceives the divine intellect as thinking only of itself (Arist. Metaph. XII 9), which could lead to the conclusion that for Aristotle God is not concerned with human matters and, therefore, does not exercise providence over them, given that it is not possible to care about that which is unknown (ICP II, IX.2). B. also employs many arguments in order to confute the accusation that Georgios formulates in Comparatio II, 17, according to which Plato had supposedly stated that everything happens of necessity. In particular, B. refers to the theory of divine knowledge formulated by Proklos in the Elements of Theology (Prokl. El.Th., prop. 124), in order to demonstrate not only that the Platonists had admitted divine providence and the divine knowledge that is connected to it, but also that they had even been able to form such a concept of the divine knowledge that does not annihilate contingency (ICP II, X. 9–10).

In the third book, B. directs his attention to the same subjects that he had already addressed in the second book (such as the Trinity, matter, soul, providence, fate, and necessity) and supports his arguments with evidence taken from Christian and especially Scholastic sources, and he demonstrates how weak is Georgios’ knowledge of both these sources and Aristotle. With regard to the Trinity, B. points out that the mystery of the Trinity was known neither to Plato nor to Aristotle even if some hints suggesting a vague inkling of the Trinity may be found more frequently in Plato than in Aristotle (ICP III, XV. 1). In reply to Georgios’ assertion that Aristotle had fathomed the Trinity from vestiges of it found in the created world (Comparatio II 4, 17–20), B. stresses that all theologians (from Augustine to Aquinas, from Basil the Great to Gregory of Nazianzos) uphold the impossibility of knowing the Trinity by natural reason alone (ICP III, XV. 2). Additionally B. emphasizes that according to these theologians the created world allows one to obtain knowledge of the essential attributes of God, but neither of the personal properties nor of the essential attributes associated with persons (i.e., ascribed to the persons by appropriation), insofar as they are associated with them (ICP III, XV.4; cf. Thom. S.Th., I, 32,1; S.Th. I, 39,7). This means that if Aristotle had had some knowledge of God through his knowledge of God’s creatures, he could have known only the essential attributes of God (ICP III, XV.6). B. goes even further and makes an attempt to demonstrate that the idea of the Trinity itself does not accord with the principles of Aristotelian metaphysics (ICP III, XIX.3–5). Finding support in the testimonies of Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas (ICP III, XX.11 e XX.14), B. even shows that the concept of the creatio ex nihilo is at variance with the principles of Aristotle’s metaphysics and concludes that Georgios was able to find this concept in Aristotle only because he was not familiar with Aristotle or because he misinterpreted his thought. In the Comparatio II 16, 13–14, Georgios states that if God creates everything out of nothing, then the soul too must have been created by God, and he remarks that according to Aristotle himself the soul comes into being together with the body because of God who creates it ex nihilo and infuses it into the body (that is, by virtue of God’s creation out of nothing). In response, B. demonstrates that the idea of a creatio ex nihilo is entirely foreign to Aristotle as well as the idea that the soul comes into being together with the body in virtue of an act of divine creatio ex nihilo (ICP III, XXVII, 1–3).

In the fourth book of ICP, B. defends Plato against the accusation formulated by Georgios in the third part of the Comparatio, i.e., the charges of voluptuousness and depravity. Book V lists several errors which B. was able to identify in Georgios of Trebizond’s Latin translation of Plato’s Laws (cf. also Pagani 2011). In this “review,” B. first cites the original passages from Plato’s Laws that, in his view, had been translated incorrectly by Georgios, then provides observations on semantics, syntax, different readings of the manuscripts, and various possibilities for translating these passages into Latin, and finally suggests his own solution. In this way he lists from the Laws 76 problematic words, phrases or passages, 46 from the first book, and 30 from the second book. In some cases, B. includes longer comments or observations on Plato’s text or attacks Georgios ad personam, for instance, by mentioning some details about Georgios’ business or private life that serve to discredit him.

The sixth book of ICP was actually composed prior to books I–V (Mariev 2013). It was written after Georgios had published the Comparatio but before B. had had the chance to read it. In 1458, Georgios of Trebizond had published a refutation of a letter which B. had written to Theodoros Gazes, who in turn had previously asked for B.’s opinion regarding some observations that Georgios Gemistos (Plethon) had made in his De differentiis. When B. heard of the letter written by Georgios of Trebizond in which he was attacked, he decided to compose a comprehensive reply. This must have been completed, or at least initiated, prior to B.’s participation in the Council of Mantua and his legation to Germany and was later added as the sixth and last book of the ICP. Critical edition of the Greek and two Latin versions of this book (with German translation) is found in Mariev et al. (2015), an often unreliable Italian translation based on Mohler’s text in Accendere and Privitera (2014). In Chapter I of NA, B. recapitulates the position of Theodoros Gazes, who defends the Aristotelian standpoint regarding the relationship between nature, finality, and deliberation, and maintains that neither art nor nature deliberates. Theodoros invites B. to offer a demonstration of the thesis which Georgios Gemistos (Plethon) had defended in his treatise De differentiis: in this work Plethon had criticized Aristotle’s idea that nature produces its products for the sake of an end, even if it does not deliberate. In Chapter II, B. demonstrates that it is true that Aristotle attributes purposiveness to nature but denies that nature deliberates, whereas Plato and the Platonists believe that nature not only acts for the sake of an end but also deliberates. And yet, Aristotle and Plato (and the Platonists) are not in disagreement. If Plato and the Platonists ascribe deliberation to nature, they do not intend thereby to maintain that nature exercises its own proper reasoning. On the contrary, nature’s deliberation is in fact the deliberation which is exercised by the intellect that governs nature and directs it towards an end. So nature is not the highest cause but only an instrumental cause. In this way, B. finds a solution that evinces an agreement between the Platonic and the Aristotelian philosophies and he also suggests an accord between Platonic philosophy and Christian theology. The concept of nature as instrumental cause is indeed Platonic (cf. Simpl. In Phys. 314. 9–14), but it perfectly accords with the Thomistic idea of nature as instrumentum dei (Thom., S.Th., I–II, 1,2). B. refers to Thomas Aquinas not only in Chapter II, where he quotes Aquinas’ text without mentioning his name, but also in many other passages of this treatise where he explicitly advocates the authority of “our theologians, especially the Latin ones” (ICP VI, VIII.4). The treatise NA contains the letter of Georgios of Trebizond addressed to Jesaiah of Cyprus (Chapter III) in which Georgios tries to demonstrate the various weaknesses of B.’s standpoint – it was this letter that had prompted the composition of the NA – and harshly criticizes the central concept which B. had employed in order to prove that nature deliberates, namely the concept of nature as an instrumental cause, i.e., an instrument of the intellect. Georgios argues that if nature were an instrument, it would be separated from its products and not connected with them in an inseparable way and intrinsically conjoined with them as nature is supposed to be according to Aristotle. In Chapters IV–X of NA, B. replies to the accusations of Georgios and demonstrates Georgios’ incompetence in Aristotle’s metaphysics, corroborating his own interpretation of Aristotle by the reference to the exegesis of famous Aristotelians such as Alexander of Aphrodisias. In the third book of ICP (ICP III, XX.17), B. refers again to Georgios’ criticism of the concept of nature as an instrument found in George’s letter to Jesaiah (which forms part of NA), and he points out the surprising and even ironical fact that Georgios himself makes use of the very same concept in the Comparatio (II,10) in order to praise Aristotle, which constitutes for B. yet another proof of Georgios’ incoherence and incompetence (cf. also Del Soldato 2008).


  1. Accendere, P.D., and I. Privitera (eds.). 2014. Bessarione: La natura delibera – La natura e l’arte. Milano, Bompiani.Google Scholar
  2. Bianca, C. 1999. Da Bisanzio a Roma. Studi sul Cardinale Bessarione. Roma, Roma nel Rinascimento.Google Scholar
  3. Candal, E. (ed.). 1958. Bessarion Nicaenus, S.R.E. Cardinalis: Oratio dogmatica de unione. Romae, Pontificium institutum orientalium studiorum.Google Scholar
  4. Coluccia G.L. 2009. Basilio Bessarione. Lo spirito greco e l’occidente. Firenze, Olschki.Google Scholar
  5. Del Soldato, E. 2008. Platone, Aristotele e il Cardinale. Il De natura et arte di Bessarione. Rinascimento, s. 2 XLVIII: 61–79.Google Scholar
  6. Del Soldato, E. (ed.). 2014. Basilio Bessarione: Contro il Calunniatore di Platone. Roma, Edizioni di storia e letteratura.Google Scholar
  7. Hankins, J. 1991. Plato in the Italian Renaissance. I-II. Leiden, Brill.Google Scholar
  8. Hunger, H. 1969. Johannes Chortasmenos (ca. 1370–ca. 1436/37). Briefe, Gedichte und kleine Schriften. Wien.Google Scholar
  9. Laurent, V. 1933. La liste épiscopale du synodicon de Monembasie’, Échos d’Orient, xxxvi, pp. 129–161.Google Scholar
  10. Labowsky, L. 1967. Bessarione. Verlag der österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani IX: 686–696.Google Scholar
  11. Labowsky, L. 1979. Bessarion’s library and the Biblioteca Marciana. Six early inventories. Roma, Edizioni di storia e letteratura.Google Scholar
  12. Loenertz, R.-J. 1944. Pour une biographie du cardinal Bessarion. Orientalia Christiana Periodica 10: 116–149.Google Scholar
  13. Lusini, G. (ed.). 2001. Bessarione di Nicea: Orazione dogmatica sull’unione dei Greci e dei Latini. Napoli, Vivarium.Google Scholar
  14. Mariev, S. 2013. Der Traktat De natura et arte des Kardinals Bessarion. In “Inter graecos latinissimus, inter latinos graecissimus”: Bessarion zwischen den Kulturen, ed. C. Märtl, Ch. Kaiser, and Th. Ricklin, 367–389. Berlin/Boston, De Gruyter.Google Scholar
  15. Mariev, S., M. Marchetto, and K. Luchner (eds.). 2015. Bessarion: Über Natur und Kunst. Hamburg, Felix Meiner.Google Scholar
  16. Mioni, E. 1960. Contributo del cardinale Bessarione all’interpretazione della Metafisica aristotelica. In Atti del XII Congresso internazionale di filosofia, IX. Aristotelismo padovano e filosofia aristotelica, 173–181. Firenze.Google Scholar
  17. Mohler, L. (ed.). 1923–1942. Kardinal Bessarion als Theologe, Humanist und Staatsmann, I. Darstellung; II. Bessarionis in calumniatorem Platonis libri IV; III. Aus Bessarions Gelehrtenkreis. Abhandlungen, Reden, Briefe von Bessarion, Theodoros Gazes, Michael Apostolios, Andronikos Kallistos, Georgios Trapezuntios, Niccolò Perotti, Niccolò Capranica. Paderborn.Google Scholar
  18. Monfasani, J. 1976. George of Trebizond: A biography and a study of his rhetoric and logic. Leiden, Brill.Google Scholar
  19. Monfasani, J. 1986. Platina, Capranica and Perotti: Bessarion’s Latin eulogists and his date of birth. In Bartolomeo Sacchi il Platina, ed. A. Campana, and P. Medioli Masotti, 97–136. Padova, Antenore.Google Scholar
  20. Monfasani, J. 1995. Byzantine scholars in Renaissance Italy: Cardinal Bessarion and other emigrés. Selected essays. Aldershot.Google Scholar
  21. Monfasani, J. 2004. Greeks and Latins in Renaissance Italy: Studies on humanism and philosophy in the 15th century. Aldershot.Google Scholar
  22. Monfasani, J. 2008. A Tale of Two Books: Bessarion’s In Calumniatorem Platonis and George of Trebizond’s Comparatio Philosophorum Platonis et Aristotelis. Renaissance Studies. Journal of the Society for Renaissance Studies 22(1): 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Monfasani, J. 2011. Bessarion Scholasticus: A study of Cardinal Bessarion’s Latin library. Turnhout, Brepols.Google Scholar
  24. Monfasani, J. 2012. Cardinal Bessarion’s Greek and Latin sources in the Plato-Aristotle controversy of the 15th century and Nicholas of Cusa’s Relation to the controversy. In Knotenpunkt Byzanz: Wissensformen und kulturelle Wechselbeziehungen, ed. A. Speer, and P. Steinkrüger, 469–480. Berlin/Boston, De Gruyter.Google Scholar
  25. Monfasani, J. 2013a. George Gemistos Pletho and the West: Greek Émigrés, Latin Scholasticism, and Renaissance Humanism. In Renaissance encounters: Greek East and Latin West, ed. M.S. Brownlee, and D. Gondicas, 19–34. Leiden, Brill.Google Scholar
  26. Monfasani, J. 2013b. The pre- and post-history of Cardinal Bessarion’s 1469 In Calumniatorem Platonis. In “Inter graecos latinissimus, inter latinos graecissimus” Bessarion zwischen den Kulturen, ed. C. Märtl, Ch. Kaiser, and Th. Ricklin, 347–366. Berlin/Boston, De Gruyter.Google Scholar
  27. Pagani, F. 2011. Platonis Leges Georgio Trapezuntio interprete cum Bessarionis animadversionibus. Introduzione, edizione critica e appendici, PhD Thesis unpublished.Google Scholar
  28. Palermino, R.J. 1980. The Roman Academy, the catacombs and the conspiracy of 1468. Archivum Historiae Pontificiae 18: 117–155.Google Scholar
  29. Rigo, A. 1994. Le opere d’argomento teologico del giovane Bessarione. In Bessarione e l’Umanesimo, ed. G. Fiaccadori, 33–46. Napoli, Vivarium.Google Scholar
  30. Rigo, A. 2012. La teologia di Bessarione da Costantinopoli a Roma. In Bessarione e la sua Accademia, ed. A. Gutkowski, and E. Prinzivalli, 21–55. Roma, Casa Editrice Miscellanea Francescana.Google Scholar
  31. Ronchey, S. 2002. L’ultimo bizantino. Bessarione e gli ultimi regnanti di Bisanzio. In L’eredità greca e l’ellenismo veneziano, ed. G. Benzoni, 75–92. Firenze, Olschki.Google Scholar
  32. Saffrey, H.D. 1964. Recherches sur quelques autographes du cardinal Bessarion et leur caractère autobiographique. In Mélanges Eugène Tisserant, Pt. 3, 263–297. Città del Vaticano.Google Scholar
  33. Termini, F.A. 1915. Pietro Ransano: umanista palermitano del sec. XV. Palermo, Libreria editrice A. Trimarchi.Google Scholar
  34. Vast, H. 1878. Le Cardinal Bessarion (1403–1472). Étude sur la Chrétienté et la Renaissance vers le milieu du XVe siècle. Paris, Hachette.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Byzantine Studies, Byzantine Art History and Modern Greek PhilologyLudwig-Maximilian University of MunichMunichGermany