On 22 September 2017 Prime Minister took her leading ministers and a gaggle of press to Italy. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was there. So was Brexit Secretary David Davis and Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond. Why? Just for a speech! Then they all returned to London.
Does Germany’s Angela Merkel take such a day trip to foreign lands with her ministers? Does M. Macron? Leaders usually don’t waste taxpayers money for such extravaganzas. They have pride in their own towns and cities.
Aren’t there great cities in Britain? Some are as old or older than Florence. Florence was founded as a settlement by the Etruscans around 200 BCE. it was destroyed by the Romans and rebuilt by Julius Caesar. There are cities in Britain many centuries older. Britain saw off Caesar twice when he tried to invade. He shuffled off to Rome in shame.
Mrs May decided not to take her ministers to Paris, the City of Light. She eschewed Berlin that vortex of the German superpower. Nor were the friendly neighbours of the Netherlands, Belgium or Luxembourg asked to provide a venue. Instead she chose Italy. She tripped to a provincial town, not Rome. Nor did she invite the Italian Prime Minister to listen to her.
What did she do in Florence? She spoke. Aren’t there modern auditoriums in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland?
Apparently not as fitting as the place the British leader chose in Italy. Even as a founder State of the European Community, Italy was then considered on the margins of European power-brokering. Poland and the countries newly freed from the Soviet yoke were not on her list for a suitable backdrop for her speech. And the room in which she spoke was hardly an auditorium with modern acoustics.
Did she choose a richly ornate palace? No. Did she choose the British Institute with its famous library that was celebrating its 100th anniversary? No.
She spoke in an Abbey that had been in disuse. The Santa Maria Novella is the first basilica built in Florence. It dates from the early fifteenth century. But it had been taken over by squatters — pigeons. The place had to cleaned up from their droppings. It was considered an annex of the military police force, the Scuola Sottufficale Carabinieri.
What did PM May say to explain and justify this expense and rupture of custom? She began her speech — without anyone welcoming or introducing her — by saying:
“It’s good to be here in this great city of Florence today at a critical time in the evolution of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union. It was here, more than anywhere else, that the Renaissance began –
- a period of history that inspired centuries of creativity and critical thought across our continent and which in many ways defined what it meant to be European.
- A period of history whose example shaped the modern world.
- A period of history that teaches us that when we come together in a spirit of ambition and innovation, we have it within ourselves to do great things.”
“To do great things” together sounds like a forecast.
What do we see today?
- Europe is in crisis.
- UK is in crisis.
- The Westminster Parliament is in crisis.
That could have been said of the general state of Europe in the 1400s. That is why the Santa Maria Novella is an important landmark. The basilica held a meeting in 1439 between European leaders and theologians and the Emperor of the Roman Empire whose practical area of administration was reduced to Constantinople. In the long imperial absence from western European affairs, although he still retained legal primacy, the pope had set up a phantom Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. (It was Fake News, Fake History. It was neither holy, nor Roman nor German!) A decade and a half later in 1453 the Roman Empire, founded around 750 BCE with a millennium-long capital Constantinople, was extinguished by the Ottoman Turks.
The papacy claimed temporal powers over kings and kingdoms. It had tried to extend its fiefdom to the Angles and Saxons with the mission of Augustine around 600. (The Britons who knew better resisted this intrusion.)
Rome’s main weapon was the Latin language and its Latin version of the Bible to the exclusion of the original languages. The Reformation showed it was a Fake too. Greek had not been taught in Italy for seven centuries before the events of Santa Maria Novella. As for the Hebrew Scriptures, only the Jews and some persecuted non-Catholics even knew that this was the sacred tongue of Moses and Jesus.
In 1420 Pope Martin V called for “the extirpation of Wycklifites, Hussites and other heretics” who were not taken by Catholicism. This followed centuries of slaughter of Waldenians, Henricans, Petrobusians and Bogomils. Historian Raphael Lempkin coined the term “genocide” to describe the perhaps one million killed in the Albigensian-Cathar “crusade“.
Why did the Byzantine emperor decide to come west to what was legally part of his empire but effectively lost? That followed decades of Councils organised by European rulers aiming to reform the debauched papacy and bring peace. The emperor sent his envoys. One of the emperors diplomat/scholars, Chrysolorus, stayed on to become professor of Greek in Florence. The Medicis knew that knowledge was power.
Truth has explosive force. So does reaction to corruption.
Florence and Rome were at loggerheads. In 1478 Pope Sixtus IV tried to assassinate the Medici brothers in Florence’s cathedral. Giuliano died. Leonardo da Vinci became the envoy of Lorenzo Medici to help build up anti-Roman military power in Milan. The Florentine bishops excommunicated pope Sixtus IV. He ‘waded deep in crime and bloodshed,’ wrote a contemporary.
In 1439 the emperor wouldn’t go to Rome. Nor would the pope travel to Ravenna, erstwhile imperial capital in the west, then under Venetian control. So he came to Florence where there was a semblance of biblical scholarship.
Florence was overwhelmed by the arrival of Emperor John Paleologus VIII decked in oriental splendour and with a sumptuous retenue of 700. He also brought with him Joseph II, Patriarch of Constantinople, together with 22 metropolitans, bishops and many theologians and scholars. Pope Eugenius IV may have been surprised to know that his title of ‘pope‘ came from the Greek word meaning ‘father‘ and was applied to all priests in the Greek-speaking world and earlier throughout Europe.
But rich as he might appear, the Roman emperor lacked arms and armies to defend his capital that Constantine established in the 320s. He was shaken by the Catholics’ fraudulent claims too. Would he trade his Orthodox “heresy”, submit to a union with the Roman Catholic pope in exchange for west European swords and men?
This tentative of unity failed on a number of counts. Europe failed to send troops to defend Constantinople. And the theologians there would not countenance the errors of the popes.
The lasting legacy was not the personalities involved. Who remembers their names buried amid fakes of power-brokers. It was that Europeans were able to understand the original Greek and Hebrew and get to grips with the quest for truth in a world full of Fakes. Erasmus published the Greek text side-by-side with an accurate Latin translation.
Fake Faith was finished.
Truth was the motor of the Renaissance.
Brussels and London and all the other capitals are faced with the same problem of truth and true democracy. As usual they may try every other way but the right one until everything else is eliminated. It is time for Europeans to rid themselves of fake history and fake treaties like that of Lisbon. They were rejected in referendums.
It is time to reassert the elementary idea that democracies mean that the people, not the unaccountable politicians, are in charge. That is why the five European institutions of Schuman and the European Founding Fathers that describe a fair and honest balance between
must eventually prevail.
David Heilbron Price