Bessarion, Johannes patriarch of Constantinople, and cardinal, was born at Trebizond in 1389 (or, according to Bandini, in 1395). He studied under Gemislius Pletho, who was one of the first to introduce the study of Plato in the West. He took the habit of St. Basil, and spent twenty-one years in a monastery in the Peloponnesus, occupied with his literary and theological studies, becoming one of the most eminent scholars of the age. When the emperor John Palseologus resolved to attend the Council of Ferrara (q.v.), he withdrew Bessarion from his retreat, made him archbishop of Nicaea, and took him to Italy, with Marcus Eugenius, archbishop of Ephesus, and others. At the Council of Ferrara, and also at its adjourned session at Florence, the two most distinguished speakers present were Marcus and Bessarion-the former firm and resolute against any union with Rome on the terms proposed; the latter, at first vacillating, at last declared for the Latins. He was immediately employed by the pope to corrupt others; and by rewards, persuasions, threats, and promises, eighteen of the Eastern bishops were induced to sign the decree made in the tenth session, declaring that the Holy Ghost proceedeth from the Father and the Son; that the Sacrament is validly consecrated in unleavened as well as in leavened bread; that there is a purgatory; and that the Roman pontiff is primate and head of the whole church. The patriarch of Constantinople (who died at the council), Mark of Ephesus, the patriarch of Heraclea, and Athanasius, remained uncorrupted. The Greek deputies returned to Constantinople, and were received there with a burst of indignation. The Greek Church indignantly rejected all that had been done, and in a council at Constantinople, held, according to their own account, a year and a half after the termination of that of Florence, all the Florentine proceedings were declared null and void, and the synod was condemned. Bessarion was branded as an apostate, and found his native home so uncomfortable that he returned to Italy, where Eugenius IV created him cardinal; Nicolas V made him archbishop of Siponto and cardinal-bishop of Sabina; and in 1463, Pius II conferred upon him the rank of titular patriarch of Constantinople. He was even thought of as the successor of Nicolas, and would have been elevated to the papal throne but for the intrigues of cardinal Allan. He was again within a little of being elected upon the death of Pius. He died at Ravenna, November 19,1472, and his body was transported to Rome. His writings are very numerous, and, for the most part, remain unpublished. A catalogue of them is given by Fabricius, Bibliotheca Graeca, 11, 424. His life was written by Bandini (Rome, 1777, 4to). Among his published writings is a treatise, Contra Calumniatorem Platonis (Rome, 1469), against George of Trebisond, who had attacked Plato. His treatise De Sacramento Eucharistiae is given in Bibliotheca
Patrum, vol. 16. In this he asserts that the bread and wine become the body and, blood of Christ, not through the prayer of the priest, but by virtue of the words of Christ. Other theological works of Bessarion may be found in the acts of the Council of Constance by Labbe and Hardouin. — Landon, Ecclesiastical Dictionary, 2, 222; Hook, Ecclesiastical Biography, 2, 346.