Known as the Theologian and as Maximus Confessor, born at Constantinople about 580; died in exile 13 August, 662. He is one of the chief names in the Monothelite controversy one of the chief doctors of the theology of the Incarnation and of ascetic mysticism, and remarkable as a witness to the respect for the papacy held by the Greek Church in his day. This great man was of a noble family of Constantinople. He became first secretary to the Emperor Heraclius, who prized him much, but he quitted the world and gave himself up to contemplation in a monastery at Chrysopolis, opposite Constantinople. He became abbot there- but seems to have left this retreat on account of its insecurity from hostile attacks. He speaks of the Palestinian ascetic St. Sophronius afterwards Patriarch of Jerusalem, as his master, father, and teacher (Ep. 13), so that he probably passed some time with him, and he was with him in Africa with other monks during the preparations which issued in the "watery union" by which Cyrus the Patriarch reconciled a number of Monophysites to the Church by rejecting the doctrine of "two operations" in Christ (see MONOTHELITISM). The first action of St. Maximus that we know of in this affair is a letter sent by him to Pyrrhus, then an abbot at Chrysopolis, a friend and supporter of Sergius, Patriarch of Constantinople, the patron of the Monothelite expression "two operations". As the letter is said to have entailed a long voyage on the monks who carried it St. Maximus was perhaps already in Africa when he wrote it. Pyrrhus had published a work on the Incarnation, for which St. Maximus gives him rather fulsome praise, as an introduction to the question (which he puts with much diffidence and many excuses) what Pyrrhus means by one energeia or energema. Maximus is clearly anxious to get him to withdraw or explain the mistaken expression, without exasperating him by contradiction.
The Ecthesis of Heraclius was published in 638, and Sergius and Pope Honorius both died in that year. A letter of Maximus tells us on the authority of his friends at Constantinople, that the Roman apocrisiarii who had come thither to obtain the emperor's confirmation for the newly elected Pope Severinus, were met by the clergy of Constantinople with the demand that they should promise to obtain the pope's signature to the Ecthesis, otherwise they should receive no assistance in the matter for which they had made so long a voyage:
Having discovered the tenor of the document, since by refusing they would have caused the first and Mother of Churches, and the city, to remain so long a time in widowhood, they replied quietly: We cannot act with authority in this matter, for we have received a commission to execute, not an order to make a profession of faith. But we assure you that we will relate all that you have put forward, and we will show the document itself to him who is to be consecrated, and if he should judge it to be correct, we will ask him to append his signature to it. But do not therefore place any obstacle in our way now, or do violence to us by delaying us and keeping us here. For none has a right to use violence especially when faith is in question. For herein even the weakest waxes mighty and the meek becomes a warrior, and by comforting his soul with the Divine Word, is hardened against the greatest attack. How much more in the case of the clergy and Church of the Romans, which from of old until now, as the elder of all the Churches under the sun, presides over all? Having surely received this canonically, as well from councils and the Apostles, as from the princes of the latter, and being numbered in their company, she is subject to no writings or issues of synodical documents, on account of the eminence of her pontificate, even as in all these things all are equally subject to her according to sacerdotal law. And so when without fear but with all holy and becoming confidence, those ministers of the truly firm and immovable rock, that is, of the most great and Apostolic Church at Rome, had so replied to the clergy of the royal city, they were seen to have conciliated them and to have acted prudently, that the others might be humble and modest, while they made known the orthodoxy and purity of their own faith from the beginning. But those of Constantinople, admiring their piety, thought that such a deed ought to be recompensed; and ceasing from urging the document on them, they promised by their diligence to procure the issue of the emperor's order with regard to the episcopal election . . Of the aforesaid document a copy has been sent to me also. They have explained in it the cause for being silent about the natural operations in Christ our God, that is, in His natures, of which and in which He is believed to be, and how in future neither one nor two are to be mentioned. It is only to be allowed to confess that the divine and human (works) proceeded from the same Word of God incarnate, and are to be attributed to one and the same (person)."
This passage does not call the prohibition of "two operations" yet by the name of heresy and does not mention the "one Will" confessed in the Ecthesis. But it gives very clearly St. Maximus's view that the smallest point of faith is to be held at the risk of one's life, and it demonstrates the ample admission made at Constantinople, before the struggles began, of the prerogatives of Rome.
When in 641 John IV wrote his defence of Pope Honorius, it was re-echoed by St. Maximus in a letter to Marinus, a priest of Cyprus. He declares that Honorius, when he confessed one will of our Lord, only meant to deny that Christ had a will of the flesh, of concupiscence, since he was conceived and born without stain of sin. Maximus appeals to the witness of Abbot John Symponus, who wrote the letter for Honorius. Pyrrhus was now Sergius's successor, but on the accession of the Emperor Constans in 642 he was exiled. Maximus then sent a letter to the patrician Peter, apparently the Governor of Syria and Palestine who had written to him concerning Pyrrhus, whom he now calls simply abbot. Pyrrhus was in Palestine and Peter had restrained him from putting forward his heretical views. Pyrrhus had declared that he was ready to satisfy Maximus as to his orthodoxy. The latter says he would have written to Peter before
but I was afraid of being thought to transgress the holy laws if I were to do this without knowing the will of the most holy see of Apostolic men, who lead aright the whole plenitude of the Catholic Church, and rule it with order according to the divine law.
they have not conformed to the sense of the Apostolic see, and what is laughable, or rather lamentable, as proving their ignorance, they have not hesitated to lie against the Apostolic see itself . . . but have claimed the great Honorius on their side. . . . What did the divine Honorius do, and after him the aged Severinus, and John who followed him? Yet further, what supplication has the blessed pope, who now sits, not made? Have not the whole East and West brought their tears, laments, obsecrations, deprecations, both before God in prayer and before men in their letters? If the Roman see recognizes Pyrrhus to be not only a reprobate but a heretic, it is certainly plain that everyone who anathematizes those who have rejected Pyrrhus, anathematizes the see of Rome that is, he anathematizes the Catholic Church. I need hardly add that he excommunicates himself also, if indeed he be in communion with the Roman see and the Church of God.... It is not right that one who has been condemned and cast out by the Apostolic see of the city of Rome for his wrong opinions should be named with any kind of honour, until he be received by her, having returned to her nay, to our Lord by a pious confession and orthodox faith, by which he can receive holiness and the title of holy.... Let him hasten before all things to satisfy the Roman see, for if it is satisfied all will agree in calling him pious and orthodox. For he only speaks in vain who thinks he ought to persuade or entrap persons like myself, and does not satisfy and implore the blessed pope of the most holy Church of the Romans, that is, the Apostolic see, which from the incarnate Son of God Himself, and also by all holy synods, according to the holy canons and definitions, has received universal and supreme dominion, authority and power of binding and loosing over all the holy Churches of God which are in the whole world for with it the Word who is above the celestial powers binds and looses in heaven also. For if he thinks he must satisfy others, and fails to implore the most blessed Roman pope, he is acting like a man who, when accused of murder or some other crime, does not hasten to prove his innocence to the judge appointed by the law, but only uselessly and without profit does his best to demonstrate his innocence to private individuals, who have no power to acquit him.
Pyrrhus thought he might regain his see by the help of the pope. He came to Africa, and in July, 645, a public disputation took place between him and Maximus, in the presence of the Governor Gregory (called George in the manuscripts of St. Maximus), who was a friend and correspondent of the saint. The minutes are interesting. Pyrrhus argues that two wills must imply two Persons willing; Maximus replies that in that case there must be three wills in the Holy Trinity. He shows that the will belongs to the Nature, and distinguishes between will as a faculty and will as the act of the faculty. Pyrrhus then admits two wills, on account of the two natures, but adds that we should also confess one will on account of the perfect union. Maximus replies that this would lead us to confess one nature on account of the perfect union. He then cites many passages of Scripture for two wills and two operations. Pyrrhus puts forward Honorius and Vigilius. Maximus defends the former from the charge of teaching two wills, and denies that the latter ever received the letter of Mennas, the authenticity of which is assumed. He complains of the changeableness of Sergius. Lastly the famous "new theandric operation" of the Pseudo-Dionysius is discussed, and is explained and defended by St. Maximus. Then Pyrrhus gives in, and consents to go to Rome, where in fact he condemned his former teaching, and was reconciled to the Church by the pope. But the revolt of Gregory, who made himself emperor in Africa, but was defeated in 647, brought Maximus into disfavour at court, and destroyed the hope of restoring Pyrrhus as orthodox patriarch. After the Ecthesis had been withdrawn, and the Type, Typos, substituted by the Emperor Constans, St. Maximus was present at the great Lateran council held by St. Martin at his instance in 649. He wrote from Rome (where he stayed some years):
The extremities of the earth, and all in every part of it who purely and rightly confess the Lord look directly towards the most holy Roman Church and its confession and faith, as it were to a sun of unfailing light, awaiting from it the bright radiance of the sacred dogmas of our Fathers according to what the six inspired and holy councils have purely and piously decreed, declaring most expressly the symbol of faith. For from the coming down of the incarnate Word amongst us, all the Churches in every part of the world have held that greatest Church alone as their base and foundation, seeing that according to the promise of Christ our Saviour, the gates of hell do never prevail against it, that it has the keys of a right confession and faith in Him, that it opens the true and only religion to such as approach with piety, and shuts up and locks every heretical mouth that speaks injustice against the Most High.
Pope Martin was dragged from Rome in 653, and died of ill treatment at Inkerman in March, 655. It was probably later in that year that an official named Gregory came to Rome to get Pope Eugene to receive the Type. He came to the cell of St. Maximus, who argued with him and denounced the Type. As the saint was recognized as the leader of the orthodox Easterns, he was sent to Constantinople at the end of 655 (not, as is commonly stated, at the same time as St. Martin). He was now seventy-five years old. The acts of his trials have been preserved by Anastasius Bibliothecarius. He was accused of conspiring with the usurper Gregory, together with Pope Theodore, and it was said that he had caused the loss to the empire of Egypt, Alexandria, Pentapolis, and Africa. He refused to communicate with the See of Constantinople,
because they have cast out the four holy councils by the propositions made at Alexandria, by the Ecthesis and by the Type . . . and because the dogmas which they asserted in the propositions they damned in the Ecthesis, and what they proclaimed in the Ecthesis they annulled in the Type, and on each occasion they deposed themselves. What mysteries I ask, do they celebrate, who have condemned themselves and have been condemned by the Romans and by the (Lateran) synod, and stripped of their sacerdotal dignity?
He disbelieved the statement made to him that the envoys of the pope had accepted the confession of "two wills on account of the diversity and one will on account of the union," and pointed out that the union not being a substance could have no will. He wrote on this account to his disciple the Abbot Anastasius, who was able to send a letter to warn "the men of elder Rome firm as a rock" of the deceitful confession which the Patriarch Peter was despatching to the pope. On the day of the first trial a council of clergy was held, and the emperor was persuaded to send Maximus to Byzia in Thrace, and his disciples, Abbot Anastasius and Anastasius the papal apocrisiarius, to Perberis and Mesembria.
They suffered greatly from cold and hunger. On 24 September, 656, Theodosius, Bishop of Caesarea in Bithynia, visited Maximus by the emperor's command, accompanied by the consuls, Theodosius and Paul. The saint confounded his visitors with the authority of the Fathers, and declared that he would never accept the Type. The bishop then replied: "We declare to you in response that if you will communicate, our master the emperor will annul the Type." Maximus answered that the Ecthesis, though taken down, had not been disowned and that the canons of the Lateran Council must be formally accepted before he would communicate. The Byzantine bishop unblushingly urged: "The synod is invalid, since it was held without the Emperor's orders." Maximus retorts: "If it is not pious faith but the order of the emperor that validates synods, let them accept the synods that were held against the Homoousion at Tyre, at Antioch, at Seleucia, and the Robber council of Ephesus."
The bishop is ready to consent to two wills and two operations: but St. Maximus says he is himself but a monk and cannot receive his declaration — the bishop, and also the emperor, and the patriarch and his synod, must send a supplication to the pope. Then all arose with joy and tears, and knelt down and prayed, and kissed the Gospels and the crucifix and the image of the Mother of God, and all embraced. But the consul doubted:
"Do you think," he said, "that the emperor will make a supplication to Rome?"
The bishop gave him money and a tunic, but the tunic was seized by the Bishop of Byzia. On 8 September, the abbot was honourably sent to Rhegium, and next day two patricians arrived in state with Bishop Theodosius and offered the saint great honour if he would accept the Type and communicate with the emperor. Maximus solemnly turned to the bishop and reminded him of the day of judgment.
"What could I do if the emperor took another view?" whispered the miserable man. The abbot was struck and spat upon. The patrician Epiphanius declared that all now accepted two wills and two operations, and that the Type was only a compromise. Maximus reiterated the Roman view that to forbid the use of an expression was to deny it. Next morning, 19 September, the saint was stripped of his money and even of his poor stock of clothes, and was conveyed to Salembria, and thence to Perberis (Perbera).
Six years later, in 662, Maximus and the two Anastasii were brought to trial at Constantinople. They were anathematized, and with them St. Martin and St. Sophronius. The prefect was ordered to beat them, to cut out their tongues and lop off their right hands, to exhibit them thus mutilated in every quarter of the city, and to send them to perpetual exile and imprisonment. A long letter of the Roman Anastasius tells us of their sufferings on the journey to Colchis where they were imprisoned in different forts. He tells us that St. Maximus foresaw in a vision the day of his death, and that miraculous lights appeared nightly at his tomb. The monk Anastasius had died in the preceding month; the Roman lived on until 666.
Thus St. Maximus died for orthodoxy and obedience to Rome. He has always been considered one of the chief theological writers of the Greek Church, and has obtained the honourable title of the Theologian. He may be said to complete and close the series of patristic writings on the Incarnation, as they are summed up by St. John of Damascus. His style is unfortunately very obscure, but he is accurate in his thought and deeply learned in the Fathers. His exegetical works explain Holy Scripture allegorically. We have commentaries on Psalm 59, on the Lord's Prayer, and a number of explanations of different texts. These are principally intended for the use of monks, and deal much with mystical theology. More professedly mystical are his "Scholia" on Pseudo-Dionysius, his explanations of difficulties in Dionysius and St. Gregory Nazianzen and his "Ambigua" on St. Gregory. This last work was translated into Latin by Scotus Erigena at the request of Charles the Bald. The polemical writings include short treatises against the Monophysites, and a more important series against the Monothelites, beside which must be placed the letters and the disputation with Pyrrhus. The numerous ascetical writings have always received great honour in Eastern monasteries. The best known is a beautiful dialogue between an abbot and a young monk on the spiritual life; there are also various collections of sententiae, ethical and devotional, for use in the cloister. The "Mystagogia" is an explanation of ecclesiastical symbolism, of importance for liturgical history. Three hymns are preserved, and a chronological work (published in Petavius's "Uranologium", Paris, 1630, and in P.G., XIX). Some writings exist only in manuscript St. Maximus's literary labours had thus a vast range. He was essentially a monk, a contemplative, a mystic, thoroughly at home in the Platonism of Dionysius. But he was also a keen dialectician, a scholastic theologian, a controversialist. His influence in both lines has been very great. His main teaching may be summed up under two heads, the union of God with humanity by the Incarnation, and the union of man with God by the practice of perfection and contemplation. St. Maximus is commemorated in the Roman Martyrology on 13 August, and in the Greek Menaea on 21 January and 12 and 13 August. His Greek office is given by Combéfis (P.G., XC, 206).
A complete edition of his works was begun by the Dominican Combéfis. Two volumes appeared (Paris 1675), but the third is wanting In the reprint by Migne (P.G., XC-XCI) there is added the "De Locis difficilibus Dionysii et Gregorii", from Oehler's edition (Halle, 1857), and the hymns from Daniel "Thesaurus Hymnolog." III. Anastasius Bibliothecarius has preserved some letters and other documents in Latin in his "Collectanea" (P.L., CXXIX, and Mansi, X). The "Scholia" on Dionysius the Areopagite are printed with the works of the latter (P.G., IV). The ancient "Vita et certamen" (P.G., XC, Acta SS., 13 Aug.) is not contemporary and cannot be trusted.
APA citation. (1911). St. Maximus of Constantinople. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10078b.htm
MLA citation. "St. Maximus of Constantinople." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10078b.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Joe Buehler.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
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