Icon of St. Maximus
|Confessor, Theologian, Homogoletes|
|Born||c. 580 in Constantinople or Palestine|
|Died||August 13, 662 in exile in Georgia (Eurasia)|
|Venerated in||Eastern Christianity and Western Christianity|
|Feast||August 13 in the West, January 21 in the East|
Saint Maximus the Confessor (also known as Maximus the Theologian and Maximus of Constantinople) (c. 580 - August 13, 662 C.E.) was a Christian monk, theologian, and scholar. In his early life, he was a civil servant and an aide to the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius (610-641 C.E.). However, he gave up his life in the political sphere in order to devote himself to religious observance as a cenobite.
After moving to Carthage, Maximus apprenticed himself to Saint Sophronius, who instructed him in the theological teachings of Gregory of Nazianzus and Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, as well as the philosophical speculations of the Neo-Platonists. Under these influences, the young novice began his new vocation as an author and theologian.
When one of his friends began espousing the Christological position later known as Monothelitism, Maximus was drawn into the controversy, supporting the Chalcedonian position that Jesus had both a human and a divine will. After various theological debates and political maneuverings, he was eventually exiled for his beliefs and died soon after. However, his theology was vindicated by the Third Council of Constantinople and he was publicly sanctified soon after his death. Maximus is venerated in both Western Christianity and Eastern Christianity, and his feast day is August 13 in the former, and January 21 in the latter.
Very little is known about the details of Maximus' life prior to his involvement in the theological and political conflicts of the Monothelite controversy. Maximus was most likely born in Constantinople, albeit a biography, written by his Maronite opponents, has him born in Palestine. Maximus was born into Byzantine nobility, as indicated by his appointment to the position of personal secretary to Emperor Heraclius (610-641 C.E.). For reasons unknown, Maximus left public life in 630, and took monastic vows at a monastery in Chrysopolis (also known as Scutari, the modern Turkish city of Üsküdar), a city across the Bosphorus from Constantinople. In his years in Chrysopolis, Maximus was elevated to the position of Abbot of the monastery.
When the Persian Empire conquered Anatolia, Maximus was forced to flee to a monastery near Carthage. It was there that he came under the tutelage of Saint Sophronius, and began studying the Christological writings of Gregory of Nazianzus and Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. It was also during his stay in Carthage that Maximus began his career as a theological and spiritual writer. At this time, Maximus also became esteemed as a holy man by both the exarch (provincial governor) and the population, ostensibly becoming an influential (though unofficial) political adviser and spiritual head in North Africa.
While Maximus was in Carthage, a controversy arose regarding how to understand the interaction between the human and divine natures within the person of Jesus. This Christological debate was the latest development in the disagreements following the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E., which intensified after the Council of Chalcedon in 451 C.E. The Monothelite position was a compromise to appease those Christologies declared to be heretical at Chalcedon, as it adhered to the Chalcedonian definition of the hypostatic union: that Christ possessed two natures, one divine and one human, which were united in His incarnate flesh. However, it went on to say that Christ had only a single, indivisible will (which was frequently conflated with the divine will alone). Indeed, the name for the heresy itself is derived from the Greek for "one will." This theological perspective came to have tremendous authority, as it was endorsed as the official Christology of the Holy Roman Empire in the Ecthesis of Heraclius (an imperial edict dated 638 C.E.).
The Monothelite position was promulgated by Patriarch Sergius I of Constantinople and by Maximus's friend (and the successor to the Abbacy at Chrysopolis), Pyrrhus, who became, for a brief period, the Patriarch of Constantinople (638-641). After his friend's exile, Maximus and the deposed Patriarch held a public debate on the issue of Monothelitism. In the debate, which was held in the presence of many North African bishops, Maximus vehemently defended the orthodox (though politically unpopular) position that Jesus possessed both a human and a divine will. Convinced by his compatriot's adept theologizing, Pyrrhus admitted the error of the Monothelite position, and agreed to travel to Rome, where he could recant his previous views and submit to the authority of Pope Theodore I (who supported the Chalcedonian Christology) in 645 . However, on the death on Emperor Heraclius and the ascension of Emperor Constans II, Pyrrhus returned to Constantinople and recanted of his acceptance of the Dyothelite ("two wills") position—most likely due to political considerations, as he had "abandoned hope of being restored to the patriarchal throne by Gregory [the imperial exarch in Carthage] and the anti-Monothelites."
At this time, Maximus may have remained in Rome, because he was present when the newly elected Pope Martin I convened a gathering of bishops at the Lateran Basilica in 649. The 105 bishops in attendance officially condemned Monothelitism, as recorded in the official acts of the synod, which some believe may have been written by Maximus. It was in Rome that Pope Martin and Maximus were arrested in 653 C.E. under orders from Constans II, who, in keeping with the Ecthesis of Heraclius, supported the Monothelite doctrine. Pope Martin was condemned without a trial, and died before he could be sent to the Imperial Capital.
Maximus' refusal to accept Monothelitism caused him to be brought to the imperial capital to be tried as a heretic in 655 C.E., as the Monothelite position had gained the favor of both the Emperor and the Patriarch of Constantinople. In spite of tremendous secular and religious pressure, Maximus stood behind his Dyothelite theology, for which he was "sentenced to banishment at Bizya, in Thrace, were he suffered greatly from cold, hunger, and neglect." Throughout this difficult time, the erstwhile abbot was repeatedly petitioned by the emperor, who offered a full pardon (and even a position of authority) if he would simply accede to the imperially-sanctioned theology. As Louth cogently summarizes,
In 662 C.E., Maximus (and his two loyal disciples) were placed on trial once more, and were once more convicted of heresy. Following the trial, Maximus was tortured, having his tongue cut out (to silence his "treasonous" critiques of the state) and his right hand cut off (so that he could no longer write epistles contrary to the official theology). Maximus was then exiled to the Lazica or Colchis region of Georgia (perhaps the city of Batum), where, on August 13, 662 C.E., his eighty-year old frame succumbed to the indignities visited upon it. The events of the trials of Maximus were recorded by his pupil, Anastasius Bibliothecarius, which served as part of the source material for the hagiographical accounts of his life produced in the years that followed.
Along with Pope Martin I, Maximus was vindicated by the Third Council of Constantinople (the Sixth Ecumenical Council, 680-681 C.E.), which declared that Christ possessed both a human and a divine will. With this declaration, Monothelitism became heresy (which consequently meant that Maximus was innocent of all charges that had been laid against him).
Maximus is among those Christians who were venerated as saints shortly after their deaths. More specifically, the atrocities visited upon the simple monk, plus the eventual vindication of his theological position made him extremely popular within a generation of his death. This cause was significantly aided by accounts of miracles occurring at and around his tomb. In the Roman Catholic Church the veneration of Maximus began prior to the foundation of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, meaning that there was never a formal canonization procedure.
As a student of Pseudo-Dionysius (Denys the Aeropagite), Maximus was one of many Christian theologians who preserved and interpreted Neo-Platonic philosophy, including the thought of such figures as Plotinus and Proclus.
The Platonic influence on Maximus' thought can be seen most clearly in his theological anthropology. Here, Maximus adopted the Platonic model of exidus-reditus (exit and return), teaching that humanity was made in the image of God and that the purpose of salvation is to restore us to unity with God. This emphasis on divinization or theosis helped secure Maximus' place in Eastern theology, as these concepts have always held an important place in Eastern Christianity. Christologically, Maximus insisted on a strict Dyophysitism, which can be seen as a corollary of the emphasis on theosis. In terms of salvation, humanity is intended to be fully united with God. This is possible for Maximus because God was first fully united with humanity in the incarnation. If Christ did not become fully human (if, for example, he only had a divine and not a human will), then salvation was no longer possible, as humanity could not become fully divine. As suggested by Pelikan, the Monophysite positions, "despite their attractiveness to a Christian spirituality based on a yearning for union with God, ... [undercuts] this spirituality by severing the bond between our humanity and the humanity of Jesus Christ."
Other than the work by Scotus in Ireland, Maximus was largely overlooked by Western theologians until recent years. The situation is different in Eastern Christianity, where Maximus has always been influential. For example, at least two influential Eastern theologians (Simeon the New Theologian and Gregory Palamas) are seen as direct intellectual heirs to Maximus. Further, a number of Maximus's works are included in the Greek Philokalia—a collection of some of the most influential Greek Christian writers.
All links retrieved September 7, 2018.
New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopedia standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit is due under the terms of this license that can reference both the New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list of acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions by wikipedians is accessible to researchers here:
The history of this article since it was imported to New World Encyclopedia: