Definitions

Dyothelite

Maximus the Confessor

Saint Maximus the Confessor (also known as Maximus the Theologian and Maximus de Constantinople) (c. 580 – 13 August 662) was a Christian monk, theologian, and scholar. In his early life, he was a civil servant, and an aide to the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius. However, he gave up this life in the political sphere to enter into the monastic life.

After moving to Carthage, Maximus studied several Neo-Platonist writers and became a prominent author. When one of his friends began espousing the Christological position known as Monothelitism, Maximus was drawn into the controversy, in which he supported the Chalcedonian position that Jesus had both a human and a divine will. Maximus is venerated in both Eastern Christianity and Western Christianity. His positions eventually resulted in exile, soon after which he died. However, his theology was vindicated by the Third Council of Constantinople and he was venerated as a saint soon after his death. His feast day is 13 August (or 21 January).

Life

Early life

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 even though a biography written by his Maronite opponents has him born in Palestine. Maximus was born into Byzantine nobility, as indicated by his position as the personal secretary to Heraclius. For reasons unknown, Maximus left public life in 630, and took monastic vows at a monastery in Chrysopolis, a city across the Bosporus from Constantinople (also known as Scutari, the modern Turkish city of Üsküdar). 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. Maximus was also held in very high esteem by the exarch and the population as a holy man, ostensibly becoming an influential un-official political advisor and spiritual head in North Africa.

Involvement in Monothelite controversy

While Maximus was in Carthage, a controversy broke out 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 disagreements that began following the First Council of Nicaea in 325, and were intensified following the Council of Chalcedon in 451. The Monothelite position was developed as a compromise to appease those whose Christology was declared heresy at Chalcedon. The Monothelites adhered to the Chalcedonian definition of the hypostatic union: that two natures, one divine and one human, were united in the person of Christ. However, they went on to say that Christ had only a divine will and no human will (Monothelite is derived from the Greek for "one will").

The Monothelite position was promulgated by Patriarch Sergius I of Constantinople and by Maximus' friend and successor as the Abbot of Chrysopolis, Pyrrhus. Following the death of Sergius in 638, Pyrrhus succeeded him as Patriarch, but was shortly deposed due to political circumstances. During Pyrrhus' exile from Constantinople, 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 took the position that Jesus possessed both a human and a divine will. The result of the debate was that Pyrrhus admitted the error of the Monothelite position, and Maximus accompanied him to Rome in 645. However, on the death of Emperor Heraclius and the ascension of Emperor Constans II, Pyrrhus returned to Constantinople and recanted of his acceptance of the Dyothelite ("two wills") position.

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 Rome in 649. The 105 bishops present condemned Monothelitism 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 under orders from Constans II, who supported the Monothelite doctrine. Pope Martin was condemned without a trial, and died before he could be sent to the Imperial Capital.

Trial and exile

Maximus' refusal to accept Monothelitism caused him to be brought to the imperial capital of Constantinople to be tried as a heretic in 658. In Constantinople, the Monothelite position had gained the favor of both the Emperor and the Patriarch of Constantinople. Maximus stood behind the Dyothelite position, and was sent back into exile for four more years.

In 662, Maximus was placed on trial once more, and was once more convicted of heresy. Following the trial Maximus was tortured, having his tongue cut out, so he could no longer speak his rebellion and his right hand cut off, so that he could no longer write letters . Maximus was then exiled to the Lazica or Colchis region of modern-day Georgia and was cast in the fortress of Schemarum, perhaps Muris-Tsikhe near the modern town of Tsageri. He died soon thereafter, on 13 August 662. The events of the trials of Maximus were recorded by Anastasius Bibliothecarius.

Legacy

Along with Pope Martin I, Maximus was vindicated by the Third Council of Constantinople (the Sixth Ecumenical Council, 680–681), which declared that Christ possessed both a human and a divine will. With this declaration Monothelitism became heresy, and Maximus was posthumously declared innocent of all charges against him.

Maximus is among those Christians who were venerated as saints shortly after their deaths. The vindication of Maximus' theological position made him extremely popular within a generation after his death, and his cause was aided by the accounts of miracles at his tomb. In the Roman Catholic Church the veneration of Maximus began prior to the foundation of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Theology

As a student of Pseudo-Dionysius, Maximus was one of many Christian theologians who preserved and interpreted the earlier Neo-Platonic philosophy, including the thought of such figures as Plotinus and Proclus. Maximus' work on Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite was continued by John Scotus Erigena at the request of Charles the Bald.

The Platonic influence on Maximus' thought can be seen most clearly in his theological anthropology. Here, Maximus adopted the Platonic model of exitus-reditus (exit and return), teaching that humanity was made in the image of God, and 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.

Regarding salvation, Maximus, like Origen and St. Gregory of Nyssa, believed in apokatastasis, the idea that all rational souls will eventually be redeemed. He shared his belief in universal reconciliation only with his most spiritually mature students.

Other than the work by another Christian universalist, 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. The Eastern theologians Simeon the New Theologian and Gregory Palamas are seen as intellectual heirs to Maximus. Further, a number of Maximus' works are included in the Greek Philokalia - a collection of some of the most influential Greek Christian writers.

Writings

  • Questions to Thalassius – a lengthy exposition on various Scriptural texts.
  • Scholia – commentary on the earlier writings of Pseudo-Dionysius.
  • Ambigua – An exploration of difficult passages in the work of Pseudo-Dionysius and Gregory of Nazianzus, focusing on Christological issues. This was later translated by Eriugena.
  • Mystagogy – A commentary and meditation on the Eucharistic liturgy.
  • Commentary on Psalm 59
  • Commentary on the Lord's Prayer
  • Centuries on Love and Centuries on Theology - maxims about proper Christian living, arranged into groupings of one hundred.
  • The Ascetic Life – a discussion on the monastic rule of life.
  • Hymns

References

Further reading

Collections of Maximus' writings

  • Maximus Confessor: Selected Writings (Classics of Western Spirituality). Ed. George C. Berthold. Paulist Press, 1985. ISBN 0-8091-2659-1.
  • On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ: Selected Writings from St. Maximus the Confessor (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press "Popular Patristics" Series). Ed. & Trans Paul M. Blowers, Robert Louis Wilken. St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2004. ISBN 0-8814-1249-X.
  • St. Maximus the Confessor: The Ascetic Life, The Four Centuries on Charity (Ancient Christian Writers). Ed. Polycarp Sherwood. Paulist Press, 1955. ISBN 0-8091-0258-7.
  • Maximus the Confessor and his Companions (Documents from Exile) (Oxford Early Christian Texts). Ed. and Trans. Pauline Allen, Bronwen Neil. Oxford University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-1982-9991-5.

On the theology of Saint Maximus

  • Nichols, Aidan. Byzantine Gospel: Maximus the Confessor in Modern Scholarship. T. & T. Clark Publishers, 1994. ISBN 0-5670-9651-3.
  • Thunberg, Lars. Microcosm and Mediator: The Theological Anthropology of Maximus the Confessor. Second Edition. Open Court, 1995. ISBN 0-8126-9211-X
  • Louth, Andrew. Maximus the Confessor. London, Routledge, 1996, 240 pp. (Early Church Fathers).
  • Balthasar, Hans Urs (von). Cosmic Liturgy: The Universe According to Maximus the Confessor. Ignatius Press, 2003. ISBN 0-8987-0758-7.
  • Philipp Gabriel Renczes. Agir de Dieu et liberte de l'homme: Recherche sur l'anthropologie theologique de saint Maxime le Confesseur. Paris, Cerf, 2003, 448 pp.
  • Jean-Claude Larchet. Saint Maxime Le Confesseur (580-662). Paris, Éd. du Cerf, 2003, 228 p. (Initiations aux Pères de l’Église).
  • Bathrellos, Demetrios. The Byzantine Christ: Person, Nature, and Will in the Christology of Saint Maximus the Confessor. Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-1992-5864-3.
  • Moore, Edward. Origen of Alexandria And St. Maximus the Confessor: An Analysis and Critical Evaluation of Their Eschatological Doctrines. Dissertation.com, 2005. ISBN 1-58112-261-6.
  • Toronen, Melchisedec. Union and Distinction in the Thought of St Maximus the Confessor. Oxford University Press, 2007. ISBN 0-1992-9611-1.

External links

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