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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.