Support Site Improvements


AMIDST the scandals, heresies, and schisms by which the devil hath often renewed his assaults against the church, providence hath always raised defenders of the faith, who, by their fortitude and the holiness of their lives, stopped the fury of the flood, and repaired the ravages made on the kingdom of Jesus Christ by base apostate arts. Thus, while Monothelism triumphed on the imperial throne, and in the principal sees of the East, this heresy found a formidable adversary in the person of the holy Pope Martin, powerfully seconded by the whole Latin church, and by a considerable part of the Greek church: and while artifice, joined to persecution, labored in the East to annihilate the truth, faith shone with the highest glory and lustre in the zeal, sufferings, and death of St. Maximus. Maximus, surnamed by the Greeks Homologetes, or confessor, was born at Constantinople in 580. He sprung from one of the most noble and ancient families of that city; and was educated in a manner becoming his high birth, under the most able masters. But God inspired him with knowledge infinitely preferable to that which schools teach, and which the wise according to the world an often unacquainted with; he taught him to know himself, and conceive a due esteem for fervor and humility. In vain, however, his modesty sought to veil his merit, it was soon discovered at court; and the emperor Herachus set so high a value on his abilities, that he appointed him his first secretary of state. This busy scene, far from weakening the fondness he had ever entertained for retirement, filled him with apprehension, and determined him to withdraw from the corruption and poison of vain and worldly honors.

About this time Monothelism gained admission at court.† The sensible progress of that heresy, under the countenance of the prince, contributed not a little to complete his disgust against a post which exposed his faith to such dangerous trials. He was besides convinced that his department in the state would soon burthen his conscience with the execution of orders contrary to its dictates and those of religion. He therefore did not hesitate a moment to resign, and retire to a monastery. But, not to give umbrage at court, and to authorize his retreat, he alleged divers pretexts, and particularly a dread of the Arabs, who, by their incursions, spread alarm through all the East, and dared to carry their insults to the very gates of Constantinople. The Greeks were exhausted by the wars they had supported in the West against the Huns, and in the East against the Persians. Their frequent defeats were a just punishment of the enormities with which they provoked the vengeance of heaven. As they continued incorrigible, divine justice exercised them with a new scourge, and abandoned them to the Saracens, a ferocious race, deriving their origin from Arabia. These barbarians spread themselves like a torrent over the empire, and overturned every thing that opposed their passage.

Heraclius, who in his adversity had sought God with all his heart, and had experienced the effects of his protection, on a prosperous turn in his affairs, forgot his divine benefactor. He blushed not to declare for heresy, and to put his confidence in men studied in nothing but the vile arts of dissimulation and deceit. He scandalized the whole empire by his indolence, and tarnished by shameful disorders the glory he at first had acquired by his bravery and virtue. He suffered the sect of Mahomet* to establish itself among the Saracens, who, in his reign, laid the foundation of their formidable empire. A succession of misfortunes at length awaked him from his lethargy. And while each day acquainted him with some new defeat, he was penetrated with grief to see the Roman empire, which had given laws to the universe, become the prey of barbarians. His former bravery seemed to revive; he raised armies, but they were constantly overthrown. Astonished at the victories of the Arabs, who were greatly inferior to the Greeks in number, strength, and discipline, he demanded one day in council what could be the cause. All holding silence, a grave person of the assembly stood up, and said, “It is because the Greeks have dishonored the sanctity of their profession, and no longer retain the doctrine taught by Jesus Christ and his disciples. They insult and oppress one another, live in enmity and dissensions, and abandoned to the most infamous usuries and lists.” The emperor acknowledged the truth of this censure. In reality the vices of the Greeks at that period excited, according to one of their most celebrated writers, such odium, that the very infidels held them in detestation. Indeed all their historians bear witness to their disorders, and the Arabs represent them in colors still higher charged.1

St. Maximus declared himself on every occasion the defender of the faith and of virtue. But neither his example nor advice was followed. Seeing then that his employment was incompatible with his principles, and that he strove in vain to arrest the impetuosity of the torrent, he extorted from the emperor a permission to retire to Chrysopolis, where he took the monastic habit. In his solitude, he recommended to God the calamities of his people, and armed himself with fortitude against the dangers to which his soul was exposed. Dreading even in his monastery the snares which the heretics laid on every side, he resolved to go to Africa, in search of a more secure retreat. Sergius the Monothelite, patriarch of Constantinople, dying about the end of the year 638, he was succeeded by Pyrrhus, a monk of Chrysopolis. Pyrrhus walked in the steps of his predecessor; like him, a famous stickler for heresy. Heraclius, who died in 641, was succeeded by Constantine, his eldest son. This prince survived his father but one hundred and three days. His stepmother Martina and the patriarch were accused of poisoning him.2 At least it is certain that Pyrrhus, in concert with that princess, placed her son Heracleonas on the imperial throne, in prejudice of Constantius, son of Constantine. But they were not long able to maintain this unjust usurpation. Before the end of October of the same year, Constantius was put in possession of the empire by the people: Martina had her tongue torn out, and Heracleonas his nose slit, and were both sent into banishment by a decree of the senate. Pyrrhus, having just reasons to fear the fury of the populace, secretly withdrew from Constantinople, and fled into Africa, where be endeavored to gain friends and proselytes to Monothelism. St. Maximus finding the Catholic faith thus dangerously exposed, exerted his most strenuous endeavors to preserve its integrity. Pyrrhus, a perfect dissembler, affected notwithstanding, to be lavish in the praise of Maximus, whom he had never even seen, Pyrrhus having quitted the monastery of Chrysopolis before the saint had retired to it.

The patrician Gregory, governor of Africa, engaged St. Maximus to hold a public conference with Pyrrhus, in hopes of his conversion. It was accordingly held at Carthage in July, 645. Along with the governor there was a respectable and numerous assembly of bishops and other persons of distinction. Pyrrhus arguing that as there was but one person in Jesus Christ which wills, concluded thence, that there could be in him no more than one will. St. Maximus proved against him, that the unity of persons in Jesus Christ did not imply a unity of nature; that, being God and man at the same time, the divine and human natures must have their respective powers of volition; that it is an impiety to assert that the will by which he hath created and governs all things is the same as that by which he ate and drank on earth, and prayed his Father to remove from him, if possible, the chalice of his passion; that the will is a property essential and inseparable from the nature, so that in denying Jesus Christ a human will, you strip him of an essential part of his humanity, which is demi-Eutychianism, and that in reasoning consequentially, pure Eutychianism must be admitted, which consists in denying that there are two distinct natures in Jesus Christ. Maximus justified afterwards Saint Menas of Constantinople, Vigilius, and Honorius. This last, doubtless, was wrong in agreeing for some time to be silent on the article in question; but he had only denied that there were two contrary wills in Jesus Christ, as in us, that is to say, a will of concupiscence which revolts against the spirit. The saint proved this point by the express testimony of abbot John, who, in quality of secretary, had written the letter of Honorius, wherein he makes his declaration on this subject to John IV. successor of Honorius himself. “Sergius having written that some admitted two contrary wills in Jesus Christ, we answered that these wills could not be admitted, that is to say, that there could not be in Jesus Christ a will of the flesh and a will of the spirit, as in us sinners.”3 Maximus confirmed this doctrine in showing that, in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, there is but one will, because the three divine persons have but one and the same nature.4

The issue of this conference was, that Pyrrhus declared he had no more difficulties about any article, and showed a great desire to present in writing his retractation to the Pope. He kept his word; and, repairing to Rome, he put into Pope Theodore’s hands, in the presence of the clergy and the people, a paper, wherein he condemned all he had done or taught against the faith.5 After so solemn a retractation, Theodore ordered that a chair should be placed for him at the side of the altar, and charged himself with the expense of his maintenance. But Pyrrhus soon renounced the orthodox sentiments he had published. On his coming to Ravenna, he relapsed into his errors, at the instigation of the exarch, who flattered him with the hope of recovering the see of Constantinople. One Paul, also a Monothelite, then occupied that see. He persuaded the emperor Constantius to substitute for the Ecthesis, published by his grandfather Heraclius, a new edict, which favored neither party, and imposed silence in the point controverted. This edict appeared in 648, under the name of the Typus or the Formulary. Pope Theodore, informed of the apostacy of Pyrrhus, in a council held in the church of St. Peter, pronounced against him a sentence of excommunication and deposition; as also against Paul, whom he had in vain endeavored to reconcile to the church by his letters and by his legates. He also condemned the Typus of Constantius. But, before he saw the conclusion of this business, he was taken off by death the 20th of April, 649. St. Martin succeeded him. St. Maximus paid this pope a visit at Rome, and assisted at the council of Lateran, which was held in the month of October of the same year, 649. Paul dying in 655, Pyrrhus was reinstated in the see of Constantinople; but he did not survive his re-establishment more than four months and twenty-three days; when he was succeeded by Peter, a priest of the same church, also a Monothelite.

The holy pope Martin dying in 655, Saint Maximus was arrested at Rome, by the emperor’s order, and brought to Constantinople, with Anastasius, his disciple, and another Anastasius, who had been chancellor of the Roman church. On the evening of the day of their arrival, two officers and ten life-guards were sent to remove them out of the vessel, and conduct them to different prisons under a strict guard. Some days after, they were led to the palace, and into a hall where the senate was assembled, surrounded by a great multitude of people. St. Maximus being placed in the midst of the assembly, the treasurer loaded him with reproaches, and asked him, in a very angry tone, if he were a Christian. “Yes,” answered Maximus, “by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The treasurer then accused him of treason, alleging he had persuaded Peter, governor of Numidia, not to send troops to Egypt to expel the Saracens, which gave these barbarians the opportunity of making themselves masters, not only of that country, but likewise of Pentapolis, Tripoli, and the proconsular Africa, It was not hard for Maximus to justify himself. But at the same time he owned that, being at Rome, he had said to an officer, that the emperor’s power was not sacerdotal; that the union proposed by the Typus could not be received, that the silence prescribed was a real suppression of the faith, which could never be permitted; that, with such principles, Jews and Christians might be united, these silent on baptism, those on circumcision; that this union would find room with the Arians also, by the suppression of the consubstantiality of the Word. The treasurer, not knowing what to answer to this discourse, only said that a man such as Maximus ought not to he suffered in the empire. Others added reproaches still more injurious. Anastasius, the saint’s disciple, was afterwards examined; but as he could not raise his voice high enough to be heard by all, the guards buffeted him so cruelly, that they left him for half dead. The two confessors were then brought back to prison. The same evening the patrician Troilus, accompanied with two officers of the palace, came to see Maximus, with a design to persuade him to communicate with the church of Constantinople. The saint desired that they would previously condemn the heresy of me Monothelites, who had been excommunicated by the council of Lateran, and reproached them with having changed their own doctrine. As they accused him of condemning them all, he answered, “God forbid I should condemn any one but I would rather die than err against faith in the smallest article.” The officers, pressing him to receive the Typus for the sake of peace, and confessing at the same time that they acknowledged two wills in Jesus Christ, he prostrated himself on the earth, with tears in his eyes, and said: “It is not my intention to displease the emperor, but I cannot, consent to offend God.” As they accused him of turning others by his example from communicating with the church of Constantinople, and of staining the reputation of the emperor, by condemning the Typus, he justified himself, declaring that he was far from taxing the prince with heresy, since the, Typus was not his work; which he, moreover, did not sign until he had been imposed on by the enemies of the church; he added, that he ardently wished to see him disavow it, as Heraclius had disavowed the Ecthesis. Maximus and his disciples underwent a second interrogatory in the council-chamber at the palace before the senate, at which were present Peter, patriarch of Constantinople, and Macarius, patriarch of Antioch, both Monothelites. Here they again declared that they would adhere inviolably to the faith of their fathers, and to the definition of the council of Lateran. After several debates they were remitted to prison. At the feast of Pentecost, a messenger from the patriarch of Constantinople endeavored to prevail on Maximus to submit. As he was threatened with excommunication and a cruel death, he answered, that all he desired was that the will of God be done in his regard. The day after this conference he was banished into Thrace, with the two Anastasiuses. Maximus was sent to the castle of Bizye, Anastasius the chancellor to Selymbria, and the other Anastatius to Perbere, which was at the extremity of the province, and of the empire. They were brought to these places, without provision for their subsistence, and with no other covering than a few rags. A little time after, commissaries arrived to examine the saint anew in the place of his exile. They were sent by the emperor and the patriarch. There were, among others, with them a bishop named Theodosius. Maximus proved before them, that there must necessarily be two wills in Jesus Christ, and that it is never lawful to suppress the doctrine of faith. His arguments were so convincing that Theodosius agreed the Typus to have a dangerous tendency: and the commissaries even went so far as to sign an act of reconciliation with Maximus. Theodosius, moreover, promised to go to Rome, and make his peace with the church. Then all rose up weeping with joy; and, after praying some time on their knees, they kissed the book of the gospels, the cross, the image of Jesus Christ, and that of the Blessed Virgin, and laid their hands on them in confirmation of their agreement. Theodosius, at taking leave, made the saint a present of some money and clothes.

After all, this reconciliation came to nothing. In the year 656, the emperor sent the consul Paul to Bizye, with orders to bring Maximus back to the monastery of S. Theodorus de Rege, near Constantinople. There was no regard paid to the age or rank which the saint once held at court, he was treated on the road with the last barbarity. He arrived at Rege the 13th of September. The patricians Epiphanius and Trolus, as well as the bishop Theodosius, went to visit him there, attended with a numerous train. They insisted much on the promise he had made of submitting to the emperor’s request. Maximus answered, that he was ready to obey the prince in all things that regarded temporal matters. Upon which loud clamors were raised against him, and, after some debate, the patrician Epiphanius addressed him thus: “Hear the envoy of the emperor. All the West, and all those who have been seduced in the East, have their eyes fixed on you. Are you willing to communicate with us, and receive the Typus? We come in person to salute you; we present you our hand, we will wait on you to the cathedral, and, along with you, there receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ, in that solemn manner acknowledging yon our father. We are persuaded that all those who have separated from our communion will no sooner see you communicating with the church of Constantinople than they will follow your example.” “My lord,” said Maximus, directing his discourse to the bishop Theodosius, “we must all appear before the judgment-seat of God. You know the solemn agreement that hath been made between us, ratified on the gospels, on the cross, on the image of Jesus Christ, and that of his holy mother.” “What would you have me do?” answered Theodosius, bowing his head, and in the tone of a flatterer willing to pay his court, “what would you have me Jo, seeing the emperor is of another opinion?” “Why then,” replied Maximus, “did you put your hand on the gospels? For my part, I declare that nothing shall induce me to comply with your demand. What reproaches would I not suffer from my conscience, what answer could I make to God, if I renounced the faith for human respects?’ At these words they all rose up in transports of rage; they fell upon the saint, they buffeted him, they tore his beard, they covered him with spittle and filth from head to foot; so that it was necessary to wash his clothes to remove the infectious stench, which hindered a near approach to him. “It is wrong,” said Theodosius, “to treat him in this unworthy sort, it were enough to report his answer to the emperor.” They then gave over their barbarous treatment, and confined themselves to abusive insolent language. Then Trolus said to the holy abbot, “We only ask you to sign the Typus; believe what you will in your heart.” “It is not to the heart alone,” replied Maximus, “that God hath confined our duty; we are also obliged to confess Jesus Christ before men.” “With my advice,” said Epiphanius, “you would be tied to a stake in the midst of the city, to be bruised and spit upon by the populace.” “If the barbarians left us time to breathe,” said some others, “we would treat you as you deserve, the pope himself, and all your followers.” They all then withdrew, saying, “This man is possessed with the devil; but let us first dine before we make a report of his insolence and obstinacy to the emperor.” The morning after, St. Maximus was sent under a guard of soldiers to Selymbria, and from thence brought to the camp. As it was reported that he denied the Blessed Virgin to be the mother of God, he pronounced anathema against the supporters of such a heresy. He gave instructions in the camp, which were heard with much respect; and all be sought God to grant him the necessary courage to finish happily his course. His guard, seeing how much he was honored, removed him two miles distant; then suffering him to rest a while, they obliged him to mount his horse, and conducted him to Perbere, where they shut him up in a prison. Some time after, Maximus and the two Anastasiuses were brought back again to Constantinople. They were made to appear before a synod of Monothelites, who anathematized them, with the pope Martin, Sophronius, and all those that adhered to them. The sentence pronounced against them ran thus: “Having been canonically condemned, you would justly undergo the severity of the law for your impieties. But although there be no punishments proportioned to your crimes, we choose not to treat you according to the rigor of the law; we touch not your life, abandoning you to the justice of the sovereign Judge. We order the prefect here present, to conduct you to the prtorium, where after having been whipped, your tongue, the instrument of your blasphemies, shall be torn out, and your right hand, with which you have written these blasphemies, cut off. We will that you be afterwards exposed in the twelve wards of the city; then, that you be banished, and imprisoned the remainder of your days, to expiate by tears your sins.” Maximus and the two Anastasiuses having suffered at Constantinople the punishment signified by this sentence, were banished among the Lazi, in the European Sarmatia, towards the Palus Motis.

They arrived at the place of their banishment the 8th of June, 662. They were separated from one another. The monk Anastasius was conducted to Sumas; the torments he had endured, joined to the fatigue of the journey, weakened him so much, that he died the 24th of July of the same year. The other Anastasius did not long survive him. Maximus not being able to ride, or bear the ordinary carriages, was conducted in a litter to a castle called Schemari, near the country of the Alani. He foretold the day of his death, which happened about the end of the same year 662, or at the beginning of the year following. He was fourscore years old. The Greeks celebrate two feasts in his honor; one the 21st of January, and the other the 13th of August. It is this last which Baronius and Baillet assign for the day of his death. But Falconius thinks he died the 21st of January because, according to the Synaxary of the Greeks, the translation of his relics to Constantinople, from the monastery of St. Arsenius, was made on the 13th of August.* See the acts of St. Maximus, the authentic relations of his interrogatories and sufferings, and other ancient pieces concerning his life, ap. Combefis, t. 1; Oper. S. Maximi.

Copyright ©1999-2023 Wildfire Fellowship, Inc all rights reserved