Maximus the Confessor (Greek: Μάξιμος ὁ Ὁμολογητής), also known as Maximus the Theologian and Maximus of Constantinople (c. 580 – 13 August 662), was a Christianmonk, theologian, and scholar.
In his early life, Maximus was a civil servant, and an aide to the Byzantine EmperorHeraclius. However, he gave up this life in the political sphere to enter into the monastic life. Maximus had studied diverse schools of philosophy, and certainly what was common for his time, the Platonic dialogues, the works of Aristotle, and numerous later Platonic commentators on Aristotle and Plato, like Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichus, and Proclus. When one of his friends began espousing the Christological position known as Monothelitism, Maximus was drawn into the controversy, in which he supported an interpretation of the Chalcedonian formula on the basis of which it was asserted that Jesus had both a human and a divine will. Maximus is venerated in both the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches. He was eventually persecuted for his Christological positions; following a trial, his tongue and right hand were mutilated.
He was then exiled and died on 13 August 662, in Tsageri in present-day Georgia. However, his theology was upheld by the Third Council of Constantinople and he was venerated as a saint soon after his death. It is highly uncommon among the saints that he has two feast days: 13 August and 21 January. His title of "Confessor" means that he suffered for the Christian faith, but was not directly martyred.
Very little is known about the details of Maximus' life prior to his involvement in the theological and political conflicts of the Monothelite controversy. Numerous Maximian scholars call substantial portions of the Maronite biography into question, including Maximus' birth in Palestine, which was a common seventh century trope to discredit an opponent. Moreover, the exceptional education Maximus evidently received could not have been had in any other part of the Byzantine Empire during that time except for Constantinople, and possibly Caesarea and Alexandria. It is also very unlikely that anyone of low social birth, as the Maronite biography describes Maximus, could have ascended by the age of thirty to be the Protoasecretis of the Emperor Heraclius, one of the most powerful positions in the Empire. It is more likely that Maximus was born of an aristocratic family and received an unparalleled education in philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, etc. It is true, however, that Maximus did not study rhetoric as he himself notes in the prologue to his Earlier Ambigua to John, to which his lack of high stylistic by Byzantine standards attests. Nevertheless, for reasons not explained in the few autobiographical details to be gleaned from his texts, Maximus left public life and took monastic vows at the monastery of Philippicus in Chrysopolis, a city across the Bosporus from Constantinople (later known as Scutari, the modern Turkish city of Üsküdar). Maximus was elevated to the position of abbot of the monastery.
When the Persians 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 in detail with him the Christological writings of Gregory of Nazianzus and Dionysius the Areopagite. According to I P Sheldon Williams his achievement was to set these doctrines into a framework of Aristotelian logic, which both suited the temper of the times and made them less liable to misinterpretation. Maximus continued his career as a theological and spiritual writer during his lengthy stay in Carthage. Maximus was also held in high esteem by the exarchGregory and the eparch George
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 between the dyophysitists and the miaphysists, who believed dyophysitism is conceptually indistinguishable from Nestorianism. 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").
A silver hexagramma showing Constans II with his son. Constans II supported Monothelitism, and had Maximus exiled for his refusal to agree to Monothelite teachings.
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 owing 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 accession 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 the Lateran Council of 649 at the Lateran Basilica in Rome. 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, Monothelitism 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. During his trial he was accused of aiding the Muslim conquests in Egypt and North Africa, which he rejected as slander.
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.
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.
Maximus is one of the last men to be recognized by both the Orthodox and Catholic Churches as a Father of the Church. In the encyclical Spe Salvi (2007), Pope Benedict XVI called Maximus 'the great Greek doctor of the Church', although it's not clear if the Pontiff intended to nominate Maximus 'Doctor of the Church' or to say that he already was one.
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. Furthermore, in his works Maximus the Confessor argued the unconditionality of the divine incarnation.
Maximi Epistola ad Anastasium monachum discipulum ("Letter of Maximus to Anastasius the Monk and Disciple")
Opuscula theologica et polemica ("Small Theological and Polemical Works")
Quaestiones et dubia ("Questions and Doubtful Passages")
Quaestiones ad Thalassium ("Questions Addressed to Thalassius")
Questiones ad Theopemptum ("Questions Addressed to Theopemptus")
Testimonia et syllogismi ("Testimonies and Syllogisms")
Scholia – commentary on the earlier writings of Pseudo-Dionysius. The original edition in Latin of Balthasar Corderius (Antwerp 1634) attributes all of the Scholia to Maximus, but the authorship has been questioned with Hans Urs von Balthasar (1940, 1961) attributing some of the Scholia to John of Scythopolis.
Life of the Virgin – earliest complete biography of Mary, the mother of Jesus. This is an attributed work and now believed not to be by Maximus the Confessor. Jankowiak and Booth argue that "none of Maximus' characteristic preoccupations appear in the Life, and in turn none of the Life' s central themes appear in the fleeting Marian reflections contained within his genuine corpus". They also write that there is no Greek manuscript witnessing the text, no evidence that any key thinkers who draw on Maximus were aware of the Life' s existence and that no record of the Life as a work exists prior to the second half of the tenth century.
^Allen, Pauline; Neil, Bronwen (2015). The Oxford Handbook of Maximus the Confessor. Oxford University Press. p. 20. ISBN978-0-19-967383-4.
^The following account is based on the lengthy tenth-century biography catalogued as BHG 1234 and printed in Migne's Patrologia Graeca (90, 68A1-109B9). In recent years, however, this account has been called into question on the basis of new scholarly research. The author, or rather compiler, of BHG 1234 turns out to have used one of the biographies of Theodore the Studite (BHG 1755) to fill the gaps in the information he had on Maximus (See W. Lackner, Zu Quellen und Datierung der Maximosvita (BHG3 1234), in Analecta Bollandiana 85 , p. 285-316). The information the compiler of BHG 1234 did have he drew from the passions extant at the time, in which nothing is said about Maximus' early years (See B. Roosen, Maximi Confessoris Vitae et Passiones Graecae. The Development of a Hagiographic Dossier, in Byzantion 80 , forthcoming). On the basis of mostly internal evidence from Maximus' writings, C. Boudignon advocates a Palestinian birth for Maximus instead (See C. Boudignon, Maxime le Confesseur était-il constantinopolitain?, in B. Janssens – B. Roosen – P. Van Deun [ed.], Philomathestatos. Studies in Greek and Byzantine Texts Presented to Jacques Noret for his Sixty-Fifth Birthday [= Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 137], Leuven – Paris – Dudley, MA, 2004, p. 11-43; and id., Le pouvoir de l'anathème ou Maxime le Confesseur et les moines palestiniens du VIIe siècle, in A. Camplani – G. Filoramo, Foundations of Power and Conflicts of Authority in Late-Antique Monasticism. Proceedings of the International Seminar, Turin, 2–4 December 2004 [= Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta, 157], Leuven – Paris – Dudley, MA, 2007, p. 245-274). If this is true, it confirms the value of the Maronite biography, even though it is clearly anti-Maximian.
^Constas, Nicholas (2014). Nicholas Constas (ed.). On Difficulties in the Church Fathers: The Ambigua, Volume 1. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library Series, Volume 28. ISBN978-0-674-72666-6.
^Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume IV: Mediaeval Christianity. A.D. 590–1073 (online edition)§111, accessed 15 January 2007.
^"Maximus the Confessor", in The Westminster Dictionary of Church History, ed. Jerald Brauer (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1971) (ISBN0-664-21285-9). This is generally known as the First or Second Lateran Synod, and is not recognized as an Ecumenical Council.
^For example, Gerald Berthold, "Maximus Confessor" in Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, (New York:Garland, 1997) (ISBN0-8153-1663-1).
^David Hughes Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of the Saints (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 1987) (ISBN0-19-869149-1) p.288. This made Martin the last Bishop of Rome to be venerated as a martyr.
^Walter Kaegi (2010). Muslim Expansion and Byzantine Collapse in North Africa (illustrated ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 87. ISBN9780521196772.
^Gerald Berthold, "Maximus Confessor" in Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, (New York:Garland, 1997) (ISBN0-8153-1663-1).
^George C. Berthold (1985), Maximus Confessor: Selected Writings, p. 31. Paulist Press, ISBN0-8091-2659-1.
^For example, see Catholic ForumArchived 2007-06-25 at the Wayback Machine. The injuries Maximus sustained while being tortured and the conditions of his exile both contributed to his death, causing Maximus to be considered a martyr by many.
^For example, from the biography provided by the Orthodox Church in America: "Three candles appeared over the grave of St Maximus and burned miraculously. This was a sign that St Maximus was a beacon of Orthodoxy during his lifetime, and continues to shine forth as an example of virtue for all. Many healings occurred at his tomb."
^The Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints (Prot. Num. VAR. 7479/14) considers the Pope's declaration in Spe Salvi an informal one.
^"Maximos, St., Confessor" in the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. F.L. Cross (London: Oxford Press, 1958) (ISBN0-19-211522-7). One sees this especially in Maximus' Mystagogy and Ambigua.
^"Maximus the Confessor" in Michael O'Carroll, Trinitas: A Theological Encyclopedia of the Holy Trinity (Delaware:Michael Glazier, Inc, 1987) (ISBN0-8146-5595-5).
^"Maximos, St., Confessor" in the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. F.L. Cross (London: Oxford Press, 1958) (ISBN0-19-211522-7).
^Jankowiak, M & Booth, P. (2015). "A New Date-List of the Works of Maximus the Confessor" in The Oxford Handbook of Maximus the Confessor. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 72–3. ISBN978-0-19-967383-4.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
Collections of Maximus' writings
Maximus Confessor: Selected Writings (Classics of Western Spirituality). Ed. George C. Berthold. Paulist Press, 1985. ISBN0-8091-2659-1.
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. ISBN0-88141-249-X.
St. Maximus the Confessor: The Ascetic Life, The Four Centuries on Charity (Ancient Christian Writers). Ed. Polycarp Sherwood. Paulist Press, 1955. ISBN0-8091-0258-7.
Maximus the Confessor (The Early Church Fathers) Intro. & Trans. Andrew Louth. Routledge, 1996. ISBN0-415-11846-8
Maximus the Confessor and his Companions (Documents from Exile) (Oxford Early Christian Texts). Ed. and Trans. Pauline Allen, Bronwen Neil. Oxford University Press, 2004. ISBN0-19-829991-5.
On Difficulties in the Church Fathers: The Ambigua: Volume I, Maximos the Confessor. Ed. and Trans. Nicholas Constas. London: Harvard University Press, 2014. ISBN978-0-674-72666-6.
On Difficulties in the Church Fathers: The Ambigua: Volume II, Maximos the Confessor. Ed. and Trans. Nicholas Constas. London: Harvard University Press, 2014. ISBN978-0-674-73083-0.
The Philokalia: The Complete Text compiled by St Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St Makarios of Corinth: Volume II. Ed. and Trans. G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, Kallistos Ware. London: Faber and Faber, 1981. ISBN978-0-571-15466-1.
Cooper, Adam G. The body in St Maximus Confessor: Holy Flesh, Wholly Deified. Oxford Early Christian Studies. Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN0-19-927570-X.
Lauritzen, Frederick. Pagan energies in Maximus the Confessor: the influence of Proclus on the Ad Thomam 5 in Greek Roman and Byzantine Studies 52.2 (2012)
Loudovikos, Nikolaos, Protopresbyter. He Eucharistiake Ontologia: Ta Eucharistiaka Themelia Tou Einai, Hos En Koinonia Ginnesthai, Sten Eschatologike Ontologia Tou Hagiou Maximou Tou Homologete. Published in Greek. Translated Title: Eucharistic Ontology: The Eucharistic Fundaments of Being as Becoming in Communion, in the Eschatological Ontology of St. Maximus the Confessor. Ekdoseis Domos, Athens, Greece, 1992. ISBN960-7217-72-1.