Saint of the Day – 13 August – Saint Maximus the Confessor (c 580-662) Father of the Church, Monk, Abbot, Theologian, Confessor, Scholar, Writer – born in c 580 at Constantinople (some accounts say Palestine) and died on 13 August 662 at Batum near the Black Sea of the extreme suffering caused by the tortures he underwent at the age of 82. Also known as St Maximus of Constantinople and St Maximus the Theologian. St Maximus, a man of fearless courage in witnessing to – “confessing” – even while suffering, the integrity of his faith in Jesus Christ, true God and true man, Saviour of the world and of His Holy Catholic Church.
“All the ends of the inhabited world … look directly to the most holy Church of the Romans and her confession and faith as to a sun of eternal light, receiving from her, the radiant beam of the patristic and holy doctrines.”
St Maximus was born in Constantinople around the year 580 and died in exile on 13 August 662. As a boy he was initiated to the monastic life and the study of the Scriptures through the works of Origen, the great teacher who by the third century had already “established” the exegetic tradition of Alexandria.
He worked with Pope Martin I against the Monothelist heresy and attended the Lateran Council of 649. He was one of the chief doctors of the theology of the Incarnation and of ascetic mysticism and remarkable as a witness to the respect for the papacy held by the Greek Church in his day.
This great man came from a noble family of Constantinople. He became first secretary to Emperor Heraclius, who greatly valued him but despite the favour of the Emperor, Maximus resigned to the world and gave himself up to contemplation in a Monastery at Chrysopolis, near Constantinople. He became Abbot there – but seems to have left this retreat on account of it’s insecurity from hostile attacks.
“He was distinguished by his extreme courage in the defence of orthodoxy. Maximus refused to accept any reduction of Christ’s humanity. A theory had come into being, which held that there was only one will in Christ, the divine will. To defend the oneness of Christ’s Person, it was denied that He had his own true and proper human will. And, at first sight, it might seem to be a good thing that Christ had only one will. But St Maximus immediately realised that this would destroy the mystery of salvation, for humanity without a will, a man without a will, is not a real man but an amputated man. Had this been so, the man Jesus Christ would not have been a true man, He would not have experienced the drama of being human which consists, precisely, of conforming our will with the great truth of being.
Thus St Maximus declared, with great determination – “Sacred Scripture does not portray to us, an amputated man with no will but rather true and complete man – God, in Jesus Christ, really assumed the totality of being human – obviously with the exception of sin – hence also a human will.” And said like this, his point is clear – Christ either is or is not a man. If He is a man, He also has a will.”
St Maximus was already having problems defending this vision of man and of God. He was then summoned to Rome. In 649 he took an active part in the Lateran Council, convoked by Pope Martin I to defend the two wills of Christ against the Imperial Edict which forbade discussion of this matter. Pope Martin was made to pay dearly for his courage. Although he was in a precarious state of health, he was arrested and taken to Constantinople. Tried and condemned to death, the Pope obtained the commutation of his sentence into permanent exile in the Crimea, where he died on 16 September 655, after two long years of humiliation and torment.
It was Maximus’ turn shortly afterwards, in 662, as he too opposed the Emperor, repeating: “It cannot be said that Christ has a single will!” (cf. PG 91, cc. 268-269). Thus, together with his two disciples, both called Anastasius, Maximus was subjected to an exhausting trial, although he was then over 80 years of age. The Emperor’s tribunal condemned him with the accusation of heresy, sentencing him to the cruel mutilation of his tongue and his right hand – the two organs through which, by words and writing, Maximus had fought the erroneous doctrine of the single will of Christ. In the end, thus mutilated, the holy monk was finally exiled to the region of Colchis on the Black Sea where he died, worn out by the suffering he had endured, at the age of 82, on 13 August that same year, 662.
St Maximus died for orthodoxy and obedience to Rome. He has always been considered one of the chief theological writers of the Greek Church and has obtained the honourable title of the Theologian. He may be said to complete and close the series of patristic writings on the Incarnation, as they are summed up by St John of Damascus.
We have over 90 published works of St Maximus on mysticism, dogma, and theology. St Maximus the Confessor’s work on Cosmic Liturgy has been greatly praised as is his Life of the Virgin which is thought to be, one of the oldest biographies of Mary the Mother of God.
“We adore one Son together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning before all time, is now and ever shall be, for all time and for the time after time. Amen!” (St Maximus)
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