Martin I, Pope, St.
MARTIN I, POPE, ST.
Pontificate: July 5, 649 to June 17, 653 (when he was deported to Constantinople) or Sept. 16, 655 (when he died). He is venerated as a martyr.
Martin was born at Todi in Tuscany. After serving the Roman Church as lector and deacon, he was sent to Constantinople as apocrisiarius for Pope theodore. In that role he became aware of the efforts of the imperial court, including the patriarchs of Constantinople, to find a formula that would reconcile the opposing parties in the long-standing quarrel over the relationship between the divine and the human nature of Christ. On one side stood the those who accepted the decision of the Council of chalcedon (451) emphasizing the coexistence of the two natures; on the other were the adherents of monophysitism who insisted on the preeminence of Christ's divine nature. At a time when Muslim forces were engulfing the Asian provinces of the Eastern Roman Empire, where the Monophysites predominated, the imperial government was desperate to find a dogmatic formula that would reconcile the Chalcedonian and the Monophy-site positions and thus restore the religious unity of the Christian empire led by the emperor in Constantinople. The result was the promulgation in 638 of a decree called the Ecthesis, which established monothelitism as the official doctrine on the issue of the two natures of Christ. Since approval of the pope was crucial to the imperial quest for doctrinal unity, pressure was put on Rome to accept Monothelitism. Although Pope honorius i (625–638) took a compromising stand, his successors refused to accept the imperial position; so also did Christians throughout Italy and Africa. Faced with prospect of the loss of the West over a theological issue, the imperial government issued the Typos in 648, forbidding further discussion of the Christological issue. The new order was sent to Pope Theodore for his approval, but he died before it arrived.
Upon his election as pope, Martin I disregarded traditional usage and was consecrated without seeking approval of the imperial government, an act that perhaps suggested his decision to defy the emperor. Convinced that the time was at hand to reinforce orthodoxy by an official, public action that would make Rome's position clear on the Christological dispute, the new pope summoned a Lateran synod which opened in October 649 with 105 bishops, mostly from Italy, in attendance. Also present was Maximus the Confessor, an accomplished theologian outspokenly opposed to Monothelitism and well qualified to assist the synod in defining orthodoxy. After five sessions during which the teachings of the fathers on Christ's divine and human natures were reviewed in detail, the synod issued a symbol of faith which confirmed the ruling of the Council of Chalcedon on Christ's nature, twenty canons condemning specific aspects of Monothelistism, and a judgment anathematizing the patriarchs of Constantinople—but not the emperors—responsible for promulgating the Ecthesis and the Typos. A letter was sent to the Emperor Constans II informing him of the decisions of the synod. Martin also circulated an encyclical summarizing the acts of the synod not only in the West but also in the East, where he sought to counter the disarray in ecclesiastical governance resulting from the Muslim conquests by designating apostolic vicars to act in the name of the pope in the cause of orthodoxy.
Even before the end of the Lateran synod Constans II moved to counter Martin's acts of independence. He ordered the exarch of Ravenna, Olympius, to arrest the pope and compel the acceptance of the Typos from all bishops and clerics, but only if the army in Rome agreed to such an action. Olympius found wide support for Martin's position, one indication among many that by the mid-sixth century imperial authority was waning in Italy, even in the army which was increasingly led and manned by native Italians whose interests were local. Olympius then contrived an assassination plot as a way of disposing of the pope, but that too failed, some believed because of divine intervention showing God's favor on the pope. Olympius then made peace with Martin and took his forces to Sicily, ostensibly to aid in the defense against Muslim attackers but more like to ally with the invaders as a step in seizing the imperial office; whatever plans he had ended shortly with his death. Freed for the moment from imperial threats, Martin devoted his energy to a farflung correspondence attempting to defeat Monothelistism and to rally the Christian community around Rome.
But the pope's truce with the imperial government did not last long. In 653 Constans II ordered the new exarch, Theodore Calliopas, to arrest the pope and bring him to Constantinople for trial. Despite continued support from the Romans, Martin refused to resist the exarch for fear of violence. In June 653 he was taken prisoner and put aboard a ship for Constantinople. After a year-long trip during which he was treated brutally, the pope arrived in Constantinople in September 654. During that interval, the Romans elected a new pope, Eugenius I, an act that seemed to indicate the acceptance of Martin's deposition by the imperial government and a recognition of the emperor's willingness and ability to take action against those who defied his commands.
Upon his arrival in Constantinople Martin was publicly humiliated and imprisoned for three months. Although badly weakened from the treatment extended him during his long trip from Rome, he was eventually brought to trial as an usurper charged with treason stemming from his relationship with Olympius and for providing aid to the Muslim attackers of Sicily. Martin's efforts to introduce religious issues into the proceedings were rebuffed by the court. He was judged guilty, stripped of his insignia of office, and sentenced to death. On the plea of the patriarch, the death sentence was commuted to exile. Martin was sent to Cherson in the Crimea, where after more suffering he died on Sept. 16, 655. His colleague in defending orthodoxy against Monothelitism, Maximus the Confessor, suffered a like fate soon after. While Martin's career provided dramatic evidence of the extent to which the papacy was under imperial control at mid-sixth century, it also demonstrated the decisive role of the papacy in the definition of doctrine and thus on the unity of the Christian community, an issue crucial to the wellbeing of the imperial government. And it brought to light signs of the decline of imperial influence in the West in a context which gave the bishop of Rome a significant place as a rallying point in defying imperial control.
Feast: Nov. 12 (Western Church); April 13 (Greek Church).
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[r. e. sullivan]
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