Maximus the Confessor, St.
MAXIMUS THE CONFESSOR, ST.
A 7th-century Byzantine theologian and aescetical writer; b. Constantinople, c. 580; d. in exile, Lazica, on the Black Sea, Aug. 13, 662. Of a well-known family, Maximus received an excellent education, entered the civil service, and became secretary to Emperor heraclius i. In 613 or 614 he retired to a monastery near Chrysopolis (Scutari) and later (625) to Cyzicus with his disciple, Anastasius. In flight before the Persian invasion of 626, he made his way to Crete and Cyprus and eventually to Africa (628–630); there he took part in a disputation over monothelitism with the expatriarch, Pyrrhus I, at Carthage (645). He visited Rome, where Pope martin i invited him to participate in a synod of the Lateran (649) that condemned Monothelitism. In 653 he was arrested together with the pope by Emperor Constans II (641–668) and was brought to Constantinople and charged with treason. Condemned on this charge (655), he was exiled to Bizye in Thrace. In 662 he refused to accept an imperial edict that forbade further discussion of the Monothelite heresy and was condemned to have his tongue and right hand cut off. Together with his disciples, the apocrisiarius Anastasius and Anastasius the monk, he was finally exiled to Lazica, where he died.
Writings. Approximately 90 major writings make up the works of Maximus. In his earlier years Maximus wrote commentaries on the Scriptures. In 626 his Quaestiones et dubia appeared in the form of 79 questions and answers concerned with difficult passages in the Bible and with dogmatic questions. He later wrote an explanation of Psalm 59 and the Our Father and dealt with three scriptural problems in his Quaestiones ad Theopemptum Scholasticum. His Quaestiones ad Thalassium appeared between 630 and 633, addressed to a Libyan priest and monk, and contained some 65 answers to scriptural difficulties solved with the aid of patristic material, particularly the observations of gregory of nazianzus and pseudo-dionysius the Areopagite. He also produced two books entitled Ambigua (c. 630). The scholia to the works of Pseudo-Dionysius and of Gregory of Nazianzus are probably not authentic works of Maximus.
Under the title, Opuscula theologica et polemica, some 28 works are attributed to Maximus; they are devoted to refutations of monophysitism and of the heresies of the Monergists and Monothelites, as well as to other dogmatic questions. His opuscula on the two natures in Christ were written between 626 and 634. Later, he dealt with speculative problems, including 12 possible types of union in Christ; a number of divergent definitions in Christology; and finally, in a work addressed to the priest Theodore, with the notions of quality, property, and difference in the hypostatic union.
He wrote a short tract against the arguments of the Monergists, then a long treatise addressed to the priest George, concerning the will in Christ. In his Tome to Marinus, written probably c. 640, he dealt with a number of citations of the Fathers that appeared to strengthen the position of Monergism, concentrating on the Patriarch anastasius I of Antioch, whose work against john philoponus had favored the monergistic position. He likewise interpreted the letter of Pope honorius i (625–638) to the Patriarch Sergius in an orthodox sense.
The best-known ascetico-moral works of Maximus are his dialogue Liber asceticus, 400 Capita de caritate, 200 Capita theologica et oeconomica, and the first 15 chapters of 500 Diversa capita ad theologiam et oeconomiam spectantia (the remainder of this last work is spurious). The most important liturgical work of the saint is his Mystagogia, a commentary on the mystical meaning of the liturgy that has been published many times and was translated into Turkish in 1799. Finally, over 100 of his letters have been edited; many of them are complete theological tracts.
Doctrine. The theological system of Maximus is a synthesis in which the principles of classical philosophy, particularly that of Aristotle, and the teachings of the Fathers, especially under the influence of pseudo-dionysius the Areopagite, are blended into an original exposition of Christian teaching. The center of this new system is Christ. In contradistinction to the teaching of Monophysitism and Monothelitism, he affirmed the existence of two complete and distinct natures—one human, the other divine—in the one Person of the Word.
As Christ is the center of all creation, the history of the universe until the coming of Christ is a preparation for God becoming man; and history after Christ is the story of man becoming divine in and through the Incarnation of the Word. By appearing in the midst of men, Jesus Christ revealed God, who is one by nature in the Trinity of Persons. Man, by his nature, tends toward God. Man's supernatural unification with Christ through baptism gives him the capability of freely realizing this tendency of his nature that urges him to unite with God by avoiding sin and practicing virtue. Thus, the spiritual life of the Christian grows not only morally but also ontologically. This natural disposition of man's nature to tend to God is something more than an intellectual act. It is the basis of an ecstatic experience born of love. This love (ἀγάπη) means the acceptance of the absolute supremacy of God and the interior rejection of the things of this world (ἀπάθεια). Also, it is the denial of one's own personal will (φελαυτία) and the revelation of actual love for one's neighbor. The writings of Maximus are characterized by their Byzantine boldness in subtle speculation, Roman realism, and deep understanding of the nature of the Church.
In his spiritual counsel, Maximus is the successor of evagrius ponticus. He cultivated the three steps of praxis, or self-control through mortification, theoria, or contemplation of nature leading to God, and theologia, or the contemplation-union with divinity. But he dissociated this procedure from the cosmogony of origen.
Maximus maintained that the practice of virtue under the leadership of charity had to accompany the steps leading through contemplation (theoria ) to perfection. He insisted on the practice of sympathos in dealing with worldly situations; and in the end he admitted two approaches to spiritual perfection: the practical, and the theoretical or contemplative. He insisted, however, that contemplation had to be informed by and achieved in charity. His mysticism preserved a humanistic element that was not always observed by his followers, but that gave a depth and balance to his spiritual teaching seldom equaled by his successors. He has been termed by H. G. Beck as, perhaps, the last independent theologian of the Byzantine Church.
Feast: Aug. 13.
Bibliography: Patrologia Graeca, ed. j. p. migne (Paris 1857–66) 4:15–576; 19:1217–80, computus ; v. 90–91. Maximus Confessor: Weisheit, ed. and tr. b. hermann (Würzburg 1941). The Ascetic Life: The Four Centuries on Charity, ed. and tr. p. sherwood [Ancient Christian Writers 21, ed. j. quasten et al. (Westminster MD, London 1955)]. p. sherwood, An Annotated Date List of the Works of St. Maximus the Confessor [Studia anselmiana 30 (Rome 1952)]; The Earlier Ambigua of St. Maximus the Confessor (ibid. 36; 1955). h. g. beck, Kirche und theologische Literatur imbyzantinischen Reich (Munich 1959) 436–442. e. von ivÁnka, Maximus der Bekenner (Einsiedeln 1961). v. grumel, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al. (Paris 1903–50) 10.1:448–459. o. bardenhewer, Geschichte der altkirchlichen Literatur (Freiburg 1913–32) 5:28–35. i. hausherr, Philautie [Orientalia Christiana periodica 137 (Rome 1952)]. a. ceresagestaldo, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 1957–65) 7:208–210. r. devreesse, Analecta Bollandiana 46 (1928) 5–49; 73 (1955) 5–16. g. mahieu, Travaux préparatoires à une édition critique des oeuvres de S. Maxime le Confesseur (Diss. Louvain 1957). b. altaner, Patrology, tr. h. graef (New York 1960) 629–633. w. vÖlker, "Der Einfluss des Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagita auf Maximus," Universitas Festschrift … Albert Stohr, v. 1 (Mainz 1960) 243–254; Maximus Confessor als Meister des geistlichen Lebens (Wiesbaden 1965). h.u. von balthasar, Kosmische Liturgie (Einsiedeln 1961). i. h. dalmais, Revue d'ascétique et de mystique 29 (Toulouse 1953) 123–159, Pater Noster. g. bardy, Revue biblique 42 (Paris 1933) 332–339. a. ceresa-gestaldo, Orientalia Christiana periodica 23 (Rome 1957) 145–158, capita de caritate. a. sinaita, The Life of our Holy Father, Maximus the Confessor, tr. c. birchall (Boston 1982). l. thunberg, Man and the Cosmos (Crestwood, NY 1985); Microcosm and Mediator (Chicago 1995). m. l. gatti perer, Massimoil confessore (Milan 1987), bibliography. p. m. blowers, Exegesis and Spiritual Pedagogy in Maximus the Confessor (Notre Dame, IN 1991). v. karayiannis, Maxime le Confesseur: essence et énergies de Dieu (Paris 1993). a. nichols, Byzantine gospel: Maximus the Confessor in Modern Scholarship (Edinburgh 1993). j.-c. larchet, La divinisation de l'homme selon saint Maxime le Confesseur (Paris 1996); Maxime le Confesseur, médiateur entre l'Orient et l'Occident (Paris 1998). a. louth, Maximus the Confessor (London 1996), incl. bibliography. j. p. williams, Denying Divinity: Apophasis in the Patristic Christian and Soto Zen Buddhist Traditions (New York 2000).