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Pauline Allen & Bronwen Neil

Introduction to Maximus the Confessor (Excerpt)

From: Maximus the Confessor and his Companions. Documents from Exile, Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 8-30.
Published by the kind permission of the authors.

3. Reception of the Monenergist Compromise

The monenergist compromise succeeded in uniting the Armenian church with imperial ‘orthodoxy' in 630, and also had limited success in the churches of Syria and Mesopotamia. It enjoyed greatest success in Egypt under the monenergist convert Cyrus who, as patriarch of Alexandria, promulgated the Alexandrian Pact of Union or Nine Chapters (CPG 7613) in June 633 (1). The last chapter anathematizes anyone who accepts the writings of Theodoret, the letter of Ibas, and the person and writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia. It affirms the use of the Marian tide 'Theotokos' (ch. 5); the theopaschite formula derived from Cyril (ch. 2) and Cyril's own theopaschite statement (ch. 3); his statement of One incarnate nature of God the Word'; and a single theandric activity in Christ, citing the monenergist version of the words of ps.-Dionysius the Areopagite (ch. 7). It makes no mention of a single will in Christ. The Theodosian party of Alexandria (2) agreed to its terms and was reconciled, to the great satisfaction of Cyrus and Sergius (3).

Their relief was to be short-lived, however. Sophronius immediately objected to the Pact of Union and appealed to Patriarch Sergius of Constantinople. Sergius thereupon issued the Psephos (633) forbidding any mention of one or two activities in Christ, and excluding the possibility of two contrary wills. Soon after his consecration as patriarch ofjerusalem in 634 Sophronius declared his support for the Chalcedonian position in his Synodical letter, which technically observes the Psephos by not counting the activities, but rejects monenergism on the grounds that it entails monophysitism (4). Sophronius was clear in his insistence on the two-nature formula as affirmed at Chalcedon, and sought to explain the phrase from Leo's Tome to Flavian: 'Each form (that is, nature) effects that which is proper to it, in union with the other' (5). On the subject of wills Sophronius did not affirm one will but did speak of God the Word as 'totally emptying himself by his paternal will and his own' (6), and he spoke of ‘one mind (νους), related to ours' (7). Curiously, the Psephos was approved by Maximus the Confessor (8), who had been a close friend of Sophronius since the occasion of their meeting in North Africa, (9) although he sought clarification of certain terms used in the edict. Sergius reported these developments to the bishop of Rome, Honorius (625—38) (CPG 7606). Demonstrating a spectacular lack of awareness of the theological issues at stake, Honorius replied with a letter of congratulations (CPG 9375) for obtaining theological agreement in the eastern churches. This letter contained the infamous statement of what was to become the heretical doctrine of mono-thelitism: a confession of'the one will of our Lord Jesus Christ' (10). Thus the pope was later credited as the inventor of the heretical doctrine.

In a second letter to Sergius (11), Honorius seems to retreat from his former position, perhaps as a result of receiving Sophronius' Synodical Letter. At Sophronius' instigation, Arcadius of Cyprus convened a synod in the mid-630s (12). According to the author of the Syriac Vita Maximi, Anastasius, whom the author claims was of African origin, was there to defend Maximus' 'pernicious' doctrine (13). He met with little success, the bishops being unable to reach a conclusion, and finally appealing to the judgement of the emperor. Sophronius then sent his envoy Stephen of Dora to Rome. At this point, Maximus began to make his objections to the monenergist compromise known in writing, in Ambigua 5, where he argues against Cyrus of Alexandria's citation of the monenergist version of ps.-Dionysius the Areopagite's expression: ‘one theandric activity'(14).


1. This is preserved under the title Satisfactio in the proceedings of the Lateran Synod (ch. 7 only), ACO ser. 2, i. 134. 4-29, and in full in the proceedings of the Sixth Ecumenical Council, ACO ser. 2, 2/2.594.14-601. 20.

2. They were named after their influential patriarch Theodosius, who, despite protection from Empress Theodora, had been condemned to exile by Justinian. Even in exile, however, he remained significant both politically and dogmatically. See Grillmeier 2/2. 347-8, and A. Van Roey and P. Allen, Monophysite Texts of the Sixth Century, Orientalin Lovanensia Analecta 56 (Leuven: Peelers, 1994), 126-43.

3. See Cyrus' second Letter to Sergius (CPG 7611), ACO ser. 2, 2/2.592. 1-594. I2.

4. Louth, Maximus, 15. Sophronius' Synodical Letter, AGO ser. 2,2/1. 410.13-494. 9.

5. ACO ser. 2, 2/1. 442. 15-16. See n. 27 above.

6. ACO ser. 2, 2/1.432. 7•

7. Maximus' letter to Pyrrhus, Letter 9, PG 91. 589c1-597b3.

8. According to the Syriac Life, Maximus arrived in Africa after Gonstans II’s accession in 641. Brock, 'Syriac Life', 324-5, in his commentary on chs. 17-18 gives a summary of the discrepancies in the sources concerning Maximus' movements in the 630s and 640s. The Syriac Life is of considerably greater value for this part of Maximus' life than for his early years, of which its vitriolic account is most likely of as little value as the encomiastic version given in the Greek Life. For more information on Maximus' later years we await the edition of Maximus' Letters and Opuscula, which is currently being prepared by Dr Basile Markesinis for the CCSG. The end of Maximus' Letter 8, published by R. Devreesse, 'La fin inédite d'une lettre de saint Maxime', Revue des Sciences religieuses 17 (1937), 25-35, gives an exact date of 632 for the letter. On account of this, Sherwood, Date-List, 6, suggests that Maximus came to Africa around 628/30. Sherwood conjectures that Maximus may have been in Alexandria with Sophronius in 633 (Date-List, 28-9). According to the Syriac Vita (ch. 18), he returned to Syria-Palestine at some time before 641, 'where he was active shortly after the Arab invasions.' (Brock, 'Syriac Life', 325). If the Syriac Vita is accurate, it might be necessary, as Brock suggests (325), to posit two sojourns of the Confessor in Africa, one before 633 and the second after the latter part of 641.

9. unde et unam voluntatem fatemur domini Iesu Christi: Letter of Pope Honorius to Sergius (CPG 9375), preserved in ACO ser. 2, 2/2. 551.14-15. Hefele-Leclercq, Histoire des Conciles 3/Ί, 350 claim that the first of the two old Latin versions, which were made from the Greek translation and are printed in Mansi ii, cols. 538ff., must have been prepared by the Roman librarian Anastasius. The involvement of Anastasius, the ninth-century translator, is not possible, however, since the letter is an integral part of the acts of the twelfth session, as composed in 681.

10. CPG 9377, surviving only in fragments in the I3th session of the proceedings of the Sixth Ecumenical Council, ACO ser. 2, 2/2. 620. 22-622. to; 622.12-624. 20.

11. The Syriac Vita Maximi, chs. 10-14, Brock, 'Syriac Life', 3i6f, is the only witness to this synod. See M. Albert and C. von Schönborn (eds.), La lettre de Sophrone de Jérusalem à Arcadius de Chypre, Patrologia Orientalis 39 (2), n. 179 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1978), 172-6. The late Arcadius is mentioned as a stalwart opponent of monothelitism in Maximus' letter to Peter (PC 91. 14338), and he is probably the subject of Maximus' praise of the bishop of Cyprus, in his Letter to Marinus (PG 91. 245EI4 and n. 32): see Sherwood, Date-List, 42.

12. Brock, 'Syriac Life', chs. 10-14, c. 19, 316-18. This could not refer to two wills at this early stage, as Maximus' works on the subject only appeared in the 6405; cf. ch. 9, 316: 'And he wrote four books, acknowledging in them two wills and two activities and two minds'.

13. Ambigua 5. 1057a-b, trans. by Louth, Maximus, 177.Maximus deals with the subject again in 642 in. Opus. 7. 84d- 85a, ibid. 188.

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