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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.

7. Events of AD 653-69 Described in the Documents

The trials of Pope Martin and Maximus before the senate in Constantinople can only be understood, as Brandes recently noted in his magisterial study on the subject, against the background of the crisis facing Byzantium in the form of Arab invasions (1). The hagiographical sources for the Life of Maximus offer little concrete information on these trials (2). Fortunately the seven documents under consideration here have a great deal to say about these proceedings. They were what we might call 'show trials', designed by the senate to shift blame for the general crisis onto their dyothelite opponents, and to present them as criminals (3). The weighty role of the senate can be seen in the high official status of the main protagonists. In 653, Martin was taken under imperial arrest to Constantinople, arriving on 17 September, where he was tried in 654 on charges of conspiring against the emperor Constans II with Olympius, exarch of Ravenna. Martin tried to bring up the matter of the Lateran Synod and was told that it was not relevant to the case. He received the death sentence but this was commuted to exile in the Chersonese, where he arrived in May of the same year (Comm. §§3 and 8) (4). He died soon afterwards, either on 16 September 655 or 13 April 656 (5).

Maximus and Anastasius his disciple were arrested soon after Martin's arrest, in Rome according to the Life of Maximus (6), and were escorted to Constantinople for trial in 655. Maximus was charged with having betrayed Egypt, Alexandria, and Africa to the Saracens (Record §I), of complicity with the conspirator exarch Gregory in Carthage (Record §2), and of opposition to the Typos (Record §9). No firm evidence of Maximus' involvement in the conspiracy of Gregory could be brought to bear—the accusation rested on a dream that Maximus was purported to have had. Brandes has brought to attention the political/ideological dimensions of this dream, based on Constantine the Great's famous vision on the Milvian Bridge, as it is found in the writings of Rufinus of Aquileia (d. 410) (7). A direct relationship between the dream and the propaganda of Constans II seems possible, according to Brandes (8). Maximus was also accused of Origenism, to which he reacted vehemently with an anathema of Origen and his works (Record §5). The author in Record §7 notes the appearance in Constantinople of the legates of Pope Eugenius, elected in August 654, seeking union with the patriarch (9). Their imminent communion with the newly elected patriarch of Constantinople, Peter (10), indicated papal support for the Typos and perhaps also for a statement of monothelitism issued by Pyrrhus upon his election. This approval does not square with Eugenius' actions, soon after his consecration on 10 August, when he apparently rejected the Synodical tetter of Peter, elected as Pyrrhus' successor in June 654. Our only witness to this rejection is the Liber Pontificalis, which states that the pope succumbed to pressure from the people and Roman clergy to reject Peter's statement, which was not explicit about the wills and activities of Christ (11). There is no independent evidence for the content of Peter's synodical letter (12). At the conclusion of this trial, Maximus was sentenced to exile in Thracian Bizya, and his disciple to Perberis.

In Bizya in August 656, Maximus held a dispute with Theodosius, who was convinced by the force of his arguments against the doctrine of one will in Christ, and promised to write to Rome to recant, asking Maximus to accompany him there if he were sent by the emperor and the patriarch (DB §4). Maximus initially refused, but suggested he take Anastasius the Apocrisiarius in his stead. Anastasius had been transferred to Mesembria some time before this suggestion was made in August 656 (DB §13). Theo-dosius would not accept the substitute, so Maximus reluctantly agreed to accompany him to Rome, if he was sent. This exchange may owe something to a similar account from the earlier dispute between Maximus and Pyrrhus in 645 (13). Maximus was next transferred to Rhegium, near Constantinople, where Theodosius returned to him, again asking him to re-enter into communion with the church of Constantinople (DB §10). The pope, it seems, had fallen out of favour with the imperial party by September 656, when the representatives of the patriarch Peter and the emperor threatened that they would dispose of the pope and those who spoke like him in Rome (DB §13). This Maximus refused to do, and he was transferred to Selymbria for two days, and then to Perberis in separate confinement from his disciple Anastasius. Here the legates of the patriarch Peter (654-66) visited him in April 658, in a renewed attempt at reconciliation. They referred to the union which had been effected among the churches of Constantinople, Rome, Alexandria, and Jerusalem. Maximus was threatened with death by order of the emperor and the bishops of Constantinople and Rome, if he refused to obey the emperor's command to enter into communion with the church of Constantinople. The letter of Anastasius to the monks in Cagliari rejects the compromise formula of the patriarch Peter, as denned in his letter to Pope Vitalian (657-72) on the subject of wills and operations in late 657 or early 658, in which Peter professed both one and two wills, and one and two activities in the economy of salvation, and excommunicated anyone who asserted otherwise (14). Anastasius asks the monks to go to Rome to plead with the pope on their behalf (15). The anxiety evident in his letter was due to uncertainty about the position of Vitalian, elected in June 657. Vitalian did not condemn the Typos in his synodical letter, and entered into communion with the church of Constantinople without apparent hesitation. Vitalian's accord with the imperial position seems to have remained unaltered: in 663, he welcomed Emperor Constans II to Rome. Thus we need to look further back than has previously been customary to the early stages of Eugenius' pontificate, for evidence that the bishop of Rome had not in fact represented the 'true catholic and apostolic church' after Martin was condemned to exile in 654.

The second trial of Maximus and his followers was convened in 662 by the imperial court, at which Maximus and the two Anastasii were sentenced to exile in Lazica (DB§17, Comm. §3). Anastasius the Apocrisiarius and Maximus suffered mutilation, according to the VitaMaximi (PG 90. 1040-1050), DB §17, Comm. §4 and Ep. Anas. §1. Maximus died at Schemaris on 13 August 662, Anastasius the Disciple in the previous month, on 22 or 24 July, at or in transit to Souania, and Anastasius the Apocrisiarius on 11 October 666, two years before Theodore Spoudaeus and Theodosius of Gangra arrived there with the purpose of bringing him material and spiritual comfort (Ep. Anas. §§4—5 and Scholion). Within the year before his death, the Apocrisiarius wrote a letter to Theodosius of Gangra containing a plea for help, in which he outlined the vicissitudes of his final years: from Bouculus he was transferred to Thacyria for two months, then from September 663 he was moved again several times, spending a year in Phusta. In the spring of 664 he was on his way to Schemaris when he was unexpectedly freed by the patrician Gregory. He lived under Gregory's protection at Thousoumes until his death in 666 (Ep. Anas. §7). He mentions a visit from Stephen, possibly Stephen of Dora, Sophronius' emissary to Rome in c.640. Stephen died during the return journey, on I January 665. In his letter Anastasius requested a copy of the Acta of the Lateran Synod to be sent to him. The brothers only received the letter in August 668, from the hands of Gregory, abbot of the Church of John the Baptist in Betararous. Theodore Spoudaeus' Commemoration records the sufferings of the martyrs for the dyothelite cause. It also suggests the presence in Lazica of Stephen of Dora from the Church of the Holy Resurrection in Jerusalem. The burial of Martin in the church of St Maria of Blachernes, a mile out of the city of Cherson (Comm. §8), and miracles at Maximus' tomb at the monastery of St Arsenius in Lazica are recounted (Ep. Anas. §5, Comm. §9), possibly providing evidence of an early cult in Lazica. These accounts are given in the hope of the continued prayers and support of their readers.


1. Brandes, 146; and before him Haldon, 'Ideology and the Byzantine State in the Seventh Century. The "Trial" of Maximus Confessor', in V. Vavrinek (ed.), From Late Antiquity to Early Byzantium, Proceedings of the Byzantinological Symposium in the i6th International Eirene Conference (Prague: Academia, 1985), 87-92.

2. Brandes, 153.

3. Brandes, 212.

4. Also described in the Narrationes de exilio sancti Papae Martini (BHL 5592), PL 129. 585-604.

5. P. Peelers, in 'Une Vie grecque du Pape S. Martin Γ, AB 51 (1933), 232 ff., points out several discrepancies of detail between the Narrationes de exilio sancti Papae Martini and the Greek Vita Martini, including the dates given for Martin's death. Here he declared it impossible to choose between the two dates. The Narrationes, which include four letters from the hand of Pope Martin, are soon to be published in a critical edition by B. Neil.

6. The author of the Life of Maximus, Recension II (PG 90. 85D-88A), declares that Maximus and both Anastasii were arrested at the same time as Martin, but is not a reliable witness for this or other chronological details.

7. Brandes, 186f.

8. Brandes, 189.

9. Larchet, 163 n. 134, followed Devreesse in suggesting that these emissaries sought approval for the election of Eugenius, but this was based on an incorrect dating of the trial described in the Record to May-June 654.

10. Peter was elected in June 654 after the death of Pyrrhus, who had held the patriarchal throne for the second time from December 653 until 3 June 654.

11. The pope was not allowed to celebrate Mass until he promised to reject the Synodical Letter, according to the author of the Life of Eugenius in the Liber Pontificalis, Duchesne, LP i. 341 = R. Davis (trans.), The Book of Pontiffs (Liber Pontificalis), Translated Texts for Historians Latin Series F (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1989), 71, no. 77.

12. See Winkelmann, no. 133, for references to the secondary literature on this letter, for which a date of 655 has been suggested.

13. Dispute with Pyrrhus, PG 91. 353.

14. Reported in the Letter of Pope Agatho (CPG 9417), ACO ser. 2, 2/1. 108. 18-110. 17 (= Mansi, XI. 276C—277A): 'Petrus ems successor ad sanctae memoriae Vitahanum papam scnbens, et unam duos voluntates, et unam duos operatwnes in dispensatwne mcamatwms magni Dei et salvatons sapere se profitetur Petrus quaque, et unam, et duos wluntates et operatwnes in dispensatione incamationis salvatorisnostrijesu Christi sapere se protestatur.' See Winkelmann, no. 147.

15. This letter is supposed by Larchet, 166, probably to have been written in June 654, i.e. before the first trial of Maximus, and before the newly elected Pope Eugenius rejected the Synodical letter of Patriarch Peter. Thus Larchet explains Anastasius' sense of urgency as being occasioned by Eugenius' failure to have taken a stand against monothelitism at that point.

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