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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.

8. Theological Arguments Presented in the Documents

Only in the Record and the Dispute are theological arguments against monothelitism presented in any detail. Although most of the charges brought against Maximus at his first trial are of a political nature, there is some discussion there of his reasons for rejecting the Typos. Maximus argues that the Typos is contrary to the Creed of Nicaea, as it deprives the creator God of a natural will and activity by silencing all talk of one or two wills or operations, for the sake of arranging peace. Since the Typos was issued under imperial authority, the question of the emperor's right to interfere in matters of doctrine is raised. Maximus argues against the exercise of a sacerdotal role by the emperor. He is asked to recount the dispute with Pyrrhus, and accused of persuading him to anathematize his own teaching, and to accept Maximus' personal doctrine. Maximus insists that he is not committed to his own teaching but to the common teaching of the catholic church. He refuses to enter into communion with the church of Constantinople while those who were condemned by the Lateran Synod still preside. He accuses the heretics of inconsistency: they overturned four holy councils by the Nine Chapters, and by the Ekthesis of Sergius, and by the Typos; what they taught in the Chapters, they condemned in the Ekthesis, and what they taught in the Ekthesis, they annulled in the Typos. He suggests that Constans should dissociate himself from the Typos, just as Heraclius disowned the Ekthesis written in his name by Sergius. When asked why it is necessary to speak of wills and activities in Christ, he answers that nothing which exists can exist without a natural activity, for the holy Fathers say that there is not, nor can there be known, any nature without an essential activity which characterizes it. If this is so, how can Christ either be, or be known as, truly both God and a human being by nature? Referring again to the doctrine of the 'exchange of properties', Maximus continues by saying that, according to holy Scripture and to the holy teachers and councils, we are taught that the incarnate God is capable of will and of activity both in his divinity and his humanity. For in respect of nothing by which he is known as God, or by which he is known as a human being by nature, is he imperfect. And if he is perfect in each, so that he is diminished in neither, one must confess him to be what he is, with all the natural properties existing in him, out of which and in which and which he is proved to be. This last threefold expression is a favourite with Maximus, incorporating both the Syrian/ Leonine phrase ('in two natures') and Cyrilline formula (out of two natures').

In the Dispute, Maximus informs Theodosius that in saying there is one activity of the divinity and of the humanity of Christ he confuses the language of theology and economy, that is, language appropriate for speaking of the Trinity, and appropriate to Christ's work of salvation. For, if ‘one activity implies one hypostasis' (1), then the holy Trinity is made a quaternity, as if Christ's flesh were made one being with the Word, and an extra person were added to the three persons of the Trinity. And by destroying the two activities, and asserting a single will of his divinity and humanity, the heretics remove the possibility of Christ bestowing blessings upon us, since, even though he wants to, he cannot without an activity according to nature. Not only do they insist on one will, but that a divine one, which has no beginning or end. Thus Christ the flesh with a divine will becomes co-creator of the world with the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, which is ridiculous as well as impious. As in the Record, Maximus condemns the Typos for removing the will and activity of Christ, without which he cannot exist, citing ps.-Dionysius as his authority: 'For what has no power, neither exists nor is anything, nor has any disposition whatsoever' (2).

After all the patristic passages adduced by Theodosius have been shown to be spurious and refuted (3), Theodosius is persuaded to admit that he too confesses different human and divine natures, wills, and activities, but will not speak of two wills or activities, lest they be seen to be contrary to each other. Maximus forces him to admit that when he speaks of two natures, the number does not introduce division. Theodosius, however, refuses to do the same in the case of wills and activities, but prefers to speak as the Fathers did, of one and another, or double and twofold. Maximus reduces his opponent to ridicule by demanding of the onlookers, 'How many does one and one make?', as if Theodosius were merely refusing to do his sums. Maximus then uses the proceedings of the Lateran Synod to demonstrate that the Fathers openly spoke of two wills and activities. Theodosius seems to be persuaded and declares his acceptance of two wills and two activities, but then opens his questioning again, asking Maximus if there is no way at all in which he will speak of one will and activity in Christ. Maximus replies in the negative, since one cannot say that the single will and activity is natural, or hypostatic, or of one being, or dispositional, or beyond nature. He insists that activity is not hypostatic, that is, according to what each person does, but rather is natural, according to the common rationale of nature. This is a development of the same point made earlier in the Dispute with Pyrrhus. Theodosius declares himself convinced, but fails to persuade the emperor and the patriarch to abandon the official doctrine, and Maximus' fate is sealed when he is summoned within a few weeks to Rhegium, near Constantinople, and given an imperial ultimatum which he refuses to obey.

The Italo-Greek contribution to dyothelite resistance at the time of the controversy is evident in several written sources: Maximus' letters to monks in Sicily whom he visited on his way to Rome, and Anastasius' letter to the Monks of Cagliari. It is corroborated by the prominent role of Bishop Deusdedit of Cagliari at the Lateran Synod (4). When Pope Agatho convened a council of 125 bishops in Rome in c.679 at the request of the Emperor Constantine IV (5) to discuss the monothelite question, there was a significant number from Calabria and Sicily in attendance: thirteen in all subscribed to the proceedings of the Council (6).


1. A citation of ps.-Basil of Caesarea, Adv. Eunomium 4. PC 29. 676A2 (CPG 2837).

2. Ps.-Dionysius the Areopagite, De Divinis Nominibus 8. 5, ed. B. Suchla, Corpus Dionysiacum I;. 203. 2—4.

3. Writings of Apollinaris attributed to Julius of Rome, Gregory Thaumatourgus, and Athanasius; two testimonies of Nestorius attributed to John Chrysostom; an expression from Cyril's Commentary on John 4. 2, which was said by Maximus to be an addition by Timothy Aelurus to Cyril's work.

4. Deusdedit's successor Justin also signed the Acta after the Synod, ACO ser. 2, i. 402. 16 (= no. 109).

5. The imperial Sacra addressed to Agatho's predecessor Donus were dated 12 Aug. 678.

6. Letter of Pope Agatho to Constantine IV(CPG 9418), ACO ser. 2, 2/1. 122-39; subscriptions: 140- 159.

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