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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.

9. Sixth Ecumenical Council in Constantinople 680 /1

The Council of Rome was followed by the Sixth Ecumenical Council in Constantinople. In response to Constantine IV's request for representatives (1), as well as for texts which dealt with the monothelite issue, Agatho sent a delegation of seven representatives (2). The florilegium they brought was basically the same as that of the Lateran Synod of 649, containing both orthodox and heretical quotations (3). The citations in the Roman florilegium were carefully compared with other versions in patriarchal books and those that the legates had brought from Rome, in order to ascertain their authenticity. Monothelite texts were likewise examined, and those which were found to be forgeries, such as the Letter of Menas to Vigilius, were rejected. Macarius of Antioch, who had presented the monothelite case with the monk Stephen, was accused of producing false texts and anathematised, along with his followers. The council concluded this highly original exercise in literary criticism with the condemnation of Cyrus of Alexandria, Sergius, Pyrrhus, Paul, and Peter of Constantinople, Theodore of Pharan, and Honorius of Rome, on the basis of their works. Even the Roman legates concurred with the anathema pronounced upon the former pope.

Maximus was not mentioned at the Sixth Ecumenical Council, probably to spare imperial embarrassment over his recent condemnation and martyrdom. Nevertheless, the doctrine which he and Pope Martin had worked tirelessly to promote, ultimately at the cost of their lives, was finally vindicated. In their reliance on texts of Scripture, the Fathers, and the church councils, Maximus and his disciples showed their concern to adhere to orthodox tradition, and to avoid any charge of innovation. Particularly in the case of ps.-Dionysius the Areopagite, however, their authorities were not always unambiguous, and required careful exegesis (4). The compilation of florilegia from mainly Greek sources has provided a lasting witness to the intellectual strength of their resistance. The monothelite doctrine had a brief revival under the emperor Philippikos Bardanes (711-13) who removed the image of the Council of Constantinople III from the Church of Hagia Sophia, but it was quickly suppressed, and the image restored, by the following emperor, Anastasius II (5). The orthodox doctrine of two wills in the one person of the incarnate Christ, that is, one human will and one divine, distinct but not contrary to each other (the doctrine upheld by both the Lateran Synod in Rome, and the Sixth Ecumenical Council in the imperial capital), thus became a pillar of union rather than a source of division between the churches of East and West.


1. Sacra Constantini IV imperatoris ad Donum papam (CPG 9416), a. 678: ACO ser. 2, 2/1. 6. 7-8. 4. Constantine asked for up to twelve Western bishops and representatives from the four Greek monasteries in Rome.

2. The letter of Pope Agatho to Constantine IV (CPG 9417) at the time of the Sixth Ecumenical Council names several Greeks among the theologians chosen by him to expound the Western position on the monothelite question (ACO ser. 2, 2/1. 57. 6-10). Agatho presents as his legates Abundantius (bishop of Paterno, i.e. Tempsa),John (bishop of Reggio), and John (bishop of Portua), the priests Theodore and George of Rome, with the deacon John and the subdeacon Constantine of Rome (as well as Theodore, legate of the church of Ravenna). On this, see C. Mazzucchi, 'Attività scrittoria calabrese dal VI al IX secolo', in Autori Vari, Calabria Bitantina: Tradizione di pietà e tradiziom smttoria nella Calabria greca médiévale (Rome: Casa del Libro, 1983), 88.

3. Alexakis, 26-31, gives a thorough analysis of the florilegia used at the Sixth Ecumenical Council.

4. Maximus' role as an interpreter of ps.-Dionysius the Areopagite was one of his most significant contributions to the history of Christian thought, according to J. Pelikan, 'Maximus in the History of Christian Thought', in Hcinzer-Schonborn, Maximus Confessor, 398.

5. See Duchesne, LP i. 399 = R. Davis, The lives of the Eighth-Century Popes (Liber Pontificalis) (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1992), Life of Gregory II, 91.5, 6 and n. 21.

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