St. Maximos the Confessor (580-662) – Papal Supremacy and Infallibility by Divine Right

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As many readers know, the Monothelite controversy occupied the Church’s attention in the 7th century, and it was concluded by a firm condemnation of the belief that in Christ there is only one single will or that his acts were from one theanadric operation. This evil which inflicted the Church was partly attributable to Pope Honorius I, who’s letters to Sergius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, seemed to have supported the idea that Christ had two natures but one will.  Shortly after the reception of these letters, the Eastern Emperor, Heraclius, upon the composition of the Patriarch, released an edict called the Ecthesis ( εκθεσις , literally “statement of faith”), wherein Christ is taught to have one will. This was also accepted by the Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch , and Jerusalem. It is reported that the successor of Honorius, Severinus, had time before his death to reject it. The successor of Severinus, John IV, clearly condemned it flat out.

Now, on the Roman side, no one read Honorius as an advocate for this one-will doctrine. His successors, up until at least St. Leo II, denied that such was the meaning of his letter. However, the Council of Constantinople III held in 681 was to unashamedly convict  Honorius of heresy (though he was already long dead), and put the conciliar anathema upon him and his memory. To our surprise, at least one Eastern saint of repute, St. Maximus the Confessor, agreed with the immediate successors of Honorius and claimed Honorius’s intention was orthodox. Anyhow, the purpose here isn’t to investigate whether Honorius was a heretic or not, but rather whether Maximus believed in the divine origin of Papal supremacy or infallibility.

In the scholarship of Maximus, some have called into question the authenticity of the more Papalist writings of Maximus, many of which exist today only in the Latin. However, the most recent Orthodox scholarship has not ventured to maintain such skepticism. For example, Orthodox scholars such as Dr. Jean-Claude Larchet, Dr. A. Edward Sciecienski, Fr. Andrew Louth ,  and Andrew J. Ekonomou have all attempted to interpret the texts in Maximus which favor of Roman primacy in their “proper” context. Not surprisingly, they all arrive at conclusions which do not include Maximus as a witness to the dogma of the contemporary Vatican on supremacy, nor infallibility. In the course of this article, I will be interacting with Larchet and Sciecienski, since it is their assessments which deserve the most attention.  Nevertheless how interesting it is to see that, in contrast to former times, Orthodox scholars are recognizing that, for Maximus, Rome is certainly the universal primate who even, by their own admission, had even a certain kind of universal jurisdiction when properly qualified and conditioned. That, in and of itself, is a far step away from the equal-pentarchism or equal-episcopalism with which the East may have given off. That is not to say that there is a consensus on the meaning of primacy in the Orthodox Church, since we know that the greatest minds on the subject have to this very day strongly asserted otherwise. But it is to say that there has been more serious attention given to the historical sources which may have been passed over as spurious by earlier Orthodox historians.

On the view of Roman primacy, Siecienski gravitates to the fact that when Maximus was put under trial in Constantinople and told that the Roman see had plans to unite with the Monophysite Patriarchs, the Saint replied by saying: “The Holy Ghost anathematizes even angels, should they command us to give up the faith“, clearly insinuating that if Rome were to engage in those plans, the Pope would be excommunicated from the body of Christ. This, we are told, is clear evidence that whatever strong Papal theory that Maximus held to, it was one that was confined by the very same conditions put upon all churches for their communion with the true Church, and thus he doesn’t serve to be a witness to the Catholic dogma in the slightest. In fact, when seen in this light, the Roman See can’t be said to possess anything intrinsically different, when it comes to preserving the Apostolic deposit of faith, than any other church, since Rome’s membership in the Church is just as contingent upon holding to the orthodox faith as any other church’s membership depends on it. If this is true, it would remove the force of Maximus from the list of historical witnesses to the divine Papal supremacy and infallibility. Perhaps a strong administrative primacy conditioned upon a true and orthodox faith, but, for the Orthodox, no special protection against error is therein claimed by Maximus.

Before I get into the relevant commentary of what St. Maximus has to say about Rome, I will provide a quick refresher on the sequence of events: (1) After Sergius of Constantinople receives the letters of Pope Honorius, he composes the Ecthesis, teaching Christ had one will, and Emperor Heraclius has it published it throughout Byzantium ; (2) Upon Honorius’s death, envoys from Rome travel to Constantinople to obtain the Emperor’s confirmation of Severinus to Papal office, but the clergy of Constantinople would provide no assistance in confirming Severinus unless he accepted the Ecthesis; (3) Severinus held office for about 2 months, and was succeeded by John IV, who convened a Synod condemning the Ecthesis; (4) Pope John IV wrote a letter to Emperor Heraclius and the Church of Constantinople, now presided over by Pyrrhus, that the Ecthesis, and therefore monotheletism, has been condemned; (5) Pyrrhus, who maintained support of the Ecthesis, was exiled to Africa where he eventually debated the issue of one vs two wills in Christ with St. Maximus the Confessor, and publicly recanted of holding to the one will position (only, as we shall see, to later revert to his heretical position once again); (6) The man installed as Patriarch of Constantinople, without a lawful deposition of Pyrrhus, was named Paul, who was excommunicated by Pope Theodore for holding to the Ecthesis; (7) In response to this, Paul and Constans, the successor to Heraclius, trashed the Ecthesis, but installed the Typus in its place, which forbade any discussion on whether Christ had one or two wills, or one or two operations; (8) Pope Theodore convened a Council in the Lateran Basilica in 649 condemning the Ecthesis and the Typus together; (9) Theodore dies, and Pope St. Martin takes his place, and he and St. Maximus hold up Dyotheletism (two wills and operations in Christ) against the East; (10) Both Sts Martin and Maximus are forced into Imperial captivity, and suffer martyrdom for their belief that, in Christ Jesus, there is two wills and operations, both which appertain to the respective natures of God and humanity. This article will mainly cover the events surrounding the captivity of Maximus and his trial.


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When the envoys from Rome traveled to Constantinople in order to receive confirmation of the election of Severinus to Papal office, but were told that no such thing would happen unless the newly elected Pope signed off on the Ecthesis, St. Maximus records the following description of this event as it was reported to him:

“Having discovered the tenor of the document [Ecthesis], since by refusing [to sign] they [the legates] would have caused the first and mother of Churches and the city [ecclesiarum principem et matrem et urbem] to remain so long a time in widowhood [i.e. without a confirmed Bishop], they replied quietly: ‘We cannot act with authority in this matter, for we have received a commission to execute, not an order to make a profession of faith. But we assure you that we will relate all that you have put forward, and we will show the document itself to him who is to be consecrated, and if he should judge it to be correct, we will ask him to append his signature to it. But do not therefore place any obstacle in our way now and do violence to us by delaying us and keeping us here. For none has a right to use violence, especially when faith is in question. For herein even the weakest waxes mighty, and the meek becomes a warrior, and by comforting his soul with the divine word, is hardened against the greatest attacks. How much more in the case of the clergy and Church of the Romans, which from old until now, as the elder of all the Churches which are under the sun, presides over all? Having surely received this canonically, as well from councils and apostles, as from the princes of the latter [Peter & Paul], and being numbered in their company, she is subject to no writings or issues of synodical documents, on account of the eminence of her pontificate, even as in all these things all are equally subject to her according to sacerdotal law‘. And so when, without fear, but with all holy and becoming confidence, those ministers of the truly firm and immovable rock that is of the most great and Apostolic church at Rome, had so applied to the clergy of the royal city [Constantinople] it was seen that they had conciliated them and had acted prudently, that the others might be humble and modest, while they themselves made known the orthodoxy and purity of their own faith from the beginning. But those of Constantinople, admiring their piety, thought that such a deed ought rightly to be recompensed; and ceasing from offering them the document, they promised to produce by their own care the issue of the Emperor’s order with regard to the episcopal election. When this was accomplished, the apocrisiarii [representative of Rome in Constantinople] dear to God thankfully returned home’.” (Ex Epistola Sancti Maximi Scripta ad Abbatem Thalassium, PL 129.585-6, taken from Chapman 5)

Here, Maximus quotes what he was told was the statement made by the Papal legates in his letter to Thalassium. Notice that the legates say that the Church of the Romans:

(1) Presides over all churches under the sun (global church)
(2) Received (1) from canons, councils, and the princes of the Apostles (Peter & Paul)
(3) On account of her authority, is subject to no synodal documents
(4) and holds all in subjection to her according to sacerdotal law

Maximus does not diminish any of this, and appears to go along with it by referencing Rome as the “firm and immovable rock“. The basic message of his is that the clergy of Constantinople should have never given the posture that it did towards the Church of Rome, since that Church is the head of all churches, is not subject to any authoritative measures from any other church or council in the world, and holds all in subjection to her own authority. Now, this text is only preserved in Latin, and so would be one of those texts whose authenticity has been doubted.


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When Pyrrhus had returned to his former error, after having publicly recanted the Monotheletism after debating Maximus in Africa, the latter wrote to a certain Eastern official named Peter on the terms of which the twice heretical Pyrrhus could return to the Church and find pardon:

“If the Roman See recognizes Pyrrhus to be not only a reprobate but a heretic, it is certainly plain that everyone who anathematizes those who have rejected Pyrrhus, anathematizes the See of Rome, that is, he anathematizes the Catholic Church. I need hardly add that he excommunicates himself also, if indeed he is in communion with the Roman See and the Catholic Church of God…It is not right that one who has been condemned and cast out by the Apostolic See of the city of Rome for his wrong opinions should be named with any kind of honour, until he be received by her, having returned to her, and to our Lord, by a pious confession and orthodox faith, by which he can receive holiness and the title of holy…Let him [sc. Pyrrhus] hasten before all things to satisfy the Roman See, for if it is satisfied, all will agree in calling him pious and orthodox. [For] he is only wasting words who thinks he must convince or lure such people as myself, instead of satisfying or entreating the blessed Pope of the most holy Catholic Church of Rome, that is, the Apostolic trone, which is from the incanrate Son Himself and which, in accordance with the holy canons and the definitions of faith, received from all the holy councils universal and suprem dominion, authority, and power of binding and loosing over all the holy churches of God which are in the whole world. For with it the Word who is above the celestial powers binds and looses in heaven also. For if he thinks he 35_marks_gospel_l-_the_messiah_revealed_image_1_of_4-_saint_peter_given_the_keys-_rubensmust satisfy others, and fails to implore the most blessed Roman Pope, he is acting like a man who, when accused of murder or some other crime, does not hasten to prove his innocence to the judge appointed by law, but only uselessly and without profit does his best to demonstrate his innocence to private individuals, who have no power to acquit him from the accusation. Wherefore, my blessed Lord, extend yet further the precept which it is known that you have made well and according to God’s will, by which Pyrrhus is not allowed to speak or misspeak with regard to dogma. But discover clearly his intention by further inquiry , whether he will altogether agree to the truth. And if he is careful to do this, exhort him to make a becoming statement to the Roman Pope, so that by his command the matter concerning Pyrrhus may be canonically and suitably ordered for the glory of God and the praise of your sublimity…”  (Opuscula 12, Patrologia Graeca 91.141-146, taken from Chapman 8 and The Oxford Handbook of Maximus the Confessor, page 553)

It is without any doubt that Maximus understood the Roman See to have been possessed of universal supremacy by divine right. In particular, the comparison of making satisfaction and proving innocence before a Judge appointed by divine law and who has power to acquit with Pyrrhus’s obligation to satisfy the Roman See would put to rest any further objection to this. But notice the grounds upon which Maximus saw the Roman primacy to have rested on. The “Incarnate God Himself” ordained the supremacy of the Roman  Church. Even if, as Siecienski interpreted, Maximus did not believe in the permanent and invincible infallibility of the Roman See forever, he certainly believed that the Roman See held supreme jurisdiction over the whole universal Church *if she was orthodox*, that, not by man’s design, but by God’s.

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And if there was any further doubt, one could also read Maximus’s letter from Rome to the East which says:

“For the very ends of the earth and those in every part of the world who purely and rightly confess the Lord, look directly to the most holy Church of the Romans and its confession and faith as though it were a sun of unfailing light, expecting from it the illuminating splendour of the Fathers and sacred dogmas…For ever since the Incarnate Word of God came down to us, all the churches of Christians everywhere have held that greatest Church there to be their sole base and foundation, since on the one hand, it is in no way overcome by the gates of Hades, according to the very promise of the Saviour , but holds the keys of the orthodox confession and faith in him and opens the only true and real religion to those who approach with godliness, and on the other hand, it shuts up and locks every heretical mouth that speaks unrighteousness against the most High“. (Opuscula 11, PG 91.137-140; trans. Cooper 2005:181; taken from Oxford Handbook, 552)


 

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St. Sophronius of Jerusalem

 

 

Patriarch St. Sophronius of Jerusalem had commissioned St. Stephen of Dor, bishop in the Jerusalem Patriarch, to appeal to the Roman See in order to procure the condemnation of the Monothelites. Stephen, who traveled to Rome, describes this aloud at the Council of Lateran 649, of which Maximus took part. This Council was held as Ecumenical by Maximus, and so this open statement at the Council carries some significance:

And for this cause, sometimes we asked for water to our head and to our eyes a fountain of tears, sometimes the wings of a dove, according to holy David, that we might fly away and announce these things to the Chair which rules and presides over all, I mean to yours, the Head and Highest, for the healing of the whole wound. For this it has been accustomed to do from of old and from the beginning with power by its canonical and apostolical authority, because the truly great Peter , head of the Apostles, was clearly thought worthy not only to be entrusted with the keys of heaven, alone apart from the rest, to open it worthily to believers, or to close it justly to those who disbelieve the gospel of grace, but because he was also first commissioned to feed the sheep of the whole Catholic Church; for ‘Peter’, said He, ‘Do you love me? Feed my sheep’, and again , because he had in a manner peculiar and special, a faith in the Lord stronger than all and unchangeable, to be converted and to confirm his fellows and spiritual brethren when tossed about, as having been adorned by God himself, incarnate for us, with power and sacerdotal authority…I was urged by the requests of almost all the pious bishops of the East in agreement with the departed Sophronius…Without delay I made this journey for this purpose alone; and since then thrice have I run to you Apostolic Feet, urging and beseeching the prayer of Sophronius and of all, that is, that you will assist the imperiled faith of Christians”

(Acts of Lateran Synod 649, pg. 143-44)

 


Fr. Andrew Louth, in his The Ecclesiology of Saint Maximus the Confessor , attempts to undermine the witness of Maximus to contemporary Catholic teaching by saying that Maximus is referring to the “church” of Rome, and not the Papal office. I thought this rather odd since even the Council of Vatican 1870 speaks of the prerogatives of the Roman “See” (it comes up no less than 8 times). There is an internal relationship between the bishopric and the church of which it is committed, and thus the authoritative prerogatives of the church frlouthwould be subsumed by the bishopric. Louth goes on to say that Maximus was saying this all out of gratitude, thus implying that there was fanciful though unrealistic hyperbole being utilized. However, I could not help but recall that when Maximus could have spared his life in the face of Theodosius and the Imperial consuls by simply being willing to communicate with the Eastern Patriarchs on the condition that they had revoked the Typus (which had been the source of doctrinal contention), he refused to comply unless both they and the Eastern Patriarchs had formally submitted to Rome and the decrees of the Lateran synod of 649. If all he had was a flowery commitment to the Papal institution, then why further risk his life ? I think the answer is put forth very clearly in Maximus’ own words which, in sum, is that communion (not just agreement) with the Roman See *is* communion with the holy Catholic Church. Under that premise, one could understand him risking his life at this very crucial point of his trial. This reminds me of what Dom John Chapman writes in his The Condemnation of Pope Honorius : “When St. Jerome spoke tremendous words about the Pope [Damasus], we are asked to believe that he was exaggerating, or even that he was sarcastic. When the Council of Chalcedon wrote in like strain to St. Leo, we are [asked] to put down its words as empty Oriental flattery. Whatever may be thought of such comments, they cannot be applied to the words in which we have heard St. Maximus again and again set forth the privileges of Rome. Men do not shed their blood to blunt a sarcasm or to justify a [flowerly] compliment” (page 70-71). And finally, Louth mentions how Maximus denied an obedient following with a heretical Pope, which I will address more below.


 

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Depiction of the martyrdom of St. Maximus the Confessor

 

 

I wish to conclude this article by devoting the last section to responding to Siecienski’s scholarship on the Maximian view of Roman Primacy. In his section in the Oxford Handbook on Maximus the Confessor, Siecienski takes clear note of the above statements of Maximus on the authority of the Pope. However, he has some reservations before interpreting this as a support for the contemporary doctrine of Papal supremacy. He writes:

Following the promulgation of Pastor Aeternus (Vatican Council I, 1870), Catholic authors increasingly used Maximus’ writings to support the claim that the pope’s universal jurisdiction and doctrinal infallibility were recognized in the East during the first millennium….Perhaps the most detailed study of Maximus’ views on the papacy come from Jean-Claude Larchet, who examined all the texts in question (Larchet 1998). Larchet tried to contextualize Maximus’ ‘enthusiasim for the papacy in light of the monothelite debates, when Rome was his sole ally against the heretical hierarchs of the East. For Larchet and others, Maximus’ exalted language about the See of Rome manifest ‘the glow of gratitude he must have felt following the Lateran Synod, for the support he had found in Rome’ and besides, it was ‘written about the Church of Rome, not the papacy as such’ (Louth 2004:117). This does not mean that Maximus was being disingenuous, but instead simply recognizes that these texts were written at a time when Rome alone held the line against heresy, and thus had earned the kind of praise Maximus heaped upon her“. (Oxford Handbook, 553-54).

When considering the question of whether Maximus understood communion with the Roman See to be absolutely necessary in order to be in the Church, Siecienski takes note from the trial of Maximus where he was told that the Roman See would be entering communion with the 4 Monothelite Patriarchs of the East:

Maximus replied: ‘The God of all pronounced that the catholic church was the correct and saving confession of the faith in him when he called Peter blessed because of the terms in which he had made proper confession of him’ (Ep. Max., Allen-Neil 2002:121)”

and Siecienski deduces:

“….if communion with the See of Rome was normative, this state of affairs was entirely contingent on Rome’s continued orthodoxy, which remained a necessary precondition for all the praise and powers he had received….In fact, during his trial Maximus accepted at least the theoretical possibility that he might be forced to break communion with Rome should it too fall victim to the monothelite madness” (Oxford, pg. 554-54)

However, in the record of the trial, Maximus also says the following when he was told Rome was to enter into communion with the Monothelite patriarchs:

Those [Papal legates] who have come won’t prejudice the See of Rome in any way, even if they do communicate because they haven’t brought a letter to the Patriarch. And I’ll never be convinced that the Romans will be united with the Byzantines, unless they [the Byzantines] confess that our Lord and God by nature wills and works our salvation according to each [of the natures] from which He is, and in which He is, as well as which He is” (ibid, pg. 63)

So we see here, even during the midst of this trial, that Maximus was not going to be convinced that Rome would commit heresy.  When pressed even further that Rome has certain plans to enter communion with the Monothelites, Maximus concedes:

“‘The Holy Spirit, through the apostle, condemns even angels who innovate in some way contrary to what is preached” (ibid pg. 555)

Siecienski concludes: “..Maximus, it seems, had not made the logical leap from ‘Rome has not erred’ to ‘Rome could not err’, although the Popes themselves had already begun to think along these lines.” (ibid)

I think Siecienski is wrong that Maximus did not confess the supremacy and infallibility of Rome. Here’s why. If you read the citations from above, Maximus refers to Rome as the sun of unfailing light and the sole base and foundation which cannot be overcome by the gates of Hades, according to the promise of the Savior. Quite literally, Rome teaches the Apostolic faith and cannot fail to do so by virtue of the promise of God. So my argument would be this: Maximus understood the teaching ministry of the Church of Rome to be protected from heresy by the power and promise of God. Therefore, he believed in Papal infallibility.  I understand there is a way to interpret him as if he were just merely being hyperbolic or overly enthusiastic, seeing as how Rome was the only orthodox church in the oikumene at the time. That is possible, and I will address this, and it will be clear why I don’t prefer that explanation.

Moreover, Siecienski thinks this interpretation does not run the risk of making Maximus disingenuous, but I disagree. How can you run claims of supremacy and doctrinal infallibility on the basis of Christ’s own divine intention (in letters not even to Rome) as an enthusiastic artwork just to bolster one’s argument? If Maximus’s argument depends on the cogency of his arguments from the church fathers, then it would be redundant to appeal to the divine status of Rome. If anything, by falsely insinuating Rome is infallible, Maximus runs the risk of undermining himself. Were the Popes themselves hyperbolic when they claimed the infallibility of the Roman See (Formula of Hormisdas, Letter of Agatho to Constantinople III)? It is far more likely that Maximus’ claims about Rome are just as genuine as those made by others, regardless if he was wrong or right on the matter. I see no compelling reason to read him any other way.

But what about his statements during his trial? Did not Maximus just come out and say that Rome could fall into heresy? Well, I would argue there is more in between the lines here.  Just like some interpreters would take the clear attributions of supremacy and infallibility in Maximus and then fudge them (i.e. make them mere enthusiastic hype) in light of the latter’s willingness to possibly endure separation from Rome if it meant being faithful to the truth, a Catholic is doing nothing different when he interprets the clear admissions of Maximus when under trial and fudges them based on the clear statements of supremacy and infallibility in his other writings. In other words, Maximus could have answered his accusers under trial in such a way that he is willing to concede, as a matter of possibility for the sake of argument, that Rome could fall by the wayside, for which case he would remain faithful to the truth even if it meant he alone was the only orthodox Christian left on the planet, but not actually believe this would ever materialize. On that level, both interpretations are fair and square. But there is more.

As we saw, the record of his trial includes a push-back from Maximus that he would not be convinced of Rome’s concession to heresy. When he was pressed on what he would do if Rome really did commune with the Monothelites, it is quite possible Maximus thought, in his head, “alright, let me concede to what would happen if the impossible actually did happen, hypothetically”. That might sound like a far-fetched interpretation which only reveals my own bias. However, we have objective reasons to interpret it this way. After his trial, where he gave the answers he did, Maximus wrote to Anastasius, his disciple, informing him that he had been told that Rome would be entering into communion with the Monothelite patriarchs, and requested that he and others are to pray for holy mother Church, and to send his letter of concern out for others to read. At the end of this letter is an additional text which was added by a compiler as a set of instructions given to him by either Maximus or Anastasius (some scholars say it was Anastasius himself who added it):

“…in order that, when you have found out about the trial from these, you might all bring a common prayer to the Lord on behalf of our common mother, that is the Catholic Church, and on behalf of us your unworthy servants , for strengthening everyone and us also, persevering with you in it, according to the orthodox faith rightly preached in it by the holy fathers. For there is great fear in the whole world because this [church] endures persecution by everyone at the same time, unless He [God] offers aid by his customary grace, He who always come to aid, leaving the seed of piety at least in older Rome, confirming the promise He made to the prince of Apostles, which does not deceive us” (Maximus the Confessor and His Companions, Page 123)

Even if this additional Latin schola (for it does not exist in the Greek) was added by Anastasius or a contemporary compiler, the person is doubtless connected to the same spirit of Maximus, and the compilers’ statement on the divine promise to Peter and Rome would surely serve as corroborative evidence that Maximus’s contemporaries held to precisely the same view about the Roman See. The compiler who added this states the whole catholic church is threatened by this monstrous evil of monotheletism, and it will take no less than God Himself to come and fulfill His own promise to Saint Peter which includes, at least, the preservation of “seed of piety” in the Roman See. And then to put it on par with the preservation of the Catholic Church herself? Even if the compiler is Theodore Spoudaeus, and not Anastasius the disciple of Maximus himself, it would still be a contemporary witness. I am convinced it is Anastasius who added this to the end of Maximus’s letter, since a similar message exist in the latter’s letter to the monks of Cagliari (see below).


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In a letter of the same Anastasius to the Monks of Cagliari, we read of the following:

Therefore, because the affairs of almost the whole church of God, which has been established as catholic and apostolic, are in great danger on account of these things, we pray on behalf of her and we beseech you, most holy people, that you do not despise her being in danger, but that you help her while she is labouring in the tempests, knowing that love which is in the Holy Spirit grows in the time of tribulation. And if it is possible, [we ask] that you go across more swiftly, as if for some other reason, to the pious men of older Rome, who are solid as a rock, who clearly always protect us as you do, and are most fervent fighters for the truth , to beseech them with supplicatory words and tears n behalf of all Christians , in order that they may gain reward from the Lord, preserving for all, as for themselves, the orthodox faith without newly-invented innovation, and taking up nothing more or less beyond those things, nor approving anything beyond that which has been defined by the holy fathers and synods“.  (ibid, 124)


Finally, even if Maximus had come to a point of doubt where he thought about giving up his belief in the supremacy and infallibility of the See of Peter, that does not necessarily mean he did not believe that the whole entire time. He could have very well believed it when he wrote it, but then changed his mind later on. There are Catholics today who go from being ardent Papalists to becoming Orthodox or Protestant, and then give up on their belief in Papal infallibility. Nevertheless, for the reasons I’ve given, I think the best interpretation is that Maximus conceded the fallibility of Rome for the sake of argument, together with some fear that this might actually be true, in which case he wrote his sincere letter to Anastasius.


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Now, lest I prove to be the only one who sees this in Maximus, I give you a quote from a Lutheran Scholar on Maximus, Dr. Lars Thuberg,  and he explains our Saints view of Roman primacy:

“In a somewhat fragmentary letter to Peter the Illustrious (from 643 or 644), which is preserved only in a Latin version, we find some explicit expressions of a very advanced theology about the position of the bishop of Rome. Maximus simply identified the see of Rome with the Catholic Church and he spoke of ‘the very holy Church of Rome, the apostolic see, which God the Word [Jesus] Himself and likewise all the holy Synods, according to the holy canons and the sacred definitions, have received, and which owns the power in all things and for all, over all the saints who are there for the whole inhabited earth, and likewise the power to unite and to dissolve….’ 51z2deigcpl-_sx373_bo1204203200_(Patr. Gr. 91, 144 C). Finally, in a letter written later in Rome, he made himself even more clear in the following maner: ‘...she [the Church of Rome] has the keys of the faith and of the orthodox confession; whoever approaches her humbly, to him is opened the real and unique piety, but she closes her moouth to any heretic who speaks against [divine] justice’ (Patr Gr 91, 140). This invites us to evaluate what Maximus had to say about the primacy of the pope. As Fr Garrigues has clearly shown (in an article in Istina, 1976), Maximus was convinced that Rome would never give way to the pressures of Constantinople. Once more forced to consider the possibility that in the case of Monotheletism the Romans might accept a union with the Byzantines, he answered through the paradoxical words of St. Paul, and said: ‘The Holy Spirit condemns… even the angels that would proclaim anything which is contrary to the Gospel’. (Patr Gr 90, 121). This implies that he did not want to discuss an improbable hypothesis, but would rather declare that he was prepared to die for the truth. This statement is a good starting point for a clarification of his own attitude. His personal experience of the doctrinal position of Rome confirmed his conviction that the promises of our Lord to Peter were applicable to the Church that preserved his relics. Thus, for him the communion of the Churches expressed itself as ‘a Roman communion’, a communion with the bishop of Rome. One must remember that for Maximus there existed only one alternative, represented by Imperial policy with its linke between Church and State, and that alternative could not enjoy the same promises. Even sacramental signs were missing in the latter case.”(The Vision of St Maximus the Confessor: Man and the Cosmos- Lars Thunberg, Page 25-26)


Sources:

“The Eastern Churches and the Papacy” by S. Herbert Scott

“The Condemnation of Pope Honorius” by Dom John Chapman

“The Building of Christendom” by Dr. Warren Carrol

“Catholicism and Papacy : Some Anglican and Russian Difficulties” by Mgr. Peter Batiffol

“The Ecclesiology of Saint Maximus the Confessor” Fr Andrew Louth (International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church Vol. 4, no 2, July 2004, 109-120)

“Church and Papacy” Trevor Jalland

“The Oxford Handbook o Maximus the Confessor, Edited by Pauline Allen & Bronwen Neil

“The Papacy and the Orthodox” A. Edward Siecienski

“The Acts of the Lateran Synod 649” Richard Price

“Maximus the Confessor and His Companions: Documents from Exile” – Pauline allen & Bronwen Neil

St. Francis De Sales (1567-1622): Papal Infallibility and Papal Error

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“Under the ancient law, the High Priest [of Israel] did not wear the Rational except when he was vested in the pontifical robes and was entering before the Lord. Thus we do not say that the Pope cannot err in his private opinions, as did John XXII; or be altogether a heretic as perhaps Honorius was. Now when he is explicitly a heretic, he falls ipso facto from his dignity and out of the Church, and the Church must either deprive him or, as some say, declare him deprived, of his Apostolic See, and must say as St. Peter did: let another take his bishopric [as was said of Judas Iscariot, Apostle of Jesus Christ]. When he errs in his private opinions he must be instructed, advised, convinced; as happened with John XXII, who was so far from dying obstinate or from determining anything during his life concerning his opinion, that he died whilst he was making the examination which is necessary for determining in a matter of faith, as his successors delcared in the Extravagantes which begins Benedictus Deus. But when he is clothed with the pontifical garments, I mean when he teaches the whole Church as Shepherd, in general matters of faith and morals, then there is nothing but doctrine and truth.
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Filioque – Council of Toledo 675 AD

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St. Augustine of Hippo

“We particularly profess that the Father is not born, not created, but is unborn. For he, from whom the Son was born and the Holy Spirit proceeded, has origin from no one. He is, therefore, the source and origin of the whole divinity; he is the Father of his own essence and he begot the Son of his indescribably substance in an indescribable way….We also believe that the Holy Spirit, the third person in the Trinity, is God, one and equal with God the Father and the Son, of one substance and of one nature, not, however, begotten nor created but proceeding from both, and that He is the Spirit of both. Of this Holy Spirit, we also believe that He is neither unbegotten nor begotten, for if we called Him unbegotten we would assert two Fathers, or if begotten, we would appear to preach two Sons. Yet He is called the Spirit not of the Father alone, nor of the Son alone, but of both Father and Son. For He does not proceed from the Father to the Son, nor from the Son to sanctify creatures, but He is shown to have proceeded from both at once, because He is known as the love or the sanctity of both. Hence we believe that the Holy Spirit is sent by both, as the Son is sent by the Father. But He is not less than the Father and the Son, in the way in which the Son, on account of the body which He has assumed, testifies that He is less than the Father and the Holy Spirit.” (THE ELEVENTH COUNCIL OF TOLEDO 675 AD)

Full text – https://www.ewtn.com/library/COUNCILS/TOLEDO.HTM

St. Ildephonsus (A.D. 667), Archbishop of Hispana Toledo – Consecration To The Virgin Mary – A spiritual predecessor to St. Louis De Montfort

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St. Ildesphonsus was born into a royal Visiogothic family,  is famous for having written De perpetua virginitate Mariae contra tres infideles (The Perpetual Virginity of Mary Against the Heretics), and became a huge proponent of Spanish mariology. From his early youth, Ildelephonsus pursued the monastic life. Later he became Archbishop of Toledo in A.D. 657 after having been abbot of the Agli monastery and deacon of the holy Church. He participated as a signatory of the 8th and 9th Councils of Toledo. Of interest here is his last chapter in De perpetua wherein he writes on consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In this portion, “Ildephonsus pronounces a genuine act of self-giving or consecration to the Blessed Virgin, in which he closely connects fidelity to God with fidelity to Mary, service to God with service to the Mother of God, obedience to God with obedience to Mary. He calls her ‘cooperatrix’ in her own redemption” (Mary In The Middle Ages, Gambero – page 31) . Who would have thought that in the 7th century, a well-respected and equally venerated Saint (by both Eastern Orthodox & Roman Catholics) would have such a view as akin to St. Louis De Montfort. Our beloved Saint writes:

“And now I come to you, only Virgin Mother of God; I come into your presence, only masterwork of the Incarnation of my God; I prostrate myself before you, the only one found to be the Mother of my Lord; I beg you, only one found to be the handmaid of your Son, that you might obtain the removal of the guilt of my sin, that you might command me to be cleansed from the iniquity of my actions, that you might make me to love the glory of your power, that you might show unto me the manifold sweetness of your Son, that you might give me to speak and defend the truthfulness of faith in your Son, that you might grant me even to cling to God and you, to serve your Son and you, to wait upon your Lord and you – to wait upon him as my Maker and upon you as the Mother of my Maker; upon him as the Lord of Might, upon you as the Mother of God; upon him as my Redeemer, upon you as the work of my redemption.el_greco_-_st_ildefonso_-_wga10576

For what he wrought in redeeming me, he formed in the reality of your person. To become my Redeemer, he became your Son. To become the price of my redemption, his Incarnation took place from your flesh. From your flesh He took a body that would be wounded, that he might heal my wounds. He drew forth a mortal body from your mortal body, that he might take away my death. He took from you a body that he assumed without sin, in which he would erase my sins. He humbled himself and assumed my nature from your real body. He was my forerunner, bringing my nature into his kingdom to dwell amid the glory of the Father’s throne, establishing it higher than the angels. 

Therefore, I am your servant, because your Son is my Lord. Therefore, you are my mistress, because you are the handmaid of my Lord, because you, my mistress, became the mother of my Lord. Therefore I have become you servant, because you have become the mother of my Maker. I pray you, I pray you,  O holy Virgin, that I might possess Jesus from that same Spirit by whom you gave birth to Jesus. Through that Spirit, through whom your flesh conceived Jesus, may my soul accept Jesus. By that Spirit, by whom you were able to know and give birth to Jesus, may I be granted to know Jesus. In the Spirit, you professed yourself, to be the handmaid of the Lord, desiring that it be done to you according to the angel’s word; in that same Spirit , may I, a lowly man, speak lofty things of Jesus. In the Spirit, you adore Jesus as your Lord and look upon him as your Son; in that same Spirit may I love Jesus. May I show reverence to Jesus; just as he, though he was God, was submissive to his parents”

(Patrologia Latina 96, 105B-106B) 

Pope St. Boniface I (A.D. 422) – The Universal Jurisdiction of the See of Rome in the East

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Pope St. Boniface had often stated in his letters that the Roman Church holds  jurisdiction over the universal communion of churches. He had no doubts about it. However, these statements were in no sense new, since they were just echos of his predecessors going back to Pope Siricius (A.D. 384), Pope St. Damasus (A.D. 366-384), Pope Liberius (A.D. 352-366), and even Pope St. Julius (A.D. 337-352), and even further back. A very famous letter wherein St. Boniface reveals his understanding of the relationship between the Eastern churches and the Roman See is quite astonishing out of all of them, however. Here below, we get the Roman gloss on the extent of jurisdiction which was understood to have been at play in the 4th century beginning with St. Athanasius and on through to the beginning of the 5th century under the Pontificate of Pope St. Innocent I (A.D. 401-417). It is rather odd that St. John Chrysostom’s story is not mentioned since Innocent definitely played a fundamental role in getting his holy name back into the sacred ditpcyha of the Eastern divine services. I think, however, most of all, what is here being stated is over 5 centuries before the Greeks began to suspect the West for a Papalist heresy. Continue reading

The Magisterial Support of the Immaculate Conception Doctrine Hundreds of Years Before 1854

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On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX (1846-78) defined that “the most blessed Virgin Mary…was preserved free from all stain of original sin..”. This definition did not come as a surprise but was the culmination of long years of preperation. It is interesting to note this historical development :

1) Pope Sixtus IV (1471-84) gives approval to the feast

2) Pope Innocent VIII (1484-92) gives approval to the invocation of Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception

3) At the Council of Trent (1545-63) the fathers did not want the decree on original sin to be understood as including the blessed Virgin

4) In 1567, Pope St. Pius V (1566-72) condemned the proposition of Michael de Bay; during his pontificate the Office of the Immaculate Conception was introduced into the breviary

5) Pope Paul V (1605-21) forbade anything contrary to the teaching of Mary’s Immaculate conception to be said in public

6) In 1622, Pope Gregory XV (1621-23) forbade any contrary statements to be made in private

7) Pope Alexander VII (1655-67) declared that the object of the devotion is the conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is interesting to note that Pope Alexander’s statement was incorporated almost verbatim into Pope Pius IX’s definition of the dogma

8) Pope Clement XI (1700-21) made the feast one of the precept in the universal church

(The Church Teaches: Documents of the Church in English Translation, Jesuit Fathers of St. Mary’s College , page 207-8)

7th Century Africa – Roman Primacy

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Following the history of the Council of Constantinople III in A.D. 553, the oikumenical Church was faced with the difficulties of Emperor Justinian’s condemnation of the Three Chapters. Many Western churches had refused to accepted the decrees of the 5th Ecumenical Council, and it was the promptings of the Pope’s in the 6th century which made some effective headway for restoring communion. The Papacy took some what of a hit since the Pontificate of Vigilius & Pelagius in the eyes of many in the West, and, in particular, the African episcopate, because they understood the Papacy to have capitulated to the Byzantine Caesaropapism. For them, the divine constitution of the Church was Apostolic succession, with the primal head being St. Peter’s successors in Rome. However, since, for them, Rome had succumbed under the thumb of the Emperors, it was time for them to rely on the Papal teaching pre-Byzantine captivity (i.e. Chalcedon & Pope Leo’s Tome). And so when we enter the 7th century, one wonders if any Western churches thought that Rome’s institutional primacy was defunct. We get an answer to this question with the Western response to the heresy growing in the East which said Christ, because He is a single Person, only has a single will. British Professor of Late Antique and Byzantine Studies and offspring from Cambridge, Dr. Judith Herrin, describes the response of the African churches in the below citation, and I think it aptly describes the role of the Roman primacy. Often times the rigorous theological work had been done outside the Roman See, such as St. Maximos’ florigelium against Pyrros, the Studite monks on Icons, St. Cyril of Alexandria against Nestorius,  St. Athanasius against Arius, and St. Augustine against Pelagius. And yet, while the champions of orthodoxy are winning well in their respective regions, they all knew that the Roman See was where official condemnations were to be passed. It would be like today, where witnesses, video footage, the suspect, and victim all can provide the perfect knowledge as to the cause of the crime, and yet it remains to be examined and judged by the judicial system of a particular state. That best describes the divine institutionalization of Christ in Peter’s primacy (i.e. Rome’s primacy). It doesn’t entail the heights of theological expertise, but only a vehicle through which Christ judges whether something is passable or not. Herrin writes:

“While many issues continued to divide Christians in different parts of the oikoumene during the seventh century, it was the Monothelete theory of Christ’s will that brought theological disagreement to a head in the 640s. Once again Rome confronted successive Patriarchs of Constantinople, accusing them of introducing novelties – and wrong ones – theodorus_iinto the established faith. Once again, the dioceses of Africa championed this defence of orthodoxy, under the influence and leadership of eastern monastic opponents of the ‘one will, one energy’ doctrine. When these Monothelete errors had been exposed by Maximos’s defeat of Pyrros in the public debate of 645, the Africans turned to Rome, asking Pope Theodore to excommunicate the heretics. They begged him to anathamatise Monotheletism as incorrect theology; they asked for their own criticisms to be forwarded to Constantinople by papal legates – in short, they recognised the institutional position of the apostolic throne [Rome] as the channel through which a condemnation of the East should be made…In their appeal to Rome, they highlighted the see of St. Peter as the sole Christian centre with the historical weight and authority to pronounce on theological definitions of dubious orthodoxy…They appealed to the pope as the inheritor of St. Peter, the rock on which Christ had laid his foundation, stating their conviction that it was his duty to oppose the heretics of Constantinople and return them to orthodoxy.” (The Formation of Christendom, Pg 250-51)