Saint Maximus the Confessor

Saint Maximus the Confessor

Born in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul, Turkey), Saint Maximus (Maximos) the Confessor (c. 580-662) influenced Eastern Christianity through his writ­ings, debates, and personal witness as a Byzantine monk, spiritual writer, and opponent of monothe- litism. Maximus’s primary writings consist of Biblical commentary (Quaestiones et Dubia, Quaestiones ad Theopemptum Scholasticum, Quaestiones ad Thalassium), Christological debates (Opuscula Theological et Polemica), explanations of the liturgy (Mystagogia), and ascetic practice (Liber Asceticus). From his writings, it is evident that Maximus showed a great interest in the concept of timelessness and its relationship to the temporal world.

Maximus came from a wealthy household in Constantinople and received a good education. From 610 to 613, he worked as a secretary for Emperor Heraclius I, but he retired to the monastic life. Maximus resided in two monasteries in Turkey: Philipikos in Chrysopolis and Saint George in Cyzcius. Threatened by the Persian invasion of 626, Maximus moved to North Africa, making stops in Crete and Cyprus before reaching Carthage in 628. From North Africa, he defended the Christological teachings of the Cappadocian and Chalcedonian fathers against the Christological heresy of monothelitism, which taught that Jesus Christ had two natures but only one will, in con­trast to the orthodox view that Jesus had two natures and two wills, human and divine. Maximus disputed this heresy with expatriarch Pyrrhus I, and later condemned monothelitism at the synod of the Lateran, in Rome, in 649.

Refusing to sign the conciliatory declaration of Emperor Constans II, Maximus was arrested in 653, charged with treason, and exiled to Bizye (Byzia), in Thrace, in 655. Tried and convicted again for treason in 662, Maximus endured torture and amputation of the tongue and right hand. This time the Byzantine monk was exiled to Lazica (on the eastern coast of the Black Sea) where he remained until his death in 662. Following his death, the Eastern Church called Maximus “the Confessor,” for his faithfulness under torture in defending the orthodox teaching on the nature of Christ.

Maximus studied the classical Greek philoso­phies and labored to find their relation to or com­patibility with the Christian worldview. Particularly interested in Neoplatonism, Maximus looked at the connection between Plotinus’s “one” and the “many” (or creator and created). This examination made Maximus believe in the concept of timeless­ness, in which the individual achieves a supratem­poral state or existence. The Eastern doctrine of deification complemented his view of timelessness, because the individual works to become one with God through prayer, meditation, and other asceti­cal practices. The “one” (God) became like the “many” through the incarnation (logos), and the “many” possess the ability through grace to become divine like the “one” because of the resurrection and ascension.

Although Maximus thought individuals reached a supratemporal state, he also recognized that the individual lives in a temporal world and experi­ences a beginning and an end, following a sequence of events in history. In his writings, Maximus makes this distinction using the term aion in refer­ence to an endless amount of time and the term chromos in reference to the daily passage of time and events in history. Maximus, like other Neoplatonist Christians, had to reconcile the Greek understanding of a cyclical calendar with the Judeo-Christian understanding of linear his­tory. For Maximus, the Christian scriptures focus on the history and chronology of past events, as well as point toward a fixed goal in the future (the eschatology). Both views of time share the concept of process and movement. Maximus acknowledges that God created the universe and interacts in his­tory, but time does not restrict God. Therefore, the individual follows the movement of time and events in a linear sense, but through the process of deification, time does not restrict those who achieve union with God.

Because he was recognized as a saint, Maximus’s life and works greatly influenced Eastern orthodox theology, and this Byzantine monk worked dili­gently to defend the nature of Christ. In his writ­ings, Maximus the Confessor played a key role in bringing together Greek philosophy and a Christian worldview and contributed to the discussion or study of timelessness in a temporal world.

Leslie A. Mattingly

See also Christianity; Eternity; God and Time; Mysticism; Plotinus

Further Readings

Maximus the Confessor. (1985). Maximus Confessor: Selected writings (G. C. Berthold, Trans.). New York: Paulist Press.

Plass, P. (1980). Transcendent time in Maximus the Confessor. The Thomist, 44, 259-277.

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