(ca. 580-662)


MAXIMOS, St., ‘Confessor’ (c.580—662), Greek theologian and ascetical writer. A member of the old Byzantine aristocracy, after holding the post of Imperial Secretary under the Emperor Heraclius, c.614 he became a monk (later abbot) of the monastery of Chrysopolis. During the Persian invasion (626) he fled to Africa. From c.640 onwards he was a determined opponent of Monothelitism. After Pyrrhus, the temporarily deposed Monothelite Patriarch of Constantinople, had declared his defeat in a dispute at Carthage (645), Maximus procured the condemnation of the heresy by several African Synods, and also had a share in its condemnation by the Lateran Council of 649. In 653 he was brought to Constantinople, where pressure was put upon him to obtain his adherence to the ‘Typos’ of Constans II. On his refusal he was exiled to Thrace. In 661 he was again brought to the capital and severely questioned; a probably true tradition says that on this occasion his tongue and his right hand were cut off. He was then exiled to the Caucasus, but died soon afterwards.

Maximus the Confessor was a prolific writer on doctrinal, ascetical, exegetical, and liturgical subjects. His works include the ‘Quaestiones ad Thalassium’, 65 questions and answers on difficult passages of Scripture, the ‘Ambigua’, an exegetical work on Gregory of Nazianzus, Paraphrases on the works of Dionysius, the Pseudo-Areopagite (though many of the Paraphrases which have come down under Maximus’ name are the work of John of Scythopolis, who wrote in the first half of the 6th cent.), several dogmatic treatises against the Monophysites and Monothelites, the ‘Liber Asceticus’ and ‘Capita de Caritate’, and the ‘Mystagogia’, a mystical interpretation of the Liturgy. He maintained that the purpose of history was the Incarnation of the Son of God and the deification (theosis/θέωσις) of man, which consisted in the restoration of the Image impaired by original sin. Man, created in an incorruptible nature devoid of passion, caused evil to come into the world by his desire for pleasure, which destroyed the dominion of reason over the senses; hence Christ had to redeem the race by pain to restore the equilibrium. It was through the Incarnate Word, the center of Maximus’ speculative as of his mystical doctrine, that man is not only freed from ignorance but given the power to practice virtue. The goal of the human life, attained through abnegation, is union with God by charity. Feast day in the West, 13 Aug.; in the East, 21 Jan. (also 13 Aug.).

Based on an article in The Oxford Concise Dictionary of the Christian Church. ed. E.A. Livingstone, (Oxford, 1996).

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