Maximus the Confessor

Maximus the Confessor

Maximus the Confessor, also known as Maximus the Theologian and Maximus of Constantinople, was born in Constantinople to a noble Byzantine family and received a good education.

He served as a secretary of the emperor Heraclius, became head of the imperial chancellery, and oversaw the comprehensive overhaul of the upper echelons of civil service. However, he renounced his post and became a monk around 614 c.e. at the monastery of Chrysopolis.

He was unhappy about the religious attachments of the court and retired to enjoy his love for quiet prayer. By 618 he had made enough progress in the monastic life to acquire a disciple, the monk Anastasius, who was Maximus’s companion for the rest of his life.

When the Persians invaded his region in 626, Maximus fled to Africa. During his time there he gained a considerable theological reputation. The majority of what are considered his greatest theological writings come from his time in Africa.

There, he became an outspoken opponent of monothelitism—the doctrine that Jesus Christ had one will but two natures: divine and human. The Catholic Church rejected this doctrine, as did Maximus, who insisted on dythelitism, which believed that Christ had two wills, rather than one. He spoke out against monothelitism at the Lateran Council of 649.

His outspokenness led to his arrest in 653 by Emperor Constans II, and when he refused to accept the emperor’s decrees, he was exiled. He returned to Constantinople in 661 but once again refused to renounce his beliefs. His punishment included having his right hand and tongue cut off, and he was banished once again.

He died on August 13, 662. Considered one of the great theologians of the Catholic Church, Maximus was given the title of "the Theologian" and is ranked as a Doctor of the Church because of his contributions to theology, most notably of the Incarnation.

Maximus favored two forms of writing: a collection of paragraphs, many being very short, and the other being responses to questions asked of him by others. In his work he saw himself as interpreting different traditions, most important scripture, but also church fathers, councils, saints, and sacraments.

Maximus’s writings are considered by some to be highly speculative, very intellectual, and difficult to comprehend. He liked to explain things at great length.

He left behind approximately 90 writings, notably his Letter on Love, Difficulty 10, Difficulty 41, Difficulty 71, and Opuscule 7. These writings dealt with topics such as theological and polemical treatises, symbolism, mysticism, Gregory of Nazianzus, spiritual maturity, and the Incarnation of Christ.