Maximus the Confessor Faced Heretics

Dan Graves, MSL

Maximus the Confessor Faced Heretics

You are full of pride. You think that you are the only Orthodox theologian, the only person being saved, and that everyone else is a heretic and perishing!" Troilus and Sergius, agents of the emperor in Constantinople, leveled their accusation against Maximus, the abbot of Chrysopolis Monastery whom they were interrogating.

"When all the people in Babylon were worshipping the golden idol, the Three Holy Youths* did not condemn anyone to hell," retorted Maximus. "They did not concern themselves with what others were doing, but took care only for themselves, so as not to fall away from true piety."

He added, "God forbid that I should condemn anyone, or say that I alone am being saved. However, I would sooner agree to die than, having fallen away in any way from the right faith, endure the torments of my conscience."

Maximus was a man of great ability. Born in Constantinople around 580, he was well educated and served as secretary to Emperor Heraclius. But in 626, Maximus became a monk. At that time a heresy known as Monothelitism raged in the eastern half of the Roman Empire. Monothelites taught that Christ's divine will had swallowed up and destroyed his human will so that in effect he had only one will. Maximus stoutly denied this.

Christ's incarnation was the whole point of human history, Maximus argued, because it was intended to restore the equilibrium lost when Adam fell into sin. If Christ was not fully God and fully man, he said, then salvation was void.

Insisting on religious unity among their subjects, emperors tried to force compromise teachings on them. Many eastern bishops accepted these faulty doctrines, published in the Ecthesis and the Typos. Maximus rejected both.

At the end of 655, when he was about seventy-five years old, Maximus was sent to Constantinople for trial. Accused of conspiracy and the absurd charge of causing the loss of the emperor's North African holdings, Maximus was sent into exile in Thrace, where he suffered cold and hunger.

At the emperor's command, one of the traitor bishops, Theodosius of Caesarea in Bithynia, went to see the old abbot. With him were two officials, Theodosius and Paul. They met on this day, September 24, 656. Maximus shredded their arguments so thoroughly that the bishop promised to submit. Maximus said it was not to him, but to Rome that he must submit. Maximus was a strong advocate of the primacy of the Pope--a fact that the Roman Church cites in backing up its claim to authority over all Christians. Theodosius argued that the Lateran Council of 649 was invalid because the emperor never authorized it. Maximus replied that if emperors made councils valid, rather than pious faith, then several rigged councils held by wicked emperors must be accepted even though what they taught was contrary to Orthodox faith. The old abbot could not be moved from his staunch defense of true doctrine.

Six years after this meeting, Maximus, then in his eighties, was again dragged in for questioning. When he refused to buckle to Sergius and Troilus, they cut out his tongue, lopped off his right hand and sent him into exile again. His tough old body had taken all the punishment it could bear: he died that August, unbroken in his confession of the Christ he loved. Because of this, he is called Maximus the Confessor.

[*Maximus was referring to Shadrack, Mesheck and Abednego, who refused to bow to an image that Nebuchadnezzar had erected. The story is told in Daniel, a book of the Bible.]


  1. Berthold, George C., translator. Maximus Confessor: selected writings Translation and notes by George C. Berthold. New York: Paulist Press, c1985.
  2. Chapman, John. "St. Maximus of Constantinople" in The Catholic Encyclopedia.
  3. "Maximus the Confessor." Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church for a summary of Maximus' life.
  4. Various internet articles.

Last updated June, 2007

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