St Maximos (or Maximus) the Confessor lived from circa 580 to 662. This was a period of great theological ferment in the Byzantine Empire, as its version of Christianity came under heavy pressure from both the Jewish and Muslim faiths. These religions are extremely monotheistic, so the concept of the Trinity came under heavy attack. Maximus took part in the Monothelitism controversy as a supporter of orthodox Christian doctrine. Monotheletism states Christ had only one will as opposed to the orthodox view of dyotheletism, which states Christ had two wills. Maximos helped persuade Pope Martin to call an ecumenical council to deal with this heresy. This council met in 649 A.D. Unfortunately for him, the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Emperor promoted monotheletism as a way to unify the religious groups in the empire. His fervent arguments for orthodoxy resulted in his exile. His tongue and right hand were removed to prevent him from communicating. Maximos is called a Confessor because he suffered for the Christian faith but was not martyred. Indeed, he suffered harshly for his faith. Maximus is venerated in both Eastern Christianity and Western Christianity. His principal feast day is celebrated on January 21, and the translation of his remains to Constantinople is celebrated on August 13, the Leave-Taking of the Feast of the Transfiguration. The following is a summary of his beliefs.
Question 1: How many natures do you confess in the Holy, and Consubstantial, and Undivided Trinity?
Answer 1: I confess one nature.
Question 2: How many beings?
Answer 2: One being.
Question 3: How many forms?
Answer 3: One form.
Question 4: How many wills; that is to say, volitions?
Answer 4: One will.
Question 5: How many hypostases; that is to say, persons?
Answer 5: I confess three hypostases, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Question 6: Who was incarnate of the Holy Spirit?
Answer 6: The Son, the Word.
Question 7: How many natures do you confess in the Son of God, made man for the sake of us sinners?
Answer 7: I confess two natures: divine and human.
Question 8: How many beings?
Answer 8: I confess two beings: one consubstantial with the Father, in divinity; and a second, consubstantial with His Mother, in humanity.
Question 9: How many wills, so to say, volitions?
Answer 9: I confess two wills: divine and human.
Question 10: How many acts?
Answer 10: I confess two acts.
Question 11: How many hypostases?
Answer 11: One hypostasis, of God the Word.
Question 12: How many nativities?
Answer 12: I confess two nativities: the first, before the ages, ageless, bodiless, shining forth from the Father, as does light from the sun; the second, the great God was born of the holy virgin Theotokos Mary, preeternal, co-unoriginate, invisible, unreachable, indescribable in divinity’ nameless, and knowing the hearts of all men. The holy Theotokos bore one hypostasis, known to have two natures: one nativity, ageless, of the Father in divinity, and within time made flesh of her, born in the flesh. And if those who ask of us inquire, whether He Who was born of a Virgin has two natures, we say to them: Yes, He is of two natures, for He is God, and at the same time He is man. So it is with the crucifixion, and the resurrection, and the ascension: these are not of a nature, but of the hypostasis. For Christ suffered in two natures, His passionate nature was crucified: He hung on the cross in the flesh, but not in divinity. And if the inquirers ask of us further, did He die in two natures, we say to them: No, for it was not two natures crucified, but Christ was born, who was God the Word, who was made man and born, was crucified in the flesh, suffered in the flesh, died in the flesh, while His divinity was without passions.
Question 13: How many natures hung on the cross?
Answer 13: Jesus in two natures; His passionate nature hung on the cross in the flesh, but not in divinity. He who knows this summary “is an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile” [John 1:47]. If you wish to know further what is God, and how to worship Him: hear, and listen, and understand, and you will know in truth the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. One holy, one volition, and one will, and one wisdom, and one power. For one was not before the ages, and one was of the ages, but together the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Son is in the Father, the Spirit is in the Son, they are one nature, and one Divinity’. And He divides into three hypostases, and is also in unison, by the essential word. For this reason, we speak of the Father, and glorify the Son, and confess the Spirit, calling them God, for the divine nature is common to them: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Moreover, I say, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, these are not common names, but are particular to each of the hypostases; for the Father is not called the Son, neither is the Son called the Father, neither is the Holy Spirit called the Father or the Son: the Trinity is ever called God. And I speak of three hypostases, that is to say, three persons, in one form. In three persons were speak not of three beings, neither of three natures, nor of three gods, as the disciples of the thrice accursed Arius, but we confess one God, and one being, and one nature in three hypostases. And we speak not of one hypostasis, as the accursed Sabellians do, but we confess, and pray to, and honor three hypostases, and three persons in one form, and one Divinity.
It is important to gain an understanding of some of the major heresies that were extant prior to or during the life of St. Maximus. These included, but were not limited to:
Adoptionists- Jesus became the Word when He was “adopted” or chosen by God. He was not eternal or born before the ages.
Arians—Jesus was part of Creation. He was not God, but the highest being in creation created by God.
Docetists- From the Greek word meaning appearance or phantom. Jesus only appeared to be human while in fact He was a kind of illusion. Muslim theology is docetic in its discussion of Jesus.
Sabellian- The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were only three aspects or modes of the one God. They were not separate persons. A useful analogy is water can be either liquid, solid, or vapor, but is still water.
Miaphytism—The belief Jesus had one nature, God and Man united without confusion. Remarkably close to orthodox Christian thinking.
Monothelitism- The belief that Jesus had two natures, but only one will.
Monophysites- Believed that Jesus had only one nature.
Nestorianism—Emphasized the distinction between the two natures of Jesus: God and Man. It almost seemed as of two people were living in the same body.
A note on heresy: It should be remembered the Christians who practiced these heresies were often devout Christians of high moral character. It is easy to look down our noses at them today after they lost the theological arguments so long ago.
QA5: An affirmation there are three distinct persons in the Holy Trinity, as opposed to the belief of groups such as the Sabellian.
QA 6: The Incarnation of the Word was rejected by Nestorians, who refused to honor the Virgin with the title of Theotokos.
QA 7, QA 9: Jesus has two natures: human and Divine. He has two wills, human and Divine. In other words, he was perfect God and perfect man. These statements are a direct refutation of the Monophysites, Miaphysites, and the Monthelites. These groups differed on the number of natures, wills, etc. that was Jesus. Orthodox Christian Doctrine holds that to save Mankind, Jesus had to be fully human.
QA 11: A statement that the Son was a hypostases with two natures: Human and Divine.
QA12: The use of the word “nativity” to describe the Son is a literary device only. Eastern theology uses the doctrine of the “Monarchy of the Father”, also an unfortunate title. In this theology, God the Father is thought to be the source of the Godhead. It is from Him the Son is begotten, and from which the Spirit proceeds. So, in a sense, this is the “nativity” of the son.
The “great God was born of the Virgin Mary” is a rebuke to the Nestorians, who rejected the term Theotokos. Jesus is also called “preeternal”, rejecting the arguments of the Adoptionists. The discussion of crucifixion is a rejection of Docetic theology, where Jesus only appeared to die on the Cross.
QA 13: The reference to the Gospel of John is an attempt to show God would not try to fool his people. It brands Docetism as a religion where God deceives His people by “allowing” Jesus to die on the Cross.
Troparion of St. Maximos
Guide of Orthodoxy, mirror of piety and exemplary behavior, bright star of the universe and adornment of pontiffs, you enlightened us all by your teaching. O wise Maximos, inspired by God and lyre of the Holy Spirit, intercede with Christ God to save our souls.
Kontakion of Maximos
Let us, O faithful, honor with worthy hymns the great Maximos so highly devoted to the Holy Trinity. He preached faith in God with great courage and glorified Christ in his two natures, two wills and two operations. Therefore, let us cry out, “Joy to you, O preacher of the Faith!”