Archive for the ‘Maximus the Confessor’ Category

Maximus the Roman Catholic Confessor?

February 8, 2012

My friend James Swan posted a short article describing Maximus the Confessor’s view of Rome’s authority.  Matthew Bellisario at the Catholic Champion has now posted a response.

The material provided by my friend, Mr. Swan, was as follows:

7. They said to him, “And what will you do if the Romans unite with the Byzantines? For behold, yesterday there came legates of Rome and tomorrow on Sunday they will take communion with the patriarch; it will become evident to all that it was you who turned the Romans away. Doubtless with you removed, there will then be an easy union.” And he said to them, “Those who are coming cannot in any way prejudice the see of Rome, even if they should take communion because they have not brought a letter to the patriarch. And I am not at all convinced that the Romans will unite with them unless they confess that our Lord and God by nature both wills and works our salvation according to each of the natures from which he is, in which he is, as well as which he is.” And they said, “And if the Romans should come to terms with them at this time, what will you do?” He replied, “The Holy Spirit, according to the Apostle, condemns even angels who sanction anything against what has been preached”

Maximus the Confessor, Selected Writings (Paulist Press, 1985), p. 23.

Maximus, according to this material, was posed with the question about what he would do if Rome united with the Constantinople on the question of the two wills of Christ. That is to say, they asked him what he would do if Rome embraced monothelitism.

The first way that they posed the question led him to respond that if the legates of the patriarch (meaning the bishop of Rome) did not have a letter from the partriarch, even if they technically took communion with the bishop of Constantinople (as evidently was expected) that would not prove that the Partriarchite had consented to that monothelitism is either correct or acceptable.

Thus, they modified their question. As modified, Maximus could no longer escape the idea that Rome had embraced monothelitism. His response under that proposed hypothetical scenario was to maintain his current position. Even if Rome accepted monothelitism, he would not.

That position is not, in itself, Sola Scriptura. After all, Maximus does not explicitly state that the reason for his refusal to adopt Rome’s position is because Scripture is a higher authority. One might infer such a position from his reference to Galatians (Galatians 1:8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.).

Whether or not such an inference is correct, Maximus the Confessor is plainly not a Roman Catholic – willing to accept whatever position Rome adopts.

Mr. Bellisario has attempted to provide some counterpoints. He provides three quotations with the citation, “(Saint Maximus the Confessor- The opuscula fragments).” The first quotation is as follows:

All the ends of the inhabited world, and those who anywhere on earth confess the Lord with a pure and orthodox faith, look directly to the most holy Church of the Romans and her confession and faith as to a sun of eternal light, receiving from her the radiant beam of the patristic and holy doctrines, just as the holy six synods, inspired and sacred, purely and with all devotion set them forth, uttering most clearly the symbol of faith. For, from the time of the descent to us of the incarnate Word of God, all the Churches of the Christians everywhere have held and possess this most great Church as the sole base and foundation, since, according to the very promise of the Saviour, it will never be overpowered by the gates of hell, but rather has the keys of the orthodox faith and confession in him, and to those who approach it with reverence it opens the genuine and unique piety, but shuts and stops every heretical mouth that speaks utter wickedness. For that which the creator of everything himself, our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, established and built up – together with his disciples and apostles, and the Holy Fathers and teachers and martyrs who came after – have been consecrated by their own works and words, by their sufferings and sweat, by their labours and blood, and finally by their remarkable deaths for the sake of the Catholic and Apostolic Church of us who believe in him, they, through two words, uttered without pain or death – O the long-suffering and forbearance of God! – are eager to dissolve and to set at naught the great, all-illumining and all-praised mystery of the orthodox worship of the Christians.

It appears that this is an alternative translation of the following:

For the very ends of the earth and those in every part of the world who purely and rightly confess the Lord look directly to the most holy church of the Romans and its confession and faith as though it were a sun of unfailing light, expecting from it the illuminating splendor of the fathers and the sacred dogmas, just as the divinely-inspired and sacred six synods have purely and piously decreed, declaring most expressly the symbol of faith. For ever since the incarnate word of God came down to us, all the churches of Christians everywhere have held that greatest Church there to be their sole base and foundation, since on the one hand, it is in no way overcome by the gates of Hades, according to the very promise of the Savior, but holds the keys of the orthodox confession and faith in him and opens the only true and real religion to those who approach with godliness, and on the other hand, it shuts up and locks every heretical mouth that speaks unrighteousness against the Most High. For that which was founded and built by the creator and master of the universe himself, our Lord Jesus Christ, and his disciples and apostles, and following them the holy fathers and teachers and martyrs consecrated by their own words and deeds, and by their agony and sweat, suffering and bloodshed, and finally by their violent death for the catholic and apostolic Church of us who believe in him, they strive to destroy though two words [uttered] without effort and without death – O the patience and forbearance of God! –and [so seek] to annul the great ever-radiant and ever-lauded mystery of the orthodox worship of Christians.

(Opuscula 11, translation from The body in St. Maximus the Confessor: holy flesh, wholly deified by Adam G. Cooper, pp. 181-82)

The authenticity of this text is disputed (Cooper, p. 181) a fact that Mr. Bellisario fails to mention to the reader (presumably because he doesn’t know). Moreover, what does the passage say that Bellisario can affirm? It says some nice things about Rome and the six synods – but wait. It refers to “six synods.” People assume the means the first five major councils (Nicaea 325, Constantinople 381, Ephesus 431, and Chalcedon 451), plus the 649 synod of the Lateran. But Bellisario would not consider that last one to be an ecumenical council (nor did it have the characteristics of such a council). And if it refers to the ecumenical council that addressed the monothelitism controversy, then it definitely isn’t from Maximus – he didn’t live to see that synod.

Moreover, nothing in the passage about indicates that Rome is characteristically unable ever to fall into error for a time. It does seem to suggest a thought that Rome will not be “overcome by the gates of Hades” (a misuse of that passage), but would it be “overcome” if for a time it fell into error?

But as Cooper suggests (p. 187), whether or not the passage is authentic we should consider Maximus’ mature ecclesiology, as seen in the Disputatio Bizyae discussing with Theodosius:

What kind of believer accepts a dispensation silencing the very words which God of all ordained to be spoken by the apostles and prophets and teachers? Let us investigate, reverend master, what kind of evil this summary blindly arrives at. For if ‘God appointed in the Church first apostles, then prophets, and third teachers’ (1 Cor. 12:28) ‘for the perfecting of the saints’ (Eph. 4:12), having said in the Gospel to the apostles and through them to those after them, ‘What I say to you, I say to all’ (Mark 13:38), and again, ‘He who receives you receives me, and he who rejects you rejects me’ (Luke 10:16), it is clearly manifest that whoever does not receive the apostles and prophets and teachers, but rejects their words, rejects Christ himself.

Let us also investigate the other passage. God chose to raise up apostles and prophets and teachers for the perfecting of the saints. But in order to oppose godly religion the devil chose to raise up false apostles and false prophets and false teachers, so that the old law was opposed, as was also the evangelical law. And as far as I understand it the false apostles and false prophets and false teachers are the heretics alone, whose words and train of thought are distorted. Consequently, just as the one who receives the true apostles and prophets and teachers receives God, likewise the one who receives false apostles and false prophets and false teachers receives the devil. So the one who throws out the saints along with the cursed and impure heretics — mark my word! — manifestly condemns God along with the devil.

If, in that case, in racking our brains to come up with new words in our own times we find those words to have descended to this extreme evil, watch out lest we — whilst alleging and proclaiming ‘peace’– be found to be struck ill with apostasy which the divine Apostle said beforehand would accompany the coming of the antichrist (2 Thess. 2:3-4).

I have spoken this to you, my lords, without holding back…. With these things inscribed in the tablet of my heart, are you telling me to enter into fellowship with a church in which these [other] things are proclaimed, and to have communion with those who actually expel God and, I imagine, the devil with God? May God — who for my sake was made like me — sin excepted — never let this happen to me!

Notice how in this passage he makes individual conscience effectively supreme even over the apparent “apostles, prophets, and teachers” of his day – even to the point of hinting that he may be faced with the great apostasy.

The next quotation Bellisario provided was this:

“I don’t have a teaching of my own, but the common one of the Catholic Church. I mean that I haven’t initiated any expression at all that could be called my own teaching.”

Before we continue, it’s worth pointing out that it appears that Bellisario may have gleaned this and the previous quotation from Andrew Louth’s article on Maximus’s ecclesiology (which can be found here). In that article, it is cited as “Relatio,” and is a portion of the transcript of his trial.

The point that Maximus is making here, though, is simply that he has not expounded a novel doctrine. He believes that he is just teaching what the church has universally held. His reference here to “the catholic church” is not a reference to the Roman Catholic church but to the universal church.

Likewise, Bellisario’s third quotation (also found in this article) is as follows:

“No, he (The emperor is not a priest) isn’t, because he neither stands beside the altar, and after the consecration of the bread elevates it with the words. Holy things for the holy, nor does he baptize, nor perform the rite of anointing, nor does he ordain and make bishops and presbyters and deacons; nor does he anoint churches, nor does he bear the symbols of the priesthood, the omophorion and the Gospel book, [as he bears the symbols] of imperial office, the crown and the purple.”

(Relatio 4, as cited in the article)

This has nothing really to do with Mr. Swan’s thesis. It’s not clear why Bellisario thinks it’s important to this topic (he makes a comment in his post that seems to try to tie this quotation to a point of contrast between Luther’s liturgy and Maximus’ liturgy – something rather tangential at best). Louth thought it was important because the relationship of Emperor to church was one that was going to be significant in coming centuries.

Shortly after presenting that quotation, the article from which Bellisario appears to have been drawing goes on to point out that in fact Rome did succumb to imperial pressures:

A precious document for Maximos’ doctrine of the Church is the last writing we have from his hand, a short letter written on 19 April 658 to Anastasios, his disciple and spiritual child of by then forty years’ standing, who was exiled apart from his master. (18) By then, Maximos and his few followers were on their own, Rome – in the person of Pope Vitalian – having succumbed to imperial pressure and entered into communion with the other patriarchal sees. In reply to the question – or taunt – ‘What Church do you belong to? Constantinople? Rome? Antioch? Alexandria? Jerusalem? See, all of them are united, together with the provinces subject to them’. Maximos says he had replied, ‘The God of all pronounced that the Catholic Church was the correct and saving confession of the faith in him when he called Peter blessed because of the terms in which he had made proper confession of him’. The Petrine foundation of the Church is Peter’s faith, which even his successor can abandon, as Maximos had just learnt.

(18) The letter can be found in Allen-Neil, pp. 120-3

(Louth, p. 118)

What an interesting omission from Bellisaro! You see, the hypothetical posed to Maximus turned out not to be a hypothetical. Vitalian did cave to imperial pressure, and this was communicated to Maximus. His response, in his final letter, Maximus recognized that it is the confession of faith that defines the church, not the church that defines the confession of faith. And with that, Maximus cannot be said to be Roman Catholic, no matter how high an esteem he had for Rome at certain times (especially right after the synod of the Lateran of 649, when Rome had repudiated monothelitism).

I’m sure more could be said, but we’ll leave it at that. Swan’s thesis has been adequately demonstrated, and Bellisario’s seemingly plagiarized material has been replaced into its proper context and given proper attribution.

-TurretinFan

P.S. In the comment box at Mr. Swan’s blog, I provided a short walk-through of the original quotation, which it may be useful to include here:

Walk through the quotation.

1) “And what will you do if the Romans unite with the Byzantines? For behold, yesterday there came legates of Rome and tomorrow on Sunday they will take communion with the patriarch; it will become evident to all that it was you who turned the Romans away. Doubtless with you removed, there will then be an easy union.”

They pose this as an argument that it is going to be just Maximus against all the major churches.

2) “Those who are coming cannot in any way prejudice the see of Rome, even if they should take communion because they have not brought a letter to the patriarch. And I am not at all convinced that the Romans will unite with them unless they confess that our Lord and God by nature both wills and works our salvation according to each of the natures from which he is, in which he is, as well as which he is.”

But, you see, Maximus is too clever. He points out that the mere communion of the legates is not enough to show that the Roman church is in agreement with Constantinople, because they don’t bear a letter to that effect addressed to the patriarch.

3) “And if the Romans should come to terms with them at this time, what will you do?”

They set this aside, and ask what if the church of Rome does join with the other churches?

4) “The Holy Spirit, according to the Apostle, condemns even angels who sanction anything against what has been preached”

Maximus refuses to assent, even under that circumstance.

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