Maximus the Confessor
Icon of St. Maximus
Confessor and Theologian
Bornc. 580
Haspin, Syria Prima, Byzantine Empire[1]
Constantinople, Byzantine Empire
Died(662-08-13)13 August 662
Venerated inCatholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
Anglican Communion
Major shrine
Theology career
Notable workMystagogy
Theological work
Tradition or movementApophatic theology
Main interestsTheological anthropology, asceticism
Notable ideasDyophysitism
Feast13 August (Western Christianity)
21 January (Byzantine Christianity)

Maximus the Confessor (Greek: Μάξιμος ὁ Ὁμολογητής, romanizedMaximos ho Homologētēs), also spelled Maximos,[2] otherwise known as Maximus the Theologian and Maximus of Constantinople (c. 580 – 13 August 662), was a Christian monk, theologian, and scholar.

In his early life, Maximus was a civil servant, and an aide to the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius. He gave up this life in the political sphere to enter the monastic life. Maximus had studied diverse schools of philosophy, and certainly what was common for his time, the Platonic dialogues, the works of Aristotle, and numerous later Platonic commentators on Aristotle and Plato, like Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichus, and Proclus. When one of his friends began espousing the Christological position known as Monothelitism, Maximus was drawn into the controversy, in which he supported an interpretation of the Chalcedonian formula on the basis of which it was asserted that Jesus had both a human and a divine will. Maximus is venerated in both the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. He was eventually persecuted for his Christological positions; following a trial, his tongue and right hand were mutilated.

He was then exiled and died on 13 August 662, in Tsageri in present-day Georgia. However, his theology was upheld by the Third Council of Constantinople and he was venerated as a saint soon after his death. His title of "Confessor" means that he suffered for the Christian faith, but was not directly martyred. His feast day is 13 August in the Western Church and 21 January in the Byzantine Christianity.[3]


Early life

Very little is known about the details of Maximus' life prior to his involvement in the theological and political conflicts of the Monothelite controversy.[4] Numerous Maximian scholars call substantial portions of the Maronite biography into question, including Maximus' birth in Palestine, which was a common seventh century trope to discredit an opponent. Moreover, the exceptional education Maximus evidently received could not have been had in any other part of the Byzantine Empire during that time except for Constantinople, and possibly Caesarea and Alexandria. It is also very unlikely that anyone of low social birth, as the Maronite biography describes Maximus, could have ascended by the age of thirty to be the Protoasekretis of the Emperor Heraclius, one of the most powerful positions in the Empire. It is more likely that Maximus was born of an aristocratic family and received an unparalleled education in philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, etc. It is true, however, that Maximus did not study rhetoric as he himself notes in the prologue to his Earlier Ambigua to John,[5] to which his lack of high stylistic by Byzantine standards attests. Nevertheless, for reasons not explained in the few autobiographical details to be gleaned from his texts, Maximus left public life and took monastic vows at the monastery of Philippicus in Chrysopolis, a city across the Bosporus from Constantinople. Maximus was elevated to the position of abbot of the monastery.[6]

When the Persians conquered Anatolia, Maximus was forced to flee to a monastery near Carthage. It was there that he came under the tutelage of Saint Sophronius, and began studying in detail with him the Christological writings of Gregory of Nazianzus and Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. According to I P Sheldon Williams his achievement was to set these doctrines into a framework of Aristotelian logic, which both suited the temper of the times and made them less liable to misinterpretation.[7] Maximus continued his career as a theological and spiritual writer during his lengthy stay in Carthage.[8] Maximus was also held in high esteem by the exarch Gregory and the eparch George.[9]

Involvement in Monothelite controversy

A silver hexagramma showing Constans II with his son. Constans II supported Monothelitism, and had Maximus exiled for his refusal to agree to Monothelite teachings.

While Maximus was in Carthage, a controversy broke out regarding how to understand the interaction between the human and divine natures within the person of Jesus. This Christological debate was the latest development in disagreements that began following the First Council of Nicaea in 325, and were intensified following the Council of Chalcedon in 451. The Monothelite position was developed as a compromise between the dyophysitists and the miaphysists, who believed dyophysitism is conceptually indistinguishable from Nestorianism. The Monothelites adhered to the Chalcedonian definition of the hypostatic union: that two natures, one divine and one human, were united in the person of Christ. However, they went on to say that Christ had only a divine will and no human will (Monothelite is derived from the Greek for "one will").

The Monothelite position was promulgated by Patriarch Sergius I of Constantinople and by Maximus' friend and successor as the Abbot of Chrysopolis, Pyrrhus.[10] Following the death of Sergius in 638, Pyrrhus succeeded him as Patriarch, but was shortly deposed owing to political circumstances. During Pyrrhus' exile from Constantinople, Maximus and the deposed Patriarch held a public debate on the issue of Monothelitism. In the debate, which was held in the presence of many North African bishops, Maximus took the position that Jesus possessed both a human and a divine will. The result of the debate was that Pyrrhus admitted the error of the Monothelite position, and Maximus accompanied him to Rome in 645.[11]

Maximus may have remained in Rome, because he was present when the newly elected Pope Martin I convened the Lateran Council of 649 at the Lateran Basilica in Rome.[12] The 105 bishops present condemned Monothelitism in the official acts of the synod, which some believe may have been written by Maximus.[13] It was in Rome that Pope Martin and Maximus were arrested in 653 under orders from Constans II, who supported the Monothelite doctrine. Pope Martin was condemned without a trial, and died before he could be sent to the Imperial Capital.[14]

Trial and exile

Maximus' refusal to accept Monothelitism caused him to be brought to the imperial capital of Constantinople to be tried as a heretic in 658. In Constantinople, Monothelitism had gained the favor of both the Emperor and the Patriarch of Constantinople. Maximus stood behind the Dyothelite position and was sent back into exile for four more years. During his trial he was accused of aiding the Muslim conquests in Egypt and North Africa, which he rejected as slander.[15][16]

Constans II (left) having Maximus beaten for refusing to accept Monothelitism. Miniature from the 12th century Manasses Chronicle.

In 662, Maximus was placed on trial once more, and was once more convicted of heresy. Following the trial Maximus was tortured, having his tongue cut out, so he could no longer speak his rebellion, and his right hand cut off, so that he could no longer write letters.[17] Maximus was then exiled to the Lazica or Colchis region of modern-day Georgia and was cast in the fortress of Schemarum, perhaps Muris-Tsikhe near the modern town of Tsageri.[18] He died soon thereafter, on 13 August 662.[19][20] The events of the trials of Maximus were recorded by Anastasius Bibliothecarius.[21]


Maximus the Confessor and His Miracles. An early 17th-century Stroganov school icon from Solvychegodsk.

Along with Pope Martin I, Maximus was vindicated by the Third Council of Constantinople (the Sixth Ecumenical Council, 680–681), which declared that Christ possessed both a human and a divine will. With this declaration Monothelitism became heresy, and Maximus was posthumously declared innocent.[22]

Maximus is among those Christians who were venerated as saints shortly after their deaths. The vindication of Maximus' theological position made him extremely popular within a generation after his death, and his cause was aided by the accounts of miracles at his tomb.[23]

Maximus is one of the last men to be recognized by both the Orthodox and Catholic Churches as a Father of the Church. In the encyclical Spe Salvi (2007), Pope Benedict XVI called Maximus 'the great Greek doctor of the Church', although it is not clear if the Pontiff intended to nominate Maximus 'Doctor of the Church' or to say that he already was one.[24]


As a student of Pseudo-Dionysius, Maximus was one of many Christian theologians who preserved and interpreted the earlier Neo-Platonic philosophy, including the thought of such figures as Plotinus and Proclus. Maximus' work on Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite was continued by John Scotus Eriugena at the request of Charles the Bald.[25]

The Platonic influence on Maximus' thought can be seen most clearly in his theological anthropology. Here, Maximus adopted the Platonic model of exitus-reditus (exit and return), teaching that humanity was made in the image of God, and the purpose of salvation is to restore us to unity with God.[26] This emphasis on divinization or theosis helped secure Maximus' place in Eastern theology, as these concepts have always held an important place in Eastern Christianity.[27]

Christologically Maximus insisted on a strict dyophysitism, which can be seen as a corollary of the emphasis on theosis. In terms of salvation, humanity is intended to be fully united with God. This is possible for Maximus because God was first fully united with humanity in the incarnation.[25] If Christ did not become fully human (if, for example, he only had a divine and not a human will), then salvation was no longer possible, as humanity could not become fully divine.[28] Furthermore, in his works Maximus the Confessor argued the unconditionality of the divine incarnation.[29]

Regarding salvation, Maximus, like Origen and St. Gregory of Nyssa, has been described as a proponent of apocatastasis or universal reconciliation, the idea that all rational souls will eventually be redeemed.[30] While this claim has been disputed,[31] others have argued that Maximus shared this belief in universal reconciliation with his most spiritually mature students.[32]


In Eastern Christianity, Maximus has always been influential.[33] A number of his works are included in the Greek Philokalia, a collection of some of the most influential Eastern Orthodox Christian writers.[33]


Attributed texts



  1. ^ Allen, Pauline; Neil, Bronwen (2015). The Oxford Handbook of Maximus the Confessor. Oxford University Press. p. 20. ISBN 978-0-19-967383-4.
  2. ^ Palmer, G.E.H.; Warr, P.S.K. (1981). The Philokalia Volume II. Faber and Faber. p. 48. ISBN 0-571-15466-2.
  3. ^ Petruzzello, Melissa (2023). "St. Maximus the Confessor". Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved 29 June 2023.
  4. ^ The following account is based on the lengthy tenth-century biography catalogued as BHG 1234 and printed in Migne's Patrologia Graeca (90, 68A1-109B9). In recent years, however, this account has been called into question on the basis of new scholarly research. The author, or rather compiler, of BHG 1234 turns out to have used one of the biographies of Theodore the Studite (BHG 1755) to fill the gaps in the information he had on Maximus (See W. Lackner, Zu Quellen und Datierung der Maximosvita (BHG3 1234), in Analecta Bollandiana 85 [1967], p. 285-316). The information the compiler of BHG 1234 did have he drew from the passions extant at the time, in which nothing is said about Maximus' early years (See B. Roosen, Maximi Confessoris Vitae et Passiones Graecae. The Development of a Hagiographic Dossier, in Byzantion 80 [2010], forthcoming). On the basis of mostly internal evidence from Maximus' writings, C. Boudignon advocates a Palestinian birth for Maximus instead (See C. Boudignon, Maxime le Confesseur était-il constantinopolitain?, in B. Janssens – B. Roosen – P. Van Deun [ed.], Philomathestatos. Studies in Greek and Byzantine Texts Presented to Jacques Noret for his Sixty-Fifth Birthday [= Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 137], Leuven – Paris – Dudley, MA, 2004, p. 11-43; and id., Le pouvoir de l'anathème ou Maxime le Confesseur et les moines palestiniens du VIIe siècle, in A. Camplani – G. Filoramo, Foundations of Power and Conflicts of Authority in Late-Antique Monasticism. Proceedings of the International Seminar, Turin, 2–4 December 2004 [= Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta, 157], Leuven – Paris – Dudley, MA, 2007, p. 245-274). If this is true, it confirms the value of the Maronite biography, even though it is clearly anti-Maximian.
  5. ^ Constas, Nicholas (2014). Nicholas Constas (ed.). On Difficulties in the Church Fathers: The Ambigua, Volume 1. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library Series, Volume 28. ISBN 978-0-674-72666-6.
  6. ^ M. Gildas (1913). "St. Maximus of Constantinople" . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. "This great man was of a noble family of Constantinople."
  7. ^ The Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early Medieval Philosophy. ed A H Armstrong Cambridge 1967. p 492
  8. ^ Berthold, George C. (1997). "Maximus Confessor". In Everett Ferguson (ed.). Encyclopedia of Early Christianity. New York: Garland Publishing. ISBN 0-8153-1663-1.
  9. ^ Pringle, Denys (1981). The Defence of Byzantine Africa from Justinian to the Arab Conquest: An Account of the Military History and Archaeology of the African Provinces in the Sixth and Seventh Century. Oxford, United Kingdom: British Archaeological Reports. p. 46. ISBN 0-86054-119-3.
  10. ^ Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "St. Maximus of Constantinople" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.: "The first action of St. Maximus that we know of in this affair is a letter sent by him to Pyrrhus, then an abbot at Chrysopolis ..."
  11. ^ Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume IV: Mediaeval Christianity. A.D. 590–1073 (online edition)§111, accessed 15 January 2007.
  12. ^ "Maximus the Confessor", in The Westminster Dictionary of Church History, ed. Jerald Brauer (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1971) (ISBN 0-664-21285-9). This is generally known as the First or Second Lateran Synod, and is not recognized as an Ecumenical Council.
  13. ^ For example, Gerald Berthold, "Maximus Confessor" in Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, (New York:Garland, 1997) (ISBN 0-8153-1663-1).
  14. ^ David Hughes Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of the Saints (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 1987) (ISBN 0-19-869149-1) p.288. This made Martin the last Bishop of Rome to be venerated as a martyr.
  15. ^ Walter Kaegi (2010). Muslim Expansion and Byzantine Collapse in North Africa (illustrated ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 87. ISBN 9780521196772.
  16. ^ Hans Urs von Balthasar (2003). Cosmic Liturgy: The Universe According to Maximus the Confessor. Ignatius Press. p. 40. ISBN 9780898707588.
  17. ^ Gerald Berthold, "Maximus Confessor" in Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, (New York:Garland, 1997) (ISBN 0-8153-1663-1).
  18. ^ George C. Berthold (1985), Maximus Confessor: Selected Writings, p. 31. Paulist Press, ISBN 0-8091-2659-1.
  19. ^ For example, see Catholic Forum Archived 2007-06-25 at the Wayback Machine. The injuries Maximus sustained while being tortured and the conditions of his exile both contributed to his death, causing Maximus to be considered a martyr by many.
  20. ^ Allen, Pauline; Neil, Bronwen (16 January 2003). Maximus the Confessor and his Companions: Documents from Exile. OUP Oxford. p. 40. ISBN 9780191583421.
  21. ^ Blowers, Paul M. (4 February 2016). Maximus the Confessor: Jesus Christ and the Transfiguration of the World. Oxford University Press. p. 58. ISBN 9780191068805.
  22. ^ Herrin, Hans (28 November 2016). "Maximus the Confessor and the Monothelite controversy". In Curta, Florin; Holt, Andrew (eds.). Great Events in Religion: An Encyclopedia of Pivotal Events in Religious History [3 volumes]. ABC-CLIO. p. 352. ISBN 9781610695664.
  23. ^ For example, from the biography provided by the Orthodox Church in America: "Three candles appeared over the grave of St Maximus and burned miraculously. This was a sign that St Maximus was a beacon of Orthodoxy during his lifetime, and continues to shine forth as an example of virtue for all. Many healings occurred at his tomb."
  24. ^ The Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints (Prot. Num. VAR. 7479/14) considers the Pope's declaration in Spe Salvi an informal one.
  25. ^ a b Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "St. Maximus of Constantinople" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  26. ^ "Maximos, St., Confessor" in the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. F.L. Cross (London: Oxford Press, 1958) (ISBN 0-19-211522-7). One sees this especially in Maximus' Mystagogy and Ambigua.
  27. ^ "Maximus the Confessor" in Michael O'Carroll, Trinitas: A Theological Encyclopedia of the Holy Trinity (Delaware:Michael Glazier, Inc, 1987) (ISBN 0-8146-5595-5).
  28. ^ "Maximos, St., Confessor" in the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. F.L. Cross (London: Oxford Press, 1958) (ISBN 0-19-211522-7).
  29. ^ Hieromonk Artemije Radosavljević, Τὸ Μυστήριον τῆς Σωτηρίας κατὰ τὸν Ἅγιον Μάξιμον τὸν Ὁμολογητήν. Αθήνα, 1975. English version: Bishop Artemije Radosavljević Why Did God Become Man? The Unconditionality of the Divine Incarnation. Deification as the End and Fulfillment of Salvation According to St. Maximos the Confessor — Source: Τὸ Μυστήριον... [The mystery of salvation according to St. Maximos the Confessor] (Athens: 1975), pp. 180–196
  30. ^ "Apokatastasis Archived 2006-06-20 at" Theandros: An Online Journal of Orthodox Christian Theology and Philosophy. Accessed 12 August 2007. Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Apocatastasis" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  31. ^ Hans Urs von Balthasar, Cosmic Liturgy: The Universe According to Maximus the Confessor (Ignatius Press, 2003), 355–356. ISBN 0-89870-758-7.
  32. ^ Médaille, John C., The Daring Hope of Hans Urs Von Balthasar, archived from the original on 26 June 2002, retrieved 15 June 2017
  33. ^ a b Bingaman, Brock; Nassif, Bradley (23 August 2012). The Philokalia: Exploring the Classic Text of Orthodox Spirituality. OUP USA. p. 333. ISBN 9780195390261.
  34. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Mitralexis, Sotiris; Steiris, Georgios; Podbielski, Marcin; Lalla, Sebastian (18 September 2017). Maximus the Confessor as a European Philosopher. Wipf and Stock Publishers. pp. xv–xvi. ISBN 9781498295581.
  35. ^ a b c d e Allen, Pauline; Neil, Bronwen (26 March 2015). The Oxford Handbook of Maximus the Confessor. OUP Oxford. pp. xix. ISBN 9780191655258.
  36. ^ Allen, Pauline; Neil, Bronwen (26 March 2015). The Oxford Handbook of Maximus the Confessor. OUP Oxford. p. 35. ISBN 9780191655258.
  37. ^ Cosmic liturgy: the universe according to Maximus the Confessor – Page 393 Hans Urs von Balthasar 1961 English translation 2003
  38. ^ Stephen J. Shoemaker, trans., Maximus the Confessor, The Life of the Virgin: Translated, with an Introduction and Notes Archived 2012-05-22 at the Wayback Machine (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012) (ISBN 0300175043); Maximus's Mary, by Sally Cuneen, Commonweal Magazine, 4 December 2009
  39. ^ Jankowiak, M.; Booth, P. (2015). "A New Date-List of the Works of Maximus the Confessor" in The Oxford Handbook of Maximus the Confessor. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 72–3. ISBN 978-0-19-967383-4.

Further reading