Did St. Maximus the Confessor Believe in Papal Infallibility? | Part I | Rebuttal to Catholic Apologists Erick Ybarra

Mr. Ybarra initially posted this article on February 28, 2017 but updated it to “interact” with what Prof. Ed Siecienski wrote concerning St. Maximus. Because the initial article is fairly long, the response will be broken into multiple posts for the sake of readability.

In his article, Mr. Ybarra attempts to argue that St. Maximus the Confessor (d.662) believed in papal infallibility and universal jurisdiction by divine right. I will argue:

  1. Ybarra has misread St. Maximus the Confessor and does not understand the context as well as the actual words of the saint as they are not in line with the Catholic Church’s understanding of papal infallibility.
  2. The jurisdiction he speaks of is an appellate jurisdiction, not an immediate one.

As before, Mr. Ybarra’s words will be in blue and italics and set apart in quotation boxes. I have left out some sections of what he has written (indicated by […] typically because those are off topic or extraneous and including them would simply add far more text. In some cases, where indicated, I have re-entered text to try and add some organisation into his article for the purposes of response.

Mr. Ybarra begins his inquiry here:

“As many readers know, the Monothelite controversy occupied the Church’s attention in the 7th century, and it was concluded by a firm condemnation of the belief that in Christ there is only one single will or that his acts were from one theanadric operation. This evil which inflicted the Church was partly attributable to Pope Honorius I, who’s letters to Sergius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, seemed to have supported the idea that Christ had two natures but one will. Shortly after the reception of these letters, the Eastern Emperor, Heraclius, upon the composition of the Patriarch, released an edict called the Ecthesis ( εκθεσις , literally “statement of faith”), wherein Christ is taught to have one will. This was also accepted by the Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch , and Jerusalem.”

Mr. Ybarra erroneously thinks Monothelitism was in existence two centuries earlier than it did. Further, of the four citations he gives, only one of them has to do with Juvenal.

Jerusalem never accepted Monothelitism as St. Sophronius, the great opponent of Monothelitism, died in 638 and the bishopric of Jerusalem lay empty until 681 (possibly 692) when Anastasis II took the throne. There simply was no patriarch there to sign the document in the first place. In addition, it is not that the text of the letters (found here) “seemed to have supported” Monothelitism but absolutely did as well as preferring silence on the issue, something condemned by both Lateran 649 and Constantinople III.  

In addition:

“Honorius’ letter to Patriarch Sergius is famous, indeed notorious, for its statement of one will in Christ, which resulted in the pope’s anathematisation as a heretic at the Council of Constantinople in 681. Honorius’ profession has sometimes been taken as a misguided Latin intrusion into a sophisticated Greek debate, the significance of which the western pope could not have appreciated. But this statement was but incidental in a letter the chief purpose of which was to express agreement with Sergius’ prohibition of the expression of either one or two operations in Christ. Honorius extends and elaborates on the propositions put forward by Sergius, agreeing with him in his criticism of Sophronius, whom Sergius had described as jeopardising the great gains made for orthodoxy by Cyrus of Alexandria, and repeating the position of the Psēphos that a single Christ is the subject of both the divine and the human acts. Honorius supports Sergius’ prohibition on the grounds that the expressions one or two operations are innovations in the faith, ‘utterances which not even synods ordained or canonical authority saw fit to clarify’. […] Honorius’ statement of one will in Christ was prompted by a passage in Sergius’ letter where the patriarch, discussing how the idea of two operations could be an occasion for scandal, stated that Christ cannot possess two opposed wills. […] In his Second Letter to Sergius, dispatched after the reception of Sophronius’ Synodical Letter, Honorius reported to the patriarch that he had written to Cyrus and Sophronius admonishing them not to use the expressions one or two operations. […] Nevertheless, Honorius appears to have maintained his support for Sergius, sending envoys to the synod on Cyprus in 636 which refused to accept the teachings of Sophronius and Maximus.”[1]

From this, it is clear it is not a matter of “seem to have” but absolutely did support heresy. 

“It is reported that the successor of Honorius, Severinus, had time before his death to reject it. The successor of Severinus, John IV, clearly condemned it flat out.”

Pope Severinus never actually signed onto the Ecthesis to begin with. That is what made his confirmation by the emperor take just over 19 months.[2]

“Now, on the Roman side, no one read Honorius as an advocate for this one-will doctrine. His successors, up until at least St. Leo II, denied that such was the meaning of his letter. However, the Council of Constantinople III held in 681 was to unashamedly convict  Honorius of heresy (though he was already long dead), and put the conciliar anathema upon him and his memory. To our surprise, at least one Eastern saint of repute, St. Maximus the Confessor, agreed with the immediate successors of Honorius and claimed Honorius’s intention was orthodox.”

That was the initial response by St. Maximus but he then became so desperate that he made the bizarre claim the phrase “one will” was not even in the letter to begin with.[3] Eventually, St. Maximus, along with most of the West, just quietly drops the defense of Honorius probably realizing it was beyond repair. 

“Anyhow, the purpose here isn’t to investigate whether Honorius was a heretic or not, but rather whether Maximus believed in the divine origin of Papal supremacy or infallibility. In the scholarship of Maximus, some have called into question the authenticity of the more Papalist writings of Maximus, many of which exist today only in the Latin. However, the most recent Orthodox scholarship has not ventured to maintain such skepticism. For example, Orthodox scholars such as Dr. Jean-Claude Larchet, Dr. A. Edward Sciecienski, Fr. Andrew Louth ,  and Andrew J. Ekonomou have all attempted to interpret the texts in Maximus which favor of Roman primacy in their “proper” context. Not surprisingly, they all arrive at conclusions which do not include Maximus as a witness to the dogma of the contemporary Vatican on supremacy, nor infallibility. In the course of this article, I will be interacting with Larchet and Sciecienski, since it is their assessments which deserve the most attention. Nevertheless how interesting it is to see that, in contrast to former times, Orthodox scholars are recognizing that, for Maximus, Rome is certainly the universal primate who even, by their own admission, had even a certain kind of universal jurisdiction when properly qualified and conditioned. That, in and of itself, is a far step away from the equal-pentarchism or equal-episcopalism with which the East may have given off. That is not to say that there is a consensus on the meaning of primacy in the Orthodox Church, since we know that the greatest minds on the subject have to this very day strongly asserted otherwise.”

The hyperlink is to Metropolitan Kallistos Ware and I do not know anyone who does or has considered him one of “the greatest minds on the subject” of really anything. The issue of primacy (and what that means) has really only been an issue since the Patriarchate of Moscow ascended post-Communism while the Ecumenical Patriarchate descended into anonymity following the anti-Greek riots in the 1950’s in Istanbul causing the steady emigration of Greek Orthodox from the city until the Patriarchate is left with perhaps only 1,500 faithful. 

“But it is to say that there has been more serious attention given to the historical sources which may have been passed over as spurious by earlier Orthodox historians. On the view of Roman primacy, Siecienski gravitates to the fact that when Maximus was put under trial in Constantinople and told that the Roman see had plans to unite with the Monophysite Patriarchs, the Saint replied by saying: “The Holy Ghost anathematizes even angels, should they command us to give up the faith“, clearly insinuating that if Rome were to engage in those plans, the Pope would be excommunicated from the body of Christ. This, we are told, is clear evidence that whatever strong Papal theory that Maximus held to, it was one that was confined by the very same conditions put upon all churches for their communion with the true Church, and thus he doesn’t serve to be a witness to the Catholic dogma in the slightest. In fact, when seen in this light, the Roman See can’t be said to possess anything intrinsically different, when it comes to preserving the Apostolic deposit of faith, than any other church, since Rome’s membership in the Church is just as contingent upon holding to the orthodox faith as any other church’s membership depends on it. If this is true, it would remove the force of Maximus from the list of historical witnesses to the divine Papal supremacy and infallibility. Perhaps a strong administrative primacy conditioned upon a true and orthodox faith, but, for the Orthodox, no special protection against error is therein claimed by Maximus.” [emphasis mine]

In criticizing Dr. Siecienski’s view that St. Maximus considered Rome’s position as contingent upon its orthodoxy, Mr. Ybarra has revealed the core and force of his argument and is boldly advocating the view that the Pope could just decree whatever and everyone still has to be in communion with him – he could be a raging heretic, but you still have to commemorate him. Realizing this aspect of Mr. Ybarra’s argument is important as well as key to the rest of this series because he here admits that if Rome is held to the standard of orthodoxy and not orthodoxy to the standard of Rome, St. Maximus is not a supporter of the Catholic position, which Mr. Ybarra is claiming to defend. As we shall see in Part II, there is simply no possibility one can read the entirety of the dialogues Mr. Ybarra is quoting from and still come to the same erroneous conclusions he has. 

“Before I get into the relevant commentary of what St. Maximus has to say about Rome, I will provide a quick refresher on the sequence of events: (1) After Sergius of Constantinople receives the letters of Pope Honorius, he composes the Ecthesis, teaching Christ had one will, and Emperor Heraclius has it published it throughout Byzantium…

It starts much earlier than that. From 629-633, the Emperor Heraclius began a concerted unionist effort based on the formula of “one operation” resulting in him taking communion from the Nestorian Catholicos in 630 and from the Armenian Catholicos in 631. By 633, through the Chalcedonian Patriarch of Alexandria, Cyrus, the Plerophoria had been signed bringing most of Egypt’s non-Chalcedonians into union with the Chalcedonians. 

Emperor Heraclius

What followed in late 633 or early 634, was the Psephos, which forbad discussion on the energies in Christ. In 635, Sergius of Constantinople and Pope Honorius of Rome had their exchange (mentioned above). In 636, the Ekthesis was published by a council in Cyprus attended by Roman legates, and it again disallowed discussion on the energies in Christ and then stated there is “one will” in Christ. By 647/8, the Typos was issued stating any discussion on the number of wills or energies in Christ was forbidden.[4] These will all be expanded upon later and are important for later on within this series on St. Maximus’ view of Rome.

(2) Upon Honorius’s death, envoys from Rome travel to Constantinople to obtain the Emperor’s confirmation of Severinus to Papal office, but the clergy of Constantinople would provide no assistance in confirming Severinus unless he accepted the Ecthesis; (3) Severinus held office for about 2 months, and was succeeded by John IV, who convened a Synod condemning the Ecthesis…

He held office from Oct. 638-Aug 640, only the last two months were confirmed by the emperor when the papal legates promised to present the Ekthesis to the Pope for examination but made no guarantees.[5]

(4) Pope John IV wrote a letter to Emperor Heraclius and the Church of Constantinople, now presided over by Pyrrhus, that the Ecthesis, and therefore monotheletism, has been condemned; (5) Pyrrhus, who maintained support of the Ecthesis, was exiled to Africa where he eventually debated the issue of one vs two wills in Christ with St. Maximus the Confessor, and publicly recanted of holding to the one will position (only, as we shall see, to later revert to his heretical position once again)…

No, Pyrrhus fled before he was exiled because he was charged with complicity when the Empress Martina was found guilty of poisoning her stepson, Emperor Heraclius Constantinus (Heraclius’ successor), in order to have her own son, Heracleonas placed on the throne. Those latter two were actually exiled, though.[6]

(6) The man installed as Patriarch of Constantinople, without a lawful deposition of Pyrrhus, was named Paul, who was excommunicated by Pope Theodore for holding to the Ecthesis…

The acts of excommunication Mr. Ybarra mentions were actually accomplished by the Roman synod, not the pope solo. We know because we have the documents.[7]

(7) In response to this, Paul and Constans, the successor to Heraclius, trashed the Ecthesis, but installed the Typus in its place, which forbade any discussion on whether Christ had one or two wills, or one or two operations; (8) Pope Theodore convened a Council in the Lateran Basilica in 649 condemning the Ecthesis and the Typus together; (9) Theodore dies, and Pope St. Martin takes his place, and he and St. Maximus hold up Dyotheletism (two wills and operations in Christ) against the East…

Three of the four patriarchates in the East, Jerusalem being the exception.

(10) Both Sts Martin and Maximus are forced into Imperial captivity, and suffer martyrdom for their belief that, in Christ Jesus, there is two wills and operations, both which appertain to the respective natures of God and humanity. This article will mainly cover the events surrounding the captivity of Maximus and his trial.

Sts. Maximus and Martin were not martyred (the clue is in their titles: “the Confessor”) but died while in exile. Though early hagiographical literature attempted to portray them as martyrs and some still do, liturgically, they are commemorated as confessors (Mr. Ybarra has earlier claimed to follow the principle “lex orandi” [end of his article here] but does not seem to follow it here), which specifies they were not at all martyred but instead suffered persecution without dying as a direct result of it.

St. Maximos the Confessor

When the envoys from Rome traveled to Constantinople in order to receive confirmation of the election of Severinus to Papal office, but were told that no such thing would happen unless the newly elected Pope signed off on the Ecthesis, St. Maximus records the following description of this event as it was reported to him: “Having discovered the tenor of the document [Ecthesis], since by refusing [to sign] they [the legates] would have caused the first and mother of Churches and the city [ecclesiarum principem et matrem et urbem] to remain so long a time in widowhood [i.e. without a confirmed Bishop], they replied quietly: ‘We cannot act with authority in this matter, for we have received a commission to execute, not an order to make a profession of faith. But we assure you that we will relate all that you have put forward, and we will show the document itself to him who is to be consecrated, and if he should judge it to be correct, we will ask him to append his signature to it. But do not therefore place any obstacle in our way now and do violence to us by delaying us and keeping us here. For none has a right to use violence, especially when faith is in question. For herein even the weakest waxes mighty, and the meek becomes a warrior, and by comforting his soul with the divine word, is hardened against the greatest attacks. How much more in the case of the clergy and Church of the Romans, which from old until now, as the elder of all the Churches which are under the sun, presides over all? Having surely received this canonically, as well from councils and apostles, as from the princes of the latter [Peter & Paul], and being numbered in their company, [should be an ellipses here] she is subject to no writings or issues of synodical documents, on account of the eminence of her pontificate, even as in all these things all are equally subject to her according to sacerdotal law‘. And so when, without fear, but with all holy and becoming confidence, those ministers of the truly firm and immovable rock that is of the most great and Apostolic church at Rome, had so applied to the clergy of the royal city [Constantinople] it was seen that they had conciliated them and had acted prudently, that the others might be humble and modest, while they themselves made known the orthodoxy and purity of their own faith from the beginning. But those of Constantinople, admiring their piety, thought that such a deed ought rightly to be recompensed; and ceasing from offering them the document, they promised to produce by their own care the issue of the Emperor’s order with regard to the episcopal election. When this was accomplished, the apocrisiarii [representative of Rome in Constantinople] dear to God thankfully returned home’.”

(Ex Epistola Sancti Maximi Scripta ad Abbatem Thalassium, PL 129.585-6, taken from Chapman 5)

As Mr. Ybarra notes, he obtained the quotation via Dom Chapman but Mr. Ybarra, lacking the linguist capabilities to check the Latin (it exists only in Latin) was unable to determine the veracity of the translation and this is where he falls flat on his face. As pointed out within the text and in red, there is a key phrase that is usually marked by ellipses in the appearance of this quotation but either Mr. Ybarra or Chapman has deleted the ellipsis to avoid admitting not only that they took something out but then begging the question of what they took out. Here is the Latin of section Mr. Ybarra has in bold:

“…quanto magis Romanorum Ecclesiae et clero, quae ab olim huc usque, utpote senior cunctarum quae sub sole sunt Ecclesiarum, omnibus pra est? hoc certe canonica tam conciliis et apostolis, quam ab horum summo principatu consecuta, et in sortem adepta, nullis omnino propter pontificatus provectionemscriptis, aut synodicarum editionibus chartarum subiecta, sicut etiam in his omnes ex a’quo ei secundum jus sacerdotale subiecti consistunt.”[8]

Notice the part in bold. It says “In this matter of the papal succession.” That was left out of Mr. Ybarra’s doctored quotation. Lest I be accused of bias, the Anglican turned Roman Catholic who lived in roughly the same time as Dom Chapman (his fellow Anglican turned Catholic) translates it this way:

“…and how much more does this apply to the Church and clergy of Rome, who, from the beginning to the present, as eldest of all the churches under the sun, presides over all! Having received this privilege according to the canons, as well from councils and apostles as from their supreme Head, in this matter of succession in the pontificate, it is subject to no writings whatsoever, to no issue of synodical documents; but in all these matters all are subject to it according to sacerdotal law.”[9]

We can see here the praise in general he is interpreting to Rome is largely in relation to papal elections. It is no wonder this ellipses was left out: it blunts the force of their argument.

Here, Maximus quotes what he was told was the statement made by the Papal legates in his letter to Thalassium. Notice that the legates say that the Church of the Romans:

(1) Presides over all churches under the sun (global church)
(2) Received (1) from canons, councils, and the princes of the Apostles (Peter & Paul)
(3) On account of her authority, is subject to no synodal documents
(4) and holds all in subjection to her according to sacerdotal law

(1) To “preside” is nothing special as a metropolitan presides over his synod while still lacking the type of jurisdictional authority Pastor Aeternus claims for the pope.

(2) Pastor Aeternus specifically denounces the idea Rome has received its claimed prerogatives from councils or canons but sees them as, at best, being examples of the prerogatives already given directly by Christ [10] so this is not in support of Roman Catholic dogma regarding the divine right of the papacy as expressed by Pastor Aeternus. The Catholic priest and professor of Church history, Fr. Francis Dvornik points this out stating it departs from the Roman Catholic understanding and clings to the Byzantine ethos: 

“While he [St. Maximus] was not unaware of the fact the source of this power was the Divine Word, he particularly insists on the confirmation by the synods. These words reveal the Byzantine mentality.” “Byzantium and the Roman Primacy” p. 98-99

This, of course, goes hand in hand with St. Maximus’ general understanding of ecclesiology as, again, Fr. Dvornik points out:

“St. Maximus the Confessor was quite favorable to the Pentarchy (Epistula ad Joannem Cubicularium, PG 90, 464; Disputatio cum Pyrrho ibid., 91 352).” “Byzantium and the Roman Primacy” p. 119

(3) Is subject to no documents or decrees in matters of succession in the pontificate as the full quotation demonstrates. In other words, no one can tell them how to run the election for their primate.

(4) Again, based on what the legates say, this is in relation to the succession in the pontificate, specifically of Pope Severinus. In terms of writings and synodical documents regarding papal elections, all are subject to Rome’s decision in who it will choose as its primate, not the other way around. In other words, according to the representatives, no one gets to tell Rome how and who it can elect as pope. This was a surprisingly big deal as the Exarch of Ravenna had to approve all papal elections.

“Maximus does not diminish any of this, and appears to go along with it by referencing Rome as the “firm and immovable rock“.

What stands out immediately is it speaks of the “those ministers of the truly firm and immovable rock that is of the most great and Apostolic church at Rome…” and not the “see” or “bishop” of Rome. His emphasis is on the actual Church of Rome much as the emphasis of St. Paul in the Book of Romans and St. Ignatius of Antioch in his Letter to the Romans.

When Pyrrhus had returned to his former error, after having publicly recanted the Monotheletism after debating Maximus in Africa, the latter wrote to a certain Eastern official named Peter on the terms of which the twice heretical Pyrrhus could return to the Church and find pardon:

“If the Roman See recognizes Pyrrhus to be not only a reprobate but a heretic, it is certainly plain that everyone who anathematizes those who have rejected Pyrrhus, anathematizes the See of Rome, that is, he anathematizes the Catholic Church. I need hardly add that he excommunicates himself also, if indeed he is in communion with the Roman See and the Catholic Church of God…It is not right that one who has been condemned and cast out by the Apostolic See of the city of Rome for his wrong opinions should be named with any kind of honour, until he be received by her, having returned to her, and to our Lord, by a pious confession and orthodox faith, by which he can receive holiness and the title of holy…Let him [sc. Pyrrhus] hasten before all things to satisfy the Roman See, for if it is satisfied, all will agree in calling him pious and orthodox. [For] he is only wasting words who thinks he must convince or lure such people as myself, instead of satisfying or entreating the blessed Pope of the most holy Catholic Church of Rome, that is, the Apostolic trone, which is from the incanrate Son Himself and which, in accordance with the holy canons and the definitions of faith, received from all the holy councils universal and suprem dominion, authority, and power of binding and loosing over all the holy churches of God which are in the whole world. For with it the Word who is above the celestial powers binds and looses in heaven also. For if he thinks he must satisfy others, and fails to implore the most blessed Roman Pope, he is acting like a man who, when accused of murder or some other crime, does not hasten to prove his innocence to the judge appointed by law, but only uselessly and without profit does his best to demonstrate his innocence to private individuals, who have no power to acquit him from the accusation. Wherefore, my blessed Lord, extend yet further the precept which it is known that you have made well and according to God’s will, by which Pyrrhus is not allowed to speak or misspeak with regard to dogma. But discover clearly his intention by further inquiry , whether he will altogether agree to the truth. And if he is careful to do this, exhort him to make a becoming statement to the Roman Pope, so that by his command the matter concerning Pyrrhus may be canonically and suitably ordered for the glory of God and the praise of your sublimity…”  (Opuscula 12, Patrologia Graeca 91.141-146, taken from Chapman 8 and The Oxford Handbook of Maximus the Confessor, page 553)

It is without any doubt that Maximus understood the Roman See to have been possessed of universal supremacy by divine right. In particular, the comparison of making satisfaction and proving innocence before a Judge appointed by divine law and who has power to acquit with Pyrrhus’s obligation to satisfy the Roman See would put to rest any further objection to this.

On the topic of Pyrrhus, Pyrrhus had been excommunicated by the Roman synod so Rome, properly speaking, was really the only one who could lift its own excommunication of him. Further, of the five patriarchates, one was vacant (Jerusalem), three were Monothelites (Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch) so exactly where else is Pyrrhus supposed to go to recant and repent of his sin?

But notice the grounds upon which Maximus saw the Roman primacy to have rested on. The “Incarnate God Himself” ordained the supremacy of the Roman  Church. Even if, as Siecienski interpreted, Maximus did not believe in the permanent and invincible infallibility of the Roman See forever, he certainly believed that the Roman See held supreme jurisdiction over the whole universal Church *if she was orthodox*, that, not by man’s design, but by God’s.

For one, “supreme” simply means “highest,” while Mr. Ybarra is taking it to mean more so leaning towards “absolute.” Second, it does not say the primacy is from the “Incarnate God Himself” as Mr. Ybarra alleges, it states it is from “canons” and “definitions of faith.” St. Maximus states “…instead of satisfying or entreating the blessed Pope of the most holy Catholic Church of Rome, that is, the Apostolic throne, which is from the incarnate Son Himself and which, in accordance with the holy canons and the definitions of faith, received from all the holy councils universal and supreme dominion, authority, and power of binding and loosing over all the holy churches of God which are in the whole world.” He is saying the apostolic throne is from the Incarnate Son of God Himself, the prerogatives are given canonically.

St. Maximus is referring to the fact that the Pope, as archbishop of the world, has the position, in normal circumstances (i.e. the pope is not a heretic), of confirming the acts of ecumenical councils and that he is able to reopen the cases of deposed clerics when appealed to and send them to retrial per the 3rd and 5th canons of Sardica. Aside from those two canons, there are no other canons St. Maximus could possibly be referring to. If there are, please inform me and I will gladly stand corrected.

And if there was any further doubt, one could also read Maximus’s letter from Rome to the East which says:“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 splendour of the Fathers and sacred dogmas…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 Saviour , 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“.

(Opuscula 11, PG 91.137-140; trans. Cooper 2005:181; taken from Oxford Handbook, 552)

In his translation and commentary on the Acts of Lateran 649, Fr. Price notes the following about St. Maximus’ views of Rome:

“But this same faction [Palestinian monks] also now realised that their personal and doctrinal fates depended upon the continuous support of the Roman popes, whose abrogation of Monothelitism and support for the doctrinal resistance had saved it from irrelevance. This inspired a distinctly pro-Roman rhetoric in Maximus’ output of the 640s, as the fates of his Palestinian faction and the Roman popes became ever more closely intertwined. Around 641 he composed a defence of Pope Honorius’ orthodox credentials in his First Letter to Sergius, arguing that the pope’s ‘one will’ had in fact designated the divine will (and indeed, in a desperate addendum, that he had not stated ‘one will’ in the first place); and, later in the same decade, he composed from Carthage a letter in which he defended, against detractors at Constantinople, Pope Theodore’s use of the Filioque formula (that is, the Latin doctrine that the Spirit proceeds both from the Father ‘and the Son’). At the same time, throughout this decade Maximus in several texts celebrated Roman pre-eminence within the Christian Church, and acknowledged three distinct bases for it: Rome’s status as the guardian of the orthodox faith, its inheritance through the promise of Christ to St Peter (Matt 16:18–19) and its recognition in canonical decrees. […] Maximus cannot, of course, be considered a proto-champion of the later, monarchic claims of the post-Gregorian popes: the principal criterion for Rome’s pre-eminence remained its commitment to orthodox doctrine. But although the Palestinian allies of Maximus had much to gain by upholding long-standing papal claims to special status – which reinforced its own doctrinal stance while also challenging the right of the eastern authorities to intervene in matters of the faith – their pro-Roman rhetoric in this period did not represent some gross deviation from their earlier output. It was instead a further extension of that previous emphasis on eucharistic communion as the inviolable bedrock of divine illumination, irrespective of reversals within the terrestrial sphere. From this earlier position, it was but a short a leap into an assertion of ecclesial independence which complemented the rhetoric of Rome.”[11]

In other words, this truly is an example of “flowery” language so common in the classical world. A great example of which is when Pope St. Celestine, when writing to Nestorius, describes how the See of Constantinople had been pure up until Nestorius.[12] We know it is flowery language because Rome simply could not “shut up and lock every heretical mouth” as despite decree after decree from Rome, it was not until an Orthodox emperor took the throne that progress began to be made, decades after St. Maximus wrote this. We also know Rome had its own sullied history with Popes such as Liberius, Vigilius, and Honorius (whose defense St. Maximus quietly abandons) so this is pure hyperbole. We also know that Popes Eugenius and St. Vitalian compromised the Faith when they forbade speech on whether there was one or two wills in Christ and made that the official position of the Church of Rome. We will also shortly see how, when pressed on the issue, St. Maximus shows he is more than willing to ditch Rome. But Fr. Price gives a fuller background to the view St. Maximus had:

The role of the papacy in the monothelete controversy raises important questions of its involvement in the empire and its position as leader of the universal church. […] The involvement of successive popes in the controversy reflected the position of the Roman church as leader of the universal church and the special prestige of Rome in matters of doctrine articulated in ideas of papal primacy. Peter’s confession of faith at Matthew 16:18–19 was the basis for the idea that the popes had a special authority in matters of doctrine and teaching because they had gained their understanding through St Peter directly from Christ. This primatial position was acknowledged throughout the eastern and western churches and, while there could be tensions, Constantinople recognised that in upholding orthodoxy the Roman church was but fulfilling its duty. However, this did not mean that in the east papal pronouncements on matters of doctrine were regarded as automatically definitive and necessitating acceptance. Papal prestige was enhanced by the growing importance of Rome as a centre of martyr cults and as a place of pilgrimage. […] Relic cults heightened the prestige of the popes who promoted them, and highlighted Rome’s apostolic inheritance and primatial status through its possession of the remains of St Peter. When Pope Theodore set out ritually to depose Patriarch Pyrrhus after the latter’s return to monotheletism, he was said to have done so at the tomb of Peter, an act which underlined his own exercise of apostolic authority, connecting it directly with the living presence in his tomb of the prince of the Apostles.”[13]

Mr. Ybarra continues…

Patriarch St. Sophronius of Jerusalem had commissioned St. Stephen of Dor, bishop in the Jerusalem Patriarch, to appeal to the Roman See in order to procure the condemnation of the Monothelites. Stephen, who traveled to Rome, describes this aloud at the Council of Lateran 649, of which Maximus took part. This Council was held as Ecumenical by Maximus, and so this open statement at the Council carries some significance:

“And for this cause, sometimes we asked for water to our head and to our eyes a fountain of tears, sometimes the wings of a dove, according to holy David, that we might fly away and announce these things to the Chair which rules and presides over all, I mean to yours, the Head and Highest, for the healing of the whole wound. For this it has been accustomed to do from of old and from the beginning with power by its canonical and apostolical authority, because the truly great Peter , head of the Apostles, was clearly thought worthy not only to be entrusted with the keys of heaven, alone apart from the rest, to open it worthily to believers, or to close it justly to those who disbelieve the gospel of grace, but because he was also first commissioned to feed the sheep of the whole Catholic Church; for ‘Peter’, said He, ‘Do you love me? Feed my sheep’, and again , because he had in a manner peculiar and special, a faith in the Lord stronger than all and unchangeable, to be converted and to confirm his fellows and spiritual brethren when tossed about, as having been adorned by God himself, incarnate for us, with power and sacerdotal authority…I was urged by the requests of almost all the pious bishops of the East in agreement with the departed Sophronius…Without delay I made this journey for this purpose alone; and since then thrice have I run to you Apostolic Feet, urging and beseeching the prayer of Sophronius and of all, that is, that you will assist the imperiled faith of Christians”

(Acts of Lateran Synod 649, pg. 143-44)

A few statements come to mind from the Acts of Lateran 649 that are more conducive to Mr. Ybarra’s argument than this one but then again, I have actually taken the time to read those statements. If Mr. Ybarra has as well, why chose such a weak one? There is literally nothing in this paragraph that contradicts Orthodox ecclesiology or supports universal ordinary jurisdiction and papal infallibility as defined at Vatican I. “to the Chair which rules and presides over all, I mean to yours, the Head and Highest,” unless presides means something more than sitting at the head of a synod and unless “head” and “highest” mean “infallible autocrat,” I fail to see how this line proves anything Orthodoxy disagrees with. A metropolitan presides at his synod as he is the head of the synod and the highest authority within it yet he does not have universal ordinary jurisdiction over it nor powers of infallibility. Likewise, the position of the pope as head of the synod was to give the final ratification to the synod’s decisions and in such a way “confirm his brethren” (what one usually finds in Catholic apologetics is they then erroneously assume the pope can do this on his own).

To be continued…

[1] Price, Acts of Lateran 649 p.46-48

[2] “Peter’s Rock in Mohammed’s Flood” Thomas William Allies p. 37

[3] Price, Acts of Lateran 649 p. 36

[4] Price Acts of Lateran 649, p. 7-16 for information on the reunion with the Nestorians and Armenians, Plerophoria, Psephos, Ekthesis, Typos.

[5] “Peter’s Rock in Mohammed’s Flood” Thomas William Allies p. 39-40

[6] “Peter’s Rock in Mohammed’s Flood” Thomas William Allies p. 45-46, 48

[7] Migne 129:577-584


[9] “Peter’s Rock in Mohammed’s Flood” Thomas William Allies p. 40

[10] Pastor Aeternus. End of chapters I, II, and III: “We teach and declare that, according to the gospel evidence, a primacy of jurisdiction over the whole church of God was immediately and directly promised to the blessed apostle Peter and conferred on him by Christ the lord.” Ch. 1:1

The same may be said of those who assert that this primacy was not conferred immediately and directly on blessed Peter himself, but rather on the church, and that it was through the church that it was transmitted to him in his capacity as her minister. Ch. 1:5

[11] Price, Acts of Lateran 649 p.36-37

[12] “Know therefore, clearly, that our sentence is this, namely, that unless thou preach those very doctrines concerning our God Anointed, which both the Church of the Romans, and the Church of the Alexandrians, and all the Universal Church holds fast, and as the holy Church in the great city of Constantine very well held fast until thee…http://www.historyandapologetics.com/2015/02/pope-celestines-letter-to-nestorius.html

[13] Price, Acts of Lateran 649 p.40-41


3 thoughts on “Did St. Maximus the Confessor Believe in Papal Infallibility? | Part I | Rebuttal to Catholic Apologists Erick Ybarra

  1. Pingback: Did St. Maximus the Confessor Believe in Papal Infallibility? | Part II | Rebuttal to Catholic Apologists Erick Ybarra – Ubi Petrus Ibi Ecclesia

  2. If possible, since all of your posts are long form, I think creating a page on this blog that has your posts listed with links and maybe even just broad categories (because tags always seem to pile up) would be helpful. You got a lot of interesting content here, but it is difficult to go back to the old stuff without knowing what precisely to search for in the search box. Ybarra has the same problem on his blog, which makes navigating it a nightmare. The only difference is that he let many years of posts pile up, making going back and organizing them impractical.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s