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

In Part I of this series, we began discussing Mr. Ybarra’s claims (here and here) that St. Maximus the Confessor was actually an ardent supporter of Vatican I dogmas. 

In Part II, we will respond to Mr. Ybarra’s attempts at ‘interacting’ with actual experts and see why he again falls flat on his face being able to summon only one quotation from one scholar who does not even entirely agree with Mr. Ybarra’s views.

Fr. Andrew Louth, in his The Ecclesiology of Saint Maximus the Confessor , attempts to undermine the witness of Maximus to contemporary Catholic teaching by saying that Maximus is referring to the “church” of Rome, and not the Papal office. I thought this rather odd since even the Council of Vatican 1870 speaks of the prerogatives of the Roman “See” (it comes up no less than 8 times).

At the risk of sounding obvious, Vatican I occurred more than 1,200 years after St. Maximus died so Mr. Ybarra is guilty of both egregious eisegesis and anachronism.

There is an internal relationship between the bishopric and the church of which it is committed, and thus the authoritative prerogatives of the church would be subsumed by the bishopric.

A “bishopric” refers to the office of a bishop (“the episcopate”) or a diocese (i.e. “see”) so Mr. Ybarra is speaking gibberish as a person is committed to the bishopric in the form of a bishop. If the “authoritative prerogatives of the church would be subsumed by the [bishop]” that would mean a pope could not err, which is false even by Roman Catholic teaching. Further, from a patristic standpoint, As Fr. Klaus Schatz points out:

“The council itself represented another high point of Roman authority in the east, but this contrasted with the condemnation of Honorius, an even that seems to have been interpreted in the West in such a way that the faith of the Roman church founded on Petrine tradition remained intact despite the failure of an individual pope. In any case even for most of the eastern council fathers, no matter what the internal relationships between proclamation of the true faith and petrine origins in the Roman church, nothing automatically excluded the possibility of failure on the part of an individual Roman bishop; hence the situation could be understood in much the same way in the East as well. Heresy was an individual, personal event and was not incompatible with the standing and special charism of the see.[1]

Mr. Ybarra continues:

Louth goes on to say that Maximus was saying this all out of gratitude, thus implying that there was fanciful though unrealistic hyperbole being utilized. However, I could not help but recall that when Maximus could have spared his life in the face of Theodosius and the Imperial consuls by simply being willing to communicate with the Eastern Patriarchs on the condition that they had revoked the Typus (which had been the source of doctrinal contention), he refused to comply unless both they and the Eastern Patriarchs had formally submitted to Rome and the decrees of the Lateran synod of 649. If all he had was a flowery commitment to the Papal institution, then why further risk his life ? I think the answer is put forth very clearly in Maximus’ own words which, in sum, is that communion (not just agreement) with the Roman See *is* communion with the holy Catholic Church. Under that premise, one could understand him risking his life at this very crucial point of his trial.

First, the Typos has not been “the source” but the latest in a series of decrees supporting one position or another – we discussed this in Part I. Second, let’s look at what St. Maximus actually says in 656 during the “Dispute at Bizya”[2]:

“Let the offending innovations proposed by the men I have mentioned [Sergius, et all] be removed, together with those same men who proposed them, as God has said ‘And throw the stone from the path, and walk the level and smooth path of the Gospel,’ which is free from every thorn of heresy. Similarly I, on finding it so, shall walk without any human encouragement. But as long as the presidents of Constantinople take pride in the offending articles which have been proposed, and in those who have proposed them, there is no word or means to persuade me to enter into communion with them.”  (Maximus the Confessor and His Companions,  p. 83)

Here, St. Maximus does not mention communion with Rome as the standard for the Church but instead states correct faith is the standard he is demanding for communion with Constantinople.

St. Maximus speaking to Theodosius “‘Do you command that, when I have this written in the book of my heart, I come into communion with the church in which this is preached, and be in communion with those who in truth cast out God, but in fact cast out the devil together with God? May it not be done to me by God, who on my account, for my sake, was made without sin.’ And on bended knee, he said: ‘Whatever you order to be done to your servant, do. I will never be in communion with those who accept this.’” p. 87

This becomes important shortly as St. Maximus states that though he does not think Rome will side with the Monothelites, he is no believer in infallibility as he will not accept their position if they do.

“Bishop Theodosius said: ‘We give you a guarantee that, if you communicate, our master the emperor will cancel the Typos.’

Maximus: ‘We are still a long way from mutual agreement. What will we do about the statement of one will in rejection of any activity, which was agreed on by Sergius and Pyrrhus and Paul in their synodical letters?’

Theodosius: ‘That ­document has been taken down and thrown out.’

Maximus: ‘It has been taken down from the stone walls, not however, from rational souls. Let them accept the condemnation of those men which was made public in Rome by the synod by means of both orthodox teaching and canons, and the dividing wall is removed and we will not need encouraging.’

Theodosius: The synod at Rome was not ratified, because it was held without the order of the emperor.’

Maximus: If it is the orders of emperors, but not orthodox faith that confirms synods which have been held, accept the synods which were held against the “homoousios,” because they were held at the order of emperors. I mean the first one in Tyre, the second in Antioch, the third in Seleucia, the fourth in Constantinople under the Arian Eudoxius; the fifth in Nicaea in Thrace; the sixth in Sirmium; and after these many years later, the seventh, the second one in Ephesus, at which Dioscorus presided. For the order of emperors convened all of these synods, and nevertheless all of them were condemned on account of the godlessness of the impious teachings that were confirmed by them. Why don’t you reject the one with deposed Paul of Samosata under the holy and blessed Dionysius, pope of Rome and Dionysius of Alexandria, and Gregory the Wonder-Worker, who presided over the same synod, because it was not held on the order of an emperor? What kind of canon declares that only those synods are approved which are convened on the order of emperors, or that generally speaking synods are convened at all on the order of an emperor? The devout canon of the church recognizes those synods as holy and approved which the correctness of their teaching approved. […]

And Bishop Theodosius said: It is as your say: it is the correctness of the teachings which approves synods.” (p. 89-91)

Again, it is orthodoxy that makes a synod orthodox. Even in the case of the “synod at Rome” (the Lateran Council of 649), it is its condemnation of heretics as well as its correct teaching that make it recognized. In other words, St. Maximus holds Rome to the same standard as everyone else: correct faith equals followability.

“Maximus: ‘Master, I do not dare to receive a written agreement from you on a matter of this kind, being a mere monk. But seeing that God has stirred you to accept the expressions of the holy Fathers as the canon demands, you must make a written dispatch on this matter to the see of Rome, that is to say, the emperor and the patriarch and his synod. I say this because I will not communicate even when these measures have been taken, so long as the men who have been anathematized are mentioned in the holy anaphora, because I am afraid of being condemned by anathema.” p. 99

For the emperor and the synod of Constantinople to repent, they need to turn to an orthodox synod and at this point, there is only one orthodox synod: Rome’s. This is because Jerusalem has no patriarchate and both Antioch and Alexandria are Monothelite so where else is Constantinople supposed to go for repentance? The dialogue immediately continues:

Theodosius: ‘God knows, I don’t blame you for being afraid, and nor does anyone else. But advise us by the Lord whether this can be done.’

Maximus: ‘What kind of advice do I have to give to you on this? Go, find out if anything of this kind has ever happened, and after death anyone was absolved of a crime involving the faith, and if both the crime and the punishment were lifted from him.And let the emperor and the patriarch be willing to imitate Gods condescension, and let the former make a supplicatory rescript and the latter an entreaty by synodical letter to the pope of Rome. And of course, if an ecclesiastical precedent is found which enjoins this because of the correct profession of faith, the conclusion will be drawn for you on this point. […] take with you my fellow-servant who is in Mesembria, rather than me: he knows the language too, and they will respect him as he deserves for the fact that he was tortured for so many years both on account of God and the right faith, which is upheld in their see.’ p. 99

Notice again, “correct faith” is the standard St. Maximus uses to measure Rome, not simply communion with Rome as Mr. Ybarra alleges when arguing against Siecienski. Further, as it was Rome which anathematized Sergius, et al, the synod of Constantinople, if it wishes to continue commemorating these monothelite patriarchs, it must appeal to the anathematizer, in this case Rome, and prove the orthodoxy of such persons in order to have them vindicated as being dead, they cannot prove their own orthodoxy.

On April 19, 658, in a letter to Anastasius the Monk, we read the following:

Yesterday, the eighteenth of the month, which was holy Mid-Pentecost, the patriarch [Peter] sent me a message, saying: ‘What church do you belong to? Constantinople? Rome? Antioch? Alexandria? Jerusalem? See, all of them are united together with the provinces subject to them. If, therefore, you belong to the catholic church, be united, lest perhaps you devise a strange path by your way of life and you suffer what you don’t expect.’

“I [St. Maximus] said to them: ‘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’…’ Listen then,’ they said. ‘The master and the patriarch have decided, following an instruction from the pope of Rome [Pope Vitalian], that you will be anathematized if you do not obey and that you will be sentenced to death they have determined.’

‘May what has been determined by God before every age receive its end, bringing to him glory which has been known before every age,’ I answered when I heard this. And so that you might know (this), and increase your prayer and petition to God, I have made plain to you the messages that were sent, beseeching that you make these matters known to the divine Lord and to our holy Fathers who are there with him, for the same reason.”[3]

Here, according to his own record of the events, St. Maximus resigns himself to the fact he will be anathematized and executed. He does not argue on the impossibility of the pope entering into communion with the Monothelites nor does he argue with the pope instructing his anathematization and death, he simply accepts it. It should be noted the pope does enter into communion with the Monothelites and does so knowingly but this will be discussed further in Part III. Now, if St. Maximus were a believer in papal infallibility, he would see the pope is binding the church to the contents of the Typos (that silence on the issues of energies and wills is mandated) and submit, but he does not. Instead, he prefers death over following the heretical orders of a Pope. Again, it is the same theme: correct faith is the standard, not communion with Rome. If St. Maximus believed communion with the Church was communion with the Church of Rome, why then does he reject Rome’s orders to enter into communion based on the content of the Typos?

Nota bene: I have seen it claimed “divine Lord” refers to the Pope but as the editor points out the term “divine Lord” is most likely referring to someone with the name and title  “Lord Theodore” as the Greek word order indicates this.[4]

This reminds me of what Dom John Chapman writes in his The Condemnation of Pope Honorius : “When St. Jerome spoke tremendous words about the Pope [Damasus], we are asked to believe that he was exaggerating, or even that he was sarcastic. When the Council of Chalcedon wrote in like strain to St. Leo, we are [asked] to put down its words as empty Oriental flattery. Whatever may be thought of such comments, they cannot be applied to the words in which we have heard St. Maximus again and again set forth the privileges of Rome. Men do not shed their blood to blunt a sarcasm or to justify a [flowerly] compliment” (page 70-71). And finally, Louth mentions how Maximus denied an obedient following with a heretical Pope, which I will address more below.

Except Mr. Ybarra never does “address” it. On top of that, Dom Chapman’s logic fails because St. Maximus is not put on trial for his views of Rome as Chapman alleges but St. Maximus is put on trial for his views of the Typos, Monothelitism, et al. He is more than willing to drop Rome if they do not meet his standards of orthodoxy.

In his section in the Oxford Handbook on Maximus the Confessor, Siecienski takes clear note of the above statements of Maximus on the authority of the Pope. However, he has some reservations before interpreting this as a support for the contemporary doctrine of Papal supremacy. He writes: “Following the promulgation of Pastor Aeternus (Vatican Council I, 1870), Catholic authors increasingly used Maximus’ writings to support the claim that the pope’s universal jurisdiction and doctrinal infallibility were recognized in the East during the first millennium….Perhaps the most detailed study of Maximus’ views on the papacy come from Jean-Claude Larchet, who examined all the texts in question (Larchet 1998). Larchet tried to contextualize Maximus’ ‘enthusiasim for the papacy in light of the monothelite debates, when Rome was his sole ally against the heretical hierarchs of the East. For Larchet and others, Maximus’ exalted language about the See of Rome manifest ‘the glow of gratitude he must have felt following the Lateran Synod, for the support he had found in Rome’ and besides, it was ‘written about the Church of Rome, not the papacy as such’ (Louth 2004:117). This does not mean that Maximus was being disingenuous, but instead simply recognizes that these texts were written at a time when Rome alone held the line against heresy, and thus had earned the kind of praise Maximus heaped upon her“. (Oxford Handbook, 553-54).

When considering the question of whether Maximus understood communion with the Roman See to be absolutely necessary in order to be in the Church, Siecienski takes note from the trial of Maximus where he was told that the Roman See would be entering communion with the 4 Monothelite Patriarchs of the East: “Maximus 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’ (Ep. Max., Allen-Neil 2002:121)” and Siecienski deduces: “….if communion with the See of Rome was normative, this state of affairs was entirely contingent on Rome’s continued orthodoxy, which remained a necessary precondition for all the praise and powers he had received….In fact, during his trial Maximus accepted at least the theoretical possibility that he might be forced to break communion with Rome should it too fall victim to the monothelite madness” (Oxford, pg. 554-54)

As pointed out in Part I, there were only three patriarchs in the East at that point as the seat of the Patriarch of Jerusalem was vacant from 638 until at least 681.

However, in the record of the trial, Maximus also says the following when he was told Rome was to enter into communion with the Monothelite patriarchs: “Those [Papal legates] who have come won’t prejudice the See of Rome in any way, even if they do communicate because they haven’t brought a letter to the Patriarch. And I’ll never be convinced that the Romans will be united with the Byzantines, unless they [the Byzantines] confess that our Lord and God by nature wills and works our salvation according to each [of the natures] from which He is, and in which He is, as well as which He is” (ibid, pg. 63) So we see here, even during the midst of this trial, that Maximus was not going to be convinced that Rome would commit heresy.  When pressed even further that Rome has certain plans to enter communion with the Monothelites, Maximus concedes: “‘The Holy Spirit, through the apostle, condemns even angels who innovate in some way contrary to what is preached” (ibid pg. 555)

The trial in Constantinople was in 655 and this is the context of the quotation:

“They said to him:’ And what will you be in a position to do, should the Romans be united with the Byzantines? Look, after all, the apocrisiarii came from Rome yesterday, [Pope Eugene] and they will communicate with the patriarch tomorrow, Sunday – it will become clear to everyone that it was you who turned the Romans away. Doubtless with you removed from here, they will agree with the Byzantines.’

And he [St. Maximus] said to them: ‘Those who have come won’t prejudice the see of Rome in any way, even if they do communicate, because they haven’t brought a letter to the patriarch [the apocrisiarii are messengers, not vicars] And I’ll never be convinced that the Romans will be united with the Byzantines, unless they confess that our Lord and God by nature wills and works our salvation according to each (of the natures) from which he is, and in which he is, as well as which he is.’

And they said: ‘But if the Romans should come to terms with the Byzantines, what will you do?’

And he said: ‘The Holy Spirit, through the apostle, condemns even angels who innovate in some way contrary to what is preached.’[5]

As a side note, you will occasionally see Catholic apologists argue St. Maximus is here comparing Rome to an angel from heaven as angels are “fixed” in their state and unable to sin and therefore St. Maximus is reaffirming his supposed belief that Rome cannot err (Mr. Ybarra makes a series of claims along these lines here).

That is not what they are saying, though as the question is directed at St. Maximus on the topic of what he personally will do, not what Rome would do, and he answers expressing that if even angels are condemned for preaching incorrectly, he would have no hope of escaping condemnation for doing the same.

Commenting specifically on St. Maximus’ use of Gal. 1:8 in this instance, the 12th century Syrian St. Peter of Damascus and he affirms this understanding when he writes:

“For should anyone preach anything contrary to God’s intention or contrary to the nature of things, then even if he is an angel St. Paul’s words, “Let him be accursed” (Gal 1:8) will apply to him. This is what St. Dionysios the Areopagite, St. Antony and St. Maximos the Confessor affirm.”[6]

Even if St. Maximus was drawing an analogy between an angel and Rome, St. Maximus alludes to Gal. 1:8 precisely because St. Paul’s point is the source does not make falsehood true nor truth false. As mentioned above in the analyses of his trial and his dispute at Bizya, St. Maximus’ ultimate criterion for the validity of any teaching, whether given in council or not, is truth, not a source. Echoing this, St. John of Damascus’, who was the single most respected synthesizer of patristic teachings up into the 8th century, commenting on Gal.1:8 states:

“See the apostolic prudence! He includes himself in the anathema, so that no one might say that he constructs his own dogmas on account of vainglory; and he mentioned the angels because they took refuge in authorities, i.e. James and John. Do not tell me, he says, about James and John, for even one of the angels, who are first, should be anathema in corrupting the Gospel.”[7]

Even in this alternative understanding, St. Maximus’ meaning is clear: ‘I do not care about the source of falsehood, I will not follow.’

I think Siecienski is wrong that Maximus did not confess the supremacy and infallibility of Rome. Here’s why. If you read the citations from above, Maximus refers to Rome as the sun of unfailing light and the sole base and foundation which cannot be overcome by the gates of Hades, according to the promise of the Savior. Quite literally, Rome teaches the Apostolic faith and cannot fail to do so by virtue of the promise of God. So my argument would be this: Maximus understood the teaching ministry of the Church of Rome to be protected from heresy by the power and promise of God. Therefore, he believed in Papal infallibility. 

If what he said does indeed indicate that belief, he most likely held it out of desperation and he did not hold it for long because when informed the pope had issued orders for his anathamatization and execution, he did not argue on the impossibility of Rome doing such a thing but simply accepted it as a fact.

Moreover, Siecienski thinks this interpretation does not run the risk of making Maximus disingenuous, but I disagree. How can you run claims of supremacy and doctrinal infallibility on the basis of Christ’s own divine intention (in letters not even to Rome) as an enthusiastic artwork just to bolster one’s argument? If Maximus’s argument depends on the cogency of his arguments from the church fathers, then it would be redundant to appeal to the divine status of Rome. If anything, by falsely insinuating Rome is infallible, Maximus runs the risk of undermining himself. Were the Popes themselves hyperbolic when they claimed the infallibility of the Roman See (Formula of Hormisdas, Letter of Agatho to Constantinople III)? It is far more likely that Maximus’ claims about Rome are just as genuine as those made by others, regardless if he was wrong or right on the matter. I see no compelling reason to read him any other way.

All of these depend on the false assumption and the assertion that Pope St. Hormisdas, Pope St. Agatho, and St. Maximus actually claimed the infallibility of Rome in a meaningful, perpetual, and unique way and never applied similar language onto the emperor, the empire, or anyone or thing else.

But what about his statements during his trial? Did not Maximus just come out and say that Rome could fall into heresy? Well, I would argue there is more in between the lines here.  Just like some interpreters would take the clear attributions of supremacy and infallibility in Maximus and then fudge them (i.e. make them mere enthusiastic hype) in light of the latter’s willingness to possibly endure separation from Rome if it meant being faithful to the truth, a Catholic is doing nothing different when he interprets the clear admissions of Maximus when under trial and fudges them based on the clear statements of supremacy and infallibility in his other writings. In other words, Maximus could have answered his accusers under trial in such a way that he is willing to concede, as a matter of possibility for the sake of argument, that Rome could fall by the wayside, for which case he would remain faithful to the truth even if it meant he alone was the only orthodox Christian left on the planet, but not actually believe this would ever materialize. On that level, both interpretations are fair and square. But there is more.

Or we could just remove the “fudge” and approach them honestly. In light of typical Byzantine rhetoric  and St. Maximus’ refusal to follow Pope St. Vitalian into communion with the Monothelites, I cannot see where St. Maximus is making the claims Mr. Ybarra is claiming (yet I am glad Mr. Ybarra can see St. Maximus saying he would not following Rome into heresy as “clear admissions”).

As Fr. Klaus Schatz, professor of church history points out, less than 30 years after this, bishops from the identical cultural milieu as St. Maximus (educated, seventh century Constantinopolitan Greek speakers) say this at the 6th Ecumenical Council:

“Rejoice, O city of Zion, summit of the world and the empire! Constantine ornamented you with purple and crowned you with faith…and the gates of hell shall not prevail against your orthodox empire.”[8]

Even the Latin speaking Pope, St. Agatho, when speaking of the emperor, gets caught up in the hyperbole when he states God had spoken infallibly through the emperor:

“And that no one may be ignorant of this pious intention of yours, or suspect that we have been compelled by force, and have not freely consented to the carrying into effect of the imperial decrees touching the preaching of our evangelical faith which was addressed to our predecessor Donus, a pontiff of Apostolic memory, they have through our ministry been sent to and entirely approved by all nations and peoples; for these decrees the Holy Spirit by his grace dictated to the tongue of the imperial pen, out of the treasure of a pure heart, as the words of an adviser not of an oppressor, defending himself, not looking with contempt upon others; not afflicting, but exhorting; and inviting to those things which are of God in godly wise…”

Completely contemporary with St. Maximus

Completely contemporary with St. Maximus, though is this excellent example of typical Byzantine rhetoric is the first letter of Cyrus of Alexandria to Sergius of Constantinople (found here). Cyrus, the Pope of Alexandria, addresses Sergius, the Ecumenical Patriarch with these words:

To my Master, honored by God, the good chief shepherd, the father of fathers, the ecumenical patriarch Sergius, from Your most humble Cyrus. Contrary thoughts came into my mind as I was intending to extend the present report to my divinely honoured Master…I summoned the courage to write, when I had taken to heart the inspired teachings of You Thrice-blessedness,…’I shall be completely corrected in what I report in this letter, being deemed worthy, O divinely honoured one, of the all-pious footsteps of our God-strengthened Master.‘…I was commanded to embark on reading the all-revered report of You divinely inspired Self…I have learned to take refuge in Your teaching, which speaks from God, even as I beg its precious and clearly instructive message to vouchsafe still brighter clarity…As a result, when our ignorance has been illuminated by You God-taught Self, perhaps in this too we may imitate the fat and fertile land…My good Master…I, humble Cyrus, praying for the all-esteemed well-being of my Master who is honoured by God, composed this.”

Using the same type of logic Mr. Ybarra used in his article on St. Maximus concerning what the legates said about the papal election (the doctored quotation Mr. Ybarra utilized in part I of this series), we know several things about Sergius of Constantinople:

  1. Sergius is the highest bishop in the Church because he is “the Chief Shepherd” of the Church and the “Father of fathers.”
  2. He is infallible because is teachings are “inspired” and “speak from God” because he is “God-taught.”
  3. His teachings are binding on believers as one is to “take refuge” in his teachings due to #2.
  4. His is honored even by God and even something as insignificant as his “footsteps” are completely pious. 

While we watch Mr. Ybarra backtrack and desperately stumble towards “Byzantine flattery” and “flowery language” while trying to clarify that ‘these words were not said about a see with a divine prerogative [whatever that means] from our Lord!!!’ We can all wonder precisely why he utilizes a phrase as broad and open to interpretation as ‘divine prerogatives.’ 

Mr. Ybarra continues…

As we saw, the record of his trial includes a push-back from Maximus that he would not be convinced of Rome’s concession to heresy. When he was pressed on what he would do if Rome really did commune with the Monothelites, it is quite possible Maximus thought, in his head, “alright, let me concede to what would happen if the impossible actually did happen, hypothetically”. That might sound like a far-fetched interpretation which only reveals my own bias. However, we have objective reasons to interpret it this way. After his trial, where he gave the answers he did, Maximus wrote to Anastasius, his disciple, informing him that he had been told that Rome would be entering into communion with the Monothelite patriarchs, and requested that he and others are to pray for holy mother Church, and to send his letter of concern out for others to read. At the end of this letter is an additional text which was added by a compiler as a set of instructions given to him by either Maximus or Anastasius (some scholars say it was Anastasius himself who added it):

Mr. Ybarra leaves off the first part of the following quotation to hide the fact there was no way St. Maximus gave the instructions, but it was certainly an Anastasias (we do not know which one) who gives them. We have re-added the missing part in red:

Anastasius order me to transcribe these things and to make them known to you most holy peoplein order that, when you have found out about the trial from these, you might all bring a common prayer to the Lord on behalf of our common mother, that is the Catholic Church, and on behalf of us your unworthy servants , for strengthening everyone and us also, persevering with you in it, according to the orthodox faith rightly preached in it by the holy fathers. For there is great fear in the whole world because this [church] endures persecution by everyone at the same time, unless He [God] offers aid by his customary grace, He who always come to aid, leaving the seed of piety at least in older Rome, confirming the promise He made to the prince of Apostles, which does not deceive us” (Maximus the Confessor and His Companions, Page 123)

Even if this additional Latin schola (for it does not exist in the Greek) was added by Anastasius or a contemporary compiler, the person is doubtless connected to the same spirit of Maximus, and the compilers’ statement on the divine promise to Peter and Rome would surely serve as corroborative evidence that Maximus’s contemporaries held to precisely the same view about the Roman See. The compiler who added this states the whole catholic church is threatened by this monstrous evil of monotheletism, and it will take no less than God Himself to come and fulfill His own promise to Saint Peter which includes, at least, the preservation of “seed of piety” in the Roman See. And then to put it on par with the preservation of the Catholic Church herself? Even if the compiler is Theodore Spoudaeus, and not Anastasius the disciple of Maximus himself, it would still be a contemporary witness.

Except that is not what the quotation says. Prior to the bold, the writer is identifying the Church universal as the Catholic Church. The prayer request is that the seed of faith continue to be kept alive at least at Rome, but the last line where the writer mentions the promise of Peter, that promise of Peter is not that the Pope of Rome specifically will not fall, but that the Church will not fall. In other words, as long as there is one bishop of right belief, the Church has not fallen as there are still valid sacraments. We see this in Greek theological literature even at points when communion has been ruptured between Rome and any number of Greek sees – they can still continue to praise Peter despite being out of communion with the successor to Peter par excellence precisely because they did not understand Matt 16:18 as applying simply to the Pope of Rome.[9]

Finally, even if Maximus had come to a point of doubt where he thought about giving up his belief in the supremacy and infallibility of the See of Peter, that does not necessarily mean he did not believe that the whole entire time. He could have very well believed it when he wrote it, but then changed his mind later on. There are Catholics today who go from being ardent Papalists to becoming Orthodox or Protestant, and then give up on their belief in Papal infallibility.

When eulogizing a man who had left his family and fallen into drink for years before coming back, repenting, making peace with his family, and then reposing some weeks later, the priest burying him started his eulogy saying “It is not how you start the race, but how you finish it and how true that is with [name omitted].” It is not what St. Maximus might have believed at one point in his life, but how he finished the race and for whatever can be said of what he might have held to in some form at one point, there is no doubt he did not hold that view towards the end. This is why Pope St. Vitalian is a saint and not condemned as a Monothelite (he did not die as one).

By the logic Mr. Ybarra has employed above, saints who started out as or were temporarily heretics or lived a dissolute life, such as St. Augustine, are not really to be praised for overcoming those deeds and actions, but we should use those lapses to give validity to our own lapses. I had not thought Mr. Ybarra’s bizarre Star Wars analogy in “Reply to Ubi Petrus” could have been bested, but he just might have done it here.

Now, lest I prove to be the only one who sees this in Maximus, I give you a quote from a Lutheran Scholar on Maximus, Dr. Lars Thuberg,  and he explains our Saints view of Roman primacy: [Speaking of the letters to “Peter the Illustrious” and The Letter “From Rome to the East,” both addressed in Part I] This invites us to evaluate what Maximus had to say about the primacy of the pope. As Fr Garrigues has clearly shown (in an article in Istina, 1976), Maximus was convinced that Rome would never give way to the pressures of Constantinople. Once more forced to consider the possibility that in the case of Monotheletism the Romans might accept a union with the Byzantines, he answered through the paradoxical words of St. Paul, and said: ‘The Holy Spirit condemns… even the angels that would proclaim anything which is contrary to the Gospel’. (Patr Gr 90, 121). This implies that he did not want to discuss an improbable hypothesis, but would rather declare that he was prepared to die for the truth.

To put Dr. Thunberg’s view in perspective, “improbable” simply means “not likely to happen,” not mean “impossible.” In other words, Thunberg is saying he surmises St. Maximus believed Rome’s apostasy was unlikely, but not impossible.

This statement is a good starting point for a clarification of his own attitude. His personal experience of the doctrinal position of Rome confirmed his conviction that the promises of our Lord to Peter were applicable to the Church that preserved his relics. Thus, for him the communion of the Churches expressed itself as ‘a Roman communion’, a communion with the bishop of Rome. One must remember that for Maximus there existed only one alternative, represented by Imperial policy with its linke between Church and State, and that alternative could not enjoy the same promises. Even sacramental signs were missing in the latter case.”(The Vision of St Maximus the Confessor: Man and the Cosmos- Lars Thunberg, Page 25-26)

First, it is telling Mr. Ybarra uses this quotation from Thunberg as Thunberg is really one of the few scholars who could actually be construed as occasionally agreeing with Mr. Ybarra on St. Maximus.

Second, for St. Maximus, until Pope St. Vitalian entered into communion with the Monothelites, the Church really was a Roman communion as Jerusalem was in disarray and asking for help from Rome while the other three sees had subscribed to the imperial documents regarding the wills and energies in Christ and so had compromised their orthodoxy. If St. Maximus did actually believe the promises of Christ to pertain to Rome, he certainly did not believe that after April 19, 658 when he wrote to Anastasius the Monk and describes the moment when he finds out Rome is entering into communion with the Monothelites (and realizing it had shelved the Lateran council of 649), St. Maximus, according to his own record of the events, resigns himself to the fact he will be anathematized and executed. He does not argue on the impossibility of the pope entering into communion with the Monothelites nor does he argue with the officials conveying is anathematization and death, he simply accepts it as the will of God. His death sentence was commuted to the severing of his tongue and right hand and being sent into exile.

Four years after penning the letter to Anastasius the Monk, St. Maximus died in exile. Despite championing the cause of two energies and two wills in the Incarnate Logos as taught at Lateran 649 and despite being a close friend of both Popes St. Theodore and St. Martin, with whom he organized and executed Lateran 649, St. Maximus, exiled, died abandoned and completely forgotten by Rome.

[1] Fr. Klaus Schatz “Papal Primacy From Its Origins to the Present” p. 55

[2] All quotations from St. Maximus the Confessor are taken from “Maximus the Confessor and His Companions: Documents from Exile” Oxford University Press, 2003. Edited by Pauline Allen and Bronwen Neil

[3] “Maximus the Confessor and his Companions” p. 121 &123

[4] “Maximus the Confessor and his Companions” p. 185, footnote #8

[5] “Maximus the Confessor and his Companions” p. 63 [inserted between brackets are summaries of the footnotes on p. 179]

[6] St. Peter of Damaskos. Philokalia Vol. 3, p. 265. Book 11, “Twenty-four Discourses” #23

[7] http://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/articles/patrology/johndamascus_galatians.htm

[8] “Papal Primacy From Its Origins to the Present” p. 50

[9] See “The Primacy of Peter” by Fr. John Meyendorff p. 67-91



One thought on “Did St. Maximus the Confessor Believe in Papal Infallibility? | Part II | Rebuttal to Catholic Apologists Erick Ybarra

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Keys Over the Christian World – Orthodox Christian Theology

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