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Maximus the Confessor (580–662)

  1. Bruce V. Foltz

Published Online: 25 NOV 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470670606.wbecc0873

The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization

How to Cite

Foltz, B. V. 2011. Maximus the Confessor (580–662). The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 25 NOV 2011


St. Maximus the Confessor has long been seen within the Byzantine tradition as both its greatest theologian and its most important philosopher, and his significance is now becoming increasingly recognized in the West. Maximus was a Byzantine aristocrat, once serving as head of the Imperial Chancellery under the Emperor Heraclius in Constantinople. In 614, he entered the monastery at Chrysopolis, across the Bosphorus from Constantinople, where he became its abbot. Persian incursions into Anatolia and the great siege of Constantinople caused him to flee the area in 626, first to Crete and Cyprus, and finally to Byzantine North Africa in 630, where he did some of his most important writing. It was here that he was drawn into the Monothelite Controversy, theological successor to the Monophysite Controversy that had earlier split the unity of the church with its claim that Christ had only one nature. Conceding the Chalcedonian teaching that affirmed two natures, both divine and human, the Monothelites maintained rather that Christ had only one will, a divine will but not a human will, a view that was favored by the Emperor and by the Patriarch of Constantinople as a sensible compromise, and who both sought to restore the unity lost in the Monophysite Controversy. Maximus strongly opposed the Monthelite view, which still seemed to compromise the humanity of Christ, and entered into a famous debate at Carthage with the former Byzantine Patriarch, Pyrrhus, in 645. Maximus prevailed in the debate, convincing even Pyrrhus, and went to Rome in 647, where he served as advisor to the Lateran Council of 649, which affirmed Chalcedon against the Monothelites. For this, he was arrested by the Emperor, Constans II, and brought to Constantinople in 653 for a series of interrogations and trials. For his refusal to recant, he was tortured, hence his designation as “confessor.” According to tradition, the appendages by means of which he had defied the emperor, his tongue and his right hand, were both severed from his body. After this mutilation, he was sent into exile in the Caucasus Mountains, probably in Georgia, but he died soon thereafter, most likely from his injuries.


  • maximus the confessor (580–662);
  • byzantine tradition, greatest theologian;
  • monothelite controversy;
  • theological wisdom, of late antiquity;
  • mystagogy, reflections on liturgical symbolism