On the Divinity and Humanity of Christ

From our father among the Saints, Maximus the Confessor (Jan. 29)

The Great Collection of The Lives of the Saints

In a dialogue between St. Maximus, Bishop Theodosius attempts to persuade the saint to accept the “Typos”. Issued under the reign of the Emperor of Constantinople, yet prompted by several primates and nobles of the church, it ordered the text of the Ekthesis removed from the great church of Holy Wisdom, and forbade all discussion of the Divinity and Humanity of Christ. St. Maximus was in exile for refusing to embrace the Typos.

Then the Bishop asked, “Why do you insist on prolonging your exile and imprisonment?”

“I pray God that, castigating me by these sufferings, He may forgive my failure to keep His commandments,” responded Maximus.

“Is it not true that many are tested by afflictions?” asked Theodosius.

“The saints are tried so that their secret virtues may be manifested to all, as in the case of Job and Joseph,” said the saint. “Job was tempted, and demonstrated perseverance second to none, and Joseph underwent trials that revealed his chastity and abstinence, qualities of holy men. If God permitted the saints to suffer in this life, it was because He wished to see them vanquish the devil, the ancient serpent. In a sense, the patience of the saints was actually a result of their tribulations.”

“Truly, you speak well and instructively,” sighed Bishop Theodosius, “and I would be happy to converse with you at any other time about such matters. My companions, the honored patricians, and I have come, however, a considerable distance to speak about something else. We have a proposal to make, and hope that you will agree to it and delight the whole world.”

“What is it, my lord,” asked the saint, “and who am I that my concurrence will please the whole world?”

The Bishop replied, “Since the Lord Jesus Christ is Truth itself, I will relate exactly what our master the Patriarch and the most devout Emperor told me and my lords, the illustrious patricians.”

“Speak, my lord; I am listening,” said Maximus.

“The Emperor and Patriarch want you to explain why you have cut yourself off from communion with the see of Constantinople,” Theodosius said.

“Cyrus, Patriarch of Alexandria, published the Nine Chapters” recounted the saint. “Soon the novelties proposed in that document were followed by others, overturning the definitions of holy councils. These innovations were devised by primates of the Church of Constantinople: Sergius, Pyrrhus, and Paul, as all the other churches know very well. This is the reason I, your servant, am not in communion with the throne of Constantinople. Let the offenses introduced by those men be rejected and the abettors deposed; then the way to salvation will be cleared, and you will walk the smooth path of the Gospel unhindered by heresy. When I see the Church of Constantinople as she was formerly, I shall enter into communion with her uncompelled, but as long as the scandal of heresy persists in her and her bishops are miscreants, no argument or persecution will win me over to your side.”

Bishop Theodosius asked, “Precisely what evil in our confession prevents you from entering into communion with us?”

The godly Maximus answered, “You say that the Saviour’s divinity and humanity share a single operation, but the Holy Fathers teach that every distinct nature has its own distinct operation. It is not the Holy Trinity you confess, but a quaternity. Positing one operation of the Saviour’s divinity and humanity, you allege that the Word assumed, not our flesh and that of the immaculate Virgin Theotokos, but flesh having the qualities of the divine nature. Verily, you gainsay the Trinity and invent a quaternity, because you deny that Christ had a true human nature and imagine that the nature formed in the Incarnation was actually co-essential with that of the Pre-eternal Word, as the Word is co-essential with the Father and he Spirit. Again, disavowing the two operations and assert that Christ’s divinity and humanity share a single will, you deprive the Lord of the ability to do good as God or man. [pullquoteleft] Indeed, if a nature lacks its intrinsic operation, it is incapable of doing anything at all. [/pullquoteleft] Further confessing that the incarnate Christ has two natures and one will, which is divine, you must say that His flesh, according to its will, created all the ages and everything that exists, with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, while itself having been created according to its nature. You make flesh beginningless according to its will (since the divine will, like the Godhead, can have neither beginning nor end), yet admit that, according to its nature, it was fashioned in time. This is senseless, or rather, completely godless. As for the Typos and the Emperor’s laws, by forbidding mention of one will or two, or of the operations of Christ’s natures, they deprive Christ the Lord of all the properties and manifestations that demonstrate His human nature and His divine nature. The Typos and the laws reflect your position well, for you overturn the notion of a single will and operation by insisting on their duality and you contradict the truth that there are two wills and operations by fusing them into one.”

Hearing Saint Maximus say this and much else (which his disciple Anastasius relates in detail), his opponents began to realize their error. Nevertheless, the Bishop proposed, “Accept the Emperor’s Typos not as an expression of dogma, but as his personal interpretation and a means of silencing controversy.”

*The Nine Chapters were published in the year 633 after the Nativity of Christ. These introduced the heresy of Monoenergism, the assumption that Christ had a single energy or operation, implicit in Monophysitism. Monoenergism represented an attempt to reconcile Monophysitism and Orthodoxy, and was the immediate antecedent of Monothelitism.

“If the Typos is not a dogmatic definition establishing that our Lord has a single will and operation, why have I been exiled to a land of barbarians and pagans who do not know God?” asked Maximus. “Why do I waste away here, and my fellow laborers in Perveris and Mesembria?”

Then the saint mentioned how the synod convened in Rome by the blessed Pope Martin had condemned the Monothelites, to which Bishop Theodosius responded, “It is the Emperor’s summons that gives authority to a council.”

“Recall the councils summoned by imperial decree to proclaim that the Son of God is not of the same essence as God the Father.

The first was held in Tyre, the second in Antioch, the third in Seleucia, the fourth in Constantinople under Eudoxius the Arian, the fifth in Nicaea, and the sixth in Sirmium. Considerably later, a seventh false council took place in Ephesus, at which Dioscorus presided. All these synods were convened by imperial decree, but were rejected and anathematized, since they endorsed godless doctrines. On what grounds, I would like to know, do you accept the council which condemned and anathematized Paul of Samosata? Gregory the Wonder-worker presided over that council, and its resolutions were confirmed by Dionysius, Pope of Rome, and Dionysius of Alexandria. No Emperor convoked it, but it is unassailable and irrefutable. The Orthodox Church recognizes as true and holy precisely those synods that proclaimed true dogmas. Your holiness knows that the canons require that local councils be held twice yearly in every Christian land for the defense of our saving faith and for administrative purposes; however, they say nothing about imperial decrees.”

Both sides produced various arguments, but Saint Maximus spoke under the manifest influence of the Holy Spirit. The result of the lengthy discussion was that his eloquence and divine wisdom vanquished the adversaries, who sat for a long time hanging their heads and staring at the floor. Then, moved to contrition, they began to weep, after which they bowed before the saint, and he before them. They prayed with Maximus, fervently and joyfully accepted his Orthodox teaching, and promised that they would confess it and attempt to win over the Emperor. As evidence of their sincerity, they kissed the divine Gospel, the honored cross, and holy icons of the Saviour and the Theotokos.

“Because the leaders of this Church have rejected the definitions of four holy councils and accepted the Nine Chapters published in Alexandria; the Ekthesis written by Sergius, Patriarch of Constantinople; and the recently issued Typos. What they proclaimed as dogma in the Ekthesis they rejected in the Typos. They have repeatedly excommunicated themselves from the Church and are completely unstable in the faith. Additionally, they have been cut off and stripped of priesthood by the local council held at Rome. What Mysteries, then, can they perform? And what spirit descends on those whom they ordain?”

“So then, you alone will be saved, and all others will perish?” the Emperor’s men objected.

The saint explained, “When the people in Babylon worshipped the golden idol, the Three Holy Youths condemned no one. Their concern was not for the doings of others, but that they themselves should not fall away from piety. When Daniel was cast into the lion’s den, he did not condemn those who, obeying Darius, failed to worship God, but kept in mind his own duty. He preferred to die rather than sin against conscience and transgress God’s law. God forbid that I should judge anyone or say that I alone will be saved! Nevertheless, I would rather die than violate my conscience by betraying the Orthodox faith in any particular.”

“And what will you do when the Romans unite with the Byzantines? Yesterday two papal legates arrived. Tomorrow is the Lord’s day, and they will partake of the immaculate Mysteries with the Patriarch,” they taunted him.

The godly one replied, “The whole world may enter into communion with the Patriarch, but I will not. The Apostle Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit anathematizes even angels who preach a new Gospel, that is, introduce novel teaching.”

The nobles asked, “Is it really necessary to confess two wills and operations in Christ?”

“Absolutely,” insisted the saint, “if we are to hold steadfastly to Orthodox doctrine. Every nature has its corresponding operation.

The Holy Fathers clearly teach that it is by the operation that the nature is known to exist. Otherwise, how could we know Christ to be true God by nature and true man?

The nobles were forced to admit, “We understand that this is indeed the truth; nevertheless, we must not put ourselves at odds with the Emperor. He issued the Typos, not to deny any property inherent to Christ, but to bring peace to the Church. This is why he commands that there be no discussion of things that give rise to differences of opinion.”

Tears welled up in Maximus’ eyes. Throwing himself to the ground, he cried, “I do not wish to grieve the Emperor, who is a good man and loves God; but still more, I fear to anger the Lord by keeping silence about what He commands us to confess. If, as the divine Apostle says, God hath set some in the Church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, then it is clear that the Lord speaks through them. All of Holy Scripture, the writings of the teachers of the Church, and the decisions of the councils proclaim that Christ Jesus, our incarnate Lord and God, has power to will and act according to both His divinity and His humanity. He lacks no property pertaining to the godhead or to human nature, except sin. If He is perfect in both natures and deficient in nothing proper to them, then it is evident that the mystery of the Incarnation is utterly distorted by anyone who fails to confess Him to have all of each nature’s innate properties, by which and in which His natures are known.”

After the saint had expounded this and many other points, the noblemen praised his wisdom and realized that it was impossible to refute him.

The Great Collection of The Lives of the Saints

This offering of the famous Russian collection of Lives of the Saints by Saint Demetrius of Rostov (1651-1709) marks the first time any of these national collections have been published in their entirety in the English language.