Saturday, June 15, 2013

Tales From the Papal Crypt: Pope Martin, Enemy of the State

Pope Martin I

"The police would not allow the holy man to land, though he was suffering severe pain.  Instead they went ashore themselves and rested in comfort.  However, the priests of the locality and all the faithful sent gifts in no small quantity of things that might be useful to him.  But the police brutally tore these gifts from the people's hands in the presence of the Pope himself, cursing and swearing the while.  Anyone who brought the Pope small gifts was chased away after being insulted and beaten, with the warning:
'Whoever wishes well to this man is an enemy of the state.'"

-eyewitness account by a companion of Pope Martin I

To begin our tale, let us first proceed to its ending.  In AD 655, somewhere in a little, isolated town on the edge of the Crimean Sea, Pope Martin died.  The exact cause of his death is not known; based on the available evidence, he was suffering at the least from chronic malnutrition, physical and psychological abuse, conditions of extreme cold and privation, and many untreated medical ailments.  Most likely, his death did not cause much of a stir for either the Imperial officials set to watch him or the local townspeople; after all, his death had been the general idea of sending him into exile there in the first place.  The town of Cherson was well used to hosting political prisoners, and the Imperial police well used to hastening their deaths.

Yet there is a good reason to begin at the end with Pope Martin; for his death is, at least statistically, the most notable thing about him.  Pope Martin is the last Pope to this day to be venerated as a martyr by the Catholic Church.  Popes since then have died in office, and some have even been murdered; but Martin is the last who is considered to have been killed in odium fidei--that is, in hatred of the Catholic Faith, the Church, and Christ himself.  This is no small accolade.

The first Pope to be martyred, was, of course, St. Peter himself--and the last is St. Martin.  No small accomplishment, that.

Quo Vadis, Martin?

Martin is also notable in being one of those Popes venerated also by the Eastern Orthodox Church, and commemorated in the Divine Liturgy-- though you would be hard-pressed to find much popular expression of devotion to him in the modern day.  When I tried to ask for an icon of him in an icon shop in Greece, I was (after much searching) informed that "there was no such saint."  This made me sad.

In all fairness, though, this has to do to some degree to his being overshadowed by his close association with one of the most famous of all Eastern saints, Maximos the Confessor, whose icon, I am happy to report, was found quite easily, and currently graces my desk as I type this.

St. Maximos the Confessor

However, the response of the clerk saddened me; for, in my opinion, St. Maximos and St. Martin truly belong together, in life and on my desk.  For rarely, if ever, have a Pope of Rome and a theologian-- let alone an Eastern theologian--been so entirely in accord, or acted so much as one.  Maximos and Martin were regarded by the Imperial government, quite rightly, as co-conspirators, and treated the same way.  The year of Martin's death, Maximos was dragged from Rome to Constantinople in chains, and, seven years later, died in exile under similar conditions.  The accounts of their trials and passions are easily mistaken for one other, and deserve to be read together.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.  Our tale does not begin in the town of Cherson, nor yet in Colchis, where Maximos spent his last, miserable days; it begins many years earlier, with the rise of what came to be called the Monothelite heresy.  Or does it begin even earlier, with the rise of the Monophysites and the Council of Chalcedon?  Well, that is a tale for another day, which perhaps I will get around to telling.

In any event, to understand the Monothelite heresy most properly, it is important to understand one thing; Monothelitism is, more than almost any other in history, an Imperial heresy.  Monothelitism was put forth by the Imperial government of Byzantium as a way of restoring complete religious and political uniformity to the Byzantine Empire by reconciling orthodox followers of the Council of Chalcedon with the Monophysites of Egypt and Syria.

The Last Battle of the Empires

In the early years of the 7th century, this seemed an especially important affair, since the Byzantine Empire was then engaged in the most devastating and disastrous of its wars with the Persian Empire.  Syria and Egypt were crucial regions in this conflict, and discord between Chalcedonians and Monophysites had often led to bloodshed and political strife there.  Thus, to bring Monophysites back into union with the Emperor, a compromise formula was proposed that it was hoped would satisfy both sides.

By the time of Pope Martin's death, however, complete uniformity of thought and belief had taken on a new, and deadly, level of urgency.  For something had happened to both Byzantium and Persia in the intervening years, something that no one on either side could have expected.

What had just happened has a name; and that name is Islam.

The Changing of the Kingdoms

In 632 AD,  Muhammed died.  Around this time, Emperor Heraclius of the Byzantines, fresh from the series of stunning victories with which he had ended the war with Persia and restored peace to the known world, received a curious emissary from the inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula.  The message was short and to the point:

"God has given this land as an inheritance to our father Abraham and to his posterity after him.  We are the Children of Abraham.  You have held our country long enough.  Give it up peacefully and we will not invade your country.  If not, we will retake with interest what you have withheld from us."

How Heraclius reacted to the message is not recorded; most likely he just laughed it off, and went on to more important things.  He had just defeated the most powerful Empire in the known world; after that, what threat could these tribesmen from the desert pose?  

If so, he was soon to learn his mistake.  

Within ten years of the death of Muhammed, Syria, Armenia, and Egypt were in the hands of the Arabians.  Within twenty, this strange confederation of townspeople and nomads, who called themselves Muslims and believed themselves the true people of God, had completely absorbed the Persian Empire of more than five hundred years.  The Byzantine Empire was gutted, reduced to Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and Greece alone.  A new era had dawned.

It was in during this time of crisis, when the Byzantine armies were meeting defeat after defeat, and province after province was falling into the hands of the Muslims, that the main events of the "Monothelite heresy" took place.  For an Empire in a perpetual state of crisis, uniformity had never been more important.

In 638, an embattled Emperor Heraclius issued the Ekthesis, an Imperial dogmatic letter which declared that, while Christ possessed two natures, he had only one will, or thelema; and he forbade anyone from writing or preaching to the contrary.  By this, he hoped to ensure complete religious uniformity throughout what remained of his Empire, and keep more provinces from slipping into the hands of the enemy.

[Long theological explanation follows.  If you wish to avoid it, skip down to the next bold text]

Monos-"only one" plus thelema-"will" equals "Monothelitism": the doctrine that Christ has only one thelema or will.  Now, the idea that Christ has only one will would seem, at first glance, rather obvious and uncontroversial.  But that is because thelema is not necessarily what we think of as will; it would perhaps better be translated here as wish or inclination.  In this regard, another term often used by the Monothelites is instructive; namely, that Christ possessed only one energia, "natural working," or "operation."  Essentially the same idea is meant by both.  

The idea of Monothelitism, put simply, is this: Christ's human nature, when assumed by the Godhead, no longer possessed a set of human operations and wishes distinct from those of the Divine Nature--those operations and wishes that naturally make you and I, as human beings, wish very much not to die, or have those we love get hurt, and that incline us towards food and company and other human goods.  Instead, the human will and operation of Christ was completely subsumed into one Theandric ("God-Man-ish") operation and will, in which the Divine Nature necessarily predominated.  Thus, no action or wish of Christ could be said to proceed from his natural human wishes and inclinations; all was due to the one, Theandric operation of Christ, and, ultimately, to the Divine Nature itself.
Ho Theandros

In the view of Maximos the Confessor, Pope Martin, and his predecessors, this was a dangerous and pernicious doctrine, one that made of Christ, not a true human being like us, but an utterly foreign entity, his motives and actions essentially inscrutable.  

Maximos was from the beginning the most eloquent and powerful of these opponents, and his theology gave voice to the opposition of the Roman Church, and many others, towards this Imperial formula.  In Maximos' view, it was crucial that Christ be confessed, not only to possess two natures, human and divine, but to also possess all the operations natural to each one.  Christ, in fact, had two, distinct natural wishes, two natural inclinations, one Divine, and one human; both were equally his, and so equally God's, but they were truly distinct, and must not be conflated.  Christ's humanity was without sin, and so free from all inclination towards evil; but it was still human, and so still inclined towards natural, human goods, and away from evils, even as we are.

Maximos took as his crowning example the Agony in the Garden, where Christ begged his Heavenly Father "If it be possible, let this cup pass from me."  In this, Maximos saw an unassailable proof of the two wills of Christ.  For it was the very crux of this agony that Christ truly wished to be delivered from the Cross; he truly willed to be free of the sins and evils of the world, which he would take upon himself, truly willed not to be abandoned by his friends, betrayed by his disciple, denied by Peter, scourged at the pillar, tortured, crucified, and killed.  Yet the Eternal Will of God, which both Father and Son shared, was for the Cross to be--and this will was just as truly Christ's.  How could this be?
"Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me..."

For Maximos, the answer was simple.  Christ's wish not to suffer and die was simply the natural inclination, the natural thelema, of a true human being--not in the least sinful, but rather by its nature good, right, and proper.  It was, nevertheless, truly distinct from the eternal thelema of God, the wish that had willed that the Cross be-- and yet, ultimately, fully in harmony with it.  For if it is natural for human beings to wish not to suffer and die, Maximos argued, it is just as natural for human beings, like Christ, to always subordinate this wish to the will of God, and to charity.  Christ's two thelemata, therefore, could never truly be in contradiction.

Christ had prayed: "If it be possible, let this cup pass from me; but your will be done."  For Maximos, this represented the perfect, natural relationship between the human and divine natures of Christ, and, ultimately, between man and God.  The human wish is expressed to God, but subordinated to charity, and to God's ultimate decision--Christ wishes not to suffer, but he also wishes, with all his soul, to save humanity; and with the same breath, he submits completely to the eternal, perfect will of God, that has already decreed that it be so.  Our humanity finds its complete and perfect expression within Christ; it lacks nothing proper to it whatsoever.
"Was ever there sorrow like unto my sorrow?"

At the same time, of course, Christ is not only man, but also God; even as he gives voice to his perfect human wish, as God his will has determined, from all eternity, that the Cross be the way in which he will redeem humanity.  Yet Christ does not merely let his Divine thelema dominate and subsume his human nature, so as to face the Cross effortlessly, without horror and without fear; as the true God-Man, he gives his humanity its perfect expression, drinking the cup of human horror, stress, and trauma to the brim.  As a true human being, his body and soul are traumatized by his perfect knowledge of what is to come; he really wishes to avert it, but chooses not to; he really suffers in mind, heart, and body; he really struggles within himself, really cries out in pain, really sweats blood.  He who created the worlds, because of the fullness and perfection of his truly distinct human thelema, requires the aid of an angel to strengthen him.  For Maximos, and for Martin, no other explanation was required.
"And an angel appeared to him, strengthening him."

For Maximos, then, Monothelitism struck at the very core of the Gospel, imperiling the work of salvation itself.  If Christ possesses no complete, distinct human thelema, then Christ is not fully human, and mankind cannot have been redeemed in him.  Indeed, if Christ has no human will, then his human nature is in reality not a nature at all, but a mere machine, acting automatically and effortlessly as the Divine will drives it, with no motive power of its own, no freedom, and no possibility of obedience or merit.  To speak of Christ being "obedient" to God, then, is simply nonsense, as absurd as praising an ATM for its generosity.  

If Christ has no human will, Maximos and Martin believed, then the Cross is nothing more than a puppet show, where the amputated human nature of Christ suffered automatically and without complaint, at the command of a divine tyrant.  If Christ has no human operation, then the Agony in the Garden is a fraud, an allegorical play acted out for our benefit by a human nature that truly consists only of passive, mechanical submission to divine commands.  If Christ has no human operation, then all the groaning, tears, and pleas for deliverance of all suffering Christians are nothing more than imperfections, signs of our distance from God, nothing like the perfect passivity practiced by Christ's human nature.   If Christ has no human will, then truly, Christ is not one of us, and his deeds and actions have nothing in common with ours.  In Christ, mankind may, perhaps, be ransomed; but he cannot be truly redeemed, truly saved, or truly regenerated.

More than this, though, if Christ has no human thelema, then, ultimately, true union with God is impossible for us, and impossible precisely because we, unlike Christ, have the misfortune to possess a will and an operation of our own, distinct from that of God.  The highest religious ideal, then, is either a mere passive, automatic submission to God's commands, without freedom and without complaint, in feeble imitation of the perfectly passive and amputated acquiescence of Christ's human nature (yet always remaining separated from God, divided from him by an infinite chasm); or else, and more frighteningly, it is to truly lose ourselves, our wills, and our operations in God, to have our human selves completely extinguished, like Christ, in God.  Either passive submission without hope, or extinction in God without hope; no true, loving union of ourselves with God, in which we both remain ourselves, without confusion, with all our natural wishes, choices, and inclinations intact, and truly come to know him as he is in himself.  If this was impossible for Christ, how can it be possible for us?  


This heresy also had political and ecclesiastical implications.  If loving union with Christ is impossible, and passive acquiescence the ideal, then the thing to do is to simply submit ourselves passively to the political and religious apparatuses of this world, not asserting our human wishes or inclinations, and not desiring love and respect from those above us.  For a Byzantine state in crisis, a state that desired above all complete uniformity and complete submission to the military and religious dictates of the Emperor by all, there could hardly be a better doctrine.

This Maximos, and Martin, opposed.

[Theological explanation over.  Narrative will resume.]

With the publication of the Ekthesis, Monotheletism became the official doctrine of the Byzantine Empire and the Eastern Church.  The Emperor had decreed it so; and where the Emperor led, the Church followed.

Except, of course, for those pesky dissenters.

Until the publication of the Ekthesis, Maximos had lived the quiet life of a desert monk, travelling between Palestine and North Africa, writing and praying and contemplating.  The Ekthesis drew him out of that quiet life.  He would spend the rest of his life publicly opposing Monothelitism with every fiber of his being.  

Before long, a significant faction of Easterners began to gather around him; most of them were monks like Maximos, but they included churchmen as well, and some members of the laity.  Regular dissenters, however, were an expected liability.  They could be dealt with.  What the Emperor had not expected was opposition from Rome.

The Papacy at this time did not at all enjoy the political power or universal prestige it would attain in the High Middle Ages and Renaissance.  The Pope, in fact, was almost completely powerless politically; and even religiously he was far from the undisputed leader of a united church he would become.  Politically, he was a subject of the Byzantine Emperor, who was represented in Italy by an Exarch who ruled from the city of Ravenna; at the same time, the vast majority of Italy was held by the Lombards, a well-established group of "barbarians" who had lived in Italy for about a century.  The Pope had care of only Rome itself and the surrounding area, which he ruled for for the Byzantine Emperor; in practice, he was forced to navigate the competing claims and conflicts of the Byzantines and Lombards, both of which he was obliged to please, and both of whom could militarily have smashed Rome at any time.
Byzantine mosaic from Ravenna, Italy

The Lombards were Arians, and did not acknowledge the Pope's religious authority.  The rest of Western Europe, which did, was far away, and generally managing its own affairs both religiously and politically.  So Rome looked to the East.  

There, the Papacy had immense prestige, for a variety of reasons, but most of all for Pope Leo's dramatic intervention in the Monophysite quarrel, an intervention that had smashed an Imperial-sponsored council, brought the Council of Chalcedon into being, and mandated its outcome.  The Imperial government, which claimed religious as well as political authority, often made use of this prestige by seeking the approval of Rome for its religious and ecclesiastical projects; but it was uneasy with such a powerful force not being under its control.  Several Imperial-sponsored heresies had already been smashed on the rocks of Rome.
Pope Leo, Smasher of Heresies

Thus, gaining the approval of Rome for this new project was, if not strictly necessary, still immensely important.  Where Rome led, many would follow; even, if necessary, in the face of the Emperor himself.

When the new Pope Severinus was elected, as was traditional, he sent messengers to Constantinople to announce his election and receive the Emperor's consent for his installation.  When these legates arrived, they were met with members of the Emperor's circle, who demanded that they immediately subscribe to the Ekthesis, or face the consequences.  They refused; and in response, the exarch plundered the Lateran Palace in Rome, sending a share of the proceeds back to Constantinople.  It was a clumsy attempt at intimidation, and not at all effective at gaining its intended result.

The Pope was not moved, and as soon as he was installed, he held a synod and condemned the Ekthesis as heretical.  This pronouncement drew immediate results; the Bishops of Europe, of Cyprus, Palestine, and Africa swiftly announced their obedience to the Pope's judgment, and their complete rejection of the Imperial decree.  Opposition to the Ekthesis began to spring up everywhere, even in Constantinople itself.  Pope Severinus died, but was succeeded by two similarly short-reigning Popes (John IV and Theodore I) that were just as strident in their opposition to Monothelitism as he had been.  

The Emperor Heraclius, worn out by years of warfare both physical and political, was not prepared for the extended battle it would take to bring Rome to heel.  He was a sincere, if brutal, Christian; he did not want to oppose the Apostolic See, or be remembered as a heretic.  Only ten years before, he had been the savior of the Empire, the defeater of the King of Kings, the reconqueror of Egypt, Syria, and Palestine; only ten years before, in one of the most dramatic examples of Imperial piety, he had ridden the road to Jerusalem in majesty to return the True Cross, stolen by the Persians, to its rightful home, and to thank God for granting him victory over his enemies.  It had been a moment out of myth, a shining moment of triumph for the Christian Roman Empire, which many believed was destined to last until the end of the world
The Moment of Glory

  Now, his Empire was crumbling on every side under the attacks of a new, unlooked for enemy; his old enemies, the Persians, had been lost to the pages of history; and even his hopeful attempts to bring Christian unity were crumbling to dust in his hands.  He had been a strong Emperor, a sincere Christian, and a brilliant military commander; but the whole world, it seemed, had turned against him.  All his efforts had ended in failure.

On his deathbed, Heraclius wrote a letter to Pope Theodore, disavowing the Ekthesis completely, and declaring that he had been led into this blunder by his now-dead Patriarch, Sergius.  He had no wish to carry his experiment any further.  It was time to die a good Christian, and face the judgment of God.

But his new Patriarch, Paul, was not prepared to give up the fight.  When Heraclius died, he was succeeded by his young, hot-tempered, and ambitious grandson, Constans II.  Constans was a man of action; he was annoyed profoundly by the theological bickering of his subjects, and, at the suggestion of Paul, decided to put the whole matter behind him, and silence those pesky dissenters once and for all.

The new Emperor issued the Typos, a new theological decree that abrogated the Ekthesis, but declared in its stead a remarkable Imperial ban on the discussion of theology.  In the future, the Typos declared, anyone found speaking or arguing in favor of either one or two thelemata, or one or two operations, would be considered a criminal and punished severely.  Bishops and priests would be deposed; monks would be ejected from their orders; Imperial officials would be dismissed; laymen would be fined, beaten, and exiled.

The Imperial heresy of Monotheletism would no longer be welcome in the Empire; but neither would the orthodox doctrine.  Complete uniformity of belief and practice would be restored.  All would be as if nothing had happened.

Unfortunately, there will be no refunds for any persecution, disfigurement, or loss of life that may have occurred as the result of the Imperial-decree-that-never-happened. 

Have a nice day!

The dissenters were not overjoyed at this announcement.  Maximos considered the Typos not only an act of astonishing overreach on the part of the Imperial government, but also, and more to the point, as essentially heretical.  To not confess the truth openly was the same as to deny it; for the truth was made to be heard and proclaimed, not merely to be kept as a private possession.  To forbid the truth from being spoken and acted upon was to make war upon it.

St. Maximos is not amused.

"Troilus muttered: 'In your heart think whatever you want.  No one will interfere with you.'
But Maximos answered:

'God did not decree that salvation is attained only in the heart but said, 'Whoever will acknowledge me before men, I will acknowledge him before my Father in heaven' (Mt. 10:32).  And the Holy Apostle teaches us, 'the Faith that leads to righteousness is in the heart, and the confession that leads to salvation is upon the lips' (Rom. 10:10).  If then God and his prophets and apostles command us to profess openly the great and awesome mystery of salvation, then no voice can be silenced lest salvation be lost.' "

-from an official interrogation of Maximos the Confessor

As more and more of the Empire fell to the Muslims, and as punishments began being meted to dissenters from the Ekthesis and the Typos, a massive migration of Eastern monks and theologians to the West took place.  Some, like Theodore of Tarsus, even ended up as far as England.  They all naturally looked to the Pope as their protector and patron; for many of them had rejected Monothelitism precisely because of his opposition.  They clustered in the Papal court, and monasteries were set up in Rome to house them.  Among these pilgrims was Maximos the Confessor.

Theodore of Tarsus, Eastern Monk and Archbishop of Canterbury

It was at this time, when the Typos had just been published, that Pope Theodore died, and Martin ascended to the Papacy.  He was, like many bishops of that era, a monk, born at Todi in Umbria, and fluent in both Greek and Latin.  He had served as an ambassador to Constantinople during the turbulent early days of the Monothelite controversy, and had attempted to secure the deposition of the Patriarch there.  More than most in Rome, he understood the deadly seriousness of the situation.  He saw quite plainly that the new Emperor was not about to repent as Heraclius had done, and that he was more than willing to follow up on his threats, even against the Pope himself.

Man, it's hard to find pictures of Pope Martin.  Religious artists, do you hear me?  WHERE IS MY POPE MARTIN ART?!

Martin began his Papacy with a dramatic break from the past.  For hundreds of years, the Popes had sought the consent of the Emperor in Constantinople before being officially installed in office.  It was a powerful link between East and West, a sign that indicated that the Pope considered himself, at least politically, a subject of the Christian Roman Emperor.  At times, this had led to absurdly long wait times between election and installation; Pope Severinus, whom we met earlier, had waited over a year.

Martin did away with this custom.  He had himself installed immediately upon his election, without asking for the consent of the Emperor.  It was a sign that Martin recognized normal relations with Constantinople were impossible.

As if to make this fact even more clear, Pope Martin immediately convened what he and those with him considered an Ecumenical Council in Rome in 649, in the Lateran Basilica.  It was the first and only time in the first thousand years of Christianity that anyone attempted to call an Ecumenical Council without the consent of the Emperor.  In the Byzantine Empire of those days, this in itself was an act of rebellion.

St. John Lateran's, site of the Lateran Council.  Again, where are my dramatic, dynamic Lateran Council pictures?  Come on, guys!

The Council was driven by an intense collaboration between Pope Martin, Maximos the Confessor, and scores of Eastern monks.  The Bishops, to be sure, were Western; but the stars were the Eastern monks, pilgrims at Rome, and devotees of the Pope, who prepared and ran the proceedings and provided the language for the decrees.  Rarely has there been such an intense and direct collaboration between the Papacy and theologians; Maximos' theology, based on the dogmatic statements of Popes from Leo I on, through the authority and collaboration of Pope Martin became the decrees of the Council.

These decrees were plain.  Both the Ekthesis and the Typos were condemned, and Monothelitism definitively rejected in favor of the theology of two complete operations and thelemata, existing together in the one, perfectly united person of Christ.  The Patriarch Paul was anathematized by name.

Constantinople and Rome were now effectively at war.

It was a war of words, to be sure; but in the Byzantine Empire at this time, words had a way of summoning weapons.

War, Byzantine Style

In an important way, however, this was no longer a mere matter of theology; for Monothelitism, at least in its theological form, was effectively dead.  In its political and ecclesiastical forms, though, it was alive and well.  Passive, mechanical submission to the Emperor in all decrees religious and political was the new model of life in the Empire.  It mattered little if these decrees contradicted each other; and it mattered little what Popes, bishops, or theologians thought of them.  Church and State were not two operations, two thelemata, but one.

Against this, Pope Martin proposed a model of authority that was anything but simple.  Church and State were truly distinct, and truly separate, and neither must interfere with or destroy the other's proper operations and thelemata.  Power in both was to be exercised, not by arbitrary, ever-changing decrees mechanically followed, but by loving, legitimate authority founded on collaboration and respect.  The Pope would make his stand, in a truly authoritative and (in the belief of many) infallible manner; but he would do so, not as a lone, arbitrary will crushing all others, but as a living voice for the ancient tradition of the Church, and through intense collaboration with bishops, monks, and theologians past and present.

In another sense, though, all had come down, essentially, to a matter of authority.  Did the Emperor have the authority to promulgate the Typos; or did the Pope have the authority to condemn it?  If the former, then the Pope was an outlaw and a rebel; if the latter, then the Emperor was a tyrant and a heretic.  For most, there was no third option.

The Lateran Council was conceived of in collaboration with the Eastern monks, to be sure; but its claim to ecumenical authority came from the Pope alone.  Otherwise, it was merely a hundred or so Western bishops and some Greek monks, against the entire Byzantine Empire.  If the Pope was not, in some sense, supreme in matters of religion-- if he was not, in some sense, infallible-- then the Lateran council was entirely in vain.

Maximos and the monks with him understood this quite well; which is why during this time Maximos was responsible for some of the strongest words on Papal authority and infallibility of this time, either Eastern or Western:

"The extremities of the earth, and all in every part of it who purely and rightly confess the Lord, look directly towards the most holy Roman Church and its confession and faith, as it were to a sun of unfailing light, awaiting from it the bright radiance of the sacred dogmas of our Fathers according to what the six inspired and holy councils have purely and piously decreed, declaring most expressly the symbol of faith

For from the coming down of the incarnate Word amongst us, all the Churches in every part of the world have held that greatest Church alone as their base and foundation, seeing that according to the promise of Christ our Savior, the gates of hell do never prevail against it, that it has the keys of a right confession and faith in Him, that it opens the true and only religion to such as approach with piety, and shuts up and locks every heretical mouth that speaks injustice against the Most High."

Under the Roman sun...

For Constans, all this was intolerable.  Who did this western bishop think he was, to challenge the Holy Christian Roman Emperor, the Successor of Constantine and Justinian?  Was he not, as many Emperors had believed, a priest in his own right?  Did he not possess full authority over both Church and State?  The Lateran Council was nothing less than an act of treason.  Worse than this, it was an open invitation to disunity and dissent, at a time when the Byzantine Empire could afford neither.  Who did this upstart think he was?

Pope Martin would have to be made an example of.  Once the Pope was taken care of, Constans assured himself, then the dissenters would have nowhere left to hide, and no one left to shelter them and give them aid.  Uniformity would be restored to the Empire.

Pope Martin knew as well as anyone what the Emperor's response would likely be.  Yet for almost four years, he tended his flock in Rome, working energetically to promote the orthodox faith in both East and West.

Finally, in 653, the Exarch of Ravenna arrived in Rome, with orders to secure the Pope and bring him in chains back to Constantinople.  On June 17, 653, the Exarch entered St. John Lateran's, and proclaimed to the clergy and people that Martin had become Pope illegally, without the consent of the Emperor, and was now formally deposed under the Typos.  He must now return with them to Constantinople to face punishment.

Martin knew what this meant as well as anyone.  If he had wished, he could most likely have inspired a popular revolt, aided by his own soldiers, and at the least made a fight of it.  A hundred years later, when an Exarch tried to kidnap another Pope, he was accosted by an angry mob (including many of his own soldiers), and forced to take refuge under the Pope's bed, while the crowd refused to disperse without proof that the Pope was safe and unharmed.  

But if Martin resisted, there would be monumental bloodshed; and the Byzantine troops were in a position far stronger than they would be a century later.  Rome could not resist the might of the Empire.

Still, he could have made a fight of it; and he did not.  Seeking to avoid bloodshed, in pious obedience to his sovereign, Martin agreed to accompany the Exarch back to Constantinople.

Before his journey, Martin was already severely ill, and suffering from depression; indeed, when the troops finally came for him, he was lying on a stretcher in the atrium of a Church, too ill to stand.  The Imperial troops had no intention of easing his pains.  

Byzantine Imperial soldier
During the journey back to Constantinople, he was deprived of food, medical care, and companionship by the Imperial police, and subjected to constant insults and violence.  He was accused, they told him, of heresy, treason, and rebellion; and he would soon be punished accordingly.  For a man already in poor health and mental anguish, this journey must have provided unimaginable torments.

I have already quoted from an eyewitness account of the Pope's sufferings, written by one of the Pope's few companions in Constantinople, and I will continue to draw from it here, interspersing my own narration with comments and passages drawn from it.  It is an intensely emotional document, and it is hard to read it without being moved.

When the Pope finally arrived at Constantinople, it was not to meet with the Emperor, but to be exhibited as a condemned criminal and an object of fun, in a series of events designed for the vindication and amusement of the Emperor, his court, and the people of Constantinople.

Emperor Constans II

As soon as his ship arrived, the police left him to lie alone, still desperately ill and weak, on a litter from morning until three in the afternoon.  During this time, men were bribed to gather around the Pope on the dock, mock him, and mistreat him.

"We stayed on the shore all day, pained and bitter at the sight of a man treated in such a fashion.  
I would rather have died than have heard the things the pagans shouted at the Pope."

The Pope was taken to an Imperial prison, and kept in solitary confinement for 93 days.  He was then taken from his cell to participate in a show trial, where the chamberlain angrily commanded him to confess and the judges openly threatened the witnesses.  Martin was too weak to stand; nevertheless, he begged the judges to allow the witnesses to testify without an oath, so as to lessen their sin.  When he began to speak, the chamberlain commanded his interpreter not to translate any of his words into Greek.

" [Martin:] 'But I beg you in God's name, do whatever you want with me; God knows any sort of death would be welcome.' 
Immediately, the chamberlain and the greater part of the court rose and went to tell the emperor what he wanted to hear." 

With the verdict given, the spectacle could begin.  Again, he was left lieing on a litter in a public terrace, where the Emperor could watch in comfort from behind a screen in his dining room.  A massive crowd had gathered to watch.

"The chamberlain went up to venerable Martin and said to him, 
'See where God has led you; he has put you in our hands.  You have plotted against the Emperor; what hope have you?  You abandoned God, and he has abandoned you.' "

The Imperial police again forced the Pope to stand, then forcibly shaved off his tonsure, the Western mark of a cleric.  They cut off also the pallium, an ancient symbol of episcopal and Papal authority, and even the laces on his sandals.

"The chamberlain turned him over to the city prefect with the order, 
'Take him away, Excellency, and have him cut to pieces.'  
Then he ordered the bystanders to shout curses against Martin, which they did.  
But there were twenty men whose consciences would not allow them to do so; as they watched the spectacle, they recalled that from heaven God saw their actions.  Heads bowed in sorrow, they went away."

The Pope was now given to the executioners, who tore off his clothing, loaded him with chains, and dragged him breathless through the streets of Constantinople, beating him and threatening him on the way.

"The saintly man endured unspeakable sufferings: he was sick and exhausted, at death's door from pain and weakness.  Remarkably, he remained cheerful, comforted by the Holy Spirit.  The greater the violence, the greater the agony, so too the greater his acceptance, the more serene his appearance, the more steadfast his spirit.  He was clothed in a single garment, and that torn from top to bottom, so that he was more or less naked.  
Many of the spectators were sincerely moved and in tears.  Others, servants of Satan, laughed and shook their heads, as it is written, and shouted, 
'Where is his God now?  What did his faith and teaching get him?'"

Yet the Pope's sufferings were far from over.  Still too weak even to properly stand, and with wounds bleeding profusely from the chains, he was dragged to a prison and up a set of steep stairs, then thrown in a cell, with a guard chained to him.  Even then, lacking clothing, he suffered intensely from the winter cold.  Only one young cleric remained with him.

"There were two women, mother and daughter, who kept the keys to the prison.  They pitied the suffering Pope, especially as he shivered violently with the cold, and they wanted to lighten his pain by covering him; but they did not dare because of the guard chained with him. 
But after some hours the guard was called down to the first floor for orders.  And one of the women, moved by pity, took Christ's warrior and Apostolic Father into her arms and made him comfortable in her own bed.  She watched over him until evening without speaking.

The Emperor had originally intended to have the Pope executed almost immediately; but as the hours stretched to days, it became clear that a change of plans had taken place.  Our document ascribes this to the influence of the dying Patriarch of Constantinople, Paul, who had earlier been a driving force behind both the Ekthesis and the Typos.  

"The following day, the emperor visited the patriarch Paul, who was dying, and told him what had happened.  Paul turned toward the wall, complaining:
 'Alas.  One more reason for my damnation.'  
The emperor asked why he said that, and he answered: 
'Majesty, is it not a terrible thing that a bishop suffer like that?'  
He made the emperor swear that he would not add to the Pope's suffering."

The Pope was far from overjoyed at this news.  Instead of having his sufferings ended by execution, he was forced to spend even more time in prison, suffering from illness, cold, and his wounds, with no end in sight.  As days stretched to weeks, the Pope assumed an awkward status in the eyes of the Imperial court; he was not to be killed, but neither was he to be released or vindicated.  He was ignored as much as possible.

On one occasion, he was sought out by Imperial officials as a source of information on the new Patriarch Pyrrus (who had spent time in Rome as a petitioner of the Pope), so as to settle a political quarrel at court.  During this interview, he was heard to boast with noticeable pride of the famous charity of the Roman Church, which distributed "fine bread and wine of all kinds" to every beggar who asked for it.  It was a rare moment of pride for a man otherwise far from the customary glory of the Papacy.  

But since he openly contradicted the new Patriarch's stories of mistreatment and coercion, he became an increasing embarrassment to both Patriarch and Emperor.  Something would have to be done with him.

"They addressed him as follows: 
'Your Excellency, the emperor has sent us to tell you--reflect that you have fallen from glory to your present state through no one's fault but your own.'
But the Pope's only answer was:
'Let us give thanks for all to the only immortal King.'
'But why any further investigation?  You have me in your hands and can do with me whatever you want.  Even if you hack me to pieces, as the prefect was ordered to do, I will not enter into communion with the Church of Constantinople.  
Here I am; question me, torture me, learn of God's grace to his faithful servants.' "

Finally, after spending 178 days in prison, the Pope was ordered into exile.  During his long stay in prison, he had befriended his fellow prisoners, men accused of murder.  All had come to respect and revere the Pope, not merely as a religious leader, but as a fellow prisoner, a moral example, and a friend.  His departure was a source of sadness for them all.

"Toward nightfall the Venerable Pope said to his fellow prisoners:
'Gather around, brothers, and wish me farewell, for I am about to be moved from here.'  
While he was speaking, each drank to the Pope's health. [...] All broke out in sad laments.  
The Pope was moved by this and begged them not to carry on like that, smiling quietly at them.  Then he put his venerable hands on their heads, saying: 
'This is good news, brothers; why are you upset?  Is this the sign of peace? You ought to rejoice with me.'
The brother answered sadly:
'God knows, Servant of Christ, I am happy for the honor Christ our God does you by allowing you to suffer for his name, but I am sad that we are losing you.' "

Finally, the Pope was taken from Constantinople, and moved to the small town of Cherson on the black sea, where we began our tale.  A few years later, his compatriot Maximos was seized, tried, had his tongue cut out, and was exiled as well, to his death.  Both began to be venerated as martyrs almost immediately, with Martin's tomb quickly becoming a major destination for pilgrims seeking miraculous cures.  Maximos, in time, became one of the most influential theologians of the Eastern Church, with his writings still widely read and expounded today.  

In Rome, it would be left to Martin's successors to continue the fight against political Monothelitism.  It would be almost twenty-five years after Martin's death before he and Maximos were finally vindicated in the eyes of the Empire--when, after years of patient pressure by the Popes, the Third Council of Constantinople (considered the Sixth Ecumenical Council by the Catholic and Orthodox churches) finally condemned Monothelitism and the Typos, declaring the theology of Maximos and Martin the official doctrine of the Byzantine Empire and the whole Church.  Once again, Emperor and Pope were in unity--at least for the moment.

But all that was, when Martin died, well in the future.  When he died, the Emperor was still implacably opposed to the Papacy and the orthodox doctrine; and he was triumphant.  The Pope had been successfully dethroned, deprived of all help and comfort, and left to die alone and friendless.  The whole thing had been carried out effortlessly.  No resistance had been given, and no protests made.  It could be done again just as easily.

The new Imperial ideology of silence and suppression was the future; its triumph was inevitable--if, indeed, the even more submissive ideology of Islam did not overtake it first.  The Papacy had lost.

I will close with the words of our anonymous author, as he closed his own tale at this time; urging his fellow Catholics to continue the fight, and to be prepared, always, to follow in the footsteps of Pope Martin the martyr, Enemy of the State.

"Our Holy Father, as is well known, suffered greatly in exile.  When he asked for medical help because of his serious physical infirmities and the various privations common in that area, he was given nothing.  Especially he asked for wheat, which was known there only by name.

He wrote too that he suffered mental anguish in addition to his physical infirmities, from his mistreatment by his neighbors and local authorities.  At the orders certainly of the authorities at Constantinople he was reduced to such a state of misery and died amid even worse conditions.  

Wherefore I, a humble sinner and your servant, beg you, honorable Fathers in God, as I have told you to the best of my ability what I have seen and heard of the trials endured by our Blessed Pope on account of his profession of the true Faith and his condemnation of recent heretics--and I have recorded only part of the facts--so you, zealous in God's worship, must spread the news and urge others to imitate him in the preservation of the Tradition of the Fathers, breaking off communion with all who believe differently.

Pray too for me, the poor servant who has written this, that I experience with him and you Christ's mercy.

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