Sunday, December 07, 2008

St. Maximus on the primacy of the Church of Rome

St. Maximus of Constantinople, called the Confessor (b. ca. 580), is among the most venerated of theologians. He is considered one of the great Fathers of the Eastern Church by both Catholics as well as Eastern Orthodoxy.

St. Maximus is also an historic figure for the reconciliation of the churches of the East and West. He lived during a time when all of the patriarchs of the East promoted heresy, while the Church of Rome stood alone among the ancient Sees in repudiating heresy.

According to St. Maximus, by Divine right, as well as from the holy councils, canons, and definitions, the Church of Rome was given supreme sovereignty and authority among all the holy churches throughout the world.

St. Maximus explicitly affirmed, congruent with the ancient Catholic faith, that the church of Rome is the "first of the churches" (princeps ecclesiarum) [Ex epistola sancti Maximi scripta ad abbatem Thalassium, Mansi 19:677C], having "received from the incarnate Word of God himself, as well as from all the holy councils, according to the sacred canons and definitions, in all and for all, sovereignty and authority on all holy churches that are on earth, and that it possesses the power to bind and unbind” [Opuscula theologica polemica, 12, PG 91:144C]. Maximus sees the Church of Rome as a reference and norm in terms of faith for the other churches throughout the world. He affirmed that "to the ends of the inhabited earth and throughout the whole earth, those who confess the Lord in a pure and orthodox way look straight and far away, as to a sun of eternal light, to the most holy church of the Romans and to its confession and faith." [ibid., 11, PG 91:137C-140A].

According to St. Maximus, the successive Roman popes from apostolic times up to his day (including Pope Honorius) had never deviated from the orthodox faith, whereas the Eastern patriarchs were often heretics. He affirms that the pope of Rome has the power to bind and loose in the sense that the pope of Rome has the responsibility and authority to adjudicate exclusion from the Church and re-admittance into its communion. This, according to Maximus, includes re-admittance of the Eastern patriarchs who erred in their heresy. They must repent and confess the faith in front of the Roman Pontiff, and it is by his decision that they can be readmitted into communion with the Catholic Church. (cf. ibid., 12, PG 91:144A-D; Disputatio cum Pyrrho, 375CD, 358AB, ed. Doucet 608-9; Disputatio inter Maximum et Theodosium Caesaerae Bithiniae, PG 90:153CD, Corpus Christianorum: Series Graeca 39:113-15, as cited by Serbian Orthodox theologian Jean-Claude Larchet, "The Question of the Roman Primacy in the Thought of Saint Maximus the Confessor," The Petrine Ministry, Cardinal Walter Kaspar, ed., Newman Press, NY:2006, p. 190).

St. Maximus is one of the few church fathers who had a deep knowledge of both Eastern and Western churches, spending many years in Rome. He defended the orthodoxy of the Latin teaching that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (filioque). He also took a clear position on the subject of the primacy of the Roman pope, congruent with the ancient Catholic faith.

May all throughout the world today--both East and West--come to understand with the great Eastern father St. Maximus the Confessor, that those who confess the Lord in a pure and orthodox way look to the most holy church of Rome and to its confession and faith as a sure reference and norm for the Catholic faith.

St. Maximus, pray for us.

God bless,