Pope Benedict XVI- General Audiences
On St. Maximus the Confessor
"He Always Had As His Compass the Concrete Reality of the World"
H.H. Benedict XVI
June 25, 2008
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I would like to present the figure of one of the great Fathers of
the Eastern Church of later times. He is a monk, St. Maximus, who
merited from Christian tradition the title of Confessor because of the
intrepid courage with which he was able to give witness -- "to confess"
-- even while suffering, the integrity of his faith in Jesus Christ,
true God and true man, Savior of the world.
Maximus was born in Palestine, the Lord's land, around 580. From his
boyhood he was directed to the monastic life and to the study of
Scripture, also through the works of Origen, the great teacher who
already in the third century had already managed to define the
Alexandrian exegetic tradition.
From Jerusalem, Maximus went to Constantinople, and from there, because
of the barbarian invasions, he sought refuge in Africa. Here he
distinguished himself with extreme courage in the defense of Orthodoxy.
Maximus did not accept any attempt to minimize the humanity of Christ.
The theory had arisen according to which Christ had only one will, the
divine. To defend the uniqueness of his person, they denied he had a
true human will.
At first glance, it might appear to be something good that in Christ
there was only one will. However, St. Maximus understood immediately
that this would have destroyed the mystery of salvation, because a
humanity without will -- a man without a will -- is not a true man, but
rather an amputated man. Therefore, the man Jesus Christ would not have
been a true man, would not have experienced the drama of the human
being, which consists precisely in the difficulty of conforming our will
with the truth of being.
Thus St. Maximus affirmed with great determination: Sacred Scripture
does not show us an amputated man, without a will, but a true complete
man: God, in Jesus Christ, has truly assumed the totality of the human
being -- obviously except for sin -- hence, also, a human will. Stated
that way, the question was clear: Christ is either a true man or not.
However, the problem arises: Does not one end in this way in a sort of
dualism? Is not one faced with affirming two complete personalities with
reason, will, sentiment? How can this dualism be overcome? How can the
completeness of the human being be preserved while protecting the unity
of the person of Christ, who was not schizophrenic?
St. Maximus demonstrates that man finds his unity, the integration of
himself, his totality not in himself, but in surpassing himself, by
coming out of himself. Thus, also in Christ, man, coming out of himself,
finds in God, in the Son of God, himself.
Man must not "amputate" the human Christ to explain the Incarnation. One
must only understand the dynamism of the human being who is fulfilled
only by coming out of himself. Only in God do we find ourselves, our
totality and our completeness.
Thus we see that it is not the man who is closed in on himself who is
complete the man, but it is the man who opens himself, who comes out of
himself -- it is he who becomes complete, who finds himself in the Son
of God, he finds in him his true humanity.
For St. Maximus this vision does not remain a philosophical speculation.
He sees it realized in the concrete life of Jesus, above all in the
drama of Gethsemane.
In this drama of Jesus' agony, of anguish and death, of the opposition
between the human will not to die and the divine will that offers itself
to death, in this drama of Gethsemane the whole human drama is realized,
the drama of our redemption. St. Maximus tells us, and we know that this
is true: Adam -- and Adam is us -- thought that the "no" was the apex of
liberty; that only he who can say "no" is truly free; that to truly
realize his liberty, man must say "no" to God.
Only in this way, he thinks, he is finally himself; he has arrived at
the summit of liberty. This tendency was also present in Christ's human
nature, but he overcame it, because Jesus saw that "no" is not the
greatest liberty. The greatest liberty is to say "yes," to conform with
the will of God. Only in saying "yes" does man really become himself.
Only in the great opening of the "yes," in the unification of his will
with the divine will, does man become immensely open, he becomes
To be like God was Adam's desire, namely, to be completely free.
However, he is not divine, the man who is closed in on himself is not
completely free. He is so by coming out of himself, it is in the "yes"
that he becomes free. And this is the drama of Gethsemane: not my will
Transferring one's will to the divine will, that is how a true man is
born. That is how we are redeemed.
This, in a few words, is the fundamental point of what St. Maximus
wished to say, and we see that here the whole human being is questioned;
here is the whole question of our life.
St. Maximus already had problems in Africa defending this vision of man
and of God; then he was called to Rome. In 649 he took an active part in
the Lateran Council, called by Pope Martin I to defend the two wills of
Christ, against the emperor's edict, which -- pro bono pacis --
prohibited the discussion of this question.
Pope Martin paid dearly for his courage: Although he was in poor health,
he was arrested and taken to Constantinople. Prosecuted and condemned to
death, his sentence was commuted to final exile in Crimea, where he died
on Sept. 16, 655, after two long years of humiliation and torments.
Not long after, in 662, it was Maximus' turn who -- also opposing the
emperor -- continued to repeat: "It is impossible to affirm only one
will in Christ!" (cfr PG 91, cc. 268-269).
Thus, together with two of his disciples, both called Anastasius,
Maximus was subjected to an exhausting trial, though he was already
older than 80 years of age. The emperor's tribunal condemned him,
accused of heresy, to the cruel mutilation of his tongue and right hand
-- the two organs with which, through words and writing, Maximus had
combated the erroneous doctrine of the one will of Christ.
In the end, the holy monk, thus mutilated, was exiled in Colchide, on
the Black Sea, where he died, exhausted by the sufferings undergone, at
the age of 82, on Aug. 13 of the same year, 662.
Speaking of the life of Maximus, we referred to his literary work in
defense of orthodoxy. We are referred in particular to the dispute with
Pirro, then patriarch of Constantinople, in which Maximus succeeded in
persuading the adversary of his errors. With great honesty, in fact,
Pirro concluded the dispute thus: "I apologize for myself and for those
who preceded me. Through ignorance we arrived at these absurd thoughts
and arguments. I pray that the way will be found to cancel these
absurdities, rescuing the memory of those who erred" (PG 91, c. 352).
There were then added some dozen important works, outstanding among
which is the "Mistagoghia," one of St. Maximus' most significant
writings, which brings together his theological thought in a
St. Maximus' thought was never only theological, speculative, closed in
on itself, because he always had as his compass the concrete reality of
the world and of its salvation. In this context, in which had to suffer,
he could not evade the question with solely theoretical philosophical
affirmations. He had to seek the meaning of life, asking himself: who am
I? What is the world?
To man, created in his image and likeness, God has entrusted the mission
to unify the cosmos. And as Christ has unified the human being in
himself, so the Creator has unified the cosmos in man. He has shown us
how to unify the cosmos in communion with Christ and thus truly arrive
at a redeemed world.
One of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, Hans Urs von
Balthasar, referred to this powerful saving vision when, in
"re-launching" the figure of Maximus, he defined his thinking as the
representative expression of "cosmic liturgy."
At the center of this solemn liturgy Jesus Christ always remains, the
only Savior of the world. The efficacy of his salvific action, which has
definitively unified the cosmos, is guaranteed by the fact that he,
though being God in everything, is also integrally man -- with the
"energy" and the will of man.
The life and thought of Maximus remain powerfully illumined by an
immense courage in witnessing to the integral reality of Christ, without
any reduction or compromise. And so we see who is truly man, how we must
live to respond to our vocation. We must live united to God, and thus be
united to ourselves and the cosmos, giving the cosmos itself and
humanity their just form.
Christ's universal "yes" shows us with clarity how to give the right
place to all the other values. We are thinking of values justly defended
today, such as tolerance, liberty and dialogue. However, a tolerance
that is no longer able to distinguish between good and evil would become
chaotic and self-destructive. So, moreover, would a liberty that does
not respect the freedom of others and does not find the common measure
of our respective liberties, it would become anarchic and destroy
authority. Dialogue that no longer knows what to dialogue about becomes
All these values are great and fundamental, but they can remain true
values only if they have the point of reference that unites them and
gives them true authenticity. This point of reference is the synthesis
between God and the cosmos, and the figure of Christ in which we learn
the truth about ourselves and so learn where to place all the other
values, because we discover their genuine meaning.
Jesus Christ is the point of reference that gives light to all the other
values. This is the end point of the testimony of this great Confessor.
And thus, in the end, Christ shows us that the cosmos must become
liturgy, glory of God and that adoration is the beginning of the true
transformation, of the true renewal of the world.
Because of this, I would like to conclude with a fundamental passage
from St. Maximus' works: "We adore the only Son, together with the
Father and the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, as it is now,
and for all times, and the times after time. Amen." (PG 91, c. 269).
[Translation by ZENIT]
[After the audience, the Pope greeted those present in several
languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In today's catechesis we turn to Saint Maximus the Confessor, a heroic
defender of the Church's faith in the true humanity of Christ amid the
bitter theological controversies of the seventh century. Born in
Palestine, Maximus became a monk and lived in Constantinople, Roman
Africa and Rome itself. In his preaching and writings he defended the
mystery of the Incarnation and opposed the Monothelite heresy, which
refused to acknowledge the presence of an integral human will in Jesus
Christ. Maximus clearly understood that our salvation depends on
Christ's complete humanity, which necessarily includes a human will
capable of freely cooperating with the divine will in achieving the work
of our redemption. The salvation of man, and indeed the entire cosmos,
is central to the theology of Saint Maximus. Through the Incarnation of
the Son of God, the whole universe is now redeemed and unified. Christ
is thus the one absolute Value, to whom all wordly values are directed.
This vision of a "cosmic liturgy," centered on the Incarnate Lord, ought
to inspire the efforts of Christians today to make our world conform
ever more fully to its ultimate meaning and goal in God's saving plan.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I offer a warm welcome, together with the assurance of my closeness in
prayer, to the group of pilgrims from the International Foundation for
the Service of Deaf Persons. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims,
especially those from England, Scotland, the Netherlands, Iceland,
Sweden, Pakistan and the United States of America, I cordially invoke
God's blessings of joy and peace.
[In Italian, he said:]
I offer a cordial welcome to Italian-speaking pilgrims. In particular, I
greet the group of the Little Mission for the Deaf and Mute and the
Penitentiary Complex of Sollicciano. Dear friends, I thank you for your
visit and I invoke on each of you continuous divine assistance for a
fruitful journey of fidelity to the Gospel.
With great affection I now greet the large group of the Orione family,
joyfully gathered around the Vicar of Christ to celebrate the Pope's
feast. The inauguration of the statue of your founder "will constitute
for all his spiritual children a renewed stimulus to continue along the
path indicated by St. Luigi Orione, especially in bringing to Peter's
Successor -- as he himself said -- 'the small, the humble, the poor
workers, and the rejects of life who are most dear to Christ, and the
real treasures of the Church of Jesus Christ.'"
Finally, I greet young people, the sick, and newlyweds. On Sunday we
celebrate the solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. May the
example and constant protection of these pillars of the Church, sustain
you, dear young people, in the effort to follow Christ; help you, dear
sick, to live your situation with patience and serenity; and drive you,
dear newlyweds, to give witness in your family life and in society to
courageous adherence to the Gospel teachings.
[Translation by ZENIT]
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