Maximus, Confessor a leading champion of orthodoxy in the Monothelite controversy (q.v.), was born at Constantinople in 580. At an early age he became private secretary to the emperor Heraclius, but, deciding for the ecclesiastic state, he resigned this position, and in 630 entered the monastery of Chrysopolis (Scutari), near Constantinople, and in a short time became its abbot. The dangers which threatened the state at the time induced the emperor to attempt a reconciliation between the parties engaged in the Monophysite controversy (q.v.), by means of a compromise, which declared that Christ had accomplished the work of redemption by one manifestation of his will as the God-man, (μιᾶ'/ θεανδρικῇ ἐνεργείᾷ). The patriarchs Sergius, of Constantinople, and Cyrus, of Alexandria, as heads of the contending parties, agreed in 633 to unite on this formula, and many of the Monophysite faction returned to the Church; but several of the orthodox opposed the compromise strongly, as practically endorsing Monophysite views. With a view to put an end to these troubles, the emperor in 639 published an edict, known as the Ecthesis (q.v.), which prohibited all controversies on the question whether in Christ were one or two operations, but which itself plainly inculcated the doctrine of one will. Maximus, who had in the mean time removed to Africa, now entered the lists in defense of the orthodox view, and unequivocally resisted all attempts to undermine the faith of the Church. His course was favored by Gregorius (or Georgius), the prefect of North Africa, who sought an opportunity to renounce his allegiance to the Byzantine court; and under his protection Maximus exerted himself to the utmost to combat the many heresies which were then rife, manifesting a special zeal against the Monophysite Severians in Egypt and Crete, and against the Monothelites. His discussion with Pyrrhus, the patriarch of Constantinople, who had fled to Gregorius on being charged with complicity in the murder of the emperor Constantine, was held in July, A.D. 645, and resulted in the signal triumph of Maximus. The records of this disputation belong to the most interesting writings of the Monothelite controversy. In the following year the bishops of Africa and the neighboring isles, influenced by Maximus, held a number of synods which condemned Monothelitism, and called on Theodore, bishop of Rome, to support their views with his authority. Maximus now went to Rome, accompanied by Pyrrhus, who formally recanted his late opinions, and was recognized by the pope as the rightful patriarch of Constantinople; and thus a coalition in the interests of orthodoxy was formed which promised a complete triumph. But Maximus was the only disinterested party to the agreement. Gregorius fell in a battle with the Saracens in A.D. 647; Pyrrhus hastened to take back his recantation, and to make his peace with the emperor; and the pope, disappointed in the hope of seeing his supremacy recognized in the East as well as in the West, anathematized him. Maximus was again compelled to confine his labors to controversial writings. He was now recognized at the imperial court as the soul of the opposition; and when he resisted the edict of Constans II, promulgated in A.D. 648, and known as the Typus (q.v.), Gregorius, an envoy of the Byzantine court, did not disdain to seek him in his cell, and attempt to shake his firmness. The monk, however, refused to make any concessions, since he regarded that edict as degrading Christ to the level of a being without will or energy, and denied the right of the emperor to interfere in dogmatic questions. On the accession of Martin I, Maximus, more than any others, induced that pope to convene the first synod of the Lateran (in 649); and there can be no doubt that he originated the resolutions there adopted, which condemned Monothelitism and the imperial edict. Thereafter Maximus entered a cloister, and we lose trace of the detailed record of his life. We meet him again when apprehended, under orders from Constantinople, perhaps at the same time as pope Martin I, and brought to trial in 665. The proceedings (of which the records are quite full) show that the aim of the emperor was simply to secure his approval of the τύπος, as a measure in the interests of peace; but the monk remained firm, and declared with tears that the only means of securing peace was the recall of that instrument. Hence the treatment he received became harsher; and when, after his third trial, he still persisted in maintaining his views, a synod convened by the patriarchs of Constantinople and of Antioch advised the emperor to banish him, and he was taken to the castle of Bizya, in Thrace, later to the monastery of St. Theodore, near Rhegium, and finally to Perberis. His exile was protracted more than a year, during which period frequent attempts were made by bishop Theodosius of Caesarea, and by special agents of the emperor to induce him to recant, but always without success. He was finally condemned to be scourged, and to lose his tongue and his right hand, that he might no longer be able either to speak or write, a and afterwards to be incarcerated in the castle of Shemari, in the country of the Lacians, where he died, Aug. 13, 662. His influence, however, continued to be felt. A few years later the emperor Constans II fell a victim to the hatred he had aroused chiefly by his persecution of this faithful champion of the Church, and in A.D. 680 the Church gave her sanction to the doctrines so heroically defended by this monk in the first Trullan council (q.v.).
As a writer Maximus is distinguished by a rare combination of dialectic power with mystical profundity. His mind was receptive rather than creative, and in his works Platonic and Aristotelian thought, Chalcedonian orthodoxy, the theology of the Greek fathers, and the ideas of a Christian mysticism, which includes both the subjective ascetism of the Egyptian monks and the hierarchical tendencies of the Areopagite system, all meet and coalesce. The mysticism of the Pseudo-Dionysius exerted the greatest influence over him, and from it he derived his principal thoughts; and it is chiefly because of his authority that the wide-spread influence of this system upon the theology of the Middle Ages was possible. The influence exerted on Scotus Erigena by the writings of Maximus was especially important. Baur asserts that Erigena merely developed the ideas of Maximus, and commented on them; and other writers have shown in detail that the essential features of the system of Erigena are drawn from Maximus, and immediately through him from the Areopagite. This monk thus becomes important as a connecting link between the ideas of the East and West, between the early fathers and the Middle Ages, and as a forerunner of scholasticism; and in his genius, character, piety, learning, literary and ecclesiastical influence, as well as in his eventful life, he appears one of the most remarkable Christian thinkers and martyrs. His works have been largely transcribed and read, but there is no complete edition. Combefis has published a collection in two volumes, folio (Paris, 1675). Catalogues have recorded the titles of fifty-three, his letters being mentioned as one work. Of these, forty-eight have been printed. They may be classed as exegetical, which treat the Scriptures in allegorical style; commentaries on the Church fathers; dogmatico-polemical; moral and ascetic; epistolary; and miscellaneous. He is commemorated in the Latin Church Aug. 13; by the Greek Church Jan. 21. See Herzog, Real- Encyklop. 20:114 sq.; Wetzer und Welte, Kirchen-Lex. 12:783 sq.; Kurtz, Church Hist. 1:205 sq.; Hardwick, Hist. of the Middle Ages, p. 72 sq.; Gieseler, Eccles. Hist. 1:366 sq.; Milman, Hist. of Lat. Christianity, 2:274 sq.; Neander, Hist. of Christian Dogmas, 2:423 sq.; Smith, Dict. of Greek and Roman Biog. and Mythol. s.v.