Spring 2014

Introduction: Apologetics


Also in Retrieving the Tradition, we recall a classic example of witness: the trials and torture of St. Maximus the Confessor (580–662), in the “Dispute Between Maximus and Theodosius, Bishop of Caesarea Bithynia.” In 638, the emperor Heraclius, together with the Patriarch Sergius, produced a letter (Ekthesis) defending the idea that Jesus Christ had two natures but one will, a form of Monetheletism that they hoped would be acceptable both to Chalcedonians and to Monophysite (=“one nature”) followers in the empire. This document initially received widespread support, but resistance soon increased, led especially by the monks Sophronius and Maximus. Constans II became emperor in 641; and, in an effort to resolve continuing political unrest, he issued an imperial edict (Typos) in 648 which ordered that all discussion about the Monothelite doctrine must cease, and that all theological positions were to be as they were prior to the controversies. Maximus refused to accept Monotheletism as well as this edict, and was brought to a first trial in 655—following which he was sent into exile—and a final trial in 662.

We publish here the exchange between Maximus and Bishop Theodosius, who was sent by the emperor in 656 to persuade Maximus, while he was in exile, to accept the “compromise” of the Typos. The “Dispute” is a word-for-word account of the exchange that was probably written by Anastasius, the disciple of Maximus, along with Maximus, shortly after the events took place, in 656–57. In the exchange, Maximus insists again and again that he is not committed to his own teaching, but rather to the common teaching of the catholic Church. To Theodosius’s insistence that the Typos was demanding the “silencing of words” in order “that all might be at peace with each other,” Maximus responds by asking: “what believer accepts an arrangement which silences words that the God of all arranged to be spoken through the apostles and prophets and teacher?” Maximus continues: if, therefore, in examining innovative doctrines which have emerged in our times, “we find that they have resulted in this utmost evil, beware lest under the guise of peace we are found to be sick with apostasy, and preaching it, which the divine apostle said would come before the advent of
the Antichrist.”

In the face of the assertion against Maximus that “the laity [might] be harmed by too subtle words” in the continuing controversy over the Typos, Maximus replies: “On the contrary, each person is sanctified by the scrupulous confession of the faith, not through the abrogation of it, which is found in the Typos.” When it is objected to Maximus that the Typos “did not abrogate but ordered silence, in order that we might all enjoy peace,” Maximus responds: “The silencing of words is the abrogation of words: through the prophet the Holy Spirit says: ‘There are no speeches nor words of which their voices will not be heard.’ Therefore, the word that is not uttered in no way exists.” The final trial of Maximus ended with his tongue being ripped out, so that he could never speak again; and his right hand being cut off, so that he could never write again. Maximus died a few months later. His teaching was formally affirmed by the Church at the Third Council of Constantinople in 680–81.

Finally, in Why We Need . . . , we present Stratford Caldecott on Coventry Patmore. Caldecott explains why Patmore, a little known nineteenth-century English Victorian poet and essayist, represents “the best part of the Romantic movement,” while at the same time surpassing it: Patmore holds at the core of his thought that “nature’s innermost form is symbolic.” Combining this insight of Patmore with his great attentiveness to nature—in particular to the relationship between male and female—Caldecott suggests why Patmore “could be called—somewhat anachronistically, but no less rightly—the Poet of the Theology of the Body.”

We follow Caldecott’s article with excerpts from Coventry Patmore’s book of aphorisms and short poems, The Rod, the Root and the Flower. Patmore writes in the foreword that he wishes to discover and report “how the ‘loving hint’ of doctrine has ‘met the longing guess’ of the souls who have so believed in the Unseen that it has become visible and who have thenceforward found their existence to be no longer a sheath without a sword, a desire without fulfillment.”

—The Editors