St. Maximus the Confessor and the Church: Helping James Swan Do Research
In reading a post by the Protestant anti-Catholic blogger James Swan over at 'Beggars All' concerning St. Maxumus the Confessor, I have decided to write up a concise retort. Swan has quoted the Catholic Saint to try and draw an argument against the authority of the Catholic Church, essentially pitting the authority of the Church against the authority of Sacred Scripture. This is the classic modus operandi of many Protestants, which is to take any quote from any Church Father who references Scripture as an authority, and then claim that this proves that they did not believe the Church had an equal or similar authority. So, it is easy for them to look for quotes from Church Fathers that reference Sacred Scripture, and then make a claim that the Fathers held to some form of Sola Scriptura. The Reformed Protester who calls himself Turretin Fan tried this with Saint Thomas Aquinas for example, and I amply demonstrated that he was in error in making such an outrageous claim as to Saint Thomas believing anything remotely close to the heretical teaching of Sola Scriptura. Today James Swan has again tried to pull this tactic with St. Maximus the Confessor. He has taken a quote where the great Catholic Saint references Galations 1:8 when he was asked what he would say if a representative sent from Rome should preach another Gospel contrary to that which had been preached by Jesus.
It is no surprise that the Saint says that he would not believe the representatives if they did teach error. Swan for some reason however believes this somehow upsets the authority of the Catholic Church. He seems to miss the point that legates sent from Rome are not the Pope himself. A legate sent from Rome of course is not protected under the gift of infallibility. There are many today who speak in the name of the Vatican who have taught heresy, yet this fact does not challenge the fact that Church in Rome headed by the Pope still formally teaches orthodoxy. What is so amazing here is that it is apparent that Swann has never read much of anything else from the Saint, otherwise he would never have posted such a weak swipe at the Catholic Church. Granted, Swan has never been known to have been a person who has put much effort into actually learning what the Catholic Church teaches before opening his mouth to attack it. Nor does it appear that he has ever made any serious effort to read the Church Fathers in their proper context. I remember well the time he tried to take a cheap jab at the Catholic Church on the subject of Baptism and exorcism. I pointed out his error, and his weak blog post was shown to be seriously deficient in sound research or reasoning. He has repeated these types of cheap shenanigans many times on his blog over the years. It is readily apparent that Swan will do most anything, no matter how cheap, dishonest or misleading he has to be, to accomplish his task of tearing down all things that may lead a human being to the Catholic Church. That being said, one more post like his new one is not too surprising.
Swann quotes St. Maximus,My response,
7. They said to him, "And what will you do if the Romans unite with the Byzantines? For behold, yesterday there came legates of Rome and tomorrow on Sunday they will take communion with the patriarch; it will become evident to all that it was you who turned the Romans away. Doubtless with you removed, there will then be an easy union." And he said to them, "Those who are coming cannot in any way prejudice the see of Rome, even if they should take communion because they have not brought a letter to the patriarch. And I am not at all convinced that the Romans will unite with them unless they confess that our Lord and God by nature both wills and works our salvation according to each of the natures from which he is, in which he is, as well as which he is." And they said, "And if the Romans should come to terms with them at this time, what will you do?" He replied, "The Holy Spirit, according to the Apostle, condemns even angels who sanction anything against what has been preached" [Maximus the Confessor, Selected Writings (Paulist Press, 1985), p 23].
Swan then adds the following brief commentary, "Notice at the end Maximus quotes Galatians 1:8, "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!" I'm not saying Maximus was a proto-Protestant, but he certainly had the right idea here about what the ultimate authority truly is."
What Swan would have discovered if he had taken the time to read a bit more of Saint Maximus is that he would have noticed that the Saint totally acknowledged the fact the the Church held the same authority as the Sacred Scriptures. In fact, St. Maximus never viewed the Church, Oral Tradition and Holy Writ as being separated in any fashion akin to how the Protesters of the 16th century did. The Church Fathers must be read in the context of their time, and trying to make comparisons to the pretended "Reformers" who trampled upon the Church almost 1000 years later is not possible here. Saint Maximus was a Byzantine saint who was born around 580 in Constantinople. He had no idea that a weak, insecure charlatan like Martin Luther would have a nervous breakdown and then attempt to overthrow the entire Church. Not only would Saint Maximus find Luther's teaching of Sola Scriptura foreign, he would have found his teaching of "Sola Fide" equally foreign, and I might add, heretical. Luther's view of liturgy would have been viewed as an abomination to Saint Maximus, since Maximus taught that the Church instituted a priesthood which stood at the center of the liturgical sacrifice held in all churches at altars all over the known world. He also viewed the sacrifice as being only made possible by the priest's words of consecration at the altar. If Swan was to be honest, he may notice that the teachings that St. Maximus proclaimed in many of his writings are identical to what the Catholic Church teaches, and that they are contrary to what he and his fellow Protesters believe today. I offer just a couple of texts below to illustrate my point.
"All the ends of the inhabited world, and those who anywhere on earth confess the Lord with a pure and orthodox faith, look directly to the most holy Church of the Romans and her confession and faith as to a sun of eternal light, receiving from her the radiant beam of the patristic and holy doctrines, just as the holy six synods, inspired and sacred, purely and with all devotion set them forth, uttering most clearly the symbol of faith. For, from the time of the descent to us of the incarnate Word of God, all the Churches of the Christians everywhere have held and possess this most great Church as the sole base and foundation, since, according to the very promise of the Saviour, it will never be overpowered by the gates of hell, but rather has the keys of the orthodox faith and confession in him, and to those who approach it with reverence it opens the genuine and unique piety, but shuts and stops every heretical mouth that speaks utter wickedness. For that which the creator of everything himself, our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, established and built up - together with his disciples and apostles, and the Holy Fathers and teachers and martyrs who came after - have been consecrated by their own works and words, by their sufferings and sweat, by their labours and blood, and finally by their remarkable deaths for the sake of the Catholic and Apostolic Church of us who believe in him, they, through two words, uttered without pain or death - O the long-suffering and forbearance of God! - are eager to dissolve and to set at naught the great, all-illumining and all-praised mystery of the orthodox worship of the Christians."
"I don't have a teaching of my own, but the common one of the Catholic Church. I mean that I haven't initiated any expression at all that could be called my own teaching."
"No, he (The emperor is not a priest) isn't, because he neither stands beside the altar, and after the consecration of the bread elevates it with the words. Holy things for the holy, nor does he baptize, nor perform the rite of anointing, nor does he ordain and make bishops and presbyters and deacons; nor does he anoint churches, nor does he bear the symbols of the priesthood, the omophorion and the Gospel book, [as he bears the symbols] of imperial office, the crown and the purple."
(Saint Maximus the Confessor- The opuscula fragments)
Here are a few core points to take note of from Saint Maximus. First, Saint Maximus clearly attributed the confession of faith and the authority tied to that faith as having come forth first from the Church at Rome. Secondly it is readily apparent that he viewed the Church as having inspired authority within her synods, not just in Sacred Scripture. The symbol of faith he referred to was most likely referring to the creed the Church had set forth in the prior ecumenical councils, which he also viewed as having a part in the authority of the teaching the faith. The Saint also provides proof for a recognition from the East as to having some type of recognition for a primacy of Rome, although I will admit there would be a debate between Catholics and Orthodox as to the nature of this primacy. That matters little in the context of this post however. Thirdly, the great Saint mentions the he maintains the teaching of one apostolic Church, not many churches, nor just that of Sacred Scripture. When one reads the history surrounding the Fathers of the Church, it is readily apparent that they did not see any difference between the authority of Christ, His Church, and the oral and written Revelation that flowed from them. Finally, we can also deduce that the unity of the Church was most readily visible in Saint Maximus' eyes in the Divine Liturgy. The way in which the Church worshiped was critical in the mind of St Maximus. In fact, when the many in the East had adopted heresy and separated themselves from Rome at the time, he refused to recognize their liturgies or the mysteries contained in them, "What mysteries I ask, do they celebrate, who have condemned themselves and have been condemned by the Romans and by the (Lateran) synod, and stripped of their sacerdotal dignity?" When reading the Saint, we can see that the liturgy was intimately tied to the authority of the bishops. The Church hierarchy is readily visible in the Saint's written accounts. He writes of the authority of bishops for example, in Rome, and those priests who served them, and who offered the sacrifice of the Divine Liturgy. There is much more that can be written on Saint Maximus, yet all of these facts should demonstrate that Swan's quote was taken out of context, and in no way calls into question the authority of the Church in Rome.