c. 590 – 655
Memorial: Liturgical Color: Red
After being elected the Bishop of Rome, today’s saint called a local Council which established the correct theology of the Church regarding the two wills of Christ. For doing this, he was abducted in Rome by emissaries of the Roman Emperor, brought to Constantinople, and humiliated. Martin refused to retract, or otherwise bend to, the Emperor Constance’s incorrect theology holding that Christ had one will. Martin was maltreated, demeaned, and exiled to the Crimean peninsula on the Black Sea. And there the Pope died—naked, starving, abandoned, and alone—far from Rome, in the year 655, a forgotten martyr to orthodox theology.
The Council of Chalcedon, in 451, had synthesized centuries of theological debate by teaching, authoritatively, that the divine nature of the Logos, the Second Person of the Trinity, and the human nature of Jesus were distinct but united in one person. This is called the hypostatic union. The Son of God, then, did not fake becoming a man. He truly took flesh and experienced all things, save sin, that a man experiences. So when Jesus said “I thirst” (Jn. 19:28), he didn’t mean to say, “Just my human nature is thirsty.” And when his majestic voice echoed off the stone walls of Bethany, saying, “Lazarus, Come Out,” he didn’t mean to say, “The divine nature inside of me, and only the divine nature, says ‘Lazarus, Come Out’” (Jn 11:43).
Yet Eastern Christians, primarily in Egypt and Syria, clung to a Monophysite, or one nature, theology of Jesus Christ long after Chalcedon had settled the matter. By the seventh century, some Eastern theologians, supported by the Emperor in Constantinople, shifted from arguing for a one natured Christ to arguing for a one willed Christ, as the issue of Christ’s will(s) had never been formally resolved. The one will heresy is called Monothelitism (monos = one; thelos = will). Monothelitists argued that if Christ’s two natures could seamlessly unite in one person, then so could His two wills.
Chalcedon’s teaching on Christ’s two natures was ontological, meaning it was an explanation of the very nature of things. But this ontological definition did not explain, nor try to, what two natures in one person meant on a practical level. How does a person operate with a dual intellect and a double will? One answer to this practical question argued that there was no human will in Christ because it was totally subsumed into the mightier divine will. This was not possible, theologically, as a Christ without a functioning human will would have been a ghost of a man. The other answer argued that Jesus had two spheres of willing inside of him. This solution would have made Christ into a schizophrenic, which was equally impossible.
After Martin’s death, the theology of the two wills defined by the Third Council of Constantinople, in 681, was that Christ’s human will was “in subjection to his divine and all-powerful will.” That is, Christ’s two wills were separate in their nature but freely united in their object. How do two wills inside one person enter into communion? In the same way that two wills in two different persons enter into communion. Each will gives free and independent assent to a principle, idea, truth, etc… shared with the other will. The two wills retain their independence but freely unite in assent to a common value. Jesus’ human will, in total freedom, submitted to the will of the Son of God. Such free submission to the divine will is not difficult to imagine. The greatest saints practiced such submission, and the Church’s highest spiritual tradition encourages all of the faithful to submit their wills to the divine will.
Little is known with specificity about the life of Pope Martin I prior to his election as Pope. But much is known about the larger theological controversy which his suffering advanced towards its conclusion. One of the Popes’ duties is to preserve the unity and integrity of the Church by preserving the unity and integrity of Christ. Martin did that by being martyred rather than submitting to bad theology. The fruits of his martyrdom were harvested after he died, but they continue to be harvested today.
Pope St. Martin I, through your intercession before the Father in Heaven, fortify all teachers and leaders of the Church to remain steadfast in the truth, to advocate for the truth, and to suffer for the truth, no matter the personal cost.
From Butler’s Lives of the Saints:
ST. MARTIN, who occupied the Roman See from A. D. 649 to 655, incurred the enmity of the Byzantine court by his energetic opposition to the Monothelite heresy, and the Exarch Olympius went so far as to endeavor to procure the assassination of the Pope as he stood at the altar in the Church of St. Mary Major; but the would-be murderer was miraculously struck blind, and his master refused to have any further hand in the matter. His successor had no such scruples: he seized Martin, and conveyed him on board a vessel bound for Constantinople. After a three months’ voyage the island of Naxos was reached, where the Pope was kept in confinement for a year, and finally in 654 brought in chains to the imperial city. He was then banished to the Tannic Chersonese, where he lingered on for four months, in sickness and starvation, till God released him by death on the 12th of November, 655.
Reflection.—There have been times in the history of Christianity when its truths have seemed on the verge of extinction. But there is one Church whose testimony has never failed: it is the Church of St. Peter, the Apostolic and Roman See. Put your whole trust in her teaching!’
Lives of the Saints, by Alban Butler, Benziger Bros. ed.