Saturday, July 29, 2017

That Old-Time Religion...

So, in Georgia...the country, not the place with the big airport...there's this rock formation called the Katskhi pillar.
By G.N. - Katskhi stone column, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
And on top of this pillar are the ruins (now reconstructed) of a dinky little church dating back to the 9th or 10th Century. There were three hermit cells for if you wanted to get your asceticism on and a little wine cellar carved out of the rock if you didn't, and one can only imagine the hair-raising process of getting up to and down from the place.

Inscriptions indicate the place was still a going concern as recently as the 13th Century, but by then Georgia was a pretty exciting corner of the world, what with Mongols and Khwarazmian Persians and so many varieties of Turkomans that they had to be color-coded. Oh, and then the Black Death came to Georgia, probably brought by the returning troops of King George the Brilliant, and killed literally half of everybody. No doubt peaceful monasteries accessible only by primitive dumbwaiter were on the decline in such an environment.

Anyhow, that's not the interesting part. The interesting part is that the place is dedicated to a dude named Maximus the Confessor. For those of you not hip to your saintly terminology, a "Confessor" is different from a "Martyr" in that they weren't directly killed for their faith, but probably wished they had been.

So, this Maximus dude was a bureaucrat in the Byzantine Empire who apparently had religion as a hobby, as did everybody in Constantinople back then. All the Byzantines did was watch chariot races, debate arcane theological matters, and riot and/or kill each other over differences of opinion on chariot races or arcane theological matters. (Oh, and they engaged in so much intra-governmental intrigue that they went in the dictionary for it.)

At some point, Maximus dropped out of government service and took up religion as a full-time occupation, leaving the city of Constantinople for a monastery in Anatolia. Skipping town ahead of the invading Persians, he landed in Carthage, in Eastern Roman hands for the nonce, thanks to Justinian and Belisarius's ruinously expensive Mediterranean campaigns. It was in Carthage that he rose to theological prominence, after understudying with some of the philosophical heavyweights of the time.

The big argument in the Church (there was just the one, back then) in those days was between guys who thought Jesus had two natures, human and divine, but only one divine will, and other guys who thought that Jesus had not only two natures, but also a human will and a divine will. Seriously. This was a very big deal and dudes were killing each other over it.

Well, the first view, Monothelitism, was the official view at the time, but Maximus was a believer in the second, or Dyothelitism. And he and the new Pope, Martin I, called a religious council in Rome to debate on the matter without bothering to ask the Emperor's permission, which was a pretty serious faux pas. When the council turned out a Dyotheletic verdict, Emperor Constans II (a Monotheletist) had both Pope Martin I and Maximus arrested.

The Pope got de-Poped and banished to the Crimea, where he died. Maximus was tried and sentenced to exile. However, he would not shut up about Dyothelitism and wound up having a great big show trial a few years later, following which he got his tongue cut out and his right hand cut off so he couldn't tell people that Jesus had two wills anymore or even write it very legibly. Then he got banished to Georgia. (The one on the Black Sea, not the one you drive through on the way to Florida.)

He died in exile there in 662 AD. Nineteen years later, at the Third Council of Constantinople, the Church (still just the one) decided that maybe Jesus did have two wills after all. Maximus received a posthumous pardon, sort of a more official version of "Whoops! Hey, sorry about the tongue and the hand and the whole exile-and-dying-in-prison thing. No hard feelings, okay? Here, have a feast day."

I told you they took their religion seriously in Constantinople, didn't I?