A while ago Father Maximilian Nightingale gave me Disputations with Phyrrus as a gift and ironically my spiritual father (Father Matthew Markewich) did the type setting for the book at St Tikhon’s Press! Father Max’s argument was that St. Maximus was tortuously trying to defend Honorius from the charge of monothelitism, because (Fr Max inferred) he had a sense of the Pope being infallible.

(For A Roman Catholic presentation of St Maximus’ ideas pertain to Papal doctrine, click here. This article only pertains to the Disputations.)

After reading the book, the type of argumentation St Maximus was offering when the issue with Honorius came up was par of the course for its contents. Very thorough, getting into linguistics and turns of phrase–giving a more than charitable view of Honorius than was evidently justified (as the Church as subsequently condemned him).

Fr Max’s inference is certainly not unjustified. As I reflect on the passage, I think of its context. If I remember right, St Maximus spent the majority of that book up to that point essentially arguing neo-platonic categories of thought as it pertains to what human free will is and if Christ were not to have a human free will independent from a divine will, He could not really be man. All of this was purely within the realm of philosophy.

St Maximus then moves forward with arguments from the Scriptures against monothelitism which I remember being beyond convincing.

After this, Phyrrus asserts that Pope Vigilius was a monothelite (143) which begins a conversation about the view of the fathers of the Church pertaining to the question at hand. The defense of Honorius (147-152) follows after, and then a discussion of a contemporary, Sophronius of Jerusalem supporting Maximus (153-154). A rather long diversion into the ramifications of Nestorian thought begins. A defense of Cyril of Alexandria (186-188), Dionysus the Areopagite (189-200), the writings of “the Fathers” on the issue of theandric energy (201-207) and then other matters (208-215) is made.

Finally, the issue of councils is weighed in upon (216-218) with Saint Maximus concluding that no council agrees with Phyrrus. The book then ends.

When I reflect upon this, it seems to me that Disputations is proving out Orthodoxy by invoking varying authorities. So, St Maximus employs a dialectic that reasons through the issue purely based upon Neo-Platonism (the authority of philosophical truths), then the Scriptures (authority of God’s revelation), and then the Pope/Fathers/Councils. Nowhere does Saint Maximus rate these truths, compare how they correspond with one another, or make any epistemolgoical observations about them.

This is why I think any inference of Papal Infallibility must be tempered. Saint Maximus does not equate Papal pronouncements with the writings of canonized saints or councils, or in fact make any observation about how exactly these authorities work. He simply invokes them when he thinks they support his argument, because in the book he is trying to win a disputation.

So, what observation about Honorius is St Maximus, ultimately, really making? I think a more simplistic view is probably the best. Bishops have a special anointing (i.e. a teaching authority.) It seems to me, with how the issue was treated by Saint Maximus, he viewed this below God’s revelation and not equal to it–i.e. an interpretative authority.

The Bishop, in St Maximus’ mind, with this anointing most exceptionally was the Bishop of Rome (see the Roman Catholic article linked above). So, while he defends Honorius, in that defense he admits Honorius was sloppy in his formulation (150).

What St Maximus does not do is make an argument that we see modern Roman Catholics make (i.e. Honorius was not teaching ex cathedra or to the whole Church, or some other extremely specific infallibility criteria that renders us unable to actually know what Papal pronouncement is infallible.) This is specifically because such categories of thought were foreign to him and mitigates against him having the modern view of Papal Infallibility.

In his mind, he was probably buttressing up his argument that acknowledged teaching authorities (Popes/Saints/Councils) agreed with him. The importance of defending a contemporary Pope who (according to the 6th ecumenical council) in reality was a monothelitist was so St Maximus would not look look like a gadfly. Nothing screams “heretic” more than the whole Christian world disagreeing with you, and it is very rare for so much of the Church to be wrong an issue at any given time (as they were with Semi-Arianism and Monothelitism).

It appears St Maximus during the writing of the book, now with a Pope friendly to him alive (Severenius) and with Sophornius of Jerusalem supporting him during his lifetime (153-154), did not have to invoke the example of Athanasius–that he was contra mundum. Maximus’ argument is calculated to come across much more as an argumentum ad populum than a tenuous defense of a Bishop of Rome, made to defend a doctrine of Papal Infallibility he would have been totally unconcerned with.

As for the charism given to Bishops, this is something that Roman Catholics and Orthodox would agree upon. We both believe that the Church’s Bishops have a teaching authority and overall, though not in every detail, have been preserved from error. What does not necessarily follow is that every single Bishop in every respect never made a theological error, and quite frankly, the doctrine of Papal Infallibility admits this much!

So, Saint Maximus understandably would have shared this view of teaching authority with us without being wed to the idea every Bishop has to be perfect. (To repeat, no one anywhere has this view.) Due to this, without any more details of St Maximus’ thought on the matter, to assume he was a believer in Papal Infallibility is to go beyond the content of his writing in Disputations and the logic of his overall argument.