April 12, 2016

April 13th: Optional Memorial of Pope Saint Martin I

St. Martin I
St. Martin was born in Todi, Italy. He was elected pope in 649 during the period of the last christological controversy. Pope Martin refused to be silent in the face of heresy. There existed at that time a belief that Christ didn't have a human will, only a divine will. The emperor had issued an edict that while not supporting Monothelitism directly, commanded that no one discuss Jesus' humanity.

Monothelitism was condemned at the Lateran Council of 649, convened by Martin I. The council affirmed, once again, that since Jesus had two natures, human and divine, he had two wills, human and divine. The council then went further and condemned Constans edict to avoid discussion stating, "The Lord commanded us to shun evil and do good, but not to reject the good with the evil." For his defense of Christ as true God and true man, Pope Martin was exiled by the Byzantine emperor Constans II to Crimea where he died in 656, a martyr who stood up for the right of the Church to establish doctrine in the face of imperial power.

The Life of St. Martin I

The unfortunate victim of Constans' wrath was the virtuous Martin. Born in Todi of noble birth, he had served as nuncio to Constantinople under Pope Theodore, gaining experience in dealing with the Byzantine court and familiarizing himself with the Monothelite teachings so prevalent in the East. Without waiting for the necessary imperial mandate, Martin proceeded with his consecration on July 5, 649. This so enraged the emperor that he refused to acknowledge Martin as the legitimate pope.

A staunch defender of the orthodox, Martin immediately convened a synod in the Lateran. Attended by 105 Western bishops, the synod studied all aspects of Monothelitism and the emperor's Type. After nearly a month, the synod reached a conclusion. They determined that there were two wills in Christ, condemned the One Will heresy, and further condemned Constans' Type for boldly prohibiting the truthful teachings of the apostles. In an effort to pacify the emperor, Martin acknowledged Constans' good intentions in trying to unify the Church and placed the burden of responsibility on the advice of Constantinople's patriarchs.

Constans, far from appeased, was determined that his religious policies would not be ignored. Appointing his chamberlain Olympius as exarch to Italy, he dispatched him with the order to obtain the signatures of acceptance from all Italians without exception. Olympius proved to be a dismal failure, both in his mission and in an attempted assassination of the popular pope. The exarch prudently abandoned his post and fled to Sicily to fight the invading Muslims.

In the summer of 653, the furious emperor appointed yet another exarch, Theodore Calliopas, with orders to escort the inflexible pontiff to Constantinople. Calliopas and his officers boldly entered the Lateran, arrested the bedridden Martin, and presented the clergy with Constans' edict deposing the pope who had been consecrated illegally. The voyage, which took nearly three months, subjected the sickly pope to humiliation and abuse. Arriving in Constantinople, racked with dysentery and disabled by gout, Martin was placed in solitary confinement. On December 19, 653, Martin was brought to trial on trumped-up charges of treason and sacrilege. The pope, near death and realizing his position futile, could only laugh at the ridiculous accusations and beg the emperor to excuse the fumbling witnesses before they added perjury to false witness! Constans pronounced the predetermined verdict of guilty on the pontiff and sentenced him to public flogging and death. The disapproving crowd watched, horrified; and it was only by the dying Patriarch Paul's intercession that Martin's sentence of public execution was commuted to banishment.

For nearly three months, the pope suffered under the worst conditions in a Byzantine prison before he was exiled to the Crimea. There, on September 16, 655, suffering from cold and starvation, Pope Martin gratefully met his God. Pious Martin had been disgraced in life but later became honored as a martyr. Today he is venerated as a saint; his feast is celebrated by both the Roman and Greek Churches on April 13.

Source: The Popes: A Papal History, J.V. Bartlett

Symbols: Pope holding money; Pope with geese around him (possible confusion by artist with Martin of Tours); Pope in a prison cell.

Collect Prayer

Grant, almighty God that we may withstand the trials of this world with invincible firmness of purpose, just as you did not allow your Martyr Pope Saint Martin the First to be daunted by threats or broken by suffering. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.


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