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Concerning Maximus the Cynic and the disorder which has happened in Constantinople on his account, it is decreed that Maximus never was and is not now a Bishop; that those who have been ordained by him are in no order whatever of the clergy; since all which has been done concerning him or by him, is declared to be invalid.
Ancient Epitome of Canon IV.
Let Maximus the Cynic be cast out from among the bishops, and anyone who was inscribed by him on the clergy list shall be held as profane.
(Smith and Wace, Dict. Christ. Biog.)
Maximus the Cynic; the intrusive bishop of Constantinople, a.d. 380. Ecclesiastical history hardly presents a more extraordinary 180career than that of this man, who, after a most disreputable youth, more than once brought to justice for his misdeeds, and bearing the scars of his punishments, by sheer impudence, clever flattery, and adroit management of opportunities, contrived to gain the confidence successively of no less men than Peter of Alexandria, Gregory Nazianzen, and Ambrose, and to install himself in one of the first sees of the church, from which he was with difficulty dislodged by a decree of an ecumenical council. His history also illustrates the jealousy felt by the churches of Alexandria and Rome towards their young and vigorous rival for patriarchal honours, the church of Constantinople; as well as their claim to interfere with her government, and to impose prelates upon her according to their pleasure. Alexandria, as the chief see of the Eastern world, from the first asserted a jurisdiction which she has never formally relinquished over the see of Constantinople, more particularly in a vacancy in the episcopate (Neale, Patr. of Alexandria, i., 206). The conduct of Peter, the successor of Athanasius, first in instituting Gregory Nazianzen bishop of Constantinople by his letters and sending a formal recognition of his appointment and then in substituting Maximus, as has been remarked by Milman (History of Christianity, iii., 115, note) and Ullman (Greg. Naz., p. 203 [Cox’s translation]), furnish unmistakable indications of the desire to erect an Oriental papacy, by establishing the primacy of Alexandria over Constantinople and so over the East, which was still further illustrated a few years later by the high-handed behaviour of Theophilus towards Chrysostom.
Maximus was a native of Alexandria of low parentage. He boasted that his family had produced martyrs. He got instructed in the rudiments of the Christian faith and received baptism, but strangely enough sought to combine the Christian profession with Cynic philosophy.
When he presented himself at the Eastern capital he wore the white robe of a Cynic, and carried a philosopher’s staff, his head being laden with a huge crop of crisp curling hair, dyed a golden yellow, and swinging over his shoulders in long ringlets. He represented himself as a confessor for the Nicene faith, and his banishment to the Oasis as a suffering for the truth (Orat. xxiii., p. 419). Before long he completely gained the ear and heart of Gregory, who admitted him to the closest companionship. Maximus proclaimed the most unbounded admiration for Gregory’s discourses, which he praised in private, and, according to the custom of the age, applauded in public. His zeal against heretics was most fierce, and his denunciation of them uncompromising. The simple-hearted Gregory became the complete dupe of Maximus.
All this time Maximus was secretly maturing a plot for ousting his unsuspicious patron from his throne. He gained the ear and the confidence of Peter of Alexandria, and induced him to favour his ambitious views. Gregory, he asserted, had never been formally enthroned bishop of Constantinople; his translation thither was a violation of the canons of the church; rustic in manners, he had proved himself quite unfitted for the place. Constantinople was getting weary of him. It was time the patriarch of the Eastern world should exercise his prerogative and give New Rome a more suitable bishop. The old man was imposed on as Gregory had been, and lent himself to Maximus’s projects. Maximus found a ready tool in a presbyter of Constantinople, envious of Gregory’s talents and popularity (de Vit., p. 13). Others were gained by bribes. Seven unscrupulous sailor fellows were despatched from Alexandria to mix with the people, and watch for a favourable opportunity for carrying out the plot. When all was ripe they were followed by a bevy of bishops, with secret instructions from the patriarch to consecrate Maximus.
The conspirators chose the night for the accomplishment of their enterprise. Gregory they knew was confined by illness. They forced their way into the cathedral, and commenced the rite of ordination. By the time they had set the Cynic on the archiepiscopal throne, and had just begun shearing away his long curls, they were surprised by the dawn. The news quickly spread, and everybody rushed to the church. The magistrates appeared on the scene with their officers; Maximus and his consecrators were driven from the sacred precincts, and in the house or shop of a flute-player the tonsure was completed. Maximus repaired to Thessalonica to lay his cause before Theodosius. He met with a cold reception from the emperor, who committed the matter to Ascholius, the much respected bishop of that city, charging him to refer it to pope Damasus. We have two letters of Damasus’s on this subject. In the first, addressed to Ascholius and the Mace181donian bishops, he vehemently condemns the “ardor animi et fœda presumptio” which had led certain persons coming from Egypt, in violation of the rule of ecclesiastical discipline, to have proposed to consecrate a restless man, an alien from the Christian profession, not worthy to be called a Christian, who wore an idolatrous garb (“habitus idoli”) and the long hair which St. Paul said was a shame to a man, and remarks on the fact that being expelled from the church they were compelled to complete the ordination “intra parietes alienos.” In the second letter addressed to Ascholius individually (Ep. vi.) he repeats his condemnation of the ordination of the long-haired Maximus (“comatum”) and asks him to take special care that a Catholic bishop may be ordained (Migne, Patrolog., xiii., pp. 366–369; Ep. 5; 5, 6).
Maximus returned to Alexandria, and demanded that Peter should assist him in re-establishing himself at Constantinople. But Peter had discovered the man’s true character, and received him as coldly as Theodosius had done. Determined to carry his point he presented himself to the patriarch at the head of a disorderly mob, with the threat that if he did not help him to gain the throne of Constantinople he would have that of Alexandria. Peter appealed to the prefect, by whom Maximus was driven out of Egypt. The death of Peter and the accession of Timotheus are placed Feb. 14, 380. The events described must therefore have occurred in 379. When the second ecumenical council met at Constantinople in 381, the question of Maximus’s claim to the see of Constantinople came up for consideration. His pretensions were unanimously rejected.
(Notes on the Canons, in loc.)
Maximus, however, having been expelled from Egypt, made his way into Northern Italy, presented to Gratian at Milan a large work which he had written against the Arians (as to which Gregory sarcastically remarks—“Saul a prophet, Maximus an author!” Carm. adv. Mar., 21), and deceived St. Ambrose and his suffragans by showing the record of his consecration, with letters which Peter had once written in his behalf. To these prelates of the “Italic diocese” the appeal of Maximus seemed like the appeal of Athanasius, and more recently of Peter himself, to the sympathy of the church of Rome; and they requested Theodosius to let the case be heard before a really General Council (Mansi, iii. 631). Nothing further came of it; perhaps, says Tillemont, those who thus wrote in favour of Maximus “reconnurent bientôt quel il était” (ix., 502): so that when a Council did meet at Rome towards the end of 382, no steps were taken in his behalf.
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