MAXIMUS, fifteenth patriarch of the See of Saint Mark (264-282).
Maximus succeeded DIONYSIUS THE GREAT and remained at the head of the Coptic church for eighteen years. He was a contemporary to six Roman emperors, beginning with the relatively mild reign of Gallienus (260-268), followed by Claudius II (268-270), Aurelianus (270-275), Tacitus (275-276), Florianus (276), and Probus (276-282). He spent his earlier years as presbyter and companion of Dionysius, with whom he shared the agonies of VALERIANUS’ persecution and exile to Kefro, a frontier town of the Libyan Desert, and Colluthius in the district of Mareotis by the prefect Aemilianius.
He was ultimately permitted to return with his bishop to the metropolis, where they started ministering to the faithful, undisturbed by the stormy years under preceding emperors. In fact, the episcopate of Maximus, compared with that of his predecessor, was relatively peaceful, allowing the patriarch to combat rising heresies in the Middle East.
Most important and most dangerous among these heresies was the one associated with the name of Paul of Samosata, bishop of Antioch. Paul interfered in theological discussions and invented a new doctrine that Christ attained godhead by a gradual development, that the Trinity was a closely knit combination of Father, Wisdom, and Word in a single HYPOSTASIS. His Christology resembled the forthcoming Nestorian doctrine that Jesus the Incarnate Word was one person, different from the Divine. For the first time, the HOMOOUSION controversy was raised. A council was convened at Antioch, attended by more than seventy bishops, where these confused ideas were exposed.
The discussions were led by a certain Malchion, head of the theological school of Antioch. Dionysius was invited to participate, but, owing to his advanced age and feeble body, he wrote a special epistle to the synod, which was supported by Maximus after him, and, in the end, Paul was deposed and excommunicated in 268. It is possible, but not certain, that Maximus attended this synod. At any rate, he played a role in the termination of Paul’s heretical assumptions by supporting the arguments set forth in the epistle of Dionysius on the subject.
The HISTORY OF THE PATRIARCHS offers pious details about two movements that filled the reign of Maximus. The first concerns the heresy of Paul of Samosata, and the second is the emergence of MANICHAEISM and the life of Mani, whose preaching struck roots in Egypt in the third century and survived in the fourth alongside Gnostic teachings.
Mani’s life (216-276 or 277) overlapped with Maximus’ episcopate. This explains the space given to the development of his syncretistic religion under the biography of Maximus in the History of the Patriarchs. We need not enter here into the intricacies of Mani’s thought. But it looks as if in the period of his exile from Persia for thirty years by Sapor I, he must have spent some time in Palestine preaching his religion and adapting elements of it to Christian doctrines. The History of the Patriarchs gives an account of Mani’s encounter in a Palestinian city with a certain Bishop Archelaus, who refuted his arguments. Nevertheless, Mani’s teachings seem to have spread to Egypt, where they survived until the complete eradication of Manichaeism from that country in the fourth century.
On the whole, the episcopate of Maximus was preeminently devoted to ministrations to the faithful and to combating heretical movements, in an atmosphere of relative peace from active persecution because the empire was involved in strife between rival claimants to the imperial throne and in fighting pestilence. Local unrest and political separatism in Alexandria kept pagan minds from acting on their traditional hostility toward their Christian neighbors.
Maximus died on 14 Baramudah, the day of his commemoration in the Coptic SYNAXARION.
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- Duchesne, L. Early History of the Christian Church, Vol. 1, pp. 341ff. London, 1909.
- Quasten, J. Patrology, 3 vols. Utrecht and Antwerp, 1975.
AZIZ S. ATIYA