SAINT MARTIN I (?-655), pope and martyr
Today, the universal Church honors Saint Martin I, a pope who suffered exile and humiliation for his defense of orthodoxy in a dispute over the relationship between Christ’s Divine and human natures.
Martin was born in the Italian city of Todi, Italy, during either the late sixth or early seventh century. He became a deacon and served in Rome, where he acquired a reputation for education and holiness. Pope Theodore I chose Martin as his representative to the emperor in Constantinople during a period of theological controversy between the imperial capital and the Roman Church.
The dispute in which Martin became involved, first as the papal nuncio and later as pope himself, was over Christ’s human nature. Although the Church had always acknowledged the Eternal Son of God as “becoming man” within history, some Eastern bishops continued to insist that Christ’s human nature was not entirely like that of other human beings.
During the seventh century, authorities within the Byzantine Church and empire promoted a version of this heresy known as “Monothelitism”. This teaching acknowledged that Christ had two natures – human and Divine – but only one will, the Divine. Pope Theodore condemned the teaching and excommunicated Patriarch Pyrrhus of Constantinople for holding to it.
Martin inherited this controversy when he succeeded Theodore as pope in the year 649. At the Lateran Council of 649, he followed his predecessor’s lead in condemning Pyrrhus’ successor, Patriarch Paul II, who accepted Emperor Constans II’s decision to forbid all discussion of whether or not Christ had both a human and a Divine will. Pope Martin condemned Monothelitism completely, and denounced those who held to it.
The emperor became so incensed that he sent troops to Rome to seize Pope Martin and bring him back to Constantinople. Martin, already in poor health and not wishing that any blood be shed, offered no resistance. He returned with the Byzantine viceroy and was then submitted to various indignities, including imprisonments, tortures and hardships. Although condemned to death and with some of the imposed torture already carried out, Martin was saved from execution by the pleas of a repentant Patriarch Paul II, who was gravely ill himself.
Pope Martin died shortly afterwards while in exile in Kherson (a city in southern Ukraine) in the year 655, since starvation, tortures and cruel treatment had already taken their heavy toll. He is the last of the early popes to be venerated as a martyr.
The Third General Council of Constantinople (680-681) eventually vindicated Pope Martin I, by confirming that Christ had both a Divine and a human will, anathematizing (solemnly denouncing) all those who had followed Monothelitism.
We commemorate his feastday on April 13.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saint Pope Martin I)
“Merciful God our Father, neither hardship, pain, nor the threat of death could weaken the faith of Saint Martin. Through our faith, give us courage to endure whatever sufferings the world may inflict upon us.
“We ask this 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. Amen.”