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Apr 13 – Pope St Martin I (d. 655)

13 April, 2012

St Martin 1 popeSummary: St Martin was the last pope to be considered a martyr, having been condemned for treason by the Emperor Constans II (642-668) and taken to Constantinople. Saved from execution only by the intercession of the Patriarch of Constantinople, he died in exile in the Chersonesus (in  Crimea which up to recently was part of Ukraine).

Patrick Duffy tells his story.

The Decline of Rome and the Rise of Constantinople
rom the time Constantine (312-327) moved the centre of imperial rule to the East, Rome and Italy began to decline in prestige. Italy became almost a Greek colony administered from Constantinople. Milan under Theodosius (378-392) and Ravenna under the Ostrogoth leader (493-526) and Emperor Justinian (525-565) surpassed Rome as the leading cities on the peninsula.

The Papacy Struggling
he papacy itself was struggling. The interference of the emperor to sort out matters of doctrine, as Constantine did with Arianism at Nicea, was not always an unmixed blessing. Many of those elected as popes, such as Gregory the Great (and Martin), had served an apprenticeship as apocrisiary (that is, a liaison person or papal nuncio) at the imperial court in Constantinople. And after the re-conquest of Italy in the time of Emperor Justinian, each pope had to seek confirmation of their election, often involving a difficult journey to Constantinople before they could be consecrated.

At this time in order to reconcile Monophysites (those who believed that Jesus has only one divine nature and no human nature) with the defined doctrine of Chalcedon (Jesus has two natures, human and divine, united in one person), a new movement called monothelitism (Jesus has only one divine will) came into favour in the East and was backed by the patriarchs and the emperor. From Rome Martin’s predecessor, the Greek Pope Theodore (642-649), had excommunicated two patriarchs for their support of this doctrine and was preparing a synod in the Lateran in Rome to condemn it when he died.

Martin’s Election and the Lateran Synod 649
martin popeMartin was elected to succeed Theodore in 649. He had previously been the apocrisiary at the imperial court so he was well aware of the issues at stake. He courageously declined to seek the imperial confirmation and was consecrated without it two days after his election. He then went ahead with the synod which was attended by 105 Western bishops and a number of Easterners, mainly monks present in Rome, refugees from the monothelite persecution. Martin took steps to publicise the Acta of the synod throughout the West and to secure the agreement of important absentees, like the Archbishop of Milan. These were sent with a Greek translation to the Emperor Constans II (642-668).

Constans sends Olympius as exarch to Silence Martin
onstans had sent Olympius as exarch (governor of a province at a distance from the capital) to Italy to intervene in the discussion of the two wills at the synod. Failing that, he was to assassinate the pope. Unsuccessful in both, he went off to Sicily where he led a revolt against the empire and died.

Martin Deposed and Taken Captive
Marti n1 sufferingConstans then sent Theodore Calliopas as exarch with orders to bring Martin to Constantinople. Calliopas arrived in Rome on the 15th June, 653. He entered the Lateran Basilica two days later, informed the clergy that Martin had been deposed as an unworthy intruder, that he must be brought to Constantinople and another pope was to be chosen in his place.

Martin, wishing to avoid bloodshed, forbade resistance and accepted to be brought before the emperor. With only a few attendants, and suffering from dysentry, he was brought first to the island of Naxos, where he was kept for a year. Eugenius I was elected pope in his place to please the emperor but was shouted down by the Roman congregation when he tried to have the monothelite position accepted.

Comdemnation, exile and death in Ukraine
Eventually when Martin was brought to Constantinople, he was charged with treason and condemned unheard. Brought before a large crowd, the emperor requested them to pass anathemas on him, but only a few responded. The Patriarch of Constantinople interceded to save his life, so instead of being put to death, he was exiled to the Chersonesus (the Crimea, in those days, Ukraine). From there he wrote of the famine and neglect be suffered. He blamed the Romans for forgetting him, while he had prayed steadily for their faith to be preserved. He died in exile on 13th April 655, the last pope to be venerated as a martyr.

Relics and Letters
Martin’s relics are said to have been transferred to Rome, where they are kept in the Church of San Martino ai Monti. Of his letters seventeen are extant in PL 87:119.