St. Martin I - Political Pressure

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18th century drawing of St. Martin IThe man chosen to face the storm raised by the Emperor Constans was Martin from Todi, of noble birth, learned, experienced, and above all a man of solid virtue. He had served as ambassador to Constantinople and had had dealings with the Byzantine bureaucracy over the question of the deposition of Pyrrhus. He was to need all his experience and all his virtue to face the imperial fury.

Scarcely had Martin been consecrated on July S, 649, when he was bombarded with appeals to make a downright condemnation of Monothelism and a ringing declaration of the true doctrine that in Christ there are two wills. Martin held a council in the Lateran attended by 105 bishops. The Fathers strongly condemned the notion that there is but one will in Christ. They further condemned the Emperor's Type for daring to silence the teaching of truth. Prudently the council gave credit to Constans for good intentions, but that did not appease the furious Emperor.

Constans decided on strong measures. Olympius, his new exarch, was ordered to force all Italians from the Pope down to accept the Type. But Olympius found himself at a loss. He tried to persuade the Pope, with no success. He tried to prevent a schism. In vain. At last he decided to have the strong and popular Pope assassinated. But what seemed a miraculous intervention caused Olympius to repent, wash his hands of the affair, and go off to Sicily to fight Moslem raiders.

Constans was furious. He sent another exarch, Theodore Calliopas to bring Pope Martin back to Constantinople. Calliopas entered Rome with his armed cohorts and carried off the unresisting Pope. This terrible voyage took over a year. The Pope already sick, was reduced to utter misery by the time the ship landed. He was so weak he could not stand unsupported.

Martin was accused before the imperial court of crimes ranging from intrigue against the Emperor to lack of faith in regard to the Mother of God! Weak as he was and in dire peril, Martin could only laugh at the absurd accusations.

And indeed the witnesses brought against him were so contradictory that the kindly Pope pleaded that they be excused from testifying on oath lest they add perjury to false witness.

Constans, determined to break the Pope, had him condemned to death in a public square with a large crowd to witness his degradation. The crowd, however, showed by silence its disapproval of the shameful goings on. After eighty-five days in a Byzantine prison, Pope Martin was exiled to Cherson in what is now the Crimea. There in that frontier outpost he suffered until death released him on September 6, 655.

In life Martin was disgraced, loaded with chains and exiled, but after death, miracles were worked at his tomb. He was hailed as a saint. And to this day the gallant Pope is regarded as a martyr for the faith not only by the Roman Church but also by the Greek and the Russian.

Excerpted from "Popes Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.

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