Saturday, August 13, 2011

Saintly Saturday: St. Maximos the Confessor

Today is the feast of St. Maximos the Confessor. Now known as an eminent theologian, he was the chief secretary for the Roman Emperor Heraclius in the seventh century. When the emperor's grandson (Constans II) came to power, the heresy of Monophilitism (the belief that Christ had no human will, only a divine will) became very popular in the court. Therefore, Maximos voluntarily left to become a monk of the Monastery at Chrysopolis, where he eventually he became abbot.

As a monk he taught, spoke out and wrote against Monophilitism. Eventually, the emperor tried to get the saint to stop. When Maximos refused, his tongue was cut out (to prevent teaching and speaking) and his right hand was cut off (to prevent him from writing). He was then sent into exile, where he reposed in the year 662.

As I've pointed out before, the title Confessor is given to to those who are imprisoned, tortured and/or sent into exile for the faith but are not martyred. And, as before, it might seem strange that St. Maximos would willingly choose to be tortured and exiled over what at first glance seems to be a minor point — especially when it was an attempt by the court to allow the Chalcedonian and Non-Chalcedonian churches to exist together under the same umbrella.

St. Gregory the Theologian (also known as Gregory of Nazianzus) famously argued in a letter to Cledonius:
That which He has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved.
Thus, anyone arguing that any part of humanity is not part of the human nature of Christ means that they are arguing that Christ's salvation is somehow incomplete. Monophilitism is a particularly insidious version of this argument, because it not only denies that the free will of man is healed or saved, but that it is not part of God's plan of salvation. Those of you who are familiar with this blog know that free will, choice and freedom are not only very dear to me, but that I will argue that they are the bedrock of the Christian faith.


The Tongue of St. Maxim

This bizarre item looks like the bronze casting of a human tongue. If it weren't for the divine magic that can be detected on it, the tongue would have little value. Even melted down, the metal seems to be of such poor quality as to be worthless. However, when a prayer for guidance is directed at the tongue, it functions as a Detect Lie spell. Should a lie be detected, the tongue changes into the forked tongue of a serpent. This power may be used once per day. Should a user ever try to use the tongue to cast the reverse of Detect LieUndetectable Lie — not only will the item be destroyed (turning to dust), but the user will be cursed. Every time they speak a lie, they take 1d6 damage.


  1. Oh, boy, Dave this takes me back to the days of my Byzantine History classes under Harry Turtledove and having my head spin at trying to keep all the councils and Christological disputes straight. And poor Heraclius, moving heaven and earth to save the Empire from the Persians, only to have the Arabs come along and rip most of it away.

    Nice take on the magic item, too, much more atmospheric than simply casting the spell. I might have it so the portion about Undetectable Lie is more obscure and requires deeper research to uncover, just to see if any players fall into the trap. (One variant: instead of taking damage, trying to cast "Undetectable Lie" not only destroys the item, but makes a listener believe the cursed person is lying, whenever he tries to assert the truth.)

  2. @Anthony
    There was a time in my life when I would have been very envious of you getting to take Byzantine History from Harry Turtledove...fortunately God has smiled on me and allowed to live that history...;)

    BTW I like your variation of the curse very much...

  3. I'm going to have to remember the Confessor title and use it in my games at some point...

    Maybe I'm too indoctrinated in theology, but at first glance monophilitism does not seem a minor issue. :P To say Christ had no human will, only a divine will is very close to saying that Christ had no human nature, only a divine nature.

    @Anthony: I like your idea on the variation of the curse, my only qualm is that I'm not sure it fits well with the inspiration behind the item. I would think that an item purposed on discovering the truth would be opposed to hiding it. To that end, I'd recommend what I initially thought you might be suggesting: it makes the listener aware the cursed person is lying any time they lie.

    I like both variants though...

  4. @svafa

    " makes the listener aware the cursed person is lying any time they lie."

    That actually is more fitting; I like it. :)

  5. @Svafa
    at first glance monophilitism does not seem a minor issue
    You are absolutely correct; however, I am so used to having to deal with folks who do think of these things as minor that I have come to expect that reaction...