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January 21 Saints of the Day – Maximus the Confessor and Epiphanius of Pavia

Maximus the ConfessorOn this day in 1981 the DeLorean Motor Company fired up its assembly line in Dunmurry, Northern Ireland. The company had a good thing going until Marty McFly went back in time from 1985 to 1982 and put cocaine in the gas tank, making the 1984 DeLorean takeover of Chrysler and the visionary all-chrome DMC minivan as if they had never been.

On the Orthodox calendar today we celebrate Maximus the Confessor (ca. 580-662). Maximus started life as a baby, but his biographers all start with his service as imperial secretary to Emperor Heraclius. (Who, so far as we know, never stepped into any rivers, distinguishing him from the similarly-named Heraclitus, who lived some centuries earlier.) When Maximus realized that Herry was a heretic, however, he quit his day job and begin a life of public debates — punctuated with bouts of monasticism — about the Monothelite heresy, which claimed Christ only had one will. (He left everything to his Mom.) This controversy pitted the Emperor and a number of eastern Patriarchs against the Pope of Rome (Martin), our man Maximus, and their seconds. Excommunications flew, tempers grew hot, and Maximus travelled extensively, in the process racking up a lot of frequent trireme miles. Stadia. Something like that.

One of his greatest triumphs was convincing the then-heretic Pyrrhus to come around to the orthodox point of view, but if you think I’m going to make a pun about a Pyrrhic victory —

Through it all Maximus stayed true to his principles, and was ultimately vindicated in the Third Council of Constantinople (the Sixth Ecumenical Council if you’re counting) a mere 18 years after his death, in one of those “oops you were right” kind of things that churches are famous for. He leaves a thick ream of thick theological writings — many (to the horror of librarians everywhere) in the margins of other people’s books — and his words make up a goodly chunk of the famous Philokalia, a Greek collection of theological and devotional writings whose name means “lover of leafy greens.”

Epiphanius of PaviaOn the Catholic calendar today we are genuflecting to Epiphanius, Bishop of Pavia (438-496). Pavia is in Lombardy, famous for its ham, risotto, and football coaches. It would have been a nice place to settle down and raise a diocese at any other time, but unfortunately for Epiphanius the western Empire was collapsing around his ears, and northern Italy was one of the favorite places for transalpine kings to test their swords.

When the dust settled in about 491, Theodoric the Great, King of the Ostrogoths (large, flightless birds with black toenails and multiple face piercings), held both Pavia and Epiphanius’ sister Honorata. Nothing like a bunch of Ostrogoths kidnapping your sister to ruin a good afternoon. Epiphanius was plucky, though, and went to the new overlord to beg for clemency for his people and freedom for his sister, both of which he won. He evidently pleased Theodoric, for he also won the privilege of going to Gundobad, King of the Burgundians, and asking for the return of some 6,000 Ligurians he had nabbed in one of his own military excursions while Theodoric’s back was turned. Gundobad liked Epiphanius so much that he sent him back to Theodoric to arrange a marriage between his son Sigismund and Theodoric’s daughter, imaginatively named Ostrogotho. Sigismund later became a saint himself for repenting of assassinating his own son for dissing his stepmom, but we’re probably about as convoluted here as our remit allows.

(Tolkien fans may be interested to know that Gundobad was named after Mount Gundabad, birthplace of Durin the Dwarf, whom he in no wise resembled.)

Near as I can tell, Epiphanius was glorified as a saint for being able to keep it all straight, although apparently he was also known for his piety and preaching. After his death, his successor St. Ennodius wrote a poetic panegyric about him, now lost, titled, “There and Back Again.”

January 21 (Wikipedia)
DeLorean DMC-12 (Wikipedia)
John DeLorean (Wikipedia)
Back to the Future (franchise) (Wikipedia)
Lee Iacocca (Wikipedia)
St. Maximus of Constantinople (Catholic Encyclopedia)
St Maximus the Confessor (OCA)
Maximus the Confessor (Wikipedia)
Maximus the Confessor (OrthodoxWiki)
Epiphanius of Pavia (Wikipedia)
Gundobad (Wikipedia)
Sigismund of Burgundy (Wikipedia)
Theodoric the Great (Wikipedia)
Roman Catholic Diocese of Pavia (Wikipedia)
Lombardy (Wikipedia)
Mount Gundabad (LOTR Wiki)
Saint Epiphanius of Pavia (SQPN)

Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.


About Your Intrepid Blogger

I live in the Tacoma area. When not writing things some people think are funny, I teach technology to 7th and 8th graders at a local middle school.

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