Maximus the Cynic

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Maximus, also known as Maximus I or Maximus the Cynic, was a follower of the Cynic philosophy and an intruder into the position of Bishop of Constantinople, in 380, where he became a rival of Gregory Nazianzus.


Maximus was born in Alexandria, Egypt, a son of Christian parents of low social standing. Neither the date of his birth, nor his death, is known. He boasted that his family included martyrs and had suffered on account of their religion, without making clear if from Pagan or Arian violence. He was instructed in the rudiments of Christianity and had received baptism. Maximus united the faith of an orthodox believer with the garb and deportment of a Cynic philosopher. Initially, he was received in great respect by the leading theologians of the orthodox party. Athanasius, in a letter written about 371,[1] compliments him on a work written in defense of the orthodox faith.

In 374, during the reign of the emperor Valens, in the persecution carried on by Lucius of Alexandria, an Arian patriarch of Alexandria, Maximus was flogged and banished to the Oasis on account of his zeal for orthodoxy and the aid he offered to those who suffered in the same cause.[2] He was released after about four years, probably on the death of Valens. Sometime after his release he presented to the emperor Gratian at Milan, his work, Περὶ τῆς πίστεως, De Fide, written against the Arians.

Maximus also wrote against other heretics, but whether in the same work or in another is not clear. Maximus professed unbounded admiration for Gregory of Nazianzus' discourses, praising them in private and public On his return from Milan in 379, he visited Constantinople, where Gregory had just been appointed Bishop of Constantinople under conditions that were not perfectly canonical. Gregory received him with the highest honor and delivered a panegyrical oration (Oration 25), before the celebration of the Eucharist, in Maximus' presence to a full church. He received Maximus at his table and treated him with the great confidence and regard. However, Gregory became grievously disappointed in him. Whether the events that followed were the results solely of the ambition of Maximus or whether Maximus was himself the tool of others is not clear.

Taking advantage of a sick Gregory, and supported by some Egyptian ecclesiastics sent by Peter II, Patriarch of Alexandria under whose directions they professed to have acted, during the night Maximus was consecrated Bishop of Constantinople, in the place of Gregory. The conspirators chose a night when Gregory was confined by illness. They burst into the cathedral and started the consecration. Maximus was placed on the archiepiscopal throne and just began having his long curls sheared away when the day dawned. The news quickly spread and everybody rushed to the cathedral. The magistrates appeared with their officers and drove Maximus and his consecrators from the cathedral and into the tenement of a flute-player where the tonsure was completed.

This audacious proceeding excited great indignation among the people, with whom Gregory was popular. Maximus fled to Thessalonica to place his cause before emperor Theodosius I. He met with a cold reception from the emperor, who committed the matter to Ascholius, the much respected Bishop of Thessalonica, charging him to refer the affair to Bishop Damasus I of Rome.

In two letters returned from Damasus, in one to Ascholius and the Macedonian bishops, Damasus condemned those who proposed to consecrate a restless man, an alien from the Christian profession, who was not worthy to be called a Christian, and who wore an idolatrous garb ("habitus idoli") and long hair which St. Paul said was a shame to a man. In the other letter to Bp. Ascholius, Damasus also asked him to take special care that a Catholic bishop may be ordained. [3]

In face of the rebuke Maximus returned to Alexandria and demanded that Peter assist him in re-establishing himself at Constantinople. Peter appealed to the prefect, who drove Maximus out of Egypt.[4]

Maximus then appealed to the Western church, which in the autumn of 381 convened, either at Aquileia or at Milan, a synod under the presidency of Ambrose of Milan to consider Maximus' claims. The synod acted with the understanding that there was no question that Gregory's translation was uncanonical, the election of Nectarius was open to grave censure as that of an unbaptized layman, and only Maximus' representations to guide them. Maximus exhibited letters from Peter, the late venerable bishop of Alexandria, to confirm his asserted communion with the Church of Alexandria. The Italian bishops pronounced in favor of Maximus and refused to recognize either Gregory or Nectarius. In a letter to Theodosius, Ambrose and his brother-prelates[5] remonstrated against the acts of Nectarius as not a rightful bishop since the chair of Constantinople belonged to Maximus, whose restoration they demanded, and that a general council of the Eastern and Western parts of the church be held at Rome to settle the disputed episcopate and also that of Antioch.

In 382, a provincial synod was held at Rome. The synod, having received more accurate information, finally rejected Maximus's claims.[6] . The invectives of Gregory of Nazianzus against Maximus[7] were written after their struggle for the patriarchate, and contrast starkly with the praises of his twenty-fifth Oration. The work of Maximus, De Fide, which is well spoken of by Jerome, is lost.


  1. Athanasius, Epist. ad Maxim. Philosoph. Opp. vol. i.
  2. Gregory of Nazianzus, Orat. xxv. c. 13, 14
  3. Migne, Patrolog., xiii., pp. 366-369; Ep. 5; 5, 6)
  4. Gregory of Nazianzus, Carmen de Vita sua, vss. 750-1029.
  5. Ep. xiii. c. i. § 3.
  6. Hefele, Hist. of Councils, i. pp. 359, 378, 381, Eng. trans.
  7. Gregory of Nazianzus, Carmina, sc. De Vita sua, l. c.; In Invidos, vs. 16, etc.; In Maximum
Succession box:
Maximus the Cynic
Preceded by:
Demophilus or
Bishop of Constantinople
Disputed by
Gregory the Theologian

Succeeded by:
Gregory the Theologian
Help with box


  • Wikipedia:Maximus_I_of_Constantinople
  • Ec-patr: Maximus
  • Greg. Naz. Orat. xxii. xxviii.; Carm. 1 de Vita sua; Carm. cxlviii.;
  • Philippe Labbe, Concilia ii. 947, 954, 959;
  • Migne, Patr. Lat. xiii. pp. 366-369; Epp. 5, 5, 6.
  • Sozomenus H. E. vii. 9;
  • Theodoret. H. E. v. 8; cf.
  • Tillemont, Mèm. eccl. ix. 444-456, 501-503;