Maximus, also known as Maximus I or Maximus the Cynic, was a cynic professor and the intrusive bishop of Constantinople in 380, whence he became a rival of Gregory Nazianzus.

A native of Alexandria of low parentage, he boasted that his family had produced martyrs. He was instructed in the rudiments of the Christian faith and received baptism, but sought to combine the Christian profession with Cynic philosophy. Gregory Nazianzus describes him as having had no regular occupation, but loitering about in the streets, like a shameless dog, foul and greedy (kuwn, kuniskoV, amfodwn uphrethV).

More than once he earned a flogging for his misdeeds and was finally banished to the Oasis. Later at Corinth, with a high reputation for religion, he led about a band of females -- "the swan of the flock" -- under colour of devotion (Carm. cxlviii. p. 450). Soon after Gregory Nazianzus had begun to reside there, Maximus shifted to Constantinople. Gregory devotes a considerable number of the biting iambics of his poem, de Vita Sua, to this man, who, however, before long completely gained his ear and heart.

Maximus professed the most unbounded admiration for Gregory's discourses, praising them in private and in public. His zeal against heretics was most fierce and his denunciations of them uncompromising. The simple-hearted Gregory was completely duped by Maximus, even delivering a panegyrical oration, in the man's own presence in full church, before the celebration of the Eucharist, inviting him to stand by his side and receive the crown of victory.

Meanwhile, Maximus was secretly maturing a plot for ousting his unsuspicious patron from his throne. He imposed upon the Coptic Pope Peter II of Alexandria, who lent himself to Maximus's projects. Maximus found a ready tool in a presbyter of Constantinople envious of Gregory's talents and popularity (de Vit. p. 13). Others were gained by bribes. Seven unscrupulous sailors were dispatched from Alexandria to mix with the people and watch for a favourable opportunity for carrying out the plot. When all was ripe they were followed by a bevy of bishops, with secret instructions from the patriarch to consecrate Maximus.

The conspirators chose a night in when Gregory was confined by illness, burst into the cathedral, and commenced the consecration. They had set the Cynic on the archiepiscopal throne and had just begun shearing away his long curls when the day dawned. The news quickly spread and everybody rushed to the church. The magistrates appeared with their officers; Maximus and his consecrators were driven from the cathedral, and in the tenement of a flute-player the tonsure was completed.

Maximus repaired to Thessalonica to lay his cause before the emperor Theodosius I. He met with a cold reception from the emperor, who committed the matter to Ascholius, the much respected bishop of that city, charging him to refer it to Pope Damasus I. Two letters from Damasus asked for special care that a Catholic bishop maybe ordained (Migne, Patr. Lat. xiii. pp. 366-369; Epp. 5, 5, 6).

Maximus returned to Alexandria, and demanded that Peter should assist him in re-establishing himself at Constantinople. Peter appealed to the prefect, by whom Maximus was driven out of Egypt. As the death of Peter and the accession of Pope Timothy I of Alexandria are placed February 14 380, these events must have occurred in 379. When the second ecumenical council met at Constantinople in 381, Maximus's claim to the see of Constantinople was unanimously rejected, the last of its original four canons decreeing "that he neither was nor is a bishop, nor are they who have been ordained by him in any rank of the clergy" (Labbe, Concil. ii. 947, 954, 959).

Maximus appealed from the Eastern to the Western church. In the autumn of 381 a synod held either at Aquileia or at Milan under Ambrose's presidency considered Maximus's claims. Having only his own representations to guide them, and there being no question that Gregory's translation was uncanonical, while the election of Nectarius was open to grave censure as that of an unbaptized layman, Maximus also exhibiting letters from Peter the late venerable patriarch, to confirm his asserted communion with the church of Alexandria, it is not surprising that the Italian bishops pronounced decidedly in favour of Maximus and refused to recognize either Gregory or Nectarius. A letter of Ambrose and his brother-prelates to Theodosius (Ep. xiii. c. i. § 3) remonstrates against the acts of Nectarius as no rightful bishop, since the chair of Constantinople belonged to Maximus, whose restoration they demanded, as well as that a general council of Easterns and Westerns, to settle the disputed episcopate and that of Antioch, should be held at Rome.

In 382 a provincial synod held at Rome, having received more accurate information, finally rejected Maximus's claims (Hefele, Hist. of Councils, i. pp. 359, 378, 381, Eng. trans.). Jerome tells us that Maximus sought to strengthen his cause by writing against the Arians, and presented the work to Gratian at Milan. He appears also to have written against Gregory, the latter replying in a set of caustic iambics (Carm. clxviii. p. 250) expressing astonishment at one so ignorant venturing on a literary composition (Theodoret. H. E. v. 8; cf. Sozomenus H. E. vii. 9; Greg. Naz Orat. xxii. xxviii.; Carm. 1 de Vita sua; Carm. cxlviii.; Tillem. Mèm. eccl. ix. 444-456, 501-503;)


Theodoret. H. E. v. 8; cf. Sozomenus H. E. vii. 9; Greg. Naz Orat. xxii. xxviii.; Carm. 1 de Vita sua; Carm. cxlviii.; Tillem. Mèm. eccl. ix. 444-456, 501-503; Labbe, Concil. ii. 947, 954, 959; Migne, Patr. Lat. xiii. pp. 366-369; Epp. 5, 5, 6.

This article uses text from A Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century A.D., with an Account of the Principal Sects and Heresies by Henry Wace

List of Constantinople patriarchs
Preceded by:
Demophilus or
disputed by:
Gregory Nazianzus