Pope Saint Martin I ascended to the papacy in 649, bypassing the customary imperial confirmation. His tenure began amid profound theological discord, chiefly regarding Monothelism, a doctrine embraced by the Eastern Church which posited that Christ possessed no human will. This stance had twice received imperial endorsement—first under Emperor Heraclius and then under Constans II, the latter of whom attempted to quash debate on Christ’s dual wills.

Martin responded assertively, convening a council at the Lateran where he denounced imperial decrees supportive of Monothelism and condemned the patriarch of Constantinople and his predecessors. This bold move provoked Constans II, who endeavoured to undermine Martin by swaying bishops and the populace against him. When these efforts faltered, the emperor resorted to force.

Soldiers invaded the Lateran Basilica to arrest Martin, who, despite being severely ill, had sought refuge there upon learning of their arrival. Undeterred by the sacrilege of their act, they captured the debilitated pope and transported him to Constantinople.

Martin endured a harrowing sequence of imprisonments and tortures. Initially condemned to death, his life was spared following the intervention of the dying Patriarch Paul of Constantinople, who expressed remorse for the pope’s plight. Nevertheless, Martin remained confined under harsh conditions, suffering from dysentery in a squalid, icy cell, subsisting on repulsive food, and denied basic hygiene. His subsequent trial, which barred him from defence, led to a further three months of imprisonment.

Eventually exiled to the Crimea, Martin faced extreme deprivation and isolation. The terrain was inhospitable and the local populace unfriendly. Most grievously, he was shunned by his own Church and erstwhile allies, who neglected his basic needs for sustenance. Martin’s health rapidly declined, and he died in exile, his final days marked by abandonment and suffering.

Photo credit: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

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