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St. Martin I

St. Martin I, Pope & Martyr - Feast Day: April 13

Born in Todi, Italy, Saint Martin was considered a man of great intelligence, piety, and charity. He was serving as the papal envoy to Constantinople when he was elected pope in 649, upon the death of Pope Theodore. Before long, however, his desire to defend the true faith put him in conflict with a powerful ruler, Emperor Constans II, the head of the Byzantine Empire.

The emperor worked closely with the patriarch of Constantinople, Paul, who was the most influential leader in the Eastern Church at the time. Constantinople was then the capital of the Byzantine Empire.

When Martin became pope, there was disagreement in the Church over how the divine and human natures of Christ existed within his one person.  A position known as monotheletism, which was strongly supported by the Eastern Church, held that Christ only had a divine will, not a human will.

To protect, although not directly support, that view, Constans II issued an edict, the Typos, which forbade discussion of the issue.

Pope Martin, however, believing that position to be heretical, convoked and presided over the Lateran Council of 649, during which the 105 bishops gathered condemned monotheletism, issued documents clarifying the Church’s position, and censured the Typos, along with an edict supporting monotheletism which had been issued by the previous emperor.

This angered Constans II, who first tried to turn the bishops against Pope Martin and then sent someone to kill him.  When neither attempt was successful, the emperor had Pope Martin arrested and brought back to Constantinople.  Already in poor health, the pope was seized, tortured, and imprisoned.

Originally sentenced to death, the emperor changed the sentence to banishment, perhaps influenced by Patriarch Paul, who had a change of heart before his death.

Pope Martin was banished to Chersonese (present-day Crimea), an area then gripped by famine. Sick and starving, Pope Martin died a short time later in 655.

At the end of his life, Pope Martin felt abandoned by the Church in Rome but never abandoned his faith.  The Church, having lost contact with him, assumed he had died and moved on, electing Eugenius I as his successor. It resulted in the Church having two duly elected popes at the same time.

Pope Martin I was the last pope to be martyred for defending the faith.