The last martyr pope

Martin I, pope from 649 to 653, showed high courage in defending orthodox doctrine during a turbulent period. He became the last pontiff to be venerated as a martyr.

The death in 604 of Gregory the Great, one of the most powerful and influential of all popes, was followed by a period of weakness and decline for Roman authority. The papacy became increasingly subordinated to the emperors at Constantinople, who insisted that each new pope should receive the imperial imprimatur.

Publicly flogged

When Martin, a native of Todi in Umbria who had been nuncio at Constantinople, became pope in 649, he demonstrated his independence by refusing to apply for imperial ratification of his position. In the same year a synod in the Lateran affirmed that Christ possessed both a human and a divine will, setting Martin on collision course with the Byzantine Emperor Constans II.

The emperor responded by ordering the arrest of Pope Martin. The first official given this task went over to the pope’s side; in 653, however, the pontiff was forcibly seized, deposed from his office, and taken to Constantinople. The long voyage, Martin reported in letters, left him badly weakened by dysentery. In the imperial capital he was left in prison for three months, without being allowed to wash for 47 days, while the disgusting food simply made him sick. Charged with treason – evidently the emperor had had enough of theological controversy – Martin was declared guilty without trial, stripped of his vestments, dragged through the streets in shackles, and publicly flogged.

Exiled to the Crimea

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