As we launch into Eastertide, we recall on this day Pope Saint Martin I (+649), one of the noblest, if most tragic, of the successors of Saint Peter. Born in Umbria, Italy, he was of noble lineage, with great intelligence combined with charity and love of the poor and the Church. While still a priest, he was sent by Pope John IV in 641 to redeem prisoners from the Slavs, during which duty Martin also piously gathered up many scattered relics of the martyrs and saints, which he placed in a chapel he had built in Rome, signifying something deeply spiritual in him.
Sometime soon afterward, he was appointed by Pope Theodore (642-649) apocrisiarius, or legate to Constantinople, and was himself to the papacy upon the Pontiff’s death, an office that would soon lead to his early death.
With the decline of Rome two centuries earlier – after the purported ‘fall’ with the deposition of the last pathetic emperor, the child Romulus Augustulus – power was now centralized in Constantinople, and, at this time, its emperor Constans II. Sadly, the East was also infected with the heresy of monothelitism, that Christ had no human will, but only a divine one, safeguarding, so they thought, the integrity of His Godhead, and the chance that His human will could somehow rebel and thwart the implacable divine decree.