Pope Martin I (Latin: Martinus I; born between 590 and 600, died 16 September 655) reigned from 21 July 649 to his death in 655. He succeeded Pope Theodore I on 5 July 649. He was the only pope during the Eastern Roman domination of the papacy whose election was not approved by an iussio from Constantinople. Martin I was exiled by Emperor Constans II and died at Cherson. He is considered a saint and martyr by the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.
He was born near Todi, Umbria, in the place now named after him (Pian di San Martino). According to his biographer Theodore, Martin was of noble birth, of commanding intelligence, and of great charity to the poor. Piazza states that he belonged to the order of St. Basil. He had acted as papal apocrisiarius or legate at Constantinople, and was held in high repute for his learning and virtue.
Martin I was the last Constantinopolitan apocrisiarius to be elected pope. Other envoys under the title nuncio have been elected since then, like John XXIII.
In 641, Pope John IV sent the abbot Martin into Dalmatia and Istria with large sums of money to alleviate the distress of the inhabitants, and redeem captives seized during the invasion of the Slavs. As the ruined churches could not be rebuilt, the relics of some of the more important Dalmatian saints were brought to Rome, where John then erected an oratory in their honour.
At that time Constantinople was the capital of the Roman empire and the patriarch of Constantinople was the most influential Church leader in the eastern Christian world. After his election, Martin had himself consecrated without waiting for the imperial confirmation. One of his first official acts was to summon the Lateran Council of 649 to deal with the Monothelites, whom the Church considered heretical. The Council met in the church of St. John Lateran. It was attended by 105 bishops (chiefly from Italy, Sicily, and Sardinia, with a few from Africa and other quarters), held five sessions or secretarii from 5 October to 31 October 649, and in twenty canons condemned Monothelitism, its authors, and the writings by which Monothelitism had been promulgated. In this condemnation were included not only the Ecthesis (the exposition of faith of the Patriarch Sergius for which the emperor Heraclius had stood sponsor), but also the typus of Paul, the successor of Sergius, which had the support of the reigning Emperor (Constans II).
Martin was very energetic in publishing the decrees of the Lateran Council of 649 in an encyclical, and Constans replied by enjoining his exarch (governor) in Italy to arrest the pope should he persist in this line of conduct and send Martin as a prisoner from Rome to Constantinople. He was also accused by Constans of unauthorized contact and collaboration with the Muslims of the Rashidun Caliphate - allegations which he was unable to convince the infuriated imperial authorities to drop.
The arrest orders were impossible to carry out for a considerable period of time, but at last Martin was arrested in the Lateran on 17 June 653 along with Maximus the Confessor. He was hurried out of Rome and conveyed first to Naxos, Greece, and subsequently to Constantinople, where he arrived on 17 September 653. He was saved from execution by the pleas of Paul, patriarch of Constantinople, who was himself gravely ill. After suffering an exhausting imprisonment and many alleged public indignities, he was ultimately banished to Chersonesus (present-day Crimea region), where he arrived on 15 May 655 and died on 16 September of that year.
Pope Pius VII made an honorable reference to him in the encyclical Diu Satis (1800). Indeed, the famous Martin who long ago won great praise for this See, commends faithfulness and fortitude to Us by his strengthening and defense of the truth and by the endurance of labors and pains. He was driven from his See and from the City, stripped of his rule, his rank, and his entire fortune. As soon as he arrived in any peaceful place, he was forced to move. Despite his advanced age and an illness which prevented his walking, he was banished to a remote land and repeatedly threatened with an even more painful exile. Without the assistance offered by the pious generosity of individuals, he would not have had food for himself and his few attendants. Although he was tempted daily in his weakened and lonely state, he never surrendered his integrity. No deceit could trick, no fear perturb, no promises conquer, no difficulties or dangers break him. His enemies could extract from him no sign which would not prove to all that Peter "until this time and forever lives in his successors and exercises judgment as is particularly clear in every age" as an excellent writer at the Council of Ephesus says.
The breviary of the Orthodox Church states: “Glorious definer of the Orthodox Faith...sacred chief of divine dogmas, unstained by error...true reprover of heresy...foundation of bishops, pillar of the Orthodox faith, teacher of religion.... Thou didst adorn the divine see of Peter, and since from this divine Rock, thou didst immovably defend the Church, so now thou art glorified with him.”