The Maronites form one of the Chalcedonian churches in the Near East. The Maronite Church originated in a monastery near Apamea (mod. Afâmiyah, Syria) called Mar Maron. The exact location of the monastery is still unknown, but it was most probably founded after the Council of Chalcedon (451) in order to strengthen the adherents of the Chalcedonian doctrines in the region. Maronites fought for the Chal- cedonian doctrine against the monophysite Syrian Orthodox Christians (Jacobites). During the Acacian Schism (484519), the monks of the monastery of Mar Maron sent a letter to Pope Hormisdas seeking support from Rome. A Chal- cedonian confederation of monasteries was formed, and the monastery of Mar Maron held the presidency.
Under the Byzantine emperor Heraclius, the confederation led by the monastery of Mar Maron supported the doctrine of monotheletism, the doctrine of two natures and one will in Christ. They continued to do so even after the Council of Constantinople (680-681) rejected monotheletism in favor of the doctrine of two natures and two wills in Christ (dyotheletism). Makarios, the patriarch of Antioch, was condemned. Meanwhile the Arabs had conquered the Near East and North Africa, and either the Chalcedonian see of Antioch was not occupied, or the patriarch was resident in Constantinople. The Chalcedonian (Greek Orthodox) church in Syria came to be divided into adherents of dyotheletism and adherents of monotheletism. The dyotheletes grew rapidly to a majority when in 727 prisoners of the war against Byzantium were settled in the region and dyotheletes carried out missionary work among the monotheletes. Some scholars, especially Maronites,still assume that the whole debate over monotheletism came to Syria only in 727. Consequently, they also assume that Maronites had never been monotheletes.
When the Muslim authorities gave permission for a new Chalcedonian patriarch to reside in Antioch, a schism broke out between the dyothelete and the monothelete Chalcedo- nians. When Bar Qanbara became Chalcedonian patriarch of Antioch, he tried to impose the doctrine of dyotheletism on the monks of Mar Maron during a visit. They refused and, according to the chronicler Michael the Great, the Maronites elected their own patriarch. It is not certain that the name of the first patriarch was John Maron, who is a somewhat legendary figure. The chronicler Eutychios (Sa‘īd ibn Batrīq),patriarch of Alexandria (877-940), relates that during the time of Emperor Maurice a monk called Maron spread the doctrine of two natures, one will, one energy, and one person in Christ.
The Muslim writer al-Mas'udī (d. 956) gives similar information concerning the doctrine of the Maronites. He also indicated the main areas of Maronite settlement: the mountains of Lebanon andSanīr (between Homs and Baalbek), Homs and surroundings, Hama, Shaizar, and Ma‘arrat al- Nu’man. The Nestorian metropolitan Elias of Nisibis (d. after 1049) indicates that the Maronites resided in and around Kafartab. During the early tenth century, large groups of Maronites migrated to the northern parts of the Lebanese mountains. From the time of the crusades there are also Latin sources on the Maronites, the principal one being William of Tyre.
The Maronites lived mainly in the northern parts of Lebanon, where they had retained a certain autonomy under Muslim rule, in contrast to other Christian groups. In the county of Tripoli, they formed the main group of native Christians: according to William of Tyre they numbered more than 40,000 in the area of Mount Lebanon and the dioceses of Gibelet, Botron, and Tripoli [Guillaume de Tyr, Chronique, ed. R. B. C. Huygens, 2 vols. (Turnhout: Brepols, 1986), p. 1018]. Few Maronites lived outside the county of Tripoli. In Beirut there was a church and probably a sizable community, while there was a Maronite chapel in Jerusalem for their pilgrims. For the fourteenth century there are reports that a community of Maronites may have lived in Tikrit in Mesopotamia. The Maronite Church was one of the separated Eastern churches; it had its own patriarchs and bishops and was not in communion with any other church until 1181.
When the crusaders first came to Tripoli, the Maronites were willing to help them by providing guides. As they had retained a tradition of bearing arms, unlike most native Christians in Outremer, they were favored by the Franks, who often employed them in warfare.
The attitude of the Franks toward the indigenous Christians was generally favorable. Normally the Franks did not put pressure on the separated Eastern Christians to acknowledge the primacy of the Roman see or to accept the Latin creed. The Eastern Christians were freed from paying the religious tax formerly imposed on them by the Muslims, as well as from paying the tithe to the Latin Church. They were allowed to keep their churches and monasteries and could practice their faith freely. Consequently most of the Maronites had a positive attitude toward the Franks, although some Maronites are said to have supported the Muslim attack on Tripoli in 1137.
According to William of Tyre, the Maronite community entered into full religious union with the Roman Church in 1181: Aimery of Limoges, the Latin patriarch of Antioch, had convinced them to renounce monotheletism. We have no information about the reason for this unification nor about the negotiations. However, it was surely significant that union was brought about by the Latin patriarch, rather than the Curia or a papal legate, as was the case in negotiations with other churches. A decisive factor was the fact that Aimery made concessions, recognizing the Maronitechurch structure and not demanding total Latinization. This union held out hope that other separated churches would enter into the union with Rome, too.
In 1203 Cardinal Peter of San Marcello was sent by Pope Innocent III to hold discussions in Tripoli with the Maronite patriarch and his two suffragans. The Maronite churchmen swore obedience to Rome; they again renounced the monothelete doctrine and accepted the double procession of the Holy Ghost (that is, the belief that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Son as well as the Father). They also had to make some concessions concerning baptism, confirmation, communion, and confession, adapting them to the Latin rites.
In 1215 the Maronite patriarch, Jeremiah al-‘Amshītī, attended the Fourth Lateran Council, held at Rome under the presidency of Pope Innocent III. At the end of the council the bull Quia divinae sapientiae was published regarding the union of the Maronite and Roman churches. The Maronite bishops were required to wear miters and rings and carry a pastoral staff during the office. Bells were to be used to summon the faithful, and communion vessels were to be made of precious metal. The hierarchy of the Maronite Church was to consist of a patriarch, two archbishops, and three bishops. From that time the Maronite patriarch was confirmed in office by the pope and received the pallium from the Latin patriarch of Antioch.
Not all Maronites supported this union, and there was resistance in particular from groups living in the mountains. In 1243 the pope confirmed the appointment of the Maronite archbishop of Aiole by the Maronite patriarch; this unusual intervention seems to have been necessary because the see had not been in full communion with Rome before. Patriarch Daniel al-Shāmātī, the successor of Jeremiah al-‘Amshītī, favored the Latinization of the Maronite Church, but became quite isolated; after his death in 1282, the opponents of the union with Rome succeeded in having their own candidate elected. In 1289 the Franks lost the city of Tripoli to the Mamlūks, but the tensions between the different Maronite factions had not been resolved. The opposition to union with Rome had almost come to an end when the Mamlūks conquered the remaining parts of the county of Tripoli. All Maronites, whether in favor of union or not, suffered under the Mamlūks and now sought help against them from the West.
Contact between Rome and the Maronites was interrupted, but the church union was maintained, although the patriarch no longer applied for the pallium from Rome. It was only in the fifteenth century that the Franciscans made contact with the Maronites, and the connection between Rome and the Maronites was reestablished. In 1439 the Maronite patriarch, John, sent the prior of the Franciscans of Beirut as his representative to the Council of Florence, where he received the pallium from Pope Eugenius IV. The importance of the Maronite church grew in 1444, with the failure of the union between the Latin and Greek Orthodox churches; it was now the only Eastern church fully united with Rome.
From this time Maronites were sent to Rome for their education. One of those was Gabriel ibn al-Qilā‘ī, who was recruited by the Franciscans. After his return to Lebanon, he wrote poems with allusions to the history of the Maronites during the period of Frankish rule in Outremer. This period became decisive for the self-conception of the Maronites, in that it affected their attitude toward Europe in opposition to their largely Islamic environment and their relations with Rome in opposition to the Greek Orthodox Church and the separated Eastern churches. These factors came to be reflected in Maronite historiography of subsequent periods. Gabriel ibn al-Qilā‘ī denied that the Maronites had ever been monotheletes. He praised the good relations between crusaders and Franks on the one hand and the Maronites on the other. The father of Maronite historiography, Isifān al- Duwayhī, underlined the eternal orthodoxy of the Maronite Church. He saw the origin of theMaronites in John Maron, who according to him descended from the Carolingians in France and studied in Constantinople before becoming bishop of Antioch.
During the Ottoman period the patriarch was responsible for the civil administration of the Maronite community. In modern Lebanon the Maronites are one of the main religious groups. The patriarch now has his residence in Bkerke, Lebanon.