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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary


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In ecclesiastical history, a sect of eastern Christians who follow the Syrian rite, and are subject to the pope; their principal habitation being on Mount Libanus. Mosheim informs us that the doctrine of the Monothelites, condemned and exploded by the council of Constantinople, found a place of refuge among the Mardaites, a people who inhabited the Mounts Libanus and Atilibanus, and who about the conclusion of the seventh century, were called Maronites, after Maro, their first bishop; a name which they still retain. None (he says) of the ancient writers give any account of the first person who instructed these mountaineers in the doctrine of the Monothelites: it is probable, however, from several circumstances, that it was John Maro, whose name they adopted; and that this ecclesiastic received the name of Maro from his having lived in the character of a monk in the famous convent of St. Maro, upon the borders of the Orontes, before his settlement among the Mardaites of Mount Libanus. One thing is certain, from the testimony of Tyrius and other unexceptionable witnesses, as also from the most authentic records, viz. that the Maronites retained the opinions of the Monothelites until the twelfth century when abandoning and renouncing the doctrine of one will in Christ, they were re-admitted in the year 1182 to the communion of the Roman church.

The most learned of the modern Maronites have left no method unemployed to defend their church against this accusation; they have laboured to prove, by a variety of testimonies, that their ancestors always persevered in the Catholic faith, in their attachment to the Roman pontiff, without ever adopting the doctrine of the Monophysites, or Monothelites. But all their efforts are insufficient to prove the truth of these assertions to such as have any acquaintance with the history of the church, and the records of ancient times; for to all such, the testimonies they allege will appear absolutely fictitious, and destitute of authority. Faustus Noiron, a Maronite settled at Rome, has published an apology for Maro and the rest of his nation. His tenet is, that they really took their name from the Maro, who lived about the year 400, and of whom mention is made in Chrysostom, Theodoret, and the Menologium of the Greeks. He adds, that the disciples of this Maro spread themselves throughout all Syria; that they built several monasteries, and among others one that bore the name of their leader; that all the Syrians who were not tainted with heresy took refuge among them; and that for this reason the heretics of those times called them Maronites.

Mosheim observes, that the subjection of the Maronites to the spiritual jurisdiction of the Roman pontiff was agreed to with this express condition; that neither the popes nor their emissaries should pretend to change or abolish any thing that related to the ancient rites, moral precepts, or religious opinions of this people: so that in reality there is nothing to be found among the Maronites that savours of popery, if we except their attachment to the Roman pontiff, who is obliged to pay very dear for their friendship. For as the Maronites live in the utmost distress of poverty, under the tyrannical yoke of the Mahometans, the bishop of Rome is under the necessity of furnishing them with subsidies as may appease their oppressors procure a subsistence for the bishop and clergy, provide all things requisite for the support of their church and the uninterrupted exercise of public worship, and contribute in general to lessen their miseries. It is certain that there are Maronites in Syria who still behold the church of Rome with the greatest aversion and abhorrence; nay, what is still more remarkable, great numbers of that nation residing in Italy, even under the eye of the pontiff, opposed his authority during the last century, and threw the court of Rome into great perplexity.

One body of these non-conforming Maronites retired into the valleys of Piedmont, where they joined the Waldenses; another, above six hundred in number, with a bishop and several ecclesiastics at their head, fled into Corsica, and implored the protection of the Republic of Genoa against the violence of the inquisitors. The Maronites have a patriarch who resides in the monastery of Cannubin, on Mount Libanus, and assumes the title of patriarch of Antioch, and the name of Peter, as if he seemed desirous of being considered as the successor of that apostle. He is elected by the clergy and the people, according to the ancient custom; but, since their re-union with the church of Rome, he is obliged to have a bull of confirmation from the pope. He keeps a perpetual celibacy, as well as the rest of the bishops, his suffragans: as to the rest of the ecclesiastics, they are allowed to marry before ordination; and yet the monastic life is in great esteem among them. Their monks are of the order of St. Anthony, and live in the most obscure places in the mountains, far from the commerce of the world. As to their faith, they agree in the main with the rest of the Eastern church. Their priests do not say mass singly, but all say it together, standing round the altar. They communicate in unleavened bread: and the laity have hitherto partaken in both kinds, though the practice of communicating in one has of late been getting footing, having been introduced by little and little. In Lent they eat nothing, unless it be two or three hours before sun-rising: their other fastings are very numerous.

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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Maronites'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. 1802.

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