Commentary on the Third Council of Constantinople

Daniel J. Castellano (2009)

To the modern reader, the great Christological disputes of the first millennium may sometimes seem like needless controversy over philosophical subtleties. In this view, the Church ought to abstain from refined definitions of faith, but instead should tolerate different opinions on subtle theological questions, thereby preserving peace in the Church. As a matter of fact, this approach was already tried in the seventh century, and not only did it not lead to peace in the Church, but it created a new heresy, Monothelitism, which resulted in a half century of controversy and disturbance. Only when the Third Council of Constantinople (680-681) duly anathematized this heresy did the Church return to true unity and peace in theological matters. The Monothelitism controversy is an important example of how a feigned unity of belief can lead to great discord and rancor, when authorities in the Church shirk their duty to define doctrine clearly and unequivocally. The tranquility of the Church that we take for granted, where everyone readily accepts the Christology of the seven great councils, was made possible only by the uncompromising rigor of those who would not suffer heterodoxy and orthodoxy to coexist for the sake of a false peace.

The Origin of Monothelitism

In the early seventh century, the Roman Empire of the East was threatened by the military advances of the Persians. In 611, they conquered Antioch, followed by Damascus in 613, Jerusalem in 614, and Alexandria in 617. With three of the historic patriarchates (Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem) under heathen rule, the Christian Church was similarly threatened. The emperor Heraclius (575-641) proclaimed a holy war to recover Jerusalem, with the support of Sergius, Patriarch of Constantinople, who had crowned him in 610. After an arduous six year campaign, Heraclius not only recovered the holy land, but dictated the terms of peace to the Persians deep in their own territory. The True Cross, which had been excavated in the fourth century, was restored to its place in Jerusalem in 629, escorted by the triumphant emperor.

During this period of reconquest, Heraclius summoned theological conferences in the Caucasus and in Syria, in order to gather the support of the Christians there. As many of these Christians were Monophysites, the emperor sought to reconcile them to the doctrine of the Council of Chalcedon. In 622, Heraclius came to Theodosiopolis in Armenia, where he attempted to convert the Monophysite leader Paul, a strident defender of Eutyches. In the course of his argument, the emperor used the expression "one operation" (mia energeia) in Christ, which would have fateful consequences.

In 626, Heraclius held a conference with the bishop Cyrus of Phasis (a city by the Black Sea), and discussed the expression "one operation" (mia energeia) which he had used in the conference with Paul. Cyrus believed that the emperor should not have introduced a new formula of faith, as it was not clear if there ought to be one or two energeia. He sent a letter of inquiry on the matter to the patriarch Sergius of Constantinople. In reply to Cyrus, Sergius sent him a copy of the spurious letter of Mennas to Pope Vigilius, which cited passages of the Fathers mentioning "one operation" or "one will," yet the patriarch did not pronounce judgment on the issue. Cyrus, nonetheless, was now persuaded that the emperor's formula was orthodox. This same Cyrus would later be nominated by the emperor to assume the vacant see of Alexandria in 631.

As patriarch of Alexandria, Cyrus would give the doctrine of "one operation" its first practical application. In 633, he achieved a union between Catholics and Monophysites, codified in nine Kephalaia or capitula to which both parties assented. Relevant to our interests are the following capitula:

4. If anyone does not confess that, in consequence of the most intimate union, God the Logos, in the womb of the holy God-bearer, … has prepared for Himself a flesh consubstantial with ours, and animated by a reasonable soul, and this by physical and hypostatic union; and that from this union He has come forth as one, unmixed and inseparable, — let him be anathema.

5. If anyone does not confess that the Ever Virgin Mary is in truth the God-bearer, in that she bore the Incarnate God, the Logos, let him be anathema.

6. If anyone does not confess: From two natures, one Christ, one Son, one incarnate nature of God the Logos, as S. Cyril taught, "unchangeable, without mixture" (atreptos, analloiotos), or one united Hypostasis, which our Lord Jesus Christ is, one of the Trinity, let him be anathema.

7. If anyone, in using the expression, "The one Lord is known in two natures," does not confess that He is one of the Holy Trinity, i.e., the Logos eternally begotten by the Father, who was made man in the last times; … but that He was eteros kai eteros, and not one and the same, as the wisest Cyril taught, perfect in Godhead and the same perfect in manhood, and therefore known in two natures as one and the same; and (if anyone does not confess) that one and the same, on one side, and suffered, on the other, is incapable of suffering, i.e. suffered as man in the flesh, so far as He was man, but as God remained incapable of suffering in the body of His flesh; and (if anyone does not confess, that this one and the same Christ and Son worked both the divine and the human by ONE divine-human operation (mia theandrike energeia) as S. Dionysius teaches, … — let him be anathema.

Most of the above was well established orthodox doctrine, yet formulated in a way to be most acceptable to the Monophysites, using the words of St. Cyril. The sixth capitulum could be interpreted in a heterodox sense, as meaning that Christ came from two natures, but these distinct natures no longer exist, being replaced by the "one incarnate nature" of Christ. The article of most dubious orthodoxy is the last part of the seventh capitulum, which says that both the divine and human actions of Christ are worked by a single theandric (divine-human) operation. This unity of action would make the distinct natures of Christ a mere formality, as they are powerless to act on their own. With reason, then, the Monophysites believed that the Chalcedonian Catholics had capitulated to them, effectively acknowledging a single nature in Christ through this single energeia.

At the time this act of union was prepared, the scholarly monk St. Sophronius (560-638) of Jerusalem was then in Alexandria. As Sophronius was greatly esteemed throughout the East for his holiness and learning, the archbishop Cyrus permitted him to review the capitula. The saintly monk found the seventh capitulum to be heretical, and argued that the doctrine of two natures necessarily implied two "operations", one proper to each nature. Cyrus replied by citing Patristic passages that use the phrase mia energeia, though in a different sense. He further argued that the Fathers were often pliant in their choice of terms, without being heterodox. They should not dispute about wording now when so many souls were at stake. This is precisely the irenicist position we considered at the beginning, namely that it would behoove the Church not to dispute over subtleties, in order to maintain peaceful unity. We will see how such a policy in fact played out.

Seeing that Cyrus was committed to proclaiming the act of union, St. Sophronius appealed to Sergius of Constantinople to remove the formula of mia theandrike energeia from the capitula. Sergius, who had introduced Cyrus to the arguments in favor of the doctrine of "one operation," was not willing to do so. As he would say in his letter to Honorius: "This seemed to us hard. For how should it not be hard, very hard indeed, since by that means the union in Alexandria and all those eparchies would be destroyed, among those who hitherto had refused to hear anything either from the most holy Father Leo, or from the Synod of Chalcedon, but now speak of it with clear voice at the divine mysteries!" For Sergius, the formula of "one operation" had borne good fruit, getting the Monophysites to assent to the doctrine of Pope Leo and the Council of Chalcedon. Whether they gave such assent equivocally is another matter. Sergius demanded that Sophronius provide unambiguous proof-texts from the Fathers that there were two energeia in Christ, but he could not do this.

Sergius, ever the irenicist, did not wish for a new controversy to arise over the number of energeia after the act of union was promulgated. In his letter to Honorius (634), he relates:

We, however, considering that controversies, and from these heresies might arise, regarded it as necessary to bring this superfluous dispute about words to silence, and wrote to the patriarch of Alexandria, that, after accomplishing the union, he should require no one to confess one or two energies, but that confession should be made, as laid down by the holy and Oecumenical Synods, that one and the same only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, worked (energein) both the divine and the human, and that all Godlike and human energies went forth inseparably from one and the same Incarnate Logos and referred back to the same. The expression mia energeia should not be employed, since, although it was used by some of the Fathers, it seemed strange to many, and offended their ears, since they entertained the suspicion that it was used in order to do away with the two natures in Christ, a thing to be avoided.

In like manner, to speak of two energies gives offense with many, because this expression occurs in none of the holy Fathers, and because there would follow from thence the doctrine of two contradictory wills (thelemata) in Christ, as though the Logos had been willing to endure the suffering which brings us salvation, but the manhood had opposed it. This is impious, for it is impossible that one and the same subject should have two and, in one point, contradictory wills.

Sergius acknowledged that the doctrine of mia energeia might be interpreted in a heterodox sense, undermining the doctrine of two natures. Still, he found it had an orthodox sense, namely that all actions, both divine and human, were done by one and the same Christ. Indeed, when phrased this way, with energeia in its verb form, it is perfectly orthodox to say that the one Christ "worked" or "operated" all divine and human acts. In other words, there was one Agent for all these acts. However, Sergius did not seem to realize that we veer into heresy, and undermine Chalcedon, if we contend that there is but one faculty of action (energeia), for then there would not be two complete natures.

The patriarch found that the doctrine of two energeia was problematic, since he falsely inferred that this would mean Christ had two contradictory wills. His introduction of the concept of thelemata (wills) into the discussion gave Monothelitism its name, though it was originally a doctrine of "one operation," not "one will".

Sergius' solution to the problem was to prevent anyone from preaching either one or two energeia, and to restrict any confession of faith to the traditional wording that one Christ "worked" all divine and human acts. In this way, the peace of the Church would be kept. Sophronius agreed to teach only the definition of faith given by Sergius, highlighted above, and to abstain from preaching about two energies. Similarly, Sergius advised Cyrus to abstain from preaching one energy after the act of union was completed. Shortly afterward, Emperor Heraclius asked Sergius to extract the Patristic texts cited in the (spurious) letter of Mennas to Vigilius, referring to mia energeia (one operation) and ein thelema (one will). Sergius advised him that these expressions were controversial, and henceforth they should not use them, but instead ought to restrict themselves to the traditional formula of faith. Sergius expected to keep peace and unity by suppressing discussion of subtleties.

The Letter of Pope Honorius to Sergius

Recognizing that doctrinal questions should be reviewed by the Apostolic See, Sergius wrote to Pope Honorius in 634, explaining his position as discussed above. He asked of the Pope: "if there be anything wanting in what has been said ... with your holy syllables and with your desirable assistance to signify your opinion on the matter."

Pope Honorius' letter of reply endorsed Sergius' policy of suppressing discussion of one or two operations. The Pope did not define or condemn any new doctrine, but gave a pastoral recommendation that Sergius should continue in his course of action. "We praise your doing away with this novel vocabulary which could be a scandal to the uninstructed."

At one point in his discourse, Pope Honorius states that there is "one will" in Christ, but only in the sense that Our Lord's nature, being free from original sin, could not have a conflict between the will to execute the law of the spirit and the will to follow the law of the flesh. Here Honorius is speaking of an unconflicted human will in Christ, and does not address the question of His divine and human wills. This shows that he did not understand Sergius' contention about the lack of conflict between divine and human wills. It is unsurprising, then, that the Pope should have little patience for the subtlety of one or two "operations." The relevant portion of his letter reads as follows:

Whence, also, we confess one will of our Lord Jesus Christ (unam voluntatem fatemur Domini nostri Jesu Christi), since our nature was plainly assumed by the Godhead, and this being faultless, as it was before the Fall... As He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, so was He also born without sin of the holy and immaculate Virgin, the God-bearer, without experiencing any contamination of the vitiata natura.

The expression "flesh" is used in the Holy Scripture in a double sense, a good and a bad. Thus it is written (Genesis 6:3): ‘My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh;’ and the apostle says (1 Corinthians 15:50): ‘Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.’ And again (Romans 7:23): ‘I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.’ Many other passages must also be understood of the flesh in the bad sense. In the good sense, however, the expression is used by Isaiah (66:23): ‘All flesh shall come to Jerusalem to worship before Me.’ So Job (19:26): ‘In my flesh shall I see God;’ and elsewhere (S. Luke 3:6): ‘All flesh shall see the salvation of God.’

It is this, as we said, not the vitiata natura which was assumed by the Redeemer, which would war against the law of His mind; but He came to seek and to save that which was lost. In His members there was not another law (Romans 7:23), or a diversa vel contraria Salvatori voluntas, because He was born supra legem of human condition; and if He says in the Holy Spirit: ‘I came down from heaven not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me’ (S. John 6:38), and (S. Mark 14:36): ‘Nevertheless, not what I will, but what Thou wilt,’ and the like, these are not expressions of a voluntas diversa, but of the accommodation (oikonomia, dispensationis) of the assumed manhood. For this is said for our sakes, that we, following His footsteps, should do not our own will, but that of the Father.

It is clear from Honorius' discourse that he considered only the question of "two wills" in the sense of whether there was both a will to follow the spiritual law and a will to obey one's flesh in Christ. Commenting on John 6:38, he shows that this does not imply contrary wills in Christ, one that would obey God and one that would disobey. Here Honorius only considers the possibility of two conflicting wills such as humans ordinarily experience, and correctly concludes that such conflict did not exist in Christ. However, he does not address the question of whether Christ had two distinct, yet agreeing, wills, human and divine. It is possible that he thought of two wills as necessarily being contrary inclinations, but not as faculties.

Further on, Honorius warns that "certain babblers" should not put forth theological theories as though they were doctrines of the Church, when no council or lawful authority has pronounced on the question of one or two operations. The Scriptures teach that Christ worked both divine and human acts, but it is of no concern except to grammarians whether He did this through one or two "operations".

That the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son and the Word of God, by whom all things were made, the one and the same, perfectly works divine and human works, is shown quite clearly by the Holy Scriptures; but whether on account of the works of the Godhead and manhood (opera divinitatis et humanitatis ) it is suitable to think and to speak of one or two energies (operationes) as present, we cannot tell, we leave that to the grammarians, who sell to boys the expressions invented by them, in order to attract them to themselves. For we have not learnt from the Bible that Christ and His Holy Spirit have one or two energies; but that He works in manifold ways (polytropon energounta).

Pope Honorius dismisses the dispute about "operations" as a grammatical quibble, and finds in fact that Our Lord acts in "manifold operations." Here we see again that Honorius did not understand the issue, as he takes "operations" (energeia) to mean concrete actions rather than faculties for acting. In the first sense, the "operations" of God are unquestionably innumerable, but the point in dispute was whether the divine and human wills were distinct faculties.

Evidently, Pope Honorius had little understanding or regard for the subtle question of one or two "operations." For him, it sufficed to observe that this doctrine had never been formally defined, so everyone should be content with the traditional Chalcedonian definition of faith, without adding anything to it. He considered he was fulfilling his duty to preserve Apostolic tradition by not allowing anything to be added to the received definition of faith.

In a second letter, preserved only in fragments, Honorius told Sergius that silence on the "foolish question" should be maintained. He wrote similar letters to Alexandria and Jerusalem, and heard in response that Sophronius would cease preaching "two operations" if Cyrus would desist from preaching "one operation."

Synodical Letter of St. Sophronius

In 634, shortly before Sergius sent his letter of inquiry to Honorius, St. Sophronius became patriarch of Jerusalem. He immediately summoned a synod of his bishops. The synod at Jerusalem condemned the doctrine of "one operation" and proclaimed the doctrine of "two operations" as orthodox. St. Sophronius then issued a synodical letter expounding his creed and showing how Christ, having two complete natures, human and divine, without admixture, must necessarily also have had two wills or principles of action, as such is proper to both the human and divine natures.

Christ is one and two. He is One in hypostasis and person, but two in natures and in their natural properties. Of these He is permanently one, and yet ceases not to be dual in nature. Therefore one and the same Christ and Son and only-begotten is recognized undivided in both natures, and He worked the works of each nature, according to the essential quality or natural property belonging to each nature, which would not have been possible if He possessed only one single or composite nature as well as one hypostasis.

He who is one and the same could not then have perfectly performed the works of each nature. For when did the Godhead without a body perform the works of the body (physikon, "of the nature")? Or when did a body, unconnected with the Godhead, perform works which belong essentially to the Godhead?

While affirming that Christ is one person, St. Sophronius observes that the divine and human natures only perform acts proper to themselves, as is evident when we consider how they work when separate.

Emmanuel, however, who is one, and in this unity two, God and man, did in truth perform the works of each of the two natures: one and the same, as God the divine, as man the human. One and the same He acts and speaks divinely and humanly. It is not one who worked the miracles, another who performed the human works and endured the sufferings, as Nestorius thought, but one and the same Christ and Son performed the divine and the human, "one thing with another thing" (allo kai allo), as S. Cyril taught. In each of the two natures he had the power for working unconfused, but also unseparated. Insofar as He is eternal God, He performed the miracles; but insofar as, in the last times, He became man, did He perform the humble and human works. As in Christ each nature possesses its property inviolable, so each form (nature) works, in communion with the other, what is proper to itself. The Logos works what belongs to the Logos, in communion with the body; and the body accomplishes what belongs to the body, in union with the Logos...

One and the same Emanuel worked human and divine acts. Each nature contained the power the perform the acts proper to it, and these powers were unmingled, yet unseparated in Christ, just as the natures themselves were unconfused and unseparated. Each nature works what is proper to it, though not in isolation, but in communion with the other nature.

Therefore Nestorius has no cause for rejoicing; for neither of the two natures worked by itself, and without communion with the other, that which is proper to it, and we do not teach, as he did, two working Christs and Sons, although we recognize two forms working in communion, each of which works according to its own natural property. Moreover, we say, there is one and the same Christ who has physically accomplished the lofty and the lowly according to the physical and essential quality of each of His two natures; for the unchanged and unmingled natures were in no way deprived of those (qualities and properties).

The relation between the two "operations" or faculties of working is analogous to the relation between the two natures. Since both natures are unchanged and unmingled, they must each have all their properties, which include the power to act. However, by virtue of the hypostatic union, each nature accomplishes what is proper to it only in communion with the other, for there is but one Christ who acts. Essential to Sophronius' argument is the thesis that the power to act belongs to each nature. This thesis is practically necessary if "nature" is to mean anything at all, beyond a collection of static properties. At any rate, one could hardly be said to possess a human or divine nature if one lacks the power to act.

...we recognize the special energy of each nature, and a physical energy which belongs to their essence, and which has communion with the other, which proceeds unseparated from each essence and nature according to the physical and essential quality which dwells in it, and at the same time takes with it the unseparated and unmingled energy of the other nature. This makes the distinction of energies in Christ, as the existence of the natures makes the distinction of natures.

Each nature has its own proper "energy" or principle of action which proceeds from it. Due to the hypostatic union, the energy of one nature takes along with it the distinct energy of the other nature. Still, these energies are really distinct, just as the natures are distinct.

For the Godhead and the manhood are not identical in their natural quality, although they are united in one hypostasis in an ineffable manner, … for God the Logos is the Word of God, and not flesh... and the flesh is... made alive, but it is not Logos, although it is the flesh of God the Logos. Therefore they have not, even after the hypostatic union, the same energy undistinguishable the one from the other; and we do not confess only one natural energy, belonging to the essence and quite undistinguished in both, so that we may not press the two natures into one essence (ousia) and one nature...

The two natures of Christ are not mixed, so the divine nature is not human and the human is not divine. From this it follows that they may not have a single natural energy, for that would merge the two natures into one.

As, then, we ascribe an energy of its own to each of the two natures which are united unmingled in Christ, in order not to mingle the two natures which are united but not mingled, since the natures are known by their energies, and by them alone, and the difference of the natures from the difference of the energies, as those who have understanding in these things declare; so we maintain all the speech and energy (activity, action) of Christ, whether divine and heavenly or human and earthly, proceed from one and the same Christ and Son, from the one compound and unique hypostasis which is the Incarnate Logos of God, who brings forth from Himself both energies unseparated and unmixed according to His natures.

Indeed, natures can only be distinguished by their energies or activities. The root of physis, the Greek word for "nature," means "growth" or "production," as a nature is the principle by which activity originates in a thing. A nature without its own characteristic energeia would be no nature at all. Thus, to those with any philosophical understanding, it is evident that the two natures of Christ necessarily entail two energies. It is true that these two natures and two energies are compounded in a single subject, so that all actions, divine and human, spring forth from a single Christ, yet according to two distinct natural principles.

Christ endured suffering and the indignities of the flesh, but he did not do this unwillingly.

Such a shocking opinion be far from us! For He who endured such sufferings in the flesh was God, who redeemed us by His sufferings, and thereby procured for us deliverance from suffering. And He suffered and acted and worked humanly, when He Himself willed...

He had assumed a passible and mortal and perishable body, which was subject to natural and sinless feelings, and to this He appointed that, in accordance with its nature, it should suffer and labor until the resurrection from the dead. For then He released our passible and mortal and perishable part, and granted us deliverance from this.

So He voluntarily manifested the humble and human as physikon, yet remaining God in this. He was for Himself ruler over His human sufferings and actions, and not merely ruler, but also Lord over them, although He had become physically flesh in a passible nature. Therefore was His humanity superior to man, not as though His nature was not human, but in so far as He had voluntarily become man, and as man had undertaken sufferings, and not by compulsion and of necessity and against His will, as is the case with us, but when and how far He willed.

Here we see how the doctrine of distinct human and divine wills bears directly on the heart of Christianity. Christ the Word voluntarily assumed a human will and a human nature, subject to natural yet sinless feelings of suffering, weakness, and mortality. When He was resurrected, He freed the mortal and perishable human nature, and thereby delivered us. The reality of the Redemption hinges upon the reality of the human nature that the Word assumed and set free from death. Similarly, by virtue of the reality of Christ's human will, our will has been redeemed. He voluntarily assumed this will, and used this human will to freely obey God without fail, even to the point of suffering and death. He differed from us only in the use of His human will, for He submitted to suffering not out of compulsion, but freely. His perfect obedience thereby redeemed our disobedience, as St. Paul discusses at length in Romans.

The Fathers of the Church taught that we should ascribe various expressions about the Son to the divine or human nature, as appropriate. Similarly, St. Sophronius says, we ought to attribute the actions of the Son to the divine or human nature according to their quality.

Further, they say, in regard to the Son: All energy belongs to the One Son; but to which nature that which is wrought is proper must be learnt by the understanding. Very finely do they teach that we must confess one Emmanuel, for so is the Incarnate Logos named; and this one (and not allos kai allos) works all,… all words and deeds (energies) belong to one and the same, although the one are Godlike, others manlike; and, again, others have an intermediate character, and have the Godlike and the manlike together. Of this kind is that koine (kaine) kai theandrike energeia of Dionysius the Areopagite, which is not one, but of two kinds, so far as it has at once the Godlike and the human, and, by a compound naming of the one and of the other nature and essence, completely discloses each of the two energies.

St. Sophronius identifies three kinds of action in Christ. There are those that are purely divine, such as the creation and governance of the universe, and those that are purely human, such as eating, drinking, and sleeping. Yet there is a third kind, which pseudo-Dionysius called "theandric," that makes use of both divine and human nature. Such acts include those divine miracles that Christ worked by speaking, touching or breathing upon those he healed. These acts do not entail a mingling of the two natures or operations, but make use of their cooperation to yield a single effect. Sergius had used the theandrike energeia of Dionysius as evidence of a single energy, but St. Sophronius argues that this "theandric energy" is a compound of divine and human energy, as indicated by its compound name.

It is not clear what impact this synodal letter may have had. Though it was sent to all the patriarchs, Sergius of Constantinople, at least, never received it. As the eastern part of the Empire was under attack by the Muslims, communications may have been disrupted. St. Sophronius' vocal opposition to the doctrine of "one operation" was cut short by the capture of Jerusalem by Muslims in 637. He died the following year.

The Ecthesis of Heraclius

Shortly after corresponding with Honorius, Sergius prepared an imperial edict to implement the policy of silence regarding the question of one or two operations. The patriarch acted as regent while Heraclius was away at war, but the edict he drafted was published only when the emperor returned to Constantinople in 638. This document was known as the Ecthesis or declaration of faith. It recapitulated the formula of faith defined by the five ecumenical councils, and included two important additions. First, it forbade anyone to assert that there are one or two "operations" (energeia) in Christ. Second, to preserve the truth that there are no contrary wills in Christ, the Ecthesis declared "we profess that there is but a single will."

In his letter to Sergius, Pope Honorius had approved forbidding anyone to teach one or two "operations" as doctrine, but it is doubtful that he would have approved of a profession of "one will" in a definition of faith. At any rate, Honorius died (12 October 638) before the Ecthesis was published, so he could not have given formal approval to this definition of faith. Sergius perhaps supposed that the Pope endorsed the doctrine of "one will" in his letter, though we have seen that the pontiff misconstrued the question, and asserted only the lack of conflict in Christ's human will, which obeyed God in all things. He did not pronounce on the question of whether the divine will and human will were distinct faculties, but only affirmed that there were no contradictory inclinations in the mind of Christ, such as exist in sinful man. Nonetheless, Honorius' letter would be cited by Monothelites as endorsing their doctrine of one divine-human will, taking his expression unam voluntatem fatemur Domini nostri Jesu Christi out of context. Although Honorius did not in fact espouse Sergius' doctrine of Monothelitism, he inadvertently strengthened that position both by endorsing Sergius' policy of silence and by arguing that a plurality of wills implies conflict.

With the publication of the Ecthesis and its formula of "one will," controversy soon arose. The bishops of the East obediently signed their patriarch's declaration without resistance, but in 640, a new pope, Severinus (who reigned only two months), condemned the Ecthesis, as did his successor, John IV (reigned 640-642). Pope John correctly explained in a letter to his son (for he was an archdeacon prior to his papacy) that Honorius and Sergius had confessed "one will" only because they did not admit contrary wills in Christ, but they had made a poor choice of expression, since Christ's two natures each had its own proper faculty of willing. In deference to Pope John, Heraclius renounced the Ecthesis, explaining that he had been misled by Sergius, who had died months after its publication in 638. Emperor Heraclius himself died in 641.

Pyrrhus, the successor of Sergius as patriarch of Constantinople, refused to withdraw the Ecthesis, and so he was condemned by Rome. In 641, he was deposed by the new emperor Constans II (ruled 641-668) for political reasons. He then recanted the Ecthesis at Rome, but later relapsed into heresy. The new patriarch of Constantinople, Paul, sent his confession of faith to the Pope, as was customary, since the Pope was the guarantor of orthodoxy. Paul's confession did not mention two wills, so it was not accepted by Pope Theodore (reigned 642-649).

Independently of the Pope, a council of bishops at Cyprus convened in 643 to denounce the Ecthesis. They wrote to Pope Theodore:

Christ, our God, has instituted your Apostolic chair, O holy head, as a God-fixed and immovable foundation. For thou, as truly spake the Divine Word, art Peter, and upon thy foundation the pillars of the Church are fixed, and to thee He committed the keys of the kingdom of Heaven. He ordered thee to bind and loose with authority on earth and in heaven. Thou art set as the destroyer of profane heresies, as Coryphæus and leader of the orthodox and unsullied Faith. Despise not then, Father, the Faith of our Fathers, tossed by waves and imperilled; disperse the rule of the foolish with the light of thy divine knowledge, O most holy. Destroy the blasphemies and insolence of the new heretics with their novel expressions. For nothing is wanting to your orthodox and pious definition and tradition for the augmentation of the Faith amongst us. For we — O inspired one, you who hold converse with the holy Apostles and sit with them — believe and confess from of old since our very swaddling clothes, teaching according to the holy and God-fearing Pope Leo, and declaring that 'each nature works with the communion of the other what is proper to it.'

The bishops evidently did not see the doctrinal authority of the papacy as compromised in any way by the letter of Honorius. They considered the Pope to be as authoritative as St. Peter himself (St. Sophronius also used similar terms). Significantly, they appealed to the doctrine of Pope St. Leo's Tome, which was endorsed by the Council of Chalcedon. In particular, Pope Leo had written:

The activity of each form is what is proper to it in communion with the other: that is, the Word performs what belongs to the Word, and the flesh accomplishes what belongs to the flesh.

This quotation alone makes clear that Monothelitism was incompatible with the Chalcedonian orthodoxy. Each nature has an operation that is proper to it; the Word does what is proper to the Word, and the flesh does what is proper to the flesh.

In 646, the bishops of Africa held councils, and beseeched the Apostolic See, that "great and unfailing fountain," to oppose the imposition of the Ecthesis. At this time, the Pope still refused to recognize Paul as patriarch of Constantinople.

The Typos of Constans

Paul of Constantinople defended the Ecthesis by appealing to the authority of Honorius and Sergius. Though he retaliated against Rome by persecuting Latin priests and laymen, Paul recognized that he must ultimately submit to the Pope's doctrinal authority. He hoped to appease the current pontiff by dropping the mention of "one will," since he recognized that Honorius had not taught this. Paul would restore peace by asking Emperor Constans to retract the Ecthesis and issue a Typos ("Type"), which was not a definition of faith, but a simple injunction against speaking of one or two "operations" (energeia) or "wills" in Christ. Thus the policy of silence endorsed by Honorius would be extended to the question of "wills". The Typos was promulgated in 648 or 649. While no one who previously disputed over the questions of "wills" and "operations" would be punished, the Typos prescribed severe penalties for those who took either side of these issues henceforth. Bishops would be deposed, monks excommunicated, officials would lose their rank, rich men would be fined, and poor men exiled, if they asserted one or two wills or operations in Christ. Thus heresy and orthodoxy alike would be threatened with punishment, for the sake of a tolerant peace.

Pope Theodore died in May 649. His successor, Pope St. Martin I, condemned both the Ecthesis and the Typos as heretical in the Lateran Council of that year. The council also condemned as heretics Sergius, Cyrus, Pyrrhus, and Paul. In response, Paul advised Emperor Constans to force the Pope and the western bishops to sign the Typos. After failing to assassinate Pope St. Martin, the Emperor demanded (June 653) that the pontiff be brought to Constantinople. The Pope surrendered himself, but did not go to the eastern capital directly. Due to his ailing health, he was detained for several months, possibly more than a year, on the island of Naxos. When the Pope finally arrived at Constantinople, he was thrown into prison, and charged with various crimes, chief of which was his refusal to sign the Typos. In an open audience before the Emperor, the crowd was asked to anathematize Pope Martin, but few would do so. Perhaps recognizing the popularity of the Pope, or perhaps because his accuser Paul had died, Constans ultimately decided to sentence Pope Martin to exile rather than death.

Pope St. Martin died in exile, and he was regarded as the last martyr pope. Many miracles were accredited to him in life and after his death, so he was soon revered as a saint. Also martyred was St. Maximus the Confessor, an abbot who had first challenged the orthodoxy of Pyrrhus, and opposed the Typos. Constans ordered St. Maximus and two of his associates to be flogged and have their tongues cut out, after which they were imprisoned until they died The tribulations of Pope St. Martin and St. Maximus attest to the cruel irony of rigorously suppressing dispute for the sake of peace and tolerance. Clearly, there are far worse things than merely exchanging harsh words in a theological argument. Sometimes tolerance can be more intolerant than open contention.

A Conference Is Proposed

After the martyrdoms of Pope St. Martin and St. Maximus the Confessor, the Monothelite controversy was ignored. Pope St. Vitalian (657-72) did not mention the Typos in his decrees, and the matter seemed to be rendered moot when the cruel emperor Constans was murdered by one of his officers in 668. With the former patriarchs Paul and Pyrrhus long dead, the new patriarchs of Constantinople did not mention Monothelitism at all.

During this time, there was a rapprochement between empire and papacy, as the latter was instrumental in protecting Sicily from Arab fleets. In gratitude, Emperor Constantine IV sent a letter (12 August 678) to Pope Donus proposing a conference to resolve the dormant Monothelite controversy. The pope died before receiving the letter, and his successor, Pope St. Agatho, did not reply immediately. Instead, he ordered that the bishops of the West should first consult one another over this issue. The result of these councils was a lengthy letter from the Pope to the Emperor expounding the orthodox faith, and a detailed confession of faith signed by 125 Latin rite bishops. The Pope sent these documents with his representatives to the conference on Monothelitism proposed by Constantine. The papal delegation consisted of three Latin bishops, three papal legates, and four Greek monks from Sicily and Rome. They reached Constantinople in September 680.

During this delay, the patriarch Theodore of Constantinople grew impatient, suspecting Rome had refused the conference. He accordingly removed the name of Pope Vitalian, who had died seven years earlier, from the diptychs of Constantinople, thereby breaking communion with him. The emperor deposed the patriarch for this act, but the names of recent popes were not added to the diptychs, so East and West were technically in schism.

The emperor instructed the new patriarch of Constantinople, George I, to summon the bishops of the East to attend the conference on Monothelitism, which began in November 680. This conference, consisting as it did of the bishops of the East (174 by the end of the council) and papal legates (representing the Pope and 125 Latin bishops), had the capacity to act as a general council, since the Patriarchates of Alexandria and Jerusalem had been overrun by Arabs. This capacity was realized only gradually, as the conference developed, and it became necessary to invoke the authority of an ecumenical council.

Early Proceedings of the Council

The papal legates opened the council by laying blame for the Monothelite controversy at the feet of Sergius and his successors. They demanded justification for the novel doctrine of "one will" and "one operation." Macarius, Patriarch of Antioch, replied that these expressions were not novel, but had been taught by the General Councils, as well as Sergius, Cyrus, and Honorius.

The council then adopted a scholarly character, taking care to investigate the records of past councils and patristic testimony, in order to determine whether the doctrines in question had indeed taught by the highest authorities in the Church. The proceedings of the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon were pored over, without finding any sanction of Monothelitism. When reviewing the acts of Justinian's council (553), three letters were found that described the doctrine of "one will" as orthodox. One was allegedly written by the patriarch Mennas and the other two by Pope Vigilius. The papal legates protested that these were forgeries, and indeed archivists found that the original acts of that council were written on older sheets than the spurious letters, which apparently had been inserted at a later date.

Peter Speaks through Agatho

On 15 November, Patriarch George of Constantinople asked for Pope Agatho's letter to the emperor and the Latin bishops' confession of faith to be read.

The letter included an explanation of the long delay in Rome's response, in order to consult with the bishops of the West in councils. The Pope also accredited his delegation, who would represent Rome not as theologians expounding a novel theory, but as witnesses who would testify to "the tradition of this Apostolic See, as it has been taught by our apostolic predecessors." The papal delegates are commanded not to add or subtract anything to the faith as taught in Rome.

Pope Agatho's definition of faith first recapitulated the Nicene and Chalcedonian creeds, including the doctrine of two natures in Christ, described as follows.

And this same one Lord of ours, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, we acknowledge to subsist of and in two substances unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably, the difference of the natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the proprieties of each nature being preserved and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not scattered or divided into two Persons, nor confused into one composite nature; but we confess one and the same only-begotten Son, God the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, not one in another, nor one added to another, but himself the same in two natures-that is to say in the Godhead and in the manhood even after the hypostatic union: for neither was the Word changed into the nature of flesh, nor was the flesh transformed into the nature of the Word, for each remained what it was by nature. We discern by contemplation alone the distinction between the natures united in him of which inconfusedly, inseparably and unchangeably he is composed; for one is of both, and through one both, because there are together both the height of the deity and the humility of the flesh, each nature preserving after the union its own proper character without any defect; and each form acting in communion with the other what is proper to itself. The Word working what is proper to the Word, and the flesh what is proper to the flesh; of which the one shines with miracles, the other bows down beneath injuries.

From the Chalcedonian doctrine of two natures immediately follows that there are two operations in Christ, as each nature works the deeds that are proper to it.

Wherefore, as we confess that he truly has two natures or substances, viz.: the Godhead and the manhood, inconfusedly, indivisibly and unchangeably [united], so also the rule of piety instructs us that he has two natural wills and two natural operations, as perfect God and perfect man, one and the same our Lord Jesus Christ. And this the apostolic and evangelical tradition and the authority of the Holy Fathers (whom the Holy Apostolic and Catholic Church and the venerable Synods receive), has plainly taught us.

As the Church has always taught that Christ is both true God and true Man, it is necessary to believe that Our Lord has both a human will and a divine will. The doctrine of two operations or two wills is not a novelty, but part of the primitive faith of the Church entrusted to St. Peter himself.

This is the true and undefiled profession of the Christian religion, which no human cleverness invented, but which the Holy Ghost taught by the Prince of the Apostles. This is the firm and irreprehensible doctrine of the apostles....

And therefore, I beseech you, deign to stretch forth the right hand of your clemency to the apostolic doctrine which Peter the Apostle has handed down, that it be proclaimed more loudly than by a trumpet in the whole world: because Peter's true confession was revealed from heaven by the Father, and for it Peter was pronounced blessed by the Lord of all; and he received also, from the Redeemer of us all, by a threefold commendation, the spiritual sheep of the Church that he might feed them.

Resting on his protection, this Apostolic Church of his has never turned aside from the way of truth to any part of error, and her authority has always been faithfully followed and embraced as that of the Prince of the Apostles, by the whole Catholic Church and all Councils, and by all the venerable Fathers who embraced her doctrine, by which they have shone as most approved lights of the Church of Christ, and has been venerated and followed by all orthodox doctors, while the heretics have attacked it with false accusations and hatred. This is the living tradition of the apostles of Christ, which His Church holds everywhere, which is to be loved and cherished above all things and faithfully preached....

Pope St. Agatho identifies the Church's confession of faith with that of St. Peter, who first recognized Christ for who He truly is. The Apostolic See of Rome, in fulfillment of Christ's command to feed His sheep, has never turned from the true faith to any part of error, and her definitions of faith have always been followed by the Councils and the orthodox Fathers. The Pope asks the emperor, in his clemency, to proclaim this apostolic faith throughout his empire.

The Pope further elaborated the Petrine doctrine of Rome's unerring faith:

This is the rule of the true faith, which in prosperity and adversity this spiritual Mother of your most serene Empire, the Apostolic Church of Christ, has ever held, and defends; and she, by the grace of Almighty God, will be proved never to have wandered from the path of the apostolic tradition, nor to have succumbed to the novelties of heretics; but even as, in the beginning of the Christian faith, she received it from her founders, the princes of the apostles of Christ, so she remains unspotted to the end, according to the divine promise of our Lord and Saviour Himself, which He spake to the prince of His disciples in the holy Gospels: 'Peter, Peter,' saith He, 'behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not, and thou being once converted, strengthen thy brethren.' Let your clemency therefore consider that the Lord and Saviour of all, to whom faith belongs, who promised that the faith of Peter should not fail, admonished him to strengthen his brethren; and it is known to all men that the apostolic pontiffs, the predecessors of my littleness, have always done this with confidence.

The indefectibility of the Church derives from the faith she receives from Peter and his successors. Christ's promise that the faith of Peter should not fail is kept in Peter's successors, who continue to strengthen the brethren by reminding them of the apostolic faith. In particular, the Popes have often admonished patriarchs of Constantinople not introduce false doctrines into the Church, nor even to permit these by silence.

Woe is me, if I cover the truth in silence, when I am bidden ... to instruct the Christian folk therewith.... Wherefore also my predecessors, of apostolic memory, being furnished with the teachings of the Lord, never neglected to exhort the prelates of the Church of Constantinople, who tried to introduce heretical novelties into the immaculate Church of Christ, and to warn them with entreaties to desist from the heretical error of teaching falsehood at least by their silence.

Pope St. Agatho considered himself duty-bound to strengthen the brethren by proclaiming the apostolic faith rather than allowing error to flourish by his silence. He notes that his predecessors repeatedly did likewise. The pope considers that those who neglect to correct heresy are themselves guilty of the "heretical error of teaching falsehood". By this standard, Pope Honorius might be considered a heretic, if he knowingly permitted error to flourish.

Nevertheless, Pope Agatho held that the faith of the Apostolic See remained free from error, by the favor of St. Peter.

Consequently, the Holy Church of God, the Mother of your Most Christian Empire, must be freed from the errors of teachers like these, and in order to please God and save their souls, the whole number of prelates and priests, and clergy and people must confess with us the formula of truth and Apostolic tradition, the evangelical and Apostolic rule of faith, which is founded upon the firm rock of blessed Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, which by his favour remains free from all error."

The Pope concluded that the Patriarch of Constantinople must assent to this Apostolic teaching, which is found in the Scriptures, the Councils, and the Fathers, and "by which the formula of the truth has been shown to us through the revelation of the Holy Ghost", referring to the special grace by which the Pope is protected from teaching error in matters of faith. If the patriarch should refuse, "let him know that of such contempt he will have to make satisfaction to the divine judgment of Christ before the Judge of all, who is in heaven, to whom we ourselves shall give an account, when He shall come to judgment, for the ministry we have received."

The reading of the Pope's letter to the emperor was followed by a loud acclamation from the Greek bishops, who said of the current pontiff as was said of Pope St. Leo at Chalcedon: "It is Peter who is speaking through Agatho." The Greek bishops, at this time, freely assented to the claim that the faith of the Apostolic See could not fail. Those patriarchs of the past who had defied papal definitions of faith were ultimately condemned as heretics, so it was currently well established that Rome had always taught sound doctrine. Ironically, this same council would seemingly purport to find an exception to this rule in Honorius, a point we will examine further.

Meanwhile, Macarius still maintained that the doctrine of "one will" or "one operation" had some pedigree in Church teaching, this time appealing to patristic testimony. He quoted some Fathers of the Church to support his point, but the papal legates again objected that these passages were not authentic. Both versions of the patristic documents, that of Macarius and that of the legates, were locked up and sealed by order of the emperor on 12 and 13 February, 681. They were then taken to be compared with the original or most authoritative manuscripts at the Patriarchal Library.

Three weeks later (7 March), the council re-convened, and George of Constantinople attested that all the testimony of the Fathers indeed comported with Pope Agatho's letter to the emperor and with the Latin bishops' confession of faith. Nearly all the bishops present agreed, and so the Pope's name was restored to the diptychs, and the technical schism was ended.

Though the bishops of the East had immediately given their assent to Pope Agatho's definition of faith, they took care to confirm that this was indeed the doctrine that the Fathers of the Church also taught. Only after this confirmation was communion formally restored with the Pope. As at Chalcedon, the Greek bishops recognized that the indefectible faith of St. Peter was in fact preserved by the Apostolic See, yet they still found it necessary to confirm papal teaching by comparison with the Fathers. This was logical, insofar as the authority of papal teaching derived from its identity with the apostolic faith that the Church had always held.

The Condemnation of Macarius

Macarius of Antioch still would not concede, and he unequivocally professed his Monothelite creed. "I do not say two wills or operations in the mysterious Incarnation of our Lord, Jesus Christ, but one will and a single divine-human operation." He insisted that anyone who professed two wills was a Nestorian, and even went so far as to anathematize St. Maximus for preaching this "dogma of division," which had been "rejected before our time by our blessed fathers, I mean Honorius and Sergius and Cyrus ... and by Heraclius of pious memory". Standing his ground, Macarius declared he would not profess two wills even if he were to be torn limb from limb and thrown into the sea. When it was objected that he had misquoted or garbled the testimony of the Fathers, he brazenly admitted that he had done this in order to defend his belief. At this, he was shouted down by the bishops, who called him another Dioscorus, after the Monophysite heresiarch. Macarius was stripped of his patriarchal rank and deposed the following day (8 March).

The authorities to whom Macarius had appealed were now subjected to the Council's judgment. The letters between Sergius and Honorius, among other documents of Macarius were read on 22 March. On 28 March, the Council pronounced its judgment. The letters of Sergius were condemned as heretical, and the bishops voted that "the names of those whose wicked teaching we execrate shall be cast out of the holy church of God, that is, Sergius, Cyrus of Alexandria, Pyrrhus, Paul and Peter, patriarchs of Constantinople ... persons, all of them, mentioned by Agatho in his letter and cast out by him." The Council also added a name not mentioned by Agatho: "And in addition to these we decide that Honorius also, who was Pope of the Older Rome, be with them cast out of the Holy Church of God, and be anathematized with them, because we have found by his letter to Sergius that he followed his opinion in all things and confirmed his wicked teaching." The Roman legates presiding over the council did not protest this sentence, though they had the opportunity to do so. It is possible that they had no instructions from Rome on this matter, as such a condemnation might not have been anticipated.

The Council's Exposition of Faith

On 11 September, the Council's confession of faith was finalized. The exposition begins by commending the emperor for bringing together this synod in order to preserve peace in the Church, by making it one in judgment. The Council professes the same faith as that articulated by each of the five previous ecumenical councils, establishing itself in continuity with them. After stating the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, the Council declared:

This pious and orthodox creed of the divine favour was enough for a complete knowledge of the orthodox faith and a complete assurance therein. But since from the first, the contriver of evil did not rest, finding an accomplice in the serpent and through him bringing upon human nature the poisoned dart of death, so too now he has found instruments suited to his own purpose--namely Theodore, who was bishop of Pharan, Sergius, Pyrrhus, Paul and Peter, who were bishops of this imperial city, and further Honorius, who was pope of elder Rome, Cyrus, who held the see of Alexandria, and Macarius, who was recently bishop of Antioch, and his disciple Stephen -- and has not been idle in raising through them obstacles of error against the full body of the church sowing with novel speech among the orthodox people the heresy of a single will and a single principle of action in the two natures of the one member of the holy Trinity Christ our true God, a heresy in harmony with the evil belief, ruinous to the mind, of the impious Apollinarius, Severus and Themistius, and one intent on removing the perfection of the becoming man of the same one lord Jesus Christ our God, through a certain guileful device, leading from there to the blasphemous conclusion that his rationally animate flesh is without a will and a principle of action.

The Council identifies as instruments of the devil all the proponents of Monothelitism, and includes the name of Honorius in this litany of shame. They are all charged with the crime of "sowing with novel speech... the heresy of a single will and a single principle of action in the two natures". We have seen, of course, that Pope Honorius did not assert a single will in the two natures, but a single unconflicted will in Christ's human nature. His crime, at worst, was failing to identify and condemn the error of Sergius, yet the Council lists him among the Monothelites. Macarius had invoked Honorius as an authority for the Monothelite creed, and indeed the pontiff had approved of Sergius' expression "one will" or "one operation" (though understanding it in a different sense), giving the synod a strong incentive to condemn Honorius. Similarly, councils in the sixth century had condemned the letter of Ibas and the writings of Origen for merely equivocal expressions of doctrine, in order that heretics might not invoke them as authorities.

While condemning Honorius, the Council nonetheless "faithfully accepts and welcomes with open hands the report of Agatho, most holy and most blessed pope of elder Rome, that came to our most reverend and most faithful emperor Constantine, which rejected by name those who proclaimed and taught, as has been already explained, one will and one principle of action in the incarnate dispensation of Christ our true God." The letter of Pope Agatho, filled with clear teaching about the unfailing orthodoxy of the Apostolic See, is welcomed by the Council, though its condemnation of Honorius would seem to put a blemish on Rome's unerring faith. The contradiction is evident in the Council's mention that the Pope's letter "rejected by name those who proclaimed and taught, as has been already explained, one will and one principle of action", seeming to imply that the same names earlier condemned by the Council were also denounced by Pope Agatho. As we noted earlier, the Pope did not include Honorius among the Monothelite heretics he named.

The Council affirmed the existence of two wills and two operations in Christ, regarding this doctrine as a necessary corollary of the faith defined at Chalcedon, namely that Christ has both human and divine nature in their entirety, without division, change, partition or confusion.

And we proclaim equally two natural volitions or wills in him and two natural principles of action which undergo no division, no change, no partition, no confusion, in accordance with the teaching of the holy fathers.

The two wills of Christ correspond to the human and divine natures, each of which is capable of volition. This plurality of wills does not imply opposition or conflict in Christ.

And the two natural wills not in opposition, as the impious heretics said, far from it, but his human will following, and not resisting or struggling, rather in fact subject to his divine and all powerful will. For the will of the flesh had to be moved, and yet to be subjected to the divine will, according to the most wise Athanasius. For just as his flesh is said to be and is flesh of the Word of God, so too the natural will of his flesh is said to and does belong to the Word of God, just as he says himself: I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of the Father who sent me, calling his own will that of his flesh, since his flesh too became his own. For in the same way that his all holy and blameless animate flesh was not destroyed in being made divine but remained in its own limit and category, so his human will as well was not destroyed by being made divine, but rather was preserved, according to the theologian Gregory, who says: "For his willing, when he is considered as saviour, is not in opposition to God, being made divine in its entirety."

The Council cites St. Athanasius as holding that Christ's human will was subjected to the divine will. Since Christ willingly subjected his human will to the divine will, this human will may be said to truly belong to the Word of God. This subjection to the divine will did not destroy the human will, just as the Incarnation did not destroy Christ's human flesh. Rather the human will, like the human nature, was made divine in the sense of being subjected to God, as St. Gregory says.

Similarly, doctrine of two natures requires that there be two distinct operations in Christ, if by "operation" we understand a natural principle of action. We saw that Honorius had an imprecise understanding of the term "operation", referring to a way of acting, in which case there are innumerable "operations" in God. The Council uses "operation" in the sense of a natural principle of action. A human is able to perform those acts of which human nature is capable, and God is able to perform those acts of which the divine nature is capable. Christ, being true God and true man, must be able to perform both human and divine acts, yet he does not perform human acts by virtue of the divine nature, nor does he perform divine acts by virtue of the human nature. For this reason, we must affirm two natural principles of action in Christ, one human and one divine.

And we hold there to be two natural principles of action in the same Jesus Christ Our Lord and true God, which undergo no division, no change, no partition, no confusion, that is, a divine principle of action and a human principle of action, according to the godly-speaking Leo, who says most clearly: "For each form does in a communion with the other that activity which it possesses as its own, the Word working that which is the Word's and the body accomplishing the things that are the body's." For of course we will not grant the existence of only a single natural principle of action of both God and creature, lest we raise what is made to the level of divine being, or indeed reduce what is most specifically proper to the divine nature to a level befitting creatures for we acknowledge that the miracles and the sufferings are of one and the same according to one or the other of the two natures out of which he is and in which he has his being, as the admirable Cyril said.

The doctrine of two operations was already explicitly defined by Pope St. Leo, whose Tome was read at the Council of Chalcedon. Each nature works the deeds that is proper to it, though the two natures are in communion with each other. To affirm a single operation would be to confuse the divine and human natures, leading to blasphemous results. We cannot say that human nature works miracles or that the divine nature suffers. The mystery of the Incarnation does not abolish the fact that God utterly transcends created nature, and we are not to return to a pagan confusion between the powers of creature and Creator.

The Council summarizes the principles underlying the doctrines of two wills and two operations:

Therefore, protecting on all sides the "no confusion" and "no division," we announce the whole in these brief words: Believing Our Lord Jesus Christ, even after his Incarnation, to be one of the Holy Trinity and our true God, we say that he has two natures shining forth in his one subsistence in which he demonstrated the miracles and the sufferings throughout his entire providential dwelling here, not in appearance but in truth, the difference of the natures being made known in the same one subsistence in that each nature wills and performs the things that are proper to it in a communion with the other; then in accord with this reasoning we hold that two natural wills and principles of action meet in correspondence for the salvation of the human race.

The Council recapitulates the Chalcedonian formula of two natures in one person or subsistence, following Pope Agatho's letter. This doctrine is the basis for asserting two wills and two principles of action in Christ, for each nature wills and performs what is proper to it, so that both human and divine natures are manifested in the one Christ. The doctrine of two wills and two operations is asserted not as some novel theological development, but as preserving the integrity of the received apostolic faith.

The Council of Constantinople, like its predecessors, did not recognize any principle of doctrinal "development" in the sense of adding anything to the apostolic faith. Earlier in its acts, the Council had declared that the Nicene creed "was enough for a complete knowledge of the orthodox faith and a complete assurance therein." However, as at Chalcedon, the fathers of this Council found it necessary to make a more elaborate definition in order to counter the work of the devil, "who has not been idle in raising through [named heretics] obstacles of error against the full body of the Church, sowing with novel speech among the orthodox people the heresy of a single will...". The Council resorts to elaborate definitions not to expand the body of revelation beyond what the Apostles received and taught, but to leave no quarter for the cunning of heretics, who would distort or misrepresent the apostolic faith through novel formulas or doctrines. Pope Agatho expressed a similar sentiment, when he said that his legates were not to act as theologians expounding a new doctrine, but as witnesses to the faith that had always been taught in Rome. The holy fathers of the early Christian centuries did not see themselves as expanding or improving upon the apostolic faith, but as preserving it from the heresies of each age. Thus their definitions of faith, notwithstanding their use of a highly technical terminology for the aforementioned reason, were regarded as expressing the substance of what the Holy Apostles believed and taught, and no more.

Proclamation of the Council's Acts

At the close of the Council, the bishops sent a letter to the emperor notifying him of what had been decided.

Assenting to the letter of our most blessed father, and most high pope, Agatho ... we have followed his teaching, and he the Apostolic and Patristic tradition, and we have found nothing that was not consonant with what they have laid down.... Who has ever beheld such wondrous things? The spiritual lists were arrayed, and the champion of the false teaching [i.e., Macarius] was disarmed beforehand, [i.e., by the pope's letter], and he knew not that he would not obtain the crown of victory, but be stripped of the sacerdotal crown. But with us fought the Prince of the Apostles, for to assist us we had his imitator and the successor to his chair, who exhibited to us the mystery of theology in his letter. The ancient city of Rome proffered to you a divinely written confession and caused the daylight of dogmas to rise by the Western parchment. And the ink shone, and through Agatho it was Peter who was speaking."

The bishops state that they have followed the teaching of the Pope, who in turn has followed the Apostolic and Patristic tradition, as was confirmed by examining earlier documents. Pope Agatho's letter was recognized as a "divinely written confession" proffered to the emperor. Agatho is the successor of St. Peter, who is the guarantor of faith to the Church. Whence the Council's assertion that Peter has spoken through Agatho.

The fathers of the Council evidently believed that a Pope, by virtue of being a successor of St. Peter, could sometimes act in a divinely guaranteed manner to define the orthodox faith. The Pope was able to do this by virtue of St. Peter himself, who protected the Church from error by speaking through his successor. Pope Agatho, like Pope Leo before him, had exercised this special charism in his confession of faith.

The bishops made a similar profession of papal primacy in their letter to Pope St. Agatho, who, unbeknownst to them, had died in January.

We therefore leave to you what is to be done, since you occupy the first see of the Catholic Church, and stand on the firm rock of the faith, after we have dwelt with pleasure upon the writings of the true confession sent from your fatherly blessedness to the most pious emperor, which also we recognize as pronounced by the chiefest head of the Apostles, and by which we have put to flight the dangerous opinion of the heresy which lately arose....

The Pope's confession is recognized as having been pronounced by St. Peter, who is the rock of the faith upon which his successors stand. This sentiment is echoed in the emperor's letter to the public, proclaiming the Council's findings: "These are the teachings of the voices of the Gospels and Apostles, these the doctrines of the holy Synods, and of the elect and patristic tongues; these have been preserved untainted by Peter, the rock of the faith, the head of the Apostles; in this faith we live and reign...." St. Peter himself has preserved the apostolic teachings, through his successor Agatho.

After learning of Pope Agatho's death, the emperor wrote a letter to his successor, Leo II (who was not consecrated until 682), describing the acts of the Council.

We ordered the letter of Pope Agatho ... to our majesty ... to be read in the hearing of all ... we perceived in it the word of the true confession [i.e., of Peter] unaltered. And with the eyes of our understanding we saw it as if it were the very ruler of the Apostolic choir, the first chair, Peter himself, declaring the mystery of the whole dispensation, and addressing Christ by this letter: 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God'; for his holy letter described in word for us the whole Christ. We all received it willingly and sincerely, and embraced it, as though the letter were Peter himself ... Glory be to God, who does wondrous things, Who has kept safe the faith among you unharmed. For how should He not do so [with regard to] that rock on which He founded His church, and prophesied that the gates of hell, all the ambushes of heretics, should not prevail against it? From it, as from the vault of heaven, the word of the true confession flashed forth, and ... brought warmth to frozen orthodoxy.

Emperor Constantine recognized in Pope Agatho's letter the living faith of St. Peter himself, and therefore embraced the letter as he would the Prince of the Apostles. Christ promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against his Church, so it is inconceivable that heresy should prevail against the rock of Peter, the Church's foundation. In contrast with certain modern theologians, Constantine found "warmth" brought to "frozen orthodoxy" not by humans adding something new to the faith, but by virtue of coming from heaven, from the living God who made Peter's confession of the true faith possible. In other words, faith is most fully alive when it is that of Peter, coming from heaven. This view is antithetical to that of modern theologians who would try to make living faith the product of human innovation and insight. Constantine's view recognizes that all life comes from God, and we are only alive insofar as we are in God. Therefore, we ought to look to Heaven, not earth, for the warmth of living faith.

The Anathema against Honorius

We have seen that the Council fathers and the emperor held the papacy in the greatest esteem, ascribing to the successors of St. Peter the voice of the Apostle himself, who preserves the Church from heresy through the unerring teaching of the Roman pontiffs. The Council greeted with universal acclaim the letter of St. Agatho, which unequivocally affirmed the infallibility of the faith of the Apostolic See. As the emperor later wrote to the Latin bishops, "We admired the writing of Agatho as the voice of St. Peter, for nobody disagreed save one [i.e., Macarius]." This admiration was principally directed toward Pope Agatho's exposition of the faith, yet the Pope explicitly based the authority of this creed on the fact that it was the faith that had always been taught at Rome. How then, do we reconcile the paeans to papal infallibility with the fact that this same Council anathematized Pope Honorius for heresy?

It is important to recognize that in the first millennium, the attitude of the East toward the papacy was neither that of the modern Orthodox nor that or modern Catholics, but at an intermediate position. The Pope did not exert ordinary jurisdiction over the East, which appointed its own bishops and established its own canons, yet he was sometimes called to resolve disputes in matters of faith among the eastern patriarch. Before this Council, no Pope had ever been accused of heresy by an Eastern bishop save those who ended up condemned of heresy themselves. Thus the faith of Rome was considered unblemished by the orthodox fathers of the East. On several occasions, the Greeks explicitly stated that Rome had never failed to preserve the faith, and referred this singular grace to Petrine succession. The case of Honorius, however, put the limits of papal infallibility to the test. Could a pope err in his teaching, and if so, how could Christ's promise to St. Peter be considered fulfilled?

It is doubtful that the Greek fathers devoted much thought to the impact of the anathema against Honorius to the doctrine of papal infallibility. Popes had been anathematized by the East over political and ecclesiastical disputes, so there seemed nothing unusual to the Greeks about anathematizing a Pope. Also, the pope in question was long dead, so the condemnation of his memory did not in any way impair communion with Rome, whose current pontiff upheld the traditional faith. Further, papal infallibility was never formally defined as a doctrine of the faith, though it had been asserted by popes for centuries, and accepted on some level by the East. Thus it was not clearly what its limits were, whether it admitted of absolutely no exceptions, or whether it sufficed for the papacy to preserve the faith more or less continuously. We have seen that the Greek bishops saw no contradiction in condemning Honorius and yet affirming arguments for Petrine primacy that are familiar to modern Catholics.

The popes, being naturally more protective of their prerogatives, gave more attention to questions bearing on papal infallibility. Pope Agatho took care not to include Honorius among the list of those he condemned. The Council nevertheless added Honorius to the list, and in its acts appears to imply that this was consistent with what Agatho willed, apparently on the assumption that since Agatho condemned Monothelitism, naturally he would want all Monothelites, including Honorius, to be condemned. Pope St. Leo II, in his ratification of the Council, would take care to clarify that Honorius was not guilty of teaching error, but only of negligence in his failure to identify and condemn heresy.

The exact scope of papal infallibility was not formally defined until the nineteenth century, though it was recognized in some form from the earliest Christian centuries. In the modern definition, the Pope cannot err in matters of faith or morals when he is teaching ex cathedra, that is, in his capacity as the successor of Peter and head of the Catholic Church. This doctrine considers that the Pope is infallible not by his personal virtue, but by virtue of being the successor of St. Peter, much as the ancient fathers believed. Further, he acts in this infallible teaching capacity only when he intends to define a matter of faith and morals for the entire Church, not just some particular Church or group of individuals. We will consider papal infallibility in this modern sense when we examine the case of Honorius.

The anathema against Honorius contains two issues that bear upon the modern doctrine of papal infallibility. First, what did Honorius really teach? Did he teach heresy, or at least some error of faith? Second, what was the Council's judgment against Honorius? Was he judged to be a formal heretic, or was he condemned merely for giving material support to the spread of heresy?

In his letter to Sergius, Honorius did not assert that the human will and the divine will are one and the same by nature, but only that Christ's will is morally one, i.e., that it is unconflicted. Honorius' reasoning in support of the formula unam voluntatem speaks of Christ's lack of a vitiata natura to "war against the law of His mind," but does not address the possibility of an essential distinction between the human and divine wills. Honorius shows only that Christ does not have a vicious will in opposition to the law of His mind. Christ has "one will" in the sense that He is of one mind, and not at war with himself. There is nothing heretical in this belief.

One might contend that Honorius has nonetheless made a materially heretical statement by asserting "one will" in Christ and failing to consider the necessary consequence that the two complete natures should each have a fully formed will. However, it is not at all clear that Honorius understood the term "will" to refer to a natural faculty. On the contrary, he uses the term to mean an inclination of the mind, and since both the human and divine faculties of willing were inclined toward the same end, Honorius would recognize only one "will" in the sense of inclination. When the author's intent regarding the use of terms is considered, the text is not materially heretical.

However, we must recall that the Second Council of Constantinople condemned the letter of Ibas, even though it was not heretical when understood in the sense the author intended. It sufficed that the letter contained written expressions that, taken at face value, could have a heretical sense. By this standard, Honorius' letter would be materially heretical, yet the proper course of action would be to condemn the letter and not the person of Honorius, as was the case with the letter of Ibas.

Honorius might be faulted, if not for teaching positive heresy, then at least for forbidding the use of the orthodox expression "two operations". Motivated by a desire to avoid disputes, he allowed heresy and orthodoxy to stand on equal terms. Honorius was unwilling to address the issue of the number of operations in Christ, considering this a matter of theological speculation immaterial to the apostolic faith. We might contend that this belief is itself heretical, for in fact the question of operations is necessarily linked to the Chalcedonian doctrine. Again, we find that the Pope had a different understanding of terminology. Honorius regards "operation" as referring to each of God's ways of acting, so he sees no difficulty in saying that God has innumerable operations. Using this definition of "operation", Honorius is correct to say that the number of operations in Christ is a matter of theological speculation, not of the apostolic faith. However, we may fault Honorius for negligence, for he did not duly inquire into what was meant by Sergius' expressions and thus unwittingly gave material support to his heresy.

The Council certainly condemned Honorius as a heretic, and based this judgment on his choice of expressions. He had endorsed the expression "one will" and disparaged the expression "two operations", though he did not have the same understanding of these expressions as did Sergius. Honorius did not hold any heterodox belief, but his choice of expressions gave material support to the Monothelites, so the Council found it necessary to condemn him. As we noted in our discussion of the fifth ecumenical council, there was not a neat distinction between formal and material heresy at this time. A man could be condemned of heresy merely if the literal sense of his writing was heretical, even if it was not the intended sense.

Pope Leo II recognized that Honorius was not guilty of heresy, but rather of not illuminating the Apostolic tradition, and therefore allowing it to be subverted. The Pope's duty is not merely to not be a heretic, but to actively teach the true faith, and Honorius failed in this duty. This does not impact the doctrine of papal infallibility, for Honorius did not teach false doctrine. Nonetheless, he was negligent in his duty to illuminate the true faith, thereby occasioning the spread of heresy. For this reason, Pope Leo II upheld the anathema against Honorius, though he corrected the Council in its mistaken belief that Honorius had "followed Sergius in all things".

Since Pope Agatho had died before the Council ended, it fell to Leo II to ratify the decrees of the Council, on behalf of himself and all the bishops of the West. Without such ratification, the Council could not be ecumenical, but would have the force of a regional synod of Greek bishops. In his letter to the emperor confirming the Council's decrees, Pope Leo clarified how the anathema against Honorius was to be understood.

Likewise we anathematize the inventors of the new error, that is Theodore bishop of Pharan, Cyrus of Alexandria, Sergius, Pyrrhus, Paul, Peter, ambushers of the Church of Constantinople more than prelates, and also Honorius, who did not enlighten this apostolic church with the doctrine of apostolic tradition, but allowed the immaculate faith to be defiled by profane treachery, and all who died in their error.

Pope Leo makes a distinction between "the inventors of the new error," namely the Monothelite prelates listed, and Honorius, who is guilty of a different crime. The pope's guilt is twofold: he failed to issue a definition of the apostolic faith, and he endorsed a policy that suppressed orthodox and heterodox expressions on equal terms, thereby giving material aid to the spread of heresy within the Church. Pope Leo regarded Honorius' guilt as sufficient to merit anathema, as he was an accessory to the spread of error. We should note that the oft-cited Latin translation of Pope Leo's letter misrepresents the Greek, saying that he "attempted to subvert" (subvertere conatus est) the faith. The original Greek uses the terms parexoresen, which means "allowed," "permitted," or "supplied the means," and mianthenai ("defiled; stained"). The sense is that Pope Honorius facilitated the spread of the error that other men had devised.

Shortly afterward, Pope Leo wrote to the bishops of Spain, characterizing Honorius' offense in similar terms, accusing his predecessor of helping to spread heresy by his negligence.

I forbid that there should come forth any enemies against the pure apostolic tradition... they were beaten with eternal condemnation, that is, Theodore of Pharan, Cyrus of Alexandria, Sergius, Pyrrhus, Paul, Peter of Constantinople, with Honorius who did not extinguish the incipient flame of heretical doctrine, but fanned it by his negligence (sed negligendo confovit).

In his letter to Pope Leo, Emperor Constantine called Honorius "the confirmer of the heresy and contradicter of himself". By his contradictory policy of forbidding both orthodox and heterodox expressions, Honorius helped error to flourish, in opposition to the apostolic faith of which he was the guardian.

Lastly, we see in a letter to Ervig, king of Spain, written by either Pope Leo or his successor Benedict II:

And all the originators (auctores) of heretical assertions the council has decreed condemned, they are cast from the unity of the Catholic Church, that is Theodore bishop of Pharan, Cyrus of Alexandria, Sergius, Paul, Pyrrhus, and Peter, formerly prelates of Constantinople; together with them Honorius of Rome, who allowed to be stained (consensit maculavi) the immaculate rule of apostolic tradition, which he received from his predecessors.

Again, Honorius is distinguished from those who originated or proposed heretical assertions, and faulted only for negligence. Yet even this lesser offense is considered a grave crime meriting expulsion from the Church, and leaving a singular stain on the Apostolic See.

These citations make clear that Honorius was indeed posthumously excommunicated by an Ecumenical Council ratified by a Pope, yet not for teaching positive heresy. His crime was to materially abet the spread of heresy by failing to issue a definition of faith and by suppressing the use of orthodox expressions. If Honorius were an ordinary cleric, his offenses would be minor, but it is precisely because the Pope was expected to be an unfailing exponent of the apostolic faith that his negligence constituted a grave crime against the Church.

There is no evidence of anti-papal sentiment in the Council of Constantinople, save what might be rashly inferred from the anathema against Honorius. Bishops and emperor alike effused praise for Pope Agatho and the special grace of unfailing orthodoxy that the Roman pontiff received from St. Peter himself, invoking the same arguments familiar to modern Catholic defenders of papal infallibility. Never before had a Pope stained the immaculate faith of the Apostolic See in any way, so the bishops at Constantinople were treading on new ground. Perhaps they thought Christ's promise to Peter was sufficiently preserved by Agatho's confession, and that they could restore the unblemished record of the Apostolic See by expunging the memory of Honorius. The popes took a stronger stand regarding their inerrant magisterium, as Agatho deliberately omitted Honorius from those he named for condemnation, and Leo II took care to distinguish his predecessor's crime of negligence from that of proposing positive heresy. Since papal ratification is essential to the ecumenicity of the Council, especially as the entire Latin patriarchate was represented through the Pope, the anathema against Honorius can only be lawfully understood in the sense clarified by Pope Leo.

Neither of the two aspects of Honorius' crime is in contradiction with the modern Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility. Neglecting to define true doctrine, while a grievous failing, does not constitute teaching error, nor does Honorius' pragmatic recommendation that discussion of the issue should be suppressed. When we examined the text of Honorius' letter to Sergius, we found that his use of the expression "one will" was in a perfectly orthodox context, and that his refusal to accept the expression "two operations" was based on an entirely different understanding from Sergius as to what "operation" signified. Thus Honorius was not a heretic, either de facto or de jure.


Although pope, emperor and bishops all received the acts of the Council gladly and with acclaim, there would remain some obstacles to their full acceptance. The first appears to have been accidental. After Emperor Constantine died (685), it came to the attention of his son and successor Justinian II that the original acts of the Council were missing. The acts of the general councils were ordinarily kept in the imperial archive, but those of the sixth Council had been lent out by the judices (judges responsible for fact-finding) and never returned. Fearing that the acts were now vulnerable to falsification, Justinian summoned an assembly (687) of important clerics to verify the acts when they were returned. He explained his actions in a letter to Pope John V, who had attended the Council as a deacon. John V had died, however, so the letter was received by his successor, Pope Conon. The emperor wrote:

I have learnt that the Acts of the sixth Ecumenical Synod have been sent back by some to the judices who had lent them to them. I did not, indeed, foresee that anyone would venture to have these Acts without my permission; for God, in His abundant mercy, has appointed me to be the keeper of the unfalsified faith of Christ.

The emperor served as a guardian of the faith, by protecting the original documents of the general councils and the holy fathers in the imperial archive. The temporary loss of the acts of the sixth Council was therefore a serious matter to Justinian. He says that he summoned the papal legate, the patriarchs, the archbishops, and many state officials, before whom the recovered acts were read. They all set their seal on the acts, and Justinian had the documents immediately returned to the archive, so no partisan could tamper with them.

The sixth ecumenical synod, like the one that preceded it, did not have any disciplinary canons. In 692, Justinian summoned another council to draft canons for the fifth and sixth councils. This council, called the Quinisext Council or the Trullan Synod (after the hall in which it was held), was never fully recognized in the West. Its content and canonical status are complicated matters, best reserved for another essay. At any rate, consisting as it did of merely disciplinary canons, it has no bearing on matters of dogmatic faith.

Monothelitism would have one last gasp, however, when the imperial throne was seized in 711 by Philippicus Bardanes. This usurper had been the pupil of Abbot Stephen, the disciple of Macarius. Raised to the throne by the Monothelite faction, he immediately deposed Patriarch Cyrus of Constantinople, replacing him with John VI. All who were condemned by the Council, including Honorius, were restored to the diptychs. A conventicle of bishops was convened to reject the Third Council of Constantinople, and those who refused were exiled. Pope Constantine (reigned 708-715) refused to recognize the emperor or the patriarch.

The reign of Philippicus was short-lived, and in 713 he was deposed, blinded, and exiled. Orthodoxy was restored under the new emperor, Anastasius II. Patriarch John VI wrote a long letter of profuse apology to the Pope, claiming he had served the usurper Bardanes only to prevent greater evils. He recognized papal supremacy over himself, writing: "The Pope of Rome, the head of the Christian priesthood, whom in Peter, the Lord commanded to confirm his brethren..." With this act of submission to the Pope, the Monothelite controversy ended, never again to disturb the Church.

The condemnation of Honorius would be reiterated by later ecumenical councils, in accordance with the customary profession of allegiance to preceding synods. The official acts of the Second Council of Nicaea say only this regarding Honorius:

Further we declare that there are two wills and principles of action, in accordance with what is proper to each of the natures in Christ, in the way that the sixth synod, that at Constantinople, proclaimed, when it also publicly rejected Sergius, Honorius, Cyrus, Pyrrhus, Macarius, those uninterested in true holiness, and their likeminded followers.

The Council declares that it believes in two wills and two operations as proclaimed at Constantinople, and mentions that the previous council rejected Sergius, Honorius, etc., listing all without distinction. It upholds the anathema, but does not elaborate on the reason for it save to say that they were "uninterested in true holiness".

The Fourth Council of Constantinople (869-870) gave a more detailed recapitulation of its understanding of the sixth ecumenical synod. Its official acts declare:

Further, we accept the sixth, holy and universal synod, which shares the same beliefs and is in harmony with the previously mentioned synods in that it wisely laid down that in the two natures of the one Christ there are, as a consequence, two principles of action and the same number of wills. So, we anathematize Theodore who was bishop of Pharan, Sergius, Pyrrhus, Paul and Peter, the unholy prelates of the church of Constantinople, and with these, Honorius of Rome, Cyrus of Alexandria as well as Macarius of Antioch and his disciple Stephen, who followed the false teachings of the unholy heresiarchs Apollinarius, Eutyches and Severus and proclaimed that the flesh of God, while being animated by a rational and intellectual soul, was without a principle of action and without a will, they themselves being impaired in their senses and truly without reason.

Here the offending prelates are distinguished by see: first, those of Constantinople, then Honorius of Rome, Cyrus of Alexandria, Macarius of Antioch and his disciple Stephen. These men are all characterized, apparently without distinction, as following the false teachings of Apollinaris (who denied that Christ had a rational soul distinct from the Logos) and the Monophysites Eutyches and Severus. As the Council clarifies, the Monothelites did not deny altogether that Christ had a rational human soul distinct from His divinity, but they irrationally affirmed that this supposedly rational soul lacked a will and principle of action. To be fair, the Monothelites actually believed that Christ had a single divino-human will, but this would entail a heretical mingling of the two natures.

The Council's assessment of the Monothelite heresy is sound, but we have seen that Honorius did not participate in the claim of which the prelates are accused. He did not deny that Christ's soul had a principle of action or a will. On the contrary, his entire discussion of Christ's will was from the perspective of human souls, and he believed that the "operations", in the sense he understood the term, were innumerable. By carelessly lumping Honorius with the true Monophysites, giving the impression that he made the same assertions as they did, the Second Council of Nicaea appears to assert an error in fact, though not in faith.

Pope Adrian II (reigned 867-872) confirmed the Council's decrees, and said this regarding the condemnation of Honorius:

After his death, Honorius was anathemized by the Eastern Church; but we should not forget that he was accused of heresy, the only crime that would make lawful the resistance of inferiors to the orders of their superiors, and the refusal of their malicious doctrines.

Adrian II evidently believed that Honorius was condemned for heresy, but this could mean either proposing a false teaching or following it. The popes in Adrian's time swore an oath upon election acknowledging the sixth ecumenical council, including the anathema against Honorius, "because he followed the perverse statements of the heretics" (quia pravis haeriticorum assertionibus fomentum impendit). Thus it is likely that Adrian understood Honorius' "heresy" in the sense of going along with the assertions of heretics. Indeed, at the Third Council of Constantinople, Honorius was said to have "followed Sergius in everything". Honorius did not propose Monothelitism, much less proclaim it in a solemn definition of faith, but he allowed Sergius to dictate the terms of the debate, and naively followed the Constantinopolitan patriarch's contention that those who spoke of two wills in Christ were asserting conflict or opposition within Christ. This fault, which consists of negligence and poor choice of expression, sufficed to constitute "heresy" in the sense Adrian understood it. Although Honorius had not taught error, his suppression of orthodox expressions gave material support to heresy, and the bishops of the East would be justified in resisting his policy, though ordinarily they must obey the Pope as their superior.

Although we have seen that Honorius was not in fact a heretic, nor was he juridically condemned for teaching positive heresy, the fact remains that many Greek bishops and possibly even some popes believed that Honorius was indeed a heretic in the formal sense. This bears on the modern doctrine of papal infallibility, for even if we admit that Pope Honorius in fact did not teach error, we must face the fact that many bishops throughout the Church believed that it was possible for a pope to do so. This is unsurprising, as even the greatest Catholic theologians of the Tridentine period maintained that it was theoretically possible for a pope to be a heretic. Some held that a heretic pope ceases to be pope, while others sustained that such a pope, while remaining pope, could be lawfully resisted. The idea that a pope could be a heretic is not in contradiction with the notion of papal infallibility, as long as the heretic pope does not propose his errors for the Church's acceptance in a solemn definition of faith or an act of his ordinary universal magisterium.

Pope Honorius did not issue a definition of faith, but his letter to Sergius certainly does constitute an act of his ordinary universal magisterium, so the grace of infallibility should apply to it. We have seen that there is no error in what Honorius wrote, considered in its full written context, without recourse to the internal disposition of the pontiff, known only to God. The Pope's suppression of the expression "two operations" would have been heretical if he were proposing for belief that all Catholics must deny that there are two operations in Christ, but in fact his explicit purpose was to suspend discussion altogether, rather than decide the issue.

This equivocation, calculated to bring peace, ended up doing the opposite, and we may recall that Sergius' invention of Monothelitism was similarly motivated by diplomacy, in his endeavor to reconcile the Monophysites. We have seen that peace cannot be purchased by suppressing the true faith or by dismissing questions of orthodoxy as idle quibbles. Christians, especially those in positions of teaching authority, must not fear the immediate controversy that will ensue when we articulate the apostolic faith boldly and clearly, for this is the only sure guarantee of lasting unity in the Church. Indeed, this was made clear by Christ Himself, when He explicitly guaranteed the endurance of the Church against "the gates of Hell" by resting His Church on the sure faith confessed by St. Peter.

References Cited

C.J. Hefele, A History of the Councils of the Church.

Mgr. Philip Hughes, The Church in Crisis: A History of the General Councils, 325-1870.

© 2009 Daniel J. Castellano. All rights reserved.