VIEW THE MOBILE VERSION of Informational Site Network Informational
Home - Articles - Church History - Catholic Morals - Prayers - Prayers Answered - Saints Children's Bible - History

The Monothelete Controversy And

The Monothelete controversy was the natural outcome of the earlier
Christological controversies. With the assertion of the two complete and
persisting natures of Christ, the question must sooner or later arise as
to whether there was one will or two in Christ. If there were two wills,
it seemed to lead back to Nestorianism; if there was but one, either the
humanity was incomplete or the position led to virtual monophysitism. But
political causes played even a greater part than the theological
dialectic. The Emperor Heraclius, in attempting to win back the
Monophysite churches, on account of the war with Persia and later on
account of the advancing Moslems, proposed that a union should be effected
on the basis of a formula which asserted that there was but one will in
the God-man. This had been suggested to him in 622 by Sergius, patriarch
of Constantinople [Hefele, 291, 295]. In 633 Cyrus of Phasis, since 630
patriarch of Alexandria, brought about a union between the Orthodox Church
and the Egyptian Monophysites on the basis of a Monothelete formula,
i.e., a statement that there was but one will or energy in Christ. At
once a violent controversy broke out. The formula was supported by
Honorius of Rome, but attacked by Sophronius, patriarch of Jerusalem, and
after the fall of Jerusalem in 638, by the monk Maximus Confessor. In 638
Heraclius tried to end the controversy by an Ecthesis [Hefele, 299],
and Constans II (641-668) attempted the same in 648, by his Typos. But
at the Lateran Council of 649, under Martin I, Monotheletism as well as
the Ecthesis and Typos were condemned. For this Martin was ultimately
banished, dying in misery, 654, in the Chersonesus, and Maximus, after a
long, cruel imprisonment, and horrible torture and mutilation, died in
exile, 662. But Constantius Pogonatus (668-685), the successor of Constans
II, determined to settle the matter by a general council. Pope Agatho
(678-682) thereupon held a great council at Rome, 679, at which it was
decided to insist at the coming general council upon the strictest
maintenance of the decisions of the Roman Council of 649. On this basis
Agatho dictated the formula which was accepted by the Council of
Constantinople, A. D. 681, which sent its proceedings and conclusions to
the Pope to be approved. Along with them was an express condemnation of
Honorius. Leo II (682-683), Agatho's successor, approved the council with
special mention of Honorius as condemned for his heresy.

(a) Cyrus of Alexandria, Formula of Union, A. D. 633, Hahn, 232.

The author of this formula, known also as Cyrus of Phasis, under
which name he was condemned at Constantinople, A. D. 680,
attempted to win over the Monophysites in Alexandria and met with
great success on account of his formula of union. The first five
anathemas, the form in which the formula is composed, are clearly
based upon the first four councils. The sixth is slightly
different; and the seventh, the most important, is clearly tending
toward Monotheletism. The document is to be found in the
proceedings of the Sixth General Council in Mansi, and also in
Hardouin. For a synopsis, see Hefele, 293, who is most valuable
for the whole controversy.

6. If any one does not confess the one Christ, the one Son, to be of two
natures, that is, divinity and humanity, one nature become flesh(288) of
God the Word, according to the holy Cyril, unmixed, unchanged,
unchangeable, that is to say, one synthetic hypostasis, who is the same,
our Lord Jesus Christ, being one of the holy homoousian Triad, let such an
one be anathema.

7. If any one, saying that our one Lord Jesus Christ is to be regarded in
two natures, does not confess that He is one of the Holy Triad, God the
Word, eternally begotten of the Father, in the last times of the world
made flesh and born of our all-holy and spotless lady, the Theotokos and
ever-virgin Mary; but is this and another and not one and the same,
according to the most wise Cyril, perfect in deity and the same perfect in
humanity, and accordingly only to be thought of as in two natures; the
same suffering and not suffering, according to one or the other nature, as
the same holy Cyril said, suffering as a man in the flesh, inasmuch as he
was a man, remaining as God without suffering in the sufferings of His own
flesh; and the one and the same Christ energizing the divine and the human
things with the one theandric energy,(289) according to the holy
Dionysius; distinguishing only in thought those things from which the
union has taken place, and viewing these in the mind as remaining
unchanged, unalterable, and unmixed after their union according to nature
and hypostasis; and recognizing in these without division or separation
the one and the same Christ and Son, inasmuch as he regards in his mind
two as brought together to each other without commingling, making the
theory of them as a matter of fact, but not by a lying imagination and
vain combinations of the mind; but in nowise separating them, since now
the division into two has been destroyed on account of the indescribable
and incomprehensible union; saying with the holy Athanasius, for there is
now flesh and again the flesh of God the Word, now flesh animated and
intelligent, and again the flesh of the animated and intelligent God the
Word; but should under such expressions understand a distinction into
parts, let such an one be anathema.

(b) Constans II, Typos, A. D. 648, Mansi, X, 1029. Cf. Kirch, nn.
972 f.

The attempt to end the controversy by returning to the condition
of things before the controversy broke out, an entirely futile
undertaking. The question having been raised had to be discussed
and settled by rational processes. See Hefele, 306.

Since it is our custom to do everything and to consider everything which
can serve the welfare of the Christian State, and especially what concerns
our true faith, by which we believe all our happiness is brought about, we
perceive that our orthodox people are greatly disturbed, because some in
respect to the Economy(290) of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ
assert that there is only one will, and that one and the same affects both
the divine and human deeds; but others teach two wills and two operations
in the same dispensation of the incarnate Word. The former defend their
views by asserting that our Lord Jesus Christ was only one person in two
natures, and therefore without confusion or separation, working and
willing as well the divine as the human deeds. The others say that because
in one and the same person two natures are joined without any separation,
so their differences from each other remain, and according to the
character of each nature one and the same Christ works as well the divine
as the human; and from this our Christian State has been brought to much
dissension and confusion, so that differing from one another they do not
agree, and from this the State must in many ways needs suffer.

We believe that, under God's guidance, we must extinguish the flames
enkindled by discord, and we ought not to permit them further to destroy
human souls. We decree, therefore, that our subjects who hold our
immaculate and orthodox Christian faith, and who are of the Catholic and
Apostolic Church, shall from the present moment on have no longer any
permission to raise any sort of dispute and quarrel or strife with one
another over the one will and energy, or over two wills and two energies.
We order that this is not in any way to take anything from the pious
teaching, which the holy and approved Fathers have taught concerning the
incarnation of God the Word, but with the purpose that all further strife
in regard to the aforesaid questions cease, and in this matter we follow
and hold as sufficient only the Holy Scriptures and the tradition of the
five holy general councils and the simple statements and unquestioned
usage and expressions of the approved Fathers (of which the dogmas, rules,
and laws of God's holy Catholic and Apostolic Church consists), without
adding to or taking from them anything, or without explaining them against
their proper meaning, but everywhere shall be preserved the former
customs, as before the disputes broke out, as if no such dispute had
existed. As to those who have hitherto taught one will and one energy or
two wills and two energies, there shall be no accusation on this account;
excepting only those who have been cast forth as heretics, together with
their impious doctrines and writings, by the five holy universal councils
and other approved orthodox Fathers. But to complete the unity and
fellowship of the churches of God, and that there remain no further
opportunity or occasion to those who are eager for endless dispute, we
order that the document,(291) which for a long time has been posted up in
the narthex of the most holy principal church of this our God-preserved
royal city, and which touches upon the points in dispute, shall be taken
down. Whoever dares to transgress this command is subject before all to
the fearful judgment of Almighty God, and then also will be liable to the
punishment for such as despise the imperial commands. If he be a bishop or
clergyman, he will altogether be deposed from his priesthood or clerical
order; if a monk, excommunicated and driven out of his residence; if a
civil or military officer, he shall lose his rank and office; if a private
citizen, he shall, if noble, be punished pecuniarily, if of lower rank, be
subjected to corporal punishment and perpetual exile.

(c) Council of Rome, A. D. 649, Canons, Mansi, X, 1150. Cf.
Denziger, nn. 254 ff.

Condemnation of Monotheletism, the Ecthesis, and the Typos, by
Martin I.

Text of canons or anathematisms and abstract of proceedings in
Hefele, 307.

Canon 18. If any one does not, according to the holy Fathers, and in
company with us, reject and anathematize with mind and mouth all those
whom as most wicked heretics the holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of
God, that is, the five universal synods and likewise all approved Fathers
of the Church, rejects and anathematizes, with all their impious writings
even to each point, that is, Sabellius, etc. and justly with these, as
like them and in equal error Cyrus of Alexandria, Sergius of
Constantinople, and his successors Pyrrhus and Paul, persisting in their
pride, and all their impious writings, and those who to the end agreed
with them in their thought, or do so agree, that there is one will and one
operation of the deity and manhood of Christ; and in addition to these the
most impious Ecthesis, which, by the persuasion of the same Sergius, was
put forth by the former Emperor Heraclius against the orthodox faith,
defining, by way of adjustment, one will in Christ our God, and one
operation to be venerated; also all those things which were impiously
written or done by them; and those who received it, or any of those things
which were written or done for it; and along with these, furthermore, the
wicked Typos, which, on the persuasion of the aforesaid Paul, was
recently issued by our most serene prince Constans against the Catholic
Church, inasmuch as it equally denies and excludes from discussion the two
natural wills and operations, a divine and a human, which are piously
taught by the holy Fathers to be in Christ, our God, and also our Saviour,
and also the one will and operation, which by the heretics is impiously
venerated in Him, and therefore declaring that with the holy Fathers also
the wicked heretics are unjustly freed from all rebuke and condemnation,
to the destruction of the definitions of the Catholic Church and its rule
of faith let him be condemned.

(d) Sixth General Council, Constantinople, A. D. 681, Definition of
Faith. Mansi, XI, 636 ff.

The concluding, more strictly dogmatic portion of this symbol is
to be found in Greek in Hahn, 150, and in Latin and Greek in
Denziger, nn. 289, ff. See also PNF, ser. II, vol. XIV.

The holy, great, and ecumenical synod assembled by the grace of God and
the religious decree of the most religious, faithful, and mighty Emperor
Constantine, in this God-preserved and royal city of Constantinople, New
Rome, in the hall of the imperial palace called Trullus, has decreed as

The only begotten Son and Word of God the Father, who was made man, like
unto us in all things, without sin, Christ our true God, has declared
expressly in the words of the Gospel: "I am the light of the world; he
that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of
life" [John 8:12]; and again: "My peace I leave with you, My peace I give
unto you" [John 14:27]. Our most gracious Emperor, the champion of
orthodoxy and opponent of evil doctrine, being reverentially led by this
divinely uttered doctrine of peace, and having assembled this our holy and
ecumenical synod, has united the judgment of the whole Church. Wherefore
this our holy and ecumenical synod, having driven away the impious error
which has prevailed for a certain time until now, and following closely
the straight path of the holy and approved Fathers, has piously given its
assent to the five holy and ecumenical synods--that is to say, to that of
the three hundred and eighteen holy Fathers assembled at Nicaea against the
insane Arius; and the next at Constantinople of the one hundred and fifty
God-inspired men against Macedonius, the adversary of the Spirit, and the
impious Apollinaris; and also the first at Ephesus of two hundred
venerable men assembled against Nestorius, the Judaizer; and that in
Chalcedon of six hundred and thirty God-inspired Fathers against Eutyches
and Dioscurus, hated of God; and in addition to these the last, that is
the fifth, holy synod assembled in this place against Theodore of
Mopsuestia, Origen, Didymus, and Evagrius, and the writings of Theodoret
against the twelve chapters of the celebrated Cyril, and the epistle which
was said to have been written by Ibas to Maris the Persian--without
alteration this synod renews in all points the ancient decrees of
religion, chasing away the impious doctrines of irreligion. And this our
holy and ecumenical synod, inspired of God, has set its seal to the creed
of the three hundred and eighteen Fathers, and again religiously confirmed
by the one hundred and fifty, which also the other holy synods gladly
received and ratified for the removal of every soul-destroying heresy.

Then follow:

The Nicene Creed of the three hundred and eighteen holy Fathers.
We believe, etc.

The Creed of the one hundred and fifty holy Fathers assembled at
Constantinople. We believe, etc., but without the filioque.

The holy and ecumenical synod further says that this pious and orthodox
creed of the divine grace would be sufficient for the full knowledge and
confirmation of the orthodox faith. But as the author of evil, who in the
beginning availed himself of the aid of the serpent, and by it brought the
poison of death upon the human race, has not desisted, but in like manner
now, having found suitable instruments for the accomplishment of his
will--that is to say, Theodorus, who was bishop of Pharan; Sergius,
Pyrrhus, Paul and Peter, who were prelates of this royal city; and also
Honorius, who was pope of Old Rome; Cyrus, bishop of Alexandria,
Marcarius, lately bishop of Antioch, and Stephen, his disciple--has not
ceased with their declaration of orthodoxy by this our God-assembled and
holy synod; for according to the sentence spoken of God: "Where two or
three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them"
[Matt. 18:20], the present(292) holy and ecumenical synod, faithfully
receiving and saluting with uplifted hands also the suggestion which by
the most holy and blessed Pope Agatho, Pope of Old Rome, was sent to our
most pious and faithful Emperor Constantine, which rejected by name those
who taught or preached one will and operation in the dispensation of the
incarnation of Christ(293) our very God, has likewise adopted that other
synodal suggestion which was sent by the council held under the same most
holy Pope, composed of one hundred and twenty-five bishops beloved of
God,(294) to his God-instructed tranquillity [i.e., the Emperor], as
consonant to the holy Council of Chalcedon and the Tome of the most holy
and blessed Leo, Pope of the same Old Rome, which was directed to the holy
Flavian, which also the council called the pillar of a right faith; and
also agrees with the synodical letters written by the blessed Cyril
against the impious Nestorius and addressed to the Oriental bishops.

Following(295) the five holy and ecumenical synods and the most holy and
approved Fathers, with one voice defining that our Lord Jesus Christ must
be confessed to be our very God, one of the holy and consubstantial and
life-giving Trinity, perfect in deity and the same perfect in humanity,
truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial
with His Father as to His godhead, and consubstantial with us as to His
manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin [Heb. 4:15]; begotten of
His Father before the ages according to His godhead, but in these last
days for us men and for our salvation begotten of the Holy Ghost and of
the Virgin Mary, strictly and in truth Theotokos, according to the flesh;
one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only begotten, in two natures
unconfusedly, unchangeably, inseparably, indivisibly to be recognized; the
peculiarities of neither nature lost by the union, but rather the
properties of each nature preserved, concurring in one person,(296) and in
one subsistence,(297) not parted or divided into two persons, but one and
the same only begotten Son, the Word of God,(298) the Lord Jesus Christ,
according as the prophets of old have taught, and as Jesus Christ Himself
hath taught, and the creed of the holy Fathers hath delivered to us;(299)
we likewise declare that in Him are two natural wills or willings and two
natural operations indivisibly, unchangeably, inseparably, unconfusedly,
according to the teaching of the holy Fathers. And these two natural wills
are not contrary one to the other (which God forbid), as the impious
heretics say, but His human will follows, not as resisting or reluctant,
but rather therefore as subject to His divine and omnipotent will. For it
was right that the will of the flesh should be moved, but be subject to
the divine will, according to the most wise Athanasius. For as His flesh
is called and is the flesh of God the Word, so also the natural will of
His flesh is called and is the proper will of God the Word, as He Himself
says: "I came down from heaven, not to do Mine own will, but the will of
the Father which sent Me," [John 6:38], wherein he calls His own will the
will of the flesh, inasmuch as His flesh was also His own. For as His most
holy and immaculately animated flesh was not destroyed because it was
deified, but continued in its own state and nature, so also His
human will, although deified, was not taken away, but rather was preserved
according to the saying of Gregory the Theologian:(300) "His will, namely
that of the Saviour, is not contrary to God, but altogether deified."

We glorify two natural operations, indivisibly, unchangeably, inseparably,
unconfusedly, in the same our Lord Jesus Christ, our true God, that is to
say, a divine operation and a human operation, according to the divine
preacher Leo, who most distinctly says as follows: "For each form does in
communion with the other what pertains to it, namely the Word doing what
pertains to the Word, and the flesh what pertains to the flesh."(301) For
we will not admit one natural operation of God and of the creature, that
we may not exalt into the divine essence what is created, nor will we
bring down the glory of the divine nature to the place suited for those
things which have been made. We recognize the miracles and the sufferings
as of one and the same person, but of one or of the other nature of which
He is, and in which He has His existence, as the admirable Cyril said.
Preserving in all respects, therefore, the unconfusedness and
indivisibility, we express all in brief phrase: Believing that our Lord
Jesus Christ, one of the Trinity also after the incarnation, is our true
God, we say that His two natures shone forth in His one subsistence
[hypostasis], in which were both the miracles and the suffering throughout
the whole incarnate life,(302) not in appearance merely but in reality,
the difference as to nature being recognized in one and the same
subsistence; for, although joined together, each nature wills and operates
the things proper to it.(303) For this reason we glorify two natural(304)
wills and operations concurring most fitly in Him for the salvation of the
human race.

Since these things have been formulated by us with all diligence and care,
we decree that to no one shall it be permitted to bring forward or write
or to compose or to think or to teach otherwise. Whosoever shall presume
to compose a different faith or to propose, or to teach, or to hand to
those wishing to be converted to the knowledge of the truth from the
heathen or the Jews or from any heresy any different symbol, or to
introduce a new mode of expression to subvert these things which have now
been determined by us, all these, if they be bishops or clergy, shall be
deposed, the bishops from the episcopate, the clergy from the clerical
office; but if they be monks or laymen, they shall be anathematized.

(e) Council of Constantinople, A. D. 681, Sessio XIII. Mansi, XI,
1050. Cf. Mirbt, n. 188.

The condemnation of the Monotheletes, including Honorius of Rome.

The condemnation of Honorius has become a cause celebre,
especially in connection with the doctrine of papal infallibility.
It should be observed, however, that the doctrine of papal
infallibility, as defined at the Vatican Council, A. D. 1870
(cf. Mirbt, n. 509), requires that only when the Pope speaks ex
cathedra is he infallible, and it has not been shown that any
opinion whatever held by Honorius was an ex cathedra definition
of faith and morals according to the Vatican Council. The matter
is therefore a mere question of fact and may be treated apart from
the Vatican dogma. It should be borne in mind, further, that the
Sixth General Council was approved by Pope Leo II, A. D. 682
(cf. Mirbt, n. 189), who included Honorius by name among those
whose condemnation was approved. That he did so approve it is also
stated in the Liber Pontificalis (cf. Mirbt, n. 190), and
according to the Liber Diurnus, the official book of formulae
used in the papal business, the Pope took an oath recognizing
among others the Sixth General Council, and condemning Honorius
among other heretics (cf. Mirbt, n. 191). That Honorius was
actually a heretic is still another matter; for it seems not at
all unlikely that he misunderstood the point at issue and his
language is quite unscientific. The text of the letters of
Honorius may be found in Kirch, nn. 949-965, and in Hefele in a
translation, 296, 298. On the condemnation of Honorius, see
Hefele, 324.

The holy council said: After we had reconsidered, according to our promise
made to your highness,(305) the doctrinal letter written by Sergius, at
one time patriarch of this royal God-preserved city, to Cyrus, who was
then bishop of Phasis, and to Honorius, sometime Pope of Old Rome, as well
as the letter of the latter to the same Sergius, and finding that the
documents are quite foreign to the apostolic dogmas, to the definitions of
the holy councils, and to all the approved Fathers, and that they follow
the false teachings of the heretics, we entirely reject them, and execrate
them as hurtful to the soul.

But the names of those men whom we execrate must also be thrust forth from
the holy Church of God, namely, that of Sergius, sometime bishop of this
God-preserved royal city, who was the first to write on this impious
doctrine; also that of Cyrus of Alexandria, of Pyrrhus, Paul, and Peter,
who died bishops of this God-preserved city, and were like-minded with
them; and that of Theodore, sometime bishop of Pharan, all of whom the
most holy and thrice-blessed Agatho, Pope of Old Rome, in his suggestion
to our most pious and God-preserved lord and mighty Emperor, rejected
because they were minded contrary to our orthodox faith, all of whom we
declare are subject to anathema. And with these we decree that there shall
be expelled from the holy Church of God and anathematized Honorius, who
was Pope of Old Rome, because of what we found written by him to Sergius,
that in all respects he followed his view and confirmed his impious

We have also examined the synodal letter(306) of Sophronius, of holy
memory, sometime patriarch of the holy city of our God, Jerusalem, and
have found it in accordance with the true faith and with apostolic
teachings, and with the teachings of the holy and approved Fathers.
Therefore, we have received it as orthodox and salutary to the holy and
Catholic and Apostolic Church, and have decreed that it is right that his
name be inserted in the diptychs of the holy churches.

Next: Rome Constantinople And The Lomb

Previous: The Rise And Extension Of Islam

Add to Informational Site Network