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.