Oh, the confusion!
Last time in “Think This, Not That,” I talked about the Council of Chalcedon, at which the Church ironed out the controversy over the “Three Chapters” and Nestorianism (which wrongly claimed that Jesus had two distinct subsistences).
In the seventh century, one of the biggest theological crises looming at the Council of Constantinople III (680-681 A.D.) was the spread of monothelitism.
Say what? Well, that’s “mono” (as in “one”) and “thelitism” (as in theanthropic will—as in, God’s/man’s will combined, with God’s will sort of superceding man’s will and topping it out and bringing it into alliance with His own perfect will).
So, got it?
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Monothelitism developed as a response to monophysitism. (Extra credit for all these big words in a single sentence!)
The monophysites had claimed, back in the fifth century, that Christ had only one nature—he was altogether divine, and not human. “No!” shouted the 7th century monothelites. “Christ had two natural wills and two natural operations, without division, conversion, separation or confusion.”
But the Church again said “No”—the monothelite doctrine diminished the full nature of Christ’s humanity. Rather, Jesus is at the same time both fully God and fully man.
This is what the Church teaches to the present day.
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That major crisis resolved, the Council made quick work of the other issues before them:
- They easily approved the first five ecumenical councils.
- They reaffirmed the Nicene and “Niceno-Constantinopolitan” creeds.
- Followers of monothelitism were “anathematized” (that is, a ban was pronounced by
ecclesiastical authority, and accompanied by excommunication). Among those whose work was denounced were Sergius and his successors in Constantinople; the former pope
Honorius; and Macarius, patriarch of Antioch.
The posthumous anathematization of Pope Honorius has been held by some Protestants as proof against the Catholic teaching of papal infallibility. This is a common misunderstanding: Actually, papal infallibility is not a guarantee that popes will not make mistakes or even that they will not sin. It is simply a gift of the Holy Spirit whereby popes cannot err when definitively proclaiming doctrine on matters of faith and morals. Since Honorius was not speaking “ex cathedra” (from the chair, officially) in his letter to Sergius, he was writing his opinion only privately and was protected from spreading the error of monothelitism throughout the Church.
Earlier Posts In This Series: