New Advent
 Home   Encyclopedia   Summa   Fathers   Bible   Library 
 A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 
Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > M > Monothelitism and Monothelites

Monothelitism and Monothelites

(Sometimes written MONOTHELETES, from monotheletai, but the eta is more naturally transliterated into late Latin by i.)

A heresy of the seventh century, condemned in the Sixth General Council. It was essentially a modification of Monophysitism, propagated within the Catholic Church in order to conciliate the Monophysites, in hopes of reunion.

The theological question

The Monophysites were habitually represented by their Catholic opponents as denying all reality to the human nature of Christ after the union. This was perhaps a logical deduction from some of their language, but it was far from being the real teaching of their chief doctors.

Yet at least it is certain that they made the unity of Christ (on which they insisted against real and supposed Nestorianizers) imply only one principle of intention and will, and only one kind of activity or operation (energeia). Personality seemed to them to be manifested in will and action; and they thought a single personality must involve a single will and a single category of action. The Person of Christ, being divino-human, must therefore involve one divino-human will and one divino-human activity (see EUTYCHIANISM; MONOPHYSITES AND MONOPHYSITISM).

The two wills

The Catholic doctrine is simple, at all events in its main lines. The faculty of willing is an integral part of human nature: therefore, our Lord had a human will, since He took a perfect human nature. His Divine will on the other hand is numerically one with that of the Father and the Holy Ghost. It is therefore necessary to acknowledge two wills in Christ.

But if the word will is taken to mean not the faculty but the decision taken by the will (the will willed, not the will willing), then it is true that the two wills always acted in harmony: there were two wills willing and two acts, but one object, one will willed; in the phrase of St. Maximus, there were duo thelemata though mia gnome. The word will is also used to mean not a decision of the will, but a mere velleity or wish, voluntas ut natura (thelesis) as opposed to voluntas ut ratio (boulesis). These are but two movements of the same faculty; both exist in Christ without any imperfection, and the natural movement of His human will is perfectly subject to its rational or free movement. Lastly, the sensitive appetite is also sometimes entitled will. It is an integral part of human nature, and therefore exists in the perfect human nature of Jesus Christ, but without any of the imperfection induced by original or actual sin: He can have no passions (in that sense of the word which implies a revolt against the reason), no concupiscence, no "will of the flesh". Therefore this "lower will" is to be denied in Christ, in so far as it is called a will, because it resists the rational will (it was in this sense that Honorius was said by John IV to have denied that Christ had a lower will); but it is to be asserted in Him so far as it is called will, because it obeys the rational will, and so is voluntas per participationem: in fact in this latter sense the sensual appetite is less improperly called will in Christ than in us, for quo perfectior est volens, eo magis sensualitas in eo de voluntate habet. But the strict Sense of the word will (votuntas, thelema) is always the rational will, the free will. It is therefore correct to say that in Christ there are but two wills: the Divine will, which is the Divine nature, and the human rational will, which always acts in harmony with and in free subjection to the Divine will. The denial of more than one will in Christ by the heretics necessarily involved the incompleteness of His human nature. They confounded the will as faculty with the decision of the faculty. They argued that two wills must mean contrary wills, which shows that they could not conceive of two distinct faculties having the same object. Further, they saw rightly that the Divine will is the ultimate governing principle, to hegemonikon, but a free human will acting under its leadership seemed to them to be otiose. Yet this omission prevents our Lord's actions from being free, from being human actions, from being meritorious, indeed makes His human nature nothing but an irrational, irresponsible instrument of the Divinity — a machine, of which the Divinity is the motive power. To Severus our Lord's knowledge was similarly of one kind — He had only Divine knowledge and no human cognitive faculty. Such thoroughgoing conclusions were not contemplated by the inventors of Monothelitism, and Sergius merely denied two wills in order to assert that there was no repugnance in Christ's human nature to the promptings of the Divine, and he certainly did not see the consequences of his own disastrous teaching.

The two operations

Operation or energy, activity (energeia, operatio), is parallel to will, in that there is but one activity of God, ad extra, common to all the three Persons; whereas there are two operations of Christ, on account of His two natures. The word energeia is not here employed in the Aristotelean sense (actus, as opposed to potentia, dynamis), for this would be practically identical with esse (existentia), and it is an open question among Catholic theologians whether there is one esse in Christ or two. Nor does energeia here mean simply the action (as Vasquez, followed by de Lugo and others, wrongly held) but the faculty of action, including the act of the faculty. Petavius has no difficulty in refuting Vasquez, by referring to the writers of the seventh century; but he himself speaks of duo genera operationum as equivalent to duo operationes, which introduces an unfortunate confusion between energeia and praxeis or energemata, that is between faculty of action and the multiple actions produced by the faculty. This confusion of terms is frequent in modern theologians, and occurs in the ancients, e.g. St. Sophronius. The actions of God are innumerable in Creation and Providence, but His energeia is one, for He has one nature of the three Persons. The various actions of the incarnate Son proceed from two distinct and unconfused energeiai, because He has two natures. All are the actions of one subject (agent or principium quod), but are either divine or human according to the nature (principium quo) from which they are elicited. The Monophysites were therefore quite right in saying that all the actions, human and divine, of the incarnate Son are to be referred to one agent, who is the God-man; but they were wrong in inferring that consequently His actions, both the human and the Divine, must all be called "theandric" or "divino-human", and must proceed from a single divino-human energeia. St. Sophronius, and after him St. Maximus and St. John Damascene, showed that the two energeia produce three classes of actions, since actions are complex, and some are therefore mingled of the human and the divine.

Though the Monophysites in general spoke of "one theandric operation", yet a speech of St. Martin at the Lateran Council tells us that a certain Colluthus would not go even so far as this, for he feared lest "theandric" might leave some operation to the human nature; he preferred the word thekoprepes, Deo decibilis (Mansi, X, 982). The denial of two operations, even more than the denial of two wills, makes the human nature of Christ an inanimate instrument of the Divine will. St. Thomas points out that though an instrument participates in the action of the agent who uses it, yet even an inanimate instrument has an activity of its own; much more the rational human nature of Christ has an operation of its own under the higher motion it receives from the divinity. But by means of this higher motion, the two natures act in concert, according to the famous words of St. Leo's Tome: "Agit enim utraque forma cum alterius communione quod proprium est; Verbo scilicet operante quod Verbi est, et carne exsequente quod carnis est. Unum horum coruscat miraculis, aliud succumbit injuriis" (Ep. 28, 4). These words were quoted by Cyrus, Sergius, Sophronius, Honorius, Maximus, etc., and played a large part in the controversy. This intercommunication of the two operations follows from the Catholic doctrine of the perichoresis, circuminsessio, of the two unconfused and inseparable natures, as again St. Leo: "Exprimit quidem sub distinctis actionibus veritatem suam utraque natura, sed neutra se ab alterius connexione disjungit" (Serm. liv, 1). St. Sophronius (Mansi, XI, 480 sqq.) and St. Maximus (Ep. 19) expressed this truth at the very outset of the controversy as well as later; and it is insisted upon by St. John Damascene. St. Thomas (III, Q. xix, a. 1) well explains it: "Motum participat operationem moventis, et movens utitur operatione moti, et sic utrumque agit cum communicatione alterius". Krüger and others have doubted whether it could be said that the question of two operations was already decided (as Loofs held), in Justinian's time. But it seems that St. Leo's words, yet earlier, were clear enough. The writings of Severus of Antioch assumed that his Catholic opponents would uphold two operations, and an obscure monk in the sixth century, Eustathius (De duabus naturis, P.G., LXXXVI, 909) accepts the expression. Many of the numerous citations from the Greek and Latin Fathers adduced at the Lateran Council and on other occasions are inconclusive, but some of them are clear enough. Really learned theologians like Sophronius and Maximus were not at a loss, though Cyrus and Honorius were puzzled. The Patriarch Eulogius of Alexandria (580-607) had written against those who taught one will, but his work was unknown to Cyrus and Sergius.


The origin of the Monothelite controversy is thus related by Sergius in his letter to Pope Honorius. When the Emperor Heraclius in the course of the war which he began about 619, came to Theodosiopolis (Erzeroum) in Armenia (about 622), a Monophysite named Paul, a leader of the Acephali, made a speech before him in favour of his heresy. The emperor refuted him with theological arguments, and incidentally made use of the expression "one operation" of Christ. Later on (about 626) he inquired of Cyrus, Bishop of Phasis and metropolitan of the Lazi, whether his words were correct. Cyrus was uncertain, and by the emperor's order wrote to Sergius the Patriarch of Constantinople, whom Heraclius greatly trusted, for advice. Sergius in reply sent him a letter said to have been written by Mennas of Constantinople to Pope Vigilius and approved by the latter, in which several authorities were cited for one operation and one will. This letter was afterwards declared to be a forgery and was admitted to be such at the Sixth General Council. Nothing more occurred, according to Sergius, until in June, 631, Cyrus was promoted by the emperor to the See of Alexandria. The whole of Egypt was then Monophysite, and it was constantly threatened by the Saracens. Heraclius was doubtless very anxious to unite all to the Catholic Church, for the country was greatly weakened by the dissensions of the heretics among themselves, and by their bitterness against the official religion. Former emperors had made efforts for reunion, but in the fifth century the Henoticon of Zeno had been condemned by the popes yet had not satisfied all the heretics, and in the sixth century the condemnation of the Three Chapters had nearly caused a schism between East and West without in the least placating the Monophysites. Cyrus was for the moment more successful. Imagining, no doubt, as all Catholics imagined, that Monophysitism involved the assertion that the human nature of Christ was a nonentity after the Union, he was delighted at the acceptance by the Monophysites of a series of nine Capitula, in which the Chalcedonian "in two natures" is asserted, the "one composite hypostasis", and physike kai kath hypostasin enosis, together with the adverbs asygchytos, atreptos, analloiotos. St. Cyril, the great doctor of the Monophysites, is cited; and all is satisfactory until in the seventh proposition our Lord is spoken of as "working His Divine and His human works by one theandric operation, according to the divine Dionysius". This famous expression of the Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite is taken by modern critics to show that he wrote under Monophysite influences. But Cyrus believed it to be an orthodox expression, used by Mennas, and approved by Pope Vigilius. He was triumphant therefore at the reunion to the Church of a large number of Theodosian Monophysites, so that, as Sergius phrases it, all the people of Alexandria and nearly all Egypt, the Thebaid, and Libya had become of one voice, and whereas formerly they would not hear even the name of St. Leo and of the Council of Chalcedon, now they acclaimed them with a loud voice in the holy mysteries. But the Monophysites saw more clearly, and Anastasius of Mount Sinai tells us that they boasted "they had not communicated with Chalcedon, but Chalcedon with them, by acknowledging one nature of Christ through one operation".

St. Sophronius, a much venerated monk of Palestine, soon to become Patriarch of Jerusalem, was in Alexandria at this time. He strongly objected to the expression "one operation", and unconvinced by Cyrus's defence of it, he went to Constantinople, and urged on Sergius, upon whose advice the expression had been used, that the seventh capitulum must be withdrawn. Sergius thought this too hard, as it would destroy the union so gloriously effected; but he was so far impressed that he wrote to Cyrus that it would be well for the future to drop both expressions "one operation" and "two operations", and he thought it necessary to refer the whole question to the pope. (So far his own story.) This last proceeding must warn us not to judge Sergius too harshly. It may be invention that he was born of Monophysite parents (so Anastasius of Sinai); at all events he was an opponent of the Monophysites, and he based his defence of "one operation" on the citations of Fathers in the spurious letter of his orthodox predecessor Mennas, which he believed to have had the approval of Pope Vigilius. He was a politician who evidently knew little theology. But he had more to answer for than he admits. Cyrus had not really been doubtful at first. His letter to Sergius with great politeness explains that he had said the emperor was wrong, and had quoted the famous words of St. Leo's Tome to Flavian: "Agit utraque natura cum alterius communione quod proprium est" as plainly defining two distinct but inseparable operations; Sergius was responsible for leading him into error by sending him the letter of Mennas. Further, St. Maximus tells us that Sergius had written to Theodore of Pharan asking his opinion; Theodore agreed. (It is probable that Stephen of Dora was mistaken in making Theodore a Monothelite before Sergius.) He also worked upon the Severian Paul the one-eyed, the same with whom Heraclius had disputed. He had requested George Arsas, a Monophysite follower of Paul the Black of Antioch, to furnish him with authorities for the "one operation", saying in his letter that he was ready to make a union on this basis. The Alexandrian St. John the Almsgiver (609 or 619) had taken this letter from Arsas with his own hand, and was only prevented by the irruption of the Saracens (619) from using it to obtain the deposition of Sergius.

In the letter to Honorius, Sergius unwittingly develops another heresy. He admits that "one operation", though used by a few Fathers, is a strange expression, and might suggest a denial of the unconfused union of two natures. But the "two operations" are also dangerous, by suggesting "two contrary wills, as though when the Word of God wished to fulfil His saving Passion, His humanity resisted and contradicted His will, and thus two contrary wills would be introduced, which is impious, for it is impossible that in the same subject there should be two wills at once, and contrary to one another as to the same thing". So far he is right; but he continues: "For the saving doctrine of the holy Fathers clearly teaches that the intellectually animated flesh of the Lord never performs its natural movement apart from, and by its own impetus contrariwise to, the direction of the Word of God hypostatically united to it, but only at the time and in the manner and to the extent that the Word of God wishes," just as our body is moved by our rational soul. Here Sergius speaks of the natural will of the flesh, and of the Divine will, but makes no mention of the higher free will, which indeed is wholly subject to the Divine will. He may indeed be understood to include this intellectual will in "the intellectually animated flesh", but his thought is not clear, and his words simply express the heresy of one will. He concludes that it is best simply to confess that "the only begotten Son of God, who is truly both God and Man, works both the Divine and the human works, and from one and the same incarnate Word of God proceed indivisibly and inseparably both the Divine and the human operations as St. Leo teaches: Agit enim utraque, etc." If these words and the quotation from St. Leo mean anything, they mean two operations; but Sergius's error lies precisely in deprecating this expression. It cannot be too carefully borne in mind that theological accuracy is a matter of definition, and definition is a matter of words. The prohibition of the right words is always heresy, even though the author of the prohibition has no heretical intention and is merely shortsighted or confused. Honorius replied reproving Sophronius, and praising Sergius for rejecting his "new expression" of "two operations". He approves the recommendations made by Sergius, and has no blame for the capitula of Cyrus. In one point he goes further than either, for he uses the words: "Wherefore we acknowledge one Will of our Lord Jesus Christ." We may easily believe the testimony of Abbot John Symponus, who wrote the letter for Honorius, that he intended only to deny a lower will of the flesh in Christ which contradicted His higher will, and that he was not referring at all to His Divine will; but in connexion with the letter of Sergius such an interpretation is scarcely the more obvious one. It is clear that Honorius was not any more a wilful heretic than was Sergius, but he was equally incorrect in his decision, and his position made the mistake far more disastrous. In another letter to Sergius he says he has informed Cyrus that the new expressions, one and two operations, are to be dropped, their use being most foolish.

In one of the last four months of 638 effect was given to the pope's letter by the issue of an "Exposition" composed by Sergius and authorized by the emperor; it is known as the Ecthesis of Heraclius. Sergius died 9 Dec., a few days after having celebrated a council in which the Ecthesis was acclaimed as "truly agreeing with the Apostolic teaching", words which seem to be a reference to its being founded on the letter of Honorius. Cyrus received the news of this council with great rejoicings. The Ecthesis itself is a complete profession of Faith according to the five General Councils. Its peculiarity consists in adding a prohibition of the expression one and two operations, and an assertion of one will in Christ lest contrary wills should be held. The letter of Honorius had been a grave document, but not a definition of Faith binding on the whole Church. The Ecthesis was a definition. But Honorius had no cognizance of it, for he had died on 12 Oct. The envoys who came for the emperor's confirmation of the new Pope Severinus refused to recommend the Ecthesis to the latter, but promised to lay it before him for judgment (see MAXIMUS OF CONSTANTINOPLE). Severinus, not consecrated until May, 640, died two months later, but not without having condemned the Ecthesis. John IV, who succeeded him in December, lost no time in holding a synod to condemn it formally. When Heraclius, who had merely intended to give effect to the teaching of Honorius, heard that the document was rejected at Rome, he disowned it in a letter to John IV, and laid the blame on Sergius. He died Feb., 641. The pope wrote to the elder son of Heraclius, saying that the Ecthesis would doubtless now be withdrawn, and apologizing for Pope Honorius, who had not meant to teach one human will in Christ. St. Maximus Confessor published a similar defence of Honorius, but neither of these apologists says anything of the original error, the forbidding of the "two operations, which was soon to become once more the principal point of controversy. In fact on this point no defence of Honorius was possible. But Pyrrhus, the new Patriarch of Constantinople, was a supporter of the Ecthesis and confirmed it in a great council, which St. Maximus, however, reproves as irregularly convoked. After the death of Constantine and the exile of his brother Heracleonas, Pyrrhus himself was exiled to Africa Here he was persuaded in a famous controversy with St. Maximus (q.v.) to renounce the appeal to Vigilius and Honorius and to condemn the Ecthesis; he went to Rome and made his submission to Pope Theodore, John IV having died (Oct., 642).

Meanwhile protests from the East were not wanting. St. Sophronius, who, after becoming Patriarch of Jerusalem, died just before Sergius, had yet had time to publish at his enthronization a formal defence of the dogma of two operations and two wills, which was afterwards approved by the sixth council. This remarkable document was the first full exposition of the Catholic doctrine. It was sent to all the patriarchs, and St. Sophronius humbly asked for corrections. His references to St. Leo are interesting, especially his statement: "I accept all his letters and teachings as proceeding from the mouth of Peter the Coryphæus, and I kiss them and embrace them with all my soul". Further on he speaks of receiving St. Leo's definitions as those of Peter, and St. Cyril's as those of Mark. He also made a large collection of testimonies of the Fathers in favour of two operations and two wills. He finally sent to Rome Stephen, Bishop of Dora, the first bishop of the patriarchate, who has given us a moving description of the way in which the saint led him to the holy place of Calvary and there charged him, saying: "Thou shalt give an account to the God who was crucified for us in this holy place, in His glorious and awful advent, when He shall come to judge the living and the dead, if thou delay and allow His Faith to be endangered, since, as thou knowest, I am myself let, by reason of the invasion of the Saracens which is come upon us for our sins. Swiftly pass, then, from end to end of the world, until thou come to the Apostolic See, where are the foundations of the holy doctrines. Not once, not twice, but many times, make clearly known to all those holy men there all that has been done; and tire not instantly urging and beseeching, until out of their apostolic wisdom they bring forth judgment unto victory." Urged by almost all the orthodox bishops of the East, Stephen made his first journey to Rome. On the death of St. Sophronius, his patriarchal see was invaded by the Bishop of Joppa, a supporter of the Ecthesis. Another heretic sat in the See of Antioch. At Alexandria the union with the Monophysites was shortlived. In 640 the city fell into the hands of the Arabians under Amru, and the unfortunate heretics have remained until today (save for a few months in 646) under the rule of the infidel. Thus the whole of the Patriarchates of Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria were separated from Rome. Yet no doubt, except in Egypt, the great number of the bishops and the whole of their flocks were orthodox and had no wish to accept the Ecthesis.

The bishops of Cyprus, independent of any patriarch, held a synod 29 May, 643, against the Ecthesis. They wrote to Pope Theodore a letter of entreaty: "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'", etc. They declare themselves ready to be martyred rather than forsake the doctrine of St. Leo: but their Archbishop Sergius, when the persecution arose, was found on the side of the persecutors, not of the martyrs. It is abundantly clear that St. Maximus and his Constantinopolitan friends, St. Sophronius and the bishops of Palestine, Sergius and his suffragans, had no notion that the Apostolic See had been compromised by the letters of Honorius, but they look to it as the only port of salvation. Similarly in 646 the bishops of Africa and the adjoining islands held councils, in the name of which the primates of Numidia, Byzacene and Mauritania sent a joint letter to Pope Theodore, complaining of the Ecthesis: "No one can doubt that there is in the Apostolic See a great and unfailing fountain pouring forth waters for all Christians", and so forth. They enclose letters to the emperor and to the patriarch Paul, to be sent to Constantinople by the pope. They are afraid to write directly, for the former governor, Gregory (who had presided at the disputation of his friend St. Maximus with Pyrrhus) had revolted and made himself emperor, and had just been defeated; this was a blow to orthodoxy, which it brought into discredit at Constantinople. Victor, elected primate of Carthage after the letters were written, added one of his own.

Paul the patriarch whom the Emperor Constans had substituted for Pyrrhus, had not been acknowledged by Pope Theodore, who demanded of him that Pyrrhus should first be tried by a council before two representatives of the Holy See. Paul's reply is preserved: the views he exposes are those of the Ecthesis, and he defends them by referring to Honorius and Sergius. Theodore pronounced a sentence of deposition against him, and Paul retaliated by destroying the Latin altar which belonged to the Roman See in the palace of Placidia at Constantinople, in order that the papal envoys might be unable to offer the Holy Sacrifice; he also persecuted them, together with many orthodox laymen and priests, by imprisonment, exile, or stripes. But Paul, in spite of this violence, had no idea of resisting the definitions of Rome. Until now, Honorius had not been disowned there, but defended. It was said that he had not taught one will; but the prohibition in the Ecthesis of two operations was but an enforcement of the course Honorius had approved, and nothing had as yet, it seems, been officially published at Rome on this point. Paul, somewhat naturally, thought it would be sufficient if he dropped the teaching of one will, and prohibited all reference to one will or two wills as well as to one operation or two operations; it could hardly be urged that this was not in accordance with the teaching of Pope Honorius. It would be a measure of peace, and East and West would be again united. Paul therefore persuaded the emperor to withdraw the Ecthesis, and to substitute for that elaborate confession of Faith a mere disciplinary measure forbidding all four expressions under the severest penalties; none of the emperor's orthodox subjects have any longer permission to quarrel over them, but no blame is to attach to any who may have used either alternative in the past. Transgression of this law is to involve deposition for bishops and clerics, excommunication and expulsion for monks, loss of office and dignity for officials, fines for richer laymen, corporal punishment and permanent exile for the poorer. By this cruel law heresy is to be blameless and orthodoxy forbidden. It is known as the Type of Constans. It is not a Monothelite document, for it forbids that heresy just as much as the Catholic Faith. Its date falls between Sept. 648 and Sept. 649. Pope Theodore died 5 May of the latter year, and was succeeded in July by St. Martin I. In October St. Martin held a great council at the Lateran, at which 105 bishops were present. The pope's opening speech gives a history of the heresy, and condemns the Ecthesis, Cyrus, Sergius, Pyrrhus, Paul, and the Type. John IV had spoken of Sergius with respect; and Martin does not mention Honorius, for it was obviously impossible to defend him if the Type was to be condemned as heresy. Stephen of Dora, then on his third visit to Rome, presented a long memorial, full of devotion to the Apostolic See. A deputation followed, of 37 Greek abbots residing in or near Rome, who had apparently fled before the Saracens from their various homes in Jerusalem, Africa, Armenia, Cilicia, etc. They demanded the condemnation of Sergius, Pyrrhus, Paul, and Cyrus and the anathematizing of the Type by the Apostolic and head See. The heretical documents read were part of a letter of Theodore of Pharan, the seventh proposition of Cyrus, the letter of Sergius to Cyrus, excerpts from the synods held by Sergius and Pyrrhus (who had now repented of his repentance), and the approval of the Ecthesis by Cyrus. The letter of Sergius to Honorius was not read, nor was anything said about the correspondence of the latter with Sergius. St. Martin summed up; then the letter of Paul to Pope Theodore and the Type were read. The council admitted the good intention of the latter document (so as to spare the emperor while condemning Paul), but declared it heretical for forbidding the teaching of two operations and two wills. Numerous excerpts from the Fathers and from Monophysite writers were read, and twenty canons were agreed to, the eighteenth of which condemns Theodore of Pharan, Cyrus, Sergius, Pyrrhus, Paul, the Ecthesis, and the Type, under anathema. A letter to the emperor was signed by all. An encyclical letter was sent throughout the Church in the name of St. Martin and the council, addressed to all bishops, priests, deacons, abbots, monks, ascetics, and to the entire sacred fulness of the Catholic Church. This was a final and complete condemnation of the Constantinopolitan policy. Rome had spoken ex cathedra.

Stephen of Dora had been before appointed papal vicar in the East, but he had by error been informed only of his duty to depose heretical bishops, and not that he was authorized to substitute orthodox bishops in their place. The pope now gave this commission to John, Bishop of Philadelphia in Palestine, who was ordered to appoint bishops, priests, and deacons in the patriarchates of Antioch and Jerusalem. Martin also sent letters to these patriarchates, and to Peter, who seems to have been governor, asking him to support his vicar; this Peter was a friend and correspondent of St. Maximus. The pope deposed John, Archbishop of Thessalonica, and declared the appointments of Macarius of Antioch and Peter of Alexandria to be null and void. Constans retaliated by having St. Martin kidnapped at Rome, and taken a prisoner to Constantinople. The saint refused to accept the Ecthesis, and after sufferings, many of which he has himself related in a touching document, he died a martyr in the Crimea in March, 655 (see POPE MARTIN I). St. Maximus (662), his disciple the monk Anastasius (also 662), and another Anastasius, a papal envoy (666), died of ill-treatment, martyrs to their orthodoxy and devotion to the Apostolic See.

While St. Martin was being insulted and tortured at Constantinople, the patriarch Paul was dying. "Alas, this will increase the severity of my judgment", he exclaimed to the emperor, who paid him a visit; and Constans was induced to spare the pope's life for the moment. At Paul's death Pyrrhus was restored. His successor Peter sent an ambiguous letter to Pope Eugenius, which made no mention of two operations, thus observing the prescription of the Type. The Roman people raised a riot when it was read in Sta. Maria Maggiore, and would not permit the pope to continue his Mass until he promised to reject the letter. Constans sent a letter to the pope by one Gregory, with a gift to St. Peter. It was rumoured at Constantinople that the pope's envoys would accept a declaration of "one and two wills" (two because of the natures, one on account of the union). St. Maximus refused to believe the report. In fact Peter wrote to Pope Vitalian (657-672) professing "one and two wills and operations" and adding mutilated quotations from the Fathers; but the explanation was thought unsatisfactory, presumably because it was only an excuse for upholding the Type. In 663 Constans came to Rome, intending to make it his residence, on account of his unpopularity at Constantinople, for besides putting the pope to death and proscribing the orthodox faith, he had murdered his brother Theodosius. The pope received him with all due honour, and Constans, who had refused to confirm the elections of Martin and Eugenius, ordered the name of Vitalian to be inscribed on the diptychs of Constantinople. No mention seems to have been made of the Type. But Constans did not find Rome agreeable. After spoiling the churches, he retired to Sicily, where he oppressed the people. He was murdered in his bath in 668. Vitalian vigorously opposed rebellion in Sicily, and Constantine Pogonatus, the new emperor, found the island at peace on his arrival. It does not seem that he took any interest in the Type, which was doubtless not enforced, though not abolished, for he was fully occupied with his wars against the Saracens until 678, when he determined to summon a general council to end what he regarded as a quarrel between the Sees of Rome and Constantinople. He wrote in this sense to Pope Donus (676-78), who was already dead. His successor St. Agatho thereupon assembled a synod at Rome and ordered others to be held in the West. A delay of two years was thus caused, and the heretical patriarchs Theodore of Constantinople and Macarius of Antioch assured the emperor that the pope despised the Easterns and their monarch, and they tried, but unsuccessfully, to get the name of Vitalian removed from the diptychs. The emperor asked for three representatives at least to be sent from Rome, with twelve archbishops or bishops from the West and four monks from each of the Greek monasteries in the West, perhaps as interpreters. He also sent Theodore into exile, probably because he was an obstacle to reunion.

The first session of the Sixth Œcumenical Council took place at Constantinople (7 Nov., 680), Constantine Pogonatus presiding and having on his left, in the place of honour, the papal legates. Macarius of Antioch was the only prelate who stood up for Monothelitism, and he was in due course condemned as a heretic (see MACARIUS OF ANTIOCH). The letters of St. Agatho and of the Roman Council insisted on the decisions of the Lateran Council, and repeatedly affirmed the inerrancy of the Apostolic See. These documents were acclaimed by the council, and accepted by George, the new Patriarch of Constantinople and his suffragans. Macarius had appealed to Honorius; and after his condemnation a packet which he had delivered to the emperor was opened, and in it were found the letters of Sergius to Honorius and of Honorius to Sergius. As these were at best similar to the Type, already declared heretical, it was unavoidable that they should be condemned. The fifth council had set the example of condemning dead writers, who had died in Catholic communion, but George suggested that his dead predecessors might be spared, and only their teaching anathematized. The legates might have saved the name of Honorius also had they agreed to this, but they evidently had directions from Rome to make no objection to his condemnation if it seemed necessary. The final dogmatic decree contains the decisions of the five preceding general councils, condemns the Ecthesis and the Type, and heretics by name, including Honorius, and "greets with uplifted hands" the letters of Pope Agatho and his council (see POPE HONORIUS I). The address to the emperor, signed by all the bishops, declares that they have followed Agatho, and he the Apostolic teaching. "With us fought the prince of the Apostles, for to assist us we had his imitator and the successor to his chair. The ancient city of Rome proffered you a divinely written confession and caused the daylight of dogmas to rise by the Western parchment. And the ink shone, and by Agatho, Peter spoke; and you, the autocrat king, voted with the Almighty who reigns with you." A letter to the pope was also signed by all the Fathers. The emperor gave effect to the decree in a lengthy edict, in which he echoes the decisions of the council, adding: "These are the teachings of the voices of the Gospels and the Apostles, these are 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." The emperor's letter to the pope is full of Such expressions; as for example: "Glory be to God, Who does wondrous things, Who has kept safe the Faith among you unharmed. For how should He not do so in 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," etc. But St. Agatho, a worker of many miracles, was dead, and did not receive the letter, so that it fell to St. Leo II to confirm the council. Thus was the East united again to the West after an incomplete but deplorable schism.

It would seem that in 687 Justinian II believed that the sixth council was not fully enforced, for he wrote to Pope Conon that he had assembled the papal envoys, the patriarchs, metropolitans, bishops, the senate and civil officials and representatives of his various armies, and made them sign the original acts which had recently been discovered. In 711 the throne was seized by Philippicus Bardanes, who had been the pupil of Abbot Stephen, the disciple "or rather leader" of Macarius of Antioch. He restored to the diptychs Sergius, Honorius, and the other heretics condemned by the council; he burned the acts (but privately, in the palace), he deposed the Patriarch Cyrus, and exiled some persons who refused to subscribe a rejection of the council. He fell, 4 June, 713, and orthodoxy was restored by Anastasius II (713-15). Pope Constantine had refused to recognize Bardanes. The intruded patriarch, John VI, wrote him a long letter of apology, explaining that he had submitted to Bardanes to prevent worse evils, and asserting in many words the headship of Rome over the universal Church. This was the last of Monothelitism.


The chief ancient authorities for our knowledge of the Monothelites are the acts of the Lateran synod and of the sixth council, the works of ST. MAXIMUS CONFESSOR and ANASTASIUS SINAITA, and the Collectanea of ANASTASIUS BIBLIOTHECARIUS. Of modern works only a few need be specially mentioned: COMBÉFIS, Auctarium novum, II (Historia Monothelitarum et Dissertatio apol. pro actis VI synodi (Paris, 1648); PETAVIUS, De Incarnatione, VIII, IX; HEFELE, Hist. of Councils, V (Eng. tr.); BARDENHEWER, Ungedruckle Excerpte aus einer Schrift des Patriarchen Eulogius von Alexandria (in Theolog. Quartalschrift, 1896, no. 78); OWSEPIAN, Die Entstehungsgeschichte des Monotheletismus nach ihren Quellen geprüft (Leipzig, 1897). See also HONORIUS I, POPE, and MAXIMUS OF CONSTANTINOPLE.

About this page

APA citation. Chapman, J. (1911). Monothelitism and Monothelites. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Chapman, John. "Monothelitism and Monothelites." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is feedback732 at (To help fight spam, this address might change occasionally.) Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.

Copyright © 2009 by Kevin Knight. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.