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History of the Christian Church, Volume IV: Mediaeval Christianity. A.D. 590-1073.
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§ 110. The Doctrine of Two Wills in Christ.


The Monotheletic or one-will controversy is a continuation of the Christological contests of the post-Nicene age, and closely connected with the Monophysitic controversy.604604    The name Monotheletism is derived from μόνονand θέλημα, will. The heresy, whether expressive of the teacher or the doctrine, always gives name to the controversy and the sect which adopts it. The champions of the heretical one-will doctrine are called (first by John of Damascus). Μονοθεληταί, or Μονοθελῆται, Monotheletes, or Monothelites; the orthodox two-will doctrine is called Dyotheletism (from δύοθελήματα), and its advocates Δυοθελῆται, Dyothelites. The corresponding doctrines as to one nature or two natures of the Redeemer are termed Monophysitism and Dyophysitism.

This question had not been decided by the ancient fathers and councils, and passages from their writings were quoted by both parties. But in the inevitable logic of theological development it had to be agitated sooner or later, and brought to a conciliar termination.

The controversy had a metaphysical and a practical aspect.

The metaphysical and psychological aspect was the relation of will to nature and to person. Monotheletism regards the will as an attribute of person, Dyotheletism as an attribute of nature. It is possible to conceive of an abstract nature without a will; it is difficult to conceive of a rational human nature without impulse and will; it is impossible to conceive of a human person without a will. Reason and will go together, and constitute the essence of personality. Two wills cannot coexist in an ordinary human being. But as the personality of Christ is complex or divine-human, it may be conceived of as including two consciousnesses and two wills. The Chalcedonian Christology at all events consistently requires two wills as the necessary complement of two rational natures; in other words, Dyotheletism is inseparable from Dyophysitism, while Monotheletism is equally inseparable from Monophysitism, although it acknowledged the Dyophysitism of Chalcedon. The orthodox doctrine saved the integrity and completeness of Christ’s humanity by asserting his human will.605605    This benefit, however, was lost by the idea of the impersonality (anhypostasia) of the human nature of Christ, taught by John of Damascus in his standard exposition of the orthodox Christology. His object was to exclude the idea of a double personality. But it is impossible to separate reason and will from personality, or to assert the impersonality of Christ’s humanity without running into docetism. The most which can be admitted is the Enhypostasia, i.e. the incorporation or inclusion of the human nature of Jesus in the one divine personality of the Logos. The church has never officially committed itself to the doctrine of the impersonality.

The practical aspect of the controversy is connected with the nature of the Redeemer and of redemption, and was most prominent with the leaders. The advocates of Monotheletism were chiefly concerned to guard the unity of Christ’s person and work. They reasoned that, as Christ is but one person, he can only have one will; that two wills would necessarily conflict, as in man the will of the flesh rebels against the Spirit; and that the sinlessness of Christ is best secured by denying to him a purely human will, which is the root of sin. They made the pre-existing divine will of the Logos the efficient cause of the incarnation and redemption, and regarded the human nature of Christ merely as the instrument through which he works and suffers, as the rational soul works through the organ of the body. Some of them held also that in the perfect state the human will of the believer will be entirely absorbed in the divine will, which amounts almost to a pantheistic absorption of the human personality in the divine.

The advocates of Dyotheletism on the other hand contended that the incarnation must be complete in order to have a complete redemption; that a complete incarnation implies the assumption of the human will into union with the pre-existing divine will of the Logos; that the human will is the originating cause of sin and guilt, and must therefore be redeemed, purified, and sanctified; that Christ, without a human will, could not have been a full man, could not have been tempted, nor have chosen between good and evil, nor performed any moral and responsible act.

The Scripture passages quoted by Agatho and other advocates of the two-will doctrine, are Matt. 26:39 (“Not as I will, but as Thou wilt”); Luke 22:42 (“Not my will, but thine be done”); John 6:38 (“I am come down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me”). For the human will were quoted Luke 2:51 (“he was subject” to his parents); Phil. 2:8 (“obedient unto death”), also John 1:43; 17:24; 19:28; Matt. 27:34; for the divine will, Luke 13:34; John 5:21.

These Scripture passages, which must in the end decide the controversy, clearly teach the human will of Jesus, but the other will from which it is distinguished, is the will of his heavenly Father, to which he was obedient unto death. The orthodox dogma implies the identity of the divine will of Christ with the will of God the Father, and assumes that there is but one will in the divine tripersonality. It teaches two natures and one person in Christ, but three persons and one nature in God. Here we meet the metaphysical and psychological difficulty of conceiving of a personality without a distinct will. But the term personality is applied to the Deity in a unique and not easily definable sense. The three Divine persons are not conceived as three individuals.

The weight of argument and the logical consistency on the basis of the Chalcedonian Dyophysitism, which was acknowledged by both parties, decided in favor of the two-will doctrine. The Catholic church East and West condemned Monotheletism as a heresy akin to Monophysitism. The sixth oecumenical Council in 680 gave the final decision by adopting the following addition to the Chalcedonian Christology:606606    Actio XVIII., in Mansi, XI. 637; Gieseler, I. 540 note 15; Hefele, III. 284 sq.

“And we likewise preach two natural wills in him [Jesus Christ], and two natural operations undivided, inconvertible, inseparable, unmixed, according to the doctrine of the holy fathers; and the two natural wills [are] not contrary (as the impious heretics assert), far from it! but his human will follows the divine will, and is not resisting or reluctant, but rather subject to his divine and omnipotent will.607607    δύὁ φυσικὰς̔ θελήσεις̔ ἢτοι θελήματἁ ἐν̔ αὐτᾦ, καἱ δύὁ φυσικὰς̔ ἐνεργείας̔ ἀδιαιρέτως, ἀτρέπτως, ἀμερίστως, ἀσυγχύτωςκηρύττομεν(duas naturales voluntates et duas naturales operationes indivise, inconvertibiliter, inseparabiliter, inconfuse … praedicamus). For it was proper that the will of the flesh should be moved, but be subjected to the divine will, according to the wise Athanasius. For as his flesh is called and is the flesh of the God Logos, so is also the natural will of his flesh the proper will of the Logos, as he says himself: ’I came from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the Father who sent me’ (John 6:38). … Therefore we confess two natural wills and operations, harmoniously united for the salvation of the human race.”608608    Comp. the following passage from the letter of Pope Agatho to the emperor who called the Council, which evidently suggested the framing of the decision (Mansi, XI. 239; Gieseler, I. 540; Hefele, III. 255): ”Cum duas autem naturas duasque, naturales voluntates, et duas naturales operationes confitemur in uno Domino nostro J. Ch., non contrarias eas, nec adversas ad alterutrum dicimus (sicut a via veritatis errantes apostolicam traditionem accusant, absit haec impietas a fidelium cordibus), nec tanquam separatas in duabus personis vel subsistentiis, sed duas dicimus unum eundemque Dominum nostrum J. Ch., sicut naturas, ita et naturales in se voluntates et operationes habere, divinam scilicet a humanam: divinam quidem voluntatem et operationem habere ex aeterno cum coëssentiali Patre, communem; humanam temporaliter ex nobis cum nostra natura susceptam.” Agatho quotes Scripture passages and testimonies of the fathers, but does not define the mode in which the two wills cooperate.

The theological contest was carried on chiefly in the Eastern church which had the necessary learning and speculative talent; but the final decision was brought about by the weight of Roman authority, and Pope Agatho exerted by his dogmatic epistle the same controlling influence over the sixth oecumenical Council, as Pope Leo I. had exercised over the fourth. In this as well as the older theological controversies the Roman popes—with the significant exception of Honorius—stood firmly on the side of orthodoxy, while the patriarchal sees of the East were alternately occupied by heretics as well as orthodox.

The Dyotheletic decision completes the Christology of the Greek and Roman churches, and passed from them into the Protestant churches; but while the former have made no further progress in this dogma, the latter allows a revision and reconstruction, and opened new avenues of thought in the contemplation of the central fact and truth of the divine-human personality of Christ.



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