Help: Monothelite heresy

I have been told that when Popes advanced Monothelite heresy in the 7th century, that is not a moral failure but a theological one. Popes Honorius and Vitalian are the examples given. Does this argument undermine the historical and moral authority of the Papacy?

I would just say, that popes are only humans and can make mistakes (if the examples you gave are correct). But while the Church is under the protection of the Holy Spirit, luckily none of these heresies ‘made it’. Some people find it strange when we as Catholics say that we do know that popes are only human, and therefore capable of making mistakes. What I’m wondering, if these heseries are also spoken ‘ex cathedra’

The Catholic Encyclopedia has good articles these popes that explain these issues pretty helpfully. On Pope Honorius, see, and on Pope Vitalian, see Regarding Pope Honorius, one thing I note is how his contemporaries defended his orthodoxy and denied that he had taught monothelitism:

“St. Maximus of Constantinople’s]…defense of Honorius is based upon the statements of a certain abbot, John Symponus, the composer of the letter of Honorius, to the effect that the pope only meant to deny that Christ had not two contrary human wills, such as are found in our fallen nature.”

And: “[Pope John IV] explains quite truly that both Sergius and Honorius asserted one Will only because they would not admit contrary wills; yet he shows by his argument that they were wrong in using so misleading an expression.”

I would also note an important point that Philip Hughes makes in his History of the Church Volume 1 Chapter 10. This excerpt starts after the patriarch of Jerusalem, who was named Sophronius, sent the pope a letter condemning monothelitism: The pope thereupon wrote to Constantinople, to Alexandria and to Sophronius. The first two letters are lost, and of the third only fragments survive. We do, however, possess an earlier letter to Sophronius, written before the latter’s synodal letter had been received. Three things definitely emerge from the pope’s letter and the fragments. The pope deprecates all discussion as to whether there are one or two "energies, " for, whichever expression is used, misunderstanding is certain. We must, however, hold that Jesus Christ, one in person, wrought works both human and divine by means of the two natures. The same Jesus Christ acted in His two natures divinely and humanly. Finally…we must acknowledge the unity of will, for in Jesus Christ there is necessarily harmony between what is divinely willed and what is humanly willed. From this it appears to me that Pope Honorius did not advance monothelitism in his doctrinal letters, but rather taught the opposite. Perhaps he did not stand up against the heresy as strongly as he should have, but from these sources it appears that the pope was definitely not a monothelite.

The Church History by J.E. Darras furnishes this quote illustrating the same point: “We acknowledge that the two natures in Jesus Christ act and operate each with the other’s participation; the divine nature operates what is of God, the human what is of man, without division, without confusion, without a change of the divine nature into man, or of the human nature into God, but the differences of nature remaining wholly distinct.” (Encyclical Letter of Pope Honorius, at it appears in Darras, A General History of the Catholic Church Volume II Chapter 6 Section 2 Paragraph 11)

Regarding Pope Vitalian, the Catholic Encyclopedia says, “Pope Vitalian…[took] a more decided stand against Monothelitism and…[t]he Monothelite Patriarch Theodore of Constantinople (from 678) even removed Vitalian’s name from the diptychs.”

That indicates that he was definitely not an advancer of monothelitism. But that article does not cite any historical documents that back up this point, which is unfortunate. Neither does the Hughes History of the Church or the Darras General History of the Catholic Church. Horace K. Mann’s History of the Popes, however, refers the reader to “the acts of the thirteenth session of the Sixth General Council” to prove that Pope Vitalian wrote to the monothelite patriarch Peter “to exhort him to return to the orthodox faith.” The extract of that session published in NPNF doesn’t include that portion, but that is strong evidence that Vitalian was not a monothelite but was strongly orthodox.

I hope that helps. God bless!

Well, perhaps you ought to include the Ecumenical Third Council of Constantinople among your sources, which (properly) declared Pope Honorius a HERETIC because of his view of this specific idea:

…to Honorius some time Pope of Old Rome, as well as the letter of the latter to the same Sergius, we find that these documents are quite foreign to the apostolic dogmas, to the declarations

…we define that there shall be expelled from the holy Church of God and anathematized Honorius who was some time 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 doctrines.

To Theodore of Pharan, the heretic, anathema! To Sergius, the heretic, anathema! To Cyrus, the heretic, anathema! To Honorius, the heretic, anathema! To Pyrthus, the heretic, anathema!

Third Council of Constantinople, Session 8 & 9]

Pope Honorius was a HERETIC (after the fact).

He did not, however, ever promulgate his HERESY as Catholic Doctrine. This is important. The Church has several wickedly sinful Popes, but few out-and-out heretic Popes. It is important to demonstrate that ex Cathedra works for both possibilities. It is foolish (and unsupported by Catholic Doctrine) to suppose that any Pope may not be personally a heretic. Honorius was a HERETIC.

Frank1971 #1
I have been told that when Popes advanced Monothelite heresy in the 7th century, that is not a moral failure but a theological one. Popes Honorius and Vitalian are the examples given. Does this argument undermine the historical and moral authority of the Papacy?

Here are the facts.

Guilty Only of Failure To Teach
This Rock, Catholic Answers, by Steven O’Reilly
Catholic Answers, Inc., October 2000

“The council professed its agreement with Agatho’s letter anathematized any who rejected it, and said its condemnations were in accordance with it. Therefore, any conciliar condemnation of Honorius must be understood in light of such agreement. Consequently, since Agatho counted Honorius among his orthodox predecessors, so too did the council.

“Though Agatho asserted the orthodoxy of all his predecessors and the infallibility of the apostolic see, he explicitly left open the possibility that a pope is nonetheless liable to judgment should he “neglect to preach the truth” to the faithful. Agatho thereby provided the tacit basis for the condemnation of Honorius on these grounds: that by neglecting to preach the truth, Honorius left the Lord’s flock exposed to ravaging wolves, as indeed the monothelite Eastern Patriarchs were and under whom the faithful suffered for many years.

“The council’s judgment is consistent with Agatho’s letter. It made a distinction between the fault of Sergius and Cyrus on the one hand and that of Honorius on the other. A reading of the condemnation reveals Honorius is neither grouped with nor shares the same fault of those “whose doctrines” were execrated—i.e., Sergius, Cyrus, etc. While Honorius is anathematized “with them”—that is, sharing a similar punishment—it is not because of any doctrine attributable to him. Honorius is condemned because of what the council “found written by him to Sergius;” in which letters Honorius “followed his [Sergius’s] view” about keeping silent and thus “confirmed his [Sergius’s] impious doctrines” (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 343).

Likewise, Pope Leo II (682-683) faulted Honorius because he “did not endeavor to preserve” the faith and for having “permitted” it to be assaulted, but not for having either invented, taught, or adhered to the heretical doctrine (Paul Bottalla, S.J., Pope Honorius Before the Tribunal of Reason and History, 111-112). Elsewhere, Leo blames “Honorius, who did not, as became the apostolic authority, extinguish the flame of heretical teaching in its first beginning, but fostered it by his negligence” (*Leonis II ad Episcopos Hispanie *in the Catholic Encyclopedia, 7:455; emphasis added). In sum, Honorius failed to teach.

“With regard to the papal oath, it stated only that Honorius was condemned because he had “added fuel to their [the monothelites’] wicked assertions” (Liber diurnus, ibid., 455)—a charge which does not substantially differ from earlier statements that Honorius had fostered heresy by his negligence.”

Answer by Dr. William Carroll (EWTN) on 10-23-2001:
Pope Honorius never actually taught heresy at all. It was all a misunderstanding, which is explained in full detail, fully documented, in the second volume of my history of Christendom, THE BUILDING OF CHRISTENDOM, pages 252-254.

Answer by Dr. William Carroll (EWTN) on 05-29-2002:
When Pope St. Leo II affirmed a council’s condemnation of Pope Honorius, he specifically declared that Pope Honorius had not taught heresy, but had been condemned for failing to denounce it soon enough.

Thank you so much for all your great answers, this really helps alot. Great to be part of a community like this.

I understand that some Eastern Orthodox churches honor Honorius as a saint for his defense of orthodoxy.

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