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630 - Monotheletism

The first doctrinal controversy in the Greek church of this period originated partly in causes within and partly in causes without the church itself. The internal cause was the effort to unfold from the doctrine of the two natures in Christ the consequences which it involved. The doctrine of the two natures in Christ combined together in personal union, while each retained its own attributes unaltered, would if consistently carried out lead men also to Buppose two forms of working corresponding to these two natures; as, in fact, they allowed to subsist along with the two natures the attributes also, answering to each, which remained unaltered.

The external cause of these controversies, was, as had so often been the case, the inclination of the Byzantine emperors to intermeddle with ecclesiastical proceedings; and in particular, the effort, so often made without success, and from which they still could not desist, to bring about a conciliation of the opposite doctrinal views existing in the church, by means of formulas designed to conceal the existing differences.

It was not merely a religious, but also a political interest by which the Greek emperor Heraclius, whose arms were successful in recovering the provinces rent from the Greek empire by the Persians, was led to desire this. It was to him a matter of great political importance, to strengthen the power of the Greek empire by reuniting the large body, constituting the Monophysite party, with the dominant church of the empire. The interviews he had had with Monophysite bishops, whom he happened to meet in his campaigns during the war against the Persians in 622 and the following years, inspired him with the thought, that the formulary of one divinely human mode of working and willing in Christ, might serve the purpose of bringing about the result which had been so long sought in vain, and if not to reconcile, at least to render harmless to the unity of the church, the opposition between the Monophysite party, and the Catholic church which held fast to the decisions of the Chalcedonian council.

The formulary - one mode of Christ's willing and working - seemed the less liable to give offence, because in the writings of Dionysius the Areopagite, which stood in the same high authority with both the parties, set down as the distinguishing predicate of Christ. Heraclius by no means designed to make this formulary of doctrine a universally dominant one in the church. He was governed here far more by political than by doctrinal motives ; and without taking any particular interest in the doctrinal disputes, or wishing to have any influence in determining the doctrines of the church, his only object was to employ this formulary as a means for promoting union in districts where the Monophysite party was numerous and powerful, as was the case in the Alexandrian diocese. The patriarch Sergius, of Constantinople, whom the emperor consulted touching the propriety of employing this formulary, having found nothing offensive in it, he was the more confirmed in his contemplated project.

Among the bishops, with whom the emperor had conversed on this subject, was Cyrus bishop of Phasis, in the territory of the Lazians of Colchis. As the latter felt some scruples about the employment of this formulary, he applied for advice to the patriarch Sergius of Constantinople.1 Sergius sought in his reply to remove these scruples ;s but in so doing he expressed himself very ambiguously, showing the want of an independent theological judgment of his own. He wrote him, that at ecumenical councils, this subject had never╗come under discussion, nor had anything been determined about it. Several eminent fathers had used the phrase one mode of working, but as yet he had found no one, who approved the phrase two modes of working. If however any such case could be pointed out, it would be necessary to follow that authority, for men were bound not merely to seek to agree with the fathers in doctrine, but also to use the same language with them, and to be cautious of all innovations.

Cyrus represented himself as satisfied by this decision of the patriarch ; and we may conjecture that it was to his approbation of this formulary, and his declared readiness to form a union with the Monophysites, he was indebted for his elevation to the patriarchate of Alexandria in the year 630. He ac tually succeeded in bringing back thousands of the Monophysites in Egypt and the adjacent provinces, who had remained hitherto separated from the dominant church, to reunite with the same, by means of a doctrinal compromise established on nine points, which compromise placed the peculiar articles of Monophysitism beside those of the creed of the Chalcedonian council; so that every man could explain the one in conformity with the other.

But this compromise met with the same fate with all the earlier attempts at conciliation; namely, the union thus brought about was soon dissolved again; and new schisms sprung out of it. There was then residing at Alexandria an eminent monk of Palestine, by name Sophronius," who with logical consistency defended the system of the two natures, and was not inclined to sacrifice consistency in doctrine to church policy. To him, the doctrine of one mode of working and willing seemed to lead necessarily to Monophysitism.

The question concerning the relations of the human and the divine will to each other in Christ was connected also hi a way that deserves notice, with the question respecting the relation of the human to the divine will in the redeemed in their state of perfection. At least, many among the Monotheletes supposed the final result of the perfect development of the divine hie in believers would be in them, as in the case of Christ, a total absorption of the human will in God's will ; so that in all, there would be a subjective, as well as objective identity of will.

Heraclius could devote more assiduous attention to the question; and the problems connected with the administration of the recovered provinces of Syria and Egypt suggested that the monotheletic talisman might be used with salutary effect. And hence Greek historians2 speak as though the doctrine had first emerged in 629 at an interview which took place in that year at Hierapolis between the Emperor and Athanasius the Jacobite. An agreement was made between them; the Jacobites were to return to the Church on the basis of the new theory, and Athanasius was to be raised to the patriarchal chair of Antioch. In the following year Cyrus of Phasis was made Patriarch of Alexandria, and his first act was to win over the important sect of the Theodosians or Phthartolatrai. So far the policy of unification was successful. Sergius the Patriarch of Constantinople, Athanasius the Jacobite Patriarch of Antioch, Cyrus the monophysite Patriarch of Alexandria were unanimous in teaching " one theandric energy."

To Constantinople, the imperial edict still continued valid even after the death of Heraclius, in 641; but the successors of Honorius bishop of Rome, who died soon after the breaking out of these disputes, declared themselves decidedly against Monotheletism, and in favor of the doctrine of the two modes of willing and working. This dogmatic tendency prevailed also in the African church. Ma^imus repaired to these districts ; he increased by his influence the zeal in behalf of it; and used the authority of these churches, especially the Roman, to put down Monotheletism.

Unluckily the synods which finally closed the Monotheletic and the Iconoclastic questions in favour of the "orthodox" views enjoined the destruction of the controversial works of the defeated parties, so that of Monotheletic and Iconoclastic literature we have only the fragments which are quoted in the Acts of Councils or in the writings of the controversialists.

Since it was condemned in the sixth oecumenic council (Trullanum primum) in the year 680, at Constantinople, under the emperor Constantinus Pogonatus, a small flock of the oppressed sect joined together in Syria, about the monastery on Lebanon, which bore the name of the holy Maro, an abbot in the sixth century. They elected their own patriarch of Antioch. The first one was Johannes Maro (+ 701). He brought this people to the peculiar state of being industrious laborers, as well as brave, and for their defence trained up soldiers, for which character they have since been distinguished.

It is supposed that the Maronites were early joined by the Latins, i. e. the adherents of the pope, who were persecuted by the Melchites, a party attached to the emperor. They received the name Maronites from the monastery about which they had fixed their habitations, and defended their independence against Greeks and Mahometans. Up to the time of the Crusades, they retained their Monotheletic doctrine and ecclesiastical separatism ; but having then come in contact with the Roman Catholic Church, they entered into union with her in 1182. This connexion, lax at first, became, in 1445, a more close and stable union.



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