THIRD COUNCIL OF CONSTANTINOPLE
This, the sixth ecumenical council, first met on 7 November 680 and ended its eighteen sessions on 16 September 681. The number of bishops attending was under 300, and the minutes of the last session have only 174 signatures attached to them. The council was convened by Emperor Constantine IV to settle the Monothelite controversy that had convulsed the Eastern church. MONOTHELITISM held that there was only one will in the God-man; it was designed to heal the breach between the Monophysites and the Chalcedonian Christians in the face of the Persian and Muslim invasions. In 624 a reconciling formula was drawn up that asserted there were two natures in Christ but only one mode of activity or “energy”—a formula found earlier in the writings of CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA.
The formula, however, was rejected by Sophronius of Jerusalem, and in correspondence on the subject between Sergius, patriarch of Constantinople, and Pope Honorius I the latter used the term “one will” in Christ, which soon replaced the more acceptable “one energy.” The term was used in the Ecthesis issued by Emperor Heraclius I in 638, which forbade mention of energy and admitted only “one will.” This became the rallying cry of the Monothelites. However, the Ecthesis was withdrawn by Emperor Constans II in 648 and was replaced by another, less contentious document called Typos.
This did not solve the problem, and the doctrine of the two wills in Christ was eventually affirmed at a synod convened at Rome by Pope Agatho in 680. A letter concerning this doctrine was delivered by papal delegates to Emperor Constantine IV, who immediately called a council of the bishops of the patriarchates of Constantinople and Antioch. Although the emperor had no intention that it should be an ecumenical council, this title was assumed when the council assembled at the first session—representatives had come from the patriarchates of Alexandria and Jerusalem, then in Muslim hands. The sessions were held in the domed hall (or possibly chapel) of the imperial palace, which the acts of the council call Trullo.
The definition of faith issued by the council accepts the Chalcedonian definition and the creeds of NICAEA (325) and CONSTANTINOPLE (381). It concludes:
Believing our Lord Jesus Christ to be one of the Trinity and after the Incarnation our true God, we say that His two natures shone forth in His one subsistence in which He both performed the miracles and endured the sufferings . . . not in appearance only but in very deed, and this by reason of the difference of nature that must be recognized in the same Person, for although joined together yet each nature wills and does the things proper to it and that without division or confusion. Wherefore we confess the two wills and two energies, concurring most fitly in Him for the salvation of the human race.
The Third Council of Constantinople, in asserting two wills and two energies in the God-man, effectively brought to an end the Monothelite controversy. It should be noted, however, that the council, while rejecting any physical unity of the two wills or energies in Christ, admitted the existence of a moral unity resulting from a harmony between the divine and human wills.
- Fliche, A., and V. Martin, eds. Histoire de l’église, Vol. 5, Grégoire le Grand. Les états barbares et la conquête arabe (590-757), ed. L. Bréhier and R. Aigrain. Paris, 1947.
- Grumel, V. “Recherches sur l’histoire du monothélitisme.” Echos d’Orient 27 (1928):6-16, 257-77; 28 (1929):19-34, 272-82; 29 (1930):16-28.
- Heféle, C. J., and H. Leclercq, trans. Histoire des conciles, Vol. 3, pt. 1, pp. 472-538. Paris, 1909.
- Schaff, P., and H. Wace, eds. A Select Library of Nicene and Post- Nicene Fathers, Vol. 14, The Seven Ecumenical Councils, ed. Henry A. Percival, pp. 325-52. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1956.
LESLIE W. BARNARD