Audio length: 36:10 minutes
Transcript published: March 20, 2012
In this episode, Dn. Michael provides an overview of the sixth Ecumenical Council and reminds us that Christianity involves an internal battle of the will.
Dn. Michael Hyatt: I’m getting back into the swing of it at work this week. I took about ten days off. And I had set up a meeting last Fall, kind of close to Christmas, but I set up a meeting last week to talk with a guy who had developed a software product that would protect children on the Internet from porn and even worse child solicitation and abduction from pedophiles and so forth.
Part of the issue was that this guy was recounting the epidemic of pedophilia in our culture and even worse pornography in our culture. I kind of thought I knew how bad it was, but I had no idea. It was unbelievable, and he was basically making the point that we’re losing an entire generation of young people and their innocence.
And it would be real easy after hearing a discussion like that; it was very moving. There were times when we just all teared up as we heard these stories. His own child, the guy who had developed the software, had been the victim of child abuse from a person who worked on their property, and it was really disgusting.
But it would be very easy for us to think, given the world that we live in today, that the battle is out there somewhere. It’s the Devil who assaults us. It’s our own flesh which tempts us. It’s the world which lures us. It’s something external to us. And I think part of what the Fathers in the Sixth Council were trying to protect and what we’re going to get into today is that really the battle that rages is in our will. That’s where the real battle is.
And if you’re the enemy and you want to obfuscate that or get Christians sidetracked on what it is and what it isn’t, you might even try to remove that from discussion. Like it’s really not about your will, it’s about all this stuff that’s external to you.
And so a lot of what contemporary Christianity has been about in the last thirty or forty years is this attempt to reclaim the culture. Frankly I don’t think that’s such a bad thing, but it can deceive us into thinking that the problem is out there, not in here.
And so we can think that if we got the right president in office, everything would be better. Or if we got the right senators or congressmen in office, then everything would be better. Or if we somehow got better movies or less vulgar television or less lewd magazine covers or music and if we could concentrate on conforming all of those things, it would be easier for us.
Again I think the battle is within our will. And it’s easy to get stirred up about fixing all that stuff out there and forget about what’s in here. When Orthodox Christians talk about the Christian life, you often hear them use the phrase theosis, the process of becoming like God. And it’s roughly equivalent to what Western Christians mean when they use the term sanctification.
We’re being progressively sanctified, conformed into the image of Jesus Christ; set apart for Him. And it’s a process, and in the East we admit that’s a process. It’s a lifetime process. But the key to it, the foundation of theosis is bringing out will into conformity with the Divine Will.
That’s why we practice asceticism, not just monastics or Ascetics. But it is why we as ordinary Christians practice fasting and prayer and the giving of alms and all these things. It’s not because, for example in fasting, somehow we’re making ourselves more acceptable to God. It has nothing to do with that. And it certainly isn’t that we’re trying to atone for our sins; that if we just hammer the flesh enough and look sorry enough that God will forgive us. It has absolutely nothing to do with that.
It has everything to do with us saying no to things that are at other times legitimate, but we say no to those for a season in order to bring our will into conformity with the divine. It’s training our will. That’s what those are all designed to do.
It’s like somebody who is preparing to run a marathon. You have to submit yourself to some pretty rigorous training. I’m in that process now, though if you look at me you couldn’t tell. But I decided about two weeks ago that I was going to run the Country Music Half Marathon. So I’m announcing it, so now I’m stuck with it. It’s on April 28th, so I’ve got about sixteen weeks to prepare. But for me in my lethargy and in my busyness, it’s difficult to do that. And yet I’ve got an end in mind. I have a goal, and so it makes it easier in my day to day training to be thinking of the goal.
Well, the same thing is true when it comes to our sanctification or to theosis. The goal is that we would share in the very life of God; that we would continue to be grafted back into the life of Jesus Christ. And that’s a process. Yes, it’s an event. It begins with our baptism and chrismation, but saying yes to Jesus is a lifelong process, isn’t it?
You’re here this morning, because however unconscious or conscious it was, you woke up and said, “Yes, I’m going to do this.” You’ve probably got a 1,001 better things to do than come to Adult Sunday School and Church. The paper is out there on the driveway; it beckons. You could watch Meet the Press. There’re a lot of things you could do, but you chose not to do those things so you could say yes to this. And that’s a good thing; it’s a training of your will.
So the only point I want to make, just by way of introduction, is that I think in some way the Sixth Ecumenical Council when you look at it you think, “Gee, that’s so trivial. What they were debating over and fighting over for about 50 years seems so inconsequential.” And yet I would suggest that for the sake of our theosis and for the sake of our growth, it’s probably the most critical Council. So that’s just an introduction and to elevate our awareness and hopefully our attention.
Because it’s been a few weeks since we’ve talked about these Councils, I thought I might just give a quick review of the first five and give us a quick context of where we are in the Sixth.
You’ll remember back at the First Ecumenical Council, it occurred in Nicaea in 325. It condemned Arianism, the teaching that Jesus Christ was a created being and was not co-eternal with the Father. That Council also wrote the first two-thirds of the Nicene Creed that we say every Sunday. It also set the date of Easter, and it established rules for dealing with heretics and lapsed Christians. But if you had to peg it on one thing, if you just want to remember one thing the First Ecumenical Council was about, it’s the condemnation of Arianism. So 325, called by the first Christian Emperor Constantine.
The Second Council was Constantinople in 381. By this time the seat of the Empire, the capital city, had moved from Rome now to Constantinople. It expanded the Creed to include the statements about the deity of the Holy Spirit. And it condemned the Pneumatomachians, which is a fancy word for the fighters of the Holy Spirit. It also added the last third of the Creed, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord the giver of life.” And it established some more rules for dealing with heretics and lapsed Christians. So really, these first two had to do with the doctrine of the Trinity.
The Third Council, held in Ephesus in 431, was one of the most controversial of the Councils. It condemned Nestorianism. Nestorianism almost created a kind of Incarnational schizophrenia, saying that they were not just two natures, but there were almost two persons in Christ. That Council condemned that teaching. And we looked at how that teaching played itself out in Church government and in the liturgical life of the Church, particularly after the Protestant Reformation.
But it also affirmed, didn’t introduce, the ancient practice of using the term Theotokos when referring to the Virgin Mary. She was not just Christotokos, the bearer of Christ, but that one who was in her womb was God Himself. It also condemned Pelagianism, the idea that you can save yourself with your own effort.
Then we got to the Fourth Council, Chalcedon in 451. And this one definitively established that Christ is one person with two natures. It’s something we take for granted as Orthodox Christians, but it was a huge, monumental accomplishment in its day.
And last time before the holidays began, we talked about the Fifth Council, Constantinople the Second in 553. And that really condemned Monophysitism, the idea that there is only one nature in Christ. And it firmly established that there are two natures, and it also condemned Origen and his teachings.
So that’s all by the way of review, just to catch us up to today. And what I want to give you is the historical background and then some of the nuances of the Monothelite heresy, which is what we’re going to consider today.
The Sixth Council was called by the Emperor Constantine IV, so a lot of Constantines in the history of the Church, and this was number four. It opened on November 7, 680 in Constantinople. It concluded on September 16, 681. And the Emperor himself presided. There were eighteen different meetings in this period of time, about eight months. And he presided over the first eleven and the last one.
All five of the ancient Patriarchates were represented. The Patriarchs of Constantinople and Antioch attended personally. And then the representatives from Rome, Jerusalem, and Alexandria attended on behalf of their Patriarchs. It’s kind of interesting. One of the historical notes that I read is that when they sat, the Emperor was there presiding, you had all the different Patriarchs and representatives of their Patriarchates sitting around a copy of the Gospels.
So that was at the center of what they were doing and I think brings up the point again that they were not trying to invent new doctrines. That was not the mission of any of the Ecumenical Councils. All they were trying to do was to articulate, in clear terms, that faith that was once for all delivered to the Saints.
To them, anything novel or he idea of introducing a new thought would have been suspicious. They wanted to be in the continuity of what God had been doing since time began and certainly in the continuity of being faithful to what the Apostles had taught. So it was always an attempt to go back and say, “What was the consensus of Apostolic teaching? And how does that apply to this particular situation?”
And they were called generally in response to a heretical teaching that distorted the Apostolic Faith. But I think it would be easy for us to think, and I’ve read a lot of modern commentaries particularly among Protestants that the idea that the Ecumenical Councils were ginning up these new doctrines or defining these new things.
They really weren’t doing that at all. And that’s why you find them so often going back and affirming the work of the prior Councils; trying to root what they were saying in terms of Scripture and particularly the Gospels. So I think that’s important for us today as Orthodox Christians to say too that we haven’t added to the Faith.
In fact, I think our perspective as Orthodox Christians, and I only really say this for the purpose of clarification, and in many ways the Roman Catholics have added to the Faith – doctrines that weren’t taught anciently. And the Protestant faith, and this is a big generalization I know, subtracted from the Faith. And so as Orthodox Christians, we see ourselves in that middle ground of being faithful to the Deposit of the Faith, which was given to the Apostles.
And the very word tradition comes from the Greek word paradosis, which means to pass on like in a relay race; to hand the baton to the next runner who will hand it to the next runner who will hand it to the next runner.
So to be faithful as an Orthodox Christian means to take that baton, as it’s handed to us, to not embellish or to elaborate, and to pass it on to the next generation. And that’s all the Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils were attempting to do. Let me just pause for comments or questions. Anybody?
Question #1: Well, I was reading that that was one of the early arguments against the Papacy that was brought forward. Here you have an Ecumenical Council where the Pope wasn’t even present. And yet they were able to proceed as a Church.
Dn. Michael: Well, that was actually quite common. In fact, I was thinking today, and I didn’t have time to research it, but how many of the Ecumenical Councils had all the Patriarchs present? I don’t know the exact answer to that and somebody can correct me on this later, but I don’t think any of them.
So basically they operated on the theory of a quorum. And none of them until you get to the Sixth one understood their work to be Ecumenical in the sense that we understand it today. They were dealing with a situation, a heresy, a practice in the Church that had to be resolved, and it was only Ecumenical by virtue of the fact that it was accepted by all and later in time proved itself to be.
There were many councils that purported to be Ecumenical in the Church that never were Ecumenical. I do think and I read in several places, whereas the Sixth Council convened, they understood that this was an Ecumenical Council.
Question #2: Did the Patriarchs not at least have a representative?
Dn. Michael: They did but not always. Sometimes you would have a Patriarch who was in heresy, and he would refuse to send somebody. And one of the things you’ll find and will see even today is with the Monothelite heresy is that many of the Patriarchs were in heresy over this. In fact, it was even taught by Patriarchs.
Question #3a: Two questions. One, how early was the Pope called the Pope? And I’m surely showing my ignorance, but when you say Patriarch do you mean the Bishops?
Dn. Michael: No, that’s a great question. Pope and Patriarch are pretty much synonymous. He’s the head of a See, usually geographically defined, so that you could also say that the Patriarch of Rome, but I guess coming from the Latin, Pope was a derivative of that. He was the Patriarch of Rome, and I think it was used pretty early.
Question #3b: Well, why was he called the Patriarch? I guess the question I have is, becoming Orthodox my understanding is that the authority of the Church rested conciliarly, and there was this Bishop of Rome who was first in honor but not necessarily in authority. So why the name? Why Patriarch that in the 300-400s when this split didn’t happen ‘til 1084 or 1087 whenever it was?
Dn. Michael: That’s a great question, and I would remind us that there are only four order in the Church. The first order is the order of the laity. That’s a part of the priesthood.
There are four orders of the priesthood. The laity, which most of you are part, that’s an order. When you were chrismated, you were ordained into that order. And if you look at how you were anointed in chrismation and go back to the Old Testament of how the Aaronic priests were anointed, pretty close. It’s a specific symbolism designed to communicate that you are a priest, and it’s also a Sacrament.
The second order of the priesthood is the order of deacons, and that’s really the first of the clerical ranks. You can’t be anything else, obviously until you’ve been chrismated, so you have to enter the first order of the priesthood – layperson. And then, the third order is the order of the presbyter or the priest. And then, the fourth order is the order of the bishops.
Now within each of those orders, and let me just deal with the clerical orders, the last three, there are also administrative distinctions. They have no more sacramental import than the others within that order.
But you have, for example within the diaconate, archdeacons. Typically today, an archdeacon would be the deacon who serves with the bishop, like Archdeacon Hans within our own Archdiocese. He’s the Metropolitan’s personal deacon, travels with him, serves with him, and he’s awesome. But it’s really an administrative distinction. He has no more authority than I do or any other deacon.
Within the priesthood, you have ordinary priests and then you have archpriests. And both Fr. Steven and Fr. Bob are archpriests. But it’s an administrative distinction, not a sacramental distinction. Then within the bishops you have a number of different orders, and it’s administrative. It’s for the good order of the Church.
Remember in Exodus 18 when Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came to him and said that you’re wearing yourself out. You’re trying to hear all these complaints from the people, and it’s killing you. (This is my translation.) But you need to establish captains of thousands and captains of ten thousands and captains of hundred thousands. There was an administrative order that Jethro recommended to Moses that Moses adopted for the good order of the people of God.
Well, the same thing happened in the Church. Initially, there were bishops. If you read the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch, for example, which is right after the turn of the century but the second generation of Christians, you really find the language of bishops. But I’ve never seen where there’s language, for example, for metropolitans.
But then as the Church grew, you would find that there would be administrative heads of a metropolia, a city, or a region. And then, even beyond that, you would have bishops that administratively had administrative authority over the metropolitans. And you find some various language, like sometimes a metropolitan is equivalent to an archbishop. They are one and the same, and sometimes not.
But then you have a Patriarch at the very top of that ethnic Church. So today, there’s a Patriarch of the ancient Patriarchates, which would be Jerusalem, Antioch, Constantinople, Alexandria, and Rome. But you also had Patriarchs into the other areas like Russia, where the Church moved. Eventually, they had a head in that Church.
And today in America, for the Antiochian Church, we’re autonomous, so the metropolitan is the head of this Church. Eventually, if we can get all this jurisdictional mess cleaned up, and have one Orthodox Church in North America, it would be conceivable that we would have our own Patriarch. That’s a long answer to a short question, but did I hit it?
Question #3c: Well, it’s still leaves me with this question. You keep using this phrase administrative arrangement or whatever, and then you finally used the word authority. And that kind of becomes the question, was the Patriarch of Rome considered the head in authority?
Dn. Michael: No. Really what was given to Rome, anciently, was essentially the authority, if you will, to preside at a council. He was the first among equals, but the other Patriarchs had equal authority with him.
For example, he couldn’t issue a directive on his own and impose it upon the Church. Again, the essence of our ecclesiology, the essence of our view of Church government, is that it is conciliar. So the bishops sit in council or synod together and make decisions. Somebody has to preside. Somebody has to set the agenda.
I’m the chairman of a couple of different organizations, but I don’t have any more authority than the voting directors. I have one vote just like they do. But I set the agenda; I try to forge consensus; I move the discussion along, but I don’t speak for the group in the sense that I could speak contrary to the group and have it imposed on the group. Same idea would be here. I’d be like a facilitator.
Question #4: Pope Gregory the Great, the first monk-Pope of Rome wrote an excellent argument against the universality of one Pope trying to exercise authority over all the others. And he was writing against the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople at the time. But it’s an excellent argument against one trying to set himself up as being over and above all the others.
And he just argues what you’ve been talking about that it’s a council. They come together as a council, and one doesn’t have a right to dictate to the others. And Rome had been trying this in the past with different churches telling them, you shouldn’t be chanting the Creed. Or you shouldn’t have married priests, which was their thing. But the other churches didn’t do that.
Dn. Michael: That’s a very good point. And some of my reading, part of this was a cultural thing that happened. Because you had in the West, for example, a lot of ignorance and lack of education, wherein the East was more enlightened. So it was natural to understand why the Papacy arose. You needed firm leadership, almost dictatorial leadership. I’m not excusing what developed, but I’m just trying to say that it did arise in a cultural context.
Let me go on. I want to give you the historical background and just talk about the Monothelite heresy. Because this particular Council dealt almost exclusively, almost its entire work of eighteen meetings over the course of eight or nine months, with the heresy of the Monothelites.
It comes from the Greek. It means literally one will, mono meaning one and thelo or thelema meaning will. It taught that Jesus had two natures, but only one will. It was kind of a head fake, to use a sports term, of acknowledging that there two natures, but not going as far to acknowledge that there were two wills. And it was really put forth as a compromise position. Now think about this, if you lived back then and how confusing this would have been.
It was promulgated by the Patriarch Sergius I of Constantinople. So you have the Patriarch of Constantinople who is teaching this, who by the way was the Patriarch from 610-638. Pope Honorius I of Rome, from 625-638 and even Bishop Cyrus of Alexandria were teaching this. So you had some pretty heavyweight people that were putting this forth.
You’ll remember that the Fourth Council had made it clear that Jesus had two natures. And just to read the last part of that declaration of the Council, it says:
We confess that one and the same Christ, Lord, and only-begotten Son, is to be acknowledged in two natures without confusion, change, division or separation. The distinction between the natures was never abolished by their union, but rather the character proper to each of the two natures was preserved as they came together in one person and one hypostasis.
So this is like the definitive statement. Two natures. One person. Amen. But then there was this kind of sleight of hand thing that the Monothelites did where they said that he has two natures but only one will. Well, it was put forth as a compromise position, but it was challenged by Maximos the Confessor, one of my heroes. He was born near Constantinople, well-educated, spent some time in government service, but then he became a monk. And when the Persians invaded the empire, he fled to the desert of North Africa.
Well Cyrus in Alexandria and Sergius of Constantinople convened local councils, endorsing the heresy of the Monothelites, and then they proceeded to spread it throughout the East. In fact, the Emperor at the time ordered the entire empire to accept the heresy. This is really an interesting footnote. Maximos wept bitterly, very discouraged, believing that all of Christendom had fallen into error.
No mass media. No FOX news. No satellite telephones. The only thing he is hearing is that the entire empire has fallen into this heresy. It’d be pretty discouraging. I’m sure there was a lot of self-doubt, a lot of questions, a lot of wondering if everyone else is right and I’m wrong. But he later discovered that the Pope St. Martin, our St. Martin; we commemorate him as well as Roman Catholics, refused to accept it in the West as did Patriarch Sophronious of Jerusalem.
And hearing St. Martin’s opposition to the heresy, he said, “I had the faith of the Latins, but the language of the Greeks.” So we have to be clear as Orthodox, we don’t oppose everything that’s Roman. There were many faithful, orthodox Popes, and St. Martin was one of them.
So Maximos vigorously opposed the Monothelite heresy. He argued for Dyotheletism, which is two wills. So he’s advocating two wills, and the Monothelites are advocating one will in the person of Christ. He eventually broke communion with both the Emperor and the Patriarch of Constantinople. Now, imagine that.
But this is again something you hear and see through the history of the Church is that just because someone is a bishop or a Patriarch, does not absolve you of your responsibility to oppose heresy. We don’t just mindlessly give assent to the teaching of a bishop or the teaching of a Patriarch if they’re in heresy.
Our first responsibility is to Apostolic doctrine and to make sure that that is passed on faithfully. And if even a bishop stands outside of that, he is to be opposed. And Maximos believed that, and he practiced that and at great cost. Because eventually, he was hauled from the desert of North Africa back to Constantinople where his tongue was pulled out and his right hand was cut off, so that he couldn’t preach and he couldn’t write.
But like the Energizer bunny, he took a licking and he kept on ticking. He just kept persisting, so that finally they exiled him. First he was exiled to Thrace, which is modern day Bulgaria and then to the shores of the Black Sea, modern day Georgia, where he died. He died in exile. The Bishop of Rome, St. Martin, was also tried and exiled to Crimea, the northern coast of the Black Sea in modern day Ukraine.
So they were serious about persecuting the orthodox in those days. St. Maximos was later exonerated and canonized as a saint. Fortunately for us, he left behind many writings, many of which are included in the Philokalia. He also took seriously the patristic axiom, and this is the key thing to get:
Whatever is not assumed cannot be saved, so if Jesus did not assume a human will, then the human will is not redeemed. But He became like us in every respect, except sin.
Which this is awesome for us, because my mind needs redeemed. And I thank God that Jesus took upon Himself a human mind. My heart needs redeemed, but I’m here to tell you that my will desperately needs redeemed. That’s where the battle is. If you have your Bibles this morning, turn to Hebrews 4:15. It says this, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
You see, it’s not that Jesus was God that enabled Him to overcome the temptations of the flesh. He had a human will. He was made like us in all respects, except sin. What He did was He chose voluntarily to align His will with that of His Heavenly Father and so that they moved in a sort of dance constantly with the Father initiating and the Son following. This is exactly the pattern that you and I are to follow.
Another passage, Luke 22:41-42 is a very familiar passage of Jesus in the garden, and it says, “And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down, and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if it is your will, take this cup away from me: nevertheless, not my will, but Yours be done. ‘“
He did have a will. Tempted to not follow the Father into this suffering and do the will of the Father, but fully aligning the human will with the divine. But think about this, if He only had a divine will, that would have made it really tough for him to empathize with our weakness and to give us a pattern for our own salvation, because of course Jesus did the right thing. He was God.
Well, it’s true. He was fully God, but He was more than God, he was also man. And in his humanity, he obeyed the will of the Father. And this is why for us this is where our temptations are; this is where the battle is; this is where the focal point of our sanctification, of our theosis, comes down to is conforming our will to that of the Father.
And the good news is Christ has redeemed our will as well as our entire human nature, and therefore, there’s the possibility of obedience and theosis. It does seem esoteric in a sense, but it really isn’t. I don’t think anything is more practical than this, because without this Council bringing definition to it, the whole possibility of theosis would have been lost.
Question #5: When did the heresy get overthrown then if Maximos was eventually made a saint?
Dn. Michael: Well, eventually, in the work of the Council. By the time Sixth Ecumenical Council was called, Maximos had been off the scene for some time. But his teachings, both his writing and his preaching, had spread. And so it was adopted by enough people that those who called the Council, I think there were 174 Fathers that eventually signed the minutes, and the entire Church embraced this teaching of the two wills.
Next week, God willing, we’ll proceed with the Seventh Ecumenical Council and the important topic of icons. So I look forward to seeing you then.