MONOTHELITES (fiavo0e\fJTai,, monothelilae, from Gr. only, 6e\eii>, to will), 1 in Church history, the name given to those who, in the 7th century, while otherwise orthodox maintained that Christ had only one will. Their effort, as defined by Dormer, was " an attempt to effect some kind ol solution of the vital unity of Christ's person, which had been so seriously proposed by monophysitism, on the basis of the now firmly-established doctrine of the two natures." The controversy had its origin in the efforts of the emperor Heraclius to win back for the church and the empire the excommunicated and persecuted Monophysites or Eutychians of Egypt and Syria. In Egypt especially the monophysite movement had assumed a nationalistic, patriotic character. It was in Armenia, while on his expedition against Persia, in 622 that, in an interview with Paul, the head of the Severians (Monophysites) there, Heraclius first broached the doctrine of the (da. tvepyeia of Christ, i.e. the doctrine that the divine and human natures, while quite distinct in His one person, had but one activity and operation. 2 At a somewhat later date he wrote to Arcadius of Cyprus, commanding that " two energies" should not be spoken of; and in 626, while in Lazistan (Colchis), he had a meeting with the metropolitan, Cyrus of Phasis, during which this command was discussed, and Cyrus was at last bidden to seek further instruction on the subject from Sergius, patriarch of Constantinople, a strong upholder of the fiio. tvfpytia, and the emperor's counsellor with regard to it. So well did he profit by the teaching he received in this quarter that, in 630 or 631, Cyrus was appointed to the vacant patriarchate of Alexandria, and in 633 succeeded in reconciling the Severians of his province on the basis of (iia dtavdpiKr) evepytia (one divine -human energy). He was, however, opposed by Sophronius, a monk from Palestine, who, after vainly appealing to Cyrus, actually went to Constantinople to remonstrate with Sergius himself. Shortly afterwards Sergius wrote to Pope Honorius, and received a friendly reply. 3 Sophronius, however, who meanwhile had been made patriarch of Jerusalem (634), refused to be silenced, and in his Epistola synodica strongly insisted on the " two energies." So intense did the controversy now become, that at last, towards the end of 638, Heraclius published an Ecthesis, or Exposition of the Faith (composed by Sergius), which prohibited the use of the phrase " one energy," because of its disquieting effects on some minds, as seeming to militate against the doctrine of the two natures; while, on the other hand, the expression " two energies " was interdicted because it seemed to imply that Christ had two wills. That Christ had but one will was declared to be the only orthodox doctrine, and all the faithful were enjoined to hold and teach it without addition or deduction. The document was not acceptable, however, to Popes Severinus and John IV., the immediate successors of Honorius; and Maximus, the confessor, succeeded in stirring up such violent opposition in North Africa and Italy that, in 648, Constans II. judged it expedient to withdraw his grandfather's edict, and to substitute for it his own Typus or Precept (TWTOS irepi Trtorecos), forbidding all discussion of the questions of the duality or singleness of either the energy or the will of Christ. The scheme of doctrine of the first four general councils, in all its vagueness as to these points, was to be maintained; so far as the controversy had gone, the disputants on either side were to be held free from censure, but to resume it 1 The name seems to occur first in John of Damascus.
* Paul, speaking for the monophysite bishops, had said that what was particularly repugnant in the definition of Chalcedon (q.v.) was the implication of two wills in Christ. See Hefele, Conciliengesch. iii. 124 seq. (1877), who also traces the previous history of the expressions p.la ivipjeia, 6(avSpucli ivkpytia, especially as found in the writings of the Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagita, which first appeared in Eeypt in the 5th century.
' In two letters Honorius expressed himself in accord with the monothelite view, for which he was denounced as heretical by the Sixth General Council and anathematized by Pope Leo II.
would involve penal consequences. The reply of the Western Church was promptly given in the unambiguously dyothelite decrees of the Lateran synod held by Pope Martin I. in 649; but the cruel persecutions to which both Martin and Maximus were exposed, and finally succumbed, secured for the imperial Typus the assent at least of silence. With the accession of Constantine Pogonatus in 668 the controversy once more revived, and the new emperor resolved to summon a general council. It met at Constantinople in 680, having been preceded in 679 by a brilliant synod under Pope Agatho at Rome, where it had been agreed to depart in nothing from the decrees of the Lateran synod. The will, Agatho said, is a property of the nature, so that as there are two natures there are two wills; but the human will determines itself ever conformably to the divine and almighty will.
See R. L. Ottley, The Doctrine of the Incarnation (pt. vii. 5, 6, 7) ; A. Harnack, History of Dogma, iv. 252-267 ; art Monotholeten " in Hauck-Herzog's Realencyklop. fur prot. Theologie (vol. 13) by W. Moller and G. Kriiger.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)