Three Objections to Dyothelitism: 1

November 14, 2013

Awhile ago a Protestant friend asked me about the doctrine of dyothelitism (that Jesus Christ has two natural wills, one human and one divine). Because he is the kind of Protestant who wants to remain loyal to the Councils and Fathers, he wished to agree with St. Maximus the Confessor’s dyothelitism. At the same time, he felt drawn to monothelitism (the doctrine that Christ has only one will, that his will is properly located in his person, and that the will is not fundamentally part of either of his natures).

Here are his objections, which I have rephrased and expanded on below:

1. Argument from the Gospels: When the Gospels speak of the contrast between “my will” and “thy will” in Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane and the Bread of Life Discourse, they seem to suggest a contrast between the single will of the person of Christ and the single will of the person of the Father. This is because the wills are spoken of (a) possessively, (b) singularly, and (c) as having very different objects. If Christ can be spoken of as possessing a will, having a singular will, or having a different object of will from the Father, we have exegetical reason to think that Christ has only one will.

2. Nestorian dilemma: Either there is (a) something deeply counterintuitive about saying that one person has two wills or (b) an implicit Nestorianism in the dyothelite position. Intuitively, the will is what performs intentional actions. But then if there are two things in Christ that perform actions, this seems to mean that Christ is composed out of two separate agents or persons, each acting independently and with its own personal purposes. But this is (roughly, in a somewhat caricatured way) the Nestorian position: Christ is two separate persons one human and one divine, and He is not one divine person. Either we must deny the intuitive claim that two things which perform intentional actions imply the existence of two persons, or we must admit that dyothelitism implies Nestorianism.

3. Inductive support: Based on induction, it is likely that all persons have only one will. Why? We do not have any examples of a single person with two wills. All our examples of persons are the same: one person is matched to one will. Where there are two wills at work, there are two persons. Where there is one will operating, there is one person. Thus, it is improbable that any person could have two wills.

The first two objections remind me of Evangelical philosophers like William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland who use these arguments in favor of monothelitism (Craig and Moreland are unlike my friend, for they seem to deny that tradition has any significant weight in these matters). There is also a lot of similarity to the arguments that the monothelite bishop Pyrrhus made in dialog with the champion of dyothelitism, St. Maximus the Confessor. Setting aside concerns about how to understand the authority of tradition in Protestant theology, each argument deserves a reply. In the rest of this post I reply to the first argument (and in later posts I will deal with the other 2). Though some of this is review for seasoned readers of this blog, I thought it might be helpful nonetheless. Read the rest of this entry »


A man’s got to know his limitations

August 30, 2013

Thadam_reation_iconic1ere are few things that I can do to aid Syria’s roughly two million Christians, the vast majority of which are Orthodox (and many of the remainder Eastern Catholic), but what I can I do, namely pray for them throughout the day, post stuff on Facebook that I get from Jonathan Companik, John Anderson, Gabe Martini, or a host of others. One of the things that encourages me is that many of the things posted are picked up by my evangelical friends and relatives and shared on Facebook. Aside from that, I find that I must bend myself to the things God has asked of me, which I have been neglectful of these past few weeks, namely reading, writing, and teaching. Now, I shouldn’t so much say the reading part, for I have been doing a lot of that, but there comes a time you can take only so much from heretics (in this case the sixteenth-century radical, Michael Servetus), and so you seek to purge your mind with other things. I have found that looking at the lunatic foreign policy of the current administration (as opposed to the bonkers foreign policy of the previous one) only agitates me, and so I have to move to matters less of the moment, and leave things out of my control in the hands of God, whose mercies are infinite. So I turn to theological blogs, and one of my favorite, for a number of reasons, is Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy. Read the rest of this entry »


Irenaeus and the Condemnation of John Italus

March 16, 2013

In my previous post we surveyed the history of the condemnation of universalism in John Italus and in particular the role of St Maximus looming large behind the Orthodox articulation. Yet, St Maximus isn’t the only figure influencing this late medieval condemnation. To discover our second influencer we need to return to the condemnation:

To them who accept and transmit the vain Greek teachings that there is a pre-existence of souls and teach that all things were not produced and did not come into existence out of non-being, that there is an end to the torment or a restoration again of creation and of human affairs, meaning by such teachings that the Kingdom of the Heavens is entirely perishable and fleeting, whereas the Kingdom is eternal and indissoluble as Christ our God Himself taught and delivered to us, and as we have ascertained from the entire Old and New Scripture, that the torment is unending and the Kingdom everlasting to them who by such teachings both destroy themselves and become agents of eternal condemnation to others: Anathema! Anathema! Anathema!

- Contra John Italus, Chapter 10, Synodikon of Orthodoxy

The key point of the condemnation is that the Kingdom is eternal and that therefore the punishment will be eternal. Although there may not be any direct influence on this much later condemnation, if we turn back the clock nearly 900 years to the late 2nd century, we find that St Irenaeus has something quite similar. This quote, from The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching (a recently discovered text), highlights precisely the assertion made in the Synodikon. He says:

For hereby the Son of God is proclaimed both as being born and also as eternal King. But they shall wish that they had been burned with fire (is said) of those who believe not on Him, and who have done to Him all that they have done: for they shall say in the judgment, How much better that we had been burned with fire before the Son of God was born, than that, when He was born, we should not have believed on Him. Because for those who died before Christ appeared there is hope that in the judgment of the Risen One they may obtain salvation, even such as feared God and died in righteousness and had in them the Spirit of God, as the patriarchs and prophets and righteous men. But for those who after Christ’s appearing believed not on Him, there is a vengeance without pardon in the judgment.

- The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, 56

At first glance, the two thoughts (eternal Kingdom and eternal punishment) may not appear directly related in this quote. To discover the direct relation we must turn to the middle sentences. Irenaeus posits a temporary torment for those who died before the advent of the Christ (“… burned with fire before the Son of God was born”). Yet this temporary torment ceases after the advent. That is to say that the birth of Christ ushers in a new eternal Kingdom by which the temporal punishment is made eternal.


Perry Robinson on Ancient Faith Radio (Shameless Plug)

February 4, 2013

Februrary 10th there will be airing an interview on Ancient Faith Radio by Kevin Allen with myself on the subject of Universalism. For logistical reasons the interview will be recorded earlier (Feb 5th) but listeners can submit questions now via the AFR web page. Listen in and share!


Come and Get it

February 4, 2013

Free Choice in St. Maximus Chap 9

Free Choice in St. Maximus Chap 8

Free Choice in St. Maximus Chap 7

Free Choice In St. Maximus Chap 6

Free Choice in St. Maximus Chap 5

Free Choice in St. Maximus Chap 3 – 4

Free Choice in St. Maximus Chap 2

Free Choice In St. Maximus Chap1

Free Choice In St. Maximus Intro 1


Universalism: St Maximus and the Condemnation of John Italus

January 30, 2013

In the ongoing scholarly debate about universalism and its rejection in medieval Christianity, two figures loom large. There is little doubt the doctrine arises in Origen and is argued against extensively by St Augustine (especially in his works De Gestis Pelagii and City of God). This dispute comes to a head at the Council of Constantinople in 543 where St Justinian, professing St Augustine to be a Doctor of the Church, proposes a set of thirteen anathemas against Origen, including Apokatastasis:

If anyone says or thinks that the punishment of demons and of impious men is only temporary, and will one day have an end, and that a restoration (ἀποκατάστασις) will take place of demons and of impious men, let him be anathema. – Liber Contra Origen, Anathema IX

Defenders of universalism are quick to point out that St Justinian’s anathemas were not adopted by the council without editing, including the removal of the above condemnation. Indeed, the condemnation of Origen at Constantinople was muted. It has long been the contention of this blog, especially that of Perry Robinson, that the most direct attack on Origenism came in the form of St Maximus the Confessor against the monothelites. And while do not intend in this post to defend this view, I think it is important to consider another important event on the topic of Origenism, St Maximus and Apokatastasis.

The controversy comes in the condemnation of John Italus in the 11th century. Anna Komnene describes this dispute as follows:

[John Italus] was generally supposed to be very learned and he undoubtedly was far cleverer than all others in expounding that most wonderful philosophic system, the Peripatetic, and especially the dialectics of it. But for other branches of literature he had not a very good head, for he stumbled over grammar and had never tasted the nectar of rhetoric …

[John] then was the acknowledged master of all philosophy and the youth flocked to him. (For he expounded to them the doctrines of Plato and Proclus, and of the two philosophers, Porphyry and Iamblichus, but especially the rules of Aristotle) …

I remember the Empress, my mother, when breakfast was already on the table, carrying a book in her hands and poring over the writings of the didactic Fathers, especially those of the philosopher and martyr Maximus. For she was not so much interested in the physical disputations as in those about the dogmas, because she wished to gain true wisdom. …

Those who were inclined to learning (and they were but few and had not passed beyond the vestibule of Aristotelian philosophy) [Alexios I Komnenos] did not cease from encouraging but bade them prefer the study of the sacred writings to Greek literature. He found Italus throwing everything into confusion and leading many astray … But Italus was unable to hide his own ignorance, and there he vomited forth doctrines quite foreign to the church’s … and the heretical doctrines taught by Italus were summarized in eleven chapters and dispatched to the Emperor… [In] his later years he changed his opinions and repented of the error into which he had been led. Furthermore, he denied a belief in metempsychosis and retracted his insulting words about the holy icons of the saints; he also remodelled his teaching about “ideas” so as to make it conform to orthodoxy, and it was quite evident that he condemned himself for having formerly strayed from the straight path.

- Alexiad V.VIII-IX

The condemnation on universalism comes in the eleven chapters mentioned above, which have been included in the Synodikon of Orthodoxy, a significant canonical text for Orthodox Christians:

To them who accept and transmit the vain Greek teachings that there is a pre-existence of souls and teach that all things were not produced and did not come into existence out of non-being, that there is an end to the torment or a restoration again of creation and of human affairs, meaning by such teachings that the Kingdom of the Heavens is entirely perishable and fleeting, whereas the Kingdom is eternal and indissoluble as Christ our God Himself taught and delivered to us, and as we have ascertained from the entire Old and New Scripture, that the torment is unending and the Kingdom everlasting to them who by such teachings both destroy themselves and become agents of eternal condemnation to others: Anathema! Anathema! Anathema!

- Contra John Italus, Chapter 10, Synodikon of Orthodoxy


November 10, 2012

Original at Lux Christi

Several weeks ago one of you Gentle readers sent me some questions, and at last I shall start addressing them. I have chosen a more simple one, though I must admit, that this is a relative term, as they were all actually good and weighty questions.

To wit:

“When Jesus says that a good ‘tree’ produces good fruit and
a bad ‘tree’ produces bad fruit, is this ‘tree’ referring
to *nature* or *person*? Have we all become ‘good trees’
via Christ’s consubstantial incarnation/death/resurrection/ascension
or do we personally choose which type of tree to become via free will
and synergism? If the latter, how can a ‘bad tree’ *person* make herself
into a ‘good tree’ *person*on the Orthodox paradigm if the former
category can only produce bad fruit? So I guess the question might
be ‘do the roots of these trees go down into our *nature* or our *person*?’

Read the rest of this entry »


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