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.


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 »


Church and Nationality

September 18, 2012

Here is part of a paper presented at the Orthodox Theological Research Forum recently held in Oxford, England. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware recommended it for publication, so I thought to share it here.

The sense of ethnic identity is part of self-identity. Each man has a personal character and he also reflects family, tribal, and regional or national identities or characteristics. In Christ these are placed below the unity of Christ, in that each man takes his primary identity from Christ but his human identities are not destroyed and so a man retains his personal, family and national characteristics. Thus, in the age to come there are people of all nations as all nations and yet one nation in Christ. The diverse human characteristics are united in Christ and do not divide as they do in themselves apart from Christ. Diversity is retained in the unity of Christ, except where that diversity is contrary to Christ. This unity requires that there are Church practices that are uniform to incarnate the mystery of Christ in all people and nations because that which is required to tangibly present Christ in human terms needs to be one in material/practical form since the unity of Christ includes unity in matter as well as in spirit. However, in the same manner that divinity does not consume humanity in Christ, neither does the humanity of Christ consume our humanity and so human diversity remains.

The unity of Christ is such that the Church cannot be defined along national or ethnic categories. Local and regional churches can only be defined in terms of geographical limits, within which there can only be one church, that is a synod in the form either of the bishop with his presbyters, the local diocese, or of a metropolitan with his bishops, a regional episcopal synod. However, these territorial limits can be taken from the territorial boundaries of a nation as well as those administrative boundaries within empires or states. Thus, in regional terms the synod of bishops can be defined in as those living in a particular national territory, as long as the definition is territorial rather than by any other category. Thus, if members of the Church from other regions/nations enter a territory they attend the services of the churches of that territory/nation within which they have entered rather than establishing their own churches. An exception to this is to allow parishes of different languages within the same territory to enable understanding of the services for those from other language groups. We have historical examples of this in Constantinople with Latin and Gothic parishes. Such exceptions will tend to reflect national differences but these latter differences should not be the reason for the exception but only language to enable understanding, following the teaching of St Paul.

The present situation in the UK and the US, as well as other places outside the established regions of Orthodox Churches, is rather complicated. The long established local religious communities in these places are heterodox and as such are not in unity with the Catholic Church, that is the Orthodox Churches in communion the Patriarch of Constantinople. Thus, the Orthodox emigrants to the UK or to the US did not have preexisting places of worship nor local hierarchy to establish such places. These had to be provided from their home regions. Sadly, due to lack of coordination between Orthodox Patriarchs, we have the situation of a number of hierarchs establishing churches for immigrants in the UK and the US. This situation has led to a neglect of the territorial definition of churches and to definition along national/ethnic categories, which is contrary to the teaching of Christ. We need to repent of this. It is suggested that the only way forward is to appoint and recognise a local territorially defined hierarchal structure for the UK or US with its own synod, although overseen by one of the present Patriarchs. Also, this hierarchy must attempt to convert the heterodox back to Orthodoxy and allow the local peoples to take ownership of the church within their own territory.

The use of vestments could be helpful to distinguish the hierarchy of the UK or the US from the hierarchies elsewhere. This is not in order to separate them but to highlight that the churches in the UK and the US are not part of other national churches, although most members within the churches in the UK and the US may be descended from these other nations. The churches in the UK and US should be seen as local churches in their own right. A distinction of vestments helps to provide visual recognition of this local hierarchy and to break it from being considered part of a nationally defined group. Yet, in terms of being orthodox, the vestments need to be consistent with the traditional form of vestments used through the history of the Church.

To enable the choice of vestments, even though most religious groups in the UK and the US are heterodox, some of their heritage comes from an orthodox background and maintains orthodox standards manifested in the cultural context of the UK and the US. It would be wise for the orthodox hierarchy not to impose an exterior manner of dress upon the UK and the US but rather to take what is already within that region consistent with Orthodox Tradition and establish it for use of orthodox Christians in that region. This would allow the local peoples to have greater identity and ownership of the church in their territory, rather than the church arriving as a foreign institution imposing its own national cultures as well as bringing orthodox Tradition. While it is important that each region or nation is established in the international community and participates in customs that are required for relationships across this international community, otherwise the local community becomes isolated and estranged, at the same time each region or nation should participate without losing the diversity of its own customs, where these do not go contrary to the international community. In orthodox terms the common customs of the international community are given in Holy Tradition, which is the common way of life in Christ as Christ that unites us with Christ, yet the regional customs are maintained that of self-rule in synergy with Christ as maintaining God’s image as man with the ability to govern. This governance is expressed in the diversity of customs within Tradition. For one national church to impose in entirety of its customs on another nation is to undermine and deny the self-rule of that nation thus denying the image of God in its people and the synergy of the relationship of God and man in deification.

For those wishing to look further into this here is a link to the paper of Metropolitan Kallistos on the same topic: ‘Neither Jew Nor Greek’: Catholicity And Ethnicity


The Love and Hate of God in Romans 9

July 8, 2012

[This was originally posted on Lux Christi.]

At last recovered from fishing (but more on that later). At last to some thoughts on Romans 9. One of my former Calvinist mentors once opined that most people had little problem understanding why God hated Esau: what the real conundrum was, was why did He love Jacob? For Orthodox, of course, this is a false alternative, for Romans 9, the passage in which St. Paul cites Malachi about loving Jacob and hating Esau, is not about individuals, but the divine providence in preserving the godly seed. As an aside, in beginning to think about this, I would commend St. John Chrysostom’s Homilies on Romans. Calvin unhappily cited St. John’s teachings on this subject: “Moreover although the Greeks more than others, and among these especially Chrysostom, have exceeded decorum in extolling the powers of the human will, nonetheless, all the fathers, with the exception of Augustine, in this matter are so wayward, vacillating, and confused, that nothing clear  can be had from their writings Read the rest of this entry »


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