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.
1. Reply to the argument from the Gospels
The passages in contention are the accounts of Gethsemane, and the Bread of Life Discourse. The surface grammar of these two sets of passages initially seems to overwhelmingly suggest monothelitism (one will in Christ; will is connected to person, not nature). We can distinguish three arguments for monothelitism here. (a) If we just think about the phrasing of “my will” in contrast to “thy will” it is possessive (suggesting will is properly possessed by a person). (b) The wording is also singular; Christ does not speak of “my wills”, but of “my will”. (c) Furthermore, the wills seem to have different, and in fact opposing, objects: life and death. This appearance of opposition suggests that the two wills cannot be present in one divine Person. Although these three pieces of evidence suggest that monothelitism is taught in the Gospels, a second look shows that Christ here expresses the doctrine of dyothelitism (two wills, one in each nature).
Reply to (a): With respect to possessive terms like “my” and “mine”, it is important to consider a parallel case here. In John 6 Christ speaks of “my flesh”. The fact that He uses the word “my” does not, however, imply that flesh is properly personal. Flesh is natural (the word for “flesh” can mean either the body or human nature, or various other things). Thus, an argument from possessive terms alone is not sufficient to demonstrate that “my will” implies this will is personal.
Reply to (b): To see the distinction between two wills in Christ, we must find a way to tie each will spoken of (“my will” and “thy will”) to Christ, since at face value “thy will” is proper to the Father, not Christ. If Christ can be shown to have both “my will” and “thy will”, then this will be sufficient to show He has two wills. Then, if it can be shown that each will is tied to one of his natures, dyothelitism will be established.
His human will is expressed by saying (Luke 22) “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me”. This is a request to live and avoid the cross. And because it is a request, it shows He is in fact willing to live and avoid the cross. The phrase “not my will” also supports that what is expressed by “remove this cup” is an act of will (not just a desire). Because He wills to avoid the cross, this shows us that Christ is experiencing the fear of death—something that only humans are subject to. Thus, the phrase “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me” combined with “not my will” shows that Christ is referring to a will which He has, but which is subject to fear of death—in other words, a human will.
His divine will is expressed by the fact that He says “Not my will, but your will be done”. This implies that Christ willed the same thing as the Father (“your will be done”) and also willed something different from the Father (“not my will”).
Jesus also says “I came down from heaven not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38). This verse emphasizes that Jesus willed to accept the cross prior to taking flesh (“I came down from heaven to do [and thus do willingly, not involuntarily] the will of Him who sent Me”). And if Jesus actively willed to accept the cross prior to the Incarnation, then He willed divinely. This by itself is compatible with saying that Christ has here performed just one act of will, and that it is a personal action. However, at the same time, He distinguishes this first act of will from a second which He calls “my own will”. While traditional Christology and Trinitarian theology would claim that the Father and Son can both call the divine will “mine” because they share it by common nature, in this context “my own” implies a distinction. Furthermore, this will has a different object (the Father’s will is “not my own will”) and therefore is not a divine will. Both acts of will are present in Christ simultaneously. Each act has a different object (one object is included in the divine will, the other object is not included in the divine will); therefore there is a distinct faculty for each act of will.
Reply to (c): If Christ has both “my will” and “thy will”, why do these two wills appear to be in conflict? This apparent tension is not what we would expect if Christ is a divine person. On the one hand, his human will has a natural drive towards life. Thus He is subject to fear of death, and wills humanly to live and avoid the cross. On the other hand, He has divinely willed to be “slain before the foundation of the world”. This apparent conflict between a divine will and a human will suggests that Christ is choosing to sin with his human will, which conflicts with the Scriptural teaching that He never sinned (and that He is incapable of sin, because He is a divine person). The burden of the dyothelite position is to give a coherent account of how both of these distinct wills with their distinct objects can belong to Christ without this implying opposition between the two wills or sin within his human will.
Many theologians in the West (who have attempted to affirm dyothelitism) have regarded “my will” as merely an expression of desire in temptation, not of willful choice. These theologians see Christ’s divine will as subordinating or determining his human will to accept the cross and overcome temptation. But this does not do justice to St. Luke’s odd word choice of “thelēma” (will, not just desire) in the phrase “not my will” (nor, ironically, is the strategy of these Western theologians in line with dyothelitism itself).
The way St. Maximus interprets the passage is along the following lines. The two wills of Christ are not opposed. Instead, they are distinct without opposition (just like his divine and human natures, which may appear opposed on first glance, but are not). Christ is willing two distinct but equal goods. The salvation of the world via Christ’s death and the preservation of his life are different goals. But they are not ultimately in conflict, so long as Christ eventually would consent to the cross (fulfilling the purpose of salvation) and then be resurrected (fulfilling the purpose of life).
Thus, the dyothelite can give the following coherent account of what happens in Gethsemene: before He finishes his final prayer in Gethsemane, Christ at first wills humanly the good of life by means of avoiding the cross, while He simultaneously divinely wills the good of salvation by means of the passion. Then in completing his final prayer, He brings his human will into conformity with the divine will, choosing to ascend the cross and resurrect in the flesh. He still wills the good of preserving life, but through a different means (resurrection, not avoiding death). On St. Maximus’ view, Christ’s human will is free. Thus, his divine will does not causally determine his human will to choose the cross. Rather, his divine *Person* freely consents and chooses with his human will. His human will is brought *freely into submission* with his divine will, but his human will is *not subordinated* to his divine will by causal determination. Also, it is important to realize that because Christ is a divine person, He is incapable of willing anything less than good choices. He cannot sin; thus his freedom is a choice not between good and evil, but between a multiplicity of equal goods. So in the Garden, Christ is not struggling with how to overcome the temptation that arises when one deliberates over which action leads to the highest good. Instead, the agony of Christ in Gethsemane arises as He chooses which of two goods to will at various times.
This account shows that one can affirm what the Gospels say about Christ’s will, and still maintain He has two wills which are not opposed to each other. 
Stay tuned for replies to the second and third objections…
 I am indebted throughout to the work of Demetrios Batrellos and J. P. Farrell.