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§ 113. The Heresy of Honorius.

J. von Döllinger (Old Cath.): Papstfabeln des Mittelalters. München, 1863. The same translated by A. Plummer: Fables respecting the Popes in the Middle Ages; Am ed. enlarged by Henry B. Smith, N. York, 1872. (The case of Honorius is discussed on pp. 223–248 Am. ed.; see German ed. p. 131 sqq.).

Schneemann (Jesuit): Studien über die Honoriusfrage. Freiburg i. B, 1864.

Paul Bottala (S. J.): Pope Honorius before the Tribunal of Reason and History. London, 1868.

P. Le Page Renouf: The Condemnation of Pope Honorius. Lond., 1868. The Case of Honorius reconsidered. Lond. 1870.

Maret (R.C.): Du Concil et de la paix relig. Par. 1869.

A. Gratry (R.C.): Four Letters to the Bishop of Orleans (Dupanloup) and the Archbishop of Malines (Dechamps), 1870. Several editions in French, German, English. He wrote against papal infallibility, but recanted on his death-bed.

A. de Margerie: Lettre au R. P. Gratry sur le Pape Honorius et le Bréviaire Romain. Nancy, 1870.

Jos. von Hefele (Bishop of Rottenburg and Member of the Vatican Council): Causa Honorii Papae. Neap., 1870. Honorius und das sechste allgemeine Concil. Tübingen, 1870. (The same translated by Henry B. Smith in the “Presbyt. Quarterly and Princeton Review, “N. York, April, 1872, p. 273 sqq.). Conciliengeschichte, Bd. III. (revised ed., 1877), pp. 145 sqq., 167 sqq., 290 sqq.

Job. Pennachi (Prof. of Church Hist. in the University of Rome): De Honorii I. Romani Pontificis causa in Concilio VI. ad Patres Concilii Vaticani. Romae, 1870. 287 pp. Hefele calls this the most important vindication of Honorius from the infallibilist standpoint. It was distributed among all the members of the Vatican Council; while books in opposition to papal infallibility by Bishop Hefele, Archbishop Kenrick, and others, had to be printed outside of Rome.

A. Ruckgaber: Die Irrlehre des Honorius und das Vatic. Concil. Stuttgart, 1871.

Comp. the literature in Hergenröther; Kirchengesch., III. 137 sqq.

The connection of Pope Honorius I. (Oct. 27, 625, to Oct. 12, 638) with the Monotheletic heresy has a special interest in its bearing upon the dogma of papal infallibility, which stands or falls with a single official error, according to the principle: Si falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus. It was fully discussed by Catholic scholars on both sides before and during the Vatican Council of 1870, which proclaimed that dogma, but could not alter the facts of history. The following points are established by the best documentary evidence:

1. Honorius taught and favored in several official letters (to Sergius, Cyrus, and Sophronius), therefore ex cathedra, the one-will heresy. He fully agreed with Sergius, the Monotheletic patriarch of Constantinople. In answer to his first letter (634), he says: “Therefore we confess one will (qevlhma, voluntas) of our Lord Jesus Christ.”623623    ὅθεν καὶ ἓν θέλημα ὁμολογοῦμεν τοῦ Κυρίου Ἰης. Χρ. —-unde et unam voluntatatem fatemur Domini nostri lesu Christi. Mansi, XI. 538 sqq.; Hefele, III. 146 sq. He viewed the will as an attribute of person, not of nature, and reasoned: One willer, therefore only one will. In a second letter to Sergius, he rejects both the orthodox phrase: “two energies,” and the heterodox phrase: “one energy” (ejnevrgeia, operatio), and affirms that the Bible clearly teaches two natures, but that it is quite vain to ascribe to the Mediator between God and man one or two energies; for Christ by virtue of his one theandric will showed many modes of operation and activity.624624    Mansi, p. 579; Hefele, p. 166 sq. The first letter was decidedly heretical, the second was certainly not orthodox, and both occasioned and favored the imperial Ekthesis (638) and Type (648), in their vain attempt to reconcile the Monophysites by suppressing the Dyotheletic doctrine.625625    The same view is taken by Neander, the fairest among Protestant, and by Döllinger, the most learned of modern Catholic, historians. Neander (III. 179, E. ed.; 1II. 360, Germ. ed.) says: “Honorius, in two letters, declared his entire concurrence (erklärte, sich ganz übereinstimmend) with the views of Sergius, and wrote also in the same terms to Cyrus and Sophronius. He too was afraid of logical determinations on such matters. It seemed to him altogether necessary to suppose but one will in Christ, as it was impossible to conceive, in him, any strife between the human and divine will such as by, reason, of sin exists in men.” [“It seemed to him, as well as to Sergius, that a duplicity of will in one and the same subject could not subsist without opposition.” From the foot-note.] “He approved, indeed, of the accommodation (οἰκονομία), whereby the patriarch Cyrus had brought about the re-union of the Monophysites with the Catholic Church. But as hitherto no public decision of the church had spoken of ’one mode of working,’ or of ’two modes of working’ of Christ, it seemed to him the safest course, that in future such expressions should be avoided, as the one might lead to Eutychianism, the other to Nestorianism. He reckoned this whole question among the unprofitable subtilties which endanger the interests of piety. Men should be content to hold fast to this, in accordance with the hitherto established doctrine of the church, that the self-same Christ works that which is divine and human in both his natures. Those other questions should be left to the grammarians in the schools. If the Holy Spirit operates in the faithful, as St. Paul says, in manifold ways how much more must this hold good of the Head himself!” Neander adds in a note: “Although the theory, of two modes of working” [which is the orthodox doctrine] “lies at the foundation of the very thing he here asserts, yet he carefully avoided expressing this.” In the same sense, Dr. Döllinger, when still in communion with Rome, stated the doctrine of Honorius, and said (Fables of the Popes, p. 226, Am. ed.): “This doctrine of Honorius, so welcome to Sergius and the other favorers and supporters of Monotheletism, led to the two imperial edicts, the Ekthesis and the Typus.”

The only thing which may and must be said in his excuse is that the question was then new and not yet properly understood. He was, so to say, an innocent heretic before the church had pronounced a decision. As soon as it appeared that the orthodox dogma of two natures required the doctrine of two wills, and that Christ could not be a full man without a human will, the popes changed the position, and Honorius would probably have done the same had he lived a few years longer.

Various attempts have been made by papal historians and controversialists to save the orthodoxy of Honorius in order to save the dogma of papal infallibility. Some pronounce his letters to be a later Greek forgery.626626    Bellarmin, and Bishop Bartholus (Bartoli) of Feltre, who questioned also the integrity of the letters of Sergius to Honorius (in his Apol. pro Honorio I., 1750, as quoted by, Döllinger, p. 253, and Hefele, III. 142). Döllinger declares this to be “a lamentable expedient!’ Others admit their genuineness, but distort them into an orthodox sense by a nonnatural exegesis.627627    So Perrone, Pennachi, Manning. These divines presume to know better than the infallible Pope Leo II., who ex cathedra denounced Honorius as a heretic. Still others maintain, at the expense of his knowledge and logic, that Honorius was orthodox at heart, but heretical, or at least very unguarded in his expressions.628628    So Pope John IV. (640-642), who apologized for his predecessor that he merely meant to reject the notion of two mutually opposing wills, as if Christ had a will tainted with sin (Mansi, X. 683). But nobody dreamed of ascribing a sinful will to Christ. Bishop Hefele and Cardinal Hergenröther resort substantially to the same apology; see notes at the end of this section. But we have no means to judge of his real sentiment except his own language, which is unmistakably Monotheletic. And this is the verdict not only of Protestants,629629    Walch, Neander, Gieseler, Baur, Dorner, Kurtz, etc. See note on p. 502. but also of Gallican and other liberal Catholic historians.630630    Richer, Dupin, Bossuet, Döllinger.

2. Honorius was condemned by the sixth oecumenical Council as “the former pope of Old Rome,” who with the help of the old serpent had scattered deadly error.631631    Mansi, XI. 622, 635, 655, 666 This anathema was repeated by the seventh oecumenical Council, 787, and by the eighth, 869. The Greeks, who were used to heretical patriarchs of New Rome, Antioch, and Alexandria, felt no surprise, and perhaps some secret satisfaction at the heresy of a pope of Old Rome.

Here again ultramontane historians have resorted to the impossible denial either of the genuineness of the act of condemnation in the sixth oecumenical Council,632632    Baronius (Ad ann. 633 and 681), and Pighius (Diatribe de Actis VI. et VII. concil.). or of the true meaning of that act.633633    As a condemnation, not of the heresy of Honorius, but of his negligence in suppressing heresy by his counsel of silence (ob imprudentem silentii oeconomiam). So the Jesuit Garnier De Honorii et concilii VI. causa, in an appendix to his edition of the Liber diurnus Romanorum pontificum, quoted by Hefele (III. 175), who takes the trouble of refuting this view by, three arguments. The only consistent way for papal infallibilists is to deny the infallibility of the oecumenical Council as regards the dogmatic fact.634634    An error not in the dogmatic definition, but in facto dogmatico. It is argued that an oecumenical council as well as a pope may err in matter, de facto, though not de fide and de jure. This view was taken by Anastasius, the papal librarian, Cardinal Turrecremata, Bellarmin, Pallavicino, Melchior Canus, Jos. Sim. Assemani, and recently by Professor Pennachi. See Hefele, III. 174, note 4. In this case it would involve at the same time a charge of gross injustice to Honorius.

3. But this last theory is refuted by the popes themselves, who condemned Honorius as a heretic, and thus bore testimony for papal fallibility. His first success or, Severinus, had a brief pontificate of only three months. His second successor, John IV., apologized for him by putting a forced construction on his language. Agatho prudently ignored him.635635    Or rather he told an untruth when be declared that all popes had done their duty with regard to false doctrine. But his successor, Leo II., who translated the acts of the sixth Council from Greek into Latin, saw that he could not save the honor of Honorius without contradicting the verdict of the council in which the papal delegates had taken part; and therefore he expressly condemned him in the strongest language, both in a letter to the Greek emperor and in a letter to the bishops of Spain, as a traitor to the Roman church for trying to subvert her immaculate fate. Not only so, but the condemnation of the unfortunate Honorius was inserted in the confession of faith which every newly-elected pope had to sign down to the eleventh century, and which is embodied in the Liber Diurnus, i.e. the official book of formulas of the Roman church for the use of the papal curia.636636    In this Confession the popes are required to anathematize “Sergium … una cum Honorio, qui pravis eorum assertionibus fomentum impendit.” Lib. Diurn. cap. II. tit. 9, professio 2. The oath was probably prescribed by Gregory II. at the beginning of the eighth century. In the editions of the Roman Breviary down to the sixteenth century his name appears, yet without title and without explanation, along with the rest who had been condemned by the sixth Council. But the precise facts were gradually forgotten, and the mediaeval chroniclers and lists of popes ignore them. After the middle of the sixteenth century the case of Honorius again attracted attention, and was urged as an irrefutable argument against the ultramontane theory. At first the letter of Leo II. was boldly, rejected as a forgery as well as those of Honorius;637637    Baronius rejects the letter of Leo II. as spurious, Bellarmin as corrupted. Bower (History of the Popes) remarks: “Nothing but the utmost despair could have suggested to the annalist (Baronius) so desperate a shift.” but this was made impossible when the Liber Diurnus came to light.

The verdict of history, after the most thorough investigation from all sides and by all parties remains unshaken. The whole church, East and West, as represented by the official acts of oecumenical Councils and Popes, for several hundred years believed that a Roman bishop may err ex cathedra in a question of faith, and that one of them at least had so erred in fact. The Vatican Council of 1870 decreed papal infallibility in the face of this fact, thus overruling history by dogmatic authority. The Protestant historian can in conscience only follow the opposite principle: If dogma contradicts facts, all the worse for the dogma.


Bishop Hefele, one of the most learned and impartial Roman Catholic historians, thus states, after a lengthy discussion, his present view on the case of Honorius (Conciliengesch., vol. III. 175, revised ed. 1877), which differs considerably from the one he had published before the Vatican decree of papal infallibility (in the first ed. of his Conciliengesch., vol. III. 1858, p. 145 sqq., and in big pamphlet on Honorius, 1870). It should be remembered that Bishop Hefele, like all his anti-infallibilist colleagues, submitted to the decree of the Vatican Council for the sake of unity and peace.

“Die beiden Briefe des Papstes Honorius, wie wir sie jetzt haben, sind unverfälscht und zeigen, dass Honorius von den beiden monotheletischen Terminis ejn qevlhma und miva ejnevrgeia den erstern (im ersten Brief) selbst gebrauchte, den anderen dagegen, ebenso auch den orthodoxen Ausdruck duvo ejnevrgeiai nicht angewendet wissen wollte. Hat er auch Letzteres (die, Missbilligung des Ausdruckes duvo ejnevrg.) im zweiten Brief wiederholt, so hat er doch in demselben selbst zwei natürliche Energien in Christus anerkannt und in beiden Briefen sich so ausgedrückt, dass man annehmen muss, er habe nicht den menschlichen Willen überhaupt, sondern nur den Verdorbenen menschlichen Willen in Chistus geläugnet, aber obgleich orthodoz denkend, die monotheletische Tendenz des Sergius nicht gehörig durchschaut und sich missverständlich ausgedrückt, so dass seine Briefe, besonders der erste, den Monotheletismus zu bestätigen schienen und damit der Häresie Factisch Vorschub leisteten. In dieser Weise erledigt sich uns die Frage nach der Orthodoxie des Papstes Honorius, und wir halten sonach den Mittelweg zwischen denen, welche ihn auf die gleiche Stufe mit Sergius von Constantinopel und Cyrus von Alexandrien stellen und den Monotheleten beizählen wollten, und denen, welche durchaus keine Makel an ihn duldend in das Schicksal der nimium probantes verfallen sind, so dass sie lieber die Aechtheit der Acten des sechsten allgemeinen Concils und mehrerer anderer Urkunden läugnen, oder auch dem sechsten Concil einen error in facto dogmatico zuschreiben wollten.” Comp. his remarks on p. 152; “Diesen Hauptgedanken muss ich auch jetzt noch festhalten, dass Honorius im Herzen richtig dachte, sich aber unglücklich ausdrückte, wenn ich auch in Folge wiederholter neuer Beschäftigung mit diesem Gegenstand und unter Berücksichtigung dessen, was Andere in neuer Zeit zur Vertheidigung des Honorius geschrieben haben, manches Einzelne meiner früheren Aufstellungen nunmehr modificire oder völlig aufgebe, und insbesondere über den ersten Brief des Honorius jetzt milder urtheile als früher.”

Cardinal Hergenröther (Kirchengeschichte, vol. I. 358, second ed. Freiburg i. B. 1879) admits the ignorance rather than the heresy of the pope. “Honorius,” he says, “zeigt wohl Unbekanntschaft mit dem Kern der Frage, aber keinerlei häretische oder irrige Auffassung. Er unterscheidet die zwei unvermischt qebliebenen Naturen sehr genau und verstösst gegen kein einziges Dogma der Kirche.”

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