Publications: Articles - Theology
Monotheletism and the Sixth Ecumenical Council:
Further Clarification to the Christological Teaching of Chalcedon
By Philip Kariatlis
According to St Maximus, there was another set of Biblical references which pointed to the existence of a human will in Christ. Specifically, Christ's human will was further manifested in certain episodes which clearly expressed a human desire: for example, His human desire to go to Galilee to preach the Gospel (cf Mk 1:38-39), His expressions of hunger and thirst (Mt 21:18), or His wish for other people not to know that he was passing through a certain town, as was the case when He was entering the region of Tyre and Sidon:
From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice (Mk 7:24).
The fact that Jesus did not wish others to know that He was passing through the region of Tyre, even though the contrary happened when a woman discovered that He was there and brought her young daughter to be cleansed from an unclean spirit, attests to His human will - since His divine will was omniscient and omnipotent and whatever was willed would have come to pass. That is to say, according to St Maximus, Christ, in that particular case, had willed with His human will because had He done so with His divine will, He would have gone unnoticed as He had expressed. Interestingly, from this we see that the fathers accepted in Christ acts of human willing which did not necessarily coincide with the divine will, but were nevertheless not opposed to it. Furthermore with regards to Christ's human will, as a man, Christ became obedient willingly to the point of death (cf Phil 2:8).
Garden of Gethsemane
Another Scriptural example most often used by the fathers to affirm the existence of a human will in Christ was the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane where for a moment Christ had asked that the cup be removed from Him, but then instantly said to His Father, "not what I want, but what you want" (Mk 14:36). Immediately after Christ had finished the last supper with His disciples, He went out to the Mount of Olives with His disciples to pray. As a man, Jesus was "sorrowful and deeply distressed" (Mt 26:37) about His impending death, and upon falling on His face onto the ground, He prayed to His heavenly Father:
“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done [mh; to; qevlhmav mou ajlla; to; so;n ginevsqw]” (Lk 22:42).
From the first part of the verse, we can see that, as a man, Christ had expressed a human wish for the chalice to pass over Him, for just like the will of all human beings it instinctively wanted to obviate itself from situations leading to death. Indeed, the fact that all four Gospel writers referred to this moment of Jesus' life is undoubtable proof of His true humanity and human will.
In that same vein, Christ's genuine humanity is further verified in the second part of the verse – 'yet not my will but yours be done.' Now, unlike the first part of the verse, which emphasised the natural human aversion to death, the second also highlighted the free and unwavering submission of the human will to that of the divine will of the Father. That is to say, it was not the case that Christ was speaking as a man - or, for that matter on our behalf - in the first part of the verse but in the second, as God. This was the view generally held by the Church before St Maximus which although not erroneous in itself did not fully do justice to Christ's human will. Rather, according to St Maximus, in both cases, it was the full reality of the human will which was being underlined. St Maximus the Confessor believed that the verse, taken as a whole, was an unambiguous affirmation of the willing assent and concurrence of Christ's human will to that of His Father. Only in this way could humanity have a perfect example to imitate by choosing to will whatever Christ willed as a man. Simply put, if Christ had did not willingly submitted His human will to that of the Father, as a man, then He could not expect the same from human beings. Therefore, in the second part of the verse Christ was not speaking as God, but as a man – the Theanthropos. In handing over his human will, as a man, to that of the divine will of the Father, and allowing it to be moved by the divine, Christ showed humankind what they too should do. All this naturally leads to a critical reflection of a theology of the will in order to become familiar with its physiognomy.
Theology of the Will
Generally speaking, the term, 'will' [qevlhsi"] was defined as that fundamental and permanent faculty possessed by all human persons enabling them to make decisions as to what to do. For the fathers of the Church, especially St Maximus in the sixth century, it was this ability to choose freely which distinguished human beings from all other instinctual creatures of the animal world in general. Accordingly, the term 'will' was used to express a person's ability to deliberate upon, or consent to, issues, so as not to act merely out of impulse or biological necessity. Now, as a quality of nature, it is true that the will was instinctive – in that it would naturally avoid situations which could lead to death. And yet, the will was also rational in that it was characterised by self-determination, able to choose freely, and not acting simply by compulsion. For this reason, the term 'will' expressed a human person's genuine inclination or free volitional activity, which subsequently also betrayed their true intention when actualised by concrete physical actions. Our attention is now turned towards this distinction between wilful intent and its concrete expression.
Already at this point, we can discern a subtle distinction made by St Maximus between a certain desire wished for, and its actual execution. Many times for example human persons may wish for something but, in reality they do the exact opposite. In his letter to the Romans, St Paul wrote: "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do" (Rom 7:19). It becomes evident from this verse that there are two aspects to the willing procedure which can obviously be opposed to each other. For this reason, St Maximus and the fathers after him came to distinguish between the ability to choose [qevlhsi"] and the actual object of what was chosen – the latter was called qevlhma or qelhtovn. That is to say, unlike qevlhsi" denoting the inclination or the wish for something which may have remained unrealised for any number of reasons, qevlhma signified the accomplished act of the willing procedure. Such a distinction was largely original in the history of human thought, which up to that point had not differentiated between the ability to will from the object of what was willed. Specifically, this distinction was made by St Maximus in order to underline the radical and eternal difference between the will of God which was by it very nature absolutely efficacious and definitive, and that of humankind's which was not. Accordingly, it follows from this basic distinction that even though there may have been a common object of willing in God and the saints – i.e. the salvation of the world – their actual wills were ontologically and therefore forever different since one was by its very nature saving, whilst the other was in need of salvation.
Having affirmed a fundamental difference between the divine and human wills in general, St Maximus proceeded to outline the process of willing which unfolded in the human person and then to discuss whether Christ, who had a human will, was subject to this same willing procedure. As we shall see, for St Maximus, Christ was not subject to the same willing procedure as human beings. Unlike human beings, who after the Fall had opposed the will of God, Jesus Christ never strayed, even for a moment, from willing what was good. According to St Maximus, after the Fall the gnomic will was introduced into the human person which was basically a deduced and conscious or deliberate choice to do good since the human person could no longer instinctively and freely opt to act in that way. The gnomic will was considered to be a particularised will [poia; qevlhsi"] marked by ignorance, indecision, uncertainty, ambiguity and mutability which were all foreign to Christ. It was this gnomic will which had taken root in every fallen human person, not allowing them to orientate themselves naturally to the divine will. Or put another way, the gnomic will was simply a calculated action of the human natural will inclined towards, and marked by, sin. Since Christ would not have oscillated between good and evil in His choices, because He always did the will of God, He therefore did not possess a fallen gnomic will but the primordial human will which had worked together with, submitted itself to, and followed the divine will. In Christ, the divine and human wills always freely co-operated – for example, the miracles performed by Christ were worked together through a human energy [e.g. the act of anointing spittle and soil when Jesus healed a man from blindness] and a divine energy [the miracle working power] (cf Jn 9:6-7) – and never once did Christ deviate from choosing good, since His human life was so radically in communion with the divine life.
From the above, it can be seen that the fathers did not in any way reject a human willing procedure from Christ, but a particular kind of choosing and desire which was characteristic of the fallen human person. Since the gnomic will was a power exercised on a personal level and since the person of Christ was none other than the second person of the Holy Trinity, then Christ could not be marked by a sinful and ambiguous gnome because to attribute this to Christ would ultimately have turned Him into a mere man and not the Theanthropos. Now, having denied a gnomic will in Christ, St Maximus and the fathers after him, in no way rejected a particular and personal mode of human willing in Christ. On the contrary Christ's natural human will was actualised and personally expressed in particular acts of human willing which were moved by the divine Person of the incarnate Logos in obedience to the Father - indeed, the subject of willing and acting was the incarnate Logos and not the divine or human natures. Therefore Christ had His own particular human mode of willing, but not a sinful gnomic will. That is to say, that the natural human will of Christ was shaped and given expression to by the incarnate Logos resulting in particular acts of human willing which were not contrary to, but in accordance with the common divine will of the Father and the Holy Spirit.
All this points to a very important question, which has occupied the thought of many Patristic scholars - specifically the question of the relationship between the divine and human wills in Christ. Whilst one school of thought has tended to underscore the domination of the divine will over the human in Christ, the other has been characterised by a tendency to stress their independence in order to protect their authenticity. According to St Maximus, the answer had to be sought on the level of personhood – that is, on the level of the incarnate Son of God and not on the level of natures. Simply put, for St Maximus, it is a person who wills and not a blind nature. And so, in the case of Christ's human will, far from being actualised by His human nature, it was shaped and moved – as was the case of his divine will - by the person of Jesus Christ the incarnate Son of God. That is to say, it was the Son of God who was the subject of the willing process, giving expression to divine wishes by His divine nature and human wishes by His human nature. In the words of St Maximus:
as God [i.e. the enfleshed Logos] by nature willed the divine and fatherly [deeds] according to nature… and the same again as man by nature willed the human [deeds] according to nature.
Given that it was the enfleshed divine Logos of God who was responsible for moving the human will of Christ, this in no way implied that the human will was swallowed up by the divine; on the contrary the concrete expressions of Christ's human will, witnessed to in His public ministry were an affirmation of its existence. That is to say, just because it was the divine Person of the Son of God concretely giving expression to His human will, this did not, in any way, signify the human will's eradication; rather it was the divine Person who was responsible for its actualisation thereby affirming its existence in reality. In this way, not only was the integrity and genuineness of Christ's humanity maintained, but also His human obedience to the Father was shown to be a free and willing act of personal and self-determining acceptance. Accordingly the incarnate Son of God willed and acted both in a divine and a human manner.
In adopting the basic tenet of Chalcedonian Christology – one person in two natures – the fathers of the sixth Ecumenical Council were able to further emphasise the genuine humanity of Christ by affirming the reality of two natural wills – a divine and human one without allowing, at the same time, for any opposition or separation. In this way, the Church again came to highlight the foundational Scriptural truth that Christ, the incarnate Logos of God, had experienced an authentic human life. It was further shown that it was particularly St Maximus the Confessor who was able to develop, for the first time in Christian thought, an entire theology of the will. In this way the Church could now, not only acknowledge the reality of a genuine and natural human will in Christ but could also differentiate this from its actualisation in particular acts of willing – the former belonging to His nature, the latter, concretely expressed by His Person. Accordingly, in further attempting to relate the human and the divine wills of Christ, the Church was now able to point out that the incarnate Son of God did not only will as God by His divine will, but also as a man, willingly obeying the diving will of His Father by His human will. Without denying a human will, the Church, on the contrary was able to affirm the human will in all moments of Christ's life - always conforming of course to the omnipotent will of the divine nature, and made concrete by the incarnate Logos. And all this was insisted upon because the very notion of salvation was founded upon the divine and human wills acting in unison - where there was a sublime conformity of the human will of the incarnate Logos to that of the to divine will of the Father thereby giving humankind the perfect example to follow in its journey to enter into the Father's kingdom in heaven.
By Philip Kariatlis
1. Barthrellos cites numerous Biblical references which St Maximus the Confessor used to affirm the human will in Christ – Jn 1:43; Jn 17:24; Mt 27:34; Jn 7:1; Mk 9:30; Mk 7:24-25; Mk 6:48. (Demetrios Bathrellos, The Byzantine Christ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 138).
2. Cf St Maximus the Confesssor, Disputatio, 321C-D.
3. To argue that Christ was simply speaking on our behalf would inevitably dispense with the reality of Christ's statement to avoid the cup.
4. This section is especially indebted to the insightful study on St Maximus' theology by Demetrios Bathrellos, The Byzantine Christ, 117-140.
5. Cf St Maximus the Confessor, Opusc. 196A: "in accordance with this [the will] alone we naturally desire to be and live and move and think and speak and feel and participate in food, sleep and rest, and not ache, nor die and simply to possess fully everything that constitutes our nature and lack everything that destroys it."
6. Cf St Maximus the Confessor, Opusc. 1, 21C – 28A.
7. Disput. 292B-D.
8. Cf John A. McGuckin, The Westminster Handbook to Patristic Theology (Louiseville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 365.
9. It must be stated that by 'ignorance', St Maximus did not deny in Christ what could be called a 'blameless ignorance' [as a child, for example, Christ would naturally have had to learn to speak, to walk etc], but wanted to affirm that Jesus Christ, as the second Person of the Holy Trinity, was omniscient as God, His Father was. That is, in rejecting any ignorance in Christ, St Maximus was simply wanting to avoid introducing a merely human person parallel to Christ - as Nestorius had done – who was sinful and ignorant.
10. D. Bathrellos, The Byzantine Christ, 164.
11. Opusc. 7, 77C-80A cited in D. Bathrellos, The Byzantine Christ, 182.
12. Bathrellos expressed this in the following way: "… this does not in any way contradict the self-determination of the human will; on the contrary, it affirms it, by enabling its actualisation." (D. Bathrellos, The Byzantine Christ, 168).< Back to the articles list