Anglican Essentials: Going Deeper–Articulating the faith

8. The human and divine wills of Christ: Maximus and the 3rd Council of Constantinople

A new dispute broke out in the 7th century over whether Christ had one or two wills, that is, a divine will only, or both a human and divine will.  Around 630, Sergius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, in trying to find a formula to unite Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian Christians, had proposed that Christ had only one “activity” or “energy”, for none of the previous Fathers or Councils had taught that Christ had two “activities,” because “it would have as a consequence that one would confess ‘two wills’ contrary to one another as if on the one hand the divine Word had willed to accomplish the saving passion and on the other hand his humanity being in opposition had resisted his will.”

Opposition to Sergius’ one-will (monothelite) proposal increased, and it was rejected by the Lateran Council of 649 in Rome called by the newly elected Pope Martin I.  The monk Maximus (580-662) was present, and his thinking helped guide the 105 bishops present to condemn Monothelitism.  Pope Martin and Maximus were arrested in 653 under orders from the Emperor Constans II, who supported the Monothelite position. Pope Martin died of mistreatment prior to being tried, and is considered the last pope to be a martyr.   Maximus was condemned and had his tongue cut out and right hand cut off by Imperial authorities and was exiled and died.  For his witness, he is known as Maximus the Confessor to both the Roman and the Orthodox Churches.  Maximus and Martin were vindicated by the Third Council of Constantinople in 680, the 6th Ecumenical Council, which condemned monothelitism and defined Jesus Christ as having two wills, divine and human.  After repeating the Nicene Creed and the Chalcedonian formula, the Council says

defining all this we likewise declare that in him are two natural wills and two natural operations indivisibly, inconvertibly, inseparably, inconfusedly, according to the teaching of the holy Fathers. And these two natural wills are not contrary the one to the other …”

Maximus the Confessor drew his insights from Jesus’ actual experience:

And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him.  And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”  (Luke 22:39-42)

According to Maximus, Jesus’ words express “perfect agreement and consent” demonstrating

the supreme agreement of his human will to the divine will which is at the same time his own will as well as that of the Father.In the one who has two natures there are two wills and two energies [activities] that conform to each nature.  There is no contrariety whatsoever between the two, though the distinction between the two is preserved.”

If the Word made flesh does not himself will naturally as a human being and accomplish things in accordance with is human nature, how can he willingly undergo hunger and thirst, labor and weariness, sleep and everything else common to man?  For the Word does not simply will and accomplish these things in accordance with the transcendent and infinite nature he shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit. … For if it is only as God that he wills these things, and not as himself being a human being, then either the body has become divine by nature, or the Word has changed its nature and become flesh by abandoning its own divinity, or the flesh is not at all in itself endowed with a rational soul, but in itself completely lifeless and irrational.

The Word himself shows clearly that he has a human will just as by nature he has a divine will.  For when he became man for our sake, he pleaded to be spared death, saying ‘Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.’(Matt. 26:39).  In this way he displayed the weakness of his own flesh.  Those who saw him recognized that his flesh was not imaginary, but in fact he was a genuine human being.

It is clear that his human will is wholly deified, in that it is in harmony with the divine will, for it is always moved and formed by it.  His human will is in perfect conformity with the will of his father when as a man he says: ‘Let not my will but thine be done.’

The human will is not less human but more human because it is in harmony with the divine will.  To Maximus, Christ showed us “a wholly new way of being human, … new not only because it was strange and wondrous to those on earth, and was unfamiliar in comparison to things as they are, but also because it carried within itself a new energy of one who lived in a new way.”

[Use the page numbers at the bottom to navigate back and forth between pages for this class. Use this link to return to the Introduction page for all 4 classes.]