TWO ACTIONS AND TWO WILLS

In the sixth century some theologians, while confessing the two natures of Christ, spoke of Him as having a single divine-human ‘action’, a single energy. Hence the name of the heresy called Monoenergism. Again, at the beginning of the seventh century another movement arose, Monothelitism, which recognized in Christ only divine will by claiming that His human will was completely swallowed up by the divine. Apart from pursuing purely theological goals, the Monothelites hoped to reconcile the Orthodox with the Monophysites by means of a compromise.

There were two main opponents of Monothelitism in the middle of the seventh century: St. Maximus the Confessor, a monk from Constantinople, and St. Martin, the pope of Rome. St. Maximus taught that there were two energies and two wills in Christ: ‘Christ, being God by nature, made use of a will which was naturally divine and paternal, for He had but one will with His Father; being Himself man by nature, He also made use of a naturally human will which was in no way opposed to the Father’s will’. The presence of the human will in Christ is especially evident in His prayer in the garden of Gethsemane: ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt’ (Matt 26:39). This prayer would have been impossible had the human will of Christ been fully swallowed up by the divine.

For his determination to confess the Christ of the Gospels, St. Maximus was subjected to cruel punishment: his tongue was cut out and his right hand amputated. Like St. Martin, he died in exile. However, the Sixth Ecumenical Council of Constantinople, 680-681, upheld completely St. Maximus’s teaching: ‘We preach that in Him (Christ) there are two natural wills and desires, and two natural energies without confusion, without change, without division, without separation. These two natural wills are not opposed to each other... but His human will submits itself to the divine and omnipotent will’. As a fully human person Christ possessed free will, but this freedom did not mean the choice between good and evil. The human will of Christ freely chooses only the good: there can be no conflict between His human and divine wills.

In these ways the mystery of the divine-human person of Christ, the New Adam and Savior of the world, was made manifest in the theological experience of the Church.

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