Honorius I, POPE (625—October 12, 638), a Campanian, consecrated October 27 (Duchesne) or November 3 (Jaffe, Mann), in succession to Boniface V. His chief notoriety has come to him from the fact that he was condemned as a heretic by the sixth general council (680).
THE LETTER OF SERGIUS TO HONORIUS.—The Monothelite question was raised about 634 in a letter to this pope from the Patriarch of Constantinople, Sergius. He related that Emperor Heraclius, when in Armenia in 622, in refuting a Monophysite of the Severian sect, had made use of the expression “one operation” (energy, energeia) of the Incarnate Word. Cyrus, Bishop of the Lazi, had considered this doubtfully orthodox, and had asked advice of Sergius. Sergius replied (he says) that he did not wish to decide the matter, but that the expression had been used by his predecessor Mennas in a letter to Pope Vigilius. In 630 Cyrus had become Patriarch of Alexandria. He found Egypt almost entirely Monophysite, as it had been since the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Cyrus, by the use of the expression for which Sergius had been able to produce such good authority, had formulated a series of propositions, which most of the Monophysites were willing to accept, and they were by this means reunited in large numbers to the Catholic Church, “so that those who formerly would not speak of the divine Leo and the great Council of Chalcedon now commemorated both with a loud voice in the holy mysteries”. At this juncture Sophronius, a Palestinian monk, famed for holiness, came to Alexandria. He disapproved of the formulary of Cyrus, and Sergius was evidently somewhat disquieted at this. The reunion of so many heretics was indeed glorious; but the ease with which it had been accomplished must have seemed suspicious. Sophrothus was not ready at once with quotations from the Fathers to show that “two operations “was the only orthodox expression. But Sergius was ready to drop the expression “one operation” if Sophronius would do nothing that might destroy the union already accomplished at Alexandria. Sophronius agreed. Sergius, however, was not satisfied with recommending Cyrus for the future to refrain from all mention of either one or two operations, but thought it necessary to place the whole matter before the pope. Sergius has commonly been treated as a heretic who did his best to deceive the pope. It seems more fair and more accurate to say that he was rather a politician than a theologian, but that he acted in good faith. He naturally was anxious to defend an expression which the emperor had used, and he was unaware that the letter of Mennas to Vigilius was a Monophysite forgery. But Cyrus’s large use of his formula and its denunciation by St. Sophronius caused him to take precautionary measures. His readiness to drop the expression shows modesty, if his wish that Sophronius‘s formula should also be dropped shows ignorance. Nothing could have been more proper, or more in accordance with the best traditions of his see, than to refer the whole matter to Rome, since the Faith was in question.
MONOTHELISM.—The Monothelite heresy is not in reality distinct from that of the Monophysites. The last few years have made us better acquainted with the writings of Timothy Aelurus, Severus of Antioch, and other Monophysites, and it is now plain that the chief points on which the various sections of the Monophysites were agreed against Catholicism were the assertions that there is but one Will in the Incarnate Word, and that the operations (activities, energeiai) of Christ are not to be distinguished into two classes, the Divine and the human, but are to be considered as being the “theandric” (Divino-human) actions of the one Christ (see Eutychianism). Now these two formulae, “one Will“, and “one theandric operation”, are characteristic of Monothelism. It was not perceived by the ancients that this Monothelism, when it arose, was no new heresy, but expressed the very essence of Monophysitism. This was because the war with the latter heresy had been a war of words. The Catholics, following St. Leo and the Council of Chalcedon, confessed two natures, (Oasts, in Christ, using the word nature to mean an essence without subject, i.e. as distinct from hypostasis; whereas the Monophysites, following St. Cyril, spoke of “one nature”, understanding the word of a subsistent nature or subject, and as equivalent to hypostasis. They consequently accused the Catholics of Nestorianism, and of teaching two Persons in Christ; while the Catholics supposed the Monophysites to hold that the human nature in Christ was so swallowed up in the Divine that it was non-existent. It does not appear that the Monophysite leaders really went so far as this; but they did undoubtedly diminish the completeness of the human nature of Christ, by referring both will and operation to the one Person and not to the two distinct natures. It followed that a human free will and a human power of action were wanting to Christ’s human nature. But this real error of the heretics was not clearly detected by many Catholic theologians, because they spent their force in attacking the imaginary error of denying all reality to the human nature. Our new knowledge of the Monophysite theology enables us to perceive why it was that Cyrus succeeded so easily in uniting the Monophysites to the Church: it was because his formula embodied their heresy, and because they had never held the error which he supposed they were renouncing. Both he and Sergius ought to have known better. But Sergius, at the end of his letter, gets very near to accuracy, when he says that “from one and the same Incarnate Word proceeds indivisibly every human and Divine operation”, for this does distinguish the human operations from the Divine operations, though it refers them rightly to a single subject; and Sergius proceeds to quote the famous words of St. Leo’s dogmatic letter to Flavian: “Agit utraque forma cum alterius communione quod proprium est”, which amount to a condemnation of “one energy”.
THE REPLY OF HONORIUS.—It was now for the pope to pronounce a dogmatic decision and save the situation. He did nothing of the sort. His answer to Sergius did not decide the question, did not authoritatively declare the faith of the Roman Church, did not claim to speak with the voice of Peter; it condemned nothing, it defined nothing. Honorius entirely agrees with the caution which Sergius recommends. He praises Sergius for eventually dropping the new expression “one operation”, but he unfortunately also agrees with him that it will be well to avoid “two operations” also; for if the former sounds Eutychian, the latter may be judged to be Nestorian. Another passage is even more difficult to account for. Following the lead of Sergius, who had said that “two operations” might lead people to think two contrary wills were admitted in Christ, Honorius (after explaining the communicatio idiomatum, by which it can be said that God was crucified, and that the Man came down from heaven) adds: “Wherefore we acknowledge one Will of our Lord Jesus Christ, for evidently it was our nature and not the sin in it which was assumed by the Godhead, that is to say, the nature which was created before sin, not the nature which was vitiated by sin.” Other passages of the letter are orthodox. But it is plain that the pope simply followed Sergius, without going more deeply into the question. The letter cannot be called a private one, for it is an official reply to a formal consultation. It had, however, less publicity than a modern Encyclical. As the letter does not define or condemn, and does not bind the Church to accept its teaching, it is of course impossible to regard it as an ex cathedra utterance. But before, and even just after, the Vatican Council such a view was sometimes urged, though almost solely by the opponents of the dogma of Papal Infallibility. Part of a second letter of Honorius to Sergius was read at the eighth council. It disapproves rather more strongly of the mention of either one operation or two; but it has the merit of referring to the words of St. Leo which Sergius had cited.
THE ECTHESIS OF HERACLIUS.—Sergius, after receiving the pope’s letter approving his recent cautiousness, composed an “Ecthesis”, or exposition, which was issued by the emperor towards the end of 638. In conformity with the words of Honorius itorders all the subjects of Heraclius to confess one Will in our Lord, and to avoid the expressions “one operation” and “two operations”. Before Sergius died, in December, he assembled a great synod at Constantinople, which accepted the Ecthesis as “truly agreeing with the Apostolic preaching”; the letter from the Apostolic See was evidently the surety for this. Honorius was already dead, and had no opportunity of approving or disapproving the imperial document which had been based upon his letter. St. Sophronius, who had become Patriarch of Jerusalem even before Sergius wrote to the pope, also died before the end of the year, but not before he had collected a large number of testimonies of the Fathers to the “two operations”, and had sent to all metropolitans of the world a remarkable disquisition, which admirably defines the Catholic doctrine. He also solemnly commissioned Stephen, Bishop of Doza, the senior bishop of his patriarchate, to go to Rome and obtain a final condemnation of the new error. The Roman envoys who came to Constantinople in 640 to obtain the emperor’s confirmation of the new pope, Severinus, refused to accept the Ecthesis, on the ground that Rome was above all synodical law. Severinus only reigned two months, but condemned the Ecthesis, and so did his successor, John IV. Emperor Heraclius then wrote to the pope, laying the blame on Sergius, and disowning the Ecthesis. He died shortly afterwards (February, 641). To his elder son John IV addressed a letter known as the “Apology for Pope Honorius”. He explains quite truly that both Sergius and Honorius asserted one Will only because they would not admit contrary wills; yet he shows by his argument that they were wrong in using so misleading an expression. St. Maximus of Constantinople, a monk and formerly secretary of Heraclius, now becomes the protagonist of orthodoxy and of submission to Rome. His defense of Honorius is based upon the statements of a certain abbot, John Symponus, the composer of the letter of Honorius, to the effect that the pope only meant to deny that Christ had not two contrary human wills, such as are found in our fallen nature. It is true that the words of Honorius are inconclusively though not necessarily, heretical. Unfortunately the Monophysites habitually argued in just the same inconclusive way, from the fact that Christ could have no rebellious lower will, to prove that His Divine and human will were not distinct faculties. No doubt Honorius did not really intend to deny that there is in Christ a human will, the higher faculty; but he used words which could be interpreted in the sense of that heresy, and he did not recognize that the question was not about the unity of the Person Who wills, nor about the entire agreement of the Divine Will with the human faculty, but about the distinct existence of the human faculty as an integrant part of the Humanity of Christ.
THE TYPE OF CONSTANS.—Pyrrhus, the successor of Sergius, was condemned at Rome for refusing to with-draw the Ecthesis. Emperor Constans deposed him for political reasons, and set up a new patriarch, Paul. Pyrrhus recanted at Rome. Paul, on his appointment, sent the customary confession of faith to the pope. As it did not confess two wills, it was condemned by Pope Theodore. Paul first showed anger, but then prevailed on Constans to withdraw the Ecthesis, for which was substituted a Tdiros, or “Type”, in which it was again forbidden to speak of one or two operations, but “one Will” was no longer taught; instead it was said that neither one nor two wills were to be spoken of, but no blame was to attach to any one who had used either expression in the past. The penalties for disobedience were to be: deposition for bishops and clergy, excommunication, loss of goods or perpetual exile for others. This edict was based upon a misinterpretation of the Apology of John IV, who had shown that “one Will” was an improper expression, but had declared that Honorius and Sergius had used it in an orthodox sense. But John IV had neither defended nor blamed Honorius and Sergius for wishing the expression “two operations” to be avoided. It was consequently assumed that Honorius was right in this, and it was quite logical to assimilate the question of one or two wills to that of one or two operations. The penalties were severe; but both patriarch and emperor declared that they forced no man’s conscience. The Type, unlike the Ecthesis, was not an exposition of faith, but a mere prohibition of the use of certain words, for the avoidance of wrangling. The edict was issued about the first half of 649. Pope Theodore died in May, and was succeeded by St. Martin I, who in the great Lateran Council of 649 solemnly condemned the Ecthesis and the Type as heretical, together with Cyrus, Sergius, Pyrrhus (who had fallen back), and Paul. The emperor was furious. He had the pope dragged to Constantinople, loaded with chains, and exiled him to the Crimea, where he died a martyr for the Faith in 655. St. Maximus also suffered for his devotion to orthodoxy and his loyalty to the Holy See. The decrees of the Lateran Council which were sent to all bishops by St. Martin as papal dogmatic decisions, mark a new stage in the Honorius controversy. Honorius and Sergius must stand or fall together. John IV defended both. St. Martin condemns Sergius and Cyrus, and not a word is said in favor of Honorius. It was evidently felt that he could not be defended, if the Type was to be condemned as heretical because it forbade the orthodox expressions “two operations” and “two Wills”, since in this it was simply following Honorius. But be it carefully noted that the Type of Constans is not Monothelite. Its “heresy” consists in forbidding the use of orthodox expressions together with their heretical contraries. A study of the Acts of the Lateran Council will show that the question was not as to the toleration of Monothelite expressions, for they were forbidden by the Type, but the prohibition of the orthodox formulae. No doubt it was still held at Rome that Honorius had not intended to teach “one Will“, and was, therefore, not a positive heretic. But no one would deny that he recommended the negative course which the Type enforced under savage penalties, and that he objectively deserved the same condemnation.
IN WHAT SENSE HONORIUS WAS CONDEMNED.—Constans was murdered in 668. His successor, Constantine Pogonatus, probably did not trouble to enforce the Type, but East and West remained divided until his wars against the Saracens were over in 678, and he began to think of reunion. By his desire Pope St. Agatho sent legates to preside at a general council which met at Constantinople on November 7, 680. They brought with them a long dogmatic letter in which the pope defined the faith with authority as the successor of St. Peter. He emphatically declares, remembering Honorius, that the Apostolic Church of St. Peter has never fallen into error. He condemns the Ecthesis and the Type, with Cyrus, Sergius, Theodore of Pharan, Pyrrhus, Paul, and his successor Peter. He leaves no power of deliberation to the council. The Easterns are to have the privilege of reunion by simply accepting his letter. He sent a book of testimonies from the Fathers, which were carefully verified. The Monothelite Patriarch of Antioch, Macarius, had been allowed to present other testimonies, which were examined and found to be incorrect. The Patriarch of Constantinople, George, and all the council accepted the papal letter, and Macarius was condemned and deposed for not accepting it. Honorius, so far, had been thrice appealed to by Macarius, but had been mentioned by no one else. In the twelfth session, March 12, 681, a packet was produced which Macarius had sent to the emperor, but which the latter had not opened. It proved to contain the letter of Sergius to Cyrus and to Honorius, the forged letter of Mennas to Vigilius, and the letter of Honorius to Sergius. In the thirteenth session, March 28, the two letters of Sergius were condemned, and the council added: “Those whose impious dogmas we execrate, we judge that their names also shall be cast out of the holy Church of God“, that is, Sergius, Cyrus, Pyrrhus, Peter, Paul, Theodore, all which names were mentioned by the holy Pope Agatho in his letter to the pious and great emperor, “and were cast out by him, as holding views contrary to our orthodox faith; and these we define to be subject to anathema. And in addition to these we decide that Honorius also, who was pope of elder Rome, be with them cast out of the holy Church of God, and be anathematized with them, because we have found by his letter to Sergius that he followed his opinion in all things, and confirmed his wicked dogmas”. These last words are true enough, and if Sergius was to be condemned Honorius could not be rescued. The legates made no objection to his condemnation. The question had indeed arisen unexpectedly out of the reading of Macarius‘s packet; but the legates must have had instructions from the pope how to act under the circumstances.
Some other writings of the condemned heretics were further read, including part of a second letter of Honorius, and these were all condemned to be burnt. On August 9, in the last session, George of Constantinople petitioned “that the persons be not anathematized by name”, that is, Sergius, Pyrrhus, Paul, and Peter. He only mentions his own predecessors; but Theodore of Pharan, Cyrus, and Honorius would evidently have been spared also, had the legates supported the suggestion. But there was no attempt to save the reputation of Honorius, and the petition of George was negatived by the synod. In the final acclamations, anathema to Honorius, among the other heretics, was shouted. The solemn dogmatic decree, signed by the legates, all the bishops, and the emperor, condemns the heretics mentioned by St. Agatho “and also Honorius who was pope of elder Rome“, while it enthusiastically accepts the letter of St. Agatho. The council, according to custom, presented an address of congratulation to the emperor, which was signed by all the bishops. In it they have much to say of the victory which Agatho, speaking with the voice of Peter, gained over heresy. They anathematize the heretics by name, Theodore, Sergius, Paul, Pyrrhus, Peter, Cyrus, “and with them Honorius, who was Prelate of Rome, as having followed them in all things”, and Macarius with his followers. The letter to the pope, also signed by all, gives the same list of heretics, and congratulates Agatho on his letter “which we recognize as pronounced by the chiefest head of the Apostles“. The modern notion that the council was antagonistic to the pope receives no support from the Acts. On the contrary all the Easterns except the heretic Macarius, were evidently delighted with the possibility of reunion. They had never been Monothelites, and had no reason to approve the policy of silence enforced under savage penalties by the Type. They praise with enthusiasm the letter of St. Agatho, in which the authority and inerrancy of the papacy are extolled. They themselves say no less; they affirm that the pope has indeed spoken, according to his claim, with the voice of Peter. The emperor’s official letter to the pope is particularly explicit on these points. It should be noted that he calls Honorius “the confirmer of the heresy and contradictor of himself”, again showing that Honorius was not condemned by the council as a Monothelite, but for approving Sergius’s contradictory policy of placing orthodox and heretical expressions under the same ban. It was in this sense that Paul and his Type were condemned; and the council was certainly well acquainted with the history of the Type, and with the Apology of John IV for Sergius and Honorius, and the defenses by St. Maximus. It is clear, then, that the council did not think that it stultified itself by asserting that Honorius was a heretic (in the above sense) and in the same breath accepting the letter of Agatho as being what it claimed to be, an authoritative exposition of the infallible faith of the Roman See. The fault of Honorius lay precisely in the fact that he had not authoritatively published that uncanging faith of his Church, in modern language, that he had not issued a definition ex cathedra.
St. Agatho died before the conclusion of the council. The new pope, Leo II, had naturally no difficulty in giving to the decrees of the council the formal confirmation which the council asked from him, according to custom. The words about Honorius in his letter of confirmation, by which the council gets its ecumenical rank, are necessarily more important than the decree of the council itself: “We anathematize the inventors of the new error, that is, Theodore, Sergius,… and also Honorius, who did not attempt to sanctify this Apostolic Church with the teaching of Apostolic tradition, but by profane treachery permitted its purity to be polluted.” This appears to express exactly the mind of the council, only that the council avoided suggesting that Honorius disgraced the Roman Church. The last words of the quotation are given above as in the Greek of the letter, because great importance has been attached to them by a large number of Catholic apologists. Pennacchi, followed by Grisar, taught that by these words Leo II explicitly abrogated the condemnation for heresy by the council, and substituted a condemnation for negligence. Nothing, however, could be less explicit. Hefele, with many others before and after him, held that Leo II by the same words explained the sense in which the sentence of Honorius was to be understood. Such a distinction between the pope’s view and the council’s view is not justified by close examination of the facts. At best such a system of defense was exceedingly precarious, for the milder reading of the Latin is just as likely to be original: “but by profane treachery attempted to pollute its purity”. In this form Honorius is certainly not exculpated, yet the pope declares that he did not actually succeed in polluting the immaculate Roman Church. However, in his letter to the Spanish King Erwig, he has: “And with them Honorius, who allowed the unspotted rule of Apostolic tradition, which he received from his predecessors, to be tarnished.” To the Spanish bishops he explains his meaning: “With Honorius, who did not, as became the Apostolic authority, extinguish the flame of heretical teaching in its first beginning, but fostered it by his negligence.” That is, he did not insist on the “two operations”, but agreed with Sergius that the whole matter should be hushed up. Pope Honorius was subsequently included in the lists of heretics anathematized by the Trullan Synod, and by the seventh and eighth ecumenical councils without special remark; also in the oath taken by every new pope from the eighth century to the eleventh in the following words: “Together with Honorius, who added fuel to their wicked assertions” (Liber diurnus, ii, 9). It is clear that no Catholic has the right to defend Pope Honorius. He was a heretic, not in intention, but in fact; and he is to be considered to have been condemned in the sense in which Origen and Theodore of Mopsuestia, who died in Catholic communion, never having resisted the Church, have been condemned. But he was not condemned as a Monothelite, nor was Sergius. And it would be harsh to regard him as a “private heretic”, for he admittedly had excellent intentions.
MODERN CONTROVERSIES ON THE SUBJECT.—The condemnation of Pope Honorius was retained in the lessons of the Breviary for June 28 (St. Leo II) until the eighteenth century. Difficulties made themselves felt when, after the Great Western Schism, papal infallibility began to be doubted. Protestantism and Gallicanism made vigorous attacks on the unfortunate pope, and at the time of the Vatican Council Honorius figured in every pamphlet and every speech on ecclesiastical subjects. The question has not only been debated in numerous monographs, but is treated by the historians and the theologians, as well as by the professed controversialists. Only a few typical views need here be mentioned.
Bellarmine and Baronius followed Pighius in denying that Honorius was condemned at all. Baronius argued that the Acts of the Council were falsified by Theodore, a Patriarch of Constantinople, who had been deposed by the emperor, but was restored at a later date; we are to presume that the council condemned him, but that he substituted “Honorius” for “Theodorus” in the Acts. This theory has frequently been shown to be untenable.
The more famous Gallicans, such as Bossuet, Dupin, Richer, and later ones as Cardinal de la Luzerne and (at the time of the Vatican Council) Maret, Gratry, and many others, usually held with all Protestant writers that Honorius had formally defined heresy, and was condemned for so doing. They added, of course, that such a failure on the part of an individual pope did not compromise the general and habitual orthodoxy of the Roman See.
On the other hand the chief advocates of papal infallibility, for instance, such great men as Melchior Canus in the sixteenth century, Thomassinus in the seventeenth, Pietro Ballerini in the eighteenth, Cardinal Perrone in the nineteenth, have been careful to point out that Honorius did not define anything ex cathedra. But they were not content with this amply sufficient defense. Some followed Baronius, but most, if not all, showed themselves anxious to prove that the letters of Honorius were entirely orthodox. There was indeed no difficulty in showing that Honorius was probably not a Monothelite. It would have been only just to extend the same kindly interpretation to the words of Sergius. The learned Jesuit Garner saw clearly, however, that it was not as a Monothelite that Honorius was condemned. He was coupled with Sergius, Pyrrhus, Paul, the Ecthesis, and the Type. It is by no means clear that Sergius, Pyrrhus, and the Ecthesis are to be accounted as Monothelite, since they forbade the mention of “one operation”; it is quite certain that Paul and the Type were anti-Monothelite, for they prohibited “one Will” also. Garnier pointed out that the council condemned Honorius for approving Sergius and for “fomenting” the dogmas of Pyrrhus and Paul. This view was followed by many great writers, including Pagi.
A theory put forward by Pennacchi at the time of the Vatican Council attracted an unnecessary amount of attention. He agreed with the Protestants and Gallicans in proclaiming that the letter of Honorius was a definition ex cathedra; that the pope was anathematized by the council as a heretic in the strict sense; but the council, not being infallible apart from papal confirmation, fell in this case into error about a dogmatic fact (in this point Pennacchi was preceded by Turrecremata, Bellarmine, Assemani, and many others), since the letter of Honorius was not worthy of censure. Leo II, in confirming the council, expressly abrogated the censure, according to this view, and substituted a condemnation for negligence only (so also Grisar—see above). There is evidently no ground whatever for any of these assertions.
Bishop Hefele before 1870 took the view that Honorius’s letter was not strictly heretical but was gravely incorrect, and that its condemnation by an ecumenical council was a serious difficulty against the “personal” infallibility of the popes. After his hesitating acceptance of the Vatican decrees he modified his view: he now taught that Honorius’s letter was a definition ex cathedra, that it was incorrectly worded, but that the thought of the writer was orthodox (true enough; but, in a definition of faith, surely the words are of primary importance); the council judged Honorius by his words, and condemned him simply as a Monothelite; Leo II accepted and confirmed the condemnation by the council, but, in doing so, he carefully defined in what sense the condemnation was to be understood. These views of Hefele’s, which he put forth with edifying modesty and submission as the best explanation he could give of what had previously seemed to him a formidable difficulty, have had a surprisingly wide influence, and have been adopted by many Catholic writers, save only his mistaken notion that a letter like that of Honorius can be supposed to fulfil the conditions laid down by the Vatican Council for an ex cathedra judgment (so Jungmann and many controversialists).
CHARACTER AND WORK OF HONORIUS.—Pope Honorius was much respected and died with an untarnished reputation. Few popes did more for the restoration and beautifying of the churches of Rome, and he has left us his portrait in the apsidal mosaic of Sant Agnese fuori le mura. He cared also for the temporal needs of the Romans by repairing the aqueduct of Trajan. His extant letters show him engaged in much business. He supported the Lombard King Adalwald, who had been set aside as mad by an Arian rival. He succeeded, to some extent, with the emperor’s assistance, in reuniting the schismatic metropolitan See of Aquileia to the Roman Church. He wrote to stir up the zeal of the bishops of Spain, and St. Braulio of Saragossa replied. His connection with the British Isles is of interest. He sent St. Birinus to convert the West Saxons. In 634 he gave the pallium to St. Paulinus of York, as well as to Honorius of Canterbury, and he wrote a letter to King Edwin of Northumbria, which Bede has preserved. In 630 he urged the Irish bishops to keep Easter with the rest of Christendom, in consequence of which the Council of Magh Lene (Old Leighlin) was held; the Irish testified to their traditional devotion to the See of Peter, and sent a deputation to Rome “as children to their mother”. On the return of these envoys, all Southern Ireland adopted the Roman use (633).