In a few places, I try to give some translations of some technical Greek and Latin phrases as these occur in my sources. I'm no expert at that, so please take my translations with a grain of salt!
The Story of Pope Honorius
It all started (at least for our purposes) when Sophronius, a monk who would later become Bishop of Jerusalem, advocated that Christ had "two energies" and not just "one energy." He advocated this to Sergius, Bishop of Constantinople, who didn't like it at all. Sergius felt that this kind of language made it sound like Christ's person is divided, as if there are two Christs, a human one and a divine one, engaging in different activities (different energies). So Sergius told Sophronius not to talk that way. He told him to try to stay away from the issue altogether, not talking about "one energy" or "two energies," since both phrases could be misleading. Sergius explained all of this in a letter to Pope Honorius of Rome, asking for his confirmation of his ideas:
The expression μία ἐνέργεια [one energy] should not be employed, since, although it was used by some of the Fathers, it seemed strange to many, and offended their ears, since they entertained the suspicion that it was used in order to do away with the two natures in Christ, a thing to be avoided. In like manner, to speak of two energies gives offence with many, because this expression occurs in none of the holy Fathers, and because there would follow from thence the doctrine of two contradictory wills (θελήματα) in Christ (a false inference!), as though the Logos had been willing to endure the suffering which brings us salvation, but the manhood had opposed it. This is impious, for it is impossible that one and the same subject should have two and, in one point, contradictory wills. . . .
Yet, having regard to the alarm which had already been caused by this matter, we represented to the Emperor the difficulty of the subject, and recommended that there should be no more minute discussion of the question, but that we should abide by the known and the universally acknowledged doctrine of the Fathers, and confess that the one and the same only begotten Son of God worked both the divine and the human, and that from the one and the same Incarnate Word all divine and human energy proceeded indivisibly and inseparably (ἀμερίστως καὶ ἀδιαιρέτως). . . . We held it then as suitable and necessary to make your fraternal Holiness acquainted with this matter, enclosing copies of our letters to Cyrus and the Emperor, and we pray you to read all this, and to complete what you find defective, and to communicate to us your view of the subject in writing. (Bishop Sergius of Constantinople to Pope Honorius, found in Charles Joseph Hefele, A History of the Councils of the Church, Volume V, translated and edited by William R. Clark [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1896], 25-27, italics in original, brackets are my own. I had help in copying the text from the e-Catholic 2000 website, which has the whole work online, while checking back also with the original and adapting my own text. All of this applies to all the quotations from Hefele throughout the article.)
Pope Honorius, obligingly, wrote a couple of letters back to Bishop Sergius, explaining to him his own point of view and telling him what he should and should not confess:
Of this letter of yours to Sophronius we have received from you a copy, and, after having read it, we commend you that your brotherliness has removed the new expression (μία ἐνέργεια) [one energy], which might give offence to the simple. For we must walk in that which we have learned. By the leading of God we came to the measure of the true faith, which the apostles of the truth have spread abroad by the light (Lat. rule) of the Holy Scriptures, confessing that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Mediator between God and man, worked the divine works by means (μεσιτευσάσης) of the manhood, which was hypostatically united to Him, the Logos, and that the same worked the human works, since the flesh was assumed by the Godhead in an unspeakable, unique manner, ἀδιαιρέτως, ἀτρέπτως, ἀσυγχύτως, τελείως. . . . Whence, also, we confess one will of our Lord Jesus Christ (ὅθεν καὶ ἓν θέλημα ὁμολογοῦμεν τοῦ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ = unde et unam voluntatem fatemur Domini nostri Jesu Christi), since our (human) nature was plainly assumed by the Godhead, and this being faultless, as it was before the Fall. For Christ, coming in the form of sinful flesh, took away the sin of the world, and assuming the form of a servant, He is habitu inventus ut homo [found in the garb of a man]. As He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, so was He also born without sin of the holy and immaculate Virgin, the God-bearer, without experiencing any contamination of the vitiata natura [corrupted nature]. . . .
It is this, as we said, not the vitiata natura [corrupted nature] which was assumed by the Redeemer, which would war against the law of His mind; but He came to seek and to save that which was lost, i.e. the vitiata natura [corrupted nature] of the human race. In His members there was not another law (Rom. vii. 23), or a diversa vel contraria Salvatori voluntas [diverse or contrary will to the Savior's], because He was born supra legem [above the law] of human condition; and if He says in the Holy Spirit: ‘I came down from heaven not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me’ (S. John vi. 38), and (S. Mark xiv. 36): ‘Nevertheless, not what I will, but what Thou wilt,’ and the like, these are not expressions of a voluntas diversa [diverse will], but of the accommodation (οἰκονομίας, dispensationis) of the assumed manhood. For this is said for our sakes, that we, following His footsteps, should do not our own will, but that of the Father. . . .
That the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son and the Word of God, by whom all things were made, the one and the same, perfectly works divine and human works, is shown quite clearly by the Holy Scriptures; but whether on account of the works of the Godhead and manhood (opera divinitatis et humanitatis) it is suitable to think and to speak of one or two energies (operationes) as present, we cannot tell, we leave that to the grammarians, who sell to boys the expressions invented by them, in order to attract them to themselves. . . . We, however, wish to think and to breathe according to the utterances of Holy Scripture, rejecting everything which, as a novelty in words, might cause uneasiness in the Church of God, so that those who are under age may not, taking offence at the expression two energies, hold us for Nestorians, and that (on the other side) we may not seem to simple ears to teach Eutychianism, when we clearly confess only one energy. We must be on our guard lest, after the evil weapons of those enemies are burnt, from their ashes new flames of scorching questions may be kindled. In simplicity and truth we will confess that the Lord Jesus Christ, one and the same, works in the divine and in the human nature. . . . This will you also, my brother, proclaim with us, as we do it with one mind with you; and we exhort you that you, fleeing from the new manner of speech of one energy or two, with us proclaim one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, true God, in two natures working the divine and human. (First Letter of Pope Honorius to Bishop Sergius, found in Hefele 28-32)
Moreover, with regard to the ecclesiastical dogma, and what we ought to hold and teach, on account of the simplicity of men and to avoid controversies, we must, as I have already said, assert neither one nor two energies in the Mediator between God and men, but must confess that both natures are naturally united in the one Christ, that each in communion with the other worked and acted (operantes atque operatrices; Greek, ἐνεργούσας καὶ πρακτικάς); the divine works the divine, and the human performs that which is of the flesh (these are the well-known words of Leo I.), without separation and without mixture, and without the nature of God being changed into the manhood, or the human nature into the Godhead. For one and the same is lowly and exalted, equal to the Father and inferior to the Father … Thus keeping away, as I said, from the vexation of new expressions, we must not maintain or proclaim either one or two energies, but, instead of one energy which some maintain, we must confess that the one Christ, the Lord, truly works in both natures; and instead of the two energies they should prefer to proclaim with us the two natures, i.e. the Godhead and the assumed manhood, which work what is proper to them (ἐνεργούσας τὰ ἴδια, propria operantes) in the one Person of the only-begotten Son of God, unmingled and unseparated and unchanged. (Second Letter of Pope Honorius to Bishop Sergius, found in Hefele 50)
Thus began the trouble. Honorius confesses "one will of our Lord Jesus Christ," whereas the Church will eventually dogmatically side with the profession of Christ as having "two wills," a human will and a divine will.
The Church's reasoning is basically thus: Christ is one person in two natures. He possesses both of those natures entirely. That is, he's not half-God or half-human or something like that, but fully God and fully human. If that is the case, then everything that is essential to both natures he must have. But it is essential to both natures to have a will. Obviously, God has a will, so the divine nature must possess a will. But just as obviously, human nature contains will, so Jesus's human nature must have a human will. This would give Jesus two wills--a human will and a divine will. However, speaking for myself at least, I can see why this issue was confusing. To be honest, the verbage of Christ having "two wills" strikes me as a little jarring, because, at least to me, it seems to sound like it is saying that Christ is two persons. When I think of a will, I think of a person willing; so when I think of two wills, I tend to think of two persons willing. But that, of course, is not the Church's doctrine. Christ is one person. His two wills, and his two natures in general, are tied together in total union under the identity of a single person. When the human will of Jesus works, it is the work of the one person of Jesus Christ. When the divine will works, it is the work of the one person of Jesus Christ. It can help to think of how this plays out with other aspects of the two natures, such as mind. Jesus has both a human mind and a divine mind. That is, he can think and perceive as God and he can think and perceive as a human. We must talk of two minds, for otherwise we will end up erasing either some aspect of Jesus's humanity or some aspect of his divinity. But this doesn't mean that we have two persons. There is one person, but that one person can think and perceive in a human mind or in a divine mind. Similarly, Jesus is one person, but when he wills, he can exercise his human willing capacity as well as his divine willing capacity. Two wills, one person.
So it makes sense. But it can still be confusing. It seems to have confused Sergius (and many others), and it may have confused Honorius as well. But what exactly was Honorius trying to say? Was he really affirming the full Monothelite ("one will") doctrine that would later be condemned, or was he using language in a bit of a different way? Charles Hefele, the great Catholic historian, thinks he was using language in a bit of a different way, and I'm inclined to agree with him. Listen closely to how he couches his affirmation of "one will" in Christ:
Whence, also, we confess one will of our Lord Jesus Christ, since our (human) nature was plainly assumed by the Godhead, and this being faultless, as it was before the Fall. For Christ, coming in the form of sinful flesh, took away the sin of the world, and assuming the form of a servant, He is habitu inventus ut homo [found in garb as a man]. As He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, so was He also born without sin of the holy and immaculate Virgin, the God-bearer, without experiencing any contamination of the vitiata natura [corrupted nature]. . . . It is this, as we said, not the vitiata natura [corrupted nature] which was assumed by the Redeemer, which would war against the law of His mind; but He came to seek and to save that which was lost, i.e. the vitiata natura [corrupted nature] of the human race. In His members there was not another law (Rom. 7:23), or a diversa vel contraria Salvatori voluntas [diverse and contrary will to the Savior's], because He was born supra legem [above the law] of human condition; and if He says in the Holy Spirit: ‘I came down from heaven not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me’ (S. John vi. 38), and (S. Mark xiv. 36): ‘Nevertheless, not what I will, but what Thou wilt,’ and the like, these are not expressions of a voluntas diversa [diverse will], but of the accommodation (οἰκονομίας, dispensationis) of the assumed manhood. For this is said for our sakes, that we, following His footsteps, should do not our own will, but that of the Father.
This echoes what Sergius had said, when he warned about "the doctrine of two contradictory wills (θελήματα) in Christ (a false inference!), as though the Logos had been willing to endure the suffering which brings us salvation, but the manhood had opposed it. This is impious, for it is impossible that one and the same subject should have two and, in one point, contradictory wills."
When Honorius affirms one will in Christ, he says that it is because Christ didn't assume a fallen, sinful will in opposition to his divine will. So we might read Honorius as denying that there are two opposing wills in Christ. In other words, he may have been answering a different question from the one that actually became the subject of the Monothelite controversy. This is even more likely if we consider what he says to Sergius in his second letter:
Moreover, with regard to the ecclesiastical dogma, and what we ought to hold and teach, on account of the simplicity of men and to avoid controversies, we must, as I have already said, assert neither one nor two energies in the Mediator between God and men, but must confess that both natures are naturally united in the one Christ, that each in communion with the other worked and acted; the divine works the divine, and the human performs that which is of the flesh (these are the well-known words of Leo I.), without separation and without mixture, and without the nature of God being changed into the manhood, or the human nature into the Godhead. . . . instead of one energy which some maintain, we must confess that the one Christ, the Lord, truly works in both natures; and instead of the two energies they should prefer to proclaim with us the two natures, i.e. the Godhead and the assumed manhood, which work what is proper to them in the one Person of the only-begotten Son of God, unmingled and unseparated and unchanged.
So Honorius acknowledges that there is one person of Christ, and this one person "works in both natures," "the divine works the divine, and the human performs that which is of the flesh." This seems to suggest pretty strongly the very "two wills" idea that the Church would eventually formally affirm. But he doesn't use that language. And his use of the "one will" language ended up giving aid to a position that ended up being condemned as heretical.
Here is how Hefele views Honorius's position:
The two letters of Pope Honorius, as we now possess them, are unfalsified, and show that Honorius, of the two Monothelite terms ἕν θέλημα [one will] and μία ἐνέργεια [one energy], himself used (in his first letter) the former; but the latter, and also the orthodox expression δύο ἐνέργειαι [two energies], he did not wish to be used. If, in his second letter, he repeated the latter (the disapproval of the expression δύο ἐνέργειαι [two energies]), yet here he himself recognised two natural energies in Christ, and in both letters he so expressed himself, that it must be admitted that he did not deny the human will generally, but only the corrupt human will in Christ; but although orthodox in his thought, he did not sufficiently see through the Monothelite tendency of Sergius, and expressed himself in such a way as to be misunderstood, so that his letters, especially the first, seemed to confirm Monothelitism, and thereby practically helped onward the heresy. . . . Honorius gave assistance to the heresy, not merely by requiring silence, but much more by the unhappy expression, unde unam voluntatem fatemur Domini nostri Jesu Christi [where we confess one will of our Lord Jesus Christ], as well as by his disapproval of the orthodox term δύο ἐνέργειαι [two energies]. The Monothelites rested upon this, and not upon the silence enjoined. . . . [the letters] contain, at least in their literal meaning, erroneous teaching. (Hefele 56, 58-59)
So how did all this go down as the controversy developed? Honorius died before the controversy really got going, and never did issue any clarification. Once the controversy picked up, Honorius's successors in the Apostolic See immediately and unswervingly took the Dyothelite ("two wills") side (that is, the orthodox side) against the Monothelites. However, the Monothelites began to use Honorius's letters to bolster and promote their own opinion. This irritated the later popes. The second pope after Honorius, Pope John IV (who reigned from 640 to 642), complained about this and defended Honorius, taking a line of defense similar to the one Hefele and I have taken above, though without any criticism:
The whole West is scandalised by our brother, the Patriarch Pyrrhus [the Bishop of Constantinople at this time, who took the Monothelite position], proclaiming, in his letters which are circulated in all directions, novelties which are contrary to the rule of faith, and referring to our predecessor, Pope Honorius of blessed memory, as of his opinion, which was entirely foreign to the mind of the Catholic Father (quod a mente Catholici patris erat penitus alienum). The Patriarch Sergius communicated to the said Roman bishop that some maintained two contrarias voluntates [contrary wills] in Christ. When the Pope learnt this, he answered him: As our Redeemer is monadicus unus [one alone], so was HE miraculously conceived and born above all human way and manner. He (Honorius) taught that HE was as well perfect God as perfect man, born without sin, in order to renew the noble origin (originem) which had been lost by sin. As second Adam, there was in Him no sin, either by birth or through intercourse with men. For when the Word was made flesh, and assumed all that was ours, He did not take on the vitium reatus [guilty defect] which springs from the propagation of sin. He assumed, from the inviolate Virgin Mary, the likeness of our flesh, but not of sin. Therefore had Christ, as the first Adam, only one natural will of His humanity, not two contrarias voluntates [contrary wills], as we who are born of the sin of Adam, … In such wise our predecessor Honorius answered Sergius, that there were not in the Redeemer two contrariæ voluntates [contrary wills], i.e. also a voluntas in membris [will in the members], as HE had assumed nothing of the sin of the first man. The Redeemer did indeed assume our nature, but not the culpa criminis [fault]. Let, then, no unintelligent critic blame Honorius, that he speaks only of the human and not also of the divine nature, but let him know that he answered that concerning which the patriarch inquired. Where the wound is, there the healing is applied. Even the apostle has sometimes brought forward the divine, and sometimes the human nature of Christ alone. (Pope John IV, in a letter to Emperor Constantine, found in Hefele 52-53)
"When Honorius said that Christ had only one will," says John IV, "he meant that he didn't have two conflicting wills. He wasn't denying a metaphysical distinction of any sort between the divine and the human wills of Christ. He was answering a different question, the one that Sergius had asked him specifically."
The great Eastern saint, Maximus the Confessor, who was a martyr for the Dyothelite cause, made the same basic defense of Honorius when pressed by the Monothelite Bishop Pyrrhus of Constantinople:
As second defender of Honorius, the Roman abbot, Joannes Symponus, is brought forward, and first by S. Maximus in his disputation with the Patriarch Pyrrhus of Constantinople . . . Honorius had made use of Joannes in the composition of his letter. When Pyrrhus offered the objection: “What have you to answer for Honorius, who quite plainly traced out to my predecessor one will in Christ?” Maximus answered: “Who is the trustworthy interpreter of this letter, he who composed it in the name of Honorius, or those who spoke in Constantinople what was according to their own mind?” To which Pyrrhus replied: “He who composed it.” Then Maximus: “He, then, has expressed himself on the subject, in the letter to the Emperor Constantine, which he prepared by commission of Pope John IV. (the reference is to the above letter, the contents of which are repeated here substantially, although not verbally), as follows: We have (in that letter) maintained one will in Christ, not of the Godhead and manhood together, for we spoke of the one will of the manhood alone. Since Sergius had written that some were teaching two contradictory wills in Christ, we answered, that Christ had not two mutually contradictory wills, of the flesh and of the Spirit, like us men after the Fall, but only one will, which φυσικῶς χαρακτηρίζει [characterized the nature of] His manhood. If, however, any one would say: “Why have you, treating of the manhood of Christ, been quite silent respecting His Godhead?” We reply: “In the first place, Honorius answered that about which Sergius inquired; and, in the second place, as in everything so also here, we have kept to the custom of Holy Scripture, which sometimes speaks of the Godhead, and sometimes of the manhood alone.” (Hefele 53-54)
Joannes Symponus had been employed by both Honorius and John IV in the drafting of their letters, and so St. Maximus appeals to him as providing testimony as to what Honorius really meant.
Subsequent popes continued to strongly oppose Monothelitism and to defend Honorius from the charge that he was a Monothelite. Pope Martin I (who reigned from 649 to 655) held the Lateran Council of 649 which condemned Monothelitism. Because of this, he was arrested by the Emperor Constans II, imprisoned, and exiled, dying as a martyr in exile.
Fortunately, Constans II's son and successor as emperor, Constantine IV, who came to power in 668, was of a different mind, and decided to call a General Council to deal with the controversy. Pope Agatho (678-681) responded favorably to this idea. He sent a letter to the Emperor which was read at the Council, which became the Sixth Ecumenical Council. In his letter, Pope Agatho affirms strongly the Dyothelite position and also confirms it by the authority of the Apostolic See of St. Peter, which, according to Christ's promise to Peter, he affirms has always held fast the true faith and has never swerved into any error:
And briefly we shall intimate to your divinely instructed Piety, what the strength of our Apostolic faith contains, which we have received through Apostolic tradition and through the tradition of the Apostolical pontiffs, and that of the five holy general synods, through which the foundations of Christ's Catholic Church have been strengthened and established; this then is the status [and the regular tradition ] of our Evangelical and Apostolic faith, to wit, that as we confess the holy and inseparable Trinity, that is, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, to be of one deity, of one nature and substance or essence, so we will profess also that it has one natural will, power, operation, domination, majesty, potency, and glory. And whatever is said of the same Holy Trinity essentially in singular number we understand to refer to the one nature of the three consubstantial Persons, having been so taught by canonical logic. But when we make a confession concerning one of the same three Persons of that Holy Trinity, of the Son of God, or God the Word, and of the mystery of his adorable dispensation according to the flesh, we assert that all things are double in the one and the same our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ according to the Evangelical tradition, that is to say, we confess his two natures, to wit the divine and the human, of which and in which he, even after the wonderful and inseparable union, subsists. And we confess that each of his natures has its own natural propriety, and that the divine, has all things that are divine, without any sin. And we recognize that each one (of the two natures) of the one and the same incarnated, that is, humanated (humanati) Word of God is in him unconfusedly, inseparably and unchangeably, intelligence alone discerning a unity, to avoid the error of confusion. For we equally detest the blasphemy of division and of commixture. For when we confess two natures and two natural wills, and two natural operations in our one Lord Jesus Christ, we do not assert that they are contrary or opposed one to the other (as those who err from the path of truth and accuse the apostolic tradition of doing. Far be this impiety from the hearts of the faithful!), nor as though separated (per se separated) in two persons or subsistences, but we say that as the same our Lord Jesus Christ has two natures so also he has two natural wills and operations, to wit, the divine and the human: the divine will and operation he has in common with the coessential Father from all eternity: the human, he has received from us, taken with our nature in time. This is the apostolic and evangelic tradition, which the spiritual mother of your most felicitous empire, the Apostolic Church of Christ, holds. . . .
And therefore I beseech you with a contrite heart and rivers of tears, with prostrated mind, deign to stretch forth your most clement right hand to the Apostolic doctrine which the co-worker of your pious labours, the blessed apostle Peter, has delivered, that it be not hidden under a bushel, but that it be preached in the whole earth more shrilly than a bugle: because the true confession thereof for which Peter was pronounced blessed by the Lord of all things, was revealed by the Father of heaven, for he received from the Redeemer of all himself, by three commendations, the duty of feeding the spiritual sheep of the Church; under whose protecting shield, this Apostolic Church of his has never turned away from the path of truth in any direction of error, whose authority, as that of the Prince of all the Apostles, the whole Catholic Church, and the Ecumenical Synods have faithfully embraced, and followed in all things; and all the venerable Fathers have embraced its Apostolic doctrine, through which they as the most approved luminaries of the Church of Christ have shone; and the holy orthodox doctors have venerated and followed it, while the heretics have pursued it with false criminations and with derogatory hatred. This is the living tradition of the Apostles of Christ, which his Church holds everywhere, which is chiefly to be loved and fostered, and is to be preached with confidence, which conciliates with God through its truthful confession, which also renders one commendable to Christ the Lord, which keeps the Christian empire of your Clemency, . . . For this is the rule of the true faith, which this spiritual mother of your most tranquil empire, the Apostolic Church of Christ, has both in prosperity and in adversity always held and defended with energy; which, it will be proved, by the grace of Almighty God, has never erred from the path of the apostolic tradition, nor has she been depraved by yielding to heretical innovations, but from the beginning she has received the Christian faith from her founders, the princes of the Apostles of Christ, and remains undefiled unto the end, according to the divine promise of the Lord and Saviour himself, which he uttered in the holy Gospels to the prince of his disciples: saying, "Peter, Peter, behold, Satan has desired to have you, that he might sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for you, that (your) faith fail not. And when you are converted, strengthen your brethren." Let your tranquil Clemency therefore consider, since it is the Lord and Saviour of all, whose faith it is, that promised that Peter's faith should not fail and exhorted him to strengthen his brethren, how it is known to all that the Apostolic pontiffs, the predecessors of my littleness, have always confidently done this very thing: of whom also our littleness, since I have received this ministry by divine designation, wishes to be the follower, although unequal to them and the least of all. (Translated by Henry Percival. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 14. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. [Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1900.] Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3813.htm>. Embedded links removed.)
As the Council proceeded, the Monothelites brought forward the letters of Honorius to Sergius and tried to use Honorius to defend their own position. "We have not invented these new expressions, but have only taught what we have received by tradition from the holy Œcumenical Synods, the holy Fathers, from Sergius and his successors, and from Pope Honorius and from Cyrus of Alexandria, in regard to the will and the energy, and we are ready to prove this” (Hefele 152) The Council Fathers thus read Honorius's letters and all the other relevant documents. Finally, after considering everything, the Council Fathers made this response:
After we had read the doctrinal letters of Sergius of Constantinople to Cyrus of Phasis and to Pope Honorius, as well as the letter of the latter to Sergius, we find that these documents are quite foreign to the apostolic dogmas, also to the declarations of the holy Councils, and all the Fathers of repute, and follow the false teachings of the heretics; therefore we entirely reject them, and execrate them as hurtful to the soul (hasque invenientes omnino alienas existere ab apostolicis dogmatibus et a definitionibus sanctorum conciliorum et cunctorum probabilium Patrum, sequi vero falsas doctrinas hæreticorum, eas omnimodo abjicimus, et tamquam animæ noxias exsecramur). But the names of these men must also be thrust forth from the Church, namely, that of Sergius, who first wrote on this impious doctrine; further, that of Cyrus of Alexandria, of Pyrrhus, Paul, and Peter of Constantinople, and of Theodore of Pharan, all of whom Pope Agatho rejected in his letter to the Emperor. We anathematise them all. And along with them, it is our unanimous decree that there shall be expelled from the Church and anathematised, Honorius, formerly Pope of Old Rome, because we found in his letter to Sergius that in all respects he followed his view and confirmed his impious doctrines (Cum his vero simul projici a sancta Dei catholica ecclesia simulque anathematizari prævidimus et Honorium, qui fuerat Papa antiquæ Romæ, eo quod invenimus per scripta, quæ ab eo facta sunt ad Sergium, quia in omnibus ejus mentem secutus est, impia dogmata confirmavit). We have also examined the synodal letter of Sophronius, and have found it in accordance with the true faith and the apostolic and patristic doctrines. Therefore we received it as useful to the Catholic and apostolic Church, and decreed that his name should be put upon the diptychs of the holy Church. (Hefele 166-167)
Finally, the Council Fathers put forward their definition of faith, which "was subscribed by the papal legates, by all the bishops and episcopal representatives, 174 in number, and, last of all, also by the Emperor" (Hefele 173-174). In it, Monothelitism is condemned as heretical, and all its supporters anathematized, and Honorius is named as a supporter. Then, the Fathers addressed the Emperor, praising him and Pope Agatho for carrying forward the whole affair, and asking the Emperor to ratify their conclusions:
But the highest prince of the Apostles fought with us: for we had on our side his imitator and the successor in his see, who also had set forth in his letter the mystery of the divine word (θεολογίας). For the ancient city of Rome handed you a confession of divine character, and a chart from the sunsetting raised up the day of dogmas, and made the darkness manifest, and Peter spoke through Agatho, and you, O autocratic King, according to the divine decree, with the Omnipotent Sharer of your throne, judged.
But, O benign and justice-loving Lord, do this favour in return to him who has bestowed your power upon you; and give, as a seal to what has been defined by us, your imperial ratification in writing, and so confirm them with the customary pious edicts and constitutions, that no one may contradict the things which have been done, nor raise any fresh question. (New Advent)
Afterwards, the Council sent a letter to Pope Agatho informing him of what the Council had decided. Once again, the Council affirms plainly that Honorius, among others, was condemned, but it also, once again, reflects in the letter many of the same sentiments regarding the place and authority of the Apostolic See which Pope Agatho had put forth in his earlier letter (and which are commonly asserted by Fathers of both the East and the West, by the way, throughout the First Millennium of the Church):
The holy and ecumenical council which by the grace of God and the pious sanction of the most pious and faithful Constantine, the great Emperor, has been gathered together in this God-preserved and royal city, Constantinople, the new Rome, in the Secretum of the imperial (θείου, sacri) palace called Trullus, to the most holy and most blessed pope of Old Rome, Agatho, health in the Lord.
Serious illnesses call for greater helps, as you know, most blessed [father]; and therefore Christ our true God, who is the creator and governing power of all things, gave a wise physician, namely your God-honoured sanctity, to drive away by force the contagion of heretical pestilence by the remedies of orthodoxy, and to give the strength of health to the members of the church. Therefore to you, as to the bishop of the first see of the Universal Church, we leave what must be done, since you willingly take for your standing ground the firm rock of the faith, as we know from having read your true confession in the letter sent by your fatherly beatitude to the most pious emperor: and we acknowledge that this letter was divinely written (perscriptas) as by the Chief of the Apostles, and through it we have cast out the heretical sect of many errors which had recently sprung up, having been urged to making a decree by Constantine who divinely reigns, and wields a most clement sceptre. And by his help we have overthrown the error of impiety, having as it were laid siege to the nefarious doctrine of the heretics. And then tearing to pieces the foundations of their execrable heresy, and attacking them with spiritual and paternal arms, and confounding their tongues that they might not speak consistently with each other, we overturned the tower built up by these followers of this most impious heresy; and we slew them with anathema, as lapsed concerning the faith and as sinners, in the morning outside the camp of the tabernacle of God, that we may express ourselves after the manner of David, in accordance with the sentence already given concerning them in your letter, and their names are these: Theodore, bishop of Pharan, Sergius, Honorius, Cyrus, Paul, Pyrrhus and Peter. Moreover, in addition to these, we justly subjected to the anathema of heretics those also who live in their impiety which they have received, or, to speak more accurately, in the impiety of these God-hated persons, Apollinaris, Severus and Themestius, to wit, Macarius, who was the bishop of the great city of Antioch (and him we also stripped deservedly of his pastor's robes on account of his impenitence concerning the orthodox faith and his obstinate stubbornness), and Stephen, his disciple in craziness and his teacher in impiety, also Polychronius, who was inveterate in his heretical doctrines, thus answering to his name; and finally all those who impenitently have taught or do teach, or now hold or have held similar doctrines.
Up to now grief, sorrow, and many tears have been our portion. For we cannot laugh at the fall of our neighbours, nor exult with joy at their unbridled madness, nor have we been elated that we might fall all the more grievously because of this thing; not thus, O venerable and sacred head, have we been taught, we who hold Christ, the Lord of the universe, to be both benign and man-loving in the highest degree; . . . Thus, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, and instructed by your doctrine, we have cast forth the vile doctrines of impiety, making smooth the right path of orthodoxy, being in every way encouraged and helped in so doing by the wisdom and power of our most pious and serene Emperor Constantine. . . . we have set forth clearly with you the shining light of the orthodox faith, and we pray your paternal sanctity to confirm our decree by your honourable rescript; through which we confide in good hope in Christ that his merciful kindness will grant freely to the Roman State, committed to the care of our most clement Emperor, stability; and will adorn with daily yokes and victories his most serene clemency; and that in addition to the good things he has here bestowed upon us, he will set your God-honoured holiness before his tremendous tribunal as one who has sincerely confessed the true faith, preserving it unsullied and keeping good ward over the orthodox flocks committed to him by God. (New Advent)
Pope Agatho is acknowledged as "most blessed father," the "venerable and sacred head." To him is attributed the health of the Church. His is "the first see of the Universal Church," to whom the Council Fathers "leave what must be done, since you willingly take for your standing ground the firm rock of the faith." His letter was "divinely written as by the Chief of the Apostles." The Council Fathers, "instructed by your doctrine," had defeated the heretics "in accordance with the sentence already given concerning them in your letter." They have "set forth clearly with you the shining light of the orthodox faith," and they request confirmation from the Pope of their decree, that his "paternal sanctity" would "confirm our decree by your honourable rescript." They close by praying that Christ "will set your God-honoured holiness before his tremendous tribunal as one who has sincerely confessed the true faith, preserving it unsullied and keeping good ward over the orthodox flocks committed to him by God."
And yet, for all this, Honorius was condemned.
How did the Popes respond to this? Pope Agatho died before the Council could communicate their results to him. So the Council informed his successor, Pope Leo II. The Emperor sent him a letter, telling him "how all the members of the Synod had assented to the doctrinal letter of Pope Agatho, with the exception of Macarius of Antioch and his adherents. These had been deposed by the Synod, but had requested in writing that they should be sent to the Pope, which the Emperor now did, and left the decision of their affair to his Holiness" (Hefele 179).
Here is Pope Leo II's response, in a letter to the Emperor:
Agatho of apostolic memory, together with this honourable Synod, preached this norm of the right apostolic tradition. This he sent by letter ... to your piety by his own legates, demonstrating it and confirming it by the usage of the holy and approved teachers of the Church. And now the holy and great Synod, celebrated by the favour of God and your own, has accepted it and embraced it in all things with us, as recognizing in it the pure teaching of blessed Peter, the prince of the apostles and discovering in it the marks of sound piety. Therefore the holy and universal sixth Synod, which by the will of God your clemency summoned and presided, has followed in all things the teaching of the apostles and approved Fathers. And because, as we have said, it has perfectly preached the definition of the true faith which the Apostolic See of blessed Peter the apostle (whose office we unworthy hold) also reverently receives, therefore we, and by our ministry this reverend Apostolic See, whollv and with full agreement do consent to the definitions made by it, and by the authority of blessed Peter do confirm them, even as we have received firmness from the Lord Himself upon the firm rock which is Christ" . . .
And in like manner we anathematize the inventors of the new error, that is, Theodore, Bishop of Pharan, Sergius, Pyrrhus, Paul, and Peter, betrayers rather than leaders of the Church of Constantinople, 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." (Dom John Chapman, The Condemnation of Pope Honorius [London: Catholic Truth Society, 1907], 113-114, italics in original)
Leo II communicated this decision in other letters as well. Dom John Chapman gives us snippets from a couple of these, to provide a feel for how Leo II tended to express what Honorius had done:
[Leo,] in his letter to the Spanish King Erwig, [says]: "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." (Chapman, John. "Pope Honorius I." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 28 Jul. 2019 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07452b.htm>)
The condemnation of Pope Honorius was reiterated routinely many times in subsequent Church history:
The anathemas on Pope Honorius have been again and again confirmed. A few years later he is included in the list of heretics by the Trullan Synod, a Council whose canons were not, however, and could not be received by Rome and the West. But the seventh and eighth oecumenical Councils did the same, although the eighth Council formally declared that the Church of Rome had never erred. (Chapman, Condemnation of Pope Honorius, p. 115)
Also, "The Papal Oath as found in the Liber Diurnus  taken by each new Pope from the fifth to the eleventh century, in the form probably prescribed by Gregory II., 'smites with eternal anathema the originators of the new heresy, Sergius, etc., together with Honorius, because he assisted the base assertion of the heretics'" ("Excursus on the Condemnation of Pope Honorius," from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 14. Translated by Henry Percival. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. [Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1900.], taken from the plain text version found on the website of the Christian Classics Ethereal Library)
So, to sum up the most salient points, Pope Honorius made comments in letters to Sergius, Bishop of Constantinople, in which he used language that lent itself to being interpreted in such a way as to give sanction and support to what would later be called the Monothelite heresy--the idea that Christ did not have a fully human will and a fully divine will but only one will. The Fathers of the Sixth Ecumenical Council condemned and anathematized him as one who endorsed and promoted the Monothelite error. This conclusion was endorsed and supported by Pope Leo II and by subsequent popes and councils--while, at the same time, the conviction continued to be maintained by those in both the East and the West that the Apostolic See of Rome, as the successor of St. Peter, has the primacy and is kept free from error by the promise of Christ.
So what do we make of all of this? Is there a defeater here to the idea of papal reliability and infallibility, as Catholic doctrine defines these?
First of all, what exactly did Honorius do? Did he endorse the Monothelite heresy? This is a somewhat complex issue, as we've seen. When Honorius wrote to Sergius, the terms of the Monothelite controversy had not yet been fully defined, and he may not have understood the full implications of the questions under discussion. He also used language in those letters that make it sound like he did understand that there are, in a sense, two kinds of "acting" done by the one person of Christ--the acting done by the human nature and the acting done by the divine nature. So I don't think there is enough evidence in the record to convict Honorius of the full-blown Monothelite position, or to say that he would have supported that position if he had lived long enough to see the full development of the controversy. However, he undoubtedly used language that lent itself to Monothelite interpretation and, by doing so, certainly lent credibility to and promoted the progress of that heresy.
While earlier popes had defended Honorius from the charge of Monothelitism, the Fathers of the Sixth Ecumenical Council certainly condemned him as following and therefore aiding the Monothelite opinion. Pope Leo II did not dispute the Council's conclusions regarding Honorius, but instead enthusiastically endorsed them, even adding his own words of criticism. Honorius "did not attempt to sanctify this Apostolic Church with the teaching of apostolic tradition, but by profane treachery permitted its purity to be polluted." He "did not, as became the Apostolic authority, extinguish the flame of heretical teaching in its first beginning, but fostered it by his negligence." Later popes and councils reaffirmed these criticisms. All of this is compatible, I think, with affirming that Honorius was not a full-blown Monothelite. But even if he wasn't, he did indeed, by his words, follow and confirm Bishop Sergius's opinions and thus promoted what grew into the full-fledged Monothelite heresy.
Did Honorius give an ex cathedra, definitive, infallibly unchangeable opinion in his letters to Sergius? I don't see that there is enough evidence to conclude that he did. Remember, the Church tells us that "no doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident." Although Honorius certainly gave his opinion to Sergius and intentionally encouraged him to go in certain directions in terms of what he should affirm and say, it is not manifestly evident that Honorius was intending to issue an unchangeable, infallible decree for the entire Church.
While the Council Fathers and Pope Leo II are clear in condemning Honorius, yet, as I mentioned, they and subsequent Fathers, Councils, and Popes continue from this point on to affirm what they had affirmed before--the primacy, authority, and infallibility of the Apostolic See of Rome. At no point during the First Millennium is there ever, to my knowledge, any attempt by anybody to explain how these two positions can be harmonized. And yet these Fathers clearly did not see their affirmations as being in conflict. Therefore, whatever we say about Honorius or about papal reliability, if we are to be faithful in representing the position of these Fathers, we must not attempt to pit the one against the other. And it so happens that once we examine the issue with careful scrutiny and an accurate understanding of Catholic doctrine, we can see that there is indeed no conflict between, on the one hand, affirming the reliability and infallibility of the Roman See, and, on the other hand, affirming that Pope Honorius, by his unorthodox and misleading language, promoted and abetted the Monothelite heresy and so was justly condemned for doing so. Catholic teaching does not hold that Popes will always act wisely or ethically, or that they will not cause scandals, or that they will not be negligent in their duties, and be worthy of condemnation for any of these things. (Just think of Peter, the first Pope!) What it does say is that God has promised that the Pope will be protected from actually authoritatively teaching error to the Church and binding them to it. The Pope might lead people into error or evil by his bad example, by not responding effectively to heresy, or by not standing up for truth. He might non-definitively teach incomplete truths, or positions that require further clarification, or even positions that should be accepted provisionally but which may require augmentation or correction when new information comes to light or when the Church makes further doctrinal progress in understanding certain implications of divine revelation. But, according to the promise of Christ, the Pope will never use his authority to teach the Church to embrace a position that rather ought to be rejected as false. It cannot be shown that Honorius did that. His crime was not that he taught definitively the full-blown Monothelite heresy (if he had done that, that would have been fatal to the idea of papal reliability and infallibility). His crime, so it appears to me from my best reading of the evidence, was that he endorsed a position that was in fact true--Christ did not have two conflicting wills--but in a way that failed to clarify that position from one that was false, and so his words had the effect of promoting the spread of that false view and so aiding the development of a full-blown heretical position. Instead of nipping the heresy in the bud, in his negligence he ended up promoting it with what he said. This was his objective guilt, however subjectively culpable he might have been.
In conclusion, then, while I grant that the issues are nuanced and subtle, upon careful examination I don't see anything in this incident that could legitimately be used to disprove Catholic teachings regarding papal reliability or infallibility.
Published on the feast of St. Peter Chrysologus, Doctor of the Church