Third Council of Constantinople (680-681): Does Jesus has one nature / operation or two?


Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, now Istanbul, first built in 360 AD

Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

The best way to demystify Trinity and other dogma of Christianity, where they differ from Judaism and Islam, is to study their history. Trinity should be studied in the history of the first six Ecumenical Councils and even beyond.

Let me say in the very beginning; for the devout Christian readers, viewers’ discretion is advised. But, if you decide to read it, let me say: Read on, and in the words of Sir Francis Bacon’s advice, “Read not to contradict … but to weigh and consider.”

If you choose to read this there is no need to worry about loss of faith, because it can always be replaced with a better one with more wholesome understanding.

The Third Council of Constantinople is believed to have been the Sixth Ecumenical Council by the Eastern Orthodox, the Roman Catholics, the Old Catholics, and a number of other Western Christian groups. According to Encyclopedia Britannica:

The Third Council of Constantinople was held in (680–681), the sixth ecumenical council of the Christian church, summoned by the emperor Constantine IV and meeting at Constantinople.

Some eastern Christians, forbidden to talk of the concept of one nature of Christ, thought to enforce the unity of the person of Christ by talking of one will (thelema) and one operation (energeia) from the two natures. Persons holding this view were called Monothelites. Sergius, patriarch of Constantinople, and Honorius I, pope of Rome, appear to have embraced the Monothelite doctrine. The council of 680–681 condemned the Monothelites, among them Honorius, and asserted two wills and two operations.[1]

This quote, by highlighting centuries of debates, not only talks volumes about the nature of Jesus in Christianity, but also about Christian dogma of Trinity and assertion of infallibility of the Popes.  Please note that Sergius, patriarch of Constantinople, and Honorius I, pope of Rome, believed in the Monothelite doctrine, which was declared heretical in the Third Council of Constantinople.

Almost 650 years after crucifixion of Jesus, may peace be on him, debates regarding his very basic nature continued to rage. No wonder, if one tries to change a man into a god, it is a mission impossible!

Sometimes the Christian apologists put a spin on these Councils, as if they were tackling only short term and later heresies and fallacies about the nature of Jesus and God. A more honest study of history reveals that the study of nature of Jesus is always a heresy. If it is a mystery and cannot be rationally described or understood then it naturally follows that humans can never have consensus about the nature of Jesus or any other Christian mystery. How can humans, rational beings, build a consensus on any irrationality?

It is the 6th Ecumenical Council and already 680 AD, yet hard to know who Jesus is? It is impossible to build a consensus on a paradox, on a hybrid who is half man and half divine, and to use a Christian expression, ‘perfect man and fully divine.’ The Christian debates of first seven centuries are a clear testimony for anyone who in not deeply indoctrinated in dogma of Christianity that Jesus is a man and according to the Islamic understanding, a prophet of God, like thousands of other prophets that God sent to guide mankind.

In logical terms Jesus cannot be man and God at the same time. Like a man cannot be a rock or an apple, at the same time; men, rocks and apples are different things!  Humans and God are different things, but the paradoxical Christian affirmation of Trinity is called a mystery because you cannot logically explain how Jesus can be both things at once. This is why the rational and insightful Christian theologians label the Christian dogma as mysteries for you cannot logically understand them. Either you adamantly stick to them in the name of faith or you trade them for some other better theology!

Sigmund Freud and other psychologists have given us theories and insights into human psychology. But, no Christian theologian has ever sensibly written on how two natures of Jesus coexisted and how infinite knowledge of god-Jesus flooded the finite psychology of man-Jesus without running it amok? Humanity is still waiting for a psychological theory to explain the two natures under the umbrella of ‘two wills and two operations,’ as asserted by this Council. Imagine dual personality? It is hard enough to understand ego, id and superego of John Doe, not to speak of combining it with ego, id and superego of Tom, Dick and Harry.

I agree it is terribly hard, if not impossible, to have a psychological understanding of ‘perfect man who is also fully divine,’ may be it is time to understand the psychology of those, who agreed to these doctrines, in the first few centuries of Christianity. May I suggest a book and videos about the book: 24 Video lectures: The Great Courses: How Jesus Became God?  and Video: How Jesus Became God, by Prof. Bart Ehrman?

May be, just may be, instead of the Christian mysteries, it is time to fully appreciate the simple yet elegant creed of Islam, ‘There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is a prophet of God?’

In contrast to mysterious claims of Christianity about Divinity and nature of Jesus, the Quranic ideas about God the Creator, His Transcendence and His attribute of a being, beyond direct human perception and the humanity of Jesus are insightful, rational and elegant.  These details were clearly laid out in the Quran and did not require centuries of debates, before 632 CE. the year prophet Muhammad died. Allah says:

Allah has produced you from a single living being and there is for you a home and a lodging. We have explained the Signs in detail for a people who understand.  And it is Allah, Who sends down water from the cloud; and We bring forth therewith every kind of growth; then We bring forth with that green foliage wherefrom We produce clustered grain. And from the date-palm, out of its sheaths, come forth bunches hanging low. And We produce therewith gardens of grapes, and the olive and the pomegranate — similar and dissimilar. Look at the fruit thereof when it bears fruit, and the ripening thereof. Surely, in this are Signs for a people who believe.  And they hold the Jinn to be partners with Allah, although He created them; and they falsely ascribe to Him sons and daughters without any knowledge. Holy is He and exalted far above what they attribute to Him! The Originator of the heavens and the earth! How can He (Allah) have a son when He has no consort, and when He has created everything and has knowledge of all things? Such is Allah, your Lord. There is no God but He, the Creator of all things, so worship Him. And He is Guardian over everything.  Eyes cannot reach Him but He reaches the eyes. And He is the Incomprehensible, the All-Aware.  Proofs have indeed come to you from your Lord; so whoever sees, it is for his own good; and whoever becomes blind, it is to his own harm. And I am not a guardian over you.  And thus do We expound the Signs in diverse ways that they should concede: ‘Thou hast explained it well;’ and that We may explain the Signs to a people who have knowledge.  (Al Quran 6:99-106)

The Quran lays an irrefutable argument against Jesus being son of God the Father. It says that for God to have a literal son, He needs to have a consort and He does not. So, God the Father or Allah as we say it in Islam, has no literal son. Case closed. QED.

My dear Trinitarian Christian brothers and sisters, if you read the debates of the first six Ecumenical Councils and the discussion of Nestorianism, with the possibility that the Islamic paradigm may be the correct one, you will find the truth, God Willing.[2] You will begin to think of Jesus as a man who was a good shepherd of his people and a prophet of God:

Fourth-century inscription, representing Jesus as the good shepherd.


1.  “Council of Constantinople.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 31 Mar. 2010 .


Suggested Reading

God of Islam: God of Nature and the Creator of our Universe

How Islam has Influenced Christian understanding of God

Refuting William Lane Craig’s: ‘The Birth of God’‏

Hagia Sophia from Wikipedia

Hagia Sophia (from the Greek: Ἁγία Σοφία, “Holy Wisdom“; Latin: Sancta Sophia or Sancta Sapientia; Turkish: Ayasofya) is a former Orthodox patriarchal basilica, later a mosque, and now a museum in Istanbul, Turkey. From the date of its dedication in 360 until 1453, it served as the Greek Patriarchal cathedral of Constantinople, except between 1204 and 1261, when it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Patriarch of Constantinople of the Western Crusader established Latin Empire. The building was a mosque from 29 May 1453 until 1931, when it was secularized. It was opened as a museum on 1 February 1935.[1]

The Church was dedicated to the Logos, the second person of the Holy Trinity,[2] its dedication feast taking place on 25 December, the anniversary of the Birth of the incarnation of the Logos in Christ.[2] Although it is sometimes referred to as Sancta Sophia (as though it were named after Saint Sophia), sophia is the phonetic spelling in Latin of the Greek word for wisdom – the full name in Greek being Ναός τῆς Ἁγίας τοῦ Θεοῦ Σοφίας, “Church of the Holy Wisdom of God”.[3][4]


The Third Council of Constantinople From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

The Third Council of Constantinople, counted as the Sixth Ecumenical Council by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches and other Christian groups, met in 680/681 and condemned monoenergism and monothelitism as heretical and defined Jesus Christ as having two energies and two wills (divine and human).[1]




Main article: Monothelitism

The Council settled a set of theological controversies that go back to the sixth century but had intensified under the Emperors Heraclius (610-641) and Constans II (641-668). Heraclius had set out to much of his Empire from the Persians and had attempted to bridge the controversy with Monophysitism, which was particularly strong in Syria and Egypt, by proposing a moderate theological position that had as good support in the tradition as any other. The result was first monoenergism, i.e. that Christ, though existing in two natures, had one energy (divine and human), the second was monothelitism, i.e. that Christ had one will (that is, that there was no opposition in Christ between his human and divine volition). This doctrine was accepted in most of the Byzantine world, but was opposed at Jerusalem and at Rome and started a controversy that persisted even after the loss of the reconquered provinces and the death of Heraclius. When Heraclius’ grandson Constans II took the throne, he saw the controversy as threatening the stability of the Empire and attempted to silence discussion, by outlawing speaking either in favour or against the doctrine. Pope Martin I and the monk Maximus, the foremost opponents of monothelitism (which they misinterpreted as denying a human faculty of will to Christ), held a synod in Rome in 649 that condemned monoenergism and monothelitism. Subsequently, they supported abortive attempts by usurpers to seize power, out of a belief that only a new and orthodox emperor would win divine protection for the empire against its enemies. At Constantinople, however, this was regarded as high treason, and Martin and Maximus were accordingly arrested, tried, condemned and sent into exile, where they soon died. A council at Constantinople in 662, attended by perhaps as many as 400 bishops, condemned both Martin and Maximus (among others), leading to schism with Rome and the western churches.

After Constans’ son and successor, Constantine IV had overcome the Muslim siege of Constantinople in 678, he immediately set his sights on restoring communion with Rome: he wrote to Pope Donus suggesting a conference on the matter. When the letter reached Rome, Donus had died, but his successor, Pope Agatho, agreed to the Emperor’s suggestion and ordered councils held throughout the West so that legates could present the tradition of the Western Church. Then he sent a delegation to meet the Easterners at Constantinople.[2] In the meantime, Constantine summoned Patriarch George I of Constantinople and all bishops of his jurisdiction of Constantinople to a council. He also summoned Patriarch Macarius of Antioch, a Byzantine appointee permanently resident in Constantinople because of the Muslim occupation of his see.


On 7 November 680, a mere 37 bishops and a number of presbyters convened in the imperial palace, in the domed hall called Trullo, from which the council also took the name Trullan Synod. The Patriarchs of Constantinople and of Antioch participated in person, whereas the patriarchates of Alexandria and Jerusalem were represented by Byzantine appointees (because of the Arab conquest there was at this date no patriarch in either of these sees). The POpe and a council he had held in Rome were represented (as was normal at eastern ecumenical councils) by a few priests and bishops. In its opening session, the council assumed the authority of an Ecumenical Council. The Emperor attended and presided over the first eleven sessions and returned for the closing session on 16 September 681, attended by 151 bishops.

During the council, a letter by Pope Agatho was read which asserted as the traditional belief of the Church that Christ was of two wills, divine and human. Most of the bishops present accepted the letter, proclaiming that Peter spoke through Agatho.[2] Macarius of Antioch defended monothelitism but was condemned and deposed, along with his partisans. The council, in keeping with Agatho’s letter, defined that Jesus Christ possessed two energies and two wills but that the human will was ‘in subjection to his divine and all-powerful will’. The council carefully avoided any mention of Maximus the Confessor, who was still regarded with suspicion. It condemned both monoenergism and monothelitism as heretical[1] and included those who had supported this heresy, including Pope Honorius I and four previous patriarchs of Constantinople. When the council had concluded, the decrees were sent to Rome where they were confirmed by Agatho’s successor, Pope Leo II [2] The subsequent Byzantine tradition came to interpret the decrees in line with the teaching of Maximus the Confessor, which brilliantly combined a recognition (shared with the monotheletes) that all Christ’s individual actions were directed by his divine will with an insistence that his human will nevertheless possessed true spontaneity, in virtue of its intrinsic drive (as created) to obey its Creator.


  1. ^ a b Ostrogorsky, p. 127.
  2. ^ a b c Joseph Brusher, S.J., Popes Through the Ages.


“Concilium Universale Constantinopolitanum Tertium”, in Acta Conciliorum Oecumenicorum, ser. 2, II.1-2. ed. R. Riedinger (Berlin 1990 and 1992).

  • Ostrogorsky, George. History of the Byzantine State. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. ISBN 0813505992
  • Ekonomou, Andrew J. 2007. Byzantine Rome and the Greek Popes: Eastern influences on Rome and the papacy from Gregory the Great to Zacharias, A.D. 590-752. Lexington Books.

External links


Tagged as:

6 replies

  1. Nestorius, a Prominent early Christian Believed Jesus to be Adopted son of God
    A Christian Deacon, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School, Dr. Jerald Dirks, who is now a Muslim explaining some of the doctrines of Christianity. His beliefs about crucifixion of Jesus are those of Sunni Muslims and not of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community:

  2. Sergius I: The promoter of monoenergism (that though Christ had two natures, there was but one operation or energy)

    [died Dec. 9, 638, Constantinople [now Istanbul, Turkey]

    According to Encyclopedia Britannica:

    The Greek Orthodox theologian and patriarch of Constantinople (610–638), one of the most forceful and independent churchmen to hold that office, who not only supported the emperor Heraclius (610–641) in the victorious defense of the Eastern Roman Empire against Persian and Avar invaders but also strove in the Christological controversy to achieve doctrinal unity throughout Eastern Christendom by submitting a compromise formula, later condemned as unorthodox.Assisting Heraclius in his campaigns of 622–28 with moral support and with the donation of the church treasury, Sergius functioned as regent and galvanized Byzantine resistance to enemy attacks west and east of Constantinople while the emperor was taking the field against the Persians in the outer provinces.In religious matters, particularly concerning Christology, Sergius was preoccupied in reconciling dissident monophysite Christians with the orthodox decrees of the general council of Chalcedon (451). The monophysites, however, steadfastly resisted Sergius’ indoctrination because he continued to maintain a functional humanity in Christ. About 633 Sergius won recognition for his theory of monoenergism (that though Christ had two natures, there was but one operation or energy) from Heraclius, who then ordered that doctrine propagated throughout the Byzantine Empire. Further support came about 633 from Cyrus, patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt. Though at first tolerated by Pope Honorius I (625–638), who responded to Sergius’ appeal that the terminology needed clarification, monoenergism met strong opposition led by Sophronius, patriarch of Jerusalem, and later was definitively rejected by both the Latin and Greek churches at the third Council of Constantinople (680/681). Still seeking a mediatory solution, Sergius formulated in 638 the doctrine of monothelitism, which asserted that Christ has both divine and human natures but only one (divine) will. Although this teaching was incorporated in Heraclius’ imperial edict, the Ecthesis, that same year, it was repudiated by both monophysite and Orthodox parties, and later the Latin church declared it heretical at a Roman council in 649.”

    Sergius I.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 31 Mar. 2010 .

  3. Difficulty in conceptualizing the hybrid of Jesus Christ
    An artist can draw only a human image of Jesus and as soon as he or she attempts to add any amount of divinity to the image, which according to Christian dogma is inseparable from his humanity, he or she has drawn a graven image, against the dictates of the Old Testament.

    The iconoclast Council of Hieria was a Christian council which viewed itself as ecumenical, but was later rejected by the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. It was summoned by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine V in 754 in the palace of Hieria opposite Constantinople. The council supported the iconoclast position of the emperors of this period. The Council first confirmed the previous Councils:

    Our holy synod therefore assembled, and we, its 338 members, follow the older synodal decrees, and accept and proclaim joyfully the dogmas handed down, principally those of the six holy Ecumenical Synods. In the first place the holy and ecumenical great synod assembled at Nice, etc.

    Verdict of the Iconoclastic Council, about nature of Jesus and related issues:

    When, however, they are blamed for undertaking to depict the divine nature of Christ, which should not be depicted, they take refuge in the excuse: We represent only the flesh of Christ which we have seen and handled. But that is a Nestorian error. For it should be considered that that flesh was also the flesh of God the Word, without any separation, perfectly assumed by the divine nature and made wholly divine. How could it now be separated and represented apart? So is it wish the human soul of Christ which mediates between the Godhead of the Son and the dulness of the flesh. As the human flesh is at the same time flesh of God the Word, so is the human soul also soul of God the Word, and both at the same time, the soul being deified as well as the body, and the Godhead remained undivided even in the separation of the soul from the body in his voluntary passion. For where the soul of Christ is, there is also his Godhead; and where the body of Christ is, there too is his Godhead. If then in his passion the divinity remained inseparable from these, how do the fools venture to separate the flesh from the Godhead, and represent it by itself as the image of a mere man? They fall into the abyss of impiety, since they separate the flesh from the Godhead, ascribe to it a subsistence of its own, a personality of its own, which they depict, and thus introduce a fourth person into the Trinity. Moreover, they represent as not being made divine, that which has been made divine by being assumed by the Godhead. Whoever, then, makes an image of Christ, either depicts the Godhead which cannot be depicted, and mingles it with the manhood (like the Monophysites), or he represents the body of Christ as not made divine and separate and as a person apart, like the Nestorians.

    The only admissible figure of the humanity of Christ, however, is bread and wine in the holy Supper. This and no other form, this and no other type, has he chosen to represent his incarnation. Bread he ordered to be brought, but not a representation of the human form, so that idolatry might not arise. And as the body of Christ is made divine, so also this figure of the body of Christ, the bread, is made divine by the descent of the Holy Spirit; it becomes the divine body of Christ by the mediation of the priest who, separating the oblation from that which is common, sanctifies it.

    Let me add to the mix here a short quote from the verdict of the second Council of Nicaea, which is also called the seventh Ecumenical Council, accepted by the Roman Catholic as well as the Eastern Orthodox Church:

    Although the Catholic Church pictures Christ in his humanity, it does not separate his flesh from the Divinity that is joined with it. On the contrary it believes that the flesh is deified and professes it to be one with the Divinity.

    All the Ecumenical Councils about Trinity and nature of Jesus are merely a play on the words, with no substance, for example, the mortal human mind does not know what deified flesh is? Flesh is human, has 46 chromosomes, enzymes, proteins, fats and carbohydrates, deified flesh is an oxymoron! But, it is a contradiction that keeps on giving. When a picture of Jesus is drawn and his flesh cannot be separated from his divinity then a graven image has been drawn, against the teaching of the Old Testament and when bread and wine become Jesus, is it an idol or not?

    With due deference to the sensibilities of our Christian brothers and sisters, allow me to say that insistence on the divinity of Jesus, creates an awkward situation and moves matters from rationality into the domain of Alice in wonderland. I can only sum it up in one phrase, given to us by Soren Kierkgaard, a devoted Christian, Paradox par Excellence! Contradictions keep on giving! According to Christian dogma Jesus’ divinity is inseparable from his humanity, but when Pope Honorius I tries to conceptualize the situation as one will (thelema) rather than two wills, he is condemned by the Roman Catholic Church. A Church condemning its own Pope?

  4. Honorius I and Papal infallibility

    There was a period of time in history, when there were two Popes, both having ex-communicated the other. So much for the doctrine of infallibility and of the value of tradition. As regards Honorius I, according to Encyclopedia Britannica:

    Honorius I, (born , Roman Campania [Italy]—died Oct. 12, 638), pope from 625 to 638 whose posthumous condemnation as a heretic subsequently caused extensive controversy on the question of papal infallibility.

    Nothing is known of his life before he became pope; he was elected to succeed Pope Boniface IV on Oct. 27, 625. Modeling his pontificate after Pope St. Gregory I the Great, he worked for the Christianization of the Anglo-Saxons, bestowing the pallium (i.e., the symbol of metropolitan jurisdiction) on Archbishop St. Honorius of Canterbury and Bishop St. Paulinus of York, inducing the Christian Celts to accept the Roman liturgy and date of Easter and dispatching St. Birinus (later bishop of Dorchester) to mission in the ancient English kingdom of Wessex.

    Influential in Italy, Honorius helped rescue Roman structures from ruin and sponsored a restoration program of important Christian edifices, including Santa Agnese Fuori le Mura. He ended the schism caused when Istria was among certain provinces refusing to accept the second Council (553) of Constantinople’s condemnation of the Three Chapters, a massive theological controversy between West and East over the Nestorian church. In cooperation with several church councils, Honorius reorganized the church in Spain’s recently converted Visigothic kingdom.

    The crux of Honorius’ pontificate was his role in the Byzantine church’s controversy concerning monophysitism, a heresy teaching that Christ has only one nature rather than two (i.e., human and divine), and monothelitism, a related heresy maintaining that Christ has only one will. When in 634 Patriarch Sergius of Constantinople called for an end to the controversy and proposed that both East and West support the doctrine of “one will” in Christ, Honorius replied by referring to the Council of Chalcedon’s confession of faith (451), which held that Christ’s natures were indivisible and which he interpreted as meaning a single will in Christ. He then forbade further discussion on the subject.

    In 680 the third Council of Constantinople was summoned by the Byzantine emperor Constantine IV Pogonatus to settle the controversy, which still raged. Because the council decreed that Christ had two wills, Honorius’ doctrine was condemned as being pro-monothelitic. Pope St. Leo II confirmed the condemnation in 682, saying that Honorius “allowed the immaculate faith to be stained” by teaching not “in accord with apostolic tradition.” Refusing to accept Honorius’ doctrine, his successors condemned monothelitism, thus straining relations between Rome and Constantinople. Further, his questionable orthodoxy was revived and used by opponents of papal infallibility at the first Vatican Council (1869–70). Honorius’ defenders denied that his statements were official, maintaining that his teaching was imprudent rather than heretical, and many scholars believe that it is debatable whether he was a heretic. They hold that he seems to have misunderstood the point at issue, noting that his language is partially vague.

    “Honorius I.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 31 Jan. 2012. .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.