*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 16th of September 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Let’s go back in time, a little further than recently, today to the year 681 and the Third Council of Constantinople. You should know a few things.
First: in 681, the Roman Empire has fallen. But before it died, it split in two, and so the Eastern Empire- located in Constantinople with an Emperor, had considerable sway with the church. At that time, the Church had five major centers of authority: Rome, Constantinople, Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch.
Being in the 600s, it is also the century of the birth and spread of Islam. As conflicts arose, it could make travel across Europe more difficult- and movement would be necessary for “Ecumenical Councils”- that is, one of the first seven councils of the church where, for the most part, all corners of the church were invited to work through issues of doctrine. Statements like the “Nicene Creed” are a summation of the teachings from the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea.
OK- so, this is the second to last of these Ecumenical councils (councils have continued, but they are local in a jurisdiction). The Eastern Emperor knew that there were some Christians who had been officially booted from the church on account of their doctrine of the Deity of Christ. There were also some theologians who thought that it was a bad decision and sought to re-integrate these Christians back into the church. Also- these Christians were in the Middle East, where they could make nice allies to the church in the face of Muslim expansion.
So, a council was called by the Eastern Emperor Constantine IV, and 43 bishops came to meet in Constantinople. It’s worth not in that this was the smallest of all seven in large part because of where the council was being held and the issues of safe travel in light of the newly expanding Muslim empire.
The fear was that the Patriarch of Antioch and Constantinople and a former Patriarch (or Pope) at Rome held to Monothelitism. That is, while Jesus had a divine and human nature, he only had one (mono) will (thelema). It was throwing a bone to those Christians who thought too much was made of Jesus’ human nature and that this diminished the divinity of Jesus.
It was a VERY important issue, even if it might seem pretty academic and remote. It is an answer to the fundamental question of Jesus to us all: who do you say that I am? It was an attempt to affirm that he is the God-Man- the “I am” he claimed to be as well as the Son of Man.
The church condemned the doctrine of Monothelitism at this council. It seems that the patriarch of Constantinople agreed to change his doctrine while the patriarch of Antioch did not. The former pope- Honorarius, had held to this doctrine, and thus the council claimed that the pope was wrong. During the Middle Ages and into the Reformation, this point would often be brought up. It seemed a council had authority over the Pope, and the Pope could be wrong!
There is also a story that seems a required element by all historians recalling this 6th ecumenical council. A follower of the impenitent Patriarch of Antioch named Polychronious had an interesting approach to arguing the truth of the doctrine of Monothelitism. A dead man was brought into the proceedings, and a copy of a confession of faith-affirming Monothelitism was placed on his chest. Polychronious then claimed that he would resurrect this man by whispering in his ear. He did, and the dude stayed dead. Game over.
The doctrines are interesting, but more so (at least for me) is the idea that the church made decisions together- the “ecumenical” councils would, unfortunately, cease after the Second Council of Nicaea a century and a half later in 787.
Today we remember the closing of the penultimate ecumenical council- the Third Council at Constantinople on this the 16th of September in 638.
The Last Word for today comes from the lectionary for today from Romans 8:
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 16th of September 2022, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who is celebrating, with the rest of us, National Guacamole Day. He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who swears, if you put onions in your guacamole, you will be held accountable on judgment day. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.