Did the Anathema of Pope Honorius change Rome’s view on Her Magisterial Inerrancy? A Tension Awaiting Resolution.

Readers of my material will be familiar, perhaps overly so, with the 6th-century Libellus Hormisdae (Formula of Hormisdas). This was a formula with the condition of union for the Greek bishops who had broken away from public and pure assent to the Council of Chalcedon, the Tome of Pope St. Leo, and the communion of the Roman See. Readers will recall that this formula contained one of the starkest claims of Papal infallibility in the 1st millennium accepted by both West and East. Recent posts have drawn my attention to the “lapse” in faith by Pope Honorius as recognized by the 6th ecumenical Council and the Roman Pontiffs from then and onward for centuries. The letter of Pope Agatho which also made clear claims to Papal infallibility was written before the Church recognized one of the Roman Pontiffs had hereticalized. The Formula of Hormisdas, likewise, was written more than 100 years before the Honorius event. A question, therefore, may rise to the surface as to whether the anathema of Honorius “the heretic!”, as the Council exclaimed, changed the perception within Rome and elsewhere on the claims of Hormisdas and Agatho.

We get a clue, though not a satisfactory answer, from a future ecumenical council. The condemnation of Honorius gets reiterated at the Quinisext Council (692) and the Council of Nicaea II (787), but neither council of these gives any clear recognition of Roman infallibility. However, the Council of Constantinople (869-79) does speak about Roman infallibility while also reiterated the anathema of Honorius! So what we have here in the 8th ecumenical council of the Catholic Church is a reiteration of the Formula of Hormisdas (519) redacted to fit the new circumstances, which claims that Rome has never turned aside from the truth, and then also a description of Honorius’s crime, which was initiating a heresy, as well as a reiteration of Honorius’s anathematization for teaching one-will in Christ. Talk about leaving students of history with a tension!!

Let me give you the relevant sections.

Salvation lies first and foremost in keeping the rule of the orthodox faith, and then in departing in no way from the decrees of God and the fathers. Of these one pertains to faith and the other to good works. For as it is written, ‘Without faith it is impossible to please God’, so we also read, ‘Faith without works is dead.’ And as it is impossible to overlook the saying of our Lord Jesus Christ, You are Peter and on this rock I shall build my Church’, so these words are proved by the actual outcome, since the catholic religion has always been preserved without stain, and the holy doctrines preached, in the apostolic see. Since therefore we have no desire to depart from her faith and doctrine, but in all things the decrees of the fathers and in particular of the holy bishops of the apostolic see, we anathematize all the heresies together with the iconomachs. We also anathematize Photius, who, after being suddenly raised up from curial administration and secular service, contrary to the sacred canons and the venerable decrees of the holy Roman Pontiffs, was through an invasion, indeed usurpation, installed by certain anathematized and deposed schismatics in the church of Constantinople while the patriarch Ignatius was still alive, until in stubborn disobedience to the decrees of the apostolic see he spurned its verdict both on him and on our patriarch Ignatius, and refused to anathematize the acts of the petty synod which under his leadership had convened in a manner contrary to the respect to the apostolic see…. Because, as we have already said, we follow the apostolic see in all things and observe all its decrees, we hope for the favour of enjoying the single communion that the apostolic see proclaims, in which is the complete and true totality of the Christian religion. And as regards those who are separated from the communion of the catholic church, namely, those who are in opposition to the apostolic see, we promise not to read out their names in the sacred mysteries.” (Price 129-131).

In the 7th session, a statement by Pope Hadrian II from a Roman Synod (869) is read aloud to the Council:

“For even though Honorius was anathematized after his death by the easterners, it should be known that he had been accused of heresy, which is the only offence where inferiors have the right to resist the initiatives of their superiors or are free to reject their false opinions..” (Price, 314)

In the 10th session, we read:

Together with the aforesaid councils we accept as in harmony and agreement the holy ecumenical sixth council, which sagely asserted that in the two natures of the one Christ there are in consequence two operations and the same number of wills; we therefore anathematize Theodore bishop of Pharan, Sergius, Pyrrhus, Paul and Peter, the impious bishops of the church of Constantinople, and with them Honorius of Rome together with Cyrus of Alexandria, Macarius of Antioch and his disciple Stephen, who, following the doctrines and false opinions of the impious heresiarchs Apollinarius, Eutyches and Severus, taught without sense or reason that the flesh of God, animated by a rational and intellectual soul, lacks both will and operation.” (Price, 414)

So what we have here is a reiteration of the Formula of Hormisdas (519) redacted to fit the new circumstances, which claims that Rome has never turned aside from the truth, and then also a description of Honorius’s crime, which was initiating a heresy, as well as a reiteration of Honorius’s anathematization for teaching one-will in Christ.

One Argument Eastern Orthodox Can’t Answer?

Recently watched the episode on R&T entitled “One Argument Eastern Orthodox Can’t Answer!”, previously entitled “An Orthodox Professor’s to Papal Infallibility at Constantinople III”. This affords an opportunity to look further into something pertinent to the question of papal error from a historical point of view. In this video, Michael Lofton sought to explain how the acceptance of Agatho’s letter at the Council of Constantinople (681) is a proof that Eastern Orthodoxy had accepted the essence of Vatican 1 (1870) in her own dogmatic history, in no less than the context of an Ecumenical Council. Thus far, this does stand to be true. As far as I can see, anyway.

However, Lofton then tries to reconcile how it is that the Council can anathematize Pope Honorius for heresy with the claims of Pope Agatho on how the see of Rome had been, both hitherto and forever more, unblemished without any error. Pope Leo II, who was the Pope who ratified the Council after reading about the heresy of Honorius, also ratified the anathema against Honorius for heresy. In his own words, Honorius was guilty of heresy because he “๐‘‘๐‘–๐‘‘ ๐‘›๐‘œ๐‘ก ๐‘Ž๐‘ก๐‘ก๐‘’๐‘š๐‘๐‘ก ๐‘ก๐‘œ ๐‘ ๐‘Ž๐‘›๐‘๐‘ก๐‘–๐‘“๐‘ฆ ๐‘กโ„Ž๐‘–๐‘  ๐ด๐‘๐‘œ๐‘ ๐‘ก๐‘œ๐‘™๐‘–๐‘ ๐ถโ„Ž๐‘ข๐‘Ÿ๐‘โ„Ž ๐‘ค๐‘–๐‘กโ„Ž ๐‘กโ„Ž๐‘’ ๐‘ก๐‘’๐‘Ž๐‘โ„Ž๐‘–๐‘›๐‘” ๐‘œ๐‘“ ๐ด๐‘๐‘œ๐‘ ๐‘ก๐‘œ๐‘™๐‘–๐‘ ๐‘ก๐‘Ÿ๐‘Ž๐‘‘๐‘–๐‘ก๐‘–๐‘œ๐‘›, ๐‘๐‘ข๐‘ก ๐‘๐‘ฆ ๐‘๐‘Ÿ๐‘œ๐‘“๐‘Ž๐‘›๐‘’ ๐‘ก๐‘Ÿ๐‘’๐‘Ž๐‘โ„Ž๐‘’๐‘Ÿ๐‘ฆ ๐‘๐‘’๐‘Ÿ๐‘š๐‘–๐‘ก๐‘ก๐‘’๐‘‘ ๐‘–๐‘ก๐‘  ๐‘๐‘ข๐‘Ÿ๐‘–๐‘ก๐‘ฆ ๐‘ก๐‘œ ๐‘๐‘’ ๐‘๐‘œ๐‘™๐‘™๐‘ข๐‘ก๐‘’๐‘‘”. What could it possibly mean to pollute or “stain” the purity of the Apostolic See if not by endorsing error?

So there is, prima facie, a bit of an inconsistency. How can Agatho’s claims and the anathema against Honorius, supported by the Council and the Apostolic See itself, be reconciled? Lofton does this by saying that the Council and Pope Leo II had the distinction in mind that Honorius was writing as a private person and not in his office as universal teacher. In my opinion, this simply has no foundations in the historical record, and what Lofton is doing is pushing distinctions which simply no one thought about in the 7th century. All the evidence shows that Honorius intended to write as the Pope to the East with commands to adhere to certain stipulations. In other words, there is no doubt that Honorius’s letters are at least issued in the mode of the Pope’s non-definitive magisterium. However, this would undermine his position [Lofton’s] that the Pope’s magisterial decrees are always protected from teaching heresies that harm the soul since the Council judged the letters of Honorius as following “๐‘กโ„Ž๐‘’ ๐‘“๐‘Ž๐‘™๐‘ ๐‘’ ๐‘ก๐‘’๐‘Ž๐‘โ„Ž๐‘–๐‘›๐‘”๐‘  ๐‘œ๐‘“ ๐‘กโ„Ž๐‘’ โ„Ž๐‘’๐‘Ÿ๐‘’๐‘ก๐‘–๐‘๐‘ ; ๐‘กโ„Ž๐‘’๐‘Ÿ๐‘’๐‘“๐‘œ๐‘Ÿ๐‘’ ๐‘ค๐‘’ ๐‘’๐‘›๐‘ก๐‘–๐‘Ÿ๐‘’๐‘™๐‘ฆ ๐‘Ÿ๐‘’๐‘—๐‘’๐‘๐‘ก ๐‘กโ„Ž๐‘’๐‘š, ๐‘Ž๐‘›๐‘‘ ๐‘’๐‘ฅ๐‘’๐‘๐‘Ÿ๐‘Ž๐‘ก๐‘’ ๐‘กโ„Ž๐‘’๐‘š ๐‘Ž๐‘  โ„Ž๐‘ข๐‘Ÿ๐‘ก๐‘“๐‘ข๐‘™ ๐‘ก๐‘œ ๐‘กโ„Ž๐‘’ ๐‘ ๐‘œ๐‘ข๐‘™.” Note that last part: ๐—ต๐˜‚๐—ฟ๐˜๐—ณ๐˜‚๐—น ๐˜๐—ผ ๐˜๐—ต๐—ฒ ๐˜€๐—ผ๐˜‚๐—น. And so, if the letters of Honorius were magisterial decrees, then there exists a strong case that the non-definitive decrees of the Pope were understood by the Council to be able to be harmful to souls. Needless to say, Pope Leo II had no issue with these claims.

Let’s look briefly at how Honorius’s decrees must have been issued in his office as the Pope.

Sergius of Constantinople issued an official letter to Pope Honorius recounting the theological dispute that was taking place between Patriarchs in the East on the subject of how many activities/energies/wills are in Christ. This was not some fly by night debate between bishops. This was an inter-Patriarchal struggle for the orthodoxy of the Byzantine Empire, which had been threatened with disarray over the matter. At the end of his letter to Honorius, this is the request he gives:

“๐‘Š๐‘’ ๐‘’๐‘ฅโ„Ž๐‘œ๐‘Ÿ๐‘ก ๐‘Œ๐‘œ๐‘ข๐‘Ÿ ๐ด๐‘™๐‘™-๐‘ ๐‘Ž๐‘๐‘Ÿ๐‘’๐‘‘๐‘›๐‘’๐‘ ๐‘  ๐‘ก๐‘œ ๐‘Ÿ๐‘’๐‘Ž๐‘‘ ๐‘Ž๐‘™๐‘™ ๐‘œ๐‘“ ๐‘กโ„Ž๐‘–๐‘ , ๐‘Ž๐‘›๐‘‘ ๐‘Ž๐‘  ๐‘ค๐‘’ ๐‘›๐‘œ๐‘ค ๐‘ก๐‘œ๐‘œ ๐‘“๐‘œ๐‘™๐‘™๐‘œ๐‘ค ๐‘กโ„Ž๐‘’ ๐บ๐‘œ๐‘‘-๐‘๐‘™๐‘’๐‘Ž๐‘ ๐‘–๐‘›๐‘” ๐‘Ž๐‘›๐‘‘ ๐‘š๐‘œ๐‘ ๐‘ก ๐‘“๐‘ข๐‘™๐‘™ ๐‘™๐‘œ๐‘ฃ๐‘’ ๐‘คโ„Ž๐‘–๐‘โ„Ž ๐‘–๐‘  ๐‘–๐‘› ๐‘Œ๐‘œ๐‘ข, [๐‘ค๐‘’ ๐‘๐‘’๐‘” ๐‘Œ๐‘œ๐‘ข] ๐‘กโ„Ž๐‘Ž๐‘ก, ๐‘–๐‘“ ๐‘กโ„Ž๐‘’๐‘Ÿ๐‘’ ๐‘–๐‘  ๐‘Ž๐‘›๐‘ฆ๐‘กโ„Ž๐‘–๐‘›๐‘” ๐‘คโ„Ž๐‘–๐‘โ„Ž ๐‘–๐‘  ๐‘๐‘’๐‘Ÿโ„Ž๐‘Ž๐‘๐‘  ๐‘“๐‘œ๐‘ข๐‘›๐‘‘ ๐‘ค๐‘Ž๐‘›๐‘ก๐‘–๐‘›๐‘”, ๐‘ก๐‘œ ๐‘๐‘œ๐‘š๐‘๐‘™๐‘’๐‘š๐‘’๐‘›๐‘ก ๐‘กโ„Ž๐‘–๐‘  ๐’ƒ๐’š ๐’•๐’‰๐’† ๐’ˆ๐’“๐’‚๐’„๐’† ๐’˜๐’‰๐’Š๐’„๐’‰ ๐’‰๐’‚๐’” ๐’ƒ๐’†๐’†๐’ ๐’ˆ๐’Š๐’—๐’†๐’ ๐’•๐’ ๐’€๐’๐’– ๐’ƒ๐’š ๐‘ฎ๐’๐’… ๐‘Ž๐‘›๐‘‘ ๐‘๐‘ฆ ๐‘Œ๐‘œ๐‘ข๐‘Ÿ โ„Ž๐‘œ๐‘™๐‘ฆ ๐‘ค๐‘œ๐‘Ÿ๐‘‘๐‘  ๐‘ค๐‘–๐‘กโ„Ž ๐‘Œ๐‘œ๐‘ข๐‘Ÿ โ„Ž๐‘œ๐‘๐‘’๐‘‘-๐‘“๐‘œ๐‘Ÿ ๐‘ ๐‘ข๐‘๐‘๐‘œ๐‘Ÿ๐‘ก, ๐’‚๐’๐’… ๐’•๐’ ๐’Š๐’๐’…๐’Š๐’„๐’‚๐’•๐’† ๐’•๐’‰๐’† ๐’Ž๐’‚๐’•๐’•๐’†๐’“๐’” ๐’˜๐’‰๐’Š๐’„๐’‰ ๐’€๐’๐’– ๐’‹๐’–๐’…๐’ˆ๐’† ๐’“๐’Š๐’ˆ๐’‰๐’•”

(Pauline Allen, Sophronius of Jerusalem and Seventh-Century Heresy, , (Oxford University Press, 2009; pages 161-217) p. 195)

The Patriarch of Constantinople is asking for the prelate of the Apostolic See to “judge” upon the subject of the Christological debate taking place in the inter-Patriarchal context of the Byzantine East. Therefore, there is no way that Honorius’s response to Sergius would be in the mode of a “private person”. Honorius’s response letter also commands the Patriarch with an admonition to hold what Rome unanimously holds. Honorius writes:

“๐‘Œ๐‘œ๐‘ข๐‘Ÿ ๐ต๐‘Ÿ๐‘œ๐‘กโ„Ž๐‘’๐‘Ÿโ„Ž๐‘œ๐‘œ๐‘‘ ๐’˜๐’Š๐’๐’ ๐’‘๐’“๐’๐’„๐’๐’‚๐’Š๐’Ž ๐’•๐’‰๐’Š๐’” ๐’˜๐’Š๐’•๐’‰ ๐’–๐’”, ๐‘—๐‘ข๐‘ ๐‘ก ๐‘Ž๐‘  ๐‘ค๐‘’ ๐‘ก๐‘œ๐‘œ ๐’–๐’๐’‚๐’๐’Š๐’Ž๐’๐’–๐’”๐’๐’š ๐’‘๐’“๐’๐’„๐’๐’‚๐’Š๐’Ž ๐’Š๐’• ๐’˜๐’Š๐’•๐’‰ ๐’€๐’๐’–, ๐’–๐’“๐’ˆ๐’Š๐’๐’ˆ ๐’€๐’๐’– ๐‘ก๐‘œ ๐‘Ž๐‘ฃ๐‘œ๐‘–๐‘‘ ๐‘กโ„Ž๐‘’ ๐‘–๐‘›๐‘ก๐‘Ÿ๐‘œ๐‘‘๐‘ข๐‘๐‘’๐‘‘ ๐‘’๐‘ฅ๐‘๐‘Ÿ๐‘’๐‘ ๐‘ ๐‘–๐‘œ๐‘› ๐‘œ๐‘“ ๐‘กโ„Ž๐‘’ ๐‘›๐‘’๐‘ค ๐‘ฃ๐‘œ๐‘๐‘Ž๐‘๐‘ข๐‘™๐‘Ž๐‘Ÿ๐‘ฆ ‘๐‘œ๐‘›๐‘’ ๐‘œ๐‘Ÿ ๐‘ก๐‘ค๐‘œ ๐‘Ž๐‘๐‘ก๐‘–๐‘ฃ๐‘–๐‘ก๐‘–๐‘’๐‘ ’, ๐’‚๐’๐’… ๐’•๐’ ๐’‘๐’“๐’๐’„๐’๐’‚๐’Š๐’Ž ๐’˜๐’Š๐’•๐’‰ ๐’–๐’” ๐’Š๐’ ๐’๐’“๐’•๐’‰๐’๐’…๐’๐’™ ๐’‡๐’‚๐’Š๐’•๐’‰ ๐’‚๐’๐’… ๐’„๐’‚๐’•๐’‰๐’๐’๐’Š๐’„ ๐’–๐’๐’Š๐’•๐’š ๐’•๐’‰๐’† ๐’๐’๐’† ๐‘ณ๐’๐’“๐’… ๐‘ฑ๐’†๐’”๐’–๐’” ๐‘ช๐’‰๐’“๐’Š๐’”๐’•, ๐‘†๐‘œ๐‘› ๐‘œ๐‘“ ๐‘กโ„Ž๐‘’ ๐‘™๐‘–๐‘ฃ๐‘–๐‘›๐‘” ๐บ๐‘œ๐‘‘, ๐‘ก๐‘Ÿ๐‘ข๐‘’ ๐บ๐‘œ๐‘‘, ๐‘คโ„Ž๐‘œ ๐‘–๐‘› ๐‘ก๐‘ค๐‘œ ๐‘›๐‘Ž๐‘ก๐‘ข๐‘Ÿ๐‘’๐‘  ๐‘’๐‘“๐‘“๐‘’๐‘๐‘ก๐‘  ๐‘กโ„Ž๐‘’ ๐‘ค๐‘œ๐‘Ÿ๐‘˜๐‘  ๐‘œ๐‘“ ๐‘กโ„Ž๐‘’ ๐บ๐‘œ๐‘‘โ„Ž๐‘’๐‘Ž๐‘‘ ๐‘Ž๐‘›๐‘‘ ๐‘œ๐‘“ ๐‘กโ„Ž๐‘’ โ„Ž๐‘ข๐‘š๐‘Ž๐‘›๐‘–๐‘ก๐‘ฆ.” (ibid., 205)

Honorius also wrote a 2nd letter to Sergius wherein he speaks of his writing to the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Jerusalem with the same orders. One can read them in full at the link in the comments.

There is no doubt that these letters dispatched from Honorius to the East fulfill the conditions which Pope Agatho called the “exhortation and admonitions of our predecessors in the Apostolic See” which he thought were infallible per the promise of Christ.

I think the best bet we have as Catholics is to say that the Council was not infallible in its condemnation of Honorius and that the current magisterium could revisit this precise question on whether the “fact” of Honorius’s letters are truly erroneous. I agree with Lofton that, given a private read of Honorius’s letters, they are free from the error of monotheletism. Nevertheless, he did order that the Church should be silent on whether in Christ there are two activities, which the Council saw as wrong.

But this also opens up doors for the Orthodox. If it is true that Catholics can look back upon Constantinople (681) and import distinctions that would allow unwanted tensions free from being real contradictions, then so can the Orthodox. Catholics go back in time and re-measure what decrees are what level of authority, despite the fact that we have no evidence of that in the players of the time. Why could not the Orthodox? For instance, the Orthodox could argue that the anathema of Honorius itself *counts* as an undoing of whatever else was said at the Council that would prove otherwise. In other words, what forbids an Orthodox today from saying, “Well, the Council did not, in so many articulated words, explicitly deny the claims to perpetual infallibility in the Roman Pontiffs, but the anathema of Honorius COUNTS as an undoing of that claim”? I would venture to say that the same nuancing that goes on with our re-sizing what counts in the Papal magisterial past opens the doors and leaves room for the Orthodox to do the same re-sizing. And, in this case, they can re-size the logical significance of Honorius’s condemnation as a substantial subtraction of Agatho’s claims that the Roman Pontiff could never be a heretic, or teach error.



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