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Monothelitism, Energia and Maximos the Confessor


The following are comments from various posts by Perry Robinson that I found helpful and decided to put together as one blog post.


If there is no robust distinction between essence and energy, then in Christology we will be forced into a species of monoenergism. I do not think that most people realize this. They most often think that dyotheletism merely requires that they affirm the presence of two wills, and that it does, but it requires a lot more. It requires that there are two activities respective to each nature which is something distinct from each nature. And it further requires that sometimes these two activities can be different as in the passion of Christ where Christ wills simultaneously two different things without sin. If we deny the distinction, then while there will be two natural wills, there will be only one activity in Christ which most often leads us to a subordinating relation with the divine predestinating the human will, and then we are off and running into some form of predestinarianism. Game over. Further, if we deny the e/e distinction we will be forced to deny for example the deification of Christ’s humanity unless we wish to embrace Eutychianism or some form of Monophysitism and then apthartodocetism along with it. Or we will be forced to think of the deification of Christ’s humanity (and our own) in terms of a created effect by virtue of efficient causality and thereby bear only some kind of resemblance relation between God and humanity. All of the theophanies of the OT then will not per se be manifestation of deity, but merely a created phenomenon or “sign.” And this seems to me to be how Augustine and Augustinians have thought of these matters.

Monothelitism and Monoenergism took a variety of forms. In Honorius and then later Anselm, we have the view that Christ really doesn’t will otherwise in the garden, but merely expresses a human desire. The human desire for life never reaches the level of choice properly and fully speaking. So Christ merely expresses a human desire to live but this is subordinated by the divine will which subordinates the human will and hence the desire is subdued. The worry is that willing otherwise or differently would amount to willing contrary to and willing contrary to the good will of God would be sin and Christ can’t sin, so we have to metaphysically “downgrade” this from choice to desire. If the good is simple then to will other than the good is to will the evil. If there was genuine plurality in the good, this would not follow. This take of a human desire has a number of serious implications for the spiritual life, not the least of which is to see human survival and temporal existence as rather insignificant. As someone as devoted to Augustine as Etienne Gilson could write that for Augustine, temporal history is a “waste product” because the plurality intrinsic to temporal existence in successive moments could never be taken up into the simple simultaneous life of God.

More directly, if Christ’s human nature is impeccable and he has this human desire, this raises all kinds of problems, not the least of which is that we have human nature in a pristine state that is now morally opposed to God. So then either God’s will is evil and the human good or vice versa. Human nature has to be bad in order for God to be good. Making human nature good will undermine the divine good and so human nature can then contribute nothing in salvation, but its proper role is to be passive and subordinate to God. Then as a consequence we have the whole problem of whether creation is inherently defective in its activity.

Free will does not consist in being able to choose between good and evil options. Free will consists in being able to choose between a plurality of options. The reason why for us free will consists in choosing between in plural and morally different options is because first the character we end up having is ultimately (though not only) up to us and we have a beginning. This is why we cannot be created impeccable, because otherwise we would not be free since our character would not be up to us. So Jesus was impeccable and free in the use of his human power of choice, he just chose between two good alternatives, both willed by God, namely the preservation of human existence (also something good humans are naturally disposed towards and the salvation of the world).

If the gnomic will (peccable willing) is a product of the fall, then the fall should be impossible. This is because gnome is not a power per se, but a specific way of using the power of choice, that is a morally unfixed form or way of willing. It is neither good nor bad., which is why our first parents had this form of willing at creation and why the fall was possible. They were naturally good, but morally innocent, not yet fixed in virtue because that only comes through habituation. So it is the case post fall that all sinful willing is gnomic but not all gnomic willing conceptually speaking is sinful. If gnome is not pre-lapsarian, then our first parents would already have been impeccable, making the fall impossible. This is why Christ has no gnomic mode of wiling, because he is a person without beginning and so goes through no process of habitation towards the telos of character solidification.

So to sum, Monothelitisim turns on the same problematic assumptions entailed by Origen’s errors, namely that the Good is simple and free will entails choosing between objects of contrasting moral worth. Maximus’ reformulation is directly contrary to Origen’s at these points, because it is these assumptions that are driving the Monothelite heresy. If Christ had a human free will, then it would have to be either subordinated to the divine motion, in which case it really isn’t free or a will in its own right or it will be peccable, and so it will be possible for Christ to sin, which is a non-starter. And this is because they assumed that freedom to choose entailed freedom to choose between objects of differing moral value and in the eschaton there was only one good to choose.

This is why the doctrine of the divine energies undergird’s St Maximus the Confessor’s apologetic against Monothelitism, for it is exactly the plurality of the energies that makes it possible to choose between different eternal goods that are deity and so makes Christ’s choice in the Garden between two different divine goods rather than a good and evil option. In this way then, questions about Christ’s free will and the free will of those in heaven (and hell) are all tied together.



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This entry was posted on March 13, 2016 by in Theology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .
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