Type of Constans
Emperor Constans’ grandfather Heraclius had spent the last few years of his life attempting to find a compromise theological position between the Monophysites and the Chalcedonians over their debates about whether Jesus Christ had one nature or two separate natures. What he promoted via his Ecthesis was a doctrine which declared that Jesus, whilst he possessed two distinct natures, had only one will.
This approach seemed to be an acceptable compromise, and it secured widespread support throughout the east. Pope Honorius I and the four Patriarch of the East – Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem - all gave their approval to the doctrine referred to as Monothelitism, and so it looked as if Heraclius would finally heal the divisions in the church.
Unfortunately the next Popes at Rome raised a complaint. During that same year of 638, Pope Honorius I too had died. His successor Pope Severinus condemned the Ecthesis outright, and so was forbidden his seat until 640. His successor Pope John IV also rejected the doctrine completely, leading to a major schism between the eastern and western halves of the Catholic Church. When news reach Heraclius of the Pope’s condemnation, he was already old and ill, and the news only hastened his death, declaring with his dying breath that the controversy was all due to Sergius, and that the Patriarch had pressured him to give his unwilling approval to the Ecthesis.
The death of Heraclius in 641 had thrown the political situation in Constantinople into chaos, and his young grandson Constans II eventually succeeded him. Meanwhile, in Africa, a monk named Maximus the Confessor carried on a furious campaign against Monotheletism, and in 646 he convinced the African councils to draw up a manifesto against the doctrine. This they forwarded to the new pope Theodore I, who in turn wrote to Patriarch Paul II of Constantinople, outlining the heretical nature of the doctrine. Paul, another devoted Monothelete, replied in a letter directing the Pope to adhere to the doctrine of one will. Theodore in turn excommunicated the Patriarch in 649, declaring Paul a heretic.
Details of the Type of Constans
Constans II was a young man of seventeen, and he was supremely indifferent to the religious debates convulsing the Church. However, he was certainly concerned about the effect all these arcane debates was having on the Roman Empire, and so he issued an imperial edict called the Type of Constans. This edict made it illegal to discuss in any manner the topic of Christ possessing either one or two wills, or one or two energies. He declared that the whole controversy was to be forgotten – “the scheme which existed before the strife arose shall be maintained, as it would have been if no such disputation had arisen.”.
There were various penalties proscribed on anyone who disobeyed the imperial decree. For bishops or clerks of the church, they would be deposed. Monks were to be excommunicated, while public servants or military officers would lose their office. For private citizens of senatorial rank, they would have their property confiscated. Finally for the great mass of the citizenry, if they transgressed they would face corporal punishment and banishment for life.
Opposition to the Type
In Rome and the west, the opposition to Monotheletism was reaching fever pitch, and the ‘’Type’’ of Constans did nothing to defuse the situation; indeed it made it worse by implying that either doctrine was a good as the other. Theodore planned the Lateran Council of 649 to condemn the Ecthesis, but died before he could convene it, which his successor, Pope Martin I, did. Not only did the Council condemn the Ecthesis, it also condemned the Type as well. After the synod, Pope Martin wrote to Constans, informing the emperor of its conclusions and requiring him to condemn both the Monothelete doctrine and his own Type. Unfortunately, Constans was not the sort of emperor to take such a rebuke of imperial authority lightly.
Even while the Lateran Synod was sitting, Olympius arrived as the new exarch of Ravenna, with instructions to ensure that the Type was followed in Italy, and to use whatever means necessary to ensure that the Pope adhered to it. He was unable to complete his mission and soon died, but his successor Theodore I Calliopas seized Pope Martin and abducted him to Constantinople. Here he was imprisoned and tortured before being condemned for breaking the imperial commands and was banished before dying from his treatment at the hands of the emperor.
The emperor continued to persecute any who spoke out against Monotheletism, including Maximus the Confessor and a number of his disciples – Maximus lost his tongue and his right hand in an effort to have him recant.
Condemnation of the Type
With Constans death in 668, the throne passed to his son Constantine IV. Pope Vitalian, who had hosted the visit of Constans II to Rome in 663, almost immediately declared himself in favor of the doctrine of the two wills of Christ. In response Patriarch Theodore I of Constantinople and Macarius, Patriarch of Antioch both pressed Constantine to take some measures against the Pope. Constantine, however, decided to let the Monotheletic question to be decided entirely by a Church Council.
This council, the Sixth Ecumenical Council, met from 680 to 681. It hosted representatives from the Pope and the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Jerusalem, while the Patriarchs of Constantinople and Antioch were present in person. It unanimously, with the exception of two individuals, condemned the Monotheletic doctrine and the Type of Constans.
- Bury, John B., A history of the later Roman empire from Arcadius to Irene, Volume 2 (2005)
- Norwich, John J., ‘Byzantium: The Early Centuries’ (Penguin, 1988)
- Catholic Encyclopedia: Monothelitism and Monothelites