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#75 Monotheletism

September 22, 2008

Hi Dr Craig!

I've been reading your Philosophical Foundation for a Christian Worldview. Unfortunately, my question was not dealt with when I was in seminary when I was taking MDiv a decade ago. With your explanation, I am more convinced of your position of monotheletism (pg. 611) though tentatively. Monotheletism is always linked with monophysitism. As far as I understand, monotheletism does not necessarily follow from monophysitism. The Third Council of Constantinople condemned both monophysitism and monothelitism as heretic. (Do most evangelicals recognize this ecumenical council?) Dr. Norm Geisler also recognize monothelitism as heretical (Systematic Theology Volume 2: God, Creation, [Grand Rppids, MI: BethanyHouse, 2003] pg. 296). My question is, are you not concerned that some evangelicals consider you as heretic for your belief on monotheletism? Since I am more convinced of your explanation, I do not want to be considered as a heretic too for taking this stance.

United States

Dr. craig’s response


No earnest Christian wants to be considered a heretic. But we Protestants recognize Scripture alone as our ultimate rule of faith (the Reformation principle of sola scriptura). Therefore, we bring even the statements of Ecumenical Councils before the bar of Scripture. While one disagrees with the promulgations of an Ecumenical Council only with great hesitancy, nonetheless, since we do not regard these as invested with divine authority, we are open to the possibility that they have erred in places. It seems to me that in condemning Monotheletism as incompatible with Christian belief the Church did overstep its bounds.

What is Monotheletism? It is the doctrine that the incarnate Christ has a single faculty of will. By contrast Dyotheletism teaches that the incarnate Christ has two faculties of will, one associated with his human nature (his human will) and one associated with his divine nature (his divine will). The Third Council of Constantinople condemned Monotheletism, promulgating as obligatory for Christians belief in two wills in Christ. I suspect that most evangelical Christians give allegiance with their lips to the Third Council and Dyotheletism but haven't really reflected seriously on it.

Some of us, however, consider Monotheletism to be at least a legitimate option for a biblical Christian, not to say to be true. The Council apparently thought that denying a human will to Christ would imply that he lacked a complete human nature, so that Christ was not truly man. Therefore, to safeguard the integrity of Christ's human nature, the Council promulgated Dyotheletism as mandatory for orthodox Christian belief. Now the Council's concern for the true humanity of Christ incarnate is laudable and important. The Christian doctrine of the incarnation does require that Christ be truly human and truly divine. But why think that Christ's having a single will truncates his human nature?

What the Council presupposed and what seems dubious to many is that the faculty of will belongs properly to one's nature rather than to one's person. That's why the Council thought that if Christ's human nature lacked the faculty of will, it was not a true, complete human nature. By contrast, it seems to me almost obvious that the will is a faculty of a person. It is persons who have free will and exercise it to choose this or that. If Christ's human nature had its own proper will so that Christ had literally two wills, as the Council affirmed, then there would be two persons, one human and one divine. But that is the heresy known as Nestorianism, which divides Christ's person into two. I cannot understand how Christ's human nature could have a will of its own, distinct from the will of the Second Person of the Trinity, and not be a person.

The question, then, is whether Christ can have one will and yet two natures. Or does having a single will imply the heresy called Monophysitism, the doctrine that Christ has a single nature? At the Council of Chalcedon, the Church condemned Monophysitism and promulgated Dyophysitism, the doctrine that Christ has two natures, human and divine. The question is not, as you have it, whether Monotheletism follows necessarily from Monophysitism--it seems obvious that it does, for if there is only one person and one nature in the incarnate Christ, where would the second will come from?--, but whether Monophysitism follows necessarily from Monotheletism, as the Council thought.

I don't see that it does. In the chapter on the incarnation in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, I provide a possible model of the incarnation according to which the human nature of Christ becomes complete through its union with the Second Person of the Trinity. Because there is only one person in Christ, there is but one faculty of will, and that faculty serves both the humanity and deity of Christ, exercising itself through both the human nature and the divine nature. So Christ has two complete natures but a single will, just as--and because--he is a single person.

So while I don't like contradicting the decrees of an ecumenical Council, I think that the danger of falling into Nestorianism is far greater than the danger of falling into Monophysitism. I think we can coherently and biblically be Monothelites without being Monophysites.

- William Lane Craig