Recently, I came across a scholarly claim I never heard about before–that Pope Vigilius taught monothelitism during the fifth ecumenical council.

Quoted in Henry Chadwick’s East and West: The Making of a Rift in the Church:

Vigilius in conciliatory mode twice declared that while there are two natures in Christ, there is only one activty, energia. In the next century this was monothelite and heretical; in consequence the Roman legates at the Sixth Council of 680 declared these places heretical corruptions of the original acts, and the Acts of 553 were transmitted only in a small part in Greek. They survive as a whole only in Latin (p. 57).

But ‘one energy’ had been language used by Pope Vigilius at the time of the Fifth Council (553).2

2 ACO IV i. 187. 32 and 188. 14. The authenticity of this utterance was anxiously denied by the Roman legates at the Sixth Council in the fourteenth session (ACO2 II 638 ff. especially 646-7, 652-3). (p. 59).

Quoted in Demtrios Bathrellos’ The Byzantine Christ:

Sebastian Brock has published some post-Chalcedonian excerpts belonging to a Syriac monothelite florilegium, in all probability compiled by a Chalcedonian monethelite. The first excerpt from the florilegium is ascribed to Pope Vigilius, and attributes to Christ one energy.414

414 The authenticity of the text is to be taken for granted, for it can be found in the Latin proceedings of the Fifth Ecumenical Council. (ACO  iv, 187, 31-2). (p. 91).

To listen to Dr. Brock teach on the topic, click here.

I offer the following brief comments:

  • The manuscript record on this point is unanimous. It exists in two Latin manuscripts (the only that exist for the fifth council). In the late 20th century, Dr. Brock uncovered a Syriac manuscript offering independent verification of the monthelite passages. When the doctrine of Papal Infallibility was devised during the 19th century, obviously this Syriac manuscript was unknown.
  • The sixth ecumenical council cites the passage, which shows that if a corruption entered the manuscript record, it apparently did so about a century after the fifth council.
  • Papal apologetics during the sixth council are certainly possible, but clearly implausible given the additional manuscript find.
  • In the end of the day, this does not effect Roman Catholicism, because the presumption always is that history must be read in line with Roman Catholic doctrines as they are now presently understood. Even the study of history is presuppositional. So, the mere possibility that the claim of the Papal Legates during the sixth council is correct is sufficient to disprove all future manuscript finds. Perhaps, the only piece of historical evidence that can be unearthed which could undo the Roman Catholic interpretation would be a manuscript with Justinian’s handwriting on it.
  • Using impartial historical standards, the claims of Papal legates that the passage is false are taken with a grain of salt. While there is some reason for the Syriac writings on the subject to be tampered with, due to the heresy existing in their land, there is little reason for a Greek heresy to be introduced into the Latin manuscript record. Essentially, the claim of the Papal legates is special pleading.
  • For those who ask why eastern Bishops did not “push back” harder during the sixth council, I respond that I do not know, for I have not read the acts myself. I do speculate, however, that due to the fifth council being considered ecumenical, it was probably not in good taste to accept the passages’ authenticity as it called into question the conclusions of the sixth council. Nevertheless, due to no Christian believing councils are infallible in every point of their minutes, I do not see this as a glaring “contradiction” between the fifth and sixth councils. It does not affect Orthodox theories of ecumenicity. However, it does affect Papal Infallibility, as clearly a Pope teaching doctrine at an ecumenical council must certainly be considered ex cathedra–the essential bar of Papal Infallible teaching.

I welcome comments of those who have done more in depth research on this topic. My comments are tentative, as my exposure to this topic is only through secondary sources.