This is another rather lengthy post, whereby I seek to clarify the orthodox Christological position of dyothelitism against the heretical position of monothelitism that’s espoused by analytic philosopher, William Lane Craig. To do so, we will look first to Maximus Confessor and the Third Council of Constantinople, and then assess Craig’s position in light of the orthodox position derived from the former. Finally, I will articulate the ecumenical consensus of the orthodox position and why it matters.
Maximus the Confessor and the Third Council of Constantinople
Maximus Confessor was a revered theologian and saint of the Church—venerated in both the East and the West. He wrote hymns, Biblical commentaries, and even a biography of the Virgin Mary. However, he is most known for his Christological writings that draw from Pseudo-Dionysius and Gregory of Nazianzus in order to defend the Orthodox Christological position that appears in the Creed of Chalcedon. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Council of Chalcedon had discerned that Jesus Christ was indeed fully God and fully man, and that he had two natures, one human and one divine.
An implication from Chalcedon that had bleed into the period that followed was a dispute over whether or not Christ had two natures and one will (monothelitism) or two natures and two wills (dyothelitism). Maximus vigorously defended the truth of dyothelitism. For Maximus this wasn’t any small matter; it had serious implications. If Christ did not have both a human will and a divine will, then depending on which was emphasized, he will either become less than fully human or less than fully divine. Therefore, Maximus bodly proclaimed in the face of imperial threats and ecclesial punishments that his Lord had two natures, two wills, was fully human, and fully divine; this is what the Church had passed down to him, which he had confirmed in his reading of Scripture. Maximus believed the Bible and the tradition were clear: dyothelitism was crucial for maintaining a Chalcedonian Christology.
The price that was paid by Maximus was no small sum. Back before the passive aggressive jabs laced within AAR panels, or candid extrapolations of intellectual adversaries in the footnotes of one’s work, there were violent and permanent consequences for confessing your position against the powers that be. Maximus is known as “the confessor” because he defended his orthodoxy to the end. He had his tongue ripped from his mouth so that he could not speak of his Christological convictions, and he had right arm (the arm that he wrote with) removed so that he could not write any more texts that would elaborate the Biblical support for dyothelitism. He was then exiled to a small village where he died presumably alone and without voice.
As fate would have it, Maximus’ writings vindicated him after his death, as his position of dyothelitism was established as orthodoxy at the Third Council of Constantinople in 680 CE. It was the sixth ecumenical council that had been gathered to sort out theological debates threatening the unity of the Church. In other words, this council represented the Church proper before the great schism, and therefore its conclusion were not just the discernment of one particular denomination or tradition. For all intents and purposes, this council stands in the lineage of the tradition; and therefore, it is much more difficult to dismiss one of the positions of this council and remain an orthodox Christian.
William Lane Craig and Monothelitism
Dr. William Lane Craig is a Christian apologist who is well-known for his work in defending theism against atheism, using rigorous analytic philosophical argumentation. Dr. Craig is revered by many people as a devote defender of evangelical faith against arguments proposed by the New Atheists, et al. While it is obvious that Craig has done a lot to instill the Christian faith into others, it is important to note that the particular kind of Christian faith that he argues for is a distinct product of modernity and rejects many key tenants of the historic Christian faith that’s found in various affirmations of classical theism. On top of that, Craig is also a defender of an ancient heresy, monothelitism—the very heresy that Maximus went to his grave in order to oppose.
Back in 2008, on his blog, Reasonable Faith, Dr. Craig is asked to clarify his position on monothelitism. The subscriber who wrote in to Craig, voiced some concern over this position, writing, “y 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.” Hence, not only is Craig propagating a heretical position, but he’s spreading this heresy to vulnerable followers like a contagion. Even the more unfortunate is Craig’s response (the entirety of this interaction can be found here: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/monotheletism).
Craig begins his reply with the following paragraph:
“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.”
Citing Scripture as the trump card to defend his heretical position, Craig then fails to cite even one Biblical text in the rest of his response. He doesn’t look to Scriptures such as Jesus’ words in Matthew 26:42, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done” (NRSV); or even more obvious is Luke’s account of this same incident, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42, NRSV). I agree that Scripture outweighs even ecumenical councils, but I do not know of any ecumenical councils that have contradicted Scripture. Moreover, if one is going to make that claim, then it seems fitting for he or she to offer at least one Scriptural citation or scholarly exegesis. Despite that, there is one way to defend monothelitism in light of the above Biblical texts, but it will lead to an even deeper heresy.
One could say that Christ, with only one will, was asking that not his will be done but that God the Father’s will be done. And on the surface, that seems to work. However, it implies that God the Son and God the Father have two differing wills—or at the very least that God the Son’s divine will is withered by his incarnation. This first implication is theological problematic for it leads one to begin drifting toward a view of disunity in the Godhead, which Craig clearly would seek to avoid. On the other hand, if his incarnation has depleted the divine will, then that whole doctrine is in jeopardy because it implies that Christ would be some kind of blend of humanity and divinity, not the fullness of God incarnated in the fullness of a man. However, I cannot fairly assess what Craig would make of this text because, once again, he fails to cite it or any other Biblical passages.
The only positive argument that Craig provides for monothelitism is that it is the only one that’s logically coherent. This of course is not a Biblical argument, but merely a deferral to reason, which those of us in the Wesleyan tradition know is already a methodological error since Scripture is the primary (and sole) authority of our quadrilateral.
“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.”
He further states:
“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.”
For Craig, then, to affirm that Christ has two wills is to affirm that he is two persons indwelling one body, which would in fact be heretical. However, his proposal lacks any evidence for the claim that having a will is intrinsic to personhood to the extent that to be a person is to have a distinct will. This too seems to lead Craig into dangerous Trinitarian implications—in fact, the same ones as above. For how can there be one will in the Godhead if there are three persons and being a distinct person implies having a distinct will and vice versa? Would each person of the Trinity have a unique will? And then, in what sense does the Trinity remain one God and not collapse into a form of tritheism?
It seems that Craig’s logical defense of monothelitism is rendered the same as the hypothetical exegesis offered above; namely, that there are unique wills for each person of the Godhead and at best, in the garden of Gethsemane, we see a Son who merely surrenders his will over to the will of the Father. This scene, if taken without the fact that the Son has both a human and divine will, results in the implication that the Son and Father do not share the same eternal will prior to or during the incarnation. It seems difficult to imagine someone being able to hold onto a proper understanding of the Trinity while upholding Craig’s position of monothelitism without it all collapsing in on each other. Moreover, coupling this with his rejection of divine simplicity, it seems untenable that Craig can maintain a God who isn’t a composite of many wills, hierarchies, persons, and natures.
Lest this entire presentation hinge negatively upon what it stands against (monothelitism), it is crucial to briefly elaborate on what affirming dyothelitism means and why any of this debate matters.
Unlike Craig, Maximus believed that in order for Christ to be fully human, he indeed had to have a human will, and in order for Christ to be fully divine, he indeed had to have the divine will. Notice I did not say “a divine will,” for there are not multiple divine wills, but only one. God the Son, who was incarnate in Christ doesn’t have a will distinct from the Father or Spirit, but shares in the one eternal divine will, which permeates from the essence of the one God. Hence, the divine will is present in the Son for it permeates from the divine nature which the Son shares with the Father and Spirit; and since the Son is present in Christ, for he is incarnate in Christ, it follows that the divine will permeates from the divine nature which is incarnated in Jesus Christ. Hence, Christ is fully God—fully divine. So the divine nature then is fully present in Christ, but in what sense is he fully human? Some Christians claimed that the divine nature, and with it the divine will, merely resided in a human body that was otherwise void of a human mind or faculty of will. This position was condemned as a heresy known as Apollinarianism. The incarnation is not making the claim that God the Son resided within a human vessel so that the mind of God replaced the human mind in the body of Jesus. Instead, God the Son truly did become human. He had a human mind that surrendered itself fully to the divine will.
When Christ prays for the cup to pass from him in the garden scene of Luke 22 and Matthew 26, or when Jesus states in John 6:38, “I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me” (NRSV), these texts only make sense if we locate the human will and the divine will coexisting in one flesh. These two wills do coexist in Christ “without division or confusion.” In these Biblical passages, we see that there is a human will which submits to the divine will in the one man, Jesus. John of Damascus interprets these texts in the following way: “when He begged to be spared death, He did so naturally, with His divine will willing and permitting, and He was in agony and afraid. Then, when His divine will willed that His human will choose death, the passion was freely accepted.” John continues, “the Lord’s soul was freely moved to will, but it freely willed those things which His divine will willed.” Hence, we see the human will of Christ submitting to the divine will. We see a God-man whose divine will wills something in which his human will freely accepts.
Following John of Damascus’ exegesis of Gethsemane, there’s an ecumenical consensus on the doctrine of dyothelitism, which Dr. Craig rejects. Drawing on the arguments made by Maximus Confessor, the Third Council of Constantinople affirms that in Christ we see his “human will following, and not resisting or opposing, but rather subject to his divine and all-powerful will.” With some Wesleyan flavor, Thomas C. Oden likewise affirms, “he divine will always ‘goes before’ or ‘prevenes’ (leads the way by grace) for the human will, so that the human will may choose freely in accord with the divine will.” And Vladimir Lossky summarizes, “he two wills proper to the two natures are different, but He who wills is one.” Hence, almost every tradition of the Christian faith agrees that Christ has two wills, and does so without diminishing the truth that Christ is one person.
To affirm dyothelitism is not to suggest that Jesus is speaking as God one moment and as human the next, as if there were two sons, one divine and one human. Instead, in the incarnation, divinity has assumed humanity in such a way that in the one person of Jesus Christ, we see the full revelation of God. This truth is what prompted Gregory of Nazianzus to say, “both are God, that which is assumed, and that which was assumed; two Natures meeting in One, not two Sons.” Thus, Christ has two wills operating in one person, two natures coexisting in one flesh, without distinction or confusion.
Why It Matters
Craig is right to suggest that turning his back, not only on an ecumenical council’s discernment, but also on the vast majority of the rest of Christendom, merits “great hesitancy.” But this isn’t just a difference on some abstract topic. Gregory of Nazianzus says, “hat has not been assumed has not been healed.” If Christ did not assume a human mind or a human will, then his human nature and flesh has done very little for us. Only by Christ assuming our very nature, sharing in the fullness of what makes us human (including our human will), has he redeemed us, and invited us to enter into the mystery of divinity through him. Our will is the very aspect of our nature that needed to be assumed and healed by him the most, for we had become soaked in sin by our willful disobedience. By assuming a human nature not only did Christ die to set us free, but he accomplished what we failed to do: to fully surrender our will freely over to the divine will of the Triune God. The subtle heresy of monothelitism nearly scoffs at the healing offered in Christ’s incarnation and rules by reason alone what it is that God the Son has and has not assumed by taking on our flesh. It is important that we affirm the doctrine of dyothelitism, and I prayerfully hope Dr. Craig and his followers discern the Scriptures and come to uphold the doctrines of the Christian faith. For my fellow Wesleyans out there, this is a sterling example of what happens when a theologian deploys reason at the expense of Scripture.
Once again, to be fair, I have not read Craig’s book. But assuming he cites a hefty amount of Scripture in it, still it seems he ought to be more careful in merely toting out condensed answers without one iota of Biblical support.