This is part 4 of the thirteen part series in response to Jay Dyer. The previous part may be found here (link).

Jay Dyer says:
3) “[A consistent Calvinist must be] A Monothelite, in that in conversion, the divine will supplants the human will. And this would go for Christ’s divine will as well.”

I answer:

a) The Calvinist Position (whether right doctrine or error let Scripture decide)

In regeneration, man is given a new heart (Ezekiel 11:19) – which (together with the on-going work of the Spirit) leads to good things, like repentance and faith, coming forth from him (Luke 6:45). Christ affirmed a distinction between his human and divine will (Luke 22:42) – and, of course, Christ was resurrected, but was not regenerated. Sometimes conversion and regeneration are spoken of interchangeably, other times they are distinguished, but this nuance of theology (as important as it may be) is not particularly relevant, since it is in regeneration (properly speaking) that man’s will is changed.

b) The Accusation Disputed

The error for which Monothelites were criticized was a denial of the human nature of Christ. While this may not have been justified (as with the criticism of Nestorius), it has become the primary defining characteristic of what is viewed as Monothelitism. Perhaps a more precise expression would be saying that in Monothelitism, Christ had only a divine will and no human will. Such a view is unacceptable in Calvinism, which teaches that Christ was both fully God and fully man. How this can be is hard to understand. Nevertheless, Scripture teaches it, and so we believe it. A view that denied Christ’s true human will would compromise the active obedience of Christ, which is imputed to believers. The active obedience of Christ is his obedience, as a man, to the moral law. Arguably, Monothelitism also undermines the ill-named “passive” obedience of Christ in voluntarily suffering during life and dying on the cross, since it does not show the true submission Christ showed in consenting to die for us, his people, as taught in Scripture (John 10:18).

The fact that man’s heart is changed in regeneration has nothing to do with Monothelitism. Man only has one will – and the number of wills of man is not really part of the Monothelite controversy. Furthermore, since Christ himself doesn’t experience regeneration (since Christ’s nature was not depraved by the fall, as he was not under Adam’s federal headship), it’s far fetched (to say the least) to imagine that there can be any regeneration-Christ-Monothelitism connection.

c) The Accusation Redirected

Of course, Catholicism doesn’t deny that Christ had both a human and a divine will. Nevertheless, the superstitious error of transubstantiation could be said to deny the true humanity of Christ (which would be as serious an error). How so? The doctrine of transubstantiation claims that the bread and wine physically become the body and blood of Christ. However, a careful investigation of the bread and wine reveals them to be physically just bread and wine, unlike true human flesh and blood, which has identifiable biological characteristics. Aristotelian categories are brought into play (by, for example, Trent) to try to assert that the substance of the body and blood are there under the accidents of bread and wine. This explanation, however, makes little philosophical sense, and certainly makes no scientific sense. The physical sciences can confirm there is no physical change. God does certainly have the power to perform physical changes (just as the water was transformed to wine at Cana), but when those physical changes occur, the changed thing exhibits the physical qualities of what it has been changed into. To assert that the bread and wine are literally the physical body and blood of Christ are implicitly to deny that Christ’s body and blood have human DNA, have human cells, or are in any way like our human bodies. Such an assertion amounts to an implicit denial of the true humanity of Christ.

This should be concern enough, but it gets worse. One of the bishops of Rome actually was condemned by an ecumenical council (The Sixth Ecumenical Council, Constantinople III) as a Monothelite. It’s popular for modern Catholicism to try to dismiss Honorius’ posthumous excommunication as being simply based on his private views, and not on his teachings in an official capacity.

Nevertheless, the Sixth Ecumenical Council declared:

But as the author of evil, who, in the beginning availed himself of the aid of the serpent, and by it brought the poison of death upon the human race, has desisted, but in like manner now, having found suitable instruments for working his will (we mean Theodoras who Bishop of Pharan, Sergius, Pyrrhus, Paul and Peter, who were Archbishops of this royal city and moreover, Honorius who Pope of the elder Rome, Cyrus Bishop of Alexandria, Macarius who was lately of Antioch, and Stephen his disciple) has actively employed them in raising up for the whole Church the stumbling of one will and one operation in the natures of Christ our true God one of Holy Trinity; thus disseminating, in novel terms amongst the orthodox people, an heresy similar to the mad and wicked doctrine of the impious Apollinaris, Severus, and Themistius, and endeavouring craftily to destroy the perfection of the incarnation of the same our Lord Jesus Christ, our God, by blasphemously representing flesh endowed with a rational soul as devoid of will or operation.

How to deal with this contradiction between a pope and an ecumenical council has proved challenging for those in modern Catholicism. Schaff notes, that one “Roman Catholic Curialist writer[]” named Pennacchi affirmed that “Honorius’s letters were strictly speaking Papal decrees, set forth auctoritate apostolica, and therefore irreformable, but he declares, contrary to the opinion of almost all theologians … that they are orthodox, and that the Council erred in condemning them … ” (quotation is Schaff writing). The majority approach (as mentioned by Schaff, and probably still true today) to try to evade the force of the contradiction is to assert that Honorius’ letters were errant but were not ex cathedra.

Nevertheless, the historical fact is that Honorius was condemned as an heretic and monothelite, as established by at least 13 points of evidence that Schaff provides, including the following: “The Papal Oath as found in the Liber Diurnus taken by each new Pope from the fifth to the eleventh century, in the form probably prescribed by Gregory II, “smites with eternal anathema the originators of the new heresy Sergius etc together with Honorius because he assisted the base assertion of the heretics.” (footnote omitted)

Of course, this sort of thing (posthumous anathemas for heresy) are, or should be troubling, for those who wish to trust that their church is providing them with the truth and not an heretical error. Who can confidently say that John Paul II or Benedict XVI will not be found by a later ecumenical to be heretics on some point that today is widely accepted (note how many patriarchs and bishops from a wide geographic area were condemned by the Sixth Ecumenical Council)? Who is in a position to judge whether Benedict XVI is teaching you heresy or truth?

Scripture has the answer – it is not to follow a church that has been led by fallible and even heretical men. Instead, it instructs us to follow the example of the Bereans (Acts 17:11), search the Scriptures (John 5:39), test the spirits whether they are from God (1 John 4:1), go to the very thing that is given as profitable for doctrine (2 Timothy 3:16), that is alone described as being given by God’s inspiration (2 Timothy 3:16), and which can make one wise unto salvation (2 Timothy 3:15), so that you might be thoroughly furnished (2 Timothy 3:17). In short, the answer is that believers must turn to Scripture to judge whether the spirit of Rome today is the spirit of God, or whether it is one of the many false teachers that were prophesied (2 Peter 2:1).


Continue to Part 5

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