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The Council of Chalcedon and the Monothelite Heresy

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on Jesus Christ
General Audience, Wednesday 23 March 1988 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. In these catecheses we are reflecting on the ancient conciliar definitions, which contributed to the formulation of the Church's faith. The Council of Chalcedon (451) made a decisive contribution to this formulation with its solemn definition that in Jesus Christ there are two natures, human and divine, which are united (without mixture) in the one personal subject which is the divine Person of God the Word. Because of the term hypostasis it is usual to speak of the hypostatic union. The same Person of the Word-Son is eternally begotten from the Father as regards his divinity; however, as regards his humanity, he was conceived and born in time of the Virgin Mary. The definition of Chalcedon therefore reaffirms, develops and explains what the Church taught in the previous Councils and what was witnessed to by the Fathers, for example, by Irenaeus who spoke of "one and the same Christ" (cf. Adv. Haer. III, 17, 4).

With the doctrine concerning the divine Person of the Word-Son who assumed human nature and thereby entered the world of human persons, the Council emphasized the dignity of the person and the relations existing between various persons. It can be said that it called attention to the reality and dignity of the individual human being who is the unmistakable subject of existence, life, and therefore of duties and rights. How can one not see in this the point of departure for a new history of thought and life? Therefore, the Incarnation of the Son of God is the foundation, source and model of two realities: a new supernatural order of existence for all men and women who draw from that mystery the grace that sanctifies and saves them, and of a Christian anthropology which views each man and woman as a person, placed at the center of society and of the entire world.

2. We return to the Council of Chalcedon to say that it confirmed the traditional teaching on the two natures in Christ in opposition to the Monophysite doctrine (monophysis—one nature) propagated after that council. By clarifying that the union of the two natures takes place in one Person, the Council of Chalcedon still more fully set out in relief the duality of these natures, as we saw in the text of the definition previously quoted: "We teach...that one and the same Christ, the only-begotten Son and Lord must be recognized as subsisting in two natures without mixture, change, division or separation. The union does not suppress the difference between the natures; indeed, the proper quality of each remains" (DS 302). This means that the human nature is in no way "absorbed" by the divine nature. Because of his divine nature Christ is "one in Being with the Father according to his divinity"; because of his human nature he is "one in being with us according to his humanity."

Hence Jesus Christ is true God and true man. On the other hand the duality of natures does not in any way affect the unity of Christ, which arises from the perfect unity of the divine Person.

3. According to the logic of the Christological dogma, the result of the duality of nature in Christ is a duality of will and activity, while safeguarding the unity of the person. This truth was defined in 681 by the Third Council of Constantinople (Sixth Ecumenical Council)—as also in the Lateran Council of 649 (cf. DS 500)—against the errors of the Monothelites, who held that Christ had only one will.

The Council condemned "the heresy of a single will and a single activity in two natures...of Christ," which deprived Christ of an essential part of his humanity. "Following the five holy ecumenical councils, and the saints and excellent fathers," and in accord with them it defined and proclaimed that in Christ there are "two natural wills and two natural activities...two natural wills which are not opposed to each other...but such that the human will follows, without opposition or reluctance, or rather, that it is subject to, his divine and omnipotent will...according to what he himself said: 'I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me' (Jn 6:38)" (cf. DS 556).

4. This is the teaching of the early Councils: they set out clearly both the divinity and the humanity of Christ. He is by nature a true man, capable of human action, human knowledge, human acts of will, and human consciousness, and also capable of human suffering, patience, obedience, passion and death. Only by virtue of his being completely human can we understand and explain the texts about the obedience of Christ unto death (cf. Phil 2:8; Rom 5:19; Heb 5:8), and above all, his prayer in Gethsemane: "Not my will, but yours be done" (Lk 22:42; cf. Mk 14:36). However, it is likewise true that Jesus' human will and human activity belong to the divine person of the Son; it was precisely in Gethsemane that he said, "Abba, Father" (Mk 14:36). He is fully aware of his divinity, as is revealed, for example, when he said, "Before Abraham came to be, I Am" (Jn 8:58), and in the other Gospel passages which we mentioned at the appropriate time. As true man, Jesus certainly possesses a specifically human consciousness, which we continually discover in the Gospels. At the same time, however, his human consciousness belongs to that divine "I," so that he can say, "The Father and I are one" (Jn 10:30). There is no Gospel text which indicates that Christ spoke of himself as a human person, even when he frequently referred to himself as "Son of Man." This term is rich with meaning. Under the veil of the biblical and messianic expression, it seems to imply that he who applies it to himself belongs to a different and higher order than that of ordinary mortals as far as the reality of his "I" is concerned. It is a term which bears witness to his intimate awareness of his own divine identity.

5. At the conclusion of our exposition of the Christology of the great councils we can appreciate the full wealth of meaning of the passage in Pope St. Leo the Great's Letter to Bishop Flavian of Constantinople (Tomus Leonis, June 13, 449). It was, as it were, an introduction to the Council of Chalcedon, and summed up the Christological dogma of the ancient Church: "The Son of God, coming down from his heavenly abode without ceasing to share in the glory of the Father, entered this lower world, born after a new order, by a new mode of birth.... He who is true God, is also true man. There is no unreality in this unity since the humility of the manhood and the majesty of the deity exist in reciprocity. For just as God does not change by his merciful condescension (whereby he became man), so likewise man is not swallowed up by the (divine) dignity. Each of the two natures performs its proper functions in communion with the other, the Word doing what is proper to the Word, and the flesh doing what is proper to it. The one is resplendent with miracles, the other submits to insults. Just as the Word does not forfeit equality of glory with the Father, so the flesh does not desert the nature of our kind...." After referring to the many Gospel texts which constitute the basis of his doctrine, St. Leo concludes: "It does not pertain to the same nature to say, 'I and the Father are one' (Jn 10:30), and to say 'The Father is greater than I' (Jn 14:28). Although in the Lord Jesus Christ there is one single person of God and man, yet the source of the contumely which both share is distinct from the source of the glory which they also share. From our nature he has a humanity inferior to the Father; from the Father he possesses divinity equal to that of the Father" (cf. DS 294-295).

While appearing difficult, these formulations of the Christological dogma contain and reveal the mystery of the Word made flesh, announced in the prologue of St. John's Gospel. In the presence of this mystery we feel the need to prostrate ourselves in adoration in the company of those eminent spirits who have honored it also with their investigations and reflections for our benefit and that of the whole Church.


After the Catechesis, Pope John Paul II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli francesi 

Chers Frères et Sœurs;

JE SALUE CORDIALEMENT les personnes de langue française présentes à cette audience, en particulier les Religieux Rédemptoristes venus à Rome pour une période de réflexion à l’occasion du deuxième centenaire de la mort de saint Alphonse-Marie de Liguori. Puissiez-vous, chers Frères, demeurer de fervente apôtres de la prière, à l’exemple de votre saint fondateur qui disait: “Dieu veut être prié, il veut être vaincu par une certaine importunité”!

A tous, jeunes et adultes, je souhaite une bonne Semaine Sainte, afin de célébrer avec profit la Résurrection du Christ. Je vous bénis de grand cœur. 

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I WISH TO WELCOME the group of priests, religious, seminarians and catechists from Uganda currently studying in Rome. My cordial greetings also go to the Joy Youth Group of pilgrimage from Great Britain. And to all the English-speaking visitors, especially those from England, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Canada and the United States, I offer a warm welcome and I gladly impart my Apostolic Blessing.

A visitatori provenienti dal Giappone 

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

DILETTISSIMI PELLEGRINI dei due gruppi di Tokyo; alunne dell’Università Junshin di Nagasaki e novizie dell’Istituto Orsoline Missionarie del Sacro Cuore di Fukuoka.

Vi ringrazio profondamente per la vostra visita. Specialmente voi novizie dell’Istituto Orsoline, di cui ho sentito dire che avete voluto cominciare il vostro corso di formazione spirituale, incontrandovi con me in questa udienza.

Ora, affinché il vostro cammino, ed anche quello dei pellegrini, sia sempre protetto dalla Madonna, vi imparto di cuore la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo! 

Ai fedeli provenienti dalla Spagna 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

ME ES GRATO SALUDAR a los peregrinos de España y América Latina presentes en este encuentro. Mi saludo se dirige, en especial, al grupo de matrimonios de Barcelona.

Agradezco profundamente a los profesores y alumnos de diversos colegios españoles, entre los que cabe mencionar a los de Madrid, Barcelona, Segovia, Sevilla, Murcia y Logroño, su presencia en esta Audiencia, así como les significativas muestras de filial cercanía y simpatía que han tenido a bien demostrarme. Mis queridos jóvenes, estamos a les puertas de la Semana Santa, tiempo dedicado por la Iglesia a la meditación y a la conmemoración de la muerte y resurrección del Hijo de Dios. Que esos días sean motivo de purificación de vuestras almas y de plegaria íntima con Cristo Señor. Así encontraréis la generosidad y el entusiasmo, propio del joven, para vivir mejor la fe y testimoniarla ante vuestros compañeros.

A todos los presentes de lengua española imparto con afecto mi Bendición Apostólica. 

Ai pellegrini polacchi 

WITAM PlELGRZYMKE z Grójca koło Warszawy - parafia św. Mikołaja; z Olkusza - parafia św. Andrzeja Apostoła; indywidualnych pielgrzymów z kraju i z emigracji. 

Ai fedeli italiani 

IL MIO PRIMO SALUTO ai pellegrini di lingua italiana è rivolto questa mattina ai giovani del Liceo Linguistico “Nuova Europa” e della Scuola Superiore Linguistica per Interpreti e Traduttori, provenienti da Reggio e da altre città della Calabria. Desidero esprimere il mio compiacimento per l’impegno con cui dette istituzioni si propongono di contribuire alla preparazione delle nuove generazioni alle future professioni nel contesto della vita comunitaria europea. Saluto tutti, docenti, organizzatori e giovani, rilevando come l’Europa che si vuol costruire sarà all’altezza del suo glorioso passato, se riuscirà ad affermare i valori fondamentali che caratterizzano la sua storia: quei valori umani e cristiani che animarono la sua lunga evoluzione culturale, offrendo al mondo quella splendida fioritura di civiltà, a cui tutti siamo debitori. Io chiedo a voi, cari giovani, di saper conservare e sviluppare con grande coraggio e con rigorosa coerenza le tradizioni originali di questo antico Continente. Imparate a conoscerle a fondo e a far vostro il ricchissimo patrimonio spirituale degli avi, traendo da esso ispirazione e orientamento per le applicazioni nuove richieste dall’ora presente. Cercate con intelligenza il vero bene, formando in voi convinzioni morali ben salde e sviluppando nella vostra coscienza un acuto senso di responsabilità. Sappiate sempre attingere alle fonti dell’amore e della giustizia, che hanno nel cristianesimo la loro scaturigine più ricca ed autentica. 

* * * 

SALUTO, POI, il caro fratello Vescovo, Monsignor Antonio Santucci, il quale presiede al pellegrinaggio della parrocchia di San Basilio in Salcito (Campobasso). Benedico volentieri la corona che verrà posta sul capo dell’effigie della Vergine il 15 agosto prossimo. Invito tutti a vivere con spirito di fede la loro vocazione cristiana, sull’esempio di Maria. 

* * * 

UN PENSIERO di cordiale benvenuto ai componenti del circolo culturale Eugenio Pertini, di Verona, ed ai soci di lingua italiana del Lyons Club, guidati dal Presidente Internazionale dell’Associazione. 

* * * 

IL MIO PENSIERO va poi al gruppo dei cittadini dello Sri-Lanka, che lavorano a Napoli. A loro l’augurio cordiale di un sereno soggiorno in Italia, insieme con l’assicurazione di una speciale preghiera perché l’aiuto divino li sorregga nelle fatiche quotidiane. A tutti la mia Benedizione Apostolica. 

Ai giovani 

RIVOLGO ORA un pensiero ai ragazzi, alle ragazze e ai giovani presenti a questa Udienza. L’imminente solennità dell’Annunciazione del Signore ci invita a riflettere sulla realtà del mistero: “L’Angelo del Signore portò l’annunzio a Maria ed Ella concepì in virtù dello Spirito Santo”. In un momento decisivo per la propria vita e per la storia umana, Maria trovò nella fede e nell’abbandono in Dio il coraggio di pronunciare il suo “sì”, di dare l’assenso al piano della redenzione.

Cari Giovani, su ciascuno di voi Iddio ha un piano provvidenziale di amore e di salvezza: imparate, sull’esempio della Vergine Santissima, a dare a Dio il vostro consenso cosciente, così da partecipare responsabilmente ai suoi disegni. Pregate la Madonna che vi sia sempre accanto in questo impegno. Anch’io prego con voi e per voi e vi benedico. 

Agli ammalati 

CARI MALATI, con il consenso alla parola dell’Angelo, la Vergine Santissima diventa Madre di Gesù e accetta contemporaneamente un carico di dolore e di gioia, una Missione di Madre addolorata e beata. Anche voi siete chiamati a condividere una grande vocazione di passione e di glorificazione: attraverso le tribolazioni, i dolori, la malattia, il Signore vi rende degni di se, e capaci anche di meritare in favore degli altri, in virtù della comunione dei santi: offritevi a Dio per le mani della “Madre addolorata” come vittime di espiazione per i peccati dell’umanità. La mia Benedizione vi aiuti a comprendere e realizzare questa missione.

 Ai novelli sposi 

Cari sposi,

L’EVENTO MISTERIOSO dell’incarnazione del Verbo, che si compie nel giorno dell’Annunciazione, vi renda particolarmente attenti all’opera di Dio. Il prodigio della vita umana nascente e sempre rinnovantesi trovi in voi collaboratori fedeli e grati, con la disponibilità e la generosità di Maria, la Benedetta fra le donne, pronta a pronunziare il suo “sì” al volere di Dio. La Madre di Gesù assista la vostra giovane famiglia e la mia Benedizione vi accompagni sempre.

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