Reference address :

ELPENOR - Home of the Greek Word

Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The Heraclian epoch (610-717)

Religious Policy of the dynasty

Monotheletism and the "Exposition of Faith" 


The Original Greek New Testament

The Persian campaigns of Heraclius, by reclaiming for the Empire its Monophysitic provinces Syria, Palestine, and Egypt once more brought to the fore the problem of the government's attitude toward the Monophysites. Even during his campaigns Heraclius began negotiations with the Monophysitic bishops of the eastern provinces in order to bring about some sort of church unity by making certain concessions in the realm of dogma. It seemed that unity was possible if the Orthodox Church consented to recognize that Jesus Christ had two substances and one operation (energy, ἐνέργεια), or one will (θέλημα). From the last Greek word the teaching derived the name of Monotheletism, by which it is known in history.

Antioch and Alexandria, represented by their Monophysitic patriarchs appointed by Heraclius, were willing to work towards an agreement, as was Patriarch Sergius of Constantinople. But against the Monothelete doctrine rose the Palestinian monk, Sophronius, who lived in Alexandria, and his impressive arguments against the new teaching threatened to undermine the conciliatory policy of Heraclius. The Roman pope, Honorius, recognizing the danger of all disputes of dogmatical problems which had not been settled by the ecumenical councils, proclaimed that the teaching of one will was correct. Sophronius, raised to the rank of patriarch of Jerusalem, a position which afforded him ample opportunity for exerting still greater and wider influence, sent a synodical letter to the bishop of Constantinople in which he argued with great theological skill the unorthodoxy of the Monotheletic teaching.

Anticipating the approach of great church disturbances, Heraclius issued the Ecthesis (ἔκθεσις) or Exposition of Faith, which recognized two natures and one will in Jesus Christ. The Christological part of this document was composed by Patriarch Sergius. The Emperor hoped that the Ecthesis would do much to reconcile the Monophysites with the orthodox, but his hopes were not realized. The new pope did not approve of the Ecthesis, and, attempting to defend the doctrine of the existence of two wills and two operations, proclaimed the Monotheletic teaching a heresy. This action introduced an unexpected animosity between the pope and the Emperor. Moreover, the Ecthesis was published when it could not have the great effect upon which Heraclius was counting. The Emperor's chief aim was to reconcile the eastern Monophysitic provinces with orthodoxy. But in the year 638, when the Ecthesis was published, Syria, Palestine, and the Byzantine portion of Mesopotamia no longer formed part of the Byzantine Empire, for they had been occupied by the Arabs. There was still the province of Egypt, but even its days were numbered. The Monophysitic question had lost its political importance, and the decree of Heraclius was of no consequence. For that matter, similar earlier attempts at religious compromise had never led to satisfactory results and never succeeded in solving the main problems, chiefly because of the constant obstinacy of the majority on each side 

A History of the Byzantine Empire - Table of Contents

Next Chapter : “Type of Faith” of Constans II

Previous Chapter : The Slavonic advance and the origin of the Bulgarian kingdom



Medieval West * The Making of Europe
Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Learned Freeware

Reference address :