Third Council of Constantinople (680-681): Does Jesus has one nature / operation or two?

· Christianity

Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, now Istanbul, first built in 360 AD

Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

The best way to demystify Trinity and other dogma of Christianity, where they differ from Judaism and Islam, is to study their history. Trinity should be studied in the history of the first six Ecumenical Councils and even beyond.

Let me say in the very beginning; for the devout Christian readers, viewers’ discretion is advised. But, if you decide to read it, let me say: Read on, and in the words of Sir Francis Bacon’s advice, “Read not to contradict … but to weigh and consider.”

If you choose to read this there is no need to worry about loss of faith, because it can always be replaced with a better one with more wholesome understanding.

The Third Council of Constantinople is believed to have been the Sixth Ecumenical Council by the Eastern Orthodox, the Roman Catholics, the Old Catholics, and a number of other Western Christian groups. According to Encyclopedia Britannica:

The Third Council of Constantinople was held in (680–681), the sixth ecumenical council of the Christian church, summoned by the emperor Constantine IV and meeting at Constantinople.

Some eastern Christians, forbidden to talk of the concept of one nature of Christ, thought to enforce the unity of the person of Christ by talking of one will (thelema) and one operation (energeia) from the two natures. Persons holding this view were called Monothelites. Sergius, patriarch of Constantinople, and Honorius I, pope of Rome, appear to have embraced the Monothelite doctrine. The council of 680–681 condemned the Monothelites, among them Honorius, and asserted two wills and two operations.[1]

This quote, by highlighting centuries of debates, not only talks volumes about the nature of Jesus in Christianity, but also about Christian dogma of Trinity and assertion of infallibility of the Popes.  Please note that Sergius, patriarch of Constantinople, and Honorius I, pope of Rome, believed in the Monothelite doctrine, which was declared heretical in the Third Council of Constantinople.

Almost 650 years after crucifixion of Jesus, may peace be on him, debates regarding his very basic nature continued to rage. No wonder, if one tries to change a man into a god, it is a mission impossible!

Sometimes the Christian apologists put a spin on these Councils, as if they were tackling only short term and later heresies and fallacies about the nature of Jesus and God. A more honest study of history reveals that the study of nature of Jesus is always a heresy. If it is a mystery and cannot be rationally described or understood then it naturally follows that humans can never have consensus about the nature of Jesus or any other Christian mystery. How can humans, rational beings, build a consensus on any irrationality?

It is the 6th Ecumenical Council and already 680 AD, yet hard to know who Jesus is? It is impossible to build a consensus on a paradox, on a hybrid who is half man and half divine, and to use a Christian expression, ‘perfect man and fully divine.’ The Christian debates of first seven centuries are a clear testimony for anyone who in not deeply indoctrinated in dogma of Christianity that Jesus is a man and according to the Islamic understanding, a prophet of God, like thousands of other prophets that God sent to guide mankind.

In logical terms Jesus cannot be man and God at the same time. Like a man cannot be a rock or an apple, at the same time; men, rocks and apples are different things!  Humans and God are different things, but the paradoxical Christian affirmation of Trinity is called a mystery because you cannot logically explain how Jesus can be both things at once. This is why the rational and insightful Christian theologians label the Christian dogma as mysteries for you cannot logically understand them. Either you adamantly stick to them in the name of faith or you trade them for some other better theology!

Sigmund Freud and other psychologists have given us theories and insights into human psychology. But, no Christian theologian has ever sensibly written on how two natures of Jesus coexisted and how infinite knowledge of god-Jesus flooded the finite psychology of man-Jesus without running it amok? Humanity is still waiting for a psychological theory to explain the two natures under the umbrella of ‘two wills and two operations,’ as asserted by this Council. Imagine dual personality? It is hard enough to understand ego, id and superego of John Doe, not to speak of combining it with ego, id and superego of Tom, Dick and Harry.

I agree it is terribly hard, if not impossible, to have a psychological understanding of ‘perfect man who is also fully divine,’ may be it is time to understand the psychology of those, who agreed to these doctrines, in the first few centuries of Christianity. May I suggest a book and videos about the book: 24 Video lectures: The Great Courses: How Jesus Became God?  and Video: How Jesus Became God, by Prof. Bart Ehrman?

May be, just may be, instead of the Christian mysteries, it is time to fully appreciate the simple yet elegant creed of Islam, ‘There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is a prophet of God?’

In contrast to mysterious claims of Christianity about Divinity and nature of Jesus, the Quranic ideas about God the Creator, His Transcendence and His attribute of a being, beyond direct human perception and the humanity of Jesus are insightful, rational and elegant.  These details were clearly laid out in the Quran and did not require centuries of debates, before 632 CE. the year prophet Muhammad died. Allah says:

Allah has produced you from a single living being and there is for you a home and a lodging. We have explained the Signs in detail for a people who understand.  And it is Allah, Who sends down water from the cloud; and We bring forth therewith every kind of growth; then We bring forth with that green foliage wherefrom We produce clustered grain. And from the date-palm, out of its sheaths, come forth bunches hanging low. And We produce therewith gardens of grapes, and the olive and the pomegranate — similar and dissimilar. Look at the fruit thereof when it bears fruit, and the ripening thereof. Surely, in this are Signs for a people who believe.  And they hold the Jinn to be partners with Allah, although He created them; and they falsely ascribe to Him sons and daughters without any knowledge. Holy is He and exalted far above what they attribute to Him! The Originator of the heavens and the earth! How can He (Allah) have a son when He has no consort, and when He has created everything and has knowledge of all things? Such is Allah, your Lord. There is no God but He, the Creator of all things, so worship Him. And He is Guardian over everything.  Eyes cannot reach Him but He reaches the eyes. And He is the Incomprehensible, the All-Aware.  Proofs have indeed come to you from your Lord; so whoever sees, it is for his own good; and whoever becomes blind, it is to his own harm. And I am not a guardian over you.  And thus do We expound the Signs in diverse ways that they should concede: ‘Thou hast explained it well;’ and that We may explain the Signs to a people who have knowledge.  (Al Quran 6:99-106)

The Quran lays an irrefutable argument against Jesus being son of God the Father. It says that for God to have a literal son, He needs to have a consort and He does not. So, God the Father or Allah as we say it in Islam, has no literal son. Case closed. QED.

My dear Trinitarian Christian brothers and sisters, if you read the debates of the first six Ecumenical Councils and the discussion of Nestorianism, with the possibility that the Islamic paradigm may be the correct one, you will find the truth, God Willing.[2] You will begin to think of Jesus as a man who was a good shepherd of his people and a prophet of God:

Fourth-century inscription, representing Jesus as the good shepherd.


1.  “Council of Constantinople.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 31 Mar. 2010 .


Suggested Reading

God of Islam: God of Nature and the Creator of our Universe

How Islam has Influenced Christian understanding of God

Refuting William Lane Craig’s: ‘The Birth of God’‏

Hagia Sophia from Wikipedia

Hagia Sophia (from the Greek: Ἁγία Σοφία, “Holy Wisdom“; Latin: Sancta Sophia or Sancta Sapientia; Turkish: Ayasofya) is a former Orthodox patriarchal basilica, later a mosque, and now a museum in Istanbul, Turkey. From the date of its dedication in 360 until 1453, it served as the Greek Patriarchal cathedral of Constantinople, except between 1204 and 1261, when it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Patriarch of Constantinople of the Western Crusader established Latin Empire. The building was a mosque from 29 May 1453 until 1931, when it was secularized. It was opened as a museum on 1 February 1935.[1]

The Church was dedicated to the Logos, the second person of the Holy Trinity,[2] its dedication feast taking place on 25 December, the anniversary of the Birth of the incarnation of the Logos in Christ.[2] Although it is sometimes referred to as Sancta Sophia (as though it were named after Saint Sophia), sophia is the phonetic spelling in Latin of the Greek word for wisdom – the full name in Greek being Ναός τῆς Ἁγίας τοῦ Θεοῦ Σοφίας, “Church of the Holy Wisdom of God”.[3][4]


The Third Council of Constantinople From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

The Third Council of Constantinople, counted as the Sixth Ecumenical Council by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches and other Christian groups, met in 680/681 and condemned monoenergism and monothelitism as heretical and defined Jesus Christ as having two energies and two wills (divine and human).[1]




Main article: Monothelitism

The Council settled a set of theological controversies that go back to the sixth century but had intensified under the Emperors Heraclius (610-641) and Constans II (641-668). Heraclius had set out to much of his Empire from the Persians and had attempted to bridge the controversy with Monophysitism, which was particularly strong in Syria and Egypt, by proposing a moderate theological position that had as good support in the tradition as any other. The result was first monoenergism, i.e. that Christ, though existing in two natures, had one energy (divine and human), the second was monothelitism, i.e. that Christ had one will (that is, that there was no opposition in Christ between his human and divine volition). This doctrine was accepted in most of the Byzantine world, but was opposed at Jerusalem and at Rome and started a controversy that persisted even after the loss of the reconquered provinces and the death of Heraclius. When Heraclius’ grandson Constans II took the throne, he saw the controversy as threatening the stability of the Empire and attempted to silence discussion, by outlawing speaking either in favour or against the doctrine. Pope Martin I and the monk Maximus, the foremost opponents of monothelitism (which they misinterpreted as denying a human faculty of will to Christ), held a synod in Rome in 649 that condemned monoenergism and monothelitism. Subsequently, they supported abortive attempts by usurpers to seize power, out of a belief that only a new and orthodox emperor would win divine protection for the empire against its enemies. At Constantinople, however, this was regarded as high treason, and Martin and Maximus were accordingly arrested, tried, condemned and sent into exile, where they soon died. A council at Constantinople in 662, attended by perhaps as many as 400 bishops, condemned both Martin and Maximus (among others), leading to schism with Rome and the western churches.

After Constans’ son and successor, Constantine IV had overcome the Muslim siege of Constantinople in 678, he immediately set his sights on restoring communion with Rome: he wrote to Pope Donus suggesting a conference on the matter. When the letter reached Rome, Donus had died, but his successor, Pope Agatho, agreed to the Emperor’s suggestion and ordered councils held throughout the West so that legates could present the tradition of the Western Church. Then he sent a delegation to meet the Easterners at Constantinople.[2] In the meantime, Constantine summoned Patriarch George I of Constantinople and all bishops of his jurisdiction of Constantinople to a council. He also summoned Patriarch Macarius of Antioch, a Byzantine appointee permanently resident in Constantinople because of the Muslim occupation of his see.


On 7 November 680, a mere 37 bishops and a number of presbyters convened in the imperial palace, in the domed hall called Trullo, from which the council also took the name Trullan Synod. The Patriarchs of Constantinople and of Antioch participated in person, whereas the patriarchates of Alexandria and Jerusalem were represented by Byzantine appointees (because of the Arab conquest there was at this date no patriarch in either of these sees). The POpe and a council he had held in Rome were represented (as was normal at eastern ecumenical councils) by a few priests and bishops. In its opening session, the council assumed the authority of an Ecumenical Council. The Emperor attended and presided over the first eleven sessions and returned for the closing session on 16 September 681, attended by 151 bishops.

During the council, a letter by Pope Agatho was read which asserted as the traditional belief of the Church that Christ was of two wills, divine and human. Most of the bishops present accepted the letter, proclaiming that Peter spoke through Agatho.[2] Macarius of Antioch defended monothelitism but was condemned and deposed, along with his partisans. The council, in keeping with Agatho’s letter, defined that Jesus Christ possessed two energies and two wills but that the human will was ‘in subjection to his divine and all-powerful will’. The council carefully avoided any mention of Maximus the Confessor, who was still regarded with suspicion. It condemned both monoenergism and monothelitism as heretical[1] and included those who had supported this heresy, including Pope Honorius I and four previous patriarchs of Constantinople. When the council had concluded, the decrees were sent to Rome where they were confirmed by Agatho’s successor, Pope Leo II [2] The subsequent Byzantine tradition came to interpret the decrees in line with the teaching of Maximus the Confessor, which brilliantly combined a recognition (shared with the monotheletes) that all Christ’s individual actions were directed by his divine will with an insistence that his human will nevertheless possessed true spontaneity, in virtue of its intrinsic drive (as created) to obey its Creator.


  1. ^ a b Ostrogorsky, p. 127.
  2. ^ a b c Joseph Brusher, S.J., Popes Through the Ages.


“Concilium Universale Constantinopolitanum Tertium”, in Acta Conciliorum Oecumenicorum, ser. 2, II.1-2. ed. R. Riedinger (Berlin 1990 and 1992).

  • Ostrogorsky, George. History of the Byzantine State. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. ISBN 0813505992
  • Ekonomou, Andrew J. 2007. Byzantine Rome and the Greek Popes: Eastern influences on Rome and the papacy from Gregory the Great to Zacharias, A.D. 590-752. Lexington Books.

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