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Third Council of Constantinople


Third Council of Constantinople

Third Council of Constantinople
Date 680–681
Accepted by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Old Catholics
Previous council
Second Council of Constantinople
Next council
Second Council of Nicaea
Convoked by Emperor Constantine IV
President Patriarch George I of Constantinople
Attendance perhaps 300; signatories to the documents ranged from 43 (first session) to 174 (last session)
Topics Monothelitism, the human and divine wills of Jesus
Documents and statements
condemnation of Monothelitism
Chronological list of Ecumenical councils

The Third Council of Constantinople, counted as the Sixth Ecumenical Council[1] by the Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church 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).[2]


  • Background 1
  • Proceedings 2
  • Footnotes 3
  • Sources 4
  • External links 5


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 recover much of the part of his Empire lost to 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.[3] Pope Martin I and the monk Maximus, the foremost opponents of monothelitism (which they interpreted as denying a human faculty of will to Christ), held a synod in Rome in 649 that condemned monoenergism and monothelitism.[4] 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.[5]

After Constans' son and successor, 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 the Trullus. 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 Saracen Muslim 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, took part in the discussions and returned for the closing session on 16 September 681, attended by 151 bishops.[2]

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.[6] 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 and included those who had supported this heresy, including Pope Honorius I and four previous patriarchs of Constantinople.[2] When the council had concluded, the decrees were sent to Rome where they were confirmed by Agatho's successor, Pope Leo II [6]

At some point during the council's proceedings, a Monothelite priest claimed he could raise the dead, thereby proving his faith supreme. He had a corpse brought forth, but after whispering prayers into its ears, could not revive the body.[7]


  1. ^ Continuity and Change in Creed and Confessions, Credo: Historical and Theological Guide to Creeds and Confessions of Faith, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan (Yale University Press, 2013), 15.
  2. ^ a b c George Ostrogorsky, History of the Byzantine State (Rutgers University Press, 1995), 127.
  3. ^ The Acts of the Council of Chalcedon, Volume 1, transl. Richard Price and Michael Gaddis (Liverpool University Press, 2005), 55.
  4. ^ Joseph N. Tylenda, Saints and Feasts of the Liturgical Year (Georgetown University Press, 2003), 60.
  5. ^ A. Edward Siecienski, The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy (Oxford University Press, 2010), 74.
  6. ^ a b c Joseph Brusher, S.J., Popes Through the Ages.
  7. ^ Kelly, Joseph F. "Chapter Three: The Byzantine Councils." The Ecumenical Councils of the Catholic Church: A History. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2009. 59. Print.


  • "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 0-8135-0599-2
  • 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.

External links

  • Original text taken from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library at which is in the public domain
  • Catholic Encyclopedia: Third Council of Constantinople
  • Third Council of Constantinople
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