Early Church Fathers
Excursus on the Condemnation of Pope Honorius.
To this decree attaches not only the necessary importance and interest which belongs to any ecumenical decision upon a disputed doctrinal question with regard to the incarnation of the Son of God, but an altogether accidental interest, arising from the fact that by this decree a Pope of Rome is stricken with anathema in the person of Honorius. I need hardly remind the reader how many interesting and difficult questions in theology such an action on the part of an Ecumenical Council raises, and how all important, not to say vital, to such as accept the ruling of the recent Vatican Council, it is that some explanation of this fact should be arrived at which will be satisfactory. It would be highly improper for me in these pages to discuss the matter theologically. Volumes on each side have been written on this subject, and to these I must refer the reader, but in doing so I hope I may be pardoned if I add a word of counsel-to read both sides. If one's knowledge is derived only from modern Eastern, Anglican or Protestant writers, such as "Janus and the Council," the Pere Gratry's "Letters," or Littledale's controversial books against Rome, one is apt to be as much one-sided as if he took his information from Cardinal Baronius, Cardinal Bellarmine, Rohrbacher's History, or from the recent work on the subject by Pennacchi.2 Perhaps the average reader will hardly find a more satisfactory treatment than that by Bossuet in the Defensio. (Liber VII., cap. xxi, etc.)
It will be sufficient for the purposes of this volume to state that Roman Catholic Curialist writers are not at one as to how the matter is to be treated. Pennacchi, in his work referred to above, is of opinion 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 and to the decree of this Council, that they are orthodox, and that the Council erred in condemning them; as he expresses it, the decree rests upon all error in facto dogmatico. To save an Ecumenical Synod from error, he thinks the synod ceased to be ecumenical before it took this action, and was at that time only a synod of a number of Orientals! Cardinal Baronius has another way out of the difficulty. He says that the name of Honorius was forged and put in the decree by an erasure in the place of the name of Theodore, the quondam Patriarch, who soon after the Council got himself restored to the Patriarchal position. Baronius moreover holds that Honorius's letters have been corrupted, that the Acts of the Council have been corrupted, and, in short, that everything which declares or proves that Honorius was a heretic or was condemned by an Ecumenical Council as such, is untrustworthy and false. The groundlessness, not to say absurdity, of Baronius's view has been often exposed by those of his own communion, a brief but sufficient summary of the refutation will be found in Hefele, who while taking a very halting and unsatisfactory position himself, yet is perfectly clear that Baronius's contention is utterly indefensible.3
Most Roman controversialists of recent years have admitted both the fact of Pope Honorius's condemnation (which Baronius denies), and the monothelite (and therefore heretical) character of his epistles, but they are of opinion that these letters were not his ex cathedra utterances as Doctor Universalis, but mere expressions of the private opinion of the Pontiff as a theologian. With this matter we have no concern in this connexion.
I shall therefore say nothing further on this point but shall simply supply the leading proofs that Honorius was as a matter of fact condemned by the Sixth Ecumenical Council.
1. His condemnation is found in the Acts in the xiiith Session, near the beginning.
2. His two letters were ordered to be burned at the same session.
3. In the xvith Session the bishops exclaimed "Anathema to the heretic Sergius, to the heretic Cyrus, to the heretic Honorius, etc."
4. In the decree of faith published at the xviijth Session it is stated that "the originator of all evil ... found a fit tool for his will in ... Honorius, Pope of Old Rome, etc."
5. The report of the Council to the Emperor says that "Honorius, formerly bishop of Rome" they had "punished with exclusion and anathema" because he followed the monothelites.
6. In its letter to Pope Agatho the Council says it "has slain with anathema Honorius."
7. The imperial decree speaks of the "unholy priests who infected the Church and falsely governed" and mentions among them "Honorius, the Pope of Old Rome, the confirmer of heresy who contradicted himself." The Emperor goes on to anathematize "Honorius who was Pope of Old Rome, who in everything agreed with them, went with them, and strengthened the heresy."
8. Pope Leo II. confirmed the decrees of the Council and expressly says that he too anathematized Honorius.4
9. That Honorius was anathematized by the Sixth Council is mentioned in the Trullan Canons (No. j.).
10. So too the Seventh Council declares its adhesion to the anathema in its decree of faith, and in several places in the acts the same is said.
11. Honorius's name was found in the Roman copy of the Acts. This is evident from Anastasius's life of Leo II. (Vita Leonis II.)
12. The Papal Oath as found in the Liber Diurnus5 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."
13. In the lesson for the feast of St. Leo II. in the Roman Breviary the name of Pope Honorius occurs among those excommunicated by the Sixth Synod. Upon this we may well hear Bossuet: "They suppress as far as they can, the Liber Diurnus: they have erased this from the Roman Breviary. Rave they therefore hidden it? Truth breaks out from all sides, and these things become so much the more evident, as they are the more studiously put out of sight."6
With such an array of proof no conservative historian, it would seem, can question the fact that Honorius, the Pope of Rome, was condemned and anathematized as a heretic by the Sixth Ecumenical Council.