The Sullied Reputation of a Holy Pope

HONORIUS I (625 – 638):


St. Robert Bellarmine ended the sixth chapter of his fourth book about the spiritual power of popes by noting “that up to now no supreme Pontiff has ever been an haeretic, and that none of them has been found an haeretic: therefore it is a sign that such a thing cannot happen”.

To give the most convincing practical proof of this, he studied all the cases of all the popes who allegedly had succumbed to errors, beginning with St. Peter and ending with Innocent VIII, the fortieth slandered pope (whom the enemies of the Church accused of allowing the Norwegians to celebrate the Eucharist without using any wine at all).

But his longer historical research has been devoted to everything falsely pretended about the Monothelist deviation of Honorius I. For, there has been a crowd of people relentlessly blackening this Pope’s pontifical actions before Bellarmine, afterwards, and up to now. Here is what Bellarmine says to begin with:

The twenty third (slandered) one is Honorius I whom Nilus declares to have been a Monothelist . . . In the same way, the “Magdeburgenses centuries” . . . put him amidst manifest heretics: for example, Melchior Cano did this.

St. Robert then argues a long series of pros and cons. He gives all the details he has found true, and they fill seven large in-quarto pages. To make our summary clearer, we will divide his answers between those concerning the substance of Honorius’ letters, and those concerning the proofs of numberless falsifications and forgeries that caused many people, especially during the Middle Ages, to believe that Honorius had been solemnly condemned by the Church.

As St. Robert reports, all the scandalous stories started with the Sixth Synod of Constantinople (681-682), e.g. “That synod has condemned Honorius as an heretic (act. 13) and has burnt his letters”.

Then started the endless publications of these conciliar “actions” by following councils, scrupulously repeated by a host of other writers, and even by popes throughout Christendom, even to our present day.

The burning of Honorius’ correspondence with Sergius, the Patriarch of Constantinople who triggered the affair, is significant. I personally find it extremely suspicious that the “judges” should have decided to burn “pieces of evidence”, [which were,] in fact, the only direct physical ones that were in existence. St. Robert is thus obliged to comment upon only two fragments; the rescued parts of the letters that had escaped combustion. He writes the following analysis:

In these letters there are not any errors. Honorius confesses, as far as this affair is concerned that there were in Jesus two will-powers that operated distinctly. He merely forbids anyone to use the phrases “only one will-power” or “two will-powers”, which had never been heard of before that time. But his confessing the real existence of both powers is conspicuous in his second letter:

We must confess that there are two natures in One Christ, that they are coupled into natural unity in which they operate in communion with each other, that they are distinct operators. Each is endowed with its particular energy: one achieves what God intends, the other achieves what must be called the will of His flesh, the man’s purpose… They operate concurrently, without any separation or coalescing. We must teach that human nature is not to be fused into the Godhead, or inversely, Divine nature into humanity. We have to profess that both natures wholly retain their autonomy and differences. . .”

This proclamation is perfectly Catholic; it quite destroys Monothelism. Only grave reasons of prudence appear to have caused Honorius to forbid Sergius to use the phrases “two operations” or “one operation”. It was precisely the time when the dreadful heresy [of Monothelism] was being born, and nothing had yet been decided by the Church about the use of such terminology. These words had been heard for the first time in the sermons of Cyrus of Alexandria, who had then taught that there was only one “operation” in Jesus Christ. He was contradicted by Sophronius, the bishop of Jerusalem, who insisted that there were two powers operating. Cyrus had just appealed to Sergius, who referred the matter to Rome.

The pope was afraid of what might happen, and, nevertheless, did happen. The dispute developed into a grievous schism. Honorius immediately realized that if these words were not used, orthodoxy might be safe. To reconcile both parties, he aimed at removing the stumbling block; the very vocables that were the bone of contention. This is why he wrote in his first letter that the phrase “only one operation” was to be avoided, so as not to appear to be allowing only one nature to Christ as the Eutychians did.At the same time the phrase “two operations” was to be avoided so as not to appear to side with the Nestorians who claimed that Jesus consisted of two persons.

Honorius wrote: “. . . in order that people may not think that we are Nestorians, that we waddle into this sectarian mud because of the provoking vocables ‘twin operations’ and, similarly in order that surprised ears may not deduce from our speaking of one operation that we profess the devilish nonsense of the Eutychians.”

He goes on in his second letter teaching how to speak in order to have the opposite opinions reconciled: “To avoid the scandal of a new invention, we are not allowed to define that there are two operations. But instead of the unique operation achieving decisions, as some will say, we must speak of one person, our Lord Jesus Christ, truly acting according to His two natures: similarly instead of two operations, we had better speak of two natures and avoid words meaning twin processes; we had better speak of humanity and divinity assumed by one Being, the Godhead’s sole Son, and assert that both natures proceed along their own distinct manners, without separating from or fusing into each other.”

Why then should he speak of only one source of voluntariness a few lines further down?” [I.e., is he stupid enough to contradict himself in one and the same letter?] For he soon says: “Therefore we confess that there is only one voluntary origin to our Lord Jesus Christ’s actions’

I answer that immediately before writing this passage Honorius had exclusively dealt with His human nature. He consequently wanted to say: there have never been conflicting will-powers in Jesus, namely flesh versus spirit, because the spiritual power of Christ’s manhood did not ask for anything unreasonable. This did Honorius bear in mind which is obvious if we follow what he explains:

Therefore we mention only one will-power in Jesus. He did assume our human nature forsooth, but not the sinners’ one. This nature was such as it existed when first created before sinning; it was not the nature that became vitiated by sin.”

This way of reasoning is worthless if we use it to demonstrate that there is only one will-power in Jesus, both a perfect man and really God. But it is quite relevant to show that the man in Jesus has never suffered from opposing impulses, the will of the Flesh and that of His human spirit. For these conflicting inclinations in today’s men are born from sin. But Christ surely enjoys human nature immaculate.

In any case, one could object some passages from the Gospel, such as: “I have not come to do My own will”, and “Not what I want, but You”. They seem to prove that there are two conflicting will-powers in Jesus, considered as a man: an evil, selfish one that refused the Passion, and a second one that did not in the first place want to do his own selfish will, but fulfill the contrary design which was God’s will. Honorius does not fail to deal with this objection a little further on. He answers:

It is written, He said, ‘I have not come to do my own will, but My Father’s who sent Me.’ and ‘Not what I, but what You want, Father!’ and other things of the same tenor. These do not manifest diverging purposes, but the acceptance of human nature which God has assumed. These words have been uttered for our sake, in order to afford us a lesson, so that we may walk in his footsteps. The devoted Master sets an example for his disciples, so that each of us, in every circumstance, should do God’s will and not our own.”

This means that Christ has not entertained contrary intentions, so that he should have had to labor to suppress and mortify one of them. But he speaks as though he were dragged to and fro by conflicting impelling powers, to teach us how to mortify our own will-power that is often tempted to rebel against God.

As usual Bellarmine is very exhaustive about the circumstances of every case he examines.

Next, we cover his assertions and proofs that Honorius’ letters to Sergius may have been tampered with by heretics, and then placed into the conciliar register. He first notes that:

. . . the supposition would not be rash because pseudo-letters of pope Vigil and of Manna the Constantinopolitan Patriarch had previously been introduced into the records of the Fifth General Council. This has been testified in the 12th and 14th acts of the Sixth General Council, when the hoax was discovered as the Fathers read over the acts of the preceding Fifth Synod and found that files containing fabricated letters had been inserted. There would be nothing extraordinary if the same kind of forgers had falsified the register of the Sixth General Council.

But after having given his own reading of the remainders of the two letters, Bellarmine supports his interpretation by an incontrovertible historical proof. He produces the testimony of Saint Maxim who was Honorius’ contemporary; he writes:

Saint Maxim has actually written a “Dialogue” directed at Pyrrhus who had succeeded Sergius. This “Dialogue” has been preserved in the Vatican’s Library. St. Maxim stages himself facing heretical Pyrrhus who cites Honorius as a witness supporting his side. And the saint personally replies that Honorius had always been Catholic. He puts forward several pieces of evidence, among which is the statement of Honorius’ secretary to whom the pope had dictated his letters to Sergius. Maxim says: “The man is still alive and bears witness that Honorius has never thought of negating two will­powers in Our Lord Jesus Christ. The secretary asserts that where Honorius seems to be refusing the duality, one must understand what he means aright: he thinks of the conflicting tendencies in human nature. They are the result of sin, but have never existed in Jesus”.

Let us quote Saint Maxim directly:

Pyrrhus: what can you answer about Honorius who, a few years ago stated in the letters he sent to Sergius that obviously there was but one will-power in Our Lord Jesus Christ?

Maxim: Which version of these letters must be considered as the more undeniable, the more consistent with truth: either the one by the secretary who wrote under Honorius’ direction, and who is all the more reliable as he is still alive after illuminating all the western countries with the splendour of religious integrity, or had we better confide in what is reported by the citizens of Constantinople who conveniently utter only what pleases them?

Pyrrhus: the more trustworthy interpretation is afforded by the one who wrote the letters.

Maxim: now then, this is what the latter wrote to Emperor Constantine (III) when Pope John (IV) ordered him to give his own account: ‘You may be sure that what we have said of the one, unique, will-power in Our Lord, must not be understood as describing both his natures at once, the human and the divine one. This applies only to his human nature. When Sergius announced that some people taught that there were two will-powers fighting each other in Jesus Christ, we answered that there were no conflicting inclinations in Him’.”

Lastly it being quite evident that in his whole letter Honorius insists that such phrases as “one will-power” or “two will-powers” must be omitted, how could he forget his decision and deliberately confess that there exists only one will-power? This demonstrates that he does not speak of one will-power exerted both by the man and the God at once, but of the quality of Jesus’ human nature alone. The following lines (infra) will confirm the secretary’s testimony. So we do maintain that no heresy is to be found in Honorius’ letters.

This, surely, is enough to convince sensible Christians that Honorius has never been an heretic. But because so much is made of the condemnation of this disciple of Gregory (Gregorius Magnus, i.e. St. Gregory the Great) by the so-called Sixth Synod of Constantinople, to satisfy interested readers’ curiosity, let us go on with what Bellarmine says about it:

No doubt the enemies of the Roman Church have achieved (this inclusion of) Honorius in the list of those condemned by the sixth council, as well as interpolating every charge invented against him in the conciliar register.That is what I demonstrate first of all through the testimony of Anastasius the librarian who reports in his “History” that (that particular) treachery really happened, according to the description of the Greek Theophanus Isaurus; secondly by reminding people that it was an almost universal practice among Greeks to falsify texts.

Here St. Robert Bellarmine repeats what he has already been revealed about acts 12 and 14 of the Council. He adds:

St. Leo the Great in his “Epistle to the Palestinians” (83) already complained that, not keeping in mind his being a living witness, the Greeks had altered his “Epistle to Flavian”. Gregory (vol. V, epistle 14 to Narsis) asserted that the Constantinopolitans did corrupt the Chalcedonian Synod and that he suspected they did the same with the Ephesian Council. He adds that the Roman manuscripts are much more trustworthy than the Grecian ones, “because, as the Romans are less subtle, they are also less inclined to perfidy”.

A last example: Nicolas I in his epistle to Michael refers the Emperor to Hadrian’s letter with these words:

It is still intact, exactly as it was originally sent by the Apostolic See, in the hands of the Constantinopolitan clergy, if however, it has not been tampered with according to the Greeks’ habit.” And he does not say so without a good reason. For what he quotes from Hadrian’s letter to Tharasius in the epistle he himself sent to Photius, has vanished from the same letter, as it was read during the Seventh Synod. The Greeks had actually suppressed a whole passage, because it meant dishonor for Tharasius. Now if the Greeks did corrupt the Third, Fourth, Fifth and Seventh synods, is there anything extraordinary about their likewise falsifying the Sixth? All the more so, because after the council had been regularly concluded, many bishops traveled back to Constantinople to edict the so-called “canons of Trullos”. These bishops seem to have had but one purpose i.e. to blame and injure the Roman Church.

What Bellarmine reports is, quite clearly, more than enough to show that Honorius’ conciliar condemnation was faked.

For further confirmation of this foul play there are many other proofs, and among them, those shown in my essay about “the old orthodox”: what the Abbes Barruel and Darras discovered during the 19th century. To show how incredible it is that (modern) Catholic researchers could have been really unaware of the Greeks’ customary fabrications, as some prominent sedevacantists [and other prominent self-taught “theologians”] feign to be, I will add what the “protonotarius apostolicus”, Justin Fevre, reports in the reissue of the complete works of St. Robert Bellarmine (A.D. 1870), which no “expert” can pretend not to have read. But our sedevacantist [and other self-taught “theologian”] “periti” are often no better than any conciliar “peritus” of thirty [now, 47] years ago: they are either venomous traitors or naive followers of the arch marvelous chief liar, faithfully repeating calumnies against Christ’s vicars without any hesitation. In a footnote (liber IV, Chapter XI) the “protonotarius apostolicus” reveals that it is quite certain:

1) that there were specialised workshops fabricating apocryphal documents both in Antioch and in Constantinople in the surroundings of the churches dedicated to Saint John and Saint Phocas.

2) that 227 Greek bishops have, without any qualms, signed the text of the so-called “quintus-sextus” (V – VI) General Council, a wild meeting between the Fifth and the Sixth regular ones, which Rome has always considered as a “robbers’ synod”, similar to the one that took place after the real Sixth synod of Constantinople, and prepared the ”canons of Trullos”, well-known because the Eastern Church has used them as an excuse to allow her priests (popes) to marry.

3) that the texts of the Sixth Synod have undergone so many mutations and interpolations that they are teeming with contradictions.

4) that forgery is patent when one compares the acts of the Sixth Synod with St. Agatho`s biography in the Pontifical Annals (Liber Pontificalis).

5) that Rome has never admitted any accusation against Honorius. The letters of Saint Leo II which divulge the condemnation have been fabricated by Monothelists. This is evident from a confusion of dates, from the stupidity of the “Pontiff” contradicting St Agatho and Emperor Constantine Pogonat, and writing to Quiricius Toletanus, who had been dead for forty years, and to Simplicius, a Spanish prefect who never existed. If you want more proofs, consult the ‘Annales de philosophic chretienne’ 1853, second volume.

Bellarmine also gives the following reason of internal consistency.

The Council could not condemn Honorius for any heresy, unless warring against itself and Agatho`s letter by plainly asserting contradicting declarations. For in his first letter Agatho, writing as the reigning pope to the Emperor, expressed the doctrine that was read to the conciliar Fathers during the 4th session: “This is the original substance of our faith, the very one that has been maintained in either tempestuous or halcyon days by the spiritual Mother of your most serene Empire. She cannot be any other than the Church of Christ’s apostles, that supported by God’s grace has never wandered out of the true path of Tradition, which the years to come will clearly show; for She has never admitted the corruption of later heresy: on the contrary she has preserved the Deposit of Faith immaculate, as she received it at the beginning from Jesus’ apostles who ruled Her. She will keep it unsullied to the end. Indeed She thus achieves what was divinely promised by our Lord, who said to the Prince of disciples what has been reported in the Gospels; ‘Peter, Peter, now Satan has claimed his right to sift you like wheat; but I have asked for thee that thy faith should not fail; as for thou, when you are converted, steady thy brethren’ May your Serene Majesty think that the Lord and Saviour of all, the very essence of our faith, has promised that Peter’s orthodoxy could not fail and has commanded him to confirm the faith of his brothers; which every one of the Pontiffs that have preceded me, the minim among them, has always done carefully, as has been universally acknowledged.”

There you note that Agatho does not only say that Faith has never failed in St. Peter’s See, and cannot fail either, so that the supreme Pontiff cannot officially decree anything contrary to the Deposit of Faith, but also that every one of his predecessors, among whom Honorius is included, has always resisted heresies and steadied his brothers in the true Faith.And, further below, after enumerating as heretical the Monothelists Cyrus, Sergius, Pyrrhus, Peter, Paul and Theodore, he concludes: “Consequently we must use the utmost energy to rescue and liberate the Holy Divine Church from the errors of such Doctors, in order that all the members of the hierarchy, of the clergy, of the Christian population may confess and teach with us the right orthodox and apostolic doctrine which is founded upon the rock of St. Peter, the prince of the apostles of our Church, who through the grace and protection of this self-same Peter remains unsullied by any error whatsoever.”

This epistle received unanimous approbation from the Synod. Indeed the Conciliar Fathers approved Agatho enthusiastically in their acts 8 and 18: “These words are not really Agatho’s: blessed Peter has spoken through him.” This is my way of arguing from these data: if Honorius had actually been a Monothelist, how does Agatho, while combating the Monothelist heresy, brazenly dare pretend:

1) that none of his predecessors has ever deviated from Truth.

2) then that other churches have been smeared by errors of their Prelates

3) and that eventually Rome alone should have remained immaculate ?

On the other hand if the Council states that Peter has expressed himself through Agatho, while the latter proclaimed that the Roman pontiffs have constantly strengthened their brothers’ faith, and never succumbed to any heresy, how then do the Conciliar Fathers dare anathematize Honorius in almost every synodal act? It is, obviously, then necessary either that the acts should have been falsified, or that Agatho’s letter should have been counterfeited. In default of which the Council inflicts upon itself and Agatho a cutting contradiction, which even heretics never suggested. The second possibility has nowhere been mentioned and no trace of it has ever been found. We must then stick to the first possibility.

Then Bellarmine definitely destroys Nilus’ criticism about Agatho’s message to the Council. Which once done, he considers other allegations:

On the third point I answer the Fathers of the seventh Council have only followed the archives of the sixth. They have merely repeated what they could read. They were but misled by the forged records.

St Robert then goes on tackling other false assumptions, among which the case of Pope Hadrian’s document.

On the fourth proof which is proposed, I answer Pope Hadrian, and the Council he gathered in Rome, does not directly affirm Honorius to have been heretical. He merely reports that he has been declared heretical by the Orientals. He knew quite well that, according to the antecedent Council that had been convoked by Martin I in Rome, Honorius had never been condemned by the Western Church.

To the fifth argument I answer that Melchior Cano has erred twice. First, when he says that Agatho had anathematized Honorius. The condemnation is nowhere to be found in any of Agatho’s letters. Apparently Cano has been deceived by the “Summa conciliarum”. [It is obvious that] the author of the compendium has indeed added the name of Honorius to the list of the heretics that Agatho excommunicated despite contrary evidence, [which is that] Agatho’s letters are all entirely copied in the second volume of the Summa. Moreover Cano errs a second time when he says that Agatho sent his letter to Council VI.The truth is that Agatho has directed both letters that are referred to, to the Emperor of Byzantium.

As for the sixth statement, I reply to it that if Leo II’s letter is supposed to be a piece of Synod VI, and is quoted as such, this shows that the epistle has been fabricated by the same forgers that falsified Synod VI.

About the seventh way of arguing I answer: I oppose some authors to others, the majority to the minority, the more ancient to the more modern.

Here he quotes the names of the authors he relies upon. He concludes thus:

I have counted Bede among the former ones, in spite of Cano. I have no doubts about the Britannic Saint’s opinion, though Honorius’ name does suddenly appear in Liber I, “De sex aetatibus” among the hierarchs excommunicated by Synod VI.

At the late period when the copyist was working, this semi-erudite intellectual [the copyist] probably added Honorius to the list Bede had transmitted, [since] the name was almost everywhere associated with Cyrus, Sergius, etc… in the accounts of the Sixth Constantinopolitan Council.

One really gathers from Venerable Bede’s second book of his History of the Angles that the author had constantly known that even after his death Honorius’ reputation was reminiscent of holiness (among contemporary Romans). Bede repeatedly cites him as an example of the Good Shepherd, i.e. in his Vita Sancti Bortolfi, Abbatis (the Life of Abbot Saint Bortolfus), where he qualifies Honorius sometimes as holy (sanctus), sometimes as blessed (beatus). He says among other things: “Honorius has been a hardy, wise, venerable Pontiff, steady of purpose, illustrious for his doctrine, of conspicuous mildness and humility.” And a little further on, ‘This holy pope did not forget Bortolfus, his (spiritual) father, and invested him with the charge that the latter had wished to get. He moreover endowed him with the privilege of depending directly upon the Holy See, so that no bishop could pretend to exert any jurisdictional power over the above-mentioned monastery.”

This did Venerable Bede write about Honorius. He would never have done so if he had believed that St. Gregory’s disciple had been excommunicated because of heresy.

(Thus ends St. Robert Bellarmine’s, and our, defense of Pope Honorius I.)

The following quotation is from the original Douay-Rheims bible, printed in 1582, and was written by Dr. (Fr.) Gregory Martin and his collaborators.

Now to give thee also intelligence in particular, most gentle reader, of such things as it behooveth thee specially to know concerning our Translation: we translate the old vulgar Latin text (i.e. the Latin Vulgate of St. Jerome), not the common Greek text, for these causes:

. . . 10. The proof hereof is evident because most of the ancient Heretics were Grecians, and therefore the Scriptures in Greek were more corrupted by them, as the ancient fathers often complain.

Then follows a long discussion, proving that the Greek texts of the Holy Scriptures which were either contemporaneous or came after St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate, had been, very often, tampered with by the various Greek heretics of the period, and could not be relied upon for accuracy.

This is further corroboration for St. Robert Bellarmine’s flat statements that the Greeks had falsified the records of the various councils.

Apparently, it was common knowledge at the time.

Lastly, let us mention that the opponents of the Doctrine of Infallibility during the debates at Vatican Council I which defined that doctrine, also used the specious argument of Pope Honorius I’s falsified “defection” against it, and that argument was set aside as null and void by that Council.