Two Wills In Christ? Contemporary Objections Considered In The Light Of A Critical Examination Of Maximus The Confessor’s “Disputation With Pyrrhus” -- By: Thomas A. Watts

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 71:2 (Fall 2009)
Article: Two Wills In Christ? Contemporary Objections Considered In The Light Of A Critical Examination Of Maximus The Confessor’s “Disputation With Pyrrhus”
Author: Thomas A. Watts


Two Wills In Christ? Contemporary Objections Considered In The Light Of A Critical Examination Of Maximus The Confessor’s “Disputation With Pyrrhus”

Thomas A. Watts

Thomas A. Watts recently graduated from the Th.M. program at Oak Hill Theological College, London, and is Curate at Christ Church Wharton, Winsford, Cheshire, U.K.

The twentieth century saw an increasing dissatisfaction among theologians with Chalcedonian Christology. It was seen as being too reliant on Aristotelian metaphysics, which had long been out of fashion, and it was argued that it failed to do justice to the very human portrayal of Jesus, especially in the Synoptic Gospels. Much attention has been paid to discussing and defending the “Chalcedonian solution” itself.1 Comparatively little attention has been paid to the findings of the three ecumenical councils that followed Chalcedon, in the period 451-787. The aim of these councils was to clarify and expound the Chalcedonian Christology in the face of continuing misunderstanding and error.

The findings of one of these councils, the Third Council of Constantinople (the Sixth Ecumenical Council) in 680, have been described as the “reductio ad absurdum” of Chalcedonian Christology.2 The reason for this is the council’s condemnation of the teaching that Jesus had only one will (“monothelitism”), and its affirmation of the teaching that he had two wills (“dyothelitism”), a human will and a divine will, because of his two natures.3 This, it is argued, reveals the problem with a one-person, two-natures Christology: it leads to apparently arbitrary decisions about whether things must be predicated of Jesus’ person or of his natures.

The aim of this article is to examine and evaluate the particular charge against Chalcedonian Christology that it is absurd to speak of Jesus as having two wills. We shall begin by outlining some contemporary arguments against two wills. We shall then turn to Maximus the Confessor, the main proponent of

dyothelitism in the period leading up to the Third Council of Constantinople. In particular we shall examine in detail one work of his, the Disputation with Pyrrhus. The aim of this approach is twofold: first, it happens that the Disputation recounts a sustained debate on the precise questions that concern people today, and is therefore suitable for detailed study in this context; secondly, while short summaries of the work are available,4 a more detaile...

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