Honorius I - Condemned By A Council

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A pope condemned by a council of the Church. Such was Honorius I. The Sixth Ecumenical Council held at Constantinople in 680 condemned this pope's slackness in detecting error. Pope Leo II in approving the decrees of the Council stated that Pope Honorius was condemned because "he permitted the immaculate faith to be stained."

Such an introduction to the life of Pope Honorius I is spectacular and suits well the position of this pope in church history, but it does little justice to his achievements as an administrator, highly regarded by his contemporaries.

Honorius was born in Campania, the son of Petronius, a consul. He was consecrated pope in November 625. As pope, he devoted himself to keeping up the churches of Rome. He adorned the principal gate of St. Peter's with 975 pounds of silver. He built a new, lavishly ornamented church in honor of St. Agnes. Honorius was noted for his efficient management of the estate of the patrimony of St. Peter. He also took care of several matters concerning ritual. Indeed, as a practical administrator, Honorius proved to be pre- eminent.

Yet he is remembered today as the pope who was condemned by a Council! A key to understanding this pope's trouble is to remember that he was a practical administrator without being a deep theologian. He was a true father who wished to bring all his children together. And he did have a certain amount of success. He brought to a temporary end the schism of Aquileia. He succeeded--a touchy matter--in bringing the Southern Irish to abandon their traditional date for Easter. St. Patrick had, of course, brought over the date then celebrated at Rome; but since 432 the date had been corrected, and the difference between the corrected Roman date and the Patrician date had been a source of strife and contention.

Now perhaps the most troublesome heresy was still the Monophysite, which though condemned by Pope St. Leo I and the Council of Chalcedon back in 451 still afflicted whole provinces of the East. It is easy to imagine the joy of the Pontiff when Sergius, the patriarch of Constantinople, wrote him that Cyrus, patriarch of Alexandria, had reconciled Monophysite Egypt to the true faith! It is also easy to see how Honorius should have tried to soothe any quarrel which might endanger this great reconciliation. And Sergius informed him that a monk named Sophronius was threatening to upset all this fine work with his stubborn opposition to the use of the term, "one operation," i.e., of the God-Man, Christ.

Actually Sophronius was right, because under the compromise formula the Egyptians still held the basic Monophysite principle; but the eager Honorius wrote a letter to Sergius in which, while he teaches the orthodox doctrine of one person and two natures in Christ, he expressed his opinion that neither the term "one operation" nor the term "two operations" should be used. This is what the Sixth Ecumenical Council and Leo II rightly censured, for Honorius should have been more on his guard, and should have spoken more clearly and forcibly when appealed to as head of the Church.

All this storm rose after the death of Honorius. He was held in high esteem when he died in October 638. He was buried in St. Peter's.

Excerpted from "Popes Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.

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