Oleksandr Kashchuk, Monothelitism in Byzantium of the Seventh Century: Doctrine, Politics and Ideology of Power, reviewed by Mariya Horyachaby Oleksandr Kashchuk
ISBN: 978-617-10-0530-3
Published by Ivan Franko National University of Lviv on 2019
Pages: 344

Oleksandr Kashchuk’s monograph originated as a doctoral dissertation at Ivan Franko National University of Lviv. As the author explains in the introduction, he wanted to provide a comprehensive study of the phenomenon of Monothelitism and the response to it from the side of both the Monophysites and the Dyophysites. Kashchuk poses as a central idea of his study the hypothesis that the Monothelite controversy had a political and ideological background and tries to consistently prove it in his study, which includes an introduction, six chapters, conclusions, an extensive English summary, and a bibliography.

In Chapter 1, “Historiography and Sources,” the author considers the state of research on his topic and presents a broad spectrum of sources for his studies: historical chronicles, synodal documents, legislative and judicial theological treatises, correspondence, lives of saints, pastoral epistles, and the Liber Pontificalis. His special focus is the study of the Monothelite controversy in the context of Christian self-awareness and the formation of Christian self-identity.

Chapter 2, “The Political-Theological Background of the Monothelite Controversy and Methodology of Its Study,” introduces readers to the complex pre-history of the Monothelite controversy from the 6th–7th centuries and its historical and geographical background. The author discusses in detail the doctrine of Monenergism as an attempt to bring reconciliation to the Chalcedonians on one side, and the Monophysites and the Nestorians on the other. The author shows the efforts of Patriarch Sergius of Constantinople, Emperor Heraclius, and such protagonists of this doctrine as Patriarch Cyrus of Alexandria, and he explains the reasons for both the successes and failures of these efforts in doctrinal, political, and social-humanitarian contexts. In his view, the factor of religious self-awareness of Christians in various regions of the empire (Syria, Egypt, and Armenia) played a crucial role in the process of forming their non-Chalcedonian identity. Kashchuk also introduces the reader to a step-by-step methodology with the basic terminology of his research, giving clear definitions of key terms such as Logos, hypostasis, nature, Monophysitism, Dyophysitism, energy, Monenergism, Dyenergism, Monothelitism, Dyothelitism, oikonomia, and akribeia.

Chapter 3, “The Official Promotion of Monenergism: Between Identity, Politics and Doctrine,” is dedicated to the analysis of the theological aspects of the Monothelite controversy. The author thoroughly considers the positions of four main “players” of this discussion: Sophronius of Jerusalem, Sergius of Constantinople, Pope Honorius, and Maximus the Confessor, and he traces the development of the debate, the arguments of the parties, and their persuasiveness and consistency. He analyzes the Christological position of Sophronius of Jerusalem on the basis of his “Synodal Epistle,” and he shows its inconsistency in the attempt to combine Chalcedonian and Cyrilian Christology, especially concerning the doctrine of two natures and energies. In his analysis of Sophronius’s Christology, the author disagrees with the opinions of Cyril Hovorun, Demetros Bathrellos, and Phil Booth. Kashchuk also refutes the assumption of some scholars (M. Jankowiak, C. Hovorun, Ph. Booth) that the Ekthesis was acknowledged by all five patriarchs, pointing out that Sophronius’s condemnation of Dyothelitism in Constantionople in 662 contradicts this statement.

Similarly, Kashchuk points to the weakness of the argumentation of Patriarch Sergius of Constantinople and the inconsistency of his monenergetic teaching, and characterizes his position as a willingness to sacrifice doctrinal accuracy for the sake of ecclesial unity. Concerning the positions of Pope Honorius and Maximus the Confessor, he traces the development of their doctrine in the course of the dispute and under the influence of the arguments of the opposing parties. This analysis allows him to single out three key aspects of the Monothelite dispute: doctrine, politics, and identity. The chapter ends with an analysis of the doctrine, set out in the Ekthesis, as an outcome of the first phase of the Monothelite controversy, which brought about the isolation of the Dyenergists and the efforts of the Monothelites to close the unwanted discussion concerning the unsolved theological problem. Having compared the arguments of Sophronius of Jerusalem and Sergius of Constantinople, the author concludes that, in fact, it was not the question of doctrine but that of doctrinal authority in the Church that lay behind their dispute.

In Chapter 4, “The Doctrinal Evolution of the Controversy,” Kashchuk explores the doctrinal aspects of the discussion in its second phase. On the basis of the writings of the main protagonists of both parties—Patriarch Pyrrhus of Constantinople and Maximus the Confessor—he explores the evolution of their teachings and the development of the whole discussion up to its climax and outcome. This analysis convincingly proves that in the course of this controversy the Dyothelites merely confirmed their beliefs, backing them up with clear and consistent arguments in terminology and content, while the Monothelites failed to offer any logical and consistent justification for their Christological doctrine, or to advance clear terms and arguments for its defense. Kashchuk argues that the major differences between Monothelites and Dyothelites lay not in their doctrines but in terminology. He also suggests that the Monothelite controversy was not so much theological as political and ideological. In the next two chapters, he attempts to verify this statement.

In Chapter 5, “Tactics and Politics of the Controversy,” Kashchuk argues that politics played a primary role in the discussion. He shows that both the Monothelites and the Dyothelites applied the same methods in appealing to Scripture and to the teaching of the Church Fathers and Councils, often manipulating quotations and adapting them to their arguments; however, they did so with different degrees of intensity. The Dyothelites were much more thorough and persistent, composing different florilegia (collections of quotations) for argumentation and confirmation of their doctrine. Furthermore, they carefully scrutinized quotes in their opponents’ works, refuting their manipulation of patristic and synodal texts, and exposing falsehood, perversion, and bias in interpreting the doctrine of the Fathers and the Councils. The Dyothelites pointed to the contradiction of Monothelitism with the tradition of the Church even to the point of recognizing this doctrine as heresy, and they considered the Ekthesis to be something new and incompatible with the previous doctrine of the Church. In Kashchuk’s view, the different degree of zeal in the study of the problematic issue witnesses to the political character of the confrontation, in which each party had its own way of behavior and pursued its own goal: the Monothelites acted according to the principle of oikonomia at the expense of doctrinal accuracy for the sake of peace and unity of the empire (for them, “oikonomia became politics”). The Dyothelites cared for terminological accuracy and acted in the spirit of akribeia, trying to delve into the essence of the theological problem in order to preserve truth and purity of faith. The author also presents, on the one hand, the role of the Roman See and the authority of Maximus the Confessor in spreading the doctrine of dyotheletism, and on the other hand, the response of the Monothelites, which was manifested in increased political pressure on the main supporters of Dyothelitism, in particular the exile and martyrdom of Pope Martin I, Maximus the Confessor, and their followers. The author concludes that Monothelitism was a clash not so much of Christological views as of different ideologies of the supreme power in Christianity.

The last chapter deals with the Monothelite controversy from the perspective of the political mentality and religious self-identity of the two parties, demonstrating the role of the social-humanitarian factor in this debate. The author analyzes the basic tenets of the two ideologies of power, on the basis of which two Christian identities were formed: imperial and ecclesiastical. The author traces how the clash between these ideologies gradually transformed into a confrontation and conflict between the two identities, and how ecclesial identity based on the purity of faith and the principle of Pentarchy finally prevailed. In his opinion, the martyrdom of Pope Martin I and the witness of Maximus the Confessor and their disciples played an important role in this victory. The author presents this process of shifting predominance from imperial to ecclesiastical identity from the time of the Monothelite controversy up to the ninth century, and shows the significance of this change for the subsequent events of Church life, especially for the unionistic councils of Lyon and Florence.

Among the book’s merits should be mentioned a well-balanced historical (social and political) contextualization of the Monothelite controversy and a careful reading of basic sources. The author’s primary focus is the key figures of the controversy. Kashchuk provides a thorough analysis of their writings and presents tactics and behaviors of the main representatives of both parties during every phase of the confrontation. However, the other supporters of the Monothelites and the Dyothelites remain somewhat in shadow. A reader may wonder whether this controversy was limited merely to the confrontation of the key figures or it had a great deal of adherents. From the general presentation of the course of events it appears that the two parties did have their adherents, but who they were and their role in the controversy falls out of the author’s attention. Nevertheless, it should be acknowledged that Oleksandr Kashchuk’s monograph is an important contribution to the research on Monothelitism. This comprehensive study will be a point of reference for scholars, both historians and theologians, who work in the field of Byzantine and patristic studies of the seventh century. It would be worthy of translation into English to make it available to a broader audience.

Mariya Horyacha
Ukrainian Catholic University, Lviv