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Pauline Allen & Bronwen Neil

Introduction to Maximus the Confessor (Excerpt)

From: Maximus the Confessor and his Companions. Documents from Exile, Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 8-30.
Published by the kind permission of the authors.

2. Theological Implications of Monenergism

Drawing on the Cyrilline Chalcedonian tradition, the doctrine of monenergism affirmed that Christ was ‘One of the Holy Trinity, the Word God', from two natures, that is from both Godhead and humanity, and discerned in two natures. This single person 'performed activities fitting for God and for a human being by one theandric activity' (1), according to a quotation (or misquotation) from ps.-Dionysius the Areopagite's letter to Gaius (2). The authority of this text was made dubious by the existence of two variant readings: the non-Chalcedonian version, cited by the Severans at the Council of Constantinople in 532, was that of ‘one theandric activity', although some manuscripts supplied 'a certain new theandric activity'. The problem of identifying the correct reading is compounded by the fact that the ps.-Dionysian text only exists in the edition of John of Scythopolis, who may have revised the text in line with his own dyophysite leanings (3). As we shall see,

Maximus the Confessor rejected the monenergist version on the grounds that it was impossible. In his Synodical Letter, Sophronius interpreted the phrase to mean 'not existing as one (activity) but existing in different kinds' (4).The assertion made in the theo-paschite formula that ‘one of the Trinity, God the Word, suffered in the flesh' also seemed to imply a single divine activity of the Incarnate Word. Severus was claimed to have supported monenergism implicitly, by both its supporters and its enemies, since he objected to the distinction made between acts of Christ as God and acts of Christ as human. Maximus Confessor writes that the Severan bishops on Crete confessed neither two activities in Christ, nor one activity, but in accordance with Severus they affirmed that ‘one will, and every divine and human activity proceed from one and the same God the Word incarnate' (5).


1. Pact of Union, chaps. 6 and 7, trans, by P. Allen, forthcoming.

2. Ep. 4 ad Gaium, PG 3. 1072c1.

3. Corpus Dionysiacum 2, ed. G. Heil and A. M. Ritter, PTS 36 (Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 1991), 161. 9-10.

4. There is variation in the citation of this phrase in Sophronius' Synodical Letter, ACO ser. 2, 2/1. 456. 14 where four manuscripts read κοινὴ ('common') rather than καινήν ('new'). Bellini, 'Maxime', in Heinzer-Schönborn, Maximus Confessor, 41 n. 18, notes this divergence in the manuscript tradition. The latter reading is accepted by C. von Schönborn in Sophrone de Jérusalem, Vie monastique et confession dogmatique, Théologie Historique 20 (Paris: Beauchesne, 1972), 208, in his translation of extracts of Sophronius' Synodical Letter.

5. Opus. 3.49c.

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