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Seventh Century

Dionysius the Areopagite

The the­o­log­i­cal writ­ings which appeared in the sixth cen­tu­ry under the name of Diony­sius the Are­opagite were gen­er­al­ly accept­ed by both the defend­ers and the dis­senters of the doc­trines of the fourth and fifth ecu­meni­cal coun­cils. These writ­ings had great influ­ence on the litur­gi­cal piety of the Church through their sym­bol­i­cal expla­na­tions of the rit­u­als of wor­ship. They pre­sent­ed a mys­ti­cal the­ol­o­gy which stressed the absolute incom­pre­hen­si­bil­i­ty of God, and His absolute “oth­er­ness” from every­thing else which exists in His divine cre­ation. They did, how­ev­er, con­tain a doc­trine con­cern­ing Christ which caused grave dif­fi­cul­ties in the sev­enth century.

The Dionysian writ­ings con­tained the teach­ing that Jesus Christ, the incar­nate Son of God, had one the­an­dric will and action which com­plete­ly com­bined the two dis­tinct activ­i­ties and oper­a­tions of His divine and human natures. This doc­trine was called monothe­lit­ism (which means that Christ had only one divine-human will), or mon­er­gism (which means that Christ had only one divine-human action, oper­a­tion or ener­gy). It was eager­ly accept­ed by those who thought that this doc­tri­nal for­mu­la­tion would final­ly solve the prob­lem of the divi­sion of the mono­physites, and reunite them to the Church.

The mono­physites did, in fact, deeply appre­ci­ate the teach­ings of the Pseu­do-Dionysian writ­ings. The anony­mous author of these works was him­self most like­ly a mono­physite. In spite of this, the expect­ed reunion of those who were divid­ed from the Church since the mid­dle of the fifth cen­tu­ry did not come. The rea­son why it did not come was the fierce oppo­si­tion to the doc­trine of the one the­an­dric will and action in Christ by Saint Max­imus the Con­fes­sor (d.662) and Pope Saint Mar­tin of Rome (d.655).

Saint Maximus the Confessor and Saint Martin

Both these men, togeth­er with their staunch sup­port­ers, insist­ed that Jesus Christ must have two dis­tinct and sep­a­rate wills and actions, just as He has two dis­tinct and sep­a­rate natures in one per­son. The Holy Fathers insist­ed there is one Son of God Who is one Son of Mary, but this one Son wills and acts dis­tinct­ly as God and as man.

Christ has the full­ness of the divine will, ener­gy, action, oper­a­tion, and pow­er which is the same as that of the Father and the Holy Spir­it. Christ also has the full­ness of the human will, ener­gy, action, oper­a­tion, and pow­er which is the same as that of every oth­er human being. Sal­va­tion con­sists in the fact that Jesus Christ, being a true human, freely and vol­un­tar­i­ly sub­mit­ted his human will (which is exact­ly the same human will that all men have) to His divine will (which is the will of God). Thus the divine Son of God became a real man with a real human will so that as a real man He could “ful­fill all right­eous­ness” in per­fect, vol­un­tary obe­di­ence to His Father. It is through His gen­uine­ly human action that Jesus Christ frees all men from sin and death as the New and Final Adam. (See Book 1 on Doc­trine)

Saint Max­imus and Saint Mar­tin suf­fered great­ly for oppos­ing the monothe­lyte posi­tion. They were impris­oned, tor­tured, and muti­lat­ed by the impe­r­i­al pow­ers who want­ed bad­ly to use monothe­lytism as a way to reunion with the monophysites.

The Sixth Ecumenical Council

Ulti­mate­ly, how­ev­er, the doc­trine of these saints pre­vailed. The Third Coun­cil of Con­stan­tino­ple, known as the Sixth Ecu­meni­cal Coun­cil, held in 680–681, offi­cial­ly ver­i­fied their teach­ing and for­mal­ly con­demned both Patri­arch Sergius of Con­stan­tino­ple and Pope Hon­o­rius of Rome, togeth­er with all who defend­ed the false doc­trine about Jesus that deprived Him of His gen­uine humanity.

The­o­log­i­cal Writings

Saint Maxi­i­nus the Con­fes­sor wrote also on spir­i­tu­al and asceti­cal themes.

His con­tem­po­rary in Egypt, Saint John Cli­ma­cus (d.649), abbot of the monastery of Saint Cather­ine on Mount Sinai, wrote the clas­si­cal work on the spir­i­tu­al life, The Lad­der of Divine Ascent. Saint Andrew of Crete wrote his pen­i­ten­tial canon in the sev­enth cen­tu­ry which is still read in the Ortho­dox Church dur­ing Great Lent.

The Birth of Islam

The sev­enth cen­tu­ry also wit­nessed the birth of Islam by the prophet Mohammed, who ini­ti­at­ed the Moslem era by his flight to Mec­ca in 622. The fol­low­ers of this new reli­gion lost no time in attack­ing the Chris­t­ian empire in both East and West, caus­ing fur­ther dif­fi­cul­ties for the East­ern Byzan­tines who were already at war with the Per­sians. It was dur­ing the Per­sian War that the emper­or Her­a­clius recov­ered the true Cross from the armies who seized it, and brought it to Con­stan­tino­ple. This action marked the cel­e­bra­tion of the Exal­ta­tion of the Cross through­out the Chris­t­ian Empire. Until the thir­ties of the sev­enth cen­tu­ry, a spe­cial day in Sep­tem­ber for the ven­er­a­tion of the Cross was observed only in Jerusalem. (See Book 2 on Wor­ship).

The Quinisext Council or The Council of Trullo

At the end of the sev­enth cen­tu­ry, most like­ly in 692, a coun­cil was held in Con­stan­tino­ple, in the dome room of a palace called Trul­lo, which made 102 canon­i­cal reg­u­la­tions. These canons, some of which were pre­vi­ous­ly includ­ed in Justinian’s civ­il leg­is­la­tion, are called the canons of the Quini­sext coun­cil which means that they are tak­en as the canon­i­cal rul­ings of the fifth and sixth ecu­meni­cal coun­cils which issued no canon­i­cal decrees.

The coun­cil of Trul­lo also put into for­mal church law some of the ear­ly prac­tices of the Church which had no offi­cial reg­u­la­to­ry expres­sion. For exam­ple, these canons for­mal­ized the rule accord­ing to which mar­ried men may be ordained to the dia­conate and the pres­byter­ate (priest­hood) retain­ing their wives, but that already ordained dea­cons and priests may not mar­ry. The coun­cil rein­forced the law dat­ing from Justinian’s time that only celi­bates, nor­mal­ly tak­en from among the monks, may serve in the office of the bish­op. This coun­cil also set the ages for ordi­na­tion, and reaf­firmed the tra­di­tion­al church­ly dis­ci­pline regard­ing the cler­gy, such as their strict exclu­sion from direct par­tic­i­pa­tion in the polit­i­cal, mil­i­tary, and eco­nom­ic affairs of this world.

Liturgical Development

The canons of the Trul­tan Coun­cil clear­ly decreed that a 40 day peri­od of fast­ing should pre­ceed East­er, on the week days of which the eucharis­tic divine litur­gy should not be cel­e­brat­ed, but that the litur­gy of the pre­sanc­ti­fied gifts be served (Canon 52). It called for Chris­tians to hon­or Christ’s res­ur­rec­tion by refrain­ing from pen­i­ten­tial kneel­ing on Sun­days (Canon 90). This coun­cil for­bade lay­men from enter­ing the sanc­tu­ary of the Church build­ing, and for­bid the sacra­men­tal mar­riage of Ortho­dox Chris­tians with non-Ortho­dox (Canons 69, 72). It enjoined those who sing in Church to refrain from “undis­ci­plined vocif­er­a­tions” and from using “any melodies which are incon­gru­ous and unsuit­able for the Church” (Canon 75). It called for the excom­mu­ni­ca­tion of peo­ple, who for no good rea­son, miss the litur­gy “three con­sec­u­tive Sun­days” (Canon 80). Final­ly, it called for the “penal­ty of mur­der” for those who “give drugs for procur­ing abor­tion and those who take them to kill the fetus” (Canon 91).