Poor Pope Honorius has been condemned, anathematized, pointed out as fallible and partly excused. He has remained on the list of valid popes, somehow. Who is this man and how did he get into this position?
Honorius was born in Campania around 585. He apparently was brought up well to do, being the son of the consul, Petronius.
Although this is the sum total of our knowledge of Honorius before his ascending to the throne of St Peter, he was most likely a well-known cleric in his young years, since he became pope when he was still in his early 40s, October 27, 625.
Honorius was very active, and apparently very community oriented. One must remember that there was no well-established governmental agency in Italy at that time. The popes had been given lands by nobles to support the poor during the famines of the 400s and 500s. The Church now was the premier landowner in central Italy, and, as such, morally responsible for the care of the people. Honorius rescued ancient Roman structures from ruin and sponsored a restoration program of important Christian edifices. He also had the aqueduct of Trajan repaired, so the city could have fresh water.
Honorius was also very interested in missionary work. Modeling his papacy after that of Gregory the Great, he encouraged, with his writings and his bishops, the evangelization of England, especially Wessex, in the south. To this end, negotiations were held with the Irish clergy to make Easter celebrated on the same day throughout the Church. The Church had finally converted the Spanish Visigoths and he took it upon himself to reorganize the Church there. It is said that the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross was established in his reign.
Several points of heresy became so large that Honorius could not control them. He became aware of the rise of Islam in the last years of his pontificate. He compared it to Arianism. Little did he know….
The major heretical problem he dealt with began with the Monothelites. Their teaching was that Christ has only one “energy” and one will. This is contrary to the Church teaching of two wills, divine and human. In an attempt to evangelize the Monothelites back into the Church, Patriarch Sergius of Constantinople tried to support the one will theory. In private letters, Honorius tried to support the Chalcedon “Profession of Faith” defining Christ’s nature of God and of man to be indivisible, hence, one. Then he called for silence on the topic.
On his death, in 638, Honorius was a respected and honored man. In 690, things changed. At the Sixth Ecumenical Council, and the Seventh and the Eighth, he was condemned. For heresy, for not teaching the full truth, for not wording his phrases correctly, depending on who you talk to. The controversy over his potential heresy continues to this day.
For more information on this phase of Catholic history, read “The Condemnation of Pope Honorius” by Dom John Chapman, published by the Catholic Truth Society in 1907.
From Honorius’ letter to Sergius: “the Scriptures demonstrate clearly that Jesus Christ is the same Who operates in things divine and in things human.”