15.10.48, Price, trans., The Acts of the Lateran Synod of 649

Main Article Content

Richard Matthew Pollard

The Medieval Review 15.10.48

Price, Richard, trans. The Acts of the Lateran Synod of 649. Translated Texts for Historians, 61. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2014. pp. xiv, 462. ISBN: 978-1-781-38039-0 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Richard Matthew Pollard
University of British Columbia

In the prologue to this book, Richard Price wonders whether the Christological debates of the sixth and seventh centuries were ‘a Serbonian bog where armies whole have sunk' (Paradise Lost, 2.592-4). The acta of the Lateran council of 649, an important part of these debates, might easily have produced the same effect amongst modern scholars. Nothing about the council is straightforward: neither the political and ecclesiastical circumstances surrounding it, nor the origins of the Greek and Latin acta texts, nor especially the subtle theological arguments they contain. Price and his contributors offer remarkably clear and erudite guidance on each of these points (and more), even if one might quibble with them on some points of detail, approach, or emphasis. Most importantly, the careful and eloquent translation (and annotation) of the council text will be indispensable to bog-averse future scholars, and will open a fascinating chapter in ecclesiastical history to a whole new audience.

Price's aforementioned prologue (1-4) summarises in a few pages what is discussed in the extended and detailed general introduction (5-108), much of which is the work of Booth or Cubitt. For the most part, these chapters hang together well. There are only occasional instances of obvious disagreement between contributors (e.g. at 81 n. 55) or repetition (e.g. 85 and 105).

Booth offers two contributions: (1) a sensitive and compelling historical narrative of the debates over 'monoenergism' (Christ having one operation) and 'monothelitism' (Christ having one will), ideas that the 649 council was convened to condemn (5-40); and (2) a brief excursus on the ignominious fate of Maximus Confessor (83-6). In the former, he convincingly argues that Heraclius' advocacy of monoenergism cannot be seen as mere political expedience, to secure the support of the miaphysite (i.e. monophysite) Christians in face of the Persians. Instead, 'doctrinal, sacramental and political conceptions all interwove' (34): in attempting to reunify the faith, Heraclius was trying to capitalise on the divine favour that had allowed him to successfully reunite the empire. Opposition to monoenergism, in turn, took hold only when the Arab invasions of 633 punctured Heraclius' aura of political success. The chief opponents of monoenergism, Sophronius of Jerusalem, and then his (probable) student Maximus Confessor, also seem to have been particularly suspicious of any kind of accommodation (oikonomia) with miaphysite Christianity. Their opposition prompted Heraclius to issue the Ekthesis of 636, which banned discussion of Christ's operations, and inadvertently shifted the debate to monothelitism. Throughout Booth keeps to the position that is reiterated in the rest of the volume: that there was no existing orthodoxy on Christ's operations and wills, because very little had been written about these issues previously. Even Maximus Confessor, the later champion of dyoenergism and dyothelitism (and the éminence grise behind the 649 council) made early statements that sound 'monoenergist' or 'monothelete' (28, 36).

Cubitt's contributions include (1) a discussion of the Roman background to the synod (40-58), as well as (2) an outline of the council attendance, proceedings, and the aftermath (69-83). The former is particularly well argued, despite a misjudged statement or two (e.g. exaggerating the real jurisdiction of the papacy in the West: 42). Cubitt lays out much of the important background, and in particular sees as crucial the Three Chapters dispute of the sixth century. This dispute (and other background) helps us understand why, after Honorius' infamous (but largely innocent) agreement with Sergius of Constantinople in 635, Rome soon turned to support Maximus Confessor's dyoenergist/dyothelete position. Like in the sixth century, the papacy was suspicious of any novelty that would take away from the authority of Chalcedon, seen as a triumph of Pope Leo I. The monoenergists, in downplaying the quasi-dyoenergist 'tome of Leo' from Chalcedon, did not endear themselves to Rome. Cubitt's later contribution is particularly valuable for its deft summary of the entire council (73-7) and for its consideration of ecclesiastical politics in the attendance and conduct of the proceedings. However, I wonder whether the poor attendance of schismatic northern Italian bishops (70, and cf. Price at 422) was in fact connected with the continual praise in the 649 acta for the 'suspect' second council of Constantinople.

Price's contributions to the introduction stay very close to the council text itself: discussing its complex, bilingual origins and its relationship to the actual council (59-68), explaining the theological arguments presented (87-102), and surveying the reception of the council both in the West and East (103-8). Everywhere Price's writing is sure-footed, erudite, and clear. This is particularly helpful in his theological summary. Generally, Price argues that at their highest levels, the monoenergists and monotheletes were not very far apart from their opponents, the dyoenergists and the dyotheletes. Both monoenergists and dyoenergists were concerned with trying to explain how the single person of Christ could operate both divinely (e.g. walking on water) and humanly (e.g. experiencing emotions). The monoenergist solution, which combined both operations into a single 'theandric' (divine-human) one, was meant to appeal to the Eastern miaphysites, who did not accept the 'two natures, one person' definition of Chalcedon. The dyoenergists understandably saw this accommodation as undermining Chalcedon and the perfect Incarnation of Christ: instead they preferred Christ to have two operations, the logical extension of his two natures, divine and human. Two operations, divine and human, united in a single person, is hardly very different from a single divine-human operation in a single person, as Price rightly points out. But here (88, 102) and throughout the book (e.g. 195, 221 n. 124; 242-4; 295, etc.) Price often seems almost an apologist for the mia- or mono- cause. This leads him (seemingly) to ignore or underplay some serious logical concerns with monoenergism raised by the dyoenergists at the Lateran council (221-2, 362), and to treat the Ekthesis (196-8) as if it was a neutral document, instead of something that (to my eyes) almost invites outrage and attack.

This sympathy also plays into Price's treatment of the monothelete/dyothelete debate. Key here was Christ's agony in the garden at Gethsemane, where he said 'Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done' (Luke 22:42, cf. Matt. 26:39). Price adduces three schools of interpretation for this troubling passage. The first, represented by the earlier patristics, saw Gethsemane as a brief but indicative conflict between Christ's human and divine wills, demonstrating the reality of the Incarnation (cf. 316-32). Second were the monotheletes, represented most of all by a 645 letter of Paul of Constantinople to Pope Theodore (254-260), who in fact did not really believe in a single will at all. Rather, they accepted (in all but name) that Christ had two wills, but refused to countenance any division or dissension between them: hence, two wills working as one. Paul therefore nullified Christ's apparently resistant human will in the above utterance with a bit of sophistry: 'it is a statement not of what is but of what is not' (258). Third, we have the dyotheletes, and here Price gives Maximus Confessor pride of place. For Maximus, and his collaborators at the Lateran council, it was misguided to paper over Christ's dread at Gethsemane, and insist on two wills acting in perfect parallel. Instead, the scene is a wonderful lesson: Christ demonstrates his perfect humanity through his experience of dread, but also shows us that at the very base of our character (surpassing any fear of death), humans seek to cleave to the divine, and following this natural inclination toward the divine is how we can banish human feelings of dread and fear (96-9, 372-3). To minimise Christ's human will, to see it as a mere echo, would cheapen the Incarnation and destroy this valuable example. This position, which subsumes the earlier conflict model, is called by Price a 'momentous theological advance' (99) that 'surpassed anything the monotheletes had to offer' (101). Yet Price as apologist spends much of the rest of the book, in his introductions and notes, minimising Maximus' and the dyotheletes' achievements and the difference between their position and that of the monotheletes.

Price's discussion of the origins of the council text (esp. 59-64) is founded on the work of Rudolf Riedinger, and it is worth mentioning the conclusions of the latter before discussing Price's useful corrections to it. The acta of the Lateran council survive in both Latin and Greek, and it was long assumed that the Latin was the primary of these two, or at least represented a record of the Latin parts of the council. In two decades worth of articles beginning in 1976, and in his edition of the 649 acts (Concilium Lateranense, ACO II.2, 1984), Riedinger demonstrated that the Latin was in fact almost wholly a translation of the Greek text. Throughout the Latin acta, for instance, we see Bible verses that do not match the Vulgate, but are instead (often clumsy) retroversions of the biblical citations found in the Greek version of the acta. Surely a Latin-original council would have quoted the Latin Bible correctly? Furthermore, Riedinger identified strange features in the Latin (excessive use of quoniam, idipsud, etc.) that occurred evenly throughout the text, something that does not align with a Latin text that is supposed to represent the varying styles of different speakers. Instead it suggests a group of Greek speaking translators who made a uniformly clumsy Latin translation of a Greek-original text. Riedinger even argued that the Latin encyclical, Latin letters from the African bishops, and finally the Latin letter to Amandus of Maastricht were composed by these same translators. These translators were, to Riedinger, none other than the Greek monks surrounding Maximus Confessor, who had composed the original Greek text of the council as well. The extent of Latinate participation in the council were the signatures appended to its end.

The most laudable corrective offered by Price to this telling is reemphasising the importance of Latin speakers, particularly Romans, in the council preparations, and here I agree with him entirely (see 'A Cooperative Correspondence', Companion to Gregory the Great, 304-9). Price observes, in particular, that many of the Latin biblical citations are from the Vulgate, and some cited in an allusive or imperfect way that suggests they were drawn from a Latin's memory, not merely looked up in a book (63, 246 n. 24, 390). He also offers a wholly devastating critique of Riedinger's idea that the Latin letters of the African bishops were fictions composed by the Greek translators, noting that they present only a lukewarm alignment behind Maximus and Rome, hardly what we would expect from a forgery. But Price might have gone further: he could have remarked that Riedinger's own exhaustive survey of the language of the council text turned up no 'translator words' (quoniam, etc.) in the African letters; or called more attention to the African quotation of Leo's tome, which uses agit, rather than operatur as favoured by the Greek council translators (185 n. 206); or noted the significant presence of Latin prose rhythm in the African letters (83% velox, tardus, planus), versus much lower levels of rhythm in the rest of the Latin council text and the encyclical. Regarding the council as a whole, I might also have noted that many of the main council speakers could have known some Greek, enabling easier collaboration: Maximus of Aquileia, Deusdedit of Cagliari, and the Ravennese delegation came from regions where Greek may have been used in the seventh century (cf. 74). Nonetheless, Price's recounting makes a strong case for the 649 being a genuine collaboration between Greek and Latin speakers: two cultures united in a single council.

Riedinger's conclusions on the original text of the council obviously governed Price's decision to use the Greek text as the basis for his English translation. The Latin text, of course, is a much better general witness to the content of the council text, since the earliest manuscript (Laon, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 199) is ninth-century, whereas the main Greek manuscript (Vatican Library, MS Vat. Gr. 1455) dates to 1299. Price therefore supplies obvious omissions in the Greek text from the Latin. He also translates the Latin version of those texts (e.g. the African letters) that were originally Latin. The English result is a slightly artificial (though defensible) amalgam: it does not represent a text that anyone in the Middle Ages could have read.

Price's translation itself is a model of clarity, and his introductions and annotations to each session (as well as the conciliar letters) are invaluable. He offers a wealth of insights and information (on sources, textual variations, etc.) that are not provided in Riedinger's edition (e.g. 121 n. 46; 319 n. 156; 322 n. 172, etc.). In the text of the translation itself, Price preserves the sometimes prolix and often complex diction of his source material. This gives the reader a fair sense of the tone of the original language, but it certainly puts most of the text beyond the average undergraduate student. Some translations are jarring, though perhaps only to younger, Canadian ears: e.g. 'adorable' (145, for ἐράσμιον, and again on 152 for προσκυνητῆς). In other places, Price explicitly interprets the Greek in a different way than its Latin translation (e.g. 153 n. 88); but if the Latin translation was created by the same authors as the original Greek, should the former not stand as the ultimate arbiter on the meaning of the latter? Finally, I was disappointed to see that Price translates only the letter to Constans II (JE 2062) out of the eleven Greek letters (JE 2062-72) about the council from Martin to various Eastern figures. Their inclusion would probably have made the volume too long, and Price at least provides summaries of their contents (394-7).

There are only a small number of miscellaneous, niggling problems. Papal letters are cited throughout the text, but never by the standard Jaffé-Ewald numbers, nor with reference to Conte's important similar work (Chiesa e primato, 1971). There are gaps in the bibliography, too: the most conspicuous being the omission of Silva-Tarouca (esp. 'Nuovi studi sulle antiche lettere dei Papi', Gregorianum 12). There (at 51) Price would been able to see the strange copy of Martin I's inscription in Vat. Gr. 1455 (417 n. 130). In the reception section, it would have been worthwhile to note, as Laistner did eighty years ago, that Bede quoted the Latin acta directly ('The Library of the Venerable Bede', 259). The index might have been fuller and more detailed. Finally, there are only a few typos in the text (on 133, '178-80' > 170-80; 188 less > lest; 258 n. 92 'al time') and rather more in the bibliography.

These problems and those highlighted elsewhere do little to diminish a book that is a monument of careful, compelling scholarship, nuanced exposition, clear translation, and eloquent writing. Price and his contributors have advanced the study of this complex work and its circumstances at least as much as Conte (1989), or even Riedinger himself.

Article Details