Pope Honorius I (?–638), a fallible pontifex maximus, in addition to being a heretic

Basilica of Sant’Agnese fuori le mura, apse mosaics – on the left Pope Honorius I, on the right Pope Gregory the Great

Basilica of Sant’Agnese fuori le mura, apse mosaics – on the left Pope Honorius I, on the right Pope Gregory the Great

The place of eternal rest of Pope Honorius is unknown, while a whole generation of the Bishops of Rome have placed an anathema upon him and considered him to be a heretic on the papal throne, despite the fact that he seemed to be one of the more significant popes of the VII century. Even today, although it is well-known that he was an outstanding constructor, funder of noteworthy Roman structures and a good administrator, the name of Honorius causes an uneasy silence in some circles. Why?

Basilica of Sant’Agnese fuori le mura, apse mosaics – on the left Pope Honorius I, on the right Pope Gregory the Great
View of the apse – Sant’Agnese fuori le mura
Interior of the Basilica of Sant’Agnese fuori le mura
First courtyard of the Basilica of Santi Quattro Coronati
Façade of the Basilica of San Pancrazio
Façade of the Church of Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio alle Tre Fontane

The place of eternal rest of Pope Honorius is unknown, while a whole generation of the Bishops of Rome have placed an anathema upon him and considered him to be a heretic on the papal throne, despite the fact that he seemed to be one of the more significant popes of the VII century. Even today, although it is well-known that he was an outstanding constructor, funder of noteworthy Roman structures and a good administrator, the name of Honorius causes an uneasy silence in some circles. Why?

 

Honorius came from a wealthy family, his father was a consul. He became Bishop of Rome in 625 A.D. and held this function for thirteen years. His spiritual guide and master was Pope Gregory I the Great. Following his example, Honorius converted his house into a monastery and willingly employed monks in his administration. An example of the esteem for Gregory was also commemorating his image in the Church of Sant’Agnese fuori le mura funded by Honorius.

By Romans he is remembered as the one, who ensured that the populace had food and rebuilt aqueducts which supplied water for the city, which in those times was one of the basic duties of a bishop. He also cared for churches, ordering the reconstructions of small churches, but also initiating of renovation of St. Peter’s Basilica (San Pietro in Vaticano). He also funded and ordered the decorations with mosaics and marbles, as well as furnishing with silver liturgical vessels, of preserved until today (but modernized) churches – the aforementioned St. Agnes and St. Pancracius (San Pancrazio). And surely he would have been commemorated among the valued popes of the early Medieval Ages, if it had not been for a discussion, which he participated in and which at that time occupied the minds of the clergy both in the east and the west of the old Roman Empire. It pertained to the argument over two natures of Christ, which developed between the followers of Monophysitism and Dyophysitism. Honorius who was practical and sensible, in order to alleviate the conflict charged with strong emotions, supported the view proposed by the Patriarch of Constantinople, meaning the conviction that there are two natures in Christ – a divine one and a human one, but only one action, of which the source is a single person. And it is here that he made a mistake, since this view was declared as heretical at the III Council in Constantinople, in the year 681 (meaning almost 50 years after the pope’s death), while the Council’s proclamation stated that in Christ there exist both two persons as well as two distinct, independent of each other wills. Subsequent popes, diligently condemned the stance of Honorius and the pope himself, while his remains were even taken out of the Vatican Basilica. Perhaps such a situation would have continued until today, if not for the Council of 1870, when a dogma of papal infallibility was proclaimed, and the figure of Honorius became a real ideological problem. Sine he had made a mistake, how can the infallibility of a pope be assumed? As we know the dogma was put into effect, which therefore, does not allow Honorius to take his rightful place among the outstanding popes of the early Medieval Ages.

Buildings funded by  Honorius I:

  • Complete renovation of the old (Constantine) Basilica of St. Peter on the Vatican
  • Building of a new church for pilgrims - Sant’Agnese fuori le mura
  • Reconstruction and renovation of the Church of Santi Quattro Coronati
  • Building of a new Church of San Pancrazio
  • Funding of the Church of Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio alle Tre Fontane