Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


Some very subtle Greeks formerly consulted Pope Honorius I., to know whether Jesus, when He was in the world, had one will or two, when He would sleep or watch, eat or repair to the water-closet, walk or sit.

“What signifies it to you?” answered the very wise bishop of Rome, Honorius. “He has certainly at present the will for you to be well-disposed people — that should satisfy you; He has no will for you to be babbling sophists, to fight continually for the bishop’s mitre and the ass’s shadow. I advise you to live in peace, and not to lose in useless disputes the time which you might employ in good works.”

“Holy father, you have said well; this is the most important affair in the world. We have already set Europe, Asia, and Africa on fire, to know whether Jesus had two persons and one nature, or one nature and two persons, or rather two persons and two natures, or rather one person and one nature.”

“My dear brethren, you have acted wrongly; we should give broth to the sick and bread to the poor. It is doubtless right to help the poor! but is not the patriarch Sergius about to decide in a council at Constantinople, that Jesus had two natures and one will? And the emperor, who knows nothing about it, is of this opinion.”

“Well, be it so! but above all defend yourself from the Mahometans, who box your ears every day, and who have a very bad will towards you. It is well said! But behold the bishops of Tunis, Tripoli, Algiers, and Morocco, all declare firmly for the two wills. We must have an opinion; what is yours?”

“My opinion is, that you are madmen, who will lose the Christian religion which we have established with so much trouble. You will do so much mischief with your folly, that Tunis, Tripoli, Algiers, and Morocco, of which you speak to me, will become Mahometan, and there will not be a Christian chapel in Africa. Meantime, I am for the emperor and the council, until you have another council and another emperor.”

“This does not satisfy us. Do you believe in two wills or one?”

“Listen: if these two wills are alike, it is as if there was but one; if they are contrary, he who has two wills at once will do two contrary things at once, which is absurd: consequently, I am for a single will.”

“Ah, holy father, you are a monothelite! Heresy! the devil! Excommunicate him! depose him! A council, quick! another council! another emperor! another bishop of Rome! another patriarch!”

“My God! how mad these poor Greeks are with all their vain and interminable disputes! My successor will do well to dream of being powerful and rich.”

Scarcely had Honorius uttered these words when he learned that the emperor Heraclius was dead, after having been beaten by the Mahometans. His widow, Martina, poisoned her son-in-law; the senate caused Martina’s tongue to be cut out, and the nose of another son of the emperor to be slit: all the Greek Empire flowed in blood. Would it not be better not to have disputed on the two wills? And this Pope Honorius, against whom the Jansenists have written so much — was he not a very sensible man?

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:25