What is the nature of Dyothelitism according to the Council of Chalcedon?

At the Council of Chalcedon, the church taught that the Incarnate Lord Jesus Christ had two natures: divine and human, united in his one person (Hypostatic union), without mixing or blending them into one nature (Monophysitism). In this Christology, Jesus had two minds: divine mind and human mind (Dyothelitism).

My question is specifically asking about the nature of the Dyothelitism. The following sub questions are really helpful in navigating for an answer:

  1. What is the relationship of the divine mind with the human mind?
  2. When Jesus was incarnated, did he use his human mind primarily?
  3. If so, how did Jesus access his divine mind? Is it like a memory being remembered?
  4. Was Jesus operating in both human mind and divine mind simultaneously when he was on earth?

I am seeking answer from authoritative sources regardless of denomination. Preferrably those who believe in the Council of Chalcedon and Diothelitism. A Biblical answer is also acceptable as long as it can explain logically the nature of Dyothelitism.


2 Answers 2


The Definition produced by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 is an interesting text because it wasn't intended to stand alone; it was produced by people who knew well that they were part of a series of church councils stretching back over a century. So the Chalcedonian Definition endorses the 325 Nicene Creed, and it's 381 Constantinopolitan revision, as well as endorsing the 431 Council of Ephesus. This last council forbade any departures from the Nicene Creed, and so the Council of Chalcedon was careful not to say that it was producing a new creed, but instead a definition or statement that merely clarified the Nicene Creed. The Council of Chalcedon was called in order to unite a divided Christendom, so in addition to endorsing the previous Creeds, it also endorsed the letters of Cyril of Alexandria and the Tome of (Pope) Leo, in order to bring together the three major camps of Christianity of the era: Western, Antiochene, and Alexandrian.

The Tome of Leo is of particular interest to this question because it gives great clarity to the Chalcedonian Definition in a way that I hope will answer your questions. This is the relevant section:

There is nothing unreal about this oneness, since both the lowliness of the man and the grandeur of the divinity are in mutual relation. As God is not changed by showing mercy, neither is humanity devoured by the dignity received. The activity of each form is what is proper to it in communion with the other: that is, the Word performs what belongs to the Word, and the flesh accomplishes what belongs to the flesh. One of these performs brilliant miracles; the other sustains acts of violence. [EWTN]

The Tome of Leo rules out monothelitism because rather than each nature acting and performing what is proper to itself, the divine will would be acting for both the divine and human. (Note that mono-/dyothelitism strictly refers to one/two wills, but the theological principles that lead us to understand that Christ had two wills apply equally to the mind.)

So on to your questions.

  1. What is the relationship of the divine mind with the human mind?

So from the Chalcedonian Definition we understand that, as they are faculties of the natures, they must be "unconfused, unchanged, undivided, inseparable". From the Tome of Leo, we know that each nature exercises its faculties in communion with the other. And from the Third Council of Constantinople (which rejected monothelitism), we get a clearer picture of just how the two natures relate in general:

And the two natural wills not in opposition, as the impious heretics said, far from it, but his human will following, and not resisting or struggling, rather in fact subject to his divine and all powerful will. (Source)

  1. When Jesus was incarnated, did he use his human mind primarily?
  2. Was Jesus operating in both human mind and divine mind simultaneously when he was on earth?

The person we call Jesus is the Son of God who exists now in two natures, so we mustn't make the mistake of saying that "Jesus" refers just to the human nature. So the answer to question 2 is no and the answer to question 4 is yes: Jesus didn't primarily use his human mind; his divine nature thought exclusively with his divine mind, and his human nature thought exclusively with his human mind, both natures were united and acting together. Even if we think of the human mind as following and submitting to the divine mind, we cannot think of him therefore predominantly using his divine mind. Jesus was not a comatose body animated by the divine mind of God, but a complete living human who was the incarnate Son of God.

  1. If so, how did Jesus access his divine mind? Is it like a memory being remembered?

I think this is where any answer will get more speculative, for I don't think the mechanisms of the communion of the two natures has been revealed to us with any great clarity. But there are several instances in the Gospels which show us some of the ways in which his natures worked together.

Several times the Gospels say that Jesus knew what other people were thinking (Matthew 9:4, 12:25, Luke 6:8, 9:47, 11:17). This kind of knowledge is outside the capabilities of a human, and so in these times we see, somehow, the communication of knowledge from the divine mind to the human mind.

There is at least one major case where the divine mind's knowledge is kept from Christ's human mind: the time of his return (Matthew 24:36, Mark 13:32). More on that at this question/answer.

Another interesting case is when Jesus healed the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years (Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5:25-34, Luke 8:43-48). I think his question "Who touched me?" is usually thought of as a rhetorical question, but is that necessarily true? Mark says Jesus "kept looking around" and Luke has Jesus quite adamantly respond to Peter that he knew he had been touched and power had gone out from him. I think it would be better to read this not as a rhetorical question from Christ's human nature which had been given omniscience by his divine nature, but instead the genuine question of a human man who for whatever reason was not at this time being given insight from his divine nature.

Lastly are the times when the human nature of Christ expressed emotions that are foreign to the divine nature: exhaustion (John 4:6), grief (John 11:33-35), anxiety and dread (Matthew 26:36-39, Luke 22:40-44). Perhaps even frustration (Matthew 16:5-11), if we think of the divine nature as having unlimited patience. In all of these times the divine nature could have intervened, to re-energise his human nature, to give comfort, to give patience. And no doubt the divine nature did just that at many times to various extents, but in these times the human nature was seemingly left without divine intervention to experience the troubles of human existence which he shares with us. But we must not think of the natures acting in discordance even in these times: even these times when divine power was not communicated to the human nature were times when the two natures of Christ were operating together with singular purpose, no doubt to reassure us that he can be our high priest because he is truly one of us (Hebrews 2:17-18.)

  • i should have made it clearer. Regarding my question #2, the incarnate God is living "as a man" (ος ανθροπος). If God in the flesh lives as a man, then, logically it seems that he primarily uses his human mind. Any superhuman knowledge (John 17:5) is given by his divine mind. (that is, his divine mind transfers knowledge to his human mind). This in no way makes the divine mind cease to exist.
    – R. Brown
    Jul 24, 2020 at 12:55
  • 1
    @Radz I'd agree with all of that except for saying that "he primarily uses his human mind". His divine nature is still as active as ever. I think I'd say that he uses both minds in a balanced fullness, neither being "less" than, well anything.
    – curiousdannii
    Jul 24, 2020 at 13:55
  • 1
    Ah that is much clearer. Jesus uses both minds equally and he uses them in balanced fullness.
    – R. Brown
    Jul 24, 2020 at 14:01

To understand what Chalcedon did, and did not establish with regard to whether Jesus had one will or two wills, it might be a good idea to state the crux of the Creed agreed upon by the emperor and bishops on October 25, 451.

“In agreement, therefore, with the holy fathers we all unanimously teach that we should confess that our Lord Jesus Christ is one and the same Son; the same perfect in Godhead and the same perfect in manhood, truly God and truly man, the same of a rational soul and body; consubstantial with the Father in Godhead and the same consubstantial with us in manhood; like as all things except sin; begotten of the Father before all ages as regards his Godhead and in the last days the same, for us and for our salvation, begotten of the Virgin Mary the Theotokos as regards his manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, made known in two natures without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the difference of the natures being by no means removed because of the union but the property of each nature being preserved and coalescing in one person (prosopon) and one hypostasis, not parted or divided into two persons but one and the same Son, only-begotten, divine Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets of old and Jesus Christ himself have taught us about him, and the creed of our fathers has handed down.” [Gerald Bray, Creeds, Councils & Christ, (Leicester, U.K., and Downers Grove, III.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1984), p.162]

This Creed was careful to state the real humanity of Jesus Christ and his two natures, yet without separating or dividing those natures; that both are held together in one person. It clearly affirmed that the two natures of Christ must not be mingled or mixed, or thought to change. There is what has been called ‘the four fences of Chalcedon’ – “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation” – guarding, as it were, the belief in Christ’s two full and complete natures in one person. The definition does not explain anything. All it does is express and protect a mystery.

It did not prevent later arguments because Leo and Cyril, plus various orthodox and catholic interpreters, were still caught up in the old Greek belief in the divine impassibility. This enabled the Chalcedonian statements about Christ to be interpreted in increasingly Nestorian senses later on. Questions about whether Christ had two wills or one would not go away.

In the East were the dyophysites who believed in the two natures as radically distinct from one another while rejecting the idea of two persons after the union. The dyophysites did not leave the Great Church, their hero after Chalcedon being Theodoret of Cyprus, who had been vindicated at Chalcedon. Another hero of Eastern Orthodox theology was Maximus the Confessor (580-662). He defended dyothelitism – belief in two wills of Christ – and was martyred for his stance. Due to that, the sixth ecumenical council condemned monothelitism – belief in Jesus Christ as one integral person with two complete but inseparable natures, yet with only one, divine will – and required belief in two wills as orthodox doctrine.

Because of your sub-question 3 and the way an answer referred to Jesus apparently not knowing who had touched him for healing, I would divert into a different way of viewing this. In Luke 8:43ff, the woman who had hemorrhaged for years and wasted all her money on physicians, surreptitiously touched the hem of Jesus' garment as he passed by. Immediately, Jesus was aware that power had gone out of him. That was what elicited his question, "Who touched me?" His mind was utterly in harmony with his body because Christ himself had gone out (or, gone forth as healing into that woman's body). It was not that he was doing the work of healing, but that he went out as the healing. When he goes forth as healing, people get healed. Healing is not a matter of elimination but of having Christ as the one who heals. It wasn't a matter of something that left Christ but of someone who became that woman's healer, through her faith in that someone. Divine healing is not a matter of obtaining an object, but of God becoming our healing. I refer to this to show that this was not a matter of mind, with Christ, for his divine nature knew full well what had happened, just as his physical body 'told' him what had happened. The only matter to be resolved was for the person healed to speak up and so be identified, because there was a great throng crowding round Jesus. He knew someone had great faith in him as healer and he wasn't going to let that rare thing pass by unremarked upon. He wanted to commend that person, to strengthen faith, which is what happened. The person had to stand up and be counted! No more surreptitious faith - others needed to know the power of faith.

This example shows the need to search for how the mind of Christ is fully informed by his divine nature, even though his literal eyes had not yet alighted on the individual in question. Rather than use any divine aspect of his being to see the person (as he saw Nathaniel sitting under the fig-tree before Philip called him, Jn. 1:44-51), he took the opportunity to teach the crowd in general, and that shy woman in particular.

Apart from that point, much of this material has been culled from two chapters on Chalcedon in the book The Story of Christian Theology by Roger E. Olson (Apollos, 1999). I conclude with a direct quote from p247, re. the later fifth ecumenical council’s interpretation of the hypostatic union in 553:

“…while one may embark on the mental process of seeing in the reality the two natures of Christ, one must always return to the fundamental truth that he is one Person, the Logos made man, to whom belong both divine and human properties, and whose are all the actions and saying reported of him in Scripture, whether divine or human.” [Justo Gonzalez, History of Christian Thought, 2:97]

I hope this brief answer gives as simple as possible an over-view of a complex subject.

  • What do you mean by "because Leo and Cyril ... were still caught up in the old Greek belief in the divine impassibility"? Impassibility is still broadly accepted across Trinitarian Christianity.
    – curiousdannii
    Jul 25, 2020 at 3:18
  • @curiousdannii That phrase you ask about was a direct lift from Olson's book. He did not go into the reason there because he has info. on those two in a different chapter of his book. Maybe this calls for a fresh question? If so I could search out Olson's reasons to give a detailed answer.
    – Anne
    Jul 26, 2020 at 11:54
  • Nah, I'm not wanting another question, just wondering what it contributes to this answer. It looks like you're casting aspersions on Leo and Cyril for something widely accepted in Christian theology.
    – curiousdannii
    Jul 26, 2020 at 12:04
  • @curiousdannii No,if there are any aspersions being cast at Leo and Cyril they would come from Roger Olson, in his book, but I have not studied his other chapter on them. It could be that there are subtle differences between Greek views of the divine impassibility and the Trinitarian view? I don't know, but if I find anything interesting on that score in Olson's book, I might well post a question myself. But not today...
    – Anne
    Jul 26, 2020 at 12:21

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