The Sixth Ecumenical Council assembled in 680 A.D. to deal with the Monothelite heresy. In the course of condemning this error, the Council also condemned various men who played a role in propagating this heresy, including Pope Honorius. Throughout history, Protestants and Eastern Orthodox have pointed to this situation as definitive proof that the Pope is not infallible, and that he can even be overturned by an Ecumenical Council. On the surface, that sounds like quite an indictment, but the details reveal a different picture. (NB: The example of Honorius is a favorite for Catholic agitators because it's one of the extremely few situations in 2,000 years of Church history where they have any hope of making a case against the Papacy.) Now, many Catholics have already written in defense of Honorius and how this example doesn't undermine the Papacy, so I only want to touch upon certain key details rather than write a lengthy post repeating what's already been done in service to the Church. In particular, I want to address an objection made by an Eastern Orthodox apologist named Perry Robinson in his article, "What would Mr Newman Do?"
Perry's fundamental argument goes something like this: Catholics teach all men must submit to Rome, but what happens if Rome is in error, such as when it caved in to the Monothelite heresy? Surely, one cannot submit in such a situation. This can only mean the Pope is fallible and doesn't require such submission at all, and this line of reasoning is precisely what St Maximus the Confessor adopted when he refused to submit to Monothelite Rome. Now, we have the advantage of seeing how history played itself out and which side was clearly upholding orthodoxy: but what if a great thinker and convert like Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman was living in the midst of the Monothelite crisis? Would he be obliged to submit to Monothelite Rome rather than be excommunicated? What would you do? Obviously, the answer Perry is pushing is that orthodoxy trumps papacy.
Most of us today know that Jesus, being a Divine Person with a Divine Nature and human nature, has a Divine Will and a human will. We know God is Three Persons in One Divine Nature, and that there is only One Will in God, thus, the will is a property of nature, not personhood; otherwise, there would be three wills in God (one for each Person). Also, from Divine Revelation we are given insights such as Our Lord's immortal words in Gethsemane, "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will." (Mat 27:39) Clearly, Jesus is able to will and desire something other than the Passion, and yet the Passion is what God wills, so this can only (logically) indicate Jesus has a human will along with the Divine Will He always had in virtue of being Divine. The Monothelites erroneously believed Jesus only had one will, either by mistakenly attributing "will" as a property of personhood or by conflating the two natural wills into one. But this terminology didn't always exist, and in the course of trying to understand such sublime truths, men had fallen into serious errors in the early church.
By the time of the Sixth Ecumenical Council, Pope Honorius had been dead for about 40 years. It seems that in determining the culpability of Honorius, all the Council Fathers had to go by were Two Letters Pope Honorius had written to Patriarch of Constantinople Sergius (available online Here). Sergius had either been the originator of Monothelitism or was one of the chief promoters of the heresy, and he appealed to Honorius to hopefully settle the issue in favor of Monothelitism. Following the link provided, one will see there isn't much in the way of blatant heresy, especially in the second Letter, and in fact Honorius can be interpreted in an orthodox fashion. This has led Catholics to argue that, based on the material evidence, Honorius provided grave scandal in not recognizing and condemning Sergius' scheme, but not anywhere near the level of officially teaching Monothelitism. The only detail that comes anywhere close to overtly teaching Monothelitism is a singular instance when Pope Honorius said: "we confess one will of our Lord Jesus Christ."
That sentence by Honorius forever tarnished his reputation and caused severe scandal, and was likely used by Monthelites like Sergius to further their cause. However, despite being scandalous, it can be taken in an orthodox sense, and this is where context is critical. One of the chief champions of defending orthodoxy at this time was St Maximus the Confessor, who had a knack for exposing and refuting Monothelitism. In a famous public Disputation with Patriarch Sergius' successor, a Monothelite named Pyrrhus, St Maximus addressed this very quote of Honorius :
Pyrrhus: What dost thou say of Honorius, who clearly taught one will of Our Lord Jesus Christ in his letter to my predecessor?
Maximus: Who is a more trustworthy interpreter of such an epistle? The one that actually wrote it for Honorius, the one who at the time was still alive, and who, in addition to all his other virtues, illumined the whole West with godly dogmas? Or is it those in Constantinople who interpret it in accordance with the whim of their own hearts?
P: The one who actually composed the letter.
M: This same person afterwards wrote for Pope John (who is among the saints) to Constantine, just after he had become Emperor regarding the very same letter of Honorius. He explained that:
"We say one will of the Lord, not of the Godhead and humanity, but only of the humanity. For Sergius hath written: 'As some say that the two wills of Christ are opposed, we in response write that Christ did not have two opposing wills, as of flesh and of spirit, as we ourselves have since the Fall, but one only, that which characterized His humanity by virtue of nature.'"And the clear proof of this is the fact that he writeth of limbs and flesh [i.e. the Letter quoted Rom 7:23], which means that we cannot apply what he saith unto the Godhead. Straight away, in anticipation of objections, he saith:
"And if someone saith 'Why, when speaking of the humanity of Christ, did you not refer to the Godhead as well?' we reply, for the first part, that our answer was made to a specific question; and for the second part, that there, as ever, we have followed the practice of Scripture. For sometimes it speaketh concerning His Godhead only, as when the apostle saith 'Christ the power of God and wisdom of God', and sometimes concerning only His humanity, as when the apostle saith 'the foolishness of God is stronger than men', and what is weak in God is stronger than men."Pyrrhus: My predecessor, misled by the pope's manner of writing, understood it in a somewhat naive fashion.
If only more Christians today were so open to getting all the facts and being slow to judge! St Maximus proves that the quote by Honorius was not to be taken in a heretical sense, but rather to be understood in light of Honorius' use of Romans 7:23, which St Maximus agrees should be taken to mean Jesus had the 'law of the Spirit' but certainly not the 'law of the flesh', meaning concupiscience. And this exchange of the Disputation comes after Pyrrus presents many quotes of Church Fathers that say things that can be taken in Monothelite fashion, but in each case St Maximus explains how each quote can be taken in an orthodox sense and that we should give the benefit of the doubt.
The force of this vindication by St Maximus is so strong that I believe it is sufficient to reduce any condemnation of Honorius to that of gross negligence rather than 'positively' promoting the heresy. In response to this argument, Perry countered by saying this to me:
I already noted that this was a tentative position of Maximus, which eventually he abandons. This is why it has no exculpatory value for Honorius. ... If you [Nick] think Maximus took that route as a settled position, then please explain his answers when the imperial and papal legates are brought forward to presurre him to recant his dyothelitism [belief in two-wills]?
In other words, Perry admits St Maximus did indeed defend Honorius, but says St Maximus changed his mind later on and no longer defended Honorius. I believe there are two solid arguments that can be made to refute Perry's thesis.
The first point I would make is that if there was already an agreed upon orthodox sense which Honorius' words can be taken, precisely in the sense of Romans 7:23, where is the logic in saying Maximus later abandons an originally coherent defense? Clearly, Romans 7:23 speaks of two 'desires', one good and one evil, and Our Lord certainly only had the former. In this sense was "will" being used by Honorius (since there wasn't the same set terminology that we have today), not in the sense of a 'choosing-faculty' of a rational being. (NB: St Maximus later points out to Pyrrhus that it's absurd to say one will resulted from the union of the Divine and human natures since no new person or new nature resulted from the union; and further, that it's just as absurd to argue the Divine will and human will were conflated into a single will.)
The second, and more important point for this post is to point out that Perry has based his argument on an assumption. In other words, he assumes that since Maximus refused to submit to the Legates, that he "eventually abandons" his defense of Honorius (or even Rome in general). But where is the historical record of Maximus repudiating his defense in his Disputation with Pyrrhus? Where is a "retraction" of sorts? To me, Perry's argument is simply insufficient, even if Maximus refuses to submit. But what about the Letter of St Maximus to his trusted disciple Anastasius that Perry has based his argument upon? Thanks to a friend who brought this to my attention, I believe I've come across some pretty devastating information that totally undermines Perry's entire argument.
* * *
The following is the full quote Perry provides on his blog to argue that Rome caved in to Monothelitism and put St Maximus in a position to pick "excommunication" rather than submit:
“Yesterday, the eighteenth of the month, which was holy Mid-Pentecost, the patriarch sent me a message, saying,: ‘What church do you belong to? Constantinople? Rome? Antioch? Alexandria? Jerusalem? Look here, all of them are united together [i.e. all embraced Monothelitism] with the provinces subject to them. If, therefore, you belong to the catholic church, be united, lest perhaps you devise a strange path by your way of life and you suffer what you don’t expect…’Listen, then,’ they said. ‘The master and the patriarch have decided, following an instruction from the pope of Rome, that you will be anathematised if you do not obey, and that you will be sentenced to the death they have determined.’” The Letter of Maxmus to Anastasius
Obviously, St Maximus would never submit to heresy, and thus Maximus must have been on his own here. But as my friend pointed out to me, this letter is actually a bit longer, but it's not so much what it says between the "..." as it is what it says at the end, which Perry does not quote. Perry got this quote from a book he refers me to consult called "Maximus the Confessor and his Companions: Documents from exile," so he clearly should have been aware of the concluding paragraph:
Anastasius ordered me to transcribe these things [i.e. the words St Maximus wrote to Anastasius] and to make them known to you most holy people, in order that, when you have found out about the trial from these, you might all bring a common prayer to the Lord on behalf of our common mother, that is the catholic church, and on behalf of us your unworthy servants, for strengthening everyone and us also, persevering with you in it, according to the orthodox faith rightly preached in it by the holy Fathers. For there is great fear in the whole world because this [church] endures persecution by everyone at the same time, unless he offers aid by his customary grace, he who always comes to aid, leaving the seed of piety at least in older Rome, confirming the promise he made to the prince of apostles, which does not deceive us. 
So this Letter from Maximus to Anastasius was transcribed by Anastasius' trusted scribe, who says this Letter was sent precisely to confirm the faith. Notice the last sentence the scribe includes: the church of Rome, headed by the prince of the apostles, was given a special grace to preserve the faith, "which does not deceive us." Is this a game-changer or what? If the whole point of this letter was to warn Anastasius that Rome had caved into heresy, and thus nobody should submit, then the ending makes no sense, for it teaches the opposite. Whether through negligence or deliberate, this key detail was left out. This totally undermines any assumption that Rome caved into heresy or that Maximus abandoned his defense of the Papacy and Honorius.
So what of the Legates demanding Maximus submit? Here is what the Catholic Encyclopedia says, and it fits with the new evidence just presented:
He [Maximus] disbelieved the statement made to him that the envoys of the pope had accepted the confession of "two wills on account of the diversity and one will on account of the union," and pointed out that the union not being a substance could have no will. He wrote on this account to his disciple the Abbot Anastasius, who was able to send a letter to warn "the men of elder Rome firm as a rock" of the deceitful confession which the Patriarch [of Constantinople] Peter was despatching to the pope. 
So, the actual story is that Maximus refused to accept Rome caved into error and called the Legates liars for suggesting such. He then wrote to warn Anastasius, which makes sense given the end of the letter, and Anastasius writes a new letter to warn Rome of the conspiracy. This Letter is called "The Letter of Anastasius to the Monks at Caligari" in the very same book Perry got his information from and told me to read. Sure enough, it's about Anastasius warning Rome that there is a conspiracy to make it sound as if Monthelitism has triumphed when it has not, either with Maximus, Anastasius, or at Rome.  How could Perry have missed this? Whatever the reason, his thesis is totally debunked.
One further piece of evidence I've come across is from The Life of Our Holy Father Maximus the Confessor . In around 662, Maximus was put on "trial" in Monothelite controlled Constantinople and "anathematized," his punishment was to have his right hand and tongue both cut off for not accepting Monothelitism. As part of the trial proceedings, here are a few noteworthy quotes from the dialogue between Maximus and the "prosecutors" (better: persecutors):
"Where did you anathematize [Monothelitism]?" asked Troilus."At the local council in Rome," replied Saint Maximus, "in the Church of the Savior and the Most Holy Theotokos."Then the dignitary presiding over the council addressed him: "Will you enter into communion with our [Monothelite] Church, or not?""No, I will not enter into communion," replied the Saint....When all had become silent, the treasurer addressed him: "Why are you so fond of the Romans, and why do you so hate the Greeks?"The Saint replied, "We have a commandment from God not to hate anyone. I love the Romans, as being of one Faith with me, and I love the Greeks, as speaking the same language as myself."...During this lengthy interrogation, neither of the Patriarchs said anything. When they began to expatiate on the council which had been held in Rome, a certain Demosthenes declared, "That was not a true council, because it was summoned by Martin, the excommunicated Pope."Saint Maximus replied, "Pope Martin was not excommunicated, but subjected to persecution."
This totally raises the stakes on Perry's original quote, because at that time Saint Maximus was not being threatened with mutilation and imprisonment. Fast forward to this mock trial, and we see Saint Maximus (a) refuse to enter communion with Constantinople, (b) stands firm behid Rome's council condemning Monothelitism, (c) affirm that he shares the same Faith in rejecting Monothelitism as Rome, and (d) defends Pope Martin as being falsely accused and falsely excommunicated. In other words, this further debunks Perry's assumption.
The only question is: if St Maximus the Confessor - one of Perry's favorite saints of all time, and for good reason - refused to renounce the Papacy or condemn Honorius, why should we?
 This quote is taken from the book, "The Disputation with Pyrrhus of our father among the Saints, Maximus the Confessor" translated from the Greek by Joseph P. Farrell, p49-50 (paragraph #147ff)
 "Maximus the Confessor and his Companions: Documents from exile," translated and compiled by Pauline Allen, page 123.
 It is very important to note that the book St. Maximus the Confessor and His Companions: Documents from Exile gives an important historical detail: "the compromise formula of the patriarch Peter of Constantinople does not survive." (page 38) In other words, nobody today really knows what that compromise formula really said, and thus what Rome even allegedly signed off on. This makes Perry's argument even weaker, for the testimony of the Legates is insufficient to say Rome actually caved in to anything.
 Allen, page 129
 The Life of Our Holy Father Maximus the Confessor Translated by Father Christopher Birchall, pages 43-44