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The Monarchian Controversies

Monarchianism is a general term used to include all the unsuccessful
attempts of teachers within the Church to explain the divine element in
Christ without doing violence to the doctrine of the unity of God, and yet
without employing the Logos christology. These attempts were made chiefly
between the latter part of the second century and the end of the third.
They fall into classes accordingly as they regard the divine element in
Christ as personal or impersonal. One class makes the divine element to be
an impersonal power (Greek, dynamis) sent from God into the man Jesus;
hence the term "Dynamistic Monarchians." The other class makes the divine
element a person, without, however, making any personal distinction
between Father and Son, only a difference in the mode in which the one
divine person manifests Himself; hence the term "Modalistic Monarchians."
By some the Dynamistic Monarchians have been called Adoptionists, because
they generally taught that the man Jesus ultimately became the Son of God,
not being such by nature but by "adoption." The name Adoptionist has been
so long applied to a heresy of the eighth century, chiefly in Spain, that
it leads to confusion to use the term in connection with Monarchianism.
Furthermore, to speak of them as Dynamistic Monarchians groups them with
other Monarchians, which is desirable. The most important school of
Modalistic Monarchians was that of Sabellius, in which the Modalistic
principle was developed so as to include the three persons of the Trinity.

The sources may be found collected and annotated in Hilgenfeld,

(A) Dynamistic Monarchianism

(a) Hippolytus, Refut., VII, 35, 36. (MSG, 16:3342.)

Ch. 35. A certain Theodotus, a native of Byzantium, introduced a novel
heresy, saying some things concerning the origin of the universe partly in
keeping with the doctrines of the true Church, in so far as he admits that
all things were created by God. Forcibly appropriating, however, his idea
of Christ from the Gnostics and from Cerinthus and Ebion, he alleges that
He appeared somewhat as follows: that Jesus was a man, born of a virgin,
according to the counsel of the Father, and that after He had lived in a
way common to all men, and had become pre-eminently religious, He
afterward at His baptism in Jordan received Christ, who came from above
and descended upon Him. Therefore miraculous powers did not operate within
Him prior to the manifestation of that Spirit which descended and
proclaimed Him as the Christ. But some [i.e., among the followers of
Theodotus] are disposed to think that this man never was God, even at the
descent of the Spirit; whereas others maintain that He was made God after
the resurrection from the dead.

Ch. 36. While, however, different questions have arisen among them, a
certain one named Theodotus, by trade a money-changer [to be distinguished
from the other Theodotus, who is commonly spoken of as Theodotus, the
leather-worker], attempted to establish the doctrine that a certain
Melchizedek is the greatest power, and that this one is greater than
Christ. And they allege that Christ happens to be according to the
likeness of this one. And they themselves, similarly with those who have
been previously spoken of as adherents of Theodotus, assert that Jesus is
a mere man, and that in conformity with the same account, Christ descended
upon Him.

(b) The Little Labyrinth, in Eusebius, Hist. Ec., V, 28. (MSG,

The author of The Little Labyrinth, a work from which Eusebius
quotes at considerable length, is uncertain. It has been
attributed to Hippolytus.

The Artemonites say that all early teachers and the Apostles themselves
received and taught what they now declare, and that the truth of the
preaching [i.e., the Gospel] was preserved until the time of Victor, who
was the thirteenth bishop in Rome after Peter, and that since his
successor, Zephyrinus, the truth has been corrupted. What they say might
be credible if first of all the divine Scriptures did not contradict them.
And there are writings of certain brethren which are older than the times
of Victor, and which they wrote in behalf of the truth against the heathen
and against heresies of their time. I refer to Justin, Miltiades, Tatian,
Clement, and others. In all of their works Christ is spoken of as God. For
who does not know the works of Irenaeus and of Melito and of others, which
teach that Christ is God and man? And how many psalms and hymns, written
by the faithful brethren from the beginning, celebrate Christ as the Word
of God, speaking of Him as divine? How, then, since the Church's present
opinion has been preached for so many years, can its preaching have been
delayed, as they affirm, until the times of Victor? And how is it that
they are not ashamed to speak thus falsely of Victor, knowing well that he
cut off from communion Theodotus, the leather-worker, the leader and
father of this God-denying apostasy, and the first to declare that Christ
is mere man.

There was a certain confessor, Natalius, not long ago, but in our day.
This man was deceived at one time by Asclepiodotus and another Theodotus,
a certain money-changer. Both of them were disciples of Theodotus, the
leather-worker, who, as I said, was the first person excommunicated by
Victor, bishop at that time, on account of this senseless sentiment or,
rather, senselessness. Natalius was persuaded by them to allow himself to
be chosen bishop of this heresy with a salary, so that he was to receive
from them one hundred and fifty denarii a month.

They have treated the divine Scriptures recklessly and without fear; they
have set aside the rule of ancient faith; and Christ they have not known,
not endeavoring to learn what the divine Scriptures declare, but striving
laboriously after any form of syllogism which may be found to suit their
impiety. And if any one brings before them a passage of divine Scripture,
they see whether a conjunctive or a disjunctive form of syllogism can be
made from it. And as being of the earth and speaking of the earth and as
ignorant of Him that cometh from above, they devote themselves to geometry
and forsake the holy writings of God. Euclid is at least laboriously
measured by some of them; Aristotle and Theophrastus admired; and Galen,
perhaps, by some is even worshipped. But that those who use the arts of
unbelievers for their heretical opinion and adulterate the simple faith of
the divine Scriptures by the craft of the godless are not near the faith,
what need is there to say? Therefore, they have laid their hands boldly
upon the divine Scriptures, alleging that they have corrected them. That I
am not speaking falsely of them in this matter, whoever wishes can learn.
For if any one will collect their respective copies and compare them with
one another, he will find that they differ greatly.

(B) Modalistic Monarchianism

Additional source material: Hippolytus, Adversus Noetum,
Refutatio, IX, 7 ff., X, 27; Tertullian, Adversus Praxean;
Basil, Ep. 207, 210. (PNF, ser. II, vol. VIII.)

(a) Hippolytus, Refut., X, 27. (MSG, 16:3440.)

The following passages from the great work of Hippolytus give the
earlier form of Modalistic Monarchianism. They are also of
importance as being a part of the foundation for the statement of
Harnack and others, that this heresy was the official Roman
doctrine for some years. See also IX, 12, of which the text may be
found in Kirch, nn. 201-206. The whole question as to the position
of Callistus, or Calixtus, as bishop of Rome and his relations to
the Church as a whole is difficult and full of obscurity, due to a
large extent to the fact that the principal source for his history
is the work of Hippolytus, who, as may easily be seen, was
bitterly opposed to him.

Noetus, a Smyrnaean by birth, a reckless babbler and trickster, introduced
this heresy, which originated with Epigonus, and was adopted by Cleomenes,
and has thus continued to this day among his successors. Noetus asserts
that there is one Father and God of the universe, and that He who had made
all things was, when He wished, invisible to those who existed, and when
He wished He became visible; that He is invisible when He is not seen and
visible when He is seen; that the Father is unbegotten when He is not
generated, but begotten when He is born of a virgin; that He is not
subject to suffering and is immortal when He does not suffer and die, but
when His passion came upon Him Noetus admits that the Father suffers and
dies. The Noetians think that the Father is called the Son according to
events at different times.

Callistus supported the heresy of these Noetians, but we have carefully
described his life [see above, 19, c]. And Callistus himself likewise
produced a heresy, taking his starting-point from these Noetians. And he
acknowledges that there is one Father and God, and that He is the Creator
of the universe, and that He is called and regarded as Son by name, yet
that in substance He is one.(60) For the Spirit as Deity is not, he says,
any being different from the Logos, or the Logos from Deity; therefore,
this one person is divided by name, but not according to substance. He
supposes this one Logos to be God and he says that He became flesh. He is
disposed to maintain that He who was seen in the flesh and crucified is
Son, but it is the Father who dwells in Him.

(b) Hippolytus, Refut., IX, 7, 11 f. (MSG, 16:3369.)

Ch. 7. There has appeared a certain one, Noetus by name, by birth a
Smyrnaean. This person introduced from the tenets of Heraclitus a heresy.
Now a certain Epigonus became his minister and pupil, and this person
during his sojourn in Rome spread his godless opinion. But Zephyrinus
himself was in course of time enticed away and hurried headlong into the
same opinion; and he had Callistus as his adviser and fellow-champion of
these wicked tenets. The school of these heretics continued in a
succession of teachers to acquire strength and to grow because Zephyrinus
and Callistus helped them to prevail.

Ch. 11. Now that Noetus affirms that the Son and the Father are the same,
no one is ignorant. But he makes a statement as follows: "When, indeed, at
the time the Father was not yet born, He was justly styled the Father; and
when it pleased Him to undergo generation and to be begotten, He himself
became His own Son, not another's." For in this manner he thinks he
establishes the Monarchy, alleging that the Father and the Son, so called,
are not from one another, but are one and the same, Himself from Himself,
and that He is styled by the names Father and Son, according to the
changes of times.

Ch. 12. Now Callistus brought forward Zephyrinus himself and induced him
to avow publicly the following opinions: "I know that there is one God,
Jesus Christ; and that excepting Him I do not know another begotten and
capable of suffering." When he said, "The Father did not die but the Son,"
he would in this way continue to keep up ceaseless disturbance among the
people. And we [i.e., Hippolytus], becoming aware of his opinions, did
not give place to him, but reproved him and withstood him for the truth's
sake. He rushed into folly because all consented to his hypocrisy; we,
however, did not do so, and he called us worshippers of two gods,
disgorging freely the venom lurking within him.

(c) Hippolytus, Adversus Noetum. (MSG, 10:804.)

The following is from a fragment which seems to be the conclusion
of an extended work against various heresies.

Some others are secretly introducing another doctrine who have become the
disciples of a certain Noetus, who was a native of Smyrna, and lived not
very long ago. This man was greatly puffed up with pride, being inspired
by the conceit of a strange spirit. He alleged that Christ was the Father
himself, and that the Father himself was born and suffered and died. When
the blessed presbyters heard these things they summoned him before the
Church and examined him. But he denied at first that he held such
opinions. Afterward, taking shelter among some and gathering round him
some others who had been deceived in the same way, he wished to maintain
his doctrine openly. And the blessed presbyters summoned him and examined
him. But he resisted, saying, "What evil, then, do I commit when I glorify
Christ?" And the presbyters replied to him, "We, too, know in truth one
God; we know Christ; we know that the Son suffered even as He suffered,
and died even as He died, and rose again on the third day, and is at the
right hand of the Father, and cometh to judge the living and the dead. And
these things which we have learned we assert." Then, after refuting him,
they expelled him from the Church. And he was carried to such a pitch of
pride that he established a school.

Now they seek to exhibit the foundation of their dogma, alleging that it
is said in the Law, "I am the God of your fathers; ye shall have no other
gods beside me" [i.e., of Moses, cf. Ex. 3:6, 13; 20:3]; and again in
another passage, "I am the first and the last and besides me there is none
other" [cf. Is. 44:6]. Thus they assert that God is one. And then they
answer in this manner: "If therefore I acknowledge Christ to be God, He is
the Father himself, if He is indeed God; and Christ suffered, being
Himself God, and consequently the Father suffered, for He was the Father

(d) Tertullian, Adv. Praxean, 1, 2, 27, 29. (MSL, 2:177 f., 214.)

Tertullian is especially bitter against Praxeas, because he
prevented the recognition of the Montanists at Rome when it seemed
likely that they would be treated favorably. The work Adversus
Praxean is the most important work of Western theology on the
Trinity before the time of Augustine. It was corrected in some
important points by Novatian, but its clear formulae remained in
Western theology permanently. The work belongs to the late
Montanistic period of Tertullian.

Ch. 1. In various ways has the devil rivalled the truth. Sometimes his aim
has been to destroy it by defending it. He maintains that there is one
only Lord, the Almighty Creator of the world, that of this doctrine of the
unity he may fabricate a heresy. He says that the Father himself came down
into the Virgin, was Himself born of her, Himself suffered, indeed, was
Himself Jesus Christ. He [Praxeas] was the first to import into Rome this
sort of perversity, a man of restless disposition in other respects, and
above all inflated with the pride of martyrdom [confessorship] simply and
solely because of a short annoyance in prison; when, even if he had given
his body to be burned, it would have profited him nothing, not having the
love of God, whose very gifts he resisted and destroyed. For after the
Bishop of Rome had acknowledged the prophetic gifts of Montanus,
Priscilla, and Maximilla, and in consequence of the acknowledgment had
bestowed his peace on the churches of Asia and Phrygia, Praxeas, by
importunately urging false accusations against the prophets themselves and
their churches, and insisting on the authority of the bishop's
predecessors in the see, compelled him to recall the letter of peace which
he had issued, as well as to desist from his purpose of acknowledging the
said gifts. Thus Praxeas did two pieces of the devil's work in Rome: he
drove out prophecy and he brought in heresy; he put to flight the
Paraclete and he crucified the Father.

Ch. 2. After a time, then, the Father was born, and the Father
suffered--God himself, the Almighty, is preached as Jesus Christ.

Ch. 27. For, confuted on all sides by the distinction between the Father
and the Son, which we make while their inseparable union remains as [by
the examples] of the sun and the ray, and the fountain and the river--yet
by help of their conceit of an indivisible number [with issues] of two and
three, they endeavor to interpret this distinction in a way which shall
nevertheless agree with their own opinions; so that, all in one person,
they distinguish two--Father and Son--understanding the Son to be the flesh,
that is the man, that is Jesus; and the Father to be the Spirit, that is
God, that is Christ.

Ch. 29. Since we(61) teach in precisely the same terms that the Father
died as you say the Son died, we are not guilty of blasphemy against the
Lord God, for we do not say that He died after the divine nature, but only
after the human. They [the heretics], indeed, fearing to incur blasphemy
against the Father, hope to diminish it in this way, admitting that the
Father and the Son are two; but if the Son, indeed, suffers, the Father is
His fellow-sufferer.

(e) Formula Macrostichos, in Socrates. Hist. Ec., II, 19. (MSG,

In the Arian controversy several councils were held at Antioch in
the endeavor to bring about a reconciliation of the parties. At
the third council of Antioch, A. D. 345, the elaborate Formula
Macrostichos was put forth, in which the council attempted to
steer a middle course between the Sabellians, who identified the
Father and the Son, and the extreme Arians, who made the Son a
creature. Text may also be found in Hahn, op. cit., 159.

Those who say that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the same person,
impiously understanding the three names to refer to one and the same
person, we expel with good reason from the Church, because by the
incarnation they subject the Father, who is infinite and incapable of
suffering, to finitude and suffering in the incarnation. Such are those
called Patripassianists by the Romans and Sabellians by us.

(f) Athanasius, Orationes contra Arianos, IV, 9, 25. (MSG, 26:480,

For Athanasius, v. infra, 65, c. Of the four Orations
against the Arians, attributed to Athanasius and placed between
the years 356 and 362, doubts have been raised against the
genuineness of the fourth. The following quotations are, in any
case, valuable as setting forth the Sabellian position. But the
case against the fourth oration has not been conclusively proved.
In the passage from ch. 25 the statement is that of the
Sabellians, not of Athanasius.

Ch. 9. If, again, the One have two names, this is the expedient of
Sabellius, who said that Son and Father were the same and did away with
both, the Father when there is a Son, and the Son when there is a Father.

Ch. 25. "As there are diversities of gifts but the same Spirit, so also
the Father is the same, but is dilated into Son and Spirit."

(g) Athanasius, Expositio fidei. (MSG, 25:204.)

For the critical questions regarding this little work of uncertain
date see PNF, ser. II, vol. VI, p. 83.

For neither do we hold a Son-father, as do the Sabellians, calling Him of
one but not of the same essence, and thus destroying the existence of the

(h) Basil the Great, Epistula, 210:3. (MSG, 32:772, 776.)

Basil the Great, Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, was one of the
more important ecclesiastics of the fourth century, and the leader
of the New-Nicene party in the Arian controversy. V. infra,
66, c.

Sabellianism is Judaism imported into the preaching of the Gospel under
the guise of Christianity. For if a man calls Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
one, but manifold as to person [prosopon], and makes one hypostasis of the
three, what else does he do than deny the everlasting pre-existence of the
Only begotten?

Now Sabellius did not even deprecate the formation of the persons without
the hypostasis, saying, as he did, that the same God, being one in
substance,(62) was metamorphosed as the need of the moment required and
spoken of now as Father, now as the Son, and now as Holy Spirit.

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