Monarchianism

V. -- MONARCHIANISM.


As the diflicult problem of reconciling the doctrine of the trinity with the divine unity began to be seriously canvassed in the Church, some took the short road over the difficulty by denying the existence of any real trinity in the Godhead. Hence a new controversy was prepared; and close upon the task of refuting the Gnostics, followed that of refuting the Monarchians, or Anti-trinitarians.


This form of heresy first elicited attention in the closing part of the second century. It does not appear to have spread very widely. We read of its disciples becoming conspicuous only in a few places. That it appeared at the same time in two different and contradictory forms, may also be taken as evidence that it was quite outside the regular current of thought in the Church, a speculative attempt to get over the difficulties of beliefs commonly accepted.


The two forms of Monarchianism agreed in teaching that God is uni-personal; in other words, they affirmed that there is only one Divine Person. The radical difference between the two was that one denied that the uni-personal God was personally incarnated in Jesus Christ, while the other affirmed that He was so incarnated. In the view of the one class, the Saviour who appeared among men was a man endowed with a peculiar fulness of the Holy Spirit; in the view of the other, He was God manifest in the flesh. According to the latter, there is no numerical distinction between Father and Son, the Son being the Father viewed under the aspect of the flesh. As their doctrine seemed to involve the conclusion that the Father was crucified, they acquired the name of Patripassians.


The first class, which differed from the Ebionites by allowing an extraordinary indwelling of the Spirit in Christ from His birth, included several groups. The Alogi are sometimes reckoned as representatives of this class, but the ground for this assignment is none too certain. It is only known that they were opponents of the Logos teaching of John, and rejected his Gospel, as also the Apocalypse. Two or three decades after their appearance, came the schools of Theodotus and Artemon at Rome, both of whom were excommunicated by the Roman bishop not far from the year 200. [Euseb., Hist. Eccl., v. 28; Epiphanius, Hær., liv.; Theodoret, Hær. Fab., ii. 8; Hippolytus, Philos., vii. 23.] Finally, as the culmination of this class, came Paul of Samosata, and his followers at Antioch. The second class, which found more sympathy in the Church than the first, had in Praxeas its first prominent representative. Praxeas taught in Rome in the last part of the second century. Noëtus of Smyrna followed with similar views, which his disciples imported to Rome. According to Hippolytus, the Roman Bishop Callistus was deeply implicated in the heresy of Noëtus, into which also he had previously seduced his weak predecessor, Zephyrinus. [Philos., ix. 6, 7; x. 23.] Then came the teachings of Sabellius, as the culminating product of this class of Monarchians. Beryllus of Bostra, who was converted from his theories by Origen, has been placed by some in the first class, by others in the second. The data for a decision are very scanty. [Euseb., vi. 33.] Neander places Beryllus among those who confessed the Divine nature of Christ. As Paul of Samosata, and Sabellius were the most significant representatives of their respective classes, we may most fitly select them for special consideration.


Paul of Samosata became Bishop of Antioch in 260. Ere long he fell under suspicion of entertaining heretical views on the nature of Christ. His plan seems to have been by cautious and gradual methods to induct the Church, over which he presided, into his own way of thinking. One expedient adopted was a remodelling of the hymns, so as to make them suit his own theology. In 269 a council of bishops pronounced his deposition; but on account of the patronage which he received from Zenobia, queen of the temporary kingdom of Palmyra, the decree could not be carried into execution till 272. In character, if the unanimous representations of early writers can be trusted, Paul was a man of vain, worldly, diplomatic turn, who loved the incense of flattery and the patronage of power. The main points of his teaching were the following: There are no personal distinctions in the Godhead. The Word and the Spirit simply denote God under different aspects, are to God what man's reason and spirit are to him. Christ had no existence prior to His earthly conception and birth. God was to some extent in Christ, but not as any factor of His person; He was in Christ only in the sense of giving to Him a superior endowment of wisdom and power. In virtue of this endowment, and the high mission with which He was intrusted, Christ attained to a species of divine dignity. Thus Paul, like the Socinians of later times, reversed the Scriptural representation that God descended to the estate of man, and taught that Christ from man became God, not indeed in essence, but in relative position and dignity. [Euseb., vii. 27-30; Theodoret, Hær. Fab., ii. 8; Epiphanius, Hær., lxv.]


Sabellius, the most able and ingenious in the whole list of Monarchians, appeared as an advocate of anti-trinitarian views at Rome in the early part of the third century, and was excommunicated in Alexandria in 261. In his teaching, the Trinity is regarded as purely modal, a Trinity of manifestations. Viewed in His original estate, God appears as the Monad, solitary and in rest. But this rest and isolation come to an end: God moves, speaks, becomes revealed by and in creation. As the outward-moving Spirit, the Creator and Ruler of the world at large, the revealed One, God is the Logos. Within the compass of His general revelation, there ensues a special revelation, in connection with the preparation and accomplishment of redemption. The revealed God became still further distinguished as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the law, God revealed himself as Father; in the redemptive work of Christ on earth, as Son; in the sanctifying of believers, He reveals himself as Holy Spirit. These three titles are indicative, not of distinctions in the divine nature, but of stages in the divine economy; they denote the same divine Person under successive forms of manifestation. [Euseb., vii. 6; Epiphanius, Hær., lxii; Theodoret, Hær. Fab., ii. 9.] This theory, it will be seen, provides rather for a theophany than for a divine incarnation in the proper sense. It teaches a transient abiding of God in the flesh, instead of a permanent union of God and man in the person of Jesus Christ.