JMC : Pre-Scholastic Philosophy / by Albert Stöckl


§ 63.

1. The reaction against the polytheism of the Gnostics, and particularly against the antagonism established in their doctrine between the Supreme God and the Creator of the world, led to another extreme view, in which the Unity of God was so strongly insisted on that the distinctions involved in the Trinity disappeared, and the divine persons became so many different relations or modes of the one divine substance. This doctrine was known as Monarchianism, or the Antitrinitarian doctrine. In this, the teaching regarding the person of Christ was necessarily reduced to the Ebionite theory, more or less modified. We proceed to notice the most remarkable of the Monarchianists or Antitrinitarians, and to give some outline of their teaching.

2. First, amongst them are the so-called Patripassiani, amongst whom are Praxeas, Noetus and Beryllus. Praxeas lived towards the close of the second century. He taught that the Father became man in Christ; that He was born of the Virgin Mary; that He died and rose from the dead. Praxeas distinguished the divine from the human element in Christ; the one, he called Spirit and the other Flesh. Christ suffered only as man; to the Father he ascribed a sort of co-passion (compati). Somewhat later (about A.D. 230), Noetus taught the same doctrine at Smyrna. In God, he held, there is but one person. This person existing from eternity was begotten of Mary in time. In His eternal existence He is named Father, as existing in time He is named Son. Beryllus of Bostra, a contemporary of Noetus, taught that Christ, before His birth, had no personal existence; that during His earthly life He was not God, that the divinity of the Father only dwelt in Him.

3. A second class of Monarchianists is formed by Sabellius and Paul of Samosata. Sabellius, a native of Libya, and Presbyter of Ptolemais in the Pentapolis of Africa, taught his peculiar doctrines publicly under Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria, and at Rome, under Pope Sixtus II. (A.D. 257-8). The gist of his teaching was embodied in the formulas: monas platuntheisa gegone trias -- the monas expanded, becomes a trinity: and ho patêr ho autos men esti, platunetai eis nion pneuma -- as Father He is one and the same, but He is expanded into the Son and Holy Ghost (Athan. Or. IV., Contra Arianos, 3). He thus admits only one Hypostasis or Person in God. This Hypostasis, according to the several relations it assumes, becomes Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. These three terms express no more than names for various relations of the one monas. Sabellius compares the Divine Trinity to the triple principle -- soul, spirit, and body in man; which, although different one from another, unite, nevertheless, to form one person; and again, to the sun which, although one in itself, unites the three elements -- power to illumine, power to heat, and rotundity of form.

4. In accordance with these views is the further opinion attributed to Sabellius, that for the creation of the world, and more particularly of man, the Logos came forth from the Father -- not as a Divine Person, but merely as a power emanating from God. The Logos assumed a personal character in Christ, but this only for a time. As the sun sends forth its rays, and receives them again within itself, so did the Logos enter into Christ, and there assume personal existence, to return again to the Father later as an impersonal power.

5. Paul of Samosata became Bishop of Antioch A.D. 260. He was a man of considerable dialectical skill, but filled with vanity. He taught that Christ had no existence previous to His conception, that the Divine Logos -- which is not itself a person -- descended upon Him when He was conceived, and remained with Him till his Passion. Hence, Jesus, though begotten in a supernatural manner, is no more than man. But the moral perfection He attained, rendered Him God. It is true that He was endowed with intellectual power of a Divine order, but this was not because of a substantial union between God and man, but merely in consequence of a special divine influence exerted upon a human intellect and human will.

6. A third class of Monarchianists is formed by the Antitrinitarians of the Ebionite school. To this class belong the two Theodoti (the older and younger), who taught that Christ was no more than man; and Artemon, who held like opinions, but admitted a certain influence exerted upon Jesus by the Supreme God, which raised Him above all other men, and made Him the Son of God. The notion of the Logos does not form part of this phase of Monarchianism.

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