« Sabbatius, bp. of Constantinople Sabellianism, or Patripassianism Sabellius, heretic »

Sabellianism, or Patripassianism

Sabellianism, the Eastern name for the movement designated Patripassianism in the West. It formed a portion of the great Monarchian movement, and can only be rightly understood in connexion therewith. We can trace its rise back to the age of Justin Martyr. In his Apol. i. § 63 he refers to those "who affirm that the Son is the Father," and condemns them—a condemnation which he repeats in his Dialogue with Trypho, § 128 (cf. Bull's Defence of Nic. Creed, t. i. 138, t. ii. 626 ; Judgm. Cath. Ch. iii. 198). The 2nd cent. was the age of Gnosticism, of which one of the essential principles was the emanation theory, which places a number of aeons, emanations from the Divine Being, intermediate between God and the Creation. The champions of Christian orthodoxy were led, in opposition, to insist strenuously upon the Divine Monarchy, God's sole, independent, and absolute existence and being. Thus we find Irenaeus writing a treatise περὶ μοναρχίας c. 190, addressed to a Roman presbyter, Florinus, who had fallen away to Gnosticism. Asian Gnosticism regarded the Son and the Holy Ghost as aeons or emanations (cf. Tertull. cont. Prax. c. 8). Christians had to shew that the existence of the Son and the Holy Ghost could be reconciled with the Divine Monarchy. Some therefore adopted the view which Dorner calls Ebionite Monarchianism, defending the Monarchy by denying the deity of Christ. Others identified the Persons of the Godhead with the Father, a theory which was called Sabellianism, though that name is not derived from the original inventor of this view. Sabellianism, in fact, was one of the mistakes men fell into while groping their way to the complete Christological conception. It was in the 2nd cent. an orthodox reaction against Gnosticism, as in the 4th cent. the Sabellianism of Marcellus of Ancyra was a reaction against Arianism. Tertullian expressly asserts, in the opening of his treatise against Praxeas, that this heresy had sprung out of a desire to maintain orthodoxy. The Roman church was one of the chief stages whereon the controversial struggle was waged. The visit of Origen to Rome, some time in 211–217, must have introduced him to the controversy, as abundant references to it and refutations of it are in his writings. The materials for tracing the development of Sabellian views during the 3rd cent. are very defective. Novatian on the Trinity (cc. 12, 18, 21, 22) treats it as an acknowledged heresy, using the same Scripture arguments as Justin Martyr in his Dial. cum Tryph. §§ 126–129. Novatian is the earliest author who distinctly calls this view the Sabellian heresy. The controversy next emerges into the full light of day in N. Africa c. 260. It permeated very largely the district of Pentapolis in Libya, under the leadership of two bishops of that district, Ammon and EUPHRANOR. Dionysius of Alexandria wrote against their teaching, whereupon he was accused of heresy to Dionysius of Rome. The documents bearing on the dispute between 882these two fathers are in Routh's Rel. Sacr. iii. 370–400; for a discussion of the controversy see DIONYSIUS (8). In 4th cent. it again burst forth when Marcellus of Ancyra, in opposing Arianism and the subordination theory of Origen, was led to deny any personal distinction between the First and Second Persons of the Trinity. Marcellus was probably only guilty of loose expressions, but his disciple Photinus worked out his system to its logical conclusions and boldly proclaimed Sabellian views. Eusebius of Caesarea wrote against Marcellus, and from the extracts in his two treatises, cont. Marcell. and de Ecclesiast. Theolog. we derive most of our information concerning Marcellus (cf. Epiph. Haer. lxxii.). Athanasius, Basil, Hilary, Chrysostom, all condemned Marcellus and his teaching. Basil's letters are a repertory of information about the controversy during the latter half of 4th cent. Basil first called Sabellius an African, solely, it would seem, because of the prevalence of Sabellianism in the Pentapolis, under Dionysius of Alexandria, when probably SABELLIUS himself was long dead. The interest in the controversy ceased by degrees as the great Nestorian and Eutychian discussions of the 5th cent. arose. Yet Sabellianism lingered in various quarters. Epiphanius (Haer. lxii.) says that in his time Sabellians were still numerous in Mesopotamia and Rome—a fact confirmed by an inscription discovered at Rome in 1742, which runs: "Qui et Filius diceris et Pater inveniris," evidently erected by Sabellian hands (Northcote's Epitaph. of Catacombs, p. 102). Augustine speaks of them, however, as practically extinct in Africa (cf. Ep. ad Dioscorum, cx.).

We add a brief exposition of this heresy. One section of the Monarchian party (see supra) guarded the Monarchy by denying any personal distinctions in the Godhead, and thus identifying the Father and the Son. But Christ is called the Son of God, and a son necessarily supposed a father distinct from himself (Tertul. cont. Prax. c. 10). They evaded this difficulty by distinguishing between the Logos and the Son of God. The Logos was itself eternally identical with God the Father. The Son of God did not exist till the Incarnation, when the Eternal Logos manifested its activity in the sphere of time in and through the man Christ Jesus. "In O.T.," says Sabellius, "no mention is made of the Son of God, but only of the Logos" (Athan. Orat. iv. § 23). The Sonship is a mere temporary matter, however (cf. Greg. Nys. cont. Sabell. in Mai's Coll. Nov. Vett. Scriptt. t. viii. pt. ii. p. 4), and when the work of man's salvation is completed the Logos will be withdrawn from the humanity of Christ into that personal union and identity with the Father which existed from eternity, while the humanity will be absorbed into the original Divine nature. All this was summed up in the distinction drawn between the λόγος ἐνδιάθετος and the λόγος προφορικός. Here Sabellianism merged into Pantheism. The ultimate end of all things, according to Sabellius, was the restoration of the Divine Unity; that God, as the absolute Μονάς, should be all in all. If, then, the absorption of Christ's humanity into the absolute Μονάς was necessary, much more the absorption of all inferior personal existences. Neander points out that this system presents many points of resemblance to the Alexandrian-Jewish theology. Epiphanius, indeed, expressly asserts (Haer. lxii. c. 2) that Sabellius derived his system from the apocryphal Gospel of the Egyptians, which stated that Christ had taught His disciples, as a great mystery, the identity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. This Gospel insisted upon the element of Sabellianism most akin to Pantheism, viz. that all contrarieties will be finally resolved into unity. Thus, according to it, Christ replied to the question of Salome when His kingdom should come, "When two shall be one, and the outer as the inner, and the male with the female; when there shall be no male and no female." Neander (H. E. t. ii. pp. 317–326, Bohn's ed.) gives the clearest exposition of this heresy and its connexion with kindred systems.


« Sabbatius, bp. of Constantinople Sabellianism, or Patripassianism Sabellius, heretic »


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