Help support New Advent and get the full contents of this website as an instant download. Includes the Catholic Encyclopedia, Church Fathers, Summa, Bible and more all for only $19.99...
Heretics of the second and third centuries. The word, Monarchiani, was first used by Tertullian as a nickname for the Patripassian group (adv. Prax., x), and was seldom used by the ancients. In modern times it has been extended to an earlier group of heretics, who are distinguished as Dynamistic, or Adoptionist, Monarchians from the Modalist Monarchians, or Patripassians [Sabellians].
All Christians hold the unity (monarchia) of God as a fundamental doctrine. By the Patripassians this first principle was used to deny the Trinity, and they are with some reason called Monarchians. But the Adoptionists, or Dynamists, have no claim to the title, for they did not start from the monarchy of God, and their error is strictly Christological. An account of them must, however, be given here simply because the name Monarchian has adhered to them in spite of the repeated protests of historians of dogma. But their ancient and accurate name was Theodotians. The founder of the sect was a leather-seller of Byzantium named Theodotus. He came to Rome under Pope Victor (c. 190-200) or earlier. He taught (Philosophumena, VII, xxxv) that Jesus was a man born of a virgin according to the counsel of the Father, that He lived like other men, and was most pious; that at His baptism in the Jordan the Christ came down upon Him in the likeness of a dove, and therefore wonders (dynameis) were not wrought in Him until the Spirit (which Theodotus called Christ) came down and was manifested in Him. They did not admit that this made Him God; but some of them said He was God after His resurrection. It was reported that Theodotus had been seized, with others, at Byzantium as a Christian, and that he had denied Christ, whereas his companions had been martyred; he had fled to Rome, and had invented his heresy in order to excuse his fall, saying that it was but a man and not God that he had denied. Pope Victor excommunicated him, and he gathered together a sect in which we are told much secular study was carried on. Hippolytus says that they argued on Holy Scripture in syllogistic form. Euclid, Aristotle, and Theophrastus were their admiration, and Galen they even adored. We should probably assume, with Harnack, that Hippolytus would have had less objection to the study of Plato or the Stoics, and that he disliked their purely literal exegesis, which neglected the allegorical sense. They also emended the text of Scripture, but their versions differed, that of Asclepiodotus was different from that of Theodotus, and again from that of Hermophilus; and the copies of Apolloniades did not even tally with one another. Some of them "denied the law and the Prophets", that is to say, they followed Marcion in rejecting the Old Testament. The only disciple of the leather-seller of whom we know anything definite is his namesake Theodotus the banker (ho trapezites). He added to his master's doctrine the view that Melchisedech was a celestial power, who was the advocate for the angels in heaven, as Jesus Christ was for men upon earth (a view found among later sects). (See MELCHISEDECHIANS). This teaching was of course grounded on Hebrews, vii, 3, and it is refuted at length by St. Epiphanius as Heresy 55, "Melchisedechians", after he has attacked the leather-seller under Heresy 54, "Theodotians". As he meets a series of arguments of both heretics, it is probable that some writings of the sect had been before Hippolytus, whose lost "Syntagma against all heresies" supplied St. Epiphanius with all his information. After the death of Pope Victor, Theodotus, the banker, and Asclepiodotus designed to raise their sect from the position of a mere school like those of the Gnostics to the rank of a Church like that of Marcion. They got hold of a certain confessor named Natalius, and persuaded him to be called their bishop at a salary of 150 denarii (24 dollars) a month. Natalius thus became the first antipope. But after he had joined them, he was frequently warned in visions by the Lord, Who did not wish His martyr to be lost outside the Church. He neglected the visions, for the sake of the honour and gain, but finally was scourged all night by the holy angels, so that in the morning with haste and tears he betook himself in sackcloth and ashes to Pope Zephyrinus and cast himself at the feet of the clergy, and even of the laity, showing the weals of the blows, and was after some difficulty restored to communion. This story is quoted by Eusebius II (VI, xxviii) from the "Little Labyrinth" of the contemporary Hippolytus, a work composed against Artemon, a late leader of the sect (perhaps c. 225-30), whom he did not mention in the "Syntagma" or the "Philosophumena". Our knowledge of Artemon, or Artemas, is limited to the reference to him made at the end of the Council of Antioch against Paul of Samosata (about 266-268), where that heretic was said to have followed Artemon, and in fact the teaching of Paul is but a more learned and theological development of Theodotianism (see Paul of Samosata).
The sect probably died out about the middle of the third century, and can never have been numerous. All our knowledge of it goes back to Hippolytus. His "Syntagma" (c. 205) is epitomized in Pseudo-Tertullian (Praescript., lii) and Philastrius, and is developed by Epiphanius (Haer., liv. lv); his "Little Labyrinth" (written 139-5, cited by Eusebius, V, 28) and his "Philosophumena" are still extant. See also his "Contra Noetum" 3, and a fragment "On the Melchisedechians and Theodotians and Athingani", published by Caspari (Tidskr. für der Evangel. Luth. Kirke, Ny Raekke, VIII, 3, p. 307). But the Athingani are a later sect, for which see MEDCHISEDECHIANS. The Monarchianism of Photinus seems to have been akin to that of the Theodotians. All speculations as to the origin of the theories of Theodotus are fanciful. At any rate he is not connected with the Ebionites. The Alogi have sometimes been classed with the Monarchians. Lipsius in his "Quelenkritik des Epiphanius" supposed them to be even Philanthropists, on account of their denial of the Logos, and Epiphanius in fact calls Theodotus an apopasma of the Alogi; but this is only a guess, and is not derived by him from Hippolytus. As a fact, Epiphanius assures us (Haer. 51) that the Alogi (that is, Gaius and his party) were orthodox in their Christology (see MONTANISTS).
The Monarchians properly so-called (Modalists) exaggerated the oneness of the Father and the Son so as to make them but one Person; thus the distinctions in the Holy Trinity are energies or modes, not Persons: God the Father appears on earth as Son; hence it seemed to their opponents that Monarchians made the Father suffer and die. In the West they were called Patripassians, whereas in the East they are usually called Sabellians. The first to visit Rome was probably Praxeas, who went on to Carthage some time before 206-208; but he was apparently not in reality a heresiarch, and the arguments refuted by Tertullian somewhat later in his book "Adversus Praxean" are doubtless those of the Roman Monarchians (see PRAXEAS).
Noetus (from whom the Noetians) was a Smyrnaean (Epiphanius, by a slip, says an Ephesian). He called himself Moses, and his brother Aaron. When accused before the presbyterate of teaching that the Father suffered, he denied it; but after having made a few disciples he was again interrogated, and expelled from the Church. He died soon after, and did not receive Christian burial. Hippolytus mockingly declares him to have been a follower of Heraclitus, on account of the union of the opposites which he taught when he called God both visible and invisible, passible and impassible. His pupil Epigonus came to Rome. As he was not mentioned in the "Syntagma" of Hippolytus, which was written in one of the first five years of the third century, he was not then well known in Rome, or had not yet arrived. According to Hippolytus (Philos., IX, 7), Cleomenes, a follower of Epigonus, was allowed by Pope Zephyrinus to establish a school, which flourished under his approbation and that of Callistus. Hagemann urges that we should conclude that Cleomenes was not a Noetian at all, and that he was an orthodox opponent of the incorrect theology of Hippolytus. The same writer gives most ingenious and interesting (though hardly convincing) reasons for identifying Praxeas with Callistus; he proves that the Monarchians attacked in Tertullian's "Contra Praxean" and in the "Philosophumena" had identical tenets which were not necessarily heretical; he denies that Tertullian means us to understand that Praxeas came to Carthage, and he explains the nameless refuter of Praxeas to be, not Tertullian himself, but Hippolytus. It is true that it is easy to suppose Tertullian and Hippolytus to have misrepresented the opinions of their opponents, but it cannot be proved that Cleomenes was not a follower of the heretical Noetus, and that Sabellius did not issue from his school; further, it is not obvious that Tertullian would attack Callistus under a nickname.
Sabellius soon became the leader of the Monarchians in Rome, perhaps even before the death of Zephyrinus (c. 218). He is said by Epiphanius to have founded his views on the Gospel according to the Egyptians, and the fragments of that apocryphon support this statement. Hippolytus hoped to convert Sabellius to his own views, and attributed his failure in this to the influence of Callistus. That pope, however, excommunicated Sabellius c. 220 ("fearing me", says Hippolytus). Hippolytus accuses Callistus of now inventing a new heresy by combining the views of Theodotus and those of Sabellius, although he excommunicated them both (see POPE CALLISTUS I). Sabellius was apparently still in Rome when Hippolytus wrote the Philosophumena (between 230 and 235). Of his earlier and later history nothing is known. St. Basil and others call him a Libyan from Pentapolis, but this seems to rest on the fact that Pentapolis was found to be full of Sabellianism by Dionysius of Alexandria, c. 260. A number of Montanists led by Aeschines became Modalists (unless Harnack is right in making Modalism the original belief of the Montanists and in regarding Aeschines as a conservative). Sabellius (or at least his followers) may have considerably amplified the original Noetianism. There was still Sabellianism to be found in the fourth century. Marcellus of Ancyra developed a Monarchianism of his own, which was carried much further by his disciple, Photinus. Priscillian was an extreme Monarchian and so was Commodian ("Carmen Apol.", 89, 277, 771). The "Monarchian Prologues" to the Gospels found in most old manuscripts of the Vulgate, were attributed by von Dobschütz and P. Corssen to a Roman author of the time of Callistus, but they are almost certainly the work of Priscillian. Beryllus, Bishop of Bostra, is vaguely said by Eusebius (Church History VI.33) to have taught that the Saviour had no distinct pre-existence before the Incarnation, and had no Divinity of His own, but that the Divinity of the Father dwelt in Him. Origen disputed with him in a council and convinced him of his error. The minutes of the disputation were known to Eusebius. It is not clear whether Beryllus was a Modalist or a Dynamist.
There was much that was unsatisfactory in the theology of the Trinity and in the Christology of the orthodox writers of the Ante-Nicene period. The simple teaching of tradition was explained by philosophical ideas, which tended to obscure as well as to elucidate it. The distinction of the Son from the Father was so spoken of that the Son appeared to have functions of His own, apart from the Father, with regard to the creation and preservation of the world, and thus to be a derivative and secondary God. The unity of the Divinity was commonly guarded by a reference to a unity of origin. It was said that God from eternity was alone, with His Word, one with Him (as Reason, in vulca cordis, logos endiathetos), before the Word was spoken (ex ore Patris, logos prophorikos), or was generated and became Son for the purpose of creation. The Alexandrians alone insisted rightly on the generation of the Son from all eternity; but thus the Unity of God was even less manifest. The writers who thus theologize may often expressly teach the traditional Unity in Trinity, but it hardly squares with the Platonism of their philosophy. The theologians were thus defending the doctrine of the Logos at the expense of the two fundamental doctrines of Christianity, the Unity of God, and the Divinity of Christ. They seemed to make the Unity of the Godhead split into two or even three, and to make Jesus Christ something less than the supreme God the Father. This is eminently true of the chief opponents of the Monarchians, Tertullian, Hippolytus, and Novatian. (See Newman, "The Causes of Arianism", in "Tracts theol. and eccles.") Monarchianism was the protest against this learned philosophizing, which to the simplicity of the faithful looked too much like a mythology or a Gnostic emanationism. The Monarchians emphatically declared that God is one, wholly and perfectly one, and that Jesus Christ is God, wholly and perfectly God. This was right, and even most necessary, and whilst it is easy to see why the theologians like Tertullian and Hippolytus opposed them (for their protest was precisely against the Platonism which these theologians had inherited from Justin and the Apologists), it is equally comprehensible that guardians of the Faith should have welcomed at first the return of the Monarchians to the simplicity of the Faith, "ne videantur deos dicere, neque rursum negare salvatoris deitatem" ("Lest they seem to be asserting two Gods or, on the other hand, denying the Saviour's Godhead". - Origen, "On Titus", frag. II). Tertullian in opposing them acknowledges that the uninstructed were against him; they could not understand the magic word oikonomia with which he conceived he had saved the situation; they declared that he taught two or three Gods, and cried "Monarchiam tenemus." So Callistus reproached Hippolytus, and not without reason, with teaching two Gods.
Already St. Justin knew of Christians who taught the identity of the Father and the Son ("Apol.", I, 63; Dialogue with Trypho 128). In Hermas, as in Theodotus, the Son and the Holy Ghost are confused. But it was reserved for Noetus and his school to deny categorically that the unity of the Godhead is compatible with a distinction of Persons. They seem to have regarded the Logos as a mere name, or faculty, or attribute, and to have made the Son and the Holy Ghost merely aspects of modes of existence of the Father, thus emphatically identifying Christ with the one God. "What harm am I doing", was the reply made by Noetus to the presbyters who interrogated him, "in glorifying Christ?" They replied: "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 what we have learned we declare" (Hippol.; "Contra Noetum", 1). Thus they refuted Noetus with tradition - the Apostles' Creed is enough; for the Creed and the New Testament indeed make the distinction of Persons clear, and the traditional formulas and prayers were equally unmistakable. Once the Monarchian system was put into philosophical language, it was seen to be no longer the old Christianity. Ridicule was used; the heretics were told that if the Father and the Son were really identified, then no denial on their part could prevent the conclusion that the Father suffered and died, and sat at His own right hand. Hippolytus tells us that Pope Zephyrinus, whom he represents as a stupid old man, declared at the instance of Callistus: "I know one God Christ Jesus, and besides Him no other Who was born and Who suffered"; but he added: "Not the Father died, but the Son". The reporter is an unsympathetic adversary; but we can see why the aged pope was viewing the simple assertions of Sabellius in a favorable light. Hippolytus declares that Callistus said that the Father suffered with the Son, and Tertullian says the same of the Monarchians whom he attacks. Hagemann thinks Callistus-Praxeas especially attacked the doctrine of the Apologists and of Hippolytus and Tertullian, which assigned all such attributes as impassibility and invisibility to the Father and made the Son alone capable of becoming passible and visible, ascribing to Him the work of creation, and all operations ad extra. It is true that the Monarchians opposed this Platonizing in general, but it is not evident that they had grasped the principle that all the works of God ad extra are common to the Three Persons as proceeding form the Divine Nature; and they seem to have said simply that God as Father is invisible and impassible, but becomes visible and passible as Son. This explanation brings them curiously into line with their adversaries. Both parties represented God as one and alone in His eternity. Both made the generation of the Son a subsequent development; only Tertullian and Hippolytus date it before the creation, and the Monarchians perhaps not until the Incarnation. Further, their identification of the Father and the Son was not favourable to a true view of the Incarnation. The very insistence on the unity of God emphasized also the distance of God from man, and was likely to end in making the union of God with man a mere indwelling or external union, after the fashion of that which was attributed to Nestorius. They spoke of the Father as "Spirit" and the Son as "flesh", and it is scarcely surprising that the similar Monarchianism of Marcellus should have issued in the Theodotianism of Photinus.
It is impossible to arrive at the philosophical views of Sabellius. Hagemann thought that he started from the Stoic system as surely as his adversaries did from the Platonic. Dorner has drawn too much upon his imagination for the doctrine of Sabellius; Harnack is too fanciful with regard to its origin. In fact we know little of him but that he said the Son was the Father (so Novatian, "De. Trin." 12, and Pope Dionysius relate). St. Athanasius tells us that he said the Father is the Son and the Son is the Father, one is hypostasis, but two in name (so Epiphanius): "As there are divisions of gifts, but the same Spirit, so the Father is the same, but is developed [platynetai] into Son and Spirit" (Orat., IV, c. Ar., xxv). Theodoret says he spoke of one hypostasis and a threefold prosopa, whereas St. Basil says he willingly admitted three prosopa in one hypostasis. This is, so far as words go, exactly the famous formulation of Tertullian, "tres personae, una substantia" (three persons, one substance), but Sabellius seems to have meant "three modes or characters of one person". The Father is the Monad of whom the Son is a kind of manifestation: for the Father is in Himself silent, inactive (siopon, hanenerletos), and speaks, creates, works, as Son (Athan., 1. c., 11). Here again we have a parallel to the teaching of the Apologists about the Word as Reason and the Word spoken, the latter alone being called Son. It would seem that the difference between Sabellius and his opponents lay mainly in his insisting on the unity of hypostasis after the emission of the Word as Son. It does not seem clear that he regarded the Son as beginning at the Incarnation; according to the passage of St. Athanasius just referred to, he may have agreed with the Apologists to date Sonship from the creative action of God. But we have few texts to go upon, and it is quite uncertain whether Sabellius left any writings. Monarchianism is frequently combated by Origen. Dionysius of Alexandria fought Sabellianism with some imprudence. In the fourth century the Arians and Semi-Arians professed to be much afraid of it, and indeed the alliance of Pope Julius and Arhanasius with Marcellus gave some colour to accusations against the Nicene formulas as opening the way to Sabellianism. The Fathers of the fourth century (as, for instance, St. Gregory of Nyssa, "Contra Sabellium", ed. Mai) seem to contemplate a more developed form than that known to Hippolytus ("Contra Noetum" and "Philosophumena") and through him, to Epiphanius: the consummation of creation is to consist in the return of the Logos from the humanity of Christ to the Father, so that the original unity of the Divine Nature is after all held to have been temporally compromised, and only in the end will it be restored, that God may be all in all.
Our chief original authorities for early Monarchianism of the Modalist type are Tertullian, "Adversus Praxean", and Hippolytus, "Contra Noetum" (fragment) and "Philosophumena". The "Contra Noetum" and the lost "Syntagma" were used by Epiphanius, Haer. 57 (Noetians), but the sources of Epiphanius's Haer. 62 (Sabellians) are less certain. The references by Origen, Novatian, and later Fathers are somewhat indefinite.
APA citation. (1911). Monarchians. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10448a.htm
MLA citation. "Monarchians." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10448a.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Anthony A. Killeen. Aeterna, non caduca.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is webmaster at newadvent.org. Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.