Page images

heated than its original propagators, evidently tended to a denial of the Personality of the Holy Spirit. Montanus himself probably was never capable of soberly reflecting on the meaning of his own words; but even in his lifetime, Æschines, one of his disciples, saw their real drift, and openly maintained the unreserved monarchia of the Divine Nature. Hence it is usual for ancient writers to class the Sabellians and Montanists together, as if coinciding in their doctrinal views. The success of Æschines in extending his heresy in Asia Minor was considerable, if we may judge from the condition of that country at a later period.-Gregory, the pupil of Origen, appears to have made a successful stand against it in Pontus. Certainly his writings were employed in the controversy after his death, and that with such effect, as completely to banish it from that country, though an attempt was made to revive it in the time of Basil (A.D. 375').-In the patriarchate of Antioch we first hear of it at the beginning of the third century, Origen reclaiming from it Beryllus, Bishop of Bostra, in Arabia. In the next generation the martyr Lucian is said to have been a vigorous opponent of it; and he was at length betrayed to his heathen persecutors by a Sabellian presbyter of the Church of Antioch. At a considerably later date (A.D. 375) we hear of it in Mesopotamia'.

At first sight it may seem an assumption to refer these various exhibitions of heterodoxy in Asia Minor, and the East, to some one school or system, merely on the ground of their distinguishing tenet being substantially the same. And certainly, in treating an obscure subject, on which the opinions of learned men differ, it must be owned that conjecture is the utmost that I am able to offer. The following statement will at once supply the grounds on which the above arrangement has been made, and explain the real nature of the doctrine itself in which the heresy consisted'.

5 Tillemont, Mem. vol. ii. p. 204. 6 Vales, ad Socr. i. 23 Soz. ii. 18. 7 Basil. Epist. ccx. § 3. 8 Epiphan. Hær. lxii. 1.

Let it be considered then, whether there were not two kinds of Sabellianism ; the one taught by Praxeas, the other somewhat resembling, though less material than, the theology of the Gnostics :—the latter being a modification of the former, arising from the pressure of the controversy : for instance, parallel to the change which is said to have taken place in the doctrine of the Ebionites, and in that of the followers of Paulus of Samosata. Those who denied the distinction of Persons in the Divine Nature were met by the obvious inquiry, in what sense they believed God to be united to the human nature of Christ. The more orthodox, but the more assailable answer to this question, was to confess that God was,

in such sense, one Person with Christ, as (on their Monarchistic principle) to be in no sense distinct from Him. This was the more orthodox answer, as preserving inviolate what is theologically called the doctrine of the hypostatic union,—the only safeguard against a gradual declension into the Ebionite, or modern Socinian heresy. But at the same time such an answer was repugnant to the plainest suggestions of scripturally-enlightened reason, which leads us to be sure that, according to the obvious meaning of the inspired text, there is some real sense in which the Father is not the Son; that the Sender and the Sent cannot be in all respects the same; nor can the Son be said to make Himself inferior to the Father, and condescend to become man,—to come from God, and then again to return to Him,-if, after all, there is no distinction beyond that of words, between those Blessed and Adorable Agents in the scheme of our redemption. Besides, without venturing to intrude into things not as yet seen, it appeared evident to the primitive Church, that, in matter of fact, the Son of God, though equal in dignity of nature to the Father, and One with Him in essence, was described in Scripture as undertaking such offices of ministration and subjection, as are never ascribed, and therefore may not without blasphemy be ascribed, to the self-existent Father. Accordingly, the name of Patripassian was affixed to Praxeas, Noetus, and their followers, in memorial of the unscriptural tenet which was immediately involved in their denial of the distinction of Persons in the Godhead.

9 [Vide Ath. Tr. p. 529, note d.]

Such doubtless was the doctrine of Sabellius, if regard be paid to the express declarations of the Fathers. The discriminating Athanasius plainly affirms it, in his defence of Dionysius'. The Semi-Arian Creed called the Macrostich, published at Antioch, gives a like testimony”; distinguishing, moreover, between the Sabellian doctrine, and the doctrines of the Paulianists and Photinians, to which some modern critics have compared it. Cyprian and Austin, living in Africa, bear express witness to the existence of the Patripassian sectå. On the other hand, it cannot be denied, that authorities exist favourable to a view of the doctrine different from the above, and these accordingly may lead us, in agreement with certain theological writers “, without interfering with the account of the heresy already given, to describe a modification of it which commonly succeeded to its primitive form.

1 De Sent. Dionys. $ 5.9, &c. [Orat. iii. 36. Origen. in Ep. ad. Tit. t. iv. p. 695: “Duos definimus, ne (ut vestra perversitas infert) Pater ipse credatur natus et passus.” Tertull. adv. Prax. 13.]

2 Athan, de Synod. § 26.

The following apparently inconsistent testimonies, suggest both the history and the doctrine of this second form of Sabellianism. While the Montanists and Sabellians are classed together by some authors, there is separate evidence of the connexion of each of these with the Gnostics. Again, Ambrosius, the convert and friend of Origen was originally a Valentinian, or Marcionite, or Sabellian, according to different writers. Further, the doctrine of Sabellius is compared to that of Valentinus by Alexander of Alexandria, and (apparently) by a Roman council (A.D. 324); and by St. Austin it is referred indifferently to Praxeas, or to Hermogenes, a Gnostic. On the other hand, one Leucius is described as a Gnostic and Montanistó. It would appear then, that it is so repugnant to the plain word of Scripture, and to the most elementary notions of doctrine thence derived, to suppose that Almighty God is in every sense one with the human nature of Christ, that a disputant, especially an innovator, cannot long maintain such a position. It removes the mystery of the Trinity, only by leaving the doctrine of the Incarnation in a form still more strange, than that which it unavoidably presents to the imagination. Pressed, accordingly, by the authority of Scripture, the Sabellian, instead of speaking of the substantial union of God with Christ, would probably begin to obscure his meaning in the decorum of a figurative language. He would speak of the presence rather than the existence of God in His chosen servant; and this presence, if allowed to declaim, he would represent as a certain power or emanation from the Centre of light and truth; if forced by his opponent into a definite statement, he would own to be but an inspiration, the same in kind, though superior in degree, with that which enlightened and guided the prophets. This is that second form of the Sabellian tenet, which some learned moderns have illustrated, though they must be considered to err in pronouncing it the only true one. That it should have resulted from the difficulties of the Patripassian creed, is natural and almost necessary; and viewed merely as a conjecture, the above account of its rise reconciles the discordant testimonies of ecclesiastical history. But we have almost certain evidence of the matter of fact in Tertullian's tract against Praxeas', in which the latter is apparently represented as holding successively, the two views of doctrine which have been here described. Parallel instances meet us in the history of the Gnostics and Montanists. Simon Magus, for instance, seems to

3 Cyprian. Epist. lxxiii. Tillemont, Mem. iv. 100.

4 Beausobre, Hist. de Manich. iii. 6. § 7. Mosheim, de Reb. ant. Const. sæc. ii. $ 68; sæc. iii. § 32. Lardner, Cred. part ii. ch. 41.

s Vide Tillemont, vol. ii. p. 204; iv. p. 100, &c. Waterland's Works, vol. i. p. 236, 237.

6 In Prax. 9. 27.

« PreviousContinue »