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the third century, at the eventful era when the rudiments of Arianism were laid by the sophistical school at Antioch.
The author of this new disturbance was Sabellius, from whom the heresy has since taken its name.
He was a bishop or presbyter in Pentapolis, a district of Cyrenaica, included within the territory afterwards called, and then virtually forming, the Alexandrian Patriarchate. Other bishops in his neighbourhood adopting his sentiments, his doctrine became so popular among a clergy already prepared for it, or hitherto unpractised in the necessity of a close adherence to the authorized formularies of faith, that in a short time (to use the words of Athanasius) “the Son of God was scarcely preached in the Churches." Dionysius of Alexandria, as primate, gave his judgment in writing; but, being misunderstood by some orthodox but over-zealous brethren, he in turn was accused by them, before the Roman See, of advocating the opposite error, afterwards the Arian; and in consequence, instead of checking the heresy, found himself involved in a controversy in defence of his own opinions. Nothing more is known concerning the Sabellians for above a hundred years; when it is inferred from the fact that the Council of Constantinople (A.D. 381) rejected their baptism, that they formed at that time a communion distinct from the Catholic Church.
Another school of heresy also denominated Sabellian, is obscurely discernible even earlier than the Ephesian, among the Montanists of Phrygia. The well-known doctrine of these fanatics, when adopted by minds less 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 ineaning 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 5. 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. 3757).-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 ®.
4 Vide Athan. de Sent. Dionys.
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. Ixii. 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 testimonyo; 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 sect. 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.
i 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 Montanist'. 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
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.
5 Vide Tillemont, vol. ii. p. 201; iv. p. 100, &c. 'Waterland's Works, vol. i. p. 236, 237.