Paul Tillich, A History Of Christian Thought – Table of Contents

Monarchianism. Sabellius. The Arian Controversy. Nicaea.

We finished yesterday with a special type of reaction against the Logos Christology, namely what is called dynamic monarchianism. I know that these lectures are the most difficult in the whole course, and so I will not shy away from repetition.

The Logos Christology, as invented by the Apologists and carried through to a full victory by Clement and Origen, is a method of making the universality and uniqueness of the event Jesus understandable to the Greek mind. The only way in which this could be done at that time was to establish a Divine power within God Himself which appears in the historical Jesus. We find this early in the Fourth Gospel, we find it in all Gnostic literature, and we find it in a most philosophical form in the Apologetic attempt to defend Christianity. Then we find it in the context of a universal philosophical system derived from the Alexandrian scheme of emanation and return of the soul, by Origen.

This was one line of thought in the early Christian Church It was a line of thought which, as many Christians believed, is more “Athens” than “Jerusalem.” For this reason they resisted it, and they did so in the name of what is called the Divine monarchy: God alone rules and God alone must be seen in Christ. This is the meaning of the Monarchianistic reaction against the Logos Christology. It is in some way a reaction in which Old Testament feelings react against Greek ideas. But this is too simple, as the subject of the Forum is too simple in its formulation, and perhaps for this very reason most interesting.

The Monarchianistic movement itself was split. There was one (movement) which followed the adoptionistic Christology, which says that God, or the Logos, or the Spirit, has adopted a fully human being and made him into the Christ, and gave him the possibility of becoming fully deified in his resurrection. But this adoptionist Christology, which we find especially in the West – Theodotus of Rome – and which influenced the basic Roman feeling to a great extent, also had a representative in the East, Paul of Samosata. This Christology started with human existence, tried to understand humanity and to emphasize the Biblical words in which the humanity is emphasized, and then to show that this man was driven by the Divine Spirit and was finally elevated into the Divine sphere.

But there was another type of this Monarchianistic thinking which became more and more inf luential because it was much more in the line of the basic feeling of the masses of the Christians. This is modalistic Monarchianism. Modalism means God Himself appears in different modes, different ways. It was also called patripassionism a word you must learn – the Father Himself has suffered. It was also called Sabellianism, from its main representative Sabellius. This was a very widespread movement in the East as well as in the West. It was a real danger for the Logos Christology.

The fight between these two types was going on in the East and West In the West there was a man, Praxeas, with whom Tertullian was fighting. The idea was that God the Father Himself was born through the Virgin Mary; that God the Father Himself, who is the only God, has suffered and died. To be God means to be the universal Father of everything. If we say that God was in Jesus, this means the Father was in him. Therefore these people attacked the so-called ditheoi ,those who believed in two Gods, and the tritheoi , those who believed in three Gods, and they fought for the monarchy of God and or the full Divinity of Christ in whom God the Father Himself has appeared. Both ideas had very large popular support because what the popular mind wanted – and what the popular mind perhaps still wants today – was to have God Himself present on earth, a walking God, a God who is with us, who participates in our fate, whom we can see and hear when we see and hear Jesus.

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