Origen; the Monarchians
[Reference Note: As this article relies primarily on First Three Centuries by Alvan Lamson, page numbers enclosed in parentheses are to Lamson’s book. References to other works are enclosed in parentheses with the work’s title or the author’s name listed in “References” at the end of this article.]
Origen (184/185 – 253/254) was a pupil of Clement, a Greek scholar, an ascetic, and later master of the Catechetical School in Alexandria. Although a devoted Christian, he was also an advocate of philosophy because he believed that philosophical and secular literature aided in the investigation of divine truth. Among his many writings were commentaries on the Bible. He applied the “‘allegorical mode of explaining the Grecian mysteries . . . to the Jewish Scriptures’” (p. 187).
Further, he originated what is now called Biblical criticism. During the early centuries of Christianity, most Christians used the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament. Origen compared the Hebrew text with the Septuagint to correct errors that had crept into the Septuagint.
In 230, Origen was excommunicated as a heretic. More than anything else, envy, jealousy, and hatred guided his persecutors. About this act, Lamson wrote, “Behold now the most celebrated scholar, biblical critic, and commentator of his times, who knew more than all his persecutors combined, and performed more labour in the cause of Christianity than any dozen of them put together, behold him now an excommunicated man. His heresy served well enough for a pretext, but it was not the cause of his persecution at this time” (pp. 193-194). According to the orthodox Jerome, Origen “was condemned, ‘not on account of the novelty of his dogmas; not on account of heresy, for which he is now barked at by the rabid dogs, but because they could not endure the fame of his eloquence and learning’” (p. 194). In spite of the anathema of the synods of Egypt, the bishops of Caesarea, Jerusalem, Arabia, Phoenicia, and Greece gave him refuge and allowed him to continue his work. About him, Erasmus declared, “‘I acquire more knowledge of Christian philosophy . . . from one page of Origen, than from ten of Augustine” (p. 203).
“The germ of most of his errors . . . existed in the prevalent modes of thinking” (p. 202). According to Origen, the Scriptures contained three senses: (1) the literal or historical, (2) the allegorical, i.e., moral or mystical, and (3) the spiritual, which is the highest and should not be confounded with the mystical. He was inclined to mystify and allegorize nearly everything in the Bible. As did many of his contemporaries and predecessors, Origen resorted “to mystical senses in order to escape the difficulties of the natural interpretation of Scripture” (p. 206n).
Like the Fathers who preceded him, Origen, “regarded the Son as the first production of the Father; having emanated from him as light from the sun, and thus partaking of the same substance — that is, a divine” (pp. 214-215). However, “God and the Son constituted two individual essences, two beings” (p. 215). The Father and Son “‘are two things as to their essence, but one in consent, concord, and identity of will’” (p. 215).
According to Origen, the Son made the Spirit, and the Spirit ranked below the Son. “To the Spirit, the office of redeeming the human race properly pertained; but, it being incompetent to so great a work, the Son, who alone was adequate to accomplish it, engaged” (p. 220).
When Jesus said, “I and my Father are one.” Origen explained it as meaning a unity of will and affection. As support, he cites Acts 14:32, “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul.”
Further, “Origen contends that Christ is not the object of supreme worship; and that prayer, properly such, ought never to be addressed to him, but is to be offered to the God of the universe, through his only-begotten Son, who, as our intercessor and high priest, bears our petitions to the throne of his Father and our Father, of his God and our God” (p. 218). He declares, “‘Prayer is not to be directed to one begotten, not even to Christ himself; but to the God and Father of the universe alone, to whom also our Saviour prayed, and to whom he teaches us to pray’” (p.218).
In summary, “Origen believed God and the Son to be two essences, two substances, two beings” (p. 220). Moreover, “he placed the Son at an immense distance from the Infinite One” (p. 220). Nevertheless, the Son stood “at the head of all God’s offspring, and with them, and for them” (p. 220). Origen claimed that God created, made, and begot the Son, “not from an inner necessity, but ‘by the will of the Father, the first-born of every creature’” (p. 220). Moreover, the Father and the Son “were correlative terms, the one could not subsist without the other, inasmuch as light implied necessarily coeval brightness. And Christ was, to him, as much divine as he was human” (p. 220n). When he said that Christ had a human nature, he meant that Christ possessed a rational human soul, which had been denied since Justin’s development of the Logos-doctrine. “He supposed that the Logos, or divine nature of Christ, became united with a human rational soul before his incarnation” (pp. 228-229). (Also, “[h]e believed all souls to be preexistent, all endowed with freedom” [p. 229]. [For more details on Origen’s view of the soul of Christ, see Lamson, pp. 229ff. For characteristics of Alexandrian theology from which came Origen’s, see Hama, pp. 93-94.])
Origen regarded the Holy Spirit to be “from the Son, and therefore as subordinate in a still more marked degree” (Pressense, p. 307). The Holy Spirit “is the personification and the hypostasis of holiness, as the Word is of the reason” (Pressense, p. 308).
Some credit Origen with introducing the Trinitarian notion of eternal generation of the Son, i.e., the eternal Son. (For a discussion on this issue, see Lamson, pp. 221-222). Such a notion was a logical outcome of “the ‘Platonic idea of an endless becoming’” (pp. 222-223). However, Origen was careful “to affirm that the generation of the Son was by act of the ‘divine will’” (p. 223). Nevertheless, Origen greatly advanced the Logos-doctrine of Christology.
Later both the Arians and the Athanasians would claim that Origen supported their position. However, Origen’s teachings were closer to the Arians than to the Athanasians, who were the orthodox after the Nicene Council.
In the centuries following his death, Origen was anathematized as a heretic. According to Bunsen “‘Origen’s death is the real end of free Christianity, and, in particular, of free intellectual theology’” (p. 277). Although the Church condemned him, Origen’s philosophy and theology about the Son were essential in the development of the Nicene Creed and the Trinity Doctrine.
The Monarchians attempted to avoid ditheism and tritheism by emphasizing that God is one being and one person. Generally, they fall into three groups: the followers of Artemon, Noetus, or Sabellius.
While the theology of the philosophical Christians, such as Tertullian, Clement of Alexandra, and Origen, were moving forward, the monotheistic Christians, called Monarchians, protested. They accused the philosophical Christians of introducing tritheism, the Trinity. According to the Monarchians, the philosophical Christians taught three Gods. That is, by means of the Logos-doctrine, the philosophical Christians were teaching a plurality of Gods. Monarchians rejected the Logos-doctrine.
Artemon (fl. ca. 230) was a prominent Christian teacher in Rome and was a leader of the Monarchians in their protest against the philosophical Christians. The style of Monarchianism that Artemon taught has been called Dynamic Monarchianism.
Artemon believed that Jesus was born of a virgin by the Holy Spirit; therefore, he had to have “something divine in him; a ‘certain divine energy’ uniting itself with him from the first, the divinity of the Father acting in some way in him” (p. 225). Thus, Artemon held the primitive, the ancient, doctrine, which existed before the Logos-doctrine entered Christianity. Many consider his Christology to be a form of Adoptionism — Jesus was the Son of God by adoption.
Many Monarchians who were called Artemonites were intellects of the scientific culture, who were reflective and philosophical. “[T]heir intellectual tendencies led them to eliminate almost entirely the mystical element from their theology” (p. 226). Thus, the Platonists defended the doctrine of Christ’s divinity while the Aristoteleans contested it. (Honest Trinitarians admit that the Artemonites were close to the truth. “Christians [Trinitarians] are not monotheists, in the conventional sense . . . of ‘the world’s great monotheistic religions’ [i.e., in the Old Testament sense][Fleming, p. 9]. They are tritheists, who worship a Triune God — three Gods who are one God.)
Noetus (230) was a presbyter of the church of Asia Minor. Like Artemon, he also was a Monarchian, but his theology differed from Artemon’s. “He believed in one God the Father, who manifested himself in the Son, the Logos; not, however, becoming in him a separate personality” (p. 227). His doctrine he believed honored Christ while preserving the unity of God. Noetus was accused of being a Patripassian, (According to the Patripassians, the Trinity is three manifestations or modes of a single divine being.) Noetus’ style of Monarchianism has been called Modalist Monarchianism.
Beryllus (246), Bishop of Bostras, was another Monarchian whose theology also differed from Artemon’s. He held “that Christ had no personal existence before his appearance on earth, though while on earth the divinity of the Father dwelt in him, having united itself with him at his birth” (p. 228). Like Noetus, he was also considered a Patripassian.
Sabellius (fl. c. 215) was a priest and theologian. He may have been the “‘most original and acute thinker among the Monarchians’” (p. 254).
His doctrine was “a trinity of attributes, names, or manifestations” (p. 254). Where Sabellius differed from the orthodox Platonizing Fathers was his denial of “the permanent self-subsistence of the Logos in Jesus Christ” (p. 255). According to Sabellius, the power of God, or Logos, “united itself with the man Jesus, wrought in him, as in no other man, made him sufficient for his great work, and left him when that work was accomplished” (p. 255). For the Platonizing Fathers, the self-subsisting Logos of God was permanently in Christ. Whereas the orthodox distinguished the Holy Spirit from the Logos, Sabellius seemed “to have regarded it simply as the power of God” (p. 255). Sabellius’ doctrine of the Logos was similar to Justin Martyr’s.
Paul of Samosata (c. 200 – 275) was Bishop of Antioch from 260 to 268. “He held that there was in the divine nature only one hypostasis or person; that Christ was man by nature, yet was higher than other men, as conceived by the Holy Spirit. He first began to exist when born of Mary. The divine Logos united itself with him, and dwelt in him as in no other ever sent of God, but did not, properly speaking, incarnate himself in him; it had in him no personal subsistence. The divine Reason itself, the Wisdom or Power of God, revealed itself in him, as it had never revealed itself in any other prophet. So great was the illumination he hence received, and so was his nature exalted by means of it, that he could with propriety be called the Son of God” (p. 256). Between 269 and 272, the Synod of Antioch condemned and excommunicated Paul. This synod also rejected the term homoousios, ‘consubstantial,’ which, after the Council of Nice [Nicaea], became the very Shibboleth of orthodoxy” (p. 257). Like Artemon, Paul taught Dynamic Monarchianism. (Later his notion of equality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit would be incorporated into the Trinity Doctrine.)
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Copyright © 2017 by Thomas Coley Allen.
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