Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Whence Sabellius?

If someone was going to manufacture bullshit about the early Church they wouldn't have said that a council was convened during the reign of Hadrian against Sabellius.  Sabellius isn't even listed as a heretic in any of the early heretical compendiums.  It's so strange.  The only reference we have is what has been added to Hippolytus's Syntagma in our surviving Philosphumena.  It is here, during a discussion of the 'heresy' of Pope Callixtus Sabellius is referenced without actually being listed as a heretic:

And so it was that Callistus succeeded in inducing Zephyrinus to create continually disturbances among the brethren, while he himself took care subsequently, by knavish words, to attach both factions in good-will to himself. And, at one time, to those who entertained true opinions, he would in private allege that they held similar doctrines (with himself), and thus make them his dupes; while at another time he would act similarly towards those (who embraced) the tenets of Sabellius. But Callistus perverted Sabellius himself, and this, too, though he had the ability of rectifying this heretic's error. For (at any time) during our admonition Sabellius did not evince obduracy; but as long as he continued alone with Callistus, he was wrought upon to relapse into the system of Cleomenes by this very Callistus, who alleges that he entertains similar opinions to Cleomenes. Sabellius, however, did not then perceive the knavery of Callistus; but he afterwards came to be aware of it, as I shall narrate presently. Now Callistus brought forward Zephyrinus himself, and induced him publicly to avow the following sentiments: "I know that there is one God, Jesus Christ; nor except Him do I know any other that is begotten and amenable to suffering." And on another occasion, when he would make the following statement: "The Father did not die, but the Son." Zephyrinus would in this way continue to keep up ceaseless disturbance among the people. [Phil. 9.6]

Callixtus's martyrdom is referenced so the account must have been written well into the third century.  There is clearly a 'faction' associated with Sabellius already in Rome during the rule of his predecessor (c. 200 CE) without Sabellius being identified as still living.

How unusual then that Sabellius is an uncatalogued heretic.  The fact that Irenaeus is identified as sharing his beliefs explains why Sabellius never makes his way into the lists which came from the circle of Irenaeus.  It is important to note that Justin in his Apol. 1.63 he refers to those "who affirm that the Son is the Father," and condemns them—a condemnation which he repeats in his Dialogue:

Since, unless we thus comprehend the Scriptures, it must follow that the Father and Lord of all had not been in heaven when what Moses wrote took place: 'And the Lord rained upon Sodom fire and brimstone from the Lord out of heaven;' and again, when it is thus said by David: 'Lift up your gates, ye rulers; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting gates; and the King of glory shall enter;' and again, when He says: 'The Lord says to my Lord, Sit at My right hand, till I make Thine enemies Thy footstool.' "And that Christ being Lord, and God the Son of God, and appearing formerly in power as Man, and Angel, and in the glory of fire as at the bush, so also was manifested at the judgment executed on Sodom, has been demonstrated fully by what has been said." Then I repeated once more all that I had previously quoted from Exodus, about the vision in the bush, and the naming of Joshua (Jesus), and continued: "And do not suppose, sirs, that I am speaking superfluously when I repeat these words frequently: but it is because I know that some wish to anticipate these remarks, and to say that the power sent from the Father of all which appeared to Moses, or to Abraham, or to Jacob, is called an Angel because He came to men (for by Him the commands of the Father have been proclaimed to men); is called Glory, because He appears in a vision sometimes that cannot be borne; is called a Man, and a human being, because He appears strayed in such forms as the Father pleases; and they call Him the Word, because He carries tidings from the Father to men: but maintain that this power is indivisible and inseparable from the Father, just as they say that the light of the sun on earth is indivisible and inseparable from the sun in the heavens; as when it sinks, the light sinks along with it; so the Father, when He chooses, say they, causes His power to spring forth, and when He chooses, He makes it return to Himself. In this way, they teach, He made the angels. But it is proved that there are angels who always exist, and are never reduced to that form out of which they sprang. And that this power which the prophetic word calls God, as has been also amply demonstrated, and Angel, is not numbered [as different] in name only like the light of the sun but is indeed something numerically distinct, I have discussed briefly in what has gone before; when I asserted that this power was begotten from the Father, by His power and will, but not by abscission, as if the essence of the Father were divided; as all other things partitioned and divided are not the same after as before they were divided: and, for the sake of example, I took the case of fires kindled from a fire, which we see to be distinct from it, and yet that from which many can be kindled is by no means made less, but remains the same. "And now I shall again recite the words which I have spoken in proof of this point. When Scripture says,' The Lord rained fire from the Lord out of heaven,' the prophetic word indicates that there were two in number: One upon the earth, who, it says, descended to behold the cry of Sodom; Another in heaven, who also is Lord of the Lord on earth, as He is Father and God; the cause of His power and of His being Lord and God. Again, when the Scripture records that God said in the beginning, 'Behold, Adam has become like one of Us,' this phrase, 'like one of Us,' is also indicative of number; and the words do not admit of a figurative meaning, as the sophists endeavour to affix on them, who are able neither to tell nor to understand the truth. And it is written in the book of Wisdom: 'If I should tell you daily events, I would be mindful to enumerate them from the beginning. The Lord created me the beginning of His ways for His works. From everlasting He established me in the beginning, before He formed the earth, and before He made the depths, and before the springs of waters came forth, before the mountains were settled; He begets me before all the hills.'" When I repeated these words, I added: "You perceive, my hearers, if you bestow attention, that the Scripture has declared that this Offspring was begotten by the Father before all things created; and that which is begotten is numerically distinct from that which begets, any one will admit." [Dialogue 127 - 129]

It is absolutely significant that Irenaeus takes the exact opposite interpretation of Exodus 3:14. He says the Father was there in the bush speaking to Moses. This not only provides strong evidence that the real Justin of history was on the other side of the bench in church history from Irenaeus. It also provides a context for the idea that Sabellius would most certainly have been a part of any 'syntagma' that Justin would have written against the heresies, assuming he wrote one.

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