The view that Jesus was a man of blameless life who became the adoptive Son of God. In the early centuries some maintained that the divine Spirit descended upon Jesus-a man of perfect virtue, sometimes granted to have been born of a virgin-at His baptism, and that He was deified after His resurrection. A form of Adoptianist theology was expounded by Dynamic Monarchians, e.g., Theodotus and Paul of Samosata. The Antiochene* School, particularly Theodore of Mopsuestia and Nestorius, expressed themselves in ways which appear Adoptianist, though their language is insufficiently precise to make this certain. Adoptianism was canvassed in Spain during the eighth century, possibly due to the influence of Latin translations of works of Theodore of Mopsuestia. Alcuin attributed it to the influence of Nestorian writings, and Leo III suggested that it was derived from contact with the Muslims. It may have originated out of the Arianism* from which Spain had been converted at the Third Council of Toledo* (589). The Spanish liturgy still spoke of “the man who was assumed.” The immediate cause seems to have been reaction against the teaching of Migetius,* who held that Jesus was one of the divine persons of the Trinity. Elipandus* of Toledo reacted by drawing a sharp distinction between the second person of the Trinity and the human nature of Christ. The Logos, eternal Son of God, had adopted the humanity-not the person-with the result that Jesus in his human nature became the adoptive Son of God. Such views met with opposition in Spain, particularly from the Asturian monks Beatus and Etherius, whose appeal to Rome led to the doctrine's condemnation by Adrian I.
Support for Elipandus came from other Spanish bishops, particularly Felix of Urgel, who defended Adoptianism at the Council of Regensburg (792) but signed an orthodox confession at Rome (which he subsequently repudiated). The Council of Frankfurt (794) accepted two memoranda drawn up by Italian and Frankish bishops, and the English scholar Alcuin* wrote several treatises against him. In 798 Felix agreed to meet his opponents, including Alcuin, in the presence of Charlemagne at Aix-la-Chapelle. He eventually acknowledged defeat and was received back into the church, but not to his bishopric. Whether he fully repudiated Adoptianism is doubtful. A Roman council under Leo III reiterated the orthodox view and anathematized Adoptianism. The latter died out in Spain, but the Scholastic theology (see Scholasticism) of men like Abelard and Peter Lombard caused them to draw a distinction between the two natures in order to safeguard the immutability of God. This involved them in a position rather like Adoptianism.