Sabellianism

Another name for Modalistic Monarchianism* or Patripassianism. This was an influential theological movement at the beginning of the third century a.d. It seems to have originated in Asia Minor. Noetus* of Smyrna taught Patripassian views; his disciple Epigonus brought the teaching to Rome, where through Praxeas* and Sabellius it gained a strong foothold. Sabellius, whose name is given to the movement, was active in Rome during the early third century. Tertullian* in North Africa vigorously opposed Praxeas, as did Hippolytus* at Rome. Motives for the struggle may not be unmixed. However, while Bishop Zephyrinus* at Rome fought Montanism* (which Tertullian favored) and Zephyrinus and his successor Callistus* engaged in a bitter power struggle with Hippolytus, the theological implications of Sabellianism on the orthodox side were serious. A modern form of Sabellianism is Unitarianism.*

Little is known about Noetus, Praxeas, and Sabellius except through the writings of Tertullian (Adversus Praxean) and Hippolytus (Refutation, Contra Noetum) and other secondary sources. Sabellianism was an attempt to solve the problem of how to accept the deity of Christ and also maintain the unity of God. The Sabellians achieved this at the expense of a trinity of persons in the Godhead. They reduced the status of the persons to modes or manifestations of the one God. The term is frequently coupled with the word “monarchy” to denote the primacy of God as the Father. The Son and Holy Spirit are thus revelatory and apparently temporal modes of God the Father's self-revelation. Tertullian sneered that Praxeas had put the Holy Spirit to flight and crucified the Father. If God the Father became incarnate, then He also suffered (Patripassianism).

See also Monarchianism (for bibliography); Subordinationism; Incarnation; Trinity.