Thursday, May 27, 2021

Monarchianism and Origen's Early Trinitarian Theology – a dissertation by Stephen Edward Waers (Part 3)

Part 3 of this series examines chapters 4 and 5 of Waers dissertation. Chapter 4 delves into, “[t]he interplay between the monarchian controversy and the development of Origen’s thought” (p. 216). Waers has made a, “conscious decision to read Origen with his contemporaries rather than with his heirs in the Nicene debates” (p. 216), and his analysis focuses, “almost exclusively on ComJn 1-2, books which Origen composed during the height of the monarchian controversy” (p. 216). Waers offers the following reasons for his emphasis on Orgien’s ComJn 1-2:

The fact that these books are extant in a mostly complete Greek text, untouched by the editorial hand of Rufinus, makes them particularly valuable for reconstructing Origen’s thought. Further motivating my choice to use these two books is the fact that I accept an early dating for their composition, beginning around 217 C. E. This dating means that these two books were composed in the middle of the monarchian controversy, with Contra Noetum (ca. 200-210) and Adversus Praxean (ca. 213) antedating them and the Refutatio (ca. 225-235) and De Trinitate (ca. 240-250) postdating them. This dating of the text, coupled with Origen’s probable contact with monarchianism during his trip to Rome, suggests that the anti-monarchian polemical context is important for interpreting works he composed while still in Alexandria. (p. 217)

Pages 219-228 provide important historical context for Origen’s ComJn, which includes the fact that Origen composed ComJn, at the request of his patron Ambrose* (p.225).

Pages 228-241 concerns “Monarchianism and Book 1 of the Commentary on John.” Waers in this section points out that Origen clearly has certain aspects of modalistic monarchianism in mind, placing an emphasis on the real existence of the Logos, who is God’s Son; and that this Logos/Son is distinct from the Father—both of these aspects being denied by the modalistic monarchians. I particularly found the following of interest:

In both ComJn and De Prin., Origen interprets ἀρχή in John 1:1 as a reference to the ἀρχή in Proverbs 8:22ff, where Wisdom is said to have been with God before creation. By means of Pr. 8:22, which itself echoes the opening words of Genesis in the LXX, Origen explicitly links Wisdom with demiurgic functions, even claiming that Wisdom contains within herself all of the forms of what would be created. In De Prin., he asks if any pious person could consider the Father to have ever existed without Wisdom by his side. Later in book one of ComJn, Origen stresses that the Wisdom of God “is above all creation” (τὴν ὑπἐρ πᾶσαν κτίσιν σοφίαν τοῦ θεοῦ). Thus, not only has Origen argued that Wisdom is not something insubstantial, he has also argued that Wisdom has been alongside of, and distinct from, the Father from the beginning, that the Father has never been without Wisdom. (Page 238)

Chapter 5 begins on page 242, and is my personal favorite. The title—Origen the subordinationist; subordination as a means of distinguishing the Father and the Son—sets the tone for the entire chapter. Note the following:

In this chapter, I demonstrate that the intentional subordination of the Son was a common strategy that anti-monarchian writers used to distinguish the Father and Son during the first half of the third century. By situating their terms for distinction within a subordinationist framework, they were able to clarify how the Father and Son were not “one and the same.” The term subordination is often used by scholars with the negative evaluative judgment that whatever is deemed subordinationist was a failure to live up to the standards of Nicaea. I reject this usage as anachronistic when discussing third-century texts and authors and argue, to the contrary, that the subordinationist schemata employed by the authors considered in this chapter were intentionally used to distinguish the Father and Son. Although subordinationism comes to be viewed as heretical in the post-Nicene period, it was an accepted anti-monarchian strategy among some prominent early third-century authors. (Pages 243, 244)

Now, given the fact that scholars use the term “subordination" in more that one sense—e.g. economic, functional, heirarchical, ontological, positional, relational—Waers, in pages 16-25, cogently delves into the issue of subordination. After relating how a number of other scholars have used the term with reference to the Church Fathers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, Waers writes:

In order to avoid over-generalizing, I work with a definition of subordinationism created from examples in the three main texts I consider in the final chapter: Tertullian’s Adversus Praxean, Novatian’s De Trinitate, and Origen’s ComJn. As I observe when reading these three texts, the subordination of the Son to the Father is not a uniform phenomenon in the early third century. Thus, perhaps my definition will add nuance to the ways we speak of subordination. In the texts I survey, subordination often occurs when the authors speak of the relationship between a cause/source and its effect (in our case, the Father and Son). When authors are dealing with a cause and effect, the effect either lacks something present in the cause or possesses it less fully. (Pages 21, 22)

He then provides the following definition:

The Son is less than the Father and distinguished from him because he has an origin. For both Tertullian and Novatian, the reception or derivation of something from a source necessarily implies that the recipient is less than the source. Novatian is explicit about this and states multiple times that the Son is less than (minor) the Father. This is what I mean by subordination. (Page 23)

Before he examines Origen’s subordinistic/anti-monarchian passages (pages 263-299), he takes a look at what Tertullian and Novatian had to say on this issue (pages 245–263).

Towards the end of his section on Origen, Waers boldly states:

His participation in the divinity of the Father necessarily entails him receiving or drawing it from the Father into himself. Only one is αὐτόθεος, and it is not the Son. (Page 291)

He then presents a number of passages from Origen wherein he subordinates the Son to the Father, and then writes:

Because divinity is received by the Son from a source outside of himself, argues Origen, he would cease to be God if he stopped being with the only true God, who is the Father. (Pages 293)

He ends chapter 5 with the following:

Origen, like Tertullian and Novatian, argued that the derivative or received nature of the Son’s divinity distinguished him from the Father, who alone properly and fully possessed divinity. With regard to divinity, the Son was downstream from the Father, the source from whom he drew it into himself. (Page 299)

Chapter 5 is followed by the Conclusion (pages 300-304). I shall let interested folk read it for themselves…

Grace and peace,


*Concerning this Ambrose, Eusebuis wrote:

ABOUT this time Ambrose, who held the heresy of Valtentinus, was convinced by Origen’s presentation of the truth, and, as if his mind were illumined by light, he accepted the ordodox doctrine of the Church. (HE, VI.18 – NPNF, Series 2, 2.264.)

From Jerome we read:

AMBROSE, at first a following of Marcion, and then converted by Origen, became a deacon of the the church and attained great fame through his profession of faith in the Lord. (On Illustrious Men, LVI – FC, volume 100.83.)


Ambrose, who, as we have said, was converted from the Marcionite heresy to the true faith, exhorted Origen to write commentaries on the Scriptures, providing him with more than seven secretaries, paying their expenses, and an equal number of copyists, and, more important than this, demanding work from him daily with incredible importunity. For this reason, in one of his letters. Origen calls him ἐργόδιώτην, a task master. (Ibid. 100.88.)

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Monarchianism and Origen's Early Trinitarian Theology – a dissertation by Stephen Edward Waers (Part 2)

Part 2 of this series on monarachianism will focus on the following question:

Was monarchianism the majority view in the second and early/middle third century?

The ‘roots’ of the above question that has become somewhat popular amongst some 20th and 21st century scholars is uncovered by Waers in the early pages of his dissertation; note the following:

Harnack produced a number of accounts of monarchianism that shaped discourse for much of the twentieth century. Harnack’s division of monarchianism into two main streams, modalistic and dynamistic, has become a scholarly commonplace. Harnack’s account is colored by his overarching assumption that the speculative theology of the learned Logos theologians was at odds with the simple faith of the uneducated masses. He proposed that it was this opposition between the learned theologians and the simple laity that gave rise to the monarchian controversy and that monarchianism was an attempt to protect the pure faith against the intrusion of speculation which derived from Hellenistic philosophy. (Page 7)

Waers in his section on Tertullian, provides a quote that is utilized by Harnack and other folk who maintain that monarchiaism was the majority position in the early/middle 3rd century:

This monarchian interpretation of the oneness of God was particularly appealing for those whom Tertullian calls simple folks. For Tertullian, claims about the oneness of God must be balanced by assertions about the plurality of God in the economy, a balance that Tertullian’s simplices seem unable to achieve. Tertullian states, “Simple people… not understanding that while they must believe in one only <God> yet they must believe in him along with his economy, shy at the economy.” (Page 139)*

Now, to extrapolate from the above that the “simple faith" of the simplices mentioned by Tertullian was the same as the actual faith of the monarchians of the second and early/middle third century is dubious, and unproven. Later on, Waers exposes some of the weaknesses of such a view:

Despite its notable influence in the early-third-century church, it is difficult to sustain claims that monarchianism was the majority position in the church, or something like an early-third-century orthodoxy. Reinhard Hübner is the most recent proponent of this theory, and he suggests that monarchianism was the overwhelming majority position in Christianity until the middle of the third century. Hübner’s theory is built upon a number of suppositions, the most problematic of which requires a revisionist reading of virtually all second-century theology and a revisionist chronology of some major figures. (Page 203)


All of the extant accounts of monarchianism that I have studied thus far have shown that the explicit identification of the Father and Son was at the core of monarchian theology. The absence of such strong statements about the Father and Son being identical in second-century texts is an insurmountable obstacle for Hübner’s theory. Were Noetus as influential as Hübner contends, one would surely find this central aspect of his teaching mirrored in those writers who allegedly relied on him. It is more probable that Noetus’ antithetical statements about God were drawing on traditional ways of speaking about God in Asia Minor. He added to this traditional phraseology the monarchian postulate, that the Father and the Son are one and the same.

Once Hübner’s assertions in favor of an early date for Noetus have been problematized, his theories about monarchianism as the overwhelming majority position until the mid-third century lose their firm basis. There is evidence that monarchianism gained a strong following in Rome at the beginning of the third century. However, there is scarcely enough information to determine the extent to which monarchianism was adopted in other regions. (Pages 205, 206)

Should have part 3 up later this week, the Lord willing…

Grace and peace,


*Full context of Tertullian quote HERE.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Monarchianism and Origen's Early Trinitarian Theology – a dissertation by Stephen Edward Waers (Part 1)

A couple of weeks ago (04-22-21), I received an email that brought to my attention the following scholarly article:

The Christology of Callistus

Shortly after reading Haine’s essay, I discovered the following germane dissertation by Stephen Edward Waers:

Monarchianism and Origen's Early Trinitarianism

This dissertation precipitated a renewed interest and investigation into the cause and rise of the theological movement that Waers has termed “monarchianism”. [Personally, I prefer ‘modalistic monarchianism’; other folk have used ‘patripassianism’, ‘Sabellianism’ and ‘modalism’ when referencing the movement.]

To make sure that his readers fully understand what he believes constitutes one as a monarchian, Waers provides the following working definition:

…the monarchians had two core commitments: (1) God is one alone; (2) Jesus is God. These two core commitments led them to conclude that the Father and the Son are “one and the same” (ἓν καὶ τὸ αὐτὸ). This is the heart of the theological position I am calling monarchianism. (Page 13)

The above definition is given towards the end of the section, “Major Scholarship on Monarchianism” (pages 6-14). Though brief, this section is a solid overview that begins with, Hermann Hagemann’s, Die römische Kirche und ihr Einfluss auf Disciplin und Dogma in den drei ersten Jahrhunderten (Freiburg im Breisgau, 1864), and is immedieately followed by Dr. Adolf Harnack’s substantive contributions. It also includes Heine’s above refenced, “The Christology of Callistus,” Journal of Theological Studies 49 (1998): 56–91, and ends with  Wolfgang A. Bienert, “Sabellius und Sabellianismus als historisches Problem,” in Logos: Festschrift für Luise Abramowski (Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 1993), 124–39; idem, “Wer war Sabellius?,” Studia patristica 40 (Leuven: Peeters, 2006), 359-65. 

Chapter 1, “Models of the Father/Son Relationship in the Second Century” (pages 26-94), examines a number of texts produced by the Church Fathers of the second century. From the opening of the chapter we read:

Scholars frequently refer to figures from the second century as “modalists” or “monarchians” without first defining what either of those terms means. For example, Campbell Bonner called Melito of Sardis’ theology “naïve modalism.” More recently, Reinhard Hübner has argued that Ignatius of Antioch was a monarchian. As I noted in the introduction and develop in the later chapters on the monarchian controversy, I prefer a restrictive and specific definition of monarchianism. Using my definition, monarchianism is restricted to those who explicitly claim that the Father and the Son are “one and the same” in an effort to maintain that there is only one God. (Page 26)

Though I certainly understand Waers’ motive for “a restrictive and specfic defintion of monarchianism”, I believe that other criteria than an explicit "statement that the Father and Son are ‘one and the same'", can be used to determine if ones theology is monarchian. As such, Reinhard Hübner's claim "that Ignatius of Antioch was a monarchian" needs to be taken seriously. Interestingly enough, John Henry Newman in his An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine states that, St. Ignatius may be considered Patripassian” (University of Notre Dame Press, 1989, p. 17). As for Campbell Bonner’s assertion that Meltio of Sardis’ theology was “naïve modalism”, I believe he was accurate. [See my post, James White's (mis)use of Melito of Sardis, for support of this assessment.]

Yet, even with the above observations in mind, Waers survey of the second century writers remains quite valuable. He divides the second century writings he exmamines into three categories. First, the authors that made a ‘soft distinction’ between the Father and the Son—i.e. the distinction made is primarly via the use of names and titles. Second, a “hard distinction”—i.e. those who provide an explicit explanation on how the Father and Son are essentially distinct. And third, those writers whose reflections lie in between the soft and hard distinctions. The following are the authors and writings, that are surveyed and categorized by Waers:

Soft Distinction -

1 Clement (Pages 35, 36)

2 Clement (Pages 36, 37)

Ignatius (Pages 38-41)

Polycarp (Pages 41, 42)

Didache, Epistle of Barnabas, and Shepherd of Hermas (Pages 42-45)

Epistle to Diognetus (Pages 46, 47)

Melito (Pages 48-52)

The Ambiguous Middle -

Theophilus of Antioch (Pages 52-57)

Irenaeus (Pages 58-61)

Clement of Alexandria (Pages 61-73)

Athenagoras (Pages 73-78)

Hard Distinction -

Justin Martyr (Pages 79-91)

Given my recent threads on Justin Martyr, I was particularly interested in reading Waers’ analysis of Justin’s theology on the relationship between the Father and Son. The following is from the middle of that section:

Justin unabashedly asserts that there is another God alongside the Creator God whom his dialogue partners acknowledge. Trypho and his coreligionists were pleased that Justin had clearly stated that there was no God above the Creator of all, but they remained unconvinced by Justin’s argument that there was another God alongside the Creator. This exchange between Justin and Trypho signals one of the chief points of disagreement that frequently recurs as the dialogue progresses. Justin again and again claims that the Son is another God alongside the Father. Other second-century authors spoke of Christ as God, but they did not clarify that he was another God. Justin carries on the tradition of maintaining the Son’s divinity, but he couples it with an equally strong affirmation that the Son is a God distinct from, and even different than, the Father. (Pages 85, 86)

Waers reiterates the above in his conclusion of the section; note the following:

Of all of the writings surveyed in this chapter, Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho stands out because of its strong concern to show that the Father and Son are distinct, even different. He argues that the Son is another God and that he is distinct from the Father in number. Justin’s descriptions of the difference between the Father and the Son offer a sharp contrast to the other second-century theologies that did not take care to distinguish them so strongly. Even more, while Justin uses an abundance of scripture from the Old Testament to support his positions, he does not shy away from using Greek philosophical concepts in a way that we do not see in the Apostolic Fathers. (Page 93)

In chapters 2 and 3, Waers provides, “a detailed analysis of the main texts of the period that bear witness to monarchian theology” (p. 96). He correctly points out that, “we do not possess any texts from the monarchians themselves”; as such, “[w]e are thus left with the difficult task of reconstructing monarchian theology using only the fragmentary evidence we can extract from hostile witnesses.” The following is his introduction to the texts he utilizes:

Although it is the latest of the texts I survey, I begin with an overview of passages relevant to monarchianism in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History. He has little to say about monarchianism itself, but his work does elucidate the state of the church in Rome at the time when monarchianism made its appearance. Next, I discuss Hippolytus’ Contra Noetum, which I take to be the earliest of the sources attesting to monarchiansim. Then, I examine Tertullian’s Adversus Praxean, which I consider to be dependent on Contra Noetum. These two sources are the earliest attestation to monarchianism, and they show that there was a stable core to monarchian theology. At the same time, there was also variation and development within monarchian theology, early signs of which can be seen in Adversus Praxean. In chapter three, I undertake a similar analysis of the Refutatio omnium haeresium and Novatian’s De Trinitate, which give us later portraits of monarchianism. (Page 96)

I shall end part 1 of my look into Waers dissertation with the following selection:

The most foundational tenet of monarchian theology, and the one that remains stable across all witnesses, is the strong affirmation that there is only one God. At the beginning of the third century, such claims were common. Both the monarchians and their opponents claimed to believe in only one God. The distinctive thing about the monarchian commitment to belief in only one God was that it interpreted the oneness of God in a manner that rejected the position held by their opponents, namely, that Jesus and the father were distinct realities and both God. The monarchians supported their understanding of the oneness of God with references to classic biblical affirmations of monotheism, like Isaiah 44:6.

The second core component of monarchian theology was the unwavering confession that Jesus was divine. The acceptance of the divinity of Jesus demarcated them from the psilanthropists, who also sought to preserve the oneness of God by denying that Jesus was God. Because the monarchians had an interpretation of monotheism that did not allow for two distinct realities to be God, they argued that the Father and Son were one and the same. In their monotheistic reasoning, if the Father was God, and the Son was God, then they were necessarily the same. Any argument affirming that both were distinct and divine was tantamount to ditheism in the eyes of the monarchians. Using this same logic, the monarchians focused on biblical theophanies and argued that one and the same God was both invisible and visible. This approach was a stark rejection of the way someone like Justin interpreted the Old Testament theophanies. (Pages 213, 214)

Should have part 2 up soon. Until then, I hope folk who have taken the time to read part 1 will also read the entire dissertation.

Grace and peace,