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The Persecuted Church


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The Early Churches Reaction to Oneness believers

What did the early Church that was being persecuted by Rome believe? Despite what one may think, the records left from letters and debates that occurred in the Church's beginning give us the evidence to know if we are drifted from what they believed. They traced their beliefs from the Apostles.

Ireneaus writes, "Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than the truth itself."(181 AD.) He was just one of many that resisted foreign definitions on the nature of God.

Irenaeus was discipled under Polcarp of Smyrna, who was a disciple of the Apostle John, and could be the most important theologian of the second century. What they defended was not something that only a few believed but was held as the mortar for the bricks of the Church. "...The Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She [the church] also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul.... For the churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different nor do those in Spain nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East nor those in Egypt nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world. But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world. "(Iraneaus Against heresies book 1)

Those who were holding the Monarchian (modalists) view that were the main promoters are Noetus, Praxeus, Sabellius, Cerinthus, Paul of Samosata. Others were Epigonus, Cleomones,  Commodian, and Callistus and Zephyrinus the two Roman bishops, Theodotus of Byzantine, Ebion, Hermogenes, Carpocrates, Valentius, Eunomius.

Noetus said, "I am under necessity, since one {God} is acknowledged, to make this one the subject of suffering . For Christ was God, and suffered on account of us, being himself the Father, that he may be able to save us."(Hippolytus against Noetus 1)

Sabellius, "the existence of a divine monad (which he named the huiopater) which by a process of expansion projected itself successively in revelation as the Father, Son, H.Spirit".( Elwells Evangelical Dictionary of Theology p.727)

Paul of Samosata the bishop of Antioch stated of Jesus, "Consubstantial with the father, but was not a distinct person in the Godhead. He could be identified with God, because He existed in him just as human reason exists in man. He was merely an impersonal power, present in all men, but particularly operative in the man Jesus. By penetrating the humanity of Jesus progressively, as it did no other man, this divine power gradually deified it. And because the man Jesus was thus deified, He is worthy of divine honor, though he cannot be regarded as God in the strict sense of the word" (the Moody Handbook of theology p.419 Paul Enns).

Artemon, "the Logos (wisdom) was an impersonal quality of God that came together and indwelt the man Christ Jesus, but remained in essence distinct." ... "the Holy Spirit was not a distant personal entity but simply a manifestation of the grace of the father."(Elwells Evangelical Dictionary of Theology p.727).

Those who were known and challenged their view were Trintarians  Ireneaus, Hippolytus, Tetullian, Epiphanius and several others. To start off we need to see how ancient the trinity was.

Ignatius of Antioch  110 A.D "Jesus Christ . . . was with the Father before the beginning of time, and in the end was revealed. . . . Jesus Christ . . . came forth from one Father and is with and has gone to one [Father]. . .. [T]here is one God, who has manifested himself by Jesus Christ his Son, who is his eternal Word, not proceeding forth from silence, and who in all things pleased him that sent him" (Letter to the Magnesians 6-8 ).

'Let us make man after our image and likeness' . . . I shall quote again the words narrated by Moses himself, from which we can indisputably learn that [God] conversed with someone numerically distinct from himself and also a rational being. . . . But this Offspring who was truly brought forth from the Father, was with the Father before all the creatures, and the Father communed with him" (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 62 A.D. 155).

110 AD. Ignatius of Antioch wrote, "Wherefore also the Lord, when He sent forth the apostles to make disciples of all nations, commanded them to "baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost," not unto one [person] having three names, nor into three [persons] who became incarnate, but into three possessed of equal honour." (Letter to the Philadelphians, 2)

Athenagoras  who identifies the Word as the Son of God, says 'although the word is God’s offspring, he never came into being. Rather, having been with God and in God eternally he issued forth at a point in time."( A plea for the Christians 12.20) "God the Word came down from heaven...He came forth into the world and...showed Himself to be God".( Against the Heresy of a Certain Noetus, 17)

Novation  "we have said, the sacrilegious heresy of Sabellius is embodied. Since Christ is believed to be not the Son, but the Father; since by them He is asserted to be in strictness a bare man, in a new manner, by those, again, Christ is proved to be God the Father Almighty... Who then can doubt, when in the last clause it is said, "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us," that Christ, whose is the nativity, and because He was made flesh, is man; and because He is the Word of God, who can shrink from declaring without hesitation that He is God, especially when he considers the evangelical Scripture,that it has associated both of these substantial natures into one concord of the nativity of Christ? For He it is who "as a bride-groom goeth forth from his bride-chamber; He exulted as a giant to run his way. His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and His return unto the ends of it." Because, even to the highest, "not any one hath ascended into heaven save He who came down from heaven, the Son of man who is in heaven." Repeating this same thing, He says: "Father, glorify me with that glory wherewith I was with Thee before the world was." And if this Word came down from heaven as a bridegroom to the flesh, that by the assumption of flesh He might ascend thither as the Son of man, whence the Son of God had descended as the Word, reasonably, while by the mutual connection both flesh wears the Word of God, and the Son of God assumes the frailty of the flesh; when the flesh being espoused ascending thither, whence without the flesh it had descended, it at length receives that glory which in being shown to have had before the foundation of the world, it is most manifestly proved....And thus they who say that Jesus Christ is the Father argue as follows:--If God is one, and Christ is God, Christ is the Father, since God is one. If Christ be not the Father, because Christ is God the Son, there appear to be two Gods introduced, contrary to the Scriptures. And they who contend that Christ is man only, conclude on the other hand thus:--If the Father is one, and the Son another, but the Father is God and Christ is God, then there is not one God, but two Gods are at once introduced, the Father and the Son; and if God is one, by consequence Christ must be a man, so that rightly the Father may be one God. Thus indeed the Lord is, as it were, crucified between two thieves, even as He was formerly placed; and thus from either side He receives the sacrilegious reproaches of such heretics as these. But neither the Holy Scriptures nor we suggest to them the reasons of their perdition and blindness, if they either will not, or cannot, see what is evidently written in the midst of the divine documents." (CHAP. XIII. ARGUMENT. --THAT THE SAME TRUTH IS PROVED FROM THE SACRED  WRITINGS OF THE NEW COVENANT.)

Tertullian  216 A.D

"While keeping to this demurrer always, there must, nevertheless, be place for reviewing for the sake of the instruction and protection of various persons. Otherwise it might seem that each perverse opinion is not examined but simply prejudged and condemned. This is especially so in the case of the present heresy [Sabellianism], which considers itself to have the pure truth when it supposes that one cannot believe in the one only God in any way other than by saying that Father, Son, and Spirit are the selfsame person. As if one were not all . . . through the unity of substance" (Against Praxeas 2:3-4 ).

"Keep always in mind the rule of faith which I profess and by which I bear witness that the Father and the Son and the Spirit are inseparable from each other, and then you will understand what is meant by it. Observe, now, that I say the Father is other, and the Son is other, and the Spirit is other. . . . I say this, however, out of necessity, since they contend that the Father and the Son and the Spirit are the selfsame person" (ibid. 9:1 A.D. 216).

Tertullian 215 AD.  "That there are two Gods and two Lords, however, is a statement which we will never allow to issue from our mouth; not as if the Father and the Son were not God, nor the Spirit God, and each of them God; " (Against Praxeus 13:6).

When he debated the Modalist Praxeas he argued "thus the connection of the Father in the Son the Son in the paraclete, produces three coherent persons, who are yet distinct one from another. These three are one essence, not one person, as it is said, "I and my Father are one," in respect of unity of substance, not singularity of number." ( Ante-Nicene fathers vol.3,p.621, against Praxeas.)

"The perversity (of Praxeus) considers that it has possession of the pure truth in thinking it is impossible to believe in the unity of God without identifying the father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; failing to see that the one may be all in the sense that all are of one, that is through the unity of substance; while this still safeguards the mystery of the economy which disposes the unity into a Trinity, arranging the three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, though these are three not in quality, but in degree, not in substance but in form, not in power but in manifestation; of one substance, one quality, one power, because God is one and from him those degrees and forms are assigned in the name of Father, Son and Holy spirit. How can they admit of plurality without division the following discussions will show. (Tertullian Against Praxeus 2)

Tertullian  wrote, "the devil has striven against the truth in manifold ways. He has sometimes endeavored to destroy it by defending it. He champions the unity of God, the omnipotent creator of the world , only to make out of that unity a heresy." (Tertullian Adv, Praxean, I) He further stated that Praxeas believed " that the Father Himself came down into the virgin, was Himself born of her, Himself suffered, indeed was Himself Jesus Christ". (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. III, Tertullian "Against Praxeas", p. 597.)

"oikonomia, as it is called, that this one only God has also a Son, His Word, who proceeded from Himself, by whom all things were made, and without whom nothing was made. Him we believe to have been sent by the Father into the Virgin, and to have been born of her -- being both Man and God, the Son of Man and the Son of God, and to have been called by the name of Jesus Christ; we believe Him to have suffered, died, and been buried, according to the Scriptures, and, after He had been raised again by the Father and taken back to heaven, to be sitting at the right hand of the Father, and that He will come to judge the quick and the dead; who sent also from heaven from the Father, according to His own promise, the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete, the sanctifier of the faith of those who believe in the Father, and in the Son, and in the Holy Ghost. That this rule of faith has come down to us from the beginning of the gospel, even before any of the older heretics, much more before Praxeas, a pretender of yesterday, will be apparent both from the lateness of date which marks all heresies, and also from the absolutely novel character of our new-fangled Praxeas. In this principle also we must henceforth find a presumption of equal force against all heresies whatsoever -- that whatever is first is true, whereas that is spurious which is later in date.... especially in the case of this heresy, which supposes itself to possess the pure truth, in thinking that one cannot believe in One Only God in any other way than by saying that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are the very selfsame Person. As if in this way also one were not All, in that All are of One, by unity (that is) of substance; while the mystery of the dispensation is still guarded, which distributes the Unity into a Trinity, placing in their order the three Persons -- the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: three, however, not in condition, but in degree; not in substance, but in form; not in power, but in aspect; yet of one substance, and of one condition, and of one power, inasmuch as He is one God, from whom these degrees and forms and aspects are reckoned, under the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. How they are susceptible of number without division, will be shown as our treatise proceeds. "(Tertullian Against Praxeas)

228 A.D. Hippolytus who had a contention with Sabellius and both were going to be excommunicated. "Thus, after the death of Zephyrinus,( a Oneness believer) supposing that he had obtained (the position) after which he so eagerly pursued, he [Pope Callistus] excommunicated Sabellius, as not entertaining orthodox opinions" (Refutation of All Heresies 9:7 ).

262 A.D.Dionysius "Next, then, I may properly turn to those who divide and cut apart and destroy the Monarchy, the most sacred proclamation of the Church of God, making of it, as it were, three powers, distinct substances, and three godheads. I have heard that some of your catechists and teachers of the divine word take the lead in this tenet. They are, so to speak, diametrically opposed to the opinion of Sabellius. He, in his blasphemy, says that the Son is the Father and vice versa" (Letters of Pope Dionysius to Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria 1:1 ).

Irenaeus probaly has more to say on this subject than anyone else, he writes of what the church believes "In one God, the father almighty, maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea and all things in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation and in the Holy spirit,.." (Against Heresies X.1)

‘For we have shown that the Son of God did not then begin to exist since he existed with the Father always: ( Irenaeus The ‘Recapitulation’ in Christ :Adv. Haer. III xviii)

"For with him [the Father] were always present the Word and Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit, by whom and in whom, freely and spontaneously, he made all things, to whom also he speaks, saying, 'Let us make man in our image and likeness." [Gen. 1:26" (Against Heresies 4:20:1 A.D. 189).

(A.D. 262 ) Gregory the Wonder -worker writes,  "But some treat the Holy Trinity in an awful manner, when they confidently assert that there are not three persons, and introduce (the idea of) a person devoid of subsistence. Wherefore we clear ourselves of Sabellius, who says that the Father and the Son are the same [Person] ... We forswear this, because we believe that three persons--namely, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--are declared to possess the one Godhead: for the one divinity showing itself forth according to nature in the Trinity establishes the oneness of the nature" (A Sectional Confession of Faith 8 ).

"But if they say, 'How can there be three Persons, and how but one Divinity?' we shall make this reply: That there are indeed three persons, inasmuch as there is one person of God the Father, and one of the Lord the Son, and one of the Holy Spirit; and yet that there is but one divinity, inasmuch as . . . there is one substance in the Trinity" (ibid., 14).

Athanasius A.D. 359

"They [the Father and the Son] are one, not as one thing now divided into two, but really constituting only one, nor as one thing twice named, so that the same becomes at one time the Father and at another his own Son. This latter is what Sabellius held, and he was judged a heretic. On the contrary, they are two, because the Father is Father and is not his own Son, and the Son is Son and not his own Father" (Discourses Against the Arians 3:4 A.D. 360).

This teaching of modalsim as far as in the infant stages before its modern development, has been traced to Simon Magus, a magician in Samaria mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles 8:9. who professed conversion is attributed to be the very first to propose this idea. He stated that there was only one person in the Godhead. and that he was that person. Claiming to be the Father in Samaria, the Son in Judea, the Holy Spirit in the rest of the nations. ( John Gill, sermons and tracts vol.3 pg.513)

(more quotes from both sides will be added through time) If someone can find Oneness quotes I would appreciate their submiting them to be added.

Introduction to the Oneness Movement  Oneness Theology The Word One     Mt.28 Baptism 
  The Word Persons   God Does not change Are Tongues and Baptism Necessary ?
  Proofs of the Trinity    Preexistence of the Son Who died on the Cross ? 
  The Trinity in the Resurrection The Grace of God Jn.1:1   The Son being Sent 
History of Heresies   The Right Hand of God  Today I have Begotten Thee
From the mouth of Two or three Witnesses  Oneness Pentecostals and Trinitarians Unite
Modern beginnings of Oneness The Early Church on Oneness Who was manifested in the flesh?


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