Christological Heresies Essay
Your assignment is to write an essay (approximately 4 pages) that analyzes one of the Christological heresies of the 1st-5th centuries. This paper should consist of an introduction, body, and conclusion. The introduction should offer a main idea(s) that become(s) the paper’s connecting thread. The body should be a development of the idea(s) introduced. The conclusion should offer a concise, final thought on the idea(s) addressed throughout the paper.
Select only one of the following heresies:
Address the following points:
- What does this heresy teach, and who/what group of people initially taught it?
- Make a brief argument that this heresy should indeed be considered a heresy (that it runs contrary to Christianity’s understanding of Jesus, God, and salvation)
- Make a brief argument that this heresy should have been accepted as a traditional Christian position.
- Which argument do you think is stronger? Why?
Sabellianism: A Christological Heresy
Two thousand years of Christian faith allowed for the establishment of clear and definite beliefs. In order to make sure that followers have the same set of principles and beliefs, church leaders and theologians established rules. Those who counter these rules are called heretics and their belief called heresies. One of the most prominent heresies is Sabellianism which counters the idea that there is only one God but three divine persons. This idea propagated because it offers an explanation that easier to understand by the common people than the complex concept of Trinity.
Any social structure is governed by power play. It is important to note that it is better to understand Christian faith when one looks at the politics involved. Today, the religion might pose as threatening as other fundamentalist religious groups. Yet, in the past, Christians forwarded campaigns and propaganda that smeared reputation and damaged lives of thousands of people. Back then, offering an opinion that is different from the official belief of the church would mean being an enemy.
It is necessary for any religion to have a single belief system. Such system is regarded as holy and no believer should question it. This aspect of religious foundation is important in order to unify all teachings of the church. These dogmas are created to attain stability in the entire reign of the church. Preachers and priests would no longer experience confusion when reading the scriptures since dogmas are already dictated by the church.
While some dogmas are created to unify followers, there are those made for convenience. For example, the Bible cites various accounts on the existence of one god or many gods. In order or the church to sort this out, they imposed the concept of Trinity. Under this, “The traditional Christian doctrine of the Trinity is commonly expressed as the statement that the one God exists as or in three equally divine “persons”, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit…. They are consubstantial (i.e. the same in substance or essence, Greek: homoousios)” (Tuggy 1). This means that despite having three persons, there is still one god.
Trinity explains as to why Jesus Christ is still considered as god. People’s adoration for him is warranted because he is divine. It solves the issue where Christian tradition calls for only one god. Through the concept of Trinity, the religion can continue praising one god but in three different forms. While this idea is helpful in strengthening the stance of the church, many believers failed to accept the logic behind. They offer a far simpler explanation which can be easily understood by the laymen. An alternative stand on this debate is then tagged by the Church as heresy.
The term heresy refers to beliefs that are contradicting the doctrine of the orthodox Christianity. In Roman Catholicism, the center of religion is at Vatican, the official belief systems come from there. There are scholars and theologians who dedicate their lives in pursuing the study of this religion. They are tasked in defining how the religious followers must understand their god. Everything that is decided upon here becomes official and anything that seems to counter them are challenging the authority of the church. It is important to understand this mindset in order to have a grasp as to why heresies have become an important aspect of Christian history.
Of the many heresies that surfaced, several of them are prominent simply because their view would mean redefining the framework of the entire Catholic faith. People believing them would look at the faults and flaws of the entire Catholic belief system. For example, there is Sabellianism. This heresy is explained as “better known today as Modalism. This heresy teaches that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not distinct persons but simply different modes or forms of God.” (Holcomb 43). Contrary to the concept of Trinity, this a simple explanation as to why scriptures would honor three forms of god.
Since there are three equally divine gods, then there should be three gods. For believers in Sabellianism, simple logic would explain as to why the Bible identified not only one god but three different of them. For example, during the baptism of Jesus as chronicled in the book of Matthews, the three different gods appeared simultaneously. Also, for followers who do not have background on metaphysics, logic, and epistemology, Sabellianism is easier to digest and accept. The physical presence of three gods only has one meaning and it is that there are three separate gods.
This heresy was ironically started by a Christian priest and theologian in the third century. He was born “probably in Libya or Egypt. He went to Rome, became the leader of those who accepted the doctrine of modalistic monarchianism, and was excommunicated by Pope St. Calixtus I in 220. Opposing the orthodox teaching of essential Trinity” (“Sabellius” 1). Any teaching associated to the belief that there are three gods in each person is called Sabellianism. Today, there are very few believers of this heresy which means that the church was successful in the campaign of discrediting this view.
Although Sabellianism has been tagged by the orthodox Catholic Church as heretic, it was able to appeal to the people because of its simplicity. They are following the teachings of the Bible and there should be nothing wrong about it. One proof in the validity of this belief is that in the scripture number three has never mentioned in relation to the concept of god. There is no written proof of the concept of Trinity but was just created as an interpretation of scholars and theologians. For them, what was written in the Bible should be the only valid truth and anyone who says otherwise is wrong.
Through the years, the Catholic Church was able to fend off critics who are against the idea of Trinity. Yet, there were many Christian sects built in the 19th century following this principle. Sabellianism is called today in different names such as Father Only, Jesus Only, Oneness Pentecostalism, functionalism and many others. All subscribe to the belief that God indivisible and cannot be divided in three persons.
Despite Sabellianism’s sound argument, it must be noted that dogmas and doctrines of the church were made more than an interpretation of the scripture. The Christian made these stances in order to come up with a religion that joins together the Holy Bible and tradition. Beliefs and principles are functions of the religion. Trinity is the only explanation as to why old Christian tradition dictates adoration to one god while the Bible cites three gods. It was made so that the oral and the written traditions will not clash.
Believing Sabellianism today would shake off the foundation of the entire Christian faith. The position of the whole religion today depends on the idea of Trinity. Thus, dismissing it would mean that previous stances are wrong. Embracing the concept of three deities (or personas) while celebrating only one God is a perfect solution to the contradictions of the faith. Also, the Christian’s emphasis on Jesus Christ as the savior can be better explained through the concept of Trinity. His divinity is as valid as that of the god the Father.
Accepting Sabellianism would mean that Christianity is accepting polytheism or the belief of many gods. For centuries, the church has defended itself in the belief of one true god. The concept of Trinity even distinguishes this religion among many others. Hence, I think that for the purposes of stability, the argument posed by Trinity is still stronger. There have been many confusions and contradictions of the faith in the past. Coming up with the concept of Trinity is the perfect solution that the church could have.