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Monarchianism (from the Greek μόνος mónos "only", "alone" and ἄρχειν árchein "rule") is a collective term for a diverse group of theological views in Christianity since the 2nd century . Tertullian first used the term monarchianism .

Monarchianism is not a self-designation for a specific unified theological system. The only thing these diverse approaches have in common is that they wanted to solve the problem of the relationship between God the Father and Jesus Christ as Son of God in the sense of strict monotheism . They represented views that sparked conflicts with other theological positions in Roman Christianity and, with the progressive development of an increasingly uniform church theology from the 3rd century onwards, led to increased condemnations as heretics .

Ancient monarchians feared that the doctrine of the Trinity would in fact make the father and son two different gods. So they took two completely opposite paths.

One direction wanted to preserve the unity of God (the Father) by teaching that Christ was born a mere man and was only later accepted ("adopted") by God as his Son (dynamic monarchianism or adoptianism ).

The other direction emphasized the unity of God (as father and son) in such a way that father and son were viewed as different ways of being of the one God. This led to the assumption that God the Father himself suffered in the figure of the Son on the cross ( modalism or patripassianism ).


Dynamic monarchianism or adoptionism, also called psilantropism by opponents, is based on monotheism of God the Father. Jesus Christ is regarded as supernaturally by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin man who at his baptism equipped by God particularly true with power and the son thought was. Mark 1: 9-11  EU and - albeit controversial - Romans 1 : 3f  EU are given as the biblical basis for this . Theodotus of Byzantium took this view for the first time around 190 in Rome and later also his successor Artemon .

Since Theodotus emphasized that this teaching came from the apostolic tradition, he was excommunicated by Pope Viktor I. Artemon was rejected by Hippolytus , who condemned the teaching as an innovative attempt to rationalize writing according to Hellenistic logic. The Melchizedekians (according to the Bible passage Hebrews 5: 6) also formed a group of dynamic monarchians. It is likely that Paul of Samosata also represented a dynamic monarchianism.

Today dynamic monarchianism is represented, for example, by Christadelphians , Anthroposophists , The Way International and Unitarians .


Modalism (also called modalistic monarchianism) tries to solve the problem in a different way. He safeguards the full deity of the Son and, in order to preserve monotheism, attains positions that amount to an identity of father and son, since depending on the situation they only represent different ways of being of the one God without any real difference between them.

Early monarchians in the 2nd and 3rd centuries were Noëtus of Smyrna , against whom Hippolytus wrote ( Philosophumena IX 7.10, X 27; Contra haeresim Noëti ), and Praxeas , whom Tertullian fought with the writing Adversus Praxean . Both have been polemically referred to as Patripassians . Patripassianism ("suffering of the father", from Latin pater , "father", and passio , "suffering") was a battle term introduced by Tertullian; the term modalism was only introduced in modern times. Patripassianism teaches that the Father himself became man, was born of the Virgin Mary , and suffered and died on the cross. Praxeas distinguished between the Christ, who is the Father, and the Son, who is a simple man. In this way the Father suffered with the human Jesus.

The wills of the twelve patriarchs outside the biblical canon also speak of the appearance of God in human form on earth and mention at one point a “suffering of the Most High”. This is valid as evidence of modalist views also in the Jewish Christian area of ​​that time.

A more sophisticated modalism was represented by Sabellius in Rome in the early third century . The term Sabellianism became tangible from the fourth century onwards in disputes about Marcellus von Ancyra , who postulated the 'modalist' idea of ​​the economic trinity , according to which God is indivisible. But Father (Creator and legislator), son (Savior) and Holy Spirit (the divine presence among men) are three chronologically successive history of salvation manifestations or ' persona ' of divine Monas , the (in itself) already differentiated , unity, both father Logos and Spirit is . With Marcellus it was not God himself who died in Christ. Sabellius tried to preserve monotheism and probably represented the modalism typical of the time in the version of Noet. Noet interpreted salvation history without including the Holy Spirit, who only found its way into those debates in the course of the fourth century.

Sabellius was expelled from the Roman parish in Rome around 220 by the Roman bishop Calixt I , as was Hippolytus of Rome . Both were spokesmen for opponents and supporters of monarchianism. Like Hippolytus, Sabellius was not excluded because of a heresy , but because of the violent, uncompromising conflicts in Rome.

In later Trinitarian disputes of the fourth century, the term Sabellianism was used to refer to positions that diluted the distinction between father and son.

The modalism as the idea that father and son are just different ways of being of ONE God contradicts the traditional conviction, which originated in Greek philosophy, that God cannot suffer because this is incompatible with his perfection and autarky . This conviction (doctrine of the apathy of God) from Platonism and Aristotelianism was adopted by the church fathers , with the significant exception of Lactantius (de ira dei). However, the majority of the teachings that proceeded from God's suffering were unacceptable to the church.

Some groups of Pentecostalism , the United Apostolic Church and some smaller Mormon churches now represent a kind of modalism .


  • Michael Decker: The Monarchians. Early Christian theology in the area of ​​tension between Rome and Asia Minor. Hamburg 1987 (Hamburg, Univ., Diss., 1985).

Web links


  1. Franz Dünzl : Brief history of the Trinitarian dogma in the old church. Herder Verlag, Freiburg (Breisgau) et al. 2006, ISBN 3-451-28946-6 , p. 36f.
  2. Franz Dünzl: Brief history of the Trinitarian dogma in the old church. Herder Verlag, Freiburg (Breisgau) et al. 2006, p. 78ff.
  3. ^ Hermann J. Vogt , Noet of Smyrna and Heraklit. Comments on the presentation of their teachings by Hippolytus , in: Zeitschrift für Antikes Christentum , Volume 6 (2002), Issue 1, pp. 59–80, here p. 60.
  4. Simon Gerber, Calixt von Rom und der monarchianische Streit , in: Zeitschrift für Antikes Christianentum , Volume 5 (2001), Issue 2, pp. 213-239, here pp. 226f.
  5. ^ Wolf-Dieter Hauschild , Volker Henning Drecoll : Textbook of Church and Dogma History. Volume 1. Old Church and Middle Ages . Gütersloher Verlagshaus , Gütersloh 2016, p. 60f. 5th, completely revised new edition.