As was said, the essential divinity of Christ had to be asserted against the Monarchians and the Ebionists who saw in Christ only a second Moses and against the Gnostics who placed Christ in a class with the eons of their ideal world. Further, it was pointed out that at the beginning of the third century—circa 200—there were three Christologies contesting in Rome: 1) The Modalistic Monarchian also known as Patripassian and Cebellianism; 2) The Dynamic Monarchian; 3) The Logos Christology. It was the last-named that triumphed on the Council of Nicea 325. The Modalistic and Dynamic Monarchians had this in common: both asserted that God is only, but they stressed this to the exclusion of the tripersonality in the Godhead. Both refused to distinguish in the one and indivisible essence of God three hypostasis or persons. They could not see in the Trinitarian conception ought else but an assertion of tritheism (three-godism). Thus their assertion that God is one and only is equivalent to the affirmation that He is numerically one not only in essence but also in personality. They were therefore given the name Monarchians, meaning “one principle”. But there was also a difference between the two classes of Monarchians. The Dynamic Monarchians denied the essential -divinity of Christ and His co-essentiality with the Father, but not so the Modalistic Monarchians.
The Dynamic Monarchians. The system of thought of this class of Monarchians is known from the teachings of Paul of Samosata, their famous representative. As well as the orthodox, this false teacher in the church distinguished the eternal logos from the human Jesus born of the virgin. According to the Scriptures, the logos (John 1:1) is an independent personality in the Godhead and as such the only begotten of the Father, in substance one with the Father and the Spirit. But Paul of Samosata corrupted the Logos, the eternal Son of God, to an impersonal attribute of God, that is, to an impersonal power of the Father, and he taught that with this power the human Jesus was filled at the moment of His conception or birth, that thereby He was united in will to God, that by virtue thereof God raised Him from the dead, adopted Him to be His Son, and crowned Him with a kind of honorary divinity, in the sense that He will crown all His people with divinity. Jesus, according to this conception, is but a mere man; He is not in substance also divine. Were this true, said Paul, there would needs be two Gods, God the Father and God the Christ. He refused to perceive that Christ, according to His divine essence, is numerically one with the essence of the Father and that the person of Christ dwells in the Godhead as the only begotten of the Fattier and therefore as a distinct personality in the Godhead. Christ, according to this Paul, was a mere creature of the absolute God.
The question might be put why Paul of Samosata claimed for Christ even a delegated divinity. He recoiled from bluntly denying the essential divinity of Christ, the reason being that the belief that Christ is the divine son of God was general. But the people of God were still wrestling with the problem how, if Christ be divine, it can be maintained that God is only. This false teacher came with his solution. Christ, he said, is Son of God not essentially but only by adoption. This type of Monarchianism was called dynamic because it corrupted the eternal logos into an impersonal power of God. Dynamic Monarchianism was thoroughly rationalistic. It anticipated all the rationalistic opinions about Christ of this day and age. It was mast misleading because, while it maintained the divine sonship of Christ, it denied His essential divinity. It taught that Christ is divine in the sense in which, according to rationalistic opinion, all good men are divine.
The first Dynamic Monarchian of note was Theodotus, a man of learning, who came to Rome about 190 and there taught his views. But he was excommunicated by the bishop of Rome. Still other attempts were made to present this theology at Rome but none of them met with success. It made greater headway in the East, where it was represented by the gifted bishop of Antioch, this Paul of Samosata whose views we have already considered. Between 264 and 269 these views were tried and pronounced heretical by three synods, the last of which excommunicated Paul. But he would not give up his seat and had to be driven out by the emperor Aurelian.
The Modalistic Monarchianism. This form was more Christian by far. It had a much larger following than the other form. With the Dynamic Monarchians the Modalistic Monarchians asserted that God is only. With the Dynamic Monarchians they denied the tri-personality of God. But unlike the Dynamic Monarchians they asserted the essential divinity of the historical Christ. Also their problem was how, if Christ be divine, it can be maintained that there is one God and not two Gods, God the Father and God the Christ. Their solution was that God the Father and God the Christ are one and the same numerically. Noetus, the leader of the Modalistic Monarchians, taught that “Christ was the Father Himself, and that, the Father Himself was born, suffered and died.” Sabellius, the outstanding leader of the Modalistic Monarchians taught that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are numerically one, and as such a threefold prosopon or form of manifestation of the one God in His character of Creator as Father, in that of Redeemer as the Son, and now as the Holy Spirit. In this view Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one and the same person. Thus they are not three different personalities in the Godhead but rather three different modes of manifestation of the one God. Hence Lie followers of this view were given the name of Modalistic Monarchians. This teaching appealed to many Christians. This can be explained. In distinction from Dynamic Monarchianism, it asserted the essential divinity of Christ. And it emphasized, as well as did dynamic Monarchianism, the unity of God, though it denied His tri-personality in the presence of heathen polytheism. God’s people felt that they had need of a Christ who was more than a mere creature, a Christ who is God, not in a secondary sense, but truly, actually, essentially. They understood that only such a Christ could save them.
As was said, the leader of these Modalistic Monarchians was Noetus of Smyrna. His views were transplanted to Rome by his disciples about 190. They even won the sympathy of the bishop of Rome, Zephyrinus. The outstanding leader of Modalistic Monarchianism was, as was said, Sabellius. About all that is known of him is that he was teaching at Rome about 215. There was no essential difference between his theology and that of Noetus. But what strikes us in his presentation—cited above—is the implied equality of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the use of the term prosopon and the application of this term to the tri-personality in the Godhead. It was this equality of the tri-personality in the Godhead that was to triumph over the subordination of the Son and the Spirit to the Father that characterized the Logos Christology of most of the fathers of this period. But Sabellius’ numerical identification of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit was condemned. And rightly so. For it is a view that conceptionally destroys God.
The Logos Christology. The idea of this Christology is this: Christ as the Logos is a distinct personality in the Godhead in which He dwells as the only begotten of the Father, co-essential, co-eternal, and co- equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. This Christology was championed by the following church fathers of note of this period (ante-Nicene). Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Origin, Ireneus, Tertullian, Hyppolytus and others. But the modes of thought of these fathers were not of the same doctrinal soundness. The Logos Christology of most of them was encumbered by subordinationalism (the subjection of the Son and the Spirit to the Father).
In the Christology of Justin Martyr, Christ is the Logos, the only and absolute Son of God. Justin, however, subordinates the Son to the Father and affirms that the unity of the two persons is moral, as is the unity between two friends. Now the unity between Father and Son is moral indeed but it is this because Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in essence are one.
Origin identified the essence of the Father with that of the Son but he also speaks of a difference of substance and subordinates the Son to the Father. He calls the Son God in a secondary sense and the Father absolute God.
Clement of Alexandria makes the logos God but says nothing definite about His independent personality.
Ireneus came close to the Nicene dogma of the Logos. That he subordinated the Son to the Father must be explained from his want of careful distinction between the Son of God as the only begotten of the Father and the Son as the Christ. He was confused by expressions like, “My Father is greater than I”, an expression that is to be applied only to the Son of God incarnate.
Hippolytus was another great advocate of the Logos Christology. He vigorously opposed the Monarchians of both schools by Insisting on the recognition of persons in the Godhead with equal claim to divine worship. An able exposition of the Logos Christology came from the pen of Tertullian of Carthage. This work, entitled “against Praxeas”, contains a definition of the Godhead in terms that anticipate the Nicene result of more than a century later. “All are one by a unity of substance,” he writes; “while the mystery of the dispensation is still guarded which distributes the unity into a trinity, placing in their order the three, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; three, however, not in substance but in form; not in power but in appearance, for they are of one substance and one essence and 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.” He describes these distinctions in the Godhead as persons. He also distinguishes between the human and the divine in Christ. “We see His double state, not intermixed but conjoined in one person—Jesus, God and man.” But he also calls the Father the whole divine substance and the Son a part of it.
The Logos Christology completely won its way m Western Christendom. This appears from a treatise on the “Trinity” written by the Roman presbyter Novatian, between 240 and 250. Reproducing and expanding Tertullian’s view, he treats his exposition as the only authorized interpretation of the “apostle’s creed”. He teaches that between Father and Son a “communion of Substance” exists. This was the Latin equivalent of the latter Nicene “Homoousian”, meaning “of the same substance”. Then there was the Roman bishop Dionysius (259-26S), who, in his controversy with Sabellius, maintained the homoousian, the eternal generation of the Son, and the distinction between the three persons. Thus the Western Church had reached conclusions harmonizable with the creed of Nicea more than sixty years before that council.