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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:
The Church History of Eusebius.: Chapter VI

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter VI.—The Heresy of Sabellius.

He refers also in the same letter to the heretical teachings of Sabellius, 2183 which were in his time becoming prominent, and says:

“For concerning the doctrine now agitated in Ptolemais of Pentapolis,—which is impious and marked by great blasphemy against the Almighty God, the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, and contains much unbelief respecting his Only Begotten Son and the first-born of every creature, the Word which became man, and a want of perception of the Holy Spirit,—as there came to me communications from both sides and brethren discussing the matter, I wrote certain letters treating the subject as instructively as, by the help. of God, I was able. 2184 Of these I send 2185 thee copies.”



Of the life of Sabellius we know very little. He was at the head of the Monarchian (modalistic) party in Rome during the episcopate of Zephyrinus (198–217), and was there perhaps even earlier. He is, and was already in the fourth century, commonly called a native of Africa, but the first one directly to state this is Basil, and the opinion seems to rest upon the fact that his views were especially popular in Pentapolis as early as the middle of the third century, as Dionysius says here. Hippolytus in speaking of him does not mention his birthplace, which causes Stokes to incline to the opinion that he was a native of Rome. The matter, in fact, cannot be decided. We are told by Hippolytus that Callistus led Sabellius into heresy, but that after he became pope he excommunicated him in order to gain a reputation for orthodoxy. Of the later life of Sabellius we know nothing. His writings are no longer extant, though there are apparently quotations from some of them in Epiphanius, Hær. 62, and Athanasius, Contra Arian. Oratio 4.

In the third century those Monarchians (modalists) who were known as Patripassians in the West were called Sabellians in the East. In the fourth and fifth centuries the Fathers used the term Sabellianism in a general sense for various forms of Monarchianism, all of which, however, tended in the one direction, viz. toward the denial of any personal distinction in the Godhead, and hence the identification of Father and Son. And so we characterize every teaching which tends that way as Sabellianistic, although this form of Monarchianism is really much older than Sabellius. See Harnack’s article on Monarchianism in Herzog, 2d ed. (abridged translation in Schaff-Herzog), and Stokes’ article on Sabellius and Sabellianism in the Dict. of Christ. Biog., both of which give the literature, and Schaff’s Ch. Hist. II. p. 580 sqq., which gives the sources in full. Neander’s account deserves especial notice. Upon Eusebius’ attitude toward Sabellianism, see above, p. 13 sq.


πέστειλ€ τινα ὡς ἐδυνήθην, παρασχόντος τοῦ θεοῦ, διδασκαλικώτερον ὑφηγούμενος, ὧν τὰ ἀντίγραφα žπεμψ€ σοι. Of these letters no fragments are extant. They are not to be confounded with the four books against Sabellius, addressed to Dionysius of Rome, and mentioned in chap. 26, below. It is possible, as Dittrich suggests, that they included the letters on the same subject to Ammon, Telesphorus, Euphranor, and others which Eusebius mentions in that chapter. Upon Dionysius’ attitude toward Sabellianism, see above, Bk. VI. chap. 40, note 1.


žπεμψα. The epistolary aorist as used here does not refer to a past time, but to the time of the writing of the letter, which is past when the person to whom the letter is sent reads the words. The same word (žπεμψα) is used in this sense in Acts 23:30, 2 Cor. ix. 3, Eph. vi. 22, Col. iv. 8. Cf. the remarks of Bishop Lightfoot in his Commentary on Galatians, VI. 11.

Next: Chapter VII

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