Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. XI:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Works of John Cassian.: Chapter II. Description of the different heretical monsters which spring from one another.
Description of the different heretical monsters which spring from one another.
For these shoots of an unnatural seed are no new thing in the churches. The harvest of the Lords field has always had to put up with burrs and briars, and in it the shoots of choking tares have constantly sprung up. For hence have arisen the Ebionites, Sabellians, Arians, as well as Eunomians and Macedonians, and Photinians and Apollinarians, and all the other tares of the churches, and thistles which destroy the fruits of good faith. And of these the earliest was Ebion, 2365 who while over-anxious about asserting our Lords humanity 2366 robbed it of its union with Divinity. But after him the schism of Sabellius burst forth out of reaction against the above mentioned heresy, and as he declared that there was no distinction between the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, he impiously confounded, as far as was possible, the Persons, and failed to distinguish the holy and ineffable Trinity. Next after him whom we have mentioned there followed the blasphemy of Arian perversity, which, in order to avoid the appearance of confounding the Sacred Persons, declared that there were different and p. 552 dissimilar substances in the Trinity. But after him in time though like him in wickedness came Eunomius, who, though allowing that the Persons of the Holy Trinity were divine and like 2367 each other, yet insisted that they were separate from each other; and so while admitting their likeness denied their equality. Macedonius also blaspheming against the Holy Ghost with unpardonable wickedness, while allowing that the Father and the Son were of one substance, termed the Holy Ghost a creature, and so sinned against the entire Divinity, because no injury can be offered to anything in the Trinity without affecting the entire Trinity. But Photinus, though allowing that Jesus who was born of the Virgin was God, yet erred in his notion that His Godhead began with the beginning of His manhood; 2368 while Apollinaris through inaccurately conceiving the union of God and man wrongly believed that He was without a human soul. For it is as bad an error to add to our Lord Jesus Christ what does not belong to Him as to rob Him of that which is His. For where He is spoken of otherwise than as He is—even though it seems to add to His glory—yet it is an offence. And so one after another out of reaction against heresies they give rise to heresies, and all teach things different from each other, but equally opposed to the faith. And just lately also, i.e., in our own days, we saw a most poisonous heresy spring up from the greatest city of the Belgæ, 2369 and though there was no doubt about its error, yet there was a doubt about its name, because it arose with a fresh head from the old stock of the Ebionites, and so it is still a question whether it ought to be called old or new. For it was new as far as its upholders were concerned; but old in the character of its errors. Indeed it blasphemously taught that our Lord Jesus Christ was born as a mere man, and maintained that the fact that He afterwards obtained the glory and power of the Godhead resulted from His human worth and not from His Divine nature; and by this it taught that He had not always His Divinity by the right of His very own Divine nature which belonged to Him, but that He obtained it afterwards as a reward for His labours and sufferings. Whereas then it blasphemously taught that our Lord and Saviour was not God at His birth, but was subsequently taken into the Godhead, it was indeed bordering on this heresy which has now sprung up, and is as it were its first cousin and akin to it, and, harmonizing both with Ebionism and these new ones, came in point of time between them, and was linked with them both in point of wickedness. And although there are some others like those which we have mentioned yet it would take too long to describe them all. Nor have we now undertaken to enumerate those that are dead and gone, but to refute those which are novel.
The earliest writer to allude to an “Ebion” as the supposed founder of the Ebionites is Tertullian (Præscriptio c. xxxiii.). He is followed in this by Epiphanius (I. xxx.); Rufinus (In Symb. Apost. c. xxxix.), and others; but the existence of such a person is more than doubtful, and the name is now generally believed to have been derived from the Hebrew “Ebhion”=poor.551:2366
Cassians statement here is scarcely accurate, as Eunomius is best known from his bold assertion that the Son was unlike (ἀνόμοιον) to the Father.552:2368
Photinus, the pupil of Marcellus of Ancyra, appears to have taught a form of Sabellianism, teaching that Christ Himself, the Son of God, had not existed from all eternity but only from the time when He became the Son of God and Christ; viz., at the Incarnation.552:2369
Et maxima Belgarum urbe (Petschenig). Gazæus edits: Et maxime Beligarum urbe. The city must be Trêves and the allusion is to the heresy of Leporius, which was an outcome of Pelagianism. Leporius was apparently a native of Trêves who propagated Pelagian views in Gaul, ascribing his virtues to his own free will and his own strength; and going to far greater lengths than his master in that he connected this doctrine of human sufficiency with heretical views on the Incarnation; thus combining Pelagianism with what was practically Nestorianism, teaching that Jesus was a mere man who had used His free will so well as to have lived without sin, and had only been made Christ in virtue of His Baptism, whereby the Divine and Human were associated so as virtually to make two Christs. He taught further that the only object of His coming into the world was to exhibit to mankind an example of virtue; and that if they chose to profit by it they also might be without sin. For these errors he was rebuked by Cassian and others in Gaul and on his refusal to abandon them was formally censured by Proculus Bishop of Marseilles and Cylinnius (Bishop of Fréjus?). He then left Gaul and came to Africa, where he was convinced by Augustine of the erroneous character of his teaching, and under his influence signed a recantation, which was perhaps drawn up by Augustine himself, and from which Cassian quotes below (c. v.). This recantation was read in the Church of Carthage, and subscribed by four bishops as witnesses (including Augustine). It was then sent to the Gallican Bishops accompanied by a letter from the four attesting bishops (Epp. August. no. ccxxix.) commending the treatment which Leporius had previously received, but recommending him once more to their favour as having retracted his errors. See further Fleury H. E. Book XXIV. c. xlix. and Dictionary of Christian Biography, Art. Leporius.
Next: Chapter III. He describes the pestilent error of the Pelagian.
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