The Fall of the Ancient Apostolic Church
By William B. Chalfant
This paper will attempt to examine the rise and fall of the ancient apostolic church by concentrating onthe fate of the Roman church or district.
It is not within the scope of this paper to examine the circumstances that led to the downfall of each apostolic bishopric or district within the general church. Hopefully it will be shown that the Roman church was founded by the apostles, remained Oneness or apostolic in its teaching on the divine Godhead and in the administration of water baptism in the name of Jesus until c. A.D. 222. After that time it began to uphold the Trinitarian teachings that we recognize today in the Catholic Protestant theology.
Controversy in the Second Century
In the first half of the second century A.D., there are only about three documents extant that contain what one might call “hard evidence” of trinitarian theology: (1) the anonymous Epistle to Diognetus (c. 125), (2) the spurious Epistle of Barnabas (c. 120-130), and (3) the Didache (some say before 150). Neither one of the first two documents have any valid claim to apostolicity, and the Didache probably contains interpolations and Montanist terminology, which would relegate it to the second half of the second century. 1
Other than the trinitarian interpretation of the Scriptures and of the later apostolic fathers such as Clement of Rome and Ignatius, there is little other evidence that the early second-century church received a trinitarian legacy from the apostles. The evidence is mounting that the early church fathers were actually patripassian, or what we would call Oneness today. The true history of the Christian church reveals that the theology of the United Pentecostal Church International is the orthodox one.
The Logos doctrine, keystone doctrine of trinitarian theology, when it was introduced into Christianity in the second century caused an uproar. We have identified the orthodox Christians who resisted this teaching. The Alogi mounted the “first specific revolt” against trinitarianism. 2
It was Philo of Alexandria (d. A.D. 54) who identified the pagan Logos, the messenger god of the Greeks and Babylonians, with the Old Testament “angel of the Lord,” or the Creator, who he said was a “second God” and not the Most High. There can be little doubt that this identification exercised a great influence upon the Catholic fathers. Wolfson felt that Justin Martyr and the Catholic fathers identified the Logos of John with the Logos of Philo. 3
Philo had argued that God made man in the image of His Logos, “the second God.” He did not believe that anything could be in the image of the Most High, the Father. 4 Young has stated that Philo’s writings were cherished by the early trinitarian fathers and “provided the inspiration for a sophisticated Christian philosophical theology.” 5 Harnack noted that the philosophic Christology arose at the “circumference” of the church and moved gradually to the center of Christianity. 6
The Alexandrian Catholics, Clement of Alexandria and Origen, openly followed Philo in the effort to unite philosophy and Revelation. 7
Although the importance of the influence of philosophy upon early trinitarians has not been denied, the ramifications of this influence in terms of the doctrine of the trinity has not been thoroughly investigated by modern theologians.
Carrington was aware of this influence. He wrote: “Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and nearly all of the early Christian Fathers were Platonists before they were Christians. They brought into their new religion as much of their old philosophy as they could.” 8
Certainly, the development of the trinity doctrine has been affected by the philosophical theories of these men. Wolfson says that the apologists were the first “to openly introduce into Christianity the view that the Logos and the Holy Spirit were two distinct Beings.” 9 This view is not seen in the New Testament, nor is it observed in the writings of Clement of Rome, or in those of Ignatius. We first see it in Justin Martyr, some thirty or forty years after the death of the apostle John.
The stream of orthodox Christianity, in my view, must be traced through the Asiatic modalism of Ignatius; Jewish Christianity, meaning those Ebionites who accepted the virgin birth and the writings of Paul; and the Alogi, the forerunners of the monarchians. 10
Oneness scholars have been challenged to show from history where the introduction of the trinitarian doctrine caused controversy. Our trinitarian friends maintain that the trinitarian teaching was the original teaching and that it was not until the third-century introduction of Oneness doctrine that dissension came about. But it is the introduction of the Logos doctrine in the second century that caused a reaction among Christians.
The Alogi represent those Christians who opposed the Logos theology. They have been falsely accused of rejecting the Gospel of John. John of Damascus (c. A.D. 743) wrote, “The Alogians reject the Gospel according to John and his Apocalypse, because they do not accept the divine Logos as proceeding from the Father and existing eternally.” 11 It was because the Alogi did not accept an interpretation of John, not because they did not accept John.
There are men of the Alogi who quoted extensively from John. Theodotus, the dynamic monarchian (c. 140210), considered by Hippolytus to be “a remnant of the Alogi,” quoted extensively from John 12 Praxeas, another probable Alogi from Asia Minor (c. 150-220), used John frequently in his teaching. Noetus also relied heavily upon John. It is obvious that these men were all against the Logos theology, but used John as Scripture. They represented the majority of Christians. 13
The Apostolic Roman Church
As the Oneness-trinitarian controversy grew within the Roman Empire, it was inevitable that it should center upon the hub of the empire, the city of Rome. Paul had written to the Roman church c. A.D. 54: “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world” (Romans 1:8). Rome was the center of the known world. The Temple of Jerusalem would be destroyed in A.D. 70, and the Jews were to be scattered.
Forty-two years later, c. A.D. 96, Clement of Rome, who had perhaps witnessed the death of Paul some nineteen years earlier, linked Paul and Peter together in martyrdom in his Epistle to the Corinthians. Although he did not specifically mention that they died in Rome, the implication is there.
A contemporary, Ignatius of Antioch, wrote to the Roman church c. 107, calling Jesus Christ “our God” (Epistle to the Romans 1, Wake’s translation) and associating the church with the apostles. “I do not,” he wrote, “as Peter and Paul, command you” (Romans 2:6, Wake). This is far too early for there to be any kind of a Catholic “primacy conspiracy.” I believe the Roman church was apostolic and an important church district in its own right.
The apocryphal Preaching of Peter (c. 100-110), probably an Ebionite work, maintains that Peter preached and labored at Rome. 14
Irenaeus (c. 135-200), writing about 118 years later, states, “Matthew also issued a written gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialects, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the church (Against All Heresies, III, 3.1). 15 We have heard statements from eyewitnesses, and from men who knew men who were eyewitnesses. Why should we doubt that Peter was at Rome?
Alzog believes that Peter was in Rome as early as A.D. 42, making a number of visits to Antioch, Corinth, and other places within the Roman Empire. Certainly, Peter was as able to travel as Paul, although he was not a Roman citizen. Rome, at this time, was styled “Babylon” by ancient Christians. 16
Peter wrote, “The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so cloth Marcus my son” (I Peter 5:13). Irenaeus, using the lost writings of Papias, tells us that Mark was Peter’s interpreter at Rome. Tradition has it that Mark wrote his Gospel at Peter’s dictation while in Rome (c. A.D. 45). 17
Dionysius of Corinth (c. 170) tells us that Peter had a role in the founding of the church at Corinth (c. 55-58). Peter may have returned to Rome c. 62 18 If Peter was in Corinth, why would anyone find it difficult to believe that he made it on to Rome? Perhaps there are theological reasons for not wanting to believe this.
Tertullian wrote that Peter personally baptized converts in the Tiber river at Rome. 19 Macarius Magnes (c. 410) said that Peter was crucified in Rome “after having led the sheep for only a few months.” 20
Caius, a Roman presbyter (c. 198-217), wrote that Peter and Paul were the ones who founded the Roman church and that they were both buried in Rome. 21 Artemon (c. 200-70), a monarchian in Rome, affirmed that Zephrinus, the presiding bishop of Rome (198-217), was the fourteenth bishop in direct succession from Simon Peter. 22
The doctrine of the Catholic primacy of Rome was not brought up until well after the Roman church had ceased to be apostolic. Bishop Cyprian, a trinitarian of Africa, called the Roman church the “See of Peter” c. 252. 23
It is probable that Simon Peter was in Rome and is associated with the establishment of that church. The apostolic grounding of the Roman church was so strong that it did not become trinitarian until c. 222.
Tertullian, a native Carthaginian who spent time in Rome, was converted to Christianity c. 185-196. 24 Even though he was at odds with the Roman bishops over the doctrine of the Godhead, his estimation of the Roman church was, at least at the first, very complimentary:
What a happy church is that whereupon the Apostles poured out their whole doctrine together with their blood; where Peter suffers a passion like his Lord’s, where Paul is crowned with the death of John (the Baptist), whence John the Apostle, after being immersed in boiling oil and taking no hurt, is banished to an island. 25
Such matters were common knowledge among the ancient Christians centuries before the Catholic doctrine of the primacy of Rome and Peter.
Below is a list of Roman bishops from the time of Peter to the first trinitarian bishop, Urban. Although this list may contain some inaccuracies, it is probably basically reliable. It is derived from the work of three historians: Hegesippus (c. 154-174), Irenaeus (c. 185), and Eusebius (c. 354). According to Eusebius, Hegesippus, who was an authorized church historian (and most likely apostolic), drew up a list of the Roman bishops from the archives of the Roman bishops up to his own time. 26
List of Roman Bishops
Simon Peter 42-67
Callistus 217-222 last apostolic bishop of Rome
Urban 222-230, first Catholic bishop of Rome
There are many indications that the Roman church was apostolic or monarchian, and not trinitarian, up through 222.
The Roman Monarchian Tradition
The monarchian tradition was begun at Rome by the apostles and is evident as early as c. 96 in the writings of the Roman bishop Clement: “Content with the provision which God has made for you, and carefully attending to his words, ye were inwardly filled with his doctrine, and his sufferings were before your eyes” (/ Clement, 2, italics mine). 27 Clement uses the antecedent “God” for the phrase “His sufferings.” Contrary to Trinitarian assertions, Clement does not differentiate between God “the Father” and God “the Son,” which is unscriptural. He is merely identifying Jesus as “God” and attributing the sufferings to Him.
Otto Pfleiderer suggests that this is “a way of looking at things which later became known as modalism or patripassianism.” 28 There is no suggestion in any of the literature during this period that this was “heretical.” Clement is a contemporary of the apostle John, who also identified Jesus as “God” (John 20:28) and revealed Him as “the Father” (John 14:7-9).
Another contemporary, Ignatius, frequently refers to Jesus as “God” and comments on “the sufferings of my God ‘ causing J. N. D. Kelley to admit that Ignatius was also a patripassian. 29
The early Christians did not think of Jesus Christ as a separate person from God the Father when they thought of Him as God. In his Epistle to the Magnesians, Ignatius wrote: “Jesus Christ, who was the Father before all ages, and appeared in the end to us” (Magnesians 6.1, Vossius’s text). 30 Ignatius did not know of any preexistent “second person ‘ nor did he subscribe to any “two-stage” theory of a Logos, where the birth at Bethlehem was preceded by begetting of the Logos. H. B. Swete wrote that Ignatius “predicated generation [birth] of manhood only. . . the doctrine of Eternal Generation (of the Son) was unknown to Ignatius.” 31 The viewpoint of Ignatius was the prevailing one in the early second century. He was in fellowship with the Roman bishop, with Polycarp, and with the churches of Asia Minor. These men had sat at the feet of the apostles and heard them preach and teach.
Trinitarian historians also claim men like Polycarp, Ignatius, and Clement of Rome, but they are hard pressed to find genuine trinitarian theology in their writings. The d ctrine is not there. None of the trinita words are there. Instead, the language is scriptural, using the incarnational, modalistic distinctions.
Heresies, with controversies surrounding the church, began to become prominent in the fourth decade of the second century. Marcion, who founded one of the larger heretical movements, left the Roman church c. 144. Even though he fell under the influence of the Syrian Cerdo, he continued to baptize his converts in the name Jesus. 32 We are reasonably certain that t church continued the apostolic practice of baptism in the name of Jesus during this period. This is seen in the writings of Hermas, the brother of Pius, bishop of Rome, 140-5433
While the Roman church was probably baptizing converts in the name of Jesus during 140-54, there were also other groups in Rome who were using the trinitarian for- tin Martyr was a member of such a congregation. It is unlikely that this group was in close fellowship. Certainly, there are no indications that the Roman bishopized Justin All of his fame is posthumous.
The Roman Bishops and the Montanists
There are some indications that Justin Martyr may have been connected with the Montanists. In The Martyrdom of the Holy Marytrs, mention is made of brethren from Phrygia and Cappadocia in the Roman congregation where Justin had fellowship. 34 And Justin repeatedly used the phrase “the Prophetic Spirit” which seems to be a Montanist trademark. Justin was executed in c. 165, which is well into the Montanist period.
Justin’s Logos doctrine was not in the mainstream of Christianity. He was aware of this, I believe, and did not name those who disagreed with him on the Godhead doctrine. He admits, however, that they disagreed with his conclusion that the Logos is “numerically distinct” from the Father. Jean Danielou notes that there are those who suggest that the people who were against the Logos doctrine and to whom Justin referred in Dialogue with Trypho (128) were “forerunners of Sabellius and the modalists.” 35 Justin was promoting the Logos doctrine, but these people were against the Logos doctrine.
The Montanists sprang up during the decade of the fifties in Asia Minor in the second century. It is not within the scope of this paper to examine the Montanist heresy. Suffice it to say that it was charismatic, trinitarian (with a few noted exceptions), and quite virulent.
The Roman bishops took an early stand against Montanism. The Roman Bishop Soter (166-174), according to a fifth-century writer Predestinatus, wrote against the Montanists. 35 It was about this time (c. 170) that the district of Corinth fell into the hands of heretics. Is it not strange that Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Hippolytus do not give us any details about this, that they do not describe the heretics? It is most likely because the heretics were trinitarian. Bishop Soter is also said to have supported the “rigorist” Bishop Palmas in his dispute with fellow Bishop Dionysius of Corinth during this time. 37
The role of the Montanists in the fall of the apostolic church must be further investigated. They are, in my opinion, the catalyst that brought down the churches of Asia Minor and elsewhere, and caused them to split and adopt trinitarian doctrine. It is interesting to note the associations of leading trinitarian exponents with the Montanists: (1) Justin may have had an indirect role, (2) Irenaeus was favorable to the Montanists, and (3) Tertullian actually became a Montanist.
On the other hand, the Alogi and the monarchians were allied with the bishops of Rome, who opposed the Montanists.
Eleutherus, bishop of Rome (174-89) following Soter, continued in opposition to the Montanists. A delegation from Lyons, France, led by Irenaeus, came to Eleutherus in c. 177, advocating a more lenient attitude towards the Montanists. 38 Apparently it was unsuccessful.
The turmoil in Asia Minor continued. The incident at Smyrna (c. 180) involving Noetus and a number of other ministers who espoused the Oneness doctrine, took place at this time. Kelly noted that the Noetians rejected the Logos doctrine and maintained that the prologue of the Gospel of John was to be taken allegorically. 39 This undoubtedly was the position of the Alogi.
Moreover, as we are able to more clearly define who the Alogi were, we begin to see that the Montanists and the trinitarians were aligned against the Roman bishops and the Alogi-Ebionitic-monarchians, whom we know today as Oneness.
One of the associates of Noetus, Epigonus, came to Rome during the bishopric of Zephyrinus (198-217). 40 Cleomenes was associated with Epigonus. Alzog wrote that Cleomenes “continued to be the head of both the patripassianist and Ebionitic-monarchist schools during the pontificates of popes Zephyrinus and Callistus (198222).”41 It soon becomes evident that the terms “patripassianist,” Alogi, Ebionitic (in some cases), medalist, and monarchian all denominate Oneness people of this period.
That things were not well in the Roman district becomes apparent with the naming of Victor as bishop (189-98). Pressure was apparently mounting to recognize the Montanists. In perhaps a hasty decision, the Roman bishop sent a letter of peace and recognition out to the churches in Asia Minor that had accepted the Montanist doctrine. 42
But Tertullian tells us that a very influential minister from Asia Minor “compelled” Victor to recall the letter of recognition by insisting upon the “authority of the bishop’s predecessors in the see.” 43 We would probably say they had a board meeting and reversed their decision.
Who was this “Praxeas”? The name is obviously a pseudonym as it means “Busybody.” We know little about him. It may have been Noetus or Epigonus. This would have been very embarrassing to the trinitarians of later years.
Tertullian does, however, let us know that Praxeas was Oneness in his doctrine. Praxeas taught that Jesus Christ was God Himself, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost being the very self same Person. 44
The Logos doctrine, by the admission of Tertullian, was not the doctrine held by the “majority of believers.” They were “startled” at the trinitarian doctrine. “Their very rule of faith,” Tertullian confessed, “withdraws them from the world’s plurality of gods to the only true God.” 45
The majority of believers assumed “the numerical order and distribution of the Trinity . . . to be a division of the Unity.” 46 Tertullian’s real problem with Praxeas is not so much the charismatic excesses of the Montanists as it is the doctrine of the trinity. Tertullian formulated his views on the trinity in opposition to Praxeas and the monarchians. 47 The development of the trinity was accomplished in opposition to the older doctrine of the orthodox monarchians.
The fact that Tertullian was championing a new doctrine is evident in the following statement:
They are constantly throwing out against us that we are preachers of two gods and three gods, while they take to themselves preeminently the credit of being worshippers of the one God…. “We,” say they, “maintain the Monarchy, or sole government of God.” 48
It is the monarchians who hold the high ground here. The phrase “two gods and three gods” is interesting also. It indicates that some of the trinitarians had embraced the triad while others still did not have a distinct doctrine of the Holy Spirit as a separate person.
Tertullian went to great lengths to defend the Logos doctrine against Praxeas. Praxeas was among those who were against the Logos doctrine.
Tertullian wished to give Jesus Christ, or the Logos, a pre-Bethlehemic birth. Tertullian said that when God the Father said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3), that this constituted the “perfect nativity of the Word (Logos),” and goes on to write: “Thus does He make Him [the Logos] equal of Him: for by proceeding from Himself, He became the first-begotten Son, because He was begotten before all things.” 49 This is the heart of the trinitarian error, which produces a Son outside of the virgin birth at Bethlehem.
But Praxeas would not admit that the Logos could be a separate, divine person. Tertullian accused Praxeas of not allowing the Logos to really be “a substantive being.” Praxeas asked, “What is a Logos [word], but a voice and [the] sound of the mouth?” 50 This statement is another indication that Praxeas was of the Alogi.
It is interesting in these monarchian-trinitarian controversies that Tertullian, even though he knew several of the Roman bishops possibly well, never uses their names, even though we may easily surmise of whom he is writing. 51
E. G. Welton has pointed out that the Roman bishops kept no company with Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, or Origen. 52 Is it not rather odd that those who are known today as the architects of the trinity had no close association with the Roman bishops? Where is the trinitarian correspondence of the Roman bishops?
Victor (189-98) is known to have left written works, but we are informed by the Catholic father Jerome that the writings of Victor are “mediocre.” Victor had written an epistle on The Paschal Controversy and “some other small works.” 53 If the Roman church had been such an outstanding example of trinitarian orthodoxy, then we would expect that the written works of such men as Soter and Victor would have been carefully preserved.
R. B. Tollinton says that Victor and the famed trinitarian educator, Clement of Alexandria (c. 160-220), knew each other at most by name, and “certainly neither would have appreciated the other’s qualities.” 54
On the other hand, observe the relationship between Rome’s bishops and the monarchians. Neander noted this unusual relationship and wrote: “The Monarchians of the third century appeal to the agreement of the older Roman bishops with their views…. The Monarchian tenet was in this church originally the prevailing one, while the doctrine of the Logos was unknown to it.” 55
The Roman church was hardly a friend to Tertullian and Origen, but Larsen has written, “Oddly enough, it was such arch-heretics as Tertullian and Origen who contributed most to the evolution of the Catholic dogma.” 56 Yet today this dogma is termed orthodox.
Rufinus of Aquileia (c. 345-410), writing over a century after the monarchian-trinitarian controversy in the Roman district, did not believe that the Roman creed had been altered, but he admitted that the creeds of the churches in northern Italy had been altered “due to the heresy of Sabellianism, which our people call patripassianism.” And he goes on to state:
This is the heresy which alleges that the Father Himself was born from the virgin, and declares that He was thereby made visible and suffered in the flesh. In order to eliminate any such impious notions about the Father, our predecessors appear to have added these predicates, describing Him as “invisible” and “impassible.” For obviously, it was the Son, not the Father, who became incarnate and was born of human flesh, and the Son, who through this birth in human flesh, was made visible and passible. 57
This statement by Rufinus would indicate that there was a previous time when such “impious notions about the Father” were not considered heretical. Since Rufinus speaks of “our redecessors” and was born c. 345, we might estimate that these credal changes took place in the early part of the third century.
Insofar as the Roman creed is concerned, the fullest references are said to be found in Tertullian (after 190), and we do not really know that this was the true Roman creed. 58
Artemon (c. 235-70) declared that the Roman creed had been changed and the apostolic truth had been kept intact up through Bishop Victor (189-98) but had been “falsified” from the days of Zephyrinus (198-217). This is an interesting statement because Artemon was a monarchian and had sat under Theodotus, whom the trinitarians claimed was dis-fellowshipped by Victor. Yet Artemon does not claim that there was anything wrong during Victor’s episcopate. 59
Zahn believes that such a falsification, or “change,” did occur in the Roman church between 198-217, and he believes that it also represents a change in the Roman baptismal creed. 60
The Final Controversy at Rome
A very serious situation developed in the Roman church during the time of Bishop Zephyrinus (198-217). The district now contained a number of trinitarian ministersh who began to oppose the bishop, or at least the monarchians, in the district.
Hippolytus (c. 160-235), one of the leaders of the trinitarian faction, recorded the drama of the final controversy that resulted in the fall of the apostolic church at Rome. Rome was apparently the last major district of the empire to officially leave the apostolic teaching of Oneness.
Calvin Beisner, in God in Three Persons, wrote: “Monarchianism in its respective forms was answered primarily by the Fathers of the third century (especially Hippolytus against modalism, and Tertullian against dynamic monarchianism).” 61 The truth of the matter is that Tertullian wrote against modalistic monarchianism and Hippolytus wrote against modalism and dynamic monarchianism. We cannot say that the Catholic fathers answered monarchianism because we have not been privileged to hear what the monarchians had to say in their own words, since their writings have been lost or destroyed.
Mr. Beisner’s knowledge of present-day Oneness organizations is also rather limited, for he wrote that “Monarchianism is represented today by the United (Jesus Only) Pentecostals and by the small sect which calls itself the ‘Local Church,’ led by Witness Lee.” 62
Hippolytus was reputedly a disciple of Irenaeus. 63 As a Roman minister, however, he did not share Irenaeus’s fondness for Montanists, although he admitted that their teachings on Christ were similar to his own. He may have been for a short time a disciple of Clement of Alexandria. 64 He pastored a church at Portus, a harbor city near Rome. This gave him membership in the great Roman district. 65
Hippolytus was probably a friend of and collaborator with Origin (c. 185-254), who reportedly visited a church in Rome where Hippolytus was preaching c. 211. It is quite likely that Origen supported Hippolytus against Callistus and Zephyrinus. 66 Milman adds that Origen was “a stranger without rank or authority” when he visited Rome. 67 As his contemporary Tertullian had done, Origen confessed that the majority of Christians in his day were Oneness. 68 In his Commentary on Titus, Origen also remarks on the simplicity of those who were attracted to Oneness: “They do not wish to seem to affirm two gods; they do not wish to deny the divinity of the Savior; they then end by admitting merely two names and one single Person.” 69
It must also be admitted that the trinitarian ideas were gaining in popularity. Otherwise, it would not have been possible for ministers and teachers espousing these ideas to have risen to prominence in the various church districts throughout the empire.
Hippolytus reports the basic elements of the dispute that led to the final split and downfall of the apostolic church at Rome in his Refutation of All Heresies (c. 21722). Although Hippolytus was an accredited minister of the Roman district, he did not share the doctrine of the leadership or the mind of the majority of the believers. He did not have sufficient votes to become the next bishop upon the demise of Zephyrinus in 217, and so he left the district.
Hippolytus had a low opinion of bishop Zephyrinus, whom he termed “an ignorant and illiterate individual, and one unskilled in ecclesiastical definitions.” 70 Hippolytus felt that one of the ministers in the district, Callistus, who was a trusted advisor to Zephyrinus, was controlling Zephyrinus for his own gain. He wrote, “Callistus succeeded in inducing Zephyrinus to create continually disturbances among the brethren, while he himself took care subsequently, by knavish words, to attach both factions in good will to himself.” 71 Hippolytus accused Callistus of secretly siding with both trinitarians and Oneness. He would make “dupes” out of the trinitarians by privately telling them “that they held similar doctrines (with himself).” 72 Then he would do the same thing with those who embraced “the tenets of Sabellius.” 73
It is possible to accept the cynical interpretation of Hippolytus and admit that Callistus was attempting to build his own little kingdom. On the other hand, Callistus may have been involved in the often thankless task of being a “peacemaker.”
Sabellius (c. 180-260), one of the most famous of the monarchian church fathers, is described rather sympathetically by Hippolytus. 74 Hippolytus charges Callistus with “perverting” Sabellius, even though he had the ability and the opportunity of “rectifying this heretic’s error.” 75 Sabellius, who must have been a mature young man in his thirties at that time, did not apparently openly dispute with Hippolytus:
For (at no time) during our admonition did Sabellius evince obduracy; but as long as he continued alone with Callistus, he was wrought upon to relapse into the system of Cleomenes by this very
Callistus, who alleges that he entertains similar opinions to Cleomenes. 76
Apparently, Sabellius and Callistus held the same views that Cleomenes, a disciple of Noetus and Epigonus, held. This further strengthens our view that the Roman district was still clinging to the older Asiatic modalism. We have also seen the older Asiatic modalism described as patripassianism.
Patripassianism a Corollary of Monarchianism
Patripassianism is an axiom in any Oneness understanding of the divine Godhead and Incarnation. In one form or another it has to exist in all Oneness teaching or Christology. It has gone through various refinements, but the principle remains the same.
We see the principle of patripassianism first enunciated in the New Testament. The apostle Paul was a patripassianist. He said: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).
Clement of Rome and Ignatius had merely stated that Jesus was God and that God suffered for us.
Noetus, insisting on the absolute identification of Jesus as God the Father, maintained that this identification, in effect, meant that God the Father had indeed suffered.
Praxeas, Sabellius, and Callistus had qualified such statements by saying that the Father suffered in the Son. 77 Some have identified this later view as “compatripassianism,” as though it were an entirely different doctrine. It is, however, merely a refinement of the earlier patripassianism. It depends upon whether one wishes to stress the unity of the Godhead or the activity of the Incarnation.
Hippolytus and the trinitarians, however, made an issue out of the extreme expressions of patripassianism. It was repugnant to many educated Romans and Greeks to seemingly violate the “impassibility” of God. Greek philosophy postulated a God who was above passion and suffering. The patripassian pointed to the Incarnation a. the means whereby God could suffer, but the Platonist did not understand any means by which God could permit Himself to become passible. This would require two separate persons.
Ignatius had explained that Jesus as God was impassible but had become passible in the flesh. The ditheistic thinking about God and His Logos, however, permitted God to forever remain detached and impassible.
It was this kind of thinking in the Roman district that caused Zephyrinus to make the following statement of clarification: “I know that there is one God, Jesus Christ; nor except Him do I know any other that is begotten and amendable to suffering…. The Father did not die, but [rather] the Son.” 78 This is hardly a trinitarian statement, but it is rather a refinement of the patripassian viewpoint.
Hippolytus had attacked the earlier teaching of Noetus on patripassianism: “He [Noetus] alleged that Christ was the Father Himself, and that the Father Himself was born, and suffered, and died. Ye see what pride of heart and what a strange, inflated spirit had insinuated themselves into him.” 79
Noetus apparently responded to such accusations in the following manner: “If I therefore acknowledge Christ to be God, He is the Father Himself, if He is indeed God; and Christ suffered, being Himself God; and consequently the Father suffered, for He was the Father Himself.” 80 Noetus was not saying that Christ suffered as the Father, but he was saying that the Father suffered as Christ. He was not saying that it was not Christ who suffered, but rather he was maintaining that one cannot separate Christ from the Father insofar as the unity of the Godhead goes. Even though there is a human and a divine nature involved, there is, after all, only one solitary Individual.
Since Jesus had revealed Himself as the Father (John 14:7-9), Noetus perhaps felt that he could not compromise this revelation even by agreeing that the Father did not suffer. Noetus, in one instance, quoted from Isaiah 45:14-15 and then stated:
Do you see . . . how the scriptures proclaim one God? And as this is clearly exhibited, and these passages are testimonies to it, I am under necessity . . . since one is acknowledged, to make this One the subject of suffering. For Christ was God, and suffered on account of us, being Himself the Father, that He might be able to save us. 81
Noetus is making the assertion that there is not one who suffered and another who did not. Noetus would allow no such refinements to do away with the absolute oneness of God.
The patripassian doctrine of Noetus, other than in its expression, is not different in principle from that of Praxeas, Sabellius, or Zephyrinus. All were Oneness. None would have held that the Spirit died or suffered physical pain at Calvary. But who would have disputed that the Spirit was not grieved and did not feel compassion? Would they have denied that the Spirit could not have experienced death or pain in a vicarious fashion? If the Father could look out of His eyes at Philip and answer Philip, “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not know me, Philip?” (John 14:9), then why do we find it so hard to believe that the Father could not have experienced the nails that were driven into His hand?
Callistus was a patripassian, but according to Hippolytus, he “masked” his views by stating “the Father suffered [along with] the Son.” Hippolytus wrote that Callistus did not wish to state that the Father suffered, because he was being “careful to avoid blasphemy against the Father.” 82
But Hippolytus well knew that Callistus confessed that the Father and the Son were one person. Hippolytus quotes Callistus’s statement of faith, which is probably an older Roman creed than the one attributed to Tertullian:
The Father is not one Person and the Son another, but … they are one and the same…. The Spirit which became incarnate in the virgin, is not different from the Father, but one and the same…. That which is seen, which is man [is] the Son; whereas the Spirit, which was contained in the Son [is] the Father…. I will not profess belief in two Gods, Father and Son, but in one . . . for the Father, who subsisted [rested] in the Son Himself, after He had taken unto Himself our flesh, raised it to the nature of Deity, by bringing it into union with Himself, and made it one; so the Father and the Son must be styled one God, and that this Person being one, cannot be two. 83
The corollary of patripassianism, seen in the teachings of Clement of Rome and Ignatius, is ever present in the monarchian, whether it be stated boldly in its consequences concerning the unity of the Godhead, or whether it be refined to its narrower implications in the Incarnation. which is after all where the suffering took place.
Martin A. Larsen, a trinitarian, could not understand why the trinitarians made such an issue over patripassianism:
The horror aroused among the orthodox by the thought that God the Father had been nailed to a tree approached hysteria: and this, we believe, resulted from the fact that no one ever quite accepted the doctrine that Jesus was truly God. For were He actually so, why was it less horrible for Him to suffer crucifixion? 54
The Fall of the Roman Church
When Zephyrinus died in 217, much to the consternation of Hippolytus Callistus was elected the next bishop of Rome. 85
In the ensuing division that developed, Hippolytus left the district and set himself up as an opposing bishop. Later, Sabellius and Cleomenes, along with his school, left the district. If we may believe Hippolytus, Sabellius was dis-fellowshipped by the new bishop Callistus for not holding “right opinions.” 86
Sabellius reportedly accused Callistus of transgressing his “first faith.” 87 We are not privy to the exact nature of the break between Callistus and Sabellius. It is doubtful that Callistus changed his doctrine in view of the statements attributed to him during his episcopate. Nonetheless, it seems quite obvious that a number of Oneness churches left the district.
Callistus publicly called those of the trinitarian persuasion “ditheists” or “worshippers of two gods.” 88
According to tradition recorded in the Liber Pontificals, Callistus, a Roman by birth, pastored a small church in the Roman section called Trastevere, just across the Tiber in a poor Jewish area. Tradition has it that he was snatched from a church service, thrown out a window, and hurled down a well by an angry lynch mob in 222. 89
Callistus is the last bishop of Rome on record who believed the Oneness message. With the election of the new bishop Urban in 222, the leadership of the church passed into the hands of trinitarians.
Thirty-three years later, the church at Rome, under the leadership of Bishop Stephen, was no longer baptizing in Jesus’ name, although they still defended the legitimacy of such baptism and accepted those who had been so baptized. 90 Stephen admitted that baptism in Jesus’ name was “an ancient custom among the Roman churches.” 91
The last notable bastion of the ancient apostolic church fell when the Roman church went trinitarian in A.D. 222. Nearly three centuries later, the trinitarian Roman papacy would begin to exercise papal rule over Western Christendom.
The apostolic church had lost its status as the visible, organized Christian church and was soon, in the fourth century, to begin losing its right to public legitimacy in the empire even though the Roman rulers had granted “religious freedom” to Christians. The apostolic churches continued to exist under heavy persecution, but they no longer had the capability of mounting a worldwide thrust through the vehicle of a worldwide organization. The church continued to exist, but the vehicle had been subverted and commandeered.
I would like to make the following list of points that I hope have been addressed in this paper:
1. There is not enough documentation in the first half of the second century to establish that trinitarian theology was the theology bequeathed to the followers of the apostles. Patripassianism and monarchianism are much more likely candidates for the apostolic theology.
2. It was the introduction of the Logos doctrine in the mid second century that caused the dissension and disunity over the Godhead.
3. The roots of the apostolic church can be traced through the Ebionites who believed in the virgin birth, the Asiatic modalists, the monarchians, and the Sabellians, which terms identify Oneness believers who held the same theology as the U.P.C.I. today, rather than through Logos Christians, who developed the trinitarian theology.
4. By concentrating on the Roman church as a role model we are able to see an apostolic church founded by the apostles, espousing Oneness or monarchianism, with patripassianism, down to A.D. 222. There we are able to observe the transition from a Oneness church to a trinitarian church as it must have happened elsewhere in the empire.
5. Patripassianism is a necessary corollary of monarchianism or Oneness. Its expression may vary among the ancients, but its principles are the same among Oneness believers.
The relation of the Montanists, a trinitarian movement, and the Catholic church fathers, being opposed by the Alogi-monarchians and the Roman bishops, sharpens the identity of the ancient apostolic church and the lines of controversy during the period A.D. 150-250.
6. The heritage of the apostolic church does not lie with the Catholic fathers, but rather with the legitimate apostolic bishops (e.g., the Roman bishops) of the second and early third centuries and with those who were variously termed Ebionites, Asiatic modalists, patripassians, Alogi, monarchians, and Sabellians.
7. By observing the situation in Rome at the beginning of the third century, we can determine that the fall of the apostolic church came about, at least in one area, by allowing those who did not uphold the articles of faith to coexist and not only to coexist but to have access to the hearts of the people.
The ancient apostolic church fell in the sense that the organizational structure that it was using to reach for the ancient world collapsed. God’s church did not go down and never will, but the organizational framework and the collective means to gather men, material, and resources to commit them into a worldwide battle fell under its own weight.
In this latter day, let the apostolic church resolve to keep the unity of the Spirit until we all come into the unity of faith so that we might, with the help of the Lord, raise up a spiritual organization that will be able to reach the five billion lost souls who need the truth.
1. James A. Keist The Didache, in Ancient Christian Writers (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University Press, 1961), no.6, 153. See also my Ancient Champions of Oneness (Hazelwood, Mo.: Word Aflame Press, 1979), chapter 2. The Didache may also be interpolated because it contains references to both baptismal formulae.
2. Rufus M. Jones, The Church’s Debt to Heretics (London: Clarke and Company, 1924), 68-69.
3. H. A. Wollson, The Philosophy of the Church Fathers (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964), 1:193-234.
4. Quoted in Frances Young, “Two Roots of a Tangled Mess ‘ The Myth of God Incarnate, ed. John Hick (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977), 114. See also David Bernard, The Oneness of God (Hazelwood: Word Aflame Press, 1983), 266.
5. Young, 115.
6. Adolph von Harnack, History of Dogma, 3rd ed. (London: Williams and Norgate, 1897), 5. I make no apologies for my use of the German historians. They were excellent historians whose scholarship has not been matched in our present day.
7 James Shell, Greek Thought and the Rise of Christianity (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1968), 78.
8. Philip Carrington, Christian Apologetics in the Second Century (New York: Macmillan, 1921), 94.
9. Wolfson, 234.
10. Hilary of Poitiers, The Trinity (Washington, D.C. Catholic University Press, 1954), tr. Stephen McKenna, 2:47-48. Hilary identifies some Ebionites as being “anti-Logos.” See also John Alzog, Manual of Church History (Cincinnati: Robert Clarke, 1899), 353, J. Estlin Carpenter Phases of Early Christianity (New York: G. P. Putnam, 1916), 134. Theodotus is identified with the Ebionites.
11. John of Damascus, Writings (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University, 1958), tr. F. Chase, 124.
12. In Carpenter, 134.
13. See Ancient Champions of Oneness, 60.
14. George Edmundson, The Church in Rome in the First Century (London: Longman, Green and Company, 1913), 50.
15. Irenaeus, Against All Heresies, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers [hereinafter ANF], (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, rpt. 1986), 1:416.
16. Alzog, 179-180. Suetonius tells us there were Christians in Rome at least by A.D. 49.
17. Edmundson, 68.
18. Michael M. Winter, Saint Peter and the Popes (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1979), 89.
19. Tertullian, On Baptism, ANF 3:671. Probably written c.18599.
20. In Winter, 89.
21. Caius, Fragments, ANF 5:601.
23. Shotwell and Loomis, The See of Peter (New York: Octagon, 1965), 61. The argument “the keys of Peter” may have been used as early as the time of Callistus. Pontianus (230-35) used it, as did Fabian, a contemporary of Cyprian. Origen argued against it in his In Matthaem, X11.10-14.
24. T. Herbert Bindley, in Tertullian: On the Prescription of Heretics (New York: E. S. Gorman, 1914), x. Friedrich Ueberweg says he was converted c. 197. Friedrich Ueberweg, History of Philosophy (New York: Scribner and Sons, 1909), trans. George Morris, 1:303.
25. Tertullian, Prescription against Heretics, ANF 3:260.
26. Frederick J. F. Jackson, A History of Church History (Cambridge: W. Heffer and Sons, 1939), 60. See also The Roman Martyrologe, 1627, English Recusant Literature, 1558-1640 A.D. (London: Scolar Press, 1974), 222, ed. D. M. Rogers, 204.
27. Clement of Rome, I Clement, ANF 1.
28. Otto Pfleiderer, Primitive Christianity (London: Williams and Norgate, 1911), 4:351.
29. J. N. D. Kelley, Early Christian Doctrines (New York: Harper and Row, 1960), 143.
30. Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Magnesians, in The Lost Books of The Bible and Forgotten Books of Eden (New York: William Collins, 1963), Vossius’s 1646 text, trans. by Archbishop Wake, 173.
31. H. B. Swete, The Apostles’ Creed (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1899), 28.
32. In Cyprian’s Epistle to Jubianus 72.4, ANF 5:379-86.
33. Hermas, Vision 111.76, The Lost Books of the Bible and Forgotten Books of Eden, 206.
34. Anonymous, The Martyrdom of the Holy Martyrs, ANF; 1:305-6.
35. Jean Danielou, A History of Early Christian Doctrine Before the Council of Nicea (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1973), 2:355.
36. Berthold Altaner, Patrology (New York: Herder and Herder, 1961).
37. W. H. C. Frend, Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church (New York: Anchor, 1967), 279-80.
39. Kelley, 120. See also Hippolytus, Against Noetus, ANF, 5:223-31.
40. Kelley, 121.
41. Alzog, 353.
42. Tertullian, Against Praxeas, ANF 3:597
44. Ibid., 598.
45. Ibid., 599.
47. Carpenter, 110.
48. Tertullian, Against Praxeas, 599.
49. Ibid., 601.
50. Ibid., 602.
51. Jackson, 60.
52. E. G. Weltin, The Ancient Popes (Westminster: Newman Press, 1964), 27
53. R. B. Tollinton, Clement of Alexandria (London: Williams and Norgate, 1914), 1:115.
54. Ibid., 117
55. Quoted in Alvan Lamson, The Church of the First Three Centuries (Boston: Walker, Wise and Company, 1860), 156.
56. Martin A. Larson, The Story of Christian Origins (Washington D.C.: New Republic, 1977), 505-7.
57. Tyrannis Rufinus of Aquileia, A Commentary on the Apostles’ Creed (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1955), trans. J. N. D. Kelly, 37.
58. See Tertullian, Prescription against Heretics (chapter Xll), and The Veiling of Virgins (chapter 1), c. 204-7, ANF:, vol. 3. Tertullian does not himself identify his creedal statements as being specifically the “Roman” creed.
59. Caius of Rome, Fragments, 601.
60. Zahn in A. E. Burn, “Creeds” Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (New York: Scribners, n.d.), ed. James Hastings, 4:238.
61. E. Calvin Beisner, God in Three Persons (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1984), 18.
63. Photius, Bibliotheca 121 (c. 891), cited in J. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers (London: Macmillan, 1885), 1:435.
64. Cited in Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Heathen (189-92), ANF (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1868), 4:10 fn.
65. Henry Milman, History of Latin Christianity (New York: A. C. Armstrong, 1899), 75.
66. E. G. Weltin, 109.
67 Milman, 73 fn.
68. In Origen, Commentary on John, II.iii.27-31, cited in Jules LeBreton and Jacques Zeiller, The History of the Primitive Church (London: Burnes, Oates and Washburne, n.d.), 597.
69. Cited in ibid.
70. Hippolytus, The Refutation of All Heresies, ANF:, 5:128.
74. See my Ancient Champions of Oneness, 85-97
75. Hippolytus, The Refutation of All Heresies, ANF, 5:128.
77. Kelly, 121.
78. Hippolytus, The Refutation of All Heresies, ANF:, 5:128.
79. Hippolytus, Against Noetus, ANF, 5:223.
80. Ibid., 224.
82. Hippolytus, The Refutation of An Heresies, ANF, 5:130.
84. Martin A. Larson, 541.
85. J. P. Kirsch, The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: Appleton, 907), 15:757
86. Hippolytus, The Refutation of All Heresies, ANF, 5:130.
89. In Liber Pontificalis, cited in Weltin, 97
90. Cyprian, Epistle to Stephen (255), ANF 5:378.
By Rodney Pamer
I would like to thank Brother William Chalfant for his time and research that he has given in writing this paper, as well as his previous work in this area. The Oneness movement has benefited from his scholarly work. This response will not conflict with his purposes but hopes to strengthen his argument by the critique process.
The paper seeks to examine these aspects of the church in Rome:
1. It was founded by the apostles.
2. The church believed in Oneness.
3. Water baptism was in Jesus’ name until c. 222.
4. After c. 222, it began to uphold the trinitarian doctrine.
Following are some points that should be addressed concerning this paper.
Title. The title does not reflect the content of the paper. Some reference to the church in Rome should be included, as well as the mention of the Oneness controversy, in the title. Other factors relate to the fall of the ancient apostolic church, but the paper deals only with the Oneness/trinitarian controversy.
Structure. Headings or subtitles would help the first time reader better understand the development of the subject. This is especially true in the beginning of the paper. Some transitions are abrupt and difficult to follow. An organizational framework using time sequence, topical development, geographical location, and so on would allow the reader to better digest the excellent content of the paper.
Logos doctrine. The paper contains good research concerning the history of the Logos doctrine during this time. For example: “Although the importance of the influence of philosophy upon early trinitarians not been denied, the ramifications of this influence in terms of the doctrine of the trinity has not been thoroughly investigated by modern theologians.” And the next paragraph states that the trinitarian view of the Logos doctrine is not found in the New Testament.
The Ebionites The term “Ebionite” is used several times in the paper. The paper defines the Ebionites as Oneness, but according to Walker, Schaff, Latourette, and many historians, the Ebionites were Adoptionists. There is sufficient evidence to prove the Oneness doctrine as the apostolic doctrine without making reference to the Ebionites.
The Alogi. The paper defends the Alogi and their acceptance of the Gospel of John. Later, it is noted that the Alogi took the position that the prologue of the Gospel of John was to be taken allegorically. These portions of the paper seem to be in conflict. Whatever the true position was of the Alogi, the thesis is weakened, not strengthened, by including the Alogi. The consensus by historians is that they rejected the Gospel of John.
Peter in Rome. The author makes an excellent, thorough, and well-documented defense linking Peter with the church in Rome. However, this is another controversial issue among historians. Oneness scholar Robert Sabin finds it critical to prove that Peter was in fact not in Rome. The Petrine doctrine is defended by the Roman Catholic Church in its attempt to validate papal succession.
Montanists. A strong case is made regarding the role of the Montanists as the catalysts of the fall of the church in Asia Minor. However, it should be noted that some evidence exists that some Montanists were, in fact, modalists. Along with this is a good presentation of Tertullian’s writings. Concerning Tertullian’s defense of the Logos doctrine, the paper makes an important poet: “This is the heart of the trinitarian error, which produces a Son outside of the virgin birth at Bethlehem.”
Dynamic Monarchians. Artemon and Theodotus are cited as being Oneness. These dynamists are uncomfortably grouped together with the modalistic monarchians. In the author’s earlier valuable work, Ancient Champions of Oneness, he proposes that their Oneness beliefs have been misunderstood by historians. Most primary sources would seem to indicate that the dynamists were closer to Socinianism than to modalistic monarchianism. Whatever their beliefs, an alliance with the dynamists of history could possibly confuse some non-Oneness people as to our definition of the Oneness doctrine.
Patripassianism. The strongest part of the paper may be the discussion on patripasssianism. The explanation of compatripassianism and impassibility is excellent. The author explains how the doctrine of impassibility may have led the Greeks to a belief in two separate persons.
Conclusions. The conclusions listed were helpful, and each point has been addressed in the paper. These seven points help to synthesize the parts of the paper.
Sources. The paper used a number of primary sources, within the limitations of the study. Further primary sources are available and would serve to strengthen the thesis for the non-Oneness reader. While many secondary sources were used, other important church historians were
excluded and would give additional and valuable documentation.
Key Terms. Most guidelines for historical research require the inclusion of a section where key terms are defined. This would be a valuable addition to help many more readers benefit from the research.
Finally, I must commend the author for his comprehensive research in producing this study. Early church history is only significant in documentation, not to be used in formulation or development of doctrine. This study is helpful in documenting our history.
Rodney Pamer is youth pastor of the Apostolic Faith Assembly of Barbertnn, Ohio, and former national youth director for the Assemblies of the Lord Jesus Christ
William Chalfant is pastor of Truth Tabernacle in Leavenworth, Kansas, Sunday school director of the Kansas District, and editor of the district paper. He is the author of one book. He attended the University of Maryland and received his Bachelor of Science degree magna cum laude from the University of Kansas. He has also earned the Master of Theology degree from the International Bible Institute and Seminary.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS TAKEN FROM THE SYMPOSIUM ON ONENESS PENTECOSTALISM 1988 AND 1990, AND PUBLISHED BY WORD AFLAME PRESS, 1990, PAGES 351-389. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.