A heresy that, through an exaggerated concept of the unity (monarchia : one origin, one rule) of God, denied the distinction of persons in the Divinity. In pre-Christian theodicy Monarchianism was related to the monotheistic principle asserted in Platonic and Stoic teaching which affected Hellenistic ideas of Divine Providence and political ethics. For philo judaeus and the early Christian apologists, the idea of Monarchianism followed from the Old Testament insistence on the oneness of God.
As a heresy, Monarchianism originated in the 2d century partly in reaction to the Gnostic theories of intermediate aeons and partly as a reaction to subordinationist tendencies of orthodox teachers. In their presentation of Trinitarian and Christological doctrine they ascribed to the Son functions such as creation and conservation that made him God in a secondary sense.
Two types of Monarchians are met with in the early Church. The adoptionists or dynamists represented by Theodotus the Banker and his disciple Theodotus of Byzantium, founder of the sect, and by Artemon with his disciple, Paul of Samosata, who began with the Christological error that Jesus Christ was not always God, but that at His baptism a power, or dunamis, of the Father descended on Him by virtue of which He wrought wonders (dunameis ). Theodotus called this power of God Christ; but some of his followers thought that He became God only after the Resurrection. The sect, called Theodotians, was never numerous; their history has been preserved by Hippolytus.
For the Modalists and Sabellians, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not names of truly distinct persons, but rather modes, energies, aspects, or phases of the one divine person. God the Father appeared on earth as the Son, and this logically involved the fact that the Father died; hence the Modalists were known in the West as Patripassians. In the East they were called Sabellians after a Roman cleric Sabellius, who developed the doctrine of Noëtus of Smyrna. He became the chief spokesman of the sect in Rome, and was excommunicated under Pope Callistus (c. 220). The doctrine was combated by Dionysius of Alexandria, causing an exchange of letters between the bishop of Alexandria and Pope dionysius whose decisions in the matter are reported by St. Athanasius in his Decrees of the Council of Nicaea, 26 (Patrologia Graeca, 25:461–465).
Although the early Monarchians professed belief in one true God and in Jesus Christ, wholly and truly God, and thus developed the logos-teaching of the apologists, nevertheless, in the course of controversy, particularly with Tertullian, Hippolytus, and Novatian, their denial of the real distinction of persons in the one God was gradually unmasked. Praxeas, whom Tertullian assailed, visited Rome and Carthage (c. 206–208). The heresy is found in the 4th century developed by Marcellus of Ancyra (d. c. 374) and propagated by Photinus of Sirmium (c. 344). They denied the real distinction of persons and said that the Father is given three names corresponding to three activities.
Michael servetus of Spain revived this doctrine in the 16th century, and it became a principal teaching of the Socinians (see socinianism). In modern philosophy a form of Monarchianism is applied to the Trinity in, for example, kant's teaching that belief in God is directed toward a holy ruler, a wise legislator, and a just judge. According to G. W. F. hegel, the Idea-Being (or Ens) evolved as the Idea-Ens in itself, which is God, the Idea-Ens evolving outside itself (ad extra evoluta ), which is nature, and the Idea-Ens, conscious of itself, which is man.
Bibliography: g. bardy, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al. (Paris 1903–50) 10.2:2193–2209. e. evans, ed. and tr., Tertulliani adversus Praxean (London 1948) 6–31. t. verhoeven, Vigiliae christianae 5 (Amsterdam 1951) 43–48. c. huber, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 1957–65) 7:533–534. k. wÖlfl, Das Heilswirken Gottes durch den Sohn nach Tertullian (Rome 1960).
[p. j. hamell]