an heresiarch of the third century. Of this man, who has given name to one of the most enduring modifications of belief in the Christian Church, hardly anything is known. Philastrius (De Haeres.
100.26) and Asterius of Amaseia (apud Phot. Bibl.
cod. 271), call him a Libyan, and Theodoret repeats the statement, with the addition that he was a native of the Libyan Pentapolis (Haeretic. Fabul. Compend.
lib. 2.9). Dionsius of Alexandria (apud Euseb. Hist. Eccl. 7.6
) speaks of the Sabellian doctrine as originating in the Pentapolitan Ptolemais, of which town, therefore, we may conclude that Sabellius was a resident, if not a native. Timotheus, the presbyter of Constantinople, in his work De Trilici Receptione Haercticorum
(apud Coteler. Eccles. Graec. Aonum.
vol. iii. p. 385), distinguishes Sabellius the Libyan from Sabellius of the Pentapolis, but without reason: and his inaccuracy in this respect throws doubt on his unsupported assertion that Sabellius was bishop of the Pentapolis. Abulpharagius (Hist. Dynastiar.
p. 81, vers. Pocock) calls him a presbyter of Byzantium, and places him in the reign of Gallus and Volusianus, A. D. 252, 253.
That he was of Byzantium is contradicted by all other accounts; but the date assigned is sufficiently in accordance with other authorities to be received. Philastrius (ibid.
) calls him a disciple of Noetus, but it does not appear that this means anything more than that he embraced views similar to those of Noetus, who was of Asia Minor; either of Smyrna (Theodoret. ibid.
3.3) or of Ephesus (Epiphan. Hacres.
lvii.), and flourished about the middle of the third century. When Sabellius broached his doctrines they excited great commotions among the Christians of the Pentapolis; and both parties appealed to Dionysius of Alexandria, and endeavoured to secure him to their side. Dionysius wrote letters to them, which are not extant.
There can be no doubt that he embraced the side of the opponents of Sabellianism, which he brands as "an impious and very blasphemous dogma :" but it does not appear that he wrote to Sabellius himself, nor do we even know whether Sabellius was then living (Euseb. Hist. Eccl. 7.6
). From the manner in which Athanasius (Epistol. de Sententia Dionysii,
100.5) relates the matter, Dionysius was not engaged in controversy with Sabellius himself, but with some bishops of his party; from which it is not improbable that Sabellius was already dead.
The intervention of Dionysius is placed by Tillemont in A. D. 257, and by the Benedictine editors of Athanasius (l.c.
) in A. D. 263. Indeed it is probable, from the scanty notices we have of Sabellius, that his heresy was not broached till just before his death. His opinions were widely diffused, and Epiphanius (Haeres.
lxii.) found many who held them both in the East and West, in the plains of Mesopotamia, and in the busy population of Rome.
The characteristic dogma of Sabellius related to the Divine Nature, in which he conceived that there was only one hypostasis or person, identifying with each other the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, "so that in one hypostasis
there are three designations,
" ὡς εἶναι ἐν μίᾳ ὑποστάσει τρεῖς ὀνομασίας
62.1). Epiphanius further illustrates the Sabellian hypothesis by comparing it to the union of body, soul, and spirit, in man," so that the Father, so to speak, was the body, the Son the soul, and the Spirit the spirit, of man."
He appears not to give this as an illustration of his own, but as one employed by the Sabellians themselves, who also compared the Deity to the Sun, "which is one hypostasis, but has three operations (ἐνεργείας
):-that of imparting light (τὸ φωστικόν
), which they compared to the Son; of imparting warmth (τὸ θάλπον
), which they compared to the Spirit; and its orbicular form, the form of its whole substance (τὸ εἶδος πάσης τῆς ὑποστάσεως
), which they compared to the Father. And that the Son having been once on a time (καιρῷ ποτε
) sent forth as a ray, and having wrought in the world all things needful to the Gospel economy and the salvation of men, had been received up again into heaven, like a ray emitted from the sun. and returning again to the sun. And that the Holy Spirit is sent into the world successively and severally to each one who is worthy (καὶ καθεξῆς καὶ καθ᾽ ἕκαστα εἰς ἕκαστον τῶν καταξιουμένων
), to impart to such a one new birth and fervour (ἀναζωογονεῖν δὲ τὸν τοιοῦτον καὶ ἀναζέειν
), and to cherish and warm him, so to speak, by the power and co-operation (συμβάσεως
) of the Holy Spirit" (ibid.
According to Basil (Ep.
214), Sabellius spoke of persons in God, but apparently only in the sense of characters or representations--" that God was one in hypostasis, but was represented in Scripture under different persons: "ἕνα μὲν εἶναι τῇ ὑποστάσει τὸν Θεὸν, προσωποποιεῖσθαι δὲ ὑπὸ τῆς γραφῆς διαφύρως.
Epiphanius charges them with deriving their opinions from Apocryphal writings, and especially from the spurious Gospel of the Egyptians; and Neander (Church Hist.
by Rose, vol. ii. p. 276) thinks this statement is by no means to be rejected. However this may be (and we think the authority of Epiphanius in such a case of little moment), their main reliance in argument was upon passages in the Canonical Scriptures, especially on that in Deut.
6.4, "Hear O Israel, the Lord thy God is one Lord," and on Ex.
10.30, 38, and 14.10. They dwelt also on the obvious difficulties in the popular view of the Godhead, asking the simpler and less-informed believers, "What shall we say then, have we one God or three ?" And thus, says Epiphanius, they led the perturbed Christian "unconsciously to deny God, that is, unconsciously to deny the existence of the Son and the Holy Spirit."
It is evident, however, that this denial was only the denial of their existence as distinct hypostases from the Father.
The heresy of Sabellius approximated very nearly to that of Noetus, so that Augustin wonders that Epiphanius should have distinguished the Sabellian heresy from the Noetian: but Sabellius did not affirm that the Father suffered, though the name of Patripassions was given to his followers (Athanas. De Synodis,
100.7; Augustin, De Haeres.
xli.): and Mosheim has well observed that Sabellius did not, like Noetus, hold that the divine hypostasis was absolutely one, and that it assumed and united to itself the human nature of Christ; but contended that "a certain energy (vim) emitted from the Father of all, or, if you choose, a part of the person and nature of the Father, was united to the man Christ." (Basil, Epistol.
210, 214, ed. Benedictin, 64, 349, editt. prior.; comp. Epiphan. l.c.;
Augustin, De Haeres,
xli.; Philastrius, De Haeres. post Christi Passionem,
xxvi.; Athanas. Contra Arianos Oratio III.
cxxv., De Synodis,
c. vii.; Dionys. Romanus, apud Athanas. Epistola de Sntentia Dionysii,
cxxvi.; Theodoret, Haeret. Fabul. Compend.
From the manner in which Athanasius argues against the Sabellians (Orat. contra Arianos,
100.11, 25), it appears that they considered the emission of the divine energy, the Son, to have been antecedent to creation, and needful to effect it: "That we might be created the Word proceeded forth, and from his proceeding forth we exist" (ἵνα ἡμεῖς κτισθῶμεν προῆλθεν ὁ λόγος καὶ προελθόντος αὐτοῦ ἐδμεν
), is the form in which Athanasius (100.25) states the doctrine of the Sabellians.
The return of the Son into the Father appears also to have been regarded as subsequent to the consummation of all things (comp. Greg. Thaumaturgi Fides,
apud Mai, Sriptor. Vet. Nova Collectio,
vol. vii. p. 171), and therefore as yet to come. Neander (l.c.
) says that Sabellius considered "human souls to be a revelation or partial out-beaming of the divine Logos," but gives no authority for the statement.
(The ancient authorities for this article have been already cited.
There are notices of Sabellius and his doctrine in the following modern writers: Tillemont, Mémoires,
vol. iv. p. 237, &c.; Lardner, Credibility, &c.,
pt. ii. bk. i. c. 43.7; Mosheim, De Rebus Christianor. ante Constantin. Magnum,
Saec. 3. § xxxiii.; Neander, l.c.;
Milnan, Hist. of Christianity,
vol. ii. p. 429.)