Church Fathers: Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 7: 7.05.02 Dionysius - Against the Sabellians

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Church Fathers: Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 7: 7.05.02 Dionysius - Against the Sabellians

TOPIC: Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 7 (Other Topics in this Collection)
SUBJECT: 7.05.02 Dionysius - Against the Sabellians

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Dionysius (Cont.)

Against the Sabellians.1

1. Now truly it would be just to dispute against those who, by dividing and rending the monarchy, which is the most august announcement of the Church of God, into, as it were, three powers, and distinct substances (hypostases), and three deities, destroy it.2 For I have heard that some who preach and teach the word of God among you are teachers of this opinion, who indeed diametrically, so to speak, are opposed to the opinion of Sabellius. For he blasphemes in saying that the Son Himself is the Father, and vice versa; but these in a certain manner announce three gods, in that they divide the holy unity into three different substances, absolutely separated from one another. For it is essential that the Divine Word should be united to the God of all, and that the Holy Spirit should abide and dwell in God; and thus that the Divine Trinity should be reduced and gathered into one, as if into a certain head - that is, into the omnipotent God of all. For the doctrine of the foolish Marcion, which cuts and divides the monarchy into three elements, is assuredly of the devil, and is not of Christ’s true disciples, or of those to whom the Saviour’s teaching is agreeable. For these indeed rightly know that the Trinity is declared in the divine Scripture, but that the doctrine that there are three gods is, neither taught in the Old nor in the New Testament.

2. But neither are they less to be blamed who think that the Son was a creation, and decided that the Lord was made just as one of those things which really were made; whereas the divine declarations testify that He was begotten, as is fitting and proper, but not that He was created or made. It is therefore not a trifling, but a very great impiety, to say that the Lord was in any wise made with hands. For if the Son was made, there was a time when He was not; but He always was, if, as He Himself declares,3 He is undoubtedly in the Father. And if Christ is the Word, the Wisdom, and the Power, - for the divine writings tell us that Christ is these, as ye yourselves know, - assuredly these are powers of God. Wherefore, if the Son was made, there was a time when these were not in existence;4 and thus there was a time when God was without these things, which is utterly absurd. But why should I discourse at greater length to you about these matters, since ye are men filled with the Spirit, and especially understanding what absurd results follow from the opinion which asserts that the Son was made? The leaders of this view seem to me to have given very little heed to these things, and for that reason to have strayed absolutely, by explaining the passage otherwise than as the divine and prophetic Scripture demands. “The Lord created me the beginning of His ways.” (Pro_8:22) For, as ye know, there is more than one signification of the word “created;” and in this place “created” is the same as “set over” the works made by Himself - made, I say, by the Son Himself. But this “created” is not to be understood in the same manner as “made.” For to make and to create are different from one another. “Is not He Himself thy Father, that hath possessed thee and created thee?” (Deu_32:6) says Moses in the great song of Deuteronomy. And thus might any one reasonably convict these men. Oh reckless and rash men! was then “the first-born of every creature”5 something made? - “He who was begotten from the womb before the morningstar?” (Ps. 110:3, LXX) - He who in the person of Wisdom says, “Before all the hills He begot me?” (Pro_8:25) Finally, any one may read in many parts of the divine utterances that the Son is said to have been begotten, but never that He was made. From which considerations, they who dare to say that His divine and inexplicable generation was a creation, are openly convicted of thinking that which is false concerning the generation of the Lord.

3. That admirable and divine unity, therefore, 366 must neither be separated into three divinities, nor must the dignity and eminent greatness of the Lord be diminished by having applied to it the name of creation, but we must believe on God the Father Omnipotent, and on Christ Jesus His Son, and on the Holy Spirit. Moreover, that the Word is united to the God of all, because He says, “I and the Father are one;” (Joh_10:30) and, “I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me.” (Joh_14:10) Thus doubtless will be maintained in its integrity the doctrine of the divine Trinity, and the sacred announcement of the monarchy.



The Confession, improperly called “the Creed of Athanasius,” is acknowledged to embody the (Athanasian) doctrine of the Nicene Council; and I append it here as an index to the state of theology at the period which is the limit of our series. Nothing is properly a “creed” which has never been accepted as such by the whole Church, and the Greeks knew no other creed than that called Nicene. The Anglo-American Church has ceased to recite this Confession in public worship, but does not depart from it as doctrine. The “Reformed” communion in America6 retains it among her liturgical forms, and I suppose the same is true of the Lutherans. It is a Western Confession, and, like the Te Deum, is a hymn rather than a symbol, though breathing the spirit of the Creed.

Usher adopts a.d. 447 as its date, and Beveridge assigns it to the fourth century. Dupin gives it a later origin than Usher, and a considerable number of eminent authorities agree with him in the date a.d. 484.

What are called the anathemas are the enacting clauses (so to speak), and, like the same in the Nicene Creed, may be regarded as no part of the Confession itself. If they have disappeared from the Great Symbol itself, as unsuitable to liturgical recitation, why not apply the same rule here?

Confession of Our Christian Faith, Commonly Called the Creed of St. Athanasius.

Quicunque vult.

Whosoever will be saved: before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholick Faith. Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled: without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.


And the Catholick Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;

Neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Substance.

For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son: and another of the Holy Ghost.

But the God-head of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.

Such as the Father is, such is the Son: and such is the Holy Ghost.

The Father un-create, the Son un-create: and the Holy Ghost un-create.

The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible: and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.

The Father eternal, the Son eternal: and the Holy Ghost eternal.

And yet they are not three eternals: but one eternal.

As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three un-created: but one un-created, and one incomprehensible.

So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty: and the Holy Ghost Almighty.

367 And yet they are not three Almighties: but one Almighty.

So the Father is God, the Son is God: and the Holy Ghost is God.

And yet they are not three Gods: but one God.

So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord: and the Holy Ghost is Lord.

And yet not three Lords: but one Lord.

For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity: to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be God and Lord;

So we are forbidden by the Catholick Religion: to say, there be three Gods, or three Lords.

The Father is made of none: neither created, nor begotten.

The Son is of the Father alone: not made, nor created, but begotten.

The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son:7 neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.

So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons: one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.

And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other: none is greater, or less than another;

But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together: and co-equal.

So that in all things, as is aforesaid: the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped.

¶ He therefore that will be saved: must thus think of the Trinity.


Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation: that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess: that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man;

God, of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds: and Man, of the Substance of His Mother, born in the world;

Perfect God, and perfect Man: of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting;

Equal to the Father, as touching His God-head: and inferior to the Father, as touching His Manhood.

Who although He be God and Man: yet He is not two, but one Christ;

One; not by conversion of the God-head into flesh: but by taking of the Manhood into God;

One altogether; not by confusion of Substance: but by unity of Person.

For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man: so God and Man is one Christ;

Who suffered for our Salvation: descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead.

He ascended into heaven, He sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty: from whence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies: and shall give account for their own works.

And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting: and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.

¶ This is the Catholick Faith: which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.


It is with regret that I am forced to take exception to the most useful Ecclesiastical History of the learned Professor Schaff, in this connection. I quote from that work8 as follows: -

“He, Dionysius, maintained distinctly, in (a) controversy with Dionysius of Alexandria, at once the unity of essence and the real personal distinction, etc., . . . and avoided tritheism, Sabellianism, and (b) subordinationism, with the instinct of orthodoxy, and also with the art of anathematizing, (c) already familiar to (d) the popes.”

Such a paragraph must convey to the youthful student a great confusion of ideas; all the greater, because the same valuable work elsewhere invites him to conclusions quite the reverse. Thus, (a) there was no controversy whatever between the two Dionysii; with a holy jealousy they entered into fraternal explanations of the same truth, held by each, but by neither very technically elucidated. The mere reader would probably infer that the greater of the two was guilty of tritheism or Sabellianism, although that is not the meaning of these unguarded expressions. But (b) the “subordinationism” which he repudiated was the doctrine of the subjection of the Son, not of the subordination, which orthodoxy has always maintained. Again, (c) I see no such “anathematizing” 368 in the letter of Dionysius as is here charged; indeed, it contains no anathema9 whatever, much less the artificial cursing of the Papacy which is thus assumed. And last, (d) what can be meant by the expression, “already familiar to the popes?” The learned pages of the same author sufficiently prove that there were no such things10 as “popes” till a much later period of history; and, as to the “art of anathematizing,” if it existed at all in those days, we find it much more freely exemplified by the Greek Fathers than by bishops of Rome. I say, if it existed at all, because the primitive anathema was a purely scriptural enforcement of St. Paul’s great canon (Gal_1:8, Gal_1:9); while the “art of anathematizing,” so justly credited to “the popes,” was a vindictive and monstrous assertion, at a later date, of prerogatives which they impiously arrogated to themselves, against other churches.


1 A fragment of an epistle or treatise of Dionysius, bishop of Rome. [From the epistle of St. Athanasius, De Decretis Nicæna Synodi, cap. xxvi. p. 231, ed. Benedict.]

2 Athan., Ep. de decret. Nic. Syn., 4. 26.

3Jo_1:14:11. [See vol. 5. Elucidation V. p. 156.]

4 [He quotes the formula, aftwards notorious, ἧν ὃτε οὐκ ἦν.]

5 Col_1:15. [See vol. 5. Elucidation XI. p. 159.]

6 Commonly called “the Dutch Church;” i.e., the Church of Holland.

7 The words italicized have never been accepted by the whole Church.

8 Vol. 2. p. 570.

9Culpandi sunt,” is quite strong enough for the original, καταμέμφοιτο. Routh, R. S., iii. p. 374.

10 The word existed, but then, and long afterwards, was universally applied to all bishops.