as described by the Second Ecumenical Council

381 AD

Advanced Information

Edited with Notes Gathered from the Writings of the Greatest Scholars

by Henry R. Percival, M.A., D.D.

The Second Ecumenical Council, which was also the First Council of Constantinople, in 381 AD, condemned a number of competing concepts regarding Christianity. This following discussion is excerpted from the full BELIEVE presentation of Second Ecumenical Council.

Excursus on the Heresies Condemned in Canon I.

In treating of these heresies I shall invert the order of the canon, and shall speak of the Macedonian and Apollinarian heresies first, as being most nearly connected with the object for which the Constantinopolitan Synod was assembled.

The Semi-Arians, Macedonians or Pneumatomachi.

Peace indeed seemed to have been secured by the Nicene decision but there was an element of discord still extant, and so shortly afterwards as in 359 the double-synod of Rimini (Ariminum) and Selencia rejected the expressions homousion and homoeusion equally, and Jerome gave birth to his famous phrase, "the world awoke to find itself Arian." The cause of this was the weight attaching to the Semi-Arian party, which counted among its numbers men of note and holiness, such as St. Cyril of Jerusalem. Of the developments of this party it seems right that some mention should be made in this place, since it brought forth the Macedonian heresy.

Text Font Face
Text Size
(for printing)
(Wm. Bright, D.D., St. Leo on the Incarnation, pp. 213 et seqq.)

BELIEVE Religious Information Source - By Alphabet Our List of 2,300 Religious Subjects
The Semi-Arian party in the fourth century attempted to steer a middle course between calling the Son Consubstantial and calling him a creature. Their position, indeed, was untenable, but several persisted in clinging to it; and it was adopted by Macedonius, who occupied the see of Constantinople. It was through their adoption of a more reverential language about the Son than had been used by the old Arians, that what is called the Macedonian heresy showed itself. Arianism had spoken both of the Son and the Holy Spirit as creatures. The Macedonians, rising up out of Semi-Arianism, gradually reached the Church's belief as to the uncreated majesty of the Son, even if they retained their objection to the homoousion as a formula. But having, in their previously Semi-Arian position, refused to extend their own "homoiousion" to the Holy Spirit, they afterwards persisted in regarding him as "external to the one indivisible Godhead," Newman's Arians, p. 226; or as Tillemont says (Mm. vi., 527), "the denial of the divinity of the Holy Spirit was at last their capital or only error." St. Athanasius, while an exile under Constantius for the second time, "heard with pain," as he says (Ep. i. ad Serap., 1) that "some who had left the Arians from disgust at their blasphemy against the Son of God, yet called the Spirit a creature, and one of the ministering spirits, differing only in degree from the Angels:" and soon afterwards, in 362, the Council of Alexandria condemned the notion that the Spirit was a creature, as being "no true avoidance of the detestable Arian heresy." See "Later Treatises of St. Athanasius," p. 5. Athanasius insisted that the Nicene Fathers, although silent on the nature of the Holy Spirit, had by implication ranked him with the Father and the Son as an object of belief (ad Afros, 11). After the death of St. Athanasius, the new heresy was rejected on behalf of the West by Pope Damasus, who declared the Spirit to be truly and properly from the Father (as the Son from the Divine substance) and very God, "omnia posse et omnia nosse, et ubique esse," coequal and adorable (Mansi, iii., 483). The Illyrian bishops also, in 374, wrote to the bishops of Asia Minor, affirming the consubstantiality of the Three Divine Persons (Theodoret, H. E., iv., 9). St. Basil wrote his De Spiritu Sancto in the same sense (see Swete, Early History of the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, pp. 58, 67), and in order to vindicate this truth against the Pneumatomachi, as the Macedonians were called by the Catholics, the Constantinopolitan recension of the Nicene Creed added the words, "the Lord and the Life-giver, proceeding from the Father, with the Father and the Son worshipped and glorified" etc., which had already formed part of local Creeds in the East.

From the foregoing by Canon Bright, the reader will be able to understand the connexion between the Semi-Arians and Pneumatomachi, as well as to see how the undestroyed heretical germs of the Semi-Asian heresy necessitated by their development the condemnation of a second synod.

The Apollinarians.

(Philip Schaff, in Smith and Wace, Dict. Christ. Biog., s.v. Apollinaris.)

Apollinaris was the first to apply the results of the Nicene controversy to Christology proper, and to call the attention of the Church to the psychical and pneumatic element in the humanity of Christ; but in his zeal for the true deity of Christ, and fear of a double personality, he fell into the error of a partial denial of his true humanity. Adopting the psychological trichotomy of Plato (soma psuche, pneuma), for which he quoted 1. Thess. v. 23 and Gal. v. 17, he attributed to Christ a human body (soma) and a human soul (the psuche alogos, the anima animans which man has in common with the animal), but not a rational spirit (nous, pneuma, psuche logike, anima rationalis,) and put in the place of the latter the divine Logos. In opposition to the idea of a mere connection of the Logos with the man Jesus, he wished to secure an organic unity of the two, and so a true incarnation; but he sought this at the expense of the most important constituent of man. He reached only a Theos sarkophoros as Nestorianism only an anthropos theophoros instead of the proper theandrotos . He appealed to the fact that the Scripture says, "the Word was made flesh"--not spirit; "God was manifest in the flesh" etc. To which Gregory Nazianzen justly replied that in these passages the term sarx was used by synecdoche for the whole human nature. In this way Apollinaris established so close a connection of the Logos with human flesh, that all the divine attributes were transferred to the human nature, and all the human attributes to the divine, and the two merged in one nature in Christ. Hence he could speak of a crucifixion of the Logos, and a worship of his flesh. He made Christ a middle being between God and man, in whom, as it were, one part divine and two parts human were fused in the unity of a new nature. He even ventured to adduce created analogies, such as the mule, midway between the horse and the ass; the grey colour, a mixture of white and black; and spring, in distinction from winter and summer. Christ, said he, is neither whole man, nor God, but a mixture (mixis) of God and man. On the other hand, he regarded the orthodox view of a union of full humanity with a full divinity in one person--of two wholes in one whole--as an absurdity. He called the result of this construction anthropotheos , a sort of monstrosity, which he put in the same category with the mythological figure of the Minotaur. But the Apollinarian idea of the union of the Logos with a truncated human nature might be itself more justly compared with this monster. Starting from the Nicene homoousion as to the Logos, but denying the completeness of Christ's humanity, he met Arianism half-way, which likewise put the divine Logos in the place of the human spirit in Christ. But he strongly asserted his unchangeableness, while Arians taught his changeableness (treptotes).

The faith of the Church revolted against such a mutilated and stunted humanity of Christ which necessarily involved also a merely partial redemption. The incarnation is an assumption of the entire human nature, sin only excluded. The ensarkosis is enanthropesis. To be a full and complete Redeemer, Christ must be a perfect man (teleios anthropos). The spirit or rational soul is the most important element in man, his crowning glory, the seat of intelligence and freedom, and needs redemption as well as the soul and the body; for sin has entered and corrupted all the faculties.

In the sentence immediately preceding the above Dr. Schaff remarks "but the peculiar Christology of Apollinaris has reappeared from time to time in a modified shape, as isolated theological opinion." No doubt Dr. Schaff had in mind the fathers of the so-called "Kenoticism" of to-day, Gess and Ebrard, who teach, unless they have been misunderstood, that the incarnate Son had no human intellect or rational soul (nous) but that the divine personality took its place, by being changed into it. By this last modification, they claim to escape from the taint of the Apollinarian heresy. [229]

The Eunomians or Anomoeans.

(Bright, Notes on the Canons, Canon I. of I. Const.)

"The Eunomians or Anomoeans." These were the ultra-Arians, who carried to its legitimate issue the original Arian denial of the eternity and uncreatedness of the Son, while they further rejected what Arius had affirmed as to the essential mysteriousness of the Divine nature (Soc., H. E., iv., 7; comp. Athan., De Synod., 15). Their founder was Atius, the most versatile of theological adventurers (cf. Athan., De Synod., 31; Soc., H. E., ii., 45; and see a summary of his career in Newman's Arians, p. 347); but their leader at the time of the Council was the daring and indefatigable Eunomius (for whose personal characteristics, see his admirer Philostorgius, x., 6). He, too, had gone through many vicissitudes from his first employment as the secretary of Atius, and his ordination as deacon by Eudoxius; as bishop of Cyzicus, he had been lured into a disclosure of his true sentiments, and then denounced as a heretic (Theod., H. E., ii., 29); with Atius he had openly separated from Eudoxius as a disingenuous time-server, and had gone into retirement at Chalcedon (Philostorg., ix., 4). The distinctive formula of his adherents was the "Anomoion." The Son, they said, was not "like to the Father in essence"; even to call him simply "like" was to obscure the fact that he was simply a creature, and, as such, "unlike" to his Creator. In other words, they thought the Semi-Arian "homoiousion" little better than the Catholic "homoousion": the "homoion" of the more "respectable" Arians represented in their eyes an ignoble reticence; the plain truth, however it might shock devout prejudice, must be put into words which would bar all misunderstanding: the Son might be called "God," but in a sense merely titular, so as to leave an impassable gulf between him and the uncreated Godhead (see Eunomius's Exposition in Valesius's note on Soc., H. E., v., 10). Compare Basil (Epist., 233, and his work against Eunomius), and Epiphanius (Hær., 76).

The Arians or Eudoxians.

(Bright. Ut supra.)

"The Arians or Eudoxians." By these are meant the ordinary Arians of the period, or, as they may be called, the Acacian party, directed for several years by the essentially worldly and unconscientious Eudoxius. His real sympathies were with the Anomoeans (see Tillemont, Mmoires, vi., 423, and compare his profane speech recorded by Socrates, H. E., ii., 43): but, as a bishop of Constantinople, he felt it necessary to discourage them, and to abide by the vague formula invented by Acacius of Cæsarea, which described the Son as "like to the Father," without saying whether this likeness was supposed to be more than moral (cf. Newman, Arians, p. 317), so that the practical effect of this "homoion" was to prepare the way for that very Anomoeanism which its maintainers were ready for political purposes to disown.

The Sabellians.

(Bright. Ut supra.)

"The Sabellians," whose theory is traceable to Noetus and Praxeas in the latter part of the second century: they regarded the Son and the Holy Spirit as aspects and modes of, or as emanations from, the One Person of the Father (see Newman's Arians, pp. 120 et seqq.). Such a view tended directly to dissolve Christian belief in the Trinity and in the Incarnation (Vide Wilberforce, Incarnation, pp. 112, 197). Hence the gentle Dionysius of Alexandria characterised it in severe terms as involving "blasphemy, unbelief, and irreverence, towards the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit" (Euseb., H. E., vii.. 6). Hence the deep repugnance which it excited, and the facility with which the imputation of "Sabellianizing" could be utilised by the Arians against maintainers of the Consubstantiality (Hilary, De Trinit., iv., 4; De Synod., 68; Fragm., 11; Basil, Epist., 189, 2). No organized Sabellian sect was in existence at the date of this anathema: but Sabellian ideas were "in the air," and St. Basil could speak of a revival of this old misbelief (Epist., 126). We find it again asserted by Chilperic I., King of Neustria, in the latter part of the sixth century (Greg. Turon., Hist. Fr., v., 45).

The Marcellians.

(Bright. Ut supra.)

"The Marcellians," called after Marcellus bishop of Ancyra, who was persistently denounced not only by the Arianizers, but by St. Basil, and for a time, at least, suspected by St. Athanasius (Vide Epiphan., Hær., 72, 4) as one who held notions akin to Sabellianism, and fatal to a true belief in the Divine Sonship and the Incarnation. The theory ascribed to him was that the Logos was an impersonal Divine power, immanent from eternity in God, but issuing from him in the act of creation, and entering at last into relations with the human person of Jesus, who thus became God's Son. But this expansion of the original divine unity would be followed by a "contraction," when the Logos would retire from Jesus, and God would again be all in all. Some nine years before the council, Marcellus, then in extreme old age, had sent his deacon Eugenius to St. Athanasius, with a written confession of faith, quite orthodox as to the eternity of the Trinity, and the identity of the Logos with a pre-existing and personal Son, although not verbally explicit as to the permanence of Christ's "kingdom,"--the point insisted on in one of the Epiphanian-Constantinopolitan additions to the Creed (Montfaucon, Collect. Nov., ii., 1). The question whether Marcellus was personally heterodox--i.e. whether the extracts from his treatise, made by his adversary Eusebius of Cæsarea, give a fair account of his real views--has been answered unfavourably by some writers, as Newman (Athanasian Treatises, ii., 200, ed. 2), and Dllinger (Hippolytus and Callistus, p. 217, E. T. p. 201), while others, like Neale, think that "charity and truth" suggest his "acquittal" (Hist. Patr. Antioch., p. 106). Montfaucon thinks that his written statements might be favourably interpreted, but that his oral statements must have given ground for suspicion.

The Photinians.

(Bright. Ut supra. )

"The Photinians," or followers of Marcellus's disciple Photinus, bishop of Sirmium, the ready-witted and pertinacious disputant whom four successive synods condemned before he could be got rid of, by State power, in a.d. 351. (See St. Athanasius's Historical Writings, Introd. p. lxxxix.) In his representation of the "Marcellian" theology, he laid special stress on its Christological position--that Jesus, on whom the Logos rested with exceptional fulness, was a mere man. See Athanasius, De Synodis, 26, 27, for two creeds in which Photinianism is censured; also Soc. H. E. ii., 18, 29, 30; vii., 32. There is an obvious affinity between it and the "Samosatene" or Paulionist theory.


[229] The theological views of Gess and Ebrard I know only from the statements of them in writers on the subject of the Incarnation, especially from those made by the Rev. A. B. Bruce, D D., Professor at Free Church College, Glasgow, in his work "The Humiliation of Christ." (Lecture IV.) The following passage (cited by Dr. Bruce) seems to prove his contention so far as Gess is concerned. "Dass eine wahrhaft menschliche Seele in Jesu war, versteht sich fr und von selbt: er war ja sonst kein wirklicher Mensch. Aber die Frage ist, ob der in's Werden eingegangene Logos selbst diese menschliche Seele, oder ob neben dem in's Werden eingegangenen Logos noch eine becondere menschliche Seele in Jesu war?" (Gess. Die Lehre v. d. Person Christi, ii. p. 321.) Bruce understands Gess to teach that "The only difference between the Logos and a human soul was, that he became human by voluntary kenosis, while an ordinary human soul derives its existence from a creative act." (And refers to Gess, ut supra, p. 325 et seqq.) For Ebrard's view, see his Christliche Dogmatik, ii., p. 40. Ritschl dubbed the whole kenotic theory as "Verschmter Socinianismus."

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in December 2004.

/* Corrections for New and Full Moon */ This page - - - - is at
This subject presentation was last updated on - -

Copyright Information

Send an e-mail question or comment to us: E-mail

The main BELIEVE web-page (and the index to subjects) is at: BELIEVE Religious Information Source - By Alphabet