4th Century Christianity: Marcellus’ Fight

Continuing our look at the 4th Century and doctrinal development.

In the midst of this is perhaps the most controversial figure of Christianity, at that time, since Paul – Marcellus of Ancyra. This is part of a presentation which I gave earlier this year. I should note that many of Marcellus’ works survive only because historians thought that they were the works of Athanasius. Why? Because these two men had fought theological battles together, on the same side, for much of this time. They only split when it became politically expedient to do so; however, even in the split, Athanasius, much to the chagrin of Basil, would never condemn Marcellus, and even remained in communion with him and his community.

Marcellus on Ancyra
Attended Nicaea
Led the charge against the Eusebians and Semi-Arians
Athanasius first supported him
Deposed by the Emperor in 336
Restored upon death of Emperor in 337
Deposed again in 339
Left for Rome to seek help from Julian, Bishop of Rome
Declared orthodox by Rome in 340
Dedication Council in Antioch deposed him again in 341
Council of Sardica, 343
West supported Marcellus
East considered Marcellus a heretic
Break with Athanasius in 347
Still supported by the West, the Egyptians and some in Asia Minor in 370
Athanasius refused to support, or attack, Marcellus
End of Life 371-374
Held communion with churches in Asia Minor, Greece, and Macedonia
Accepted by Athanasius as Orthodox

My notes:

Marcellus approached Constantine in 336 with his work defending biblical doctrine, thinking that the Emperor could be made to see the theological wars being waged by the Eusebians. The Emperor saw Marcellus as destroying the peace, allowing a synod to take place in Constantinople which deposed Marcellus, on the orders of the Emperor. Like Athanasius, Marcellus was banished to the West.

Marcellus became arch nemesis of the Eusebian Party. He spoke in only biblical terms, with one hypostasis. He accused the Origenists of being Platonic. He said that it was impossible to have three natures (hypostaseis).

For it is impossible for three natures (hypostaseis) (if they do exist) to be united into a single being (monad), unless the three had previously originated from that single being (monad).  For Saint Paul said that those things which did not belong to the unity of God are “gathered up” (Eph. 1.10) in the single being (monad).  For the Logos and the Spirit alone belong to his unity. (Fragment 47)

He later said, ‘The Monad spreads into a triad, but without ever suffering separation.’ (Fragment 48). He believed that the Monad may appear as a triad through interaction with humanity in salvation history – only through visible (temporal activity) does the triad appear. There is no division or separation of the one, nor three independent entities.

For Marcellus, the Logos was God’s own personal – inner – Logos and appears in creation. This emergence is the ‘begetting’, but not in the ontological sense, only in that the Logos is active externally. His separation from the Father is only due to human perception. The same is said of the Spirit who when externally active, appears not as Father or Son, by as Spirit through activity.

Marcellus is often times seen as the one great resistance to the ‘unanimous solution to the problem of the Trinity.’ He was hated in the East and found support only in the West, leading to the first schism between East and West which may be well be the cause of all schisms since.

Upon the death on Constantine, all the Bishops were recalled who had been banished, including Athanasius and Marcellus. They were soon banished again, in 339, and arrived in Rome independent of each other. Bishop Julius received both men, but demanded Marcellus demonstrate his orthodoxy.

In the Letter to Julius, Marcellus shows that the Eusebians did not believe that Jesus Christ was the one true Logos of God, but that the Party believed in another Logos. That meant that they believed in two natures, two Gods. The Son did not always exist but was a creature. Marcellus used Tertullian’s formula to display the miahypostatic Godhead.

Marcellus, when in Rome, focused only on God the Almighty, refusing to label the Father as Almighty as the Eusebians did. Almighty, for Marcellus, identified the One God who in himself is already Father, Logos, and Spirit. He accuses anyone who separates the divinity of the Father and Son as believing in multiple Gods. He was supported in the believe that his doctrine was authentic Nicene orthodoxy by the legates of the previous Bishop, Sylvester, who had refused to attended Nicaea.

Julius attempted to call a Synod to reinstate both men, but the East refused to attended, seeing that Julius had no power to do so. In 341, the Synod took place with both men rehabilitated. The same synod accused the theologians of the East as being Arians. The East responded in the same year by having a Synod in Antioch which muted Nicaea and added Arian tendencies. The Antiochenes pushed through a creed which declared the Father one and the Son one, two distinct entities. They used Matthew 28.19 as the basis for the creeds as well as Arius’ personal confession to Constantine. The East became dyohypstatic with mild subordinationism.

Serdica was called by Emperor Constans and his brother the Emperor Constantius. It was held in 342. Both Marcellus and Athanasius appeared, but Julius refused to attend, sending only legates. The Eastern Bishops refused to attend in the presence of Marcellus and Athanasius and held a separate council in the neighboring Philipppopolis. Due to a military victory against Persian, the Council was no longer seen as needed. It broke up with a set of anathemas given by the East, rejecting Marcellus, but refusing to take extreme positions on Tritheism or the godhead of Christ. The Western Bishops stayed to safeguard the rehabilitation of Athanasius and other bishops. The third Canon, or agreement, was that the Bishop of Rome was given the authority to hold appeals on disputes in the Church.

The document produced at Serdica attacked those that refused to recognized Christ as the true God. The creed formulated at Serdica stated that there is only one hypostasis of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit labeling ousia as a word of the heretics. Further, the Western Bishops began to list the violent crimes committed by Eastern Bishops against the miahypostatics. The Western Bishops further listed by name several Bishops that were to be excommunicated.

It was at this Council which Marcellus read and defended his book proclaiming the One God, to which the West proclaimed it as Orthodox.

The Council represented the West’s inclusion, and thus understanding of what Nicaea actually meant.

The East began to redraw from their extreme position of three hypostaseis by attempting to find different words while the West started to move away from what the East accused them of – Monarchianism.

Due to threats of civil war, the Eastern Emperor recalled Athanasius in 346 but refused to completely rehabilitated him. It was during this time which Athanasius politically broke with Marcelus. In order for Athanasius to regain his See, the Emperor demanded that he break condemn Photinus, Marcellus’ disciple, and to make a complete break from Marcellus. Athanasius complied. The Emperor deposed Marcellus in 347.

Upon the Death of The Western Emperor, the Eastern Emperor became sole rule in 350. In 351, the synod of Sirmium condemned Marcellus through his disciple, Photinus. Athanasius broke with Marcellus, blaming the break on Photinus. In synods in 353 and 355, the East urged the Western bishops to condemn Athanasius. Anyone who did not condemn the Bishop was exiled to the East by the Imperial Court in Milan, including the Bishop of Rome. The Emperor sent the military after Athanasius, but the Bishop escaped with the Egyptian monks.

Hilary of Poitiers of Gaul was condemned and exiled to the East, where he soon constructed a common dialogue between the East and West.

During this time, as support of Athanasius and Marcellus led to condemnation, Arianism erupted again. It was this time led by Aetius a deacon of Antioch. It said that the Father and the Son were heteroousios, of different essence. Basil of Ancyra, who had replaced Marcellus in 336, led the charge against this new Arianism. They still supported the Eastern theology of three hypostasis and the homoousios.

During this time, the German semi-Arians became advisors to the Emperor, urging him to call a synod again in Sirmium. He did so in 357. The synod attempted to limit all discussion on the ousia to biblical examples, acknowledging that ousia was unbiblical. All theology must come through Matthew 28.19. The agreement was reached and signed by Bishops Ossius of Cordoba and Liberius of Rome – who had been exiled for nearly 2 years. The new agreement solidified the Eastern theology by disallowing any new discussions.

Little is know of Marcellus between the brake with Athanasius in 345 and the Tome in 362. Marcellus remained in Communion with the party by Paulinus of Antioch and the Meletians. When Basil of Caesarea was elected to office in 370, he suspected that Marcellus was still in communion with the Western, Egyptian, and some Asia Minor Churches. Basil labored to get Athanasius to condemn Marcellus, but Athanasius never would, leaving Basil’s request unanswered.

As Basil grew in power, he attempted again to use the condemnation of Marcellus as the single unifier of the East and West, but a deacon under Marcellus composed a document, Expositio, showing that an active communion still existed between Marcellus and churches in Greece and Macedonia. It was a profession of faith as well. Upon receiving it, a synod in Alexandria led by Athanasius signed the document, allowing full communion between Marcellus and Athanasius.

Epiphanius of Salamis reported a conversation with Athanasius in his Panarion 72.4:

I myself once asked the blessed pope Athanasius about this Marcellus, what his opinion of him was. He neither defended him nor expressed hostility towards him. He only smiled, and indicated that he was not far from error, but he considered him excused.

Epiphanius listed him as a heretic but never defined his heresy.

Marcellus of Ancyra died in 374.

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