Monday, July 08, 2013

The 351 Council at Sirmium

For our purposes, the next most significant counsel is this one. It is well attested, with mentions in both Socrates (HE 2.29-30) and Sozomen (HE 4.6), and Athanasius gives a Greek text of the creed, while Hilary provides a Latin version.

Socrates says the cause of the council was Photinus being more provocatively open about his particular teaching, and that the emperor (Constantius II) summoned the council. Mentioned by name are Mark of Arethusa, George of Alexandria, Basil of Ancyra, Pancratius of Pelusium, and Hypatian of Heraclea (Easterns), and Valens and Hosius (Western). Socrates provides a Greek text in line with Athanasius’. He then subjoins a ‘Latin text translated into Greek’, but this in fact the 357 Creed.

Sozomen gives more detail of Photinus’ theology, and both Sozomen and Socrates mention Hosius as an unwilling attendee. Sozomen also goes into more detail on the effects of the council, that Photinus after his deposition, challenged a disputation, and Basil of Ancyra debated with him for some time. Basil was largely victorious, and Photinus was both condemned and banished.

Here is the text from Athanasius, De Synodis 27:

But they would not abide in these; for again in Sirmium they came together against Photinus, then composed again a faith[1], no longer so drawn-out, nor as great in words; but removing the majority and adding other things, as if they have heard the suggestions of others, they wrote as such[2]:
We believe in one God, Father Almighty
the[3] Creator and Maker of all things
from whom all fatherhood in heaven[4] and earth is named[5]

And in his only–begotten Son the Lord Jesus the[6] Christ
begotten, before all the ages, of the Father: God from God, light from Light;
through whom things both[7] in heaven and on earth came to be, things visible and invisible:
being Word, and Wisdom[8], and true light, and Life;
him being made man in the last of days for us,
and born of the holy Virgin, and[9] crucified, and died, and buried;
and raised from the dead on the third day, and taken up into heaven
and seated at the right hand of the Father;
and is coming at the consummation of the ages to judge the living and dead,
and to give to each according to his deeds;
whose kingdom being unceasingly[10] remains into the infinite ages.
For will be sitting at the right hand of the Father, not only in this age, but also in the one to come;

And in the Holy Spirit, that is, the Paraclete; which being promised to the apostles, after his ascension into heaven he sent, to teach them and remind them of all[11], he sent[12]; through whom also the souls of those purely believing in him are sanctified[13].

I.                 But those saying the Son was of nothing, or from a difference hypostasis, and not from God, and, there was a time or age when he was not, the holy and Catholic church knows as aliens.
II.               Again then we say: If anyone says the Father and the Son are two Gods, let him be anathema.
III.              And anyone saying Christ is God, before ages Son of God, does not confess him subservient[14] to the Father for the framing of the universe, let him be anathema.
IV.              If anyone dares to say that the Ingenerate, or a part of him, was born of Mary, let him be anathema
V.               If anyone says that the Son is before Mary according to foreknowledge, and not that he was with God, generated before the ages from the Father, and that all things were came into being through him, let him be anathema.
VI.              If anyone affirms the essence of God to be broadened or contracted, let him be anathema.
VII.            If anyone shall say that the essence of God being broadened made the Son, or names the Son the enlargement of his essence, let him be anathema.
VIII.          If anyone shall say that the Son of God is conceptual or pronounced Word, let him be anathema.
IX.              If anyone shall say that the Son of Mary is only human, let him be anathema.
X.                If anyone calling the [son] of Mary [to be] God and human, thus means God the Ingenerate, let him be anathema.
XI.              If anyone “I God the first, and I after these, and beside me there is no God”[15] that is said for the denial of idols and non-existent Gods, shall take it in the sense for the denial of the Only-Begotten before ages God, in a Jewish manner, let him be anathema.
XII.            If anyone hearing “The word became flesh”, understands the Word to have changed into flesh, or to have taken flesh undergoing alteration[16], let him be anathema.
XIII.           If anyone hearing that the only begotten Son of God [was] crucified, shall say that his Godhead has undergone corruption, or passion, or alteration, or lessening, or destruction, let him be anathema.
XIV.           If anyone shall say that “Let us make man” was said not by the Father to the Son, but God himself to himself, let him be anathema.
XV.            If anyone shall say that it was not the Son that appeared to Abraham, but the Ingenerate God, or a part of him, let him be anathema.
XVI.           If anyone shall say that with Jacob, not the Son as man wrestled, but the Ingenerate God, or a part of him, let him be anathema.
XVII.         If anyone shall take, “The Lord rained fire from the Lord”[17] in the sense not of the Father and of the Son, but say that he rained himself from himself, let him be anathema; for the Son, Lord rained from the Father, Lord.
XVIII.       If anyone, hearing that the Father is Lord, and the Son Lord, and the Father and Son Lord, since there is Lord from Lord, says that there are two Gods, let him be anathema. For we do not co-ordinate Son to Father, but subordinated to the Father; for neither did he go down to Sodom apart from the Father’s will, nor rain from himself, but from the Lord, manifestly the Father authorising it; neither does he sit at the right hand from himself, but he hears the Father saying “Sit at my right hand”[18]
XIX.           If anyone says that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are one person, let him be anathema.
XX.             If anyone, calling the Holy Spirit ‘Paraclete’, shall mean the Ingenerate God, let him be anathema.
XXI.           If anyone shall not say, as the Lord taught us, that the Paraclete is other than the Son; for he said “and the Father, whom I will ask,  will send to you another Paraclete”[19] – let him be anathema
XXII.         If anyone shall say that the Holy Spirit is a part of the Father, or of the Son, let him be anathema.
XXIII.        If anyone shall say that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are three Gods, let him be anathema.
XXIV.        If anyone shall that the Son of God has come to be by the will of God as one of the works, let him be anathema.
XXV.         If anyone shall say that the Son has been begotten, with the Father not-willing it, let him be anathema. For the Father, not constrained, led by physical necessity, as not wishing, begot the Son[20], but both at once willed it, and atemporally and impassionately manifested him generated from himself.
XXVI.        If anyone shall say the Son is ingenerate and without-beginning, as if speaking of two without-beginning and two-ingenerate, and making two Gods, let him be anathema. For the Son is head, who is the beginning of all. But God is head, who is beginning of Christ. For in this way we piously lead all things through the Son to the one unbegun beginning of the universe.
XXVII.      And again exactly we speak the idea[21] of Christianity: if anyone shall not say that Christ is God, Son of God, existing before-ages, and having been subservient to the Father for the framing of the universe, but that from when he was born of Mary, from then he was called both Christ and Son, and took a beginning of being God, let him be anathema.

Commentary on the Council:

There is little doubt about the focus of the council. Held in Sirmium, deliberately called to deal with Photinus and his teaching, and a creed formulated that gives a mostly Eastern consensus in denouncing Photinus. The presence of Valens and Hosius should not distract us, both being figures associated with Imperial efforts to achieve ecclesiastical consensus, and more aligned in theology to the Eastern bishops.

The creed is indeed, as Athanasius’ says, a reversion to the 4th Antiochene after the excesses of the Macrostitch. Variations are almost entirely negligible, except two choices: (1) they have left out “Power” as one of the titles or designations of the Son, (2) they have maintained “unceasingly” (Macrostitch) instead of “indissoluble” (4th Antiochene) in regards to the Son’s eternal kingdom.

The anathemas are lengthy, and again represent an attempt to plot a middle course depicting two extremes of genuine Arianism, and Western Modalism. The first is the now standard rejection of Arian formulations. Subjoined to this is an immediate denial of ditheism; this is most likely prompted by a Photinian claim that their position was tantamount to ditheism, which Photinus’ own monarchial modalism is trying strenuously to avoid. The third anathema is where things get truly interesting, as it explicitly upholds subordination of the Son, at least so far as the creation goes. The fourth denies that the Father was begotten – though here is a good place to note how the Easterns have prioritised the term “Unbegotten” or “Ingenerate” as the title of God the Father. It is this trajectory of prioritisation that will lead to the theologies of Aetius and Eunomius, who go from priority to determination.

Attempts to reconstruct Photinus’ theology are largely mirror-readings. If we build our understanding of Photinus on the basis of Marcellus, then the 4th anathema is a rejection of modalism applied to the Incarnation – the one God, the Unbegotten, cannot be begotten. Photinus’ understanding of the Incarnation, or at least his opponents’ understanding of his understanding, is further depicted in the 5th, that the Son’s pre-existence is only a matter of fore-knowledge, which is tantamount that the Son qua Son only comes to be in the Incarnation, and beforehand we may speak only of ‘Word’.

The 6th and 7th anathema must also be read together; here the idea opposed is that the essence of God can be “enlarged” or “contracted”, i.e. that it is a quasi-physical subsistence that admits of increase or decrease. The practical application of that idea is in the 7th, where the Son is seen as an ‘increase’ of God’s ousia. If our accounts of Photinus’ ideas are generally reliable, then Photinus considers the Son only as the human incarnation of the Logos, and his view is a combination of adoptionism with modalism. As such, the ‘enlargement’ of God into the Son is the only viable solution for him to hold a modalist incarnation. The language is reminiscent of Sabellius.

The 8th-10th continue to attack Photinian incarnation-theology. The 8th deals with how Photinus, and Marcellus before him, articulate the distinction between the Father and the Logos – in terms of analogy with a word spoken or mentally conceived. This is rejected as unsatisfactory. Subjoined then is the rejection of the Son as merely human, mentioned above. The 10th then combines the two understandings – if the Christ is ‘man’ in the sense of ‘mere human’ and God in the sense of the Unbegotten being incarnate, this is an unacceptable formulation of Incarnation, being the combination of adoptionism and modalism.

The next set of anathemas is interesting for two related reasons. Firstly they deal with a set of texts that appear favoured or utilised by Photinus in arguing for his theology. So they are interesting to us because of what they reveal of his exegesis. But they are also interesting in the way they privilege a different reading of those texts. Creedal and anathema-formulation did not restrict itself to what was right or wrong doctrine, but extended in some instances to what was correct or incorrect interpretation of texts.

Thus the 11th deals with Isa 44:6 read in a monarchial way to deny pre-incarnation deity to the Only-Begotten. The council aligns this reading with Jewish apologetic claims, and offers a ‘correct’ reading, that this is in fact written contra false gods, not contra the Only Begotten. Again, this is noteworthy, since similar exegetical patterns emerge over the subordination of the Son in texts from John’s gospel, where pro-Nicenes will adopt the same strategy used here.

Likewise the 12th rejects a reading of John 1:14 as alteration of the Word[‘s subsistence]. No alternate interpretation is offered. As this deals with the incarnation, so the 13th tackles the Passion, and denies that the deity in particular undergoes the passion in any terminology. Strong dynamic monarchianism has no alternative but to say that the Unbegotten suffers the passion, since there is no distinction of persons to make any distinction possible.

The 14th through 17th each deal with OT theophanies or references which Photinus denies are pre-Incarnate Christophanies. Gen 1:26, Gen 18, Gen 19:24, Gen 32 are the four incidents or verses in question. In each case the anathemas privilege an interpretation that reinforces either a Christophany or a 2-person understanding. The 18th anathema builds of the 17th, but again denies the charge of ditheism. It strongly affirms subordinationism in the council’s relation of Father to Son.

The 19th through 23rd deal with the Holy Spirit also, rejecting any teaching that admits only of one person in the Trinity, or else modalism about the Spirit, or as a part or portion. The 23rd represents the denial of ditheism in the council’s theology, except expanded to a denial of tritheism in keeping with the discussion of the Spirit.

The 24th through 27th return to the issue of how the Son is begotten, with a fairly clear denial of the position that it is somehow necessary, coupled with an affirmation that it is an act of will, but different in kind to the creation of the works. Looking forward, the insistence upon volition is going to lead to union of will instead of union of essence, that is going to split apart the broad Eastern consensus of the 340s into the Homoian and Anomoian positions of the 360s.

The final anathema warps things up and repeats and emphasises some of these key claims.

The Sirmium council is ultimately of significance in the development of the period not because of its long list of anti-Photinian anathemas, but because it marks out how the Easterns perceive Western theology. As we see in the 343 councils, and in the later 350s councils, there are repeated attempts to align Marcellus, Photinus, and Athanasius together as associated figures with comparable theologies. Yet, arguably, neither Marcellus nor Photinus are representative of the majority of the Western bishops, though they are willing to defend Marcellus more than Photinus, but largely because the way the attacks and anathemas are formulated in the East set off warning bells for Western bishops concerned about tritheism from the East, in the same way that the Easterns suspect much of the West of monarchical modalism. Not to collapse the whole debate into West/East ‘tendencies’ towards Oneness and Threeness, but this is, at least in the 340s-350s, part of the dynamic of the councils and the misunderstandings that are taking place. We’ll see how the move against Photinus becomes a more general ploy for ecclesiastical, Imperial-backed unity in the councils of Arles, Milan, and Béziers coming up next.



[1] i.e. a creed
[2] The creed is substantially the 4th Antiochene. I have noted variations in the text of Athanasius from the 4th Antiochene
[3] article added
[4] singular for A.4th plural
[5] Eph 3:15
[6] article added
[7] τά τε for A.4th τὰ πάντα
[8] “and Power and Life” lacking, “Life” added afterwards
[9] καὶ replaces A.4th τὸν
[10] following the Macrostitch’s alteration here
[11] slight word order variation, not indicated in my translation.
[12] ἔπεμψε, largely redundant given that ἀποστεῖλαι is already present earlier in this clause.
[13] shift from future to present tense.
[14] ὑπουργηκότα
[15] Is 44:6 Ἐγὼ πρῶτος καὶ ἐγὼ μετὰ ταῦτα, πλὴν ἐμοῦ οὐκ ἔστιν θεός.  LXX
[16] τροπὴν ὑπομεμενηκότα
[17] Gen 19:24
[18] Ps 110:1
[19] Jn 14:16
[20] the negatives can be confusing. The whole first clause indicates the way in which the Father did not beget the Son, the whole second clause indicates how he did beget the Son.
[21] ἔννοιαν

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