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Controversies in Early Christianity: The Nature of God

"The subsequent history of the monastic communities in the Desert of Scetis shows internal and external difficulties. Internally, a variety of doctrinal developments threatened the spiritual harmony of the desert experience. Even during the days of St. Macarius there were heterodox tendencies. Hierax, a monk, asserted that the institution of marriage belonged to the devil and that there was no resurrection of the body, but only of the spirit. Other controversies were more lasting. The Origenist heresy (which preferred allegorical to literal interpretations of the Scriptures) troubled the fathers of Scetis, since the views of Origen were studied and accepted by some of the monks at the mount of Nitria and in Cellia. Another heresy, that of the anthropomorphites, made an even greater impression upon many of the illiterate monks. Their doctrine asserted, in contradiction to Origen's views, that "the sacred Scripture testifies that God has eyes, ears, hands, and feet, as men have." Though denounced by an episcopal letter from Theophilus, the doctrines of the anthropomorphites were not extinguished. The anthropomorphite heresy was so widespread that the anthropomorphists appear to have outnumbered the liberal party by at least three to one."...Otto F.A. Meinardus, MONKS AND MONASTERIES OF THE EGYPTIAN DESERTS, revised edition, Chapter 5.

The Nature of God

  • Anthropomorphic controversy
    • Origen and Origenism...Coptic Orthodox Church Network
    • Origen and Origenism by Daniel J. Castellano
      "The Origenist controversy began in the monasteries of Palestine, where Origen's work was interpreted in a radically Platonic sense, exalting the incorporeal while disparaging the flesh, and veering off into manifest heresy on several points, particularly regarding the Incarnation and Resurrection. In reaction to this denial of God Incarnate, other monks adopted an equally heretical notion called Anthropomorphism, ascribing a human form to God as God."
    • History of the Christian church, Volume 1 by John Fletcher Hurst...pages 451-452
      "Origen was in general favor at first with the great body of the Church, whose creed was expressed in the Nicene formula. But the followers of Arius claimed to find in Origen support for their denial of the divinity of Christ and landed his opinions in their writings.' This gave great offense to the monks of the Scotia and Nitrian deserts, who went so far as to pronounce Origen a heretic, on the ground of his mysticism. Pachomius, of the Scotia desert, represented the opposition to the mystical speculations of Origen, while a monastic order of the Nitrian desert was as vigorous in defense of him. In Palestine the most vigorous supporter of Origen was John, Bishop of Jerusalem, while Epiphanius, took ground against Origen's views. Jerome, originally in sympathy with the Origenistic views, had now declared against them, and thrust himself with all zeal into the controversy. Rufinus was equally fervent in support of Origen. Between these two men the contest was bitter. The Roman bishop, Siricius, favored Rufinus, but his successor opposed him, and in a letter to the Bishop of Jerusalem condemned the opinions of Origen.

      In Alexandria and Constantinople the controversy was violent in the extreme. Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria, had publicly sympathized with the Origenistic monks of the Nitrian desert, but afterward took ground against them. This incensed them to such a degree that they assailed him with clubs and compelled him to oppose the Origenistic views. In a synod at Alexandria, A. D. 399, Origen was condemned."
    • The divide between Origenists and anti-Origenists, anti-Anthropomorphites and Anthropomorphites...Excerpts from the COPTIC PALLADIANA I: THE LIFE OF PAMBO (LAUSIAC HISTORY 9-10)...translated from Coptic by Tim Vivian...p. 72 +
      "Scholars have seen two monastic camps: “Hellenic or Hellenized monks whose theology was more intellectual and more speculative than the na├»ve and literal beliefs of their Egyptian brethren.”23 While this demarcation is suspiciously tidy and accepts the anti-Anthropomorphite biases of the ancient sources, it probably presents a reasonably, though not entirely, accurate picture.24 The divide between Origenists and anti-Origenists, anti-Anthropomorphites and Anthropomorphites, was not entirely ethnic but also involved social networks, particularly among the Origenists.25 In Conference 10.3, Cassian speaks highly of Paphnutius, a Copt, who opposed Anthropomorphism in Scetis. It is not a coincidence that in that same Conference, Paphnutius calls on a foreigner, “a certain deacon named Photinus” from Cappadocia, who informs the monks that “the Catholic churches throughout the East” interpreted Genesis “spiritually,” not in a “lowly” way like the Anthropomorphites." "According to Socrates (despite his politicizing tendencies), the question was theological in origin: Does God have corporeal existence and human form, or is God incorporeal, without human or any other bodily form? The Anthropomorphites, following descriptions of God in scripture and the affirmation that human beings are made in God’s image and likeness, believed that God did in fact have anthropomorphite, human, form and characteristics. Those opposed to them, following Platonic—and Origenist—thought, believed that God was incorporeal. Theophilus agreed with them and in his Paschal or Festal Letter of 399 (no longer extant) apparently condemned Anthroporphism; most of the monks, however (as Cassian reports), “very bitterly” received this letter. They went en masse to Alexandria, threatened Theophilus, and convinced him of the error of his ways. The archbishop, an astute politician, did an abrupt about-face: he now anathematized Origenism and convened a synod in 400 to effect the condemnation and excommunicate the Origenist monks the Tall Brothers; in the spring of 400, with soldiers and “a drunken rabble,” he attacked Nitria at night and drove the followers of Origen, perhaps three hundred monks, out of Egypt.47"
    • COMMENTARY ON THE PHILOKALIA:THE CONDEMNATION OF EVAGRIOS PONTICOS...by Archbishop Lazar Puhalo
  • Manichaeism (Wikipedia)
  • Marcionism (Wikipedia)
  • Monarchianism (Wikipedia)
  • Patripassianism (Wikipedia)
  • Sabellianism (Wikipedia)
  • Philosophical Views of God...by Jan Garrett
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