Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Beware of the Tri-Theists

Big ups to Maximus Scott for bringing this to my attention. The Tri-theists here were mainly the followers of the Monophysite John Philoponus :

As seen from HolyTrinityMission.org

 
During the period when the Monophysites were left somewhat undisturbed by the imperial arm, from 540 until about 570, personal disputes caused further factions. One faction was the Agnoetae — from αγνοέω. They were also known as Themistians, from the founder of their Monophysite faction, Themistius, a sixth century deacon of Alexandria and a student of Severus. Their basic position was in maintaining that the humanity of Christ was "ignorant." Another group, the Niobites, professed a belief in a distinction of natures after the union but refused to accept the expression "two natures" — the Niobites anathematized the entire Severian party.
A more serious schism was that of the Tritheists, also known as the Cononites from their leader Conon, one of the early associates of Jacob — they were also known as the Philoponists from John Philoponus (d.c. 565). According to the extant sources the origin of Tritheism occurred in a most casual way. In a meeting with the Chalcedonians John Philoponus allegedly asked: "If you speak about two natures, why do you not also speak of two hypostases since nature and hypostasis are identical?" The Chalcedonian response was that they would indeed do so "if we considered nature and hypostasis identical, but as a point of fact we distinguish between the two." The Chalcedonian reportedly continued by proposing that John Philoponus, if he held nature and hypostasis to be identical, should therefore speak of three natures in the Godhead. His reply allegedly was: "Then, we will do so." When the astonished Chalcedonian exclaimed that to do so would be to teach Tritheism, John reportedly replied that "in the Trinity I count as many natures, essences, and Godheads as I do hypostases."

Such a position may appear somewhat flippant and casual but it was a quite serious point by John Philoponus, who was not an ignorant monk but a sophisticated philosopher, a disciple of Ammonius of Hermias. He wrote works on Aristotle, works on Nichomachus of Gerosa, and at least two works on grammar. His works reflect an eclectic philosophical perspective which combines Aristotle, Plato, Stoic principles, and elements of Christian thought. Underlying his thought is a Stoic principle of considering fundamental matter as three dimensional. Pluralism was a cornerstone of his philosophical perspective.
In transferring his basic philosophical vision to the Trinity John Philoponus could easily affirm a Tritheism. It is interesting that in his philosophy he viewed created existence as a mere instrumentality of divine causation, a position which would make Monophysitism somewhat natural for him. In none of his works does he, however, explicitly affirm that there are three gods. John Philoponus was also extremely hostile toward the Roman see, attacking directly the primacy of Rome and explicitly calling Pope Leo the Great a Nestorian.
Underlying the thought of the Tritheists was the distinction between hypostasis and nature. Christ was one hypostasis, an indivisible hypostasis, which, though united with God the Father, must be distinguished from the hypostasis of the Father and the hypostasis of the Holy Spirit. But because of the interaction between hypostasis and nature and because of a certain "assimilation" between the two, the individual "natures" had also to be distinguished. The Cappadocian balance between the hypostasis and nature was compromised and the compromise implied a Tritheism. When this thought pattern was presented by a philosopher and ascetic such as John Philoponus, it attracted the attention of some leaders within the Monophysite movement.
Sergius, a Syrian from Telia who was ordained patriarch of Antioch in 557 by Theodosius, became enamored by the teaching. The early associates of Jacob, Conon and Eugenius, now working in Cilicia and Isauria fell under the influence of Tritheism. In Constantinople John Asconaghes — his name referred to his slippery type of shoes which in turn referred to his "slippery" character; that is, he was constantly slipping from one faction to another — accepted this interpretation of hypostasis and nature and, through him, an important convert was won from the imperial court: Anastasius, the grandson of Theodora.
For the next twenty years Anastasius was to be a personality to contend with. Michael the Syrian relates that Justinian had hoped to place Anastasius on the patriarchal throne of Alexandria (Chronicle
9, 30). Anastasius brought both money and a certain social prestige to the new faction. Very quickly this new faction had attracted to its cause another bishop, a significant event because this new bishop happened to be the third bishop in the new movement which now allowed them to ordain their own bishops. One of the sources claims that "all their disciples and followers — whoever joined them — they consecrated as bishops." They established new communities throughout the empire — in Africa, in Rome, in Greece, in Asia Minor, as well as in the traditionally non-Chalcedonian areas of Egypt and Syria. In Constantinople they also established themselves. Indeed, John of Ephesus relates how surprised he was at the number of persons from the court who attended the services of the new faction.

During all this Theodosius used persuasion and then excommunication with the new faction. Theodosius rejected any notion of separate natures. He excommunicated John Asconaghes and Patriarch Sergius. He had more difficulty with Conon and Eugenius, both of whom continued to reject and then accept again the position of the Tritheists throughout their lives. Anastasius had created a will that left an endowment to the new faction. He had a falling out with this new faction before his death but had not altered his will, the result of which was a financial source to perpetuate the new faction.

Attempts were made to reunite but nothing came of them ultimately. After mutual excommunication both parties appealed to the emperor. The task of judging two Monophysite groups was delegated to Patriarch John Scholasticus. He was to use the works of Severus, Theodosius, and Anthimus as the guide, the authoritative works from which to judge. The "trial" lasted for four days. Conon and Eugenius represented the Tritheists; Paul "the Black" and Jacob the "conservative" wing of the Monophysites. As could have been anticipated, the decision favored the "conservative" wing. Exile under escort was the decision for Conon and Eugenius. John of Ephesus relates that the head of the escort was the defrocked monk, Photius, the stepson of Belisarius, who was well-known for his cruelty. Indeed, it is related that he liked nothing more than to torture clergy.

This inner quarrel actually played into the hands of the Chalcedonians. The Tritheists had pushed the Monophysite position to an extremity and, in order to answer the Tritheists, the conservative Monophysites were forced to fall back to strictly Severian positions or to positions that pointed in the direction of Chalcedon. Michael the Syrian claims that thousands returned to the Chalcedonian hierarchy, for they believed it far more theologically sound to confess "two natures" rather than have anything to do with a theology that could fall into "three natures in the Trinity."

 To read the rest please visit the website.


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