It was an early Trinitarian heresy that exaggerated the oneness of the Father and the Son (John 10:30). It was promoted by Sabellius in Rome during the early third century. In the infant Church, the first confession of faith concerning the Divinity of Jesus Christ was based on St. Peter's words: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." [Matt. 16:16] Early Christians worshipped and died for Jesus Christ based on this simple confession without thinking about what it actually implied. If Christ is God, then how does He relate to the God of the Old Testament? Is Christ another God, another Person or just another manifestation distinct from the Father? In the early third century, a few Christians, who included Noetus, were speculating that the Father and the Son are only different aspects or modes of the one Divine Being. The Father became the Son after taking flesh of Mary. This speculation developed further under Sabellius. The Sabellians (also called Monarchians or Modalists) claimed that since there is only one God, there is only one Person in the Godhead. There are no personal relationships between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The only distinguishing relationships were between God and man. The Trinity was not three Persons in one God, but three functional relationships with man. The Father is the mode that created man; the Son is the mode that redeemed man; the Holy Spirit is the mode that sanctified man. Pope Callistus condemned this heresy, but it continued to flourish in the East into the fifth century. Even today it makes a comeback with the formula: "In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier." But what is the big difference between three Persons vs. three modes? God is love (1 John 4:8,16). The Son loves the Father (John 14:31; 15:10); however, true love can only be between distinct persons and not manifestations (modes). If there are no distinct personal relationships within the Godhead, then there is no love within the Godhead. God could only love after man was created. This causes problems for the eternal, loving God.
Printed with permission from A Catholic Response, Inc.