Macedonianism, also known as the Pneumatomachian heresy, was a 4th-century Christian heresy that denied the full divinity and personhood of the Holy Spirit. The controversy first arose in the 360s in Constantinople and ultimately led to the First Council of Constantinople in 381, which affirmed the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity and the full divinity of the Holy Spirit.
The heresy emerged within the Church in Constantinople and was influenced by Arianism’s rejection of the full divinity of the Son. The Macedonians, led by Bishop Macedonius I of Constantinople, endorsed a view of the Holy Spirit as a created being subordinate to the Father and Son. They rejected the orthodox view of the Holy Spirit as sharing the same divine essence (Greek: homoousios) as the Father and Son.
The name “Macedonianism” arose from the fact that many of the supporters of this theology came from Macedonia, although the movement spread throughout the Eastern Roman Empire. The opponents of Macedonianism referred to them as “Pneumatomachians” (Greek for “fighters against the Spirit”) for their rejection of the Spirit’s divinity.
Let’s examine the history, theology, and legacy of Macedonianism in more detail:
Historical Origins of Macedonianism
Macedonianism emerged in the 360s in Constantinople, decades after the Council of Nicaea in 325 condemned the teachings of Arius and affirmed Christ’s full divinity. Arius had taught that the Son was created by the Father and did not share the Father’s divine essence. Although Arianism was officially condemned, Arian influences lingered in some quarters of the Church.
Around 362, Bishop Macedonius I of Constantinople began openly preaching a view of the Holy Spirit similar to Arius’s view of the Son. Macedonius endorsed a hierarchical ranking of the persons of the Trinity, arguing that the Holy Spirit was created through the Son and was subservient to the Father and Son. This challenged the emerging orthodox view of the Trinity as one God in three co-equal and co-eternal persons.
By the late 360s, tensions escalated between supporters of Macedonius and pro-Nicene bishops like Athanasius of Alexandria. Emperor Valens, an Arian sympathizer, expelled many orthodox bishops, allowing Macedonius to consolidate power and influence. The Council of Constantinople in 381 ultimately condemned the Macedonians as heretics and affirmed the full divinity of the Spirit.
Theology and Beliefs of Macedonianism
The core belief of Macedonianism was that the Holy Spirit was a created being, not eternal and not fully God. Let’s examine some key aspects of their theology:
- Holy Spirit as a Creation of the Son: The Macedonians argued that the Spirit did not exist eternally with the Father, but was created through or begotten by the Son, similar to how Arius saw the Son as begotten by the Father.
- Holy Spirit as a Servant: They believed the Holy Spirit was essentially a ministering agent or servant of God, subordinate to the Father and Son in function and essence.
- Against Homooúsios: The Macedonians rejected the term homoousios (“of the same substance”) to describe the Holy Spirit’s relationship to the Father and Son. This was a term endorsed at Nicaea to affirm Christ’s full divinity.
- Biblical Arguments: They appealed to Bible verses that describe the Spirit being “sent” or “proceeding” from the Father as evidence the Spirit is not equal to the Father (John 15:26). They argued the Spirit’s subservient role in inspiration proved the Spirit is less than fully God.
- Use of Logical Arguments: Philosophically, they argued that having multiple divine persons would either introduce division into the Godhead or imply there are multiple gods, departing from monotheism.
In summary, they saw the Holy Spirit as a powerful but created being used by God, not existing as eternally or fully divine in the same sense as God the Father.
The Council of Constantinople and Condemnation of Macedonianism
The growing influence of Macedonianism made it a priority for Emperor Theodosius I to resolve the controversy through an ecclesiastical council. In 381, he convened the First Council of Constantinople, the second ecumenical council after Nicaea.
About 150 bishops attended the council, predominantly from the Eastern churches. They unanimously condemned the teachings of Macedonius I and affirmed the full divinity of the Holy Spirit. The Nicene Creed was expanded with greater emphasis on the theology of the Holy Spirit:
“And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life. He proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and Son he is worshipped and glorified.”
The council made several key declarations:
- The Holy Spirit is “true God”, homoousios with the Father and Son
- The Spirit is eternal, uncreated, and possesses the full divine essence
- The Spirit is to be worshipped equally with the Father and Son
- The Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and is sent into the world by the Son
These affirmations countered the core arguments of Macedonianism and secured the doctrine of the Trinity. Macedonius I was deposed as bishop and the Macedonians were forbidden from worshipping in Constantinople.
Later Influences and Contributions of Macedonianism
Although condemned as a heresy, Macedonianism had some ongoing influences and highlighted issues that continued to be debated:
- It forced clarification of the relationship between the Son and Spirit, including the concept of the procession of the Spirit from the Father/Son.
- It contributed to the later dispute over the filioque clause and whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone or from the Father and Son.
- It possibly sowed seeds for later conceptions of the Spirit as subordinate to the Father/Son that arose in Pneumatomachianism.
- It raised important questions about the distinction of persons within the Godhead that led to further Trinitarian reflections.
- It highlighted the challenge of articulating biblical concepts of God using Greek philosophical terminology and logic.
While thoroughly rejected as heretical, Macedonianism played a part in shaping the Church’s evolving understanding of the Trinity in the 4th century and beyond.
Evaluation and Critique of Macedonianism
From an orthodox perspective, Macedonianism fundamentally misunderstood and undervalued the divine nature and role of the Holy Spirit. Some of its key theological problems include:
- Contradicted the biblical presentation of the intimate, divine nature of the Spirit (Acts 5:3-4, 1 Cor 2:10-11, etc).
- Was rooted more in Greek philosophy than Scripture; over-reliance on logic at the expense of biblical revelation.
- Incorrectly interpreted verses about the procession and sending of the Spirit.
- Undermined the unity of the Godhead by positing a hierarchy among the persons of the Trinity.
- Was a manifestation of subordinationist tendencies that failed to recognize the co-equality of the Father, Son and Spirit.
In conclusion, Macedonianism represents an early attempt to understand the distinctions within the Trinity that unfortunately fell into serious error in dividing the unity of God and demoting the Holy Spirit. The Church recognized its flaws and corrected it through careful articulation of orthodox Trinitarian doctrine at Constantinople.
Impact on the Wider Church
The condemnation of Macedonianism at the Council of Constantinople had important impacts on Christianity in the 4th and 5th centuries:
- Affirmed the full divinity of the Son and Spirit at a time when subordinationist views persisted.
- Established key elements of orthodox Nicene Trinitarian theology as authoritative for the wider Church.
- Provided expanded creedal definition of the Trinity and the Spirit to supplement Nicaea.
- Reasserted the influence of pro-Nicene theology over Arian/subordinationist tendencies in the East.
- Paved the way for the Trinity to become definitive doctrine for Chalcedonian Christianity.
- Increased the tendency toward greater uniformity of dogma enabled by ecumenical councils.
- Set important precedent for emperors having a stake in formulating orthodoxy within the Church.
By resolving a major Trinitarian dispute, the council ensured the doctrine of the Trinity would remain a core tenet of Christian orthodoxy and enormously influenced all subsequent theology and practice.
Key Figures and Events in the Macedonian Controversy
Some key figures and events that played significant roles in the 4th century Macedonian controversy include:
- Macedonius I of Constantinople – Influential bishop who first promoted the theology, expelled by Emperor Theodosius I in 379.
- Athanasius of Alexandria – Leading pro-Nicene theologian who strongly opposed subordinationist tendencies associated with Macedonianism.
- Emperor Constantius II – Sympathized with Arian theology and exiled Athanasius, indirectly enabling the spread of Macedonianism.
- Emperor Valens – Promoted Arian/subordinationist bishops in the 360s-370s, allowing growth of Macedonianism.
- Emperor Theodosius I – Convened the Council of Constantinople in 381, firmly condemned Macedonians as heretics.
- Second Ecumenical Council, Constantinople I (381) – Convened by Theodosius, condemned Macedonianism and affirmed the full divinity of the Holy Spirit.
- Gregory of Nazianzus – Key theologian and defender of Trinitarian orthodoxy against Macedonianism.
This eclectic mix of figures helped shape the chaotic religious landscape of the mid-4th century that allowed Macedonian theology to flourish for a time before being supplanted by an emphasis on Nicene orthodoxy.
Key Bible Passages Regarding the Holy Spirit Cited by Macedonians
Some key Bible verses relating to the Holy Spirit that Macedonians interpreted through a subordinationist lens include:
- John 15:26 – Spirit proceeds and is sent by the Father, implying dependence.
- John 16:13-14 – Spirit does not speak on His own but takes what is the Father’s.
- Matthew 10:20 – Father speaks through the Spirit, suggesting Spirit is a medium.
- Romans 8:9 – Spirit described as the Spirit “of God” – implying possession by God.
- Acts 2:17-18 – God pours out “His” Spirit, language of control and possession.
- Mark 13:11 – Spirit spoke “through” the prophets, language suggesting mediumship.
- Acts 10:38 – God “anointed” Jesus with the Spirit, language of empowerment.
However, orthodox theologians argued these simply describe how the persons of the Trinity cooperate in redemptive history rather than revealing differences in essence or divinity.
Historical Precedents Prior to the 4th Century
While the Macedonian controversy came to the fore in the mid-4th century, there were some antecedents and precedents that prepared the way:
- New Testament mentions of blasphemy against the Spirit (Mark 3:29-30) assume the Spirit’s divine status.
- Some Church Fathers like Origen spoke of the Spirit as subordinate to better preserve monotheism.
- 4th century writer Hilary of Poitiers mentions some viewed the Spirit as a creature of the Son.
- Council of Nicaea affirmed homoousion for the Son but was silent on the Spirit’s status.
- Arian disputes about the Son’s divinity provided a template for similar arguments about the Spirit.
- Pneumatomachian (“fighters against the Spirit”) heresies existed in some form before Macedonius.
So while Macedonianism emerged distinctly in the 360s, it drew upon existing undercurrents of subordinationism and pneumatomachy within the early Church.
Enduring Questions and Debates Stemming from the Controversy
Some significant theological questions and debates continued even after Macedonianism was condemned, including:
- How is the unity of God upheld along with diversity of persons in the Trinity?
- What is the eternal relationship between the Son and the Spirit (especially the procession of the Spirit)?
- Does the Spirit proceed from the Father alone or from the Father and Son (filioque debate)?
- To what extent can philosophical terms and logic articulate biblical revelation accurately?
- What kind of subordination (functional but not ontological) is acceptable within the Godhead?
- How are the actions and identities of the divine persons distinguished?
- How does the Spirit relate to the Father and Son in Scripture passages on the economy of salvation?
Macedonianism highlighted key complexities in Trinitarian theology that continued to be discussed and debated in various ways after its condemnation.
Parallels Between Macedonianism and Other Heresies
There are notable parallels between Macedonianism and other Christological heresies:
- Arianism – Refuting Macedonianism became the “new Arianism” since it denied the full divinity of a Person of the Trinity.
- Subordinationism – Shared belief in an ontological hierarchy within the Trinity rather than co-equality.
- Adoptionism – Like adoptionists minimized Christ’s divinity, Macedonians minimized the Spirit.
- Tritheism – Risked implying belief in multiple gods rather than one God in three persons.
- Modalism – Affirmed distinctions between the Persons, contrary to modalism’s denial of real differences.
These parallels situate Macedonianism within the context of early debates about the nature of the Trinity and God’s oneness versus threeness.
Relevance and Significance for Theology Today
While essentially a relic of Church history, Macedonianism remains relevant for theology today in the following ways:
- Highlights the vital role of ecumenical councils for formally clarifying orthodoxy.
- Example of how heresies can sometimes lead to positive doctrinal development.
- Demonstrates the difficulty of articulating the distinctions within the Trinity.
- Warn against subordinationist tendencies that undermine Trinitarian co-equality.
- Shows the need to ground theology in Scripture rather than philosophy alone.
- Displays the challenging dynamics when bishops and emperors interact and shape doctrine.
- Illustrates how disunity and schism still mark aspects of doctrinal history.
- Provides a case study for Christology and pneumatology classes today.
For these reasons, Macedonianism remains a useful heresy to study for obtaining balanced insight into the formation of orthodox Trinitarian theology.