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be induced to accept it. Felix, therefore, may have been led to embrace
this particular doctrine, called Adoptionism, from a wish to bring the
Christian view of Christ nearer to the Mohammedan opinion.

There is considerable doubt as to who first broached the new theory, the
evidence being of a conflicting character, and pointing now to
Elipandus, bishop of Toledo and primate of all Spain, now to Felix,
bishop of Urgel, in Catalonia.[6]

[1] Mariana, vii. 8. Baronius, "Ann. Eccl." xiii. p. 260. See
Blunt, "Dictionary of Religions," etc., article on Adoptionism;
and Migne, vol. xcvi. p. 847 - "deceptus uterque contagione
forsan insidentiurn cervicibus aut e proximo blasphemantium
Mohametanorum commercio."

[2] Enhueber, sec. 26. Mansi, "Coll. Concil," x. 513, sec. 4.

[3] "Usus enim frequenti Maurorum commercio." - _Ibid_.

[4] V. 219.

[5] This perhaps refers to a "disputatio cum sacerdote" which
the Emperor Charles the Great had heard of as written by Felix.
Alcuin (see "Ep.," 85) knows nothing of it. In his letter to
Charles, Alcuin, speaking of a letter from Felix, says: "Inveni
peiores errores, quam ante in eius scriptis legerem."

[6] The prevailing opinion seems to be that the new doctrine
arose out of Elipandus' controversy with Migetius.

The claims of Felix[1] are supported by Eginhard,[2] Saxo, and Jonas of
Orleans; while Paulinus of Aquileia, in his book entitled
"Sacrosyllabus," expressly calls Elipandus the author of the baneful
heresy; and Alcuin, in his letter to Leidrad,[3] says that he is
convinced that Elipandus, as he was the first in rank, so also was the
chief offender.

The evidence being inconclusive, we are driven to follow _à priori_
considerations, and these point to Elipandus as the author. According to
Neander,[4] he was a violent, excitable, bigoted man; and he certainly
uses some very strong language in his writings against his opponents,
and stands a good deal on his dignity as head of the Spanish Church. For
instance, speaking of his accusers, Etherius, Bishop of Osma, and
Beatus,[5] a priest of Libana, he says of the former that he wallows in
the mire of all lasciviousness;[6] that he is totally unfit to officiate
at God's altar;[7] that he is a false prophet[8] and a heretic; and,
forgetting the courtesies of controversy, he doesn't hesitate, in
another place, to call him an ass. Beatus also he accuses of gross
sensuality, and calls him that iniquitous priest of Astorga,[9]
accusing him of heresy, and giving him the title Antiphrasius, which
means that instead of being called Beatus, he should have been named the
very opposite.[10]

[1] See "Froben Dissertation," Migne, vol. ci. p. 305.

[2] "Annals," 792.

[3] Alcuin, "Epist. ad Leidradum," says that the heresy arose
in Cordova, and he appeals to Elipandus' letter to Felix after
the latter's recantation.

[4] Neander (v. p. 217) seems to infer these qualities from his
writings. An author, quoted by Enhueber (Tract, de Primata
Eccl. Tolet), describes him as "parum accurate in sacris
litteris versatus."

[5] Died in 798. Fleury v., p. 236.

[6] Elipand. Epist., iv. 2, "Carnis immunditia fetidus."

[7] "Ab altario Dei extraneus." Neander, v., p. 226, takes this
to mean that he was deposed.

[8] He gave the Revelation of St John a Moslem application: and
prophesied the end of the world in the near future. See letter
of Beatus, book i., sec. 23 - "Novissima hora est ... nunc
Antichristi multi facti sunt. Omnis spiritus qui solvit Jesum
est illius Antichristi, quem audistis quoniam venit, et nunc in
mundo est." See also Alcuin's letter to the Spanish bishops.

[9] "Elipandus and bishops of Spain to those of Gaul," sec. 1.

[10] This practice of punning on names is very common in these
writers. "Infelix Felix" is a poor witticism which constantly
occurs. So Samson says of Hostegesis that he ought to be called
"hostis Jesu"; and in the account of the Translation of the
bodies of Aurelius, etc., we find Leovigild spoken of as a very
"Leo vigilans."

But in spite of outbreaks like these we must beware of judging the
venerable Elipandus too hardly. Alcuin himself, in his letter to the
bishop, written, as he says, "with the pen of charity," speaks of him as
most blameless,[1] and confesses that he has heard much of his piety and
devotion, an admission which he also makes with regard to Felix, in a
letter to him.[2] Yet in his book against Elipandus, he exclaims, not
without a touch of bathos: "For all the garments of wool on your
shoulders, and the mitre upon your brow, wearing which you minister to
the people, for all the daily shaving of your beard[3] ... if you
renounce not these doctrines, you will be numbered with the goats!"
Another testimony (of doubtful value, however) in Elipandus' favour is
to be found in the anonymous life of Beatus,[4] where Elipandus is said
to have succeeded Cixila in the bishopric of Toledo, because of his
reputation for learning and piety, which extended throughout Spain.

[1] "Sanctissime praesul," sec. 1. Cp. sec. 6, "Audiens famam
bonam religiosae vitae de vobis."

[2] "Celeberriman tuae sanctitatis audiens famam." The "Pseudo
Luitprand" calls him "Vir humilis, prudens, ae in zelo fidei
Catholicae fervens."

[3] Beards were the sign of laymen, see Alvar, "Ep.," xiii.,
and probably the distinction was much insisted on because of
the Moslem custom of wearing long beards. For the distinctive
dress of the clergy see the same letter of Alvar, ... "Quern
staminia et lana oviuin religiosum adprobat."

[4] See Migne, xcvi., 890 ff.

Elipandus, who boasted of having refuted and stamped out the Migetian
errors, and who also took up so independent an attitude with regard to
the See of Rome, was not the man to endure being dictated to in the
matter of what was, or what was not, sound doctrine, and, in the letter
quoted above, he scornfully remarks that he had never heard that it was
the province of the people of Libana to teach the Toledans. Here, as in
the defiant attitude taken up towards the Pope, we may perhaps see a
jealousy, felt by the old independent Church of Spain under its own
primate, towards the new Church, that was growing up in the mountains of
the North, the centre of whose religious devotion was soon to be
Compostella, and its spiritual head not the primate of Spain, but the
bishop of Rome.

It is now time to explain what the actual heresy advocated by Elipandus
and Felix was. Some have held the opinion that Adoptionism was merely a
revival of the Bonosian errors, which had long taken root in Spain;[1]
others, that it was a revival of the Nestorian[2] heresy, a new phase of
the controversy between the schools of Antioch and Alexandria;[3] or
that it was an attempt to reform Christianity, purging it from later
additions.[4] Alcuin, however, speaks of its followers as a new sect,
unknown to former times.[5] Stated briefly, the new doctrine was that
Jesus, in so far as His manhood was concerned, was son of God by
adoption. This error had been foreseen and condemned in advance by Cyril
of Alexandria (348-386):[6] by Hilary of Arles (429-449).[7] The
Eleventh Council of Toledo had also guarded against this same error a
hundred years before this (675), affirming that Christ the Son of God
was His Son by nature, not by adoption.

[1] Enhueber, Diss., sec. 25. The errors of Bonosus were
condemned at Capua in 389. For their development in Spain, see
"Isidore of Seville."

[2] Condemned at Ephesus, 431. For connection of Adoptionism
with this, see letter of Adrian to bishops of Spain (785?).

[3] Neander, v., p. 216.

[4] _Ibid._, vi., p. 120, see letter of Alvar to Speraindeo.

[5] Alcuin contra Felicem, i., sec. 7. Elipandus denied that it
had anything to do with other heresies. "Nos vero
anathematizamus Bonosum, qui filium Dei sine matre genitum,
adoptivum fuisse adfirmat. Item Sabellium, qui ipsum esse
Patrem, quem Filium, quem et Spiritus sanctus (_sic_) et non
ipsud, delirat. Anathematizamus Arium, qui Filium et Spiritum
Sanctum creaturas esse existimat. Anathematizamus Manichaeum
qui Christum solum Deum et non hominem fuisse praedicat.
Anathematizamus Antiphrasium Beatum carnis lasciviae deditum,
et onagrum Etherium, doctorem bestialem ...," etc.

[6] "Lectures on the Catechism," xi. "Christ is the Son of God
by nature, begotten of the Father, not by adoption."

[7] De Trinit, v., p. 7, "The Son of God is not a false God - a
God by adoption, or a God by metaphor (nee adoptivus, nec

It is a mistake to suppose Adoptionism to be a mere resuscitation of
Nestorianism.[1] It agreed with the latter in repudiating the term
"Mother of God" as applied to the Virgin Mary,[2] but it differed from
it in the essential point of acknowledging the unity of person in
Christ. What Felix - and on him devolved the chief onus of defence in the
controversy - wished to make clear, was that the predicates of Christ's
two natures could not logically be interchanged.[3] He therefore
reasoned thus: Christ in respect to His Deity is God, and Son of God;
with respect to His Manhood He is also God and Son of God, not indeed in
essence, but by being taken into union with Him, who _is_ in essence
God, and Son of God. Therefore Christ, unless He derived His humanity
from the essence of God, must as man, and in respect of that humanity,
be Son of God only in a nuncupative sense. This relation of Jesus the
Man to God he preferred to describe by the term Adoption - a word not
found in Scripture in this connection, "but," says Felix, "implied
therein,[4] for what is adoption in a son, if it be not election,
assumption _(susceptio)_." The term itself was no doubt found by Elipandus
_in_ the Gothic Liturgy;[5] and he most likely used it at first with no
thought of raising a metaphysical discussion on so knotty a point. Being
brought to task, however, for using the word by those whom he deemed his
ecclesiastical inferiors, he was led to defend it from a natural dislike
to acknowledge himself in the wrong. "We can easily believe," says
Enhueber, "that Elipandus, who appears to have been the chief author of
the heresy at this time, fell into it at first from ignorance and
inadvertently, and did not appear openly as a heretic, till, admonished
of his error, he arrogantly and obstinately defended a position which he
had only taken up through ignorance."[6]

Elipandus also seems to have applied to Felix[7] for his opinion on
Christ's Sonship; and the latter, who was a man of great penetration and
acuteness, first formulated the new doctrine, stating in his answer that
Christ must be considered with regard to His Divinity as truly God and
Son of God, but with regard to His Manhood, as Son of God in name only,
and by adoption.

[1] See Blunt, "Dict. of Relig.," article on Adoptionism.

[2] Neander, v. 223. Blunt (1.1.) says just the contrary.

[3] Neander, v. 220.

[4] Alcuin contra Felicem, iii. c. 8.

[5] "Elipand. ad Albinum," sec, 11. Adoptio assumptio ([Greek:
analêpsis]) occurs _(a)_ in the Missa de coena Domini:
_adoptivi hominis passio;_ _(b)_ in the prayer de tertia feria
Pascha: _adoptionis gratia;_ _(c)_ in that de Ascensione:
_adoptionem carnis._ The Council of Frankfurt (794) branded the
authors of the liturgy as heretics (so also did Alcuin) and as
the main cause of the Saracen conquest! See Fleury, v. 243.

[6] Enhueber, "Dissertatio," sec. 26. Neander, v. 217, has the
same remark in other words.

[7] See Blunt, Art. on Adoptionism.

To give an idea of the lines on which the controversy was carried on, it
will be necessary to state some of the arguments of Felix, and in
certain cases Alcuin's rejoinders. These are: -

_(a.)_ "If Christ, as man, is not the _adopted_ Son of God, then must
His Manhood be derived from the essence of God and consequently must be
something different from the manhood of men."[1] To this Alcuin can only
oppose another dilemma, which, however, is more of the nature of a
quibble. "If," he says, "Christ is an adopted Son of God, and Christ is
also God, then is God the adopted Son of God?"[2] Here Alcuin confounds
the predicates of Christ's two natures - the very thing Felix protested
against - and uses the argument thus obtained against that doctrine of
Felix, which was based on this very denial of any interchange of

_(b.)_ Christ is spoken of sometimes as Son of David, sometimes as Son
of God. One person can only have two fathers, if one of these be an
adoptive father. So is it with Christ. Alcuin answers: "As a man (body
and soul) is called the son of his father, so Christ (God and man) is
called Son of God."[3] But to those who deny that a man's soul is
derived from his father, this argument would carry no weight.

_(c.)_ Christ stood in a position of natural dependence towards God over
and above the voluntary submission which He owed to His Father as
God.[4] This dependence Felix expresses by the term _servus
conditionalis_, applied to Jesus.[5] He may have been thinking of Matt.
xii. i8, "Behold my servant, whom I have chosen;" and St Paul's Ep. to
Philipp. ii. 7, "He took upon. Him the form of a servant, and was made
in the likeness of men."[6] Or perhaps he had in his mind, if the theory
of the influence of Mohammedanism is true, those passages of the Koran
which speak of Christ as a servant, as, "Christ doth not proudly disdain
to be a servant unto God,"[7] and, "Jesus is no other than a

(_d._) To prove that Scripture recognises a distinction between Christ
the Man and Christ the God, Felix appeals to Luke xviii. 19, "Why
callest thou Me good? There is none good, save one, even God;" Mark
xiii. 32, "Of that day, or that hour, knoweth no one, not even the
angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father." Texts such as these
can only be met by a reference to other texts, such as John iii. 16,
where God is said to have given His only begotten Son to suffer death
upon the Cross.

[1] Alcuin contra Felicem, ii. sec. 12.

[2] Alcuin (_ibid.,_ i. sec. 13) also answers: "If Christ be
the adopted Son of God, because as man, he could not be of
God's substance: then must he also be Mary's adopted son in
respect to his Deity. But then Mary cannot be the mother of
God." But this Alcuin thinks an impious conclusion. Cp. also
Contra Felic., vii. sec. 2.

[3] Contra Felic, iii. sec. 2.

[4] Cp. 1 Corinth, xi. 3, "The Head of Christ is God." This
position of dependence was due, says Felix, "ad ignobilitatem
beatae Virginis, quae se ancillam Dei humili voce protestatur."

[5] Cp. Elipandus' "Confession of Faith": "... per istum Dei
simul et hominis Filium, adoptivum humanitate et nequaquam
adoptivum Divinitate ... qui est Deus inter Deos (John x. 35)
... quia, si conformes sunt omnes sancti huic Filio Dei
secundum gratiam, profecto et cum adoptione (sunt) adoptivi, et
cum advocato advocati, et cum Christo Christi, et _cum servo

[6] Cf. Acts iii. 13.

[7] Koran, iv. v. 170.

[8] Koran, xliii. v. 59.

Conceiving, then, that it was logically necessary to speak of Christ the
Man as Son of God by adoption, Felix yet admits that this adoption,
though the same in kind[1] as that which enables _us_ to cry Abba,
Father, yet was more excellent in degree, and even perhaps specifically
higher. It differed also from man's adoption in not being entered into
at baptism, since Christ's baptism was only the point at which His
adoption was outwardly made manifest by signs of miraculous power, which
continued till the resurrection. Christ's adoption - according to Felix,
was assumed at His conception, "His humanity developing in accordance
with its own laws, but in union with the Logos."[2] It will be seen
that though Felix wished to keep clear the distinction between Christ as
God, and as Man, yet he did not carry this separation so far as to
acknowledge two persons in Christ. "The Adoptionists acknowledged the
unity of Persons, but meant by this a juxtaposition of two distinct
personal beings in such a way that the Son of God should be recognised
as the vehicle for all predicates, but not in so close a manner as to
amount to an absorption of the human personality into the Divine
Person."[3] The two natures of Christ had been asserted by the Church
against the Monophysites, and the two wills against the Monothelites,
but the Church never went on to admit the two Persons.[4] With regard to
the contention of Felix, we are consequently driven to the conclusion
that either the personality ascribed to Christ was "a mere abstraction,
a metaphysical link joining two essentially incompatible natures,"[5] or
that the dispute was only about names, and that by adopted son Felix and
the others meant nothing really different from the orthodox doctrine.[6]

[1] See John x. 35. Cp. Neander, v. p. 222.

[2] Neander (l.l.) Blunt, Art. on Adopt., puts this
differently: "There were (according to Felix) two births in our
Lord's life - (a) the assumption of man at the conception; (_b_)
the adoption of that man at baptism. Cp. Contra Felic., iii.
16: "Qui est Secundus Adam, accepit has geminas generationes;
primam quae secundum carnem est, secundum vero spiritatem, quae
per adoptionem fit, idem redemptor noster secundum hominem
complexus, in semet ipso continet, primam videlicet, quam
suscepit ex virgine nascendo, secundam vero quam initiavit in
lavacro [ ] a mortuis resurgendo."

[3] Blunt, article on Adopt.

[4] Cp. Paschasius: "In Christo gemina substantia, non gemina
persona est, quia persona personam consumere potest, substantia
vero substantiam non potest, siquidem persona res iuris est,
substantia res naturae."

[5] Blunt, _ibid._ Cp. also Alcuin contra Felic., iv. 5, where
he says that Felix, although he shrank from asserting the dual
personality of Christ, yet insisted on points which involved

[6] So Walchius.

The first mention of the new theory appears in a letter of Elipandus to
the Abbot Fidelis, written in 783,[1] but it did not attract notice
till a little later. The pope Adrian, in his letter to the orthodox
bishops of Spain (785), speaks of the melancholy news of the heresy
having reached him - a heresy, he remarks, never before propounded,
unless by Nestorius. Together with Elipandus, he mentions Ascarius,[2]
Bishop of Braga, whom Elipandus had won over to his views. The new
doctrine seems to have made its way quickly over a great part of
Spain,[3] while Felix propagated it with considerable success in
Septimania. The champions of the orthodox party in Spain were Beatus and
Etherius, whom we have mentioned above, and Theudula, Bishop of Seville;
while beyond its borders Alcuin, Paulinus of Aquileia, and Agobard of
Lyons, under the direction of Charles the Great and the Pope, defended
the orthodox position.

[1] See Migne, 96 p. 848.

[2] Fleury, v. 236, mentions a letter of his to Elipandus,
asking the latter's opinion on some doubtful points in the new

[3] Jonas of Orleans, in his work against Claudius, says: "Hac
virulenta doctrina uterque Hispaniam magna ex parte infecit."

Felix, being bishop in a province of which Charles claimed the
overlordship, was amenable to his ecclesiastical superiors, and suffered
for his opinions at their hands; but Elipandus, living under a
Mohammedan government, could only be reached by letters or messages. He
seems even to have received something more than a mere negative support
from the Arabs, if we are right in so interpreting a passage in the
letter of Beatus and Etherius.[1] But it is hard to believe that
Elipandus was on such friendly terms with the Arab authorities; indeed,
from passages in his writings, we should infer that the opposite was
rather the case.[2] Neander suggests that it may have been a Gothic
king in Galicia who supported Elipandus, but this seems even more
unlikely than the other supposition.

The first council called to consider this question was held by the
suggestion of the Emperor and the Pope at Narbonne in 788, when the
heresy was condemned by twenty-five bishops of Gaul.[3]

A similar provincial council was held by Paulinus at Friuli in 791, with
the same results.[4] But in the following year the heresy was formally
condemned at a full council held at Ratisbon, under the presidency of
the Emperor. Here Felix abjured his error, and was sent to Rome to be
further condemned by the Pope, that the whole Western Church might take
action in the matter. Felix was there induced to write a book condemning
his own errors, but in spite of this he was not restored to his see.[5]
On his return, however, to Spain, Felix relapsed into his old heresy,
which he had never really abjured.[6]

[1] I. sec. 13. "Et episcopus metropolitanus et princeps terrae
pari certamine schismata haereticorum, unus verbi gladio, alter
virga regiminis ulciscens, de terra vestra funditus
auferantur." See on this passage Neander, v. 227, and cp. sec.
65, "haereticus tamen scripturarum non facit rationem, sed cum
potentibus saeculi ecclesiam vincere quaerit."

[2] Elip. ad. Albinum, sec. 7 - "Oppressione gentis afflicti non
possumus tibi rescribere cuncta;" also, Ad Felic. "quotidiana
dispendia quibus duramus potius quam vivimus."

[3] There are some doubts about this council.

[4] Fleury, v. 236. Hefele dates it 796.

[5] See letter of Spanish bishops to Charles, asking for
Felix's restoration (794).

[6] Leo III. said of him, at a council held in Rome (799):
"_Fugiens ad paganos consentaneos_ perjuratus effectus est."
See Froben, "Dissert," sec. 24; apud Migne, ci, pp. 305-336.

In 792 Alcuin was summoned from England to come and defend the orthodox
position. He wrote at once to Felix a kindly letter, admonishing him of
his errors, and acknowledging that all his previous utterances on
theology had been sound and true. Felix answered this letter, but his
reply is not preserved. To the same, or following, year belongs the
letter of Elipandus and the bishops of Spain to Charles and the bishops
of Gaul, defending their doctrine, and asking for the restoration of

In 794 was held another council at Frankfurt, at which Alcuin and other
English clergy were present. Felix was summoned to attend, and heard his
heresy again condemned and anathematised, the decree to this effect
being sent to Elipandus.[1] Alcuin's book was read by Charles, and sent
into Septimania by the hands of the abbot Benedict.

The next council was held at Rome in 798 to confirm the one at
Frankfurt.[2] In 799 came out Felix's answer to Alcuin, sent by him
first to Elipandus, and, after being shewn to the Cordovan clergy, sent
on to Charles. Alcuin is charged to answer it, with Paulinus and the
Pope as his coadjutors.

In the same year another council was held at Aix, where Alcuin argued
for a week with Felix, and apparently convinced him, for Felix again
recanted, and even wrote a confession of faith discarding the word
adoption, but still preserving the distinction of predicates belonging
to the two natures.[3] Alcuin's book, after being revised by Charles,
was published 800 A.D. Previously to this he had written to Elipandus,
who answered in no measured terms, accusing Alcuin, among other things,
of enormous wealth. This letter was sent through Felix, and, in answer,
Alcuin wrote the book against Elipandus, which we now have, and which
was the means of converting twenty thousand heretics in Gothic Gaul.[4]
But in spite of Emperor or Pope, of the books of Alcuin, or the
anathemas of the councils, neither Felix nor Elipandus really gave up
his new doctrines, and even the former continued to make converts.
Elipandus, though very old[5] at this time (800 A.D.), lived ten years
longer, and Felix survived him eight years;[6] and they both died
persisting in their error.[7]

[1] Fleury, v. 243, says there was no anathema; but Migne,
xcvi. 858, gives us the canon: "Anathematizata esto impia ac
nefanda haeresis Elipandi Toletanae sedis Episcopi, et Felix
(_sic_) Orgellitani, eorumque sequacium."

[2] Neander, v. 228.

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