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What was the Pneumatomachian heresy / Macedonianism?

translate Pneumatomachian, Macedonianism

Macedoniansim was a fourth-century heresy that denied the full divinity or personality of the Holy Spirit. This idea was popularized by a former bishop of Constantinople, a semi-Arian named Macedonius, and he became the namesake of the belief. Those who denied the Spirit’s deity or personality were called Pneumatomachians, which means “opponents of the Spirit” or “Spirit fighters.”

According to the Pneumatomachians (Macedonians), the Holy Spirit was a created entity, subject to the Father and Son, in something of a servant role. This error was addressed and soundly refuted at the Council of Constantinople in AD 381. As a reaction against the growing heresy of Macedonianism, church leaders at this council voted to expand the Nicene Creed to more accurately defend the Holy Spirit as fully God and worthy of worship. With that addition, the creed now reads, “And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets.” The Council of Constantinople sought to make it clear that the Holy Spirit is consubstantial (homoousious) with the Father and the Son.

We know that Macedonianism was in error because of Jesus’ warning in Matthew 12:31–32 about an action often referred to as the “unpardonable sin.” Jesus stated that blasphemy against this Person of the Trinity would not be forgiven. Blasphemy is defiant irreverence toward God in either verbal or written form, so, by definition, blasphemy can only be directed toward deity. If the Holy Spirit were not fully God, no one could blaspheme Him, so Jesus confirmed the Holy Spirit’s divinity with this warning.

Jesus also equates the Holy Spirit with God in Matthew 28:19 in His address known as the Great Commission. Jesus commanded new disciples to be baptized in the name of all three Persons of the Godhead: the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. The Son would not list the Spirit along with Himself and the Father, unless the Holy Spirit was equal to them.

Another scriptural example of the separate but equal personhood of the Holy Spirit is found in Luke 4:1–14 and Matthew 4:1–11, when Jesus was led “by the Spirit” into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. This shows the Spirit to have a will of His own, and Jesus followed His leading into a treacherous place. When Jesus passed all His tests, He “returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14). Jesus relied on the power of the Spirit for His strength. Only God Himself could empower the Son of God against Satan, and the Spirit did the empowering.

Fortunately, the Pneumatomachian heresy (Macedonianism) was soundly refuted by the end of the fourth century. Defenders of the faith such as Athanasius of Alexandria and Basil of Caesarea fought the good fight and opposed the Pneumatomachians. True Christians today recognize the Holy Spirit as a distinct and wonderful Person of the Triune God. It is through the power of the Holy Spirit that Christians receive spiritual gifts that enable the church to thrive and spread (Luke 24:49; 1 Corinthians 12:1–11; Hebrews 2:4; 1 Peter 4:10). The Holy Spirit is God who dwells inside everyone who has been born again through faith in Christ (John 3:3; Acts 2:38; 1 Corinthians 6:19–20). The Spirit is the One who teaches us the Word that He Himself inspired (2 Peter 1:21) and confirms to us that we are in fact children of God (Romans 8:16; Hebrews 10:15). God alone can do all that.

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022