Praxeans is the name of a sect of Monarchians, so called after Praxeas, the originator of their views. The heretical tenet that there is no distinction of persons in the Godhead, coupled with the acknowledgment of a divine nature in Jesus, leads logically to the conclusion that the Father was incarnate and suffered. Hence, although he himself shrank from the inference, Praxeas is reckoned with the Patripassians. He did not form a schismatical party. Philaster states that the Sabellians, called also Patripassians and Praxeans, were cast out of the Church (Haer. c. liv), but we cannot infer from this that Praxeas himself was excommunicated.
Our knowledge of Praxeas is derived almost entirely from Tertullian's treatise against him. Augustine, as well as Philaster, names him and his followers under the heresy of Sabellius; and, excepting from Tertullian, we have only the bare mention of his name as a heretic. From Tertullian it appears that he went to Rome from Asia, and the words of Tertullian, "ceconomiam intelligere nolunt etiam Graeci," appear to contain reference to his nation. It is probable that he learned his heresy from a school in Proconsular Asia which produced Noetus (q.v.). If Praxeas held his heresy while in Asia, he can scarcely have been, as he is often said to have been, a Montanist. There was a connection between the later Montanists and the Sabellians; but the earlier Montanists were free from Sabellianism. Tertullian's words imply no more than that Praxeas had in Asia become acquainted with the character of Montanist pretensions and doctrine. SEE MONTANISM. In Asia Praxeas had suffered imprisonment ("de jactatione martyrii inflatus, ob solum et simplex et breve carceris taedium," is the polemical notice of it), and with the credit attaching to a confessor he preached his false doctrine at Rome. Whether the doctrine met with resistance, toleration, or favor is not told, but that Praxeas's endeavors to propagate it had but little effect we are entitled to infer from the silence of Hippolytus. There is, however, very great difference of opinion regarding this point: Gieseler says that Praxeas appears to have been unmolested in Rome on account of his doctrine (Compend. 1, 218); Newman, that he met with the determined resistance which honorably distinguishes the primitive Roman Church in its dealings with heresy (Hist. of Arians, p. 130); Milman, that the indignation of Tertullian at the rejection of his Montanist opinions urged him to arraign the pope, with what justice, to what extent, we know not, as having embraced the Patripassian opinions of Praxeas (Hist. of Latin Christianity, 1, 49 [ed. 1867]). The two latter mention, as if inclined to it, Beausobre's supposition that, in the words of the continuator of the De Praescr. Heret., "Praxeas quidem haeresim introduxit, quam Victorinus corroborare curavit," we should read Victor for Victorinus. One would be rather inclined to substitute Zephyrinus. The Refutation of Heresies was called forth by this very controversy, and Hippolytus details carefully the tenets of Noetus, and the action of the bishop of Rome with regard to them. Had Praxeas prepared the way to any considerable extent for Noetus, some notice of his influence would surely have been given, whereas all that can be said is, that in the separate tract against Noetus the opening words will include, but without naming, disciples of Praxeas joining Noetus. It is easy to suppose that Victor, discovering the heresy of Praxeas, and not wishing, for his own sake, to disgrace one upon whose information he had acted, and by whom perhaps he had been influenced in the matter of the Montanists, quietly sent Praxeas from Rome. From Rome Praxeas went into Africa. (We take "hic quoque" in Tertullian's "Fruticaverant avenae Praxeanse; hic quoque superseminatas," etc., to mean Carthage; and that Tertullian speaks of himself in "per quem traductae," etc.) The date at which Praxeas arrived at Rome, and the length of his stay there, are not accurately known, but he reached Africa before Tertullian became a Montanist (Tertull. Adv. Prax. c. 1). Different dates, from A.D. 199 to 205, are assigned for this latter event. The history of the Montanists is best understood by supposing Praxeas to have been at Rome in Victor's time, and the date of Tertullian's Montanism to have been the earlier date. In Africa Praxeas held a dispute, probably with Tertullian, acknowledged his error, and delivered to the Church a formal recantation. But he returned again to his errors, and Tertullian, now a Montanist, wrote his tract in confutation of them.
Praxeas taught that there is only one divine Person, that the Word and the Holy Ghost are not distinct substances; arguing that an admission of distinct Personalities necessarily infers three Gods, and that the identity of the Persons is required to preserve the divine monarchy. He applied the titles which in Holy Scripture are descriptive of deity to the Father alone; and urged particularly the words from the Old Testament, "I am God, and beside me there is no god," and from the New Testament the expressions, "I and my Father are one," "He who hath seen me hath seen the Father," "I am in my Father, and my Father in me." While Tertullian unhesitatingly charges Praxeas with holding Patripassian tenets as necessarily following from his principles, Praxeas himself appears not to have gone so far. "Ergo nec compassus est Pater Filio; sic enim directam blasphemiam in Patrem veriti, diminui earn hoc modo sperant, concedentes jam Patrem et Filium duos esse; si Filius quidem patitur, Pater vero compatitur. Stulti et in hoc. Quid est enim compati, quam cum alio pati? Porro, si impassibilis Pater, utique et incompassibilis. Aut si compassibilis, utique passibilis" (Tertull. Adv. Prax. c. 29).
The course of controversy brought out, in the example of the Praxeans, the second and altered position which Monarchians are obliged to assume when pressed by the difficulties of their original position. It is shown, as Tertullian remarks, that they are driven to conclusions involving the elements of Gnosticism. The Praxeans, when confuted on all sides on the distinction between the Father and the Son, distinguished the Person of Jesus from the Christ. They understood ' the Son to be flesh-that is, man-
that is, Jesus; and the Father to be spirit— that is, God— that is, Christ." Thus Tertullian says, "They who contend that the Father and the Son are one and the same do in fact now begin to divide them rather than to unite them. Such a monarchy as this they learned, it may be, in the school of the Valentinus" (ibid. c. 27). Now this separation of Jesus from Christ was common to all the Gnostics. They were unanimous in denying that Christ was born. Jesus and Christ were to them two separate beings, and the eon Christ descended upon Jesus at his baptism. The difference between them and the Praxeans appears to be that they would not say that Jesus was the Son of God, whereas the Praxeans are represented as arguing from the angel's words to Mary that the holy thing born of her was the flesh, and that therefore the flesh was the Son of God. Tertullian shows in opposition to them that the Word was incarnate by birth. In Praxean doctrine, then, in its second stage, we have Jesus called the Son of God, solely, it will follow, on account of a miraculous birth: Christ, or the presence of the Father, residing in Jesus: Jesus suffering, and Christ (=the Father) impassibilemu sed compatienetem. The interval between this and Gnostic doctrine is easily bridged over; and we have the cause of the comparisons and identifications that are often made of Sabellianism with Gnosticism. SEE MONARCHIANS.
The heresy of Praxeas, as distinguished from that of Noetus, did not make much progress. It was almost unknown in Africa in the time of Optatus (1, 37). See Schaff, Church Hist. vol. 1; Neander, Church Hist. vol. 2: id. Hist. of Dogmas, 1, 161; Gieseler, Eccles. Hist. (see Index in vol. 3); Baur, Dreieinigkeitslehre, 1, 245-254; Liddon, Divinity of Christ (see Index); Allen, Ancient Church, p. 455; Alzog, Kirchengesch. 1. 182; Pressense, Church Hist. (Heresies), p. 139 sq.; Kaye, Tertullian, p. 493 sq.; Milman, Hist. of Latin Christianity, 1, 70; Ueberweg, Hist. of Philos. 1, 308; Moshelm, Commentary on Eccles. Hist. (see Index in vol. 1); Lardner, Works (see Index in vol. 8); Waterland, Works, vol. 6; Biblical Repository, 5, 339; and the other sources of information indicated in these authorities.