Modalism is the belief that God, rather than being three persons, is one person who reveals himself in three "modes," much as an actor might play three roles in a movie. It is also called Sabellianism or monarchianism.
This belief is the equivalent of what is now called "Jesus only." It is held by very few denominations. The United Pentecostal Church and the Apostolic Church are the largest sects that hold to modalism.
Modalism was the belief of two notable early church figures, Praxeas and Sabellius, both of whom aroused a large following in the church in the late 2nd (Praxeas) and early 3rd centuries (Sabellius). The size of their following and an explanation for it is given by Tertullian in A.D. 200:
Of the early Christian writings which remain to us, there is an astonishing consistency in their support for and explanation of the Trinity. Most elders in the Church were Trinitarian, though there were likely numerous modalists at the Council of Nicea, which condemned Arianism, a much different heresy.
No writings of Praxeas or Sabellius survive to today because they were considered heresy by the Church.
It is very likely that most modalists became satisfied with the Nicene Creed when it was redefined by the Athanasian Creed in the middle of the 4th century. It is thought that modalist bishops and Nicene bishops allied together against the Arians, who were still numerous after Nicea.
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