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Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Agnoëtae

< Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century

Agnoëtae (from ἀγνοέω, to be ignorant of), a name applied to two sects who denied the omniscience either of God the Father, or of God the Son in His state of humiliation.

I. The first were a sect of the Arians, and called from Eunomius and Theophronius "Eunomio-heophronians" (Socr. H. E. v. 24). Their leader, Theophronius, of Cappadocia, who flourished about 370, maintained that God knew things past by memory and things future only by uncertain prescience. Sozomen (H. E. vii. 17) writes of him: "Having given some attention to the writings of Aristotle, he composed an appendix to them, entitled Exercises of the Mind. But he afterwards engaged in many unprofitable disputations, and soon ceased to confine himself to the doctrines of his master. [ Eunomius.] Under the assumption of being deeply versed in the terms of Scripture, he attempted to prove that though God is acquainted with the present, the past, and the future, his knowledge on these subjects is not the same in degree, and is subject to some kind of mutation. As this hypothesis appeared positively absurd to the Eunomians, they excommunicated him from their church; and he constituted himself the leader of a new sect, called after his own name, ' Theophronians.' "

II. Better known are the Agnoëtae or Themistiani, in the Monophysite controversy in 6th cent. Themistius, deacon of Alexandria, representing a small branch of the Monophysite Severians, taught, after the death of Severus, that the human soul (not the Divine nature) of Christ was like us in all things, even in the limitation of knowledge, and was ignorant of many things, especially the day of judgment, which the Father alone knew (Mark xiii. 32, cf. John xi. 34). Most Monophysites rejected this view, as inconsistent with their theory of one nature in Christ, which implied also a unity of knowledge, and they called the followers of Themistius Agnoëtae. The orthodox, who might from the Chalcedonian dogma of the two natures in Christ have inferred two kinds of knowledge, a perfect Divine and an imperfect human admitting of growth (Luke ii. 52), nevertheless rejected the view of the Agnoëtae, as making too wide a rupture between the two natures, and generally understood the famous passage in Mark of the official ignorance only, inasmuch as Christ did not choose to reveal to His disciples the day of judgment, and thus appeared ignorant for a wise purpose (κατ᾿ οἰκονομίαν). His inquiry concerning Lazarus was explained from reference to the Jews and the intention to increase the effect of the miracle. Eulogius, Patriarch of Alexandria, wrote against the Agnoëtae a treatise on the absolute knowledge of Christ, of which Photius has preserved large extracts. Sophronius, patriarch of Jerusalem, anathematized Themistius. Agnoëtism was revived by the Adoptionists in the 8th cent. Felix of Urgel maintained the limitation of the knowledge of Christ according to His human nature, and appealed to Mark xiii. 32. Gallandi, Bibl. Patr. xii. p. 634; Mansi, Conc. xi. 502; Leont. Byz. de Sectis, Actio X. c. iii.; Photius, Cod. 230 (ed. Bekk. p. 284); Baronius, Annal. ad A.D. 535; Walch. Hist. der Ketzereien, viii. 644‒684; Baur, Lehre v. der Dreieinigkeit, etc., ii. pp. 87 ff; Dorner, Entwicklungsgeschichte, etc., ii. pp. 172 f; cf. D. C. B. (4 vol. ed.) art. Person of Christ.