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Arius attempted to redefine the nature of the Godhead. The controversy led to the convening of the Council of Nicea and his subsequent condemnation.

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The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Philip Schaff Vol. I:
Abridged and edited for greater clarity

Brief Biography
Webmaster's Comment
Arianism
Origin of the Heresy
Outbreak of the Controversy
The Nicene Creed
Acceptance of the Creed
Arian Reaction - Athanasius
Various Synods and Parties
Vindication of Orthodoxy
The Council of Constantinople, 381
The Later Arianism
Arianism Among the Barbarians
The Arian Teaching
Arguments of the Arians
Refutation of Arianism
ARIUS (b. ca. 250 A.D. - d. 336 A.D.)
Presbyter of Alexandria; founder of the heresy known as Arianism

Brief Biography

One of the most famous of heretics; born in Libya sometime between 250 - 256 (according to others, in Alexandria) and he died at Constantinople in 336. He was educated by Lucian, presbyter in Antioch, and became presbyter in Alexandria. The bishop of that city, Alexander, took exception to his views concerning the eternal deity of Christ and his equality with the Father and thus, about 318, began the great controveray which bears the name of Arius.

He is described as a tall, lean man, with a downcast brow, austere habits, considerable learning, and a smooth, winning address, but quarrelsome disposition. The silence of his enemies conclusively proves that his general moral character was irreproachable. His opponents said that he cherished a personal grudge against Alexander, because he was not himself elected bishop; but the subordination views which he had imbibed in the Antiochian school are sufficient to explain the direction of his development and the course of his life.

Condemned by a synod at Alexandria in 320 or 321, he left the city, but was kindly received both by Eusebius of Cesarea and Eusebius of Nicomedia, and it was evident that not a few of the Asiatic churches favored his ideas. A reconciliation was brought about between him and Alexander; but hardly had he returned to Alexandria before the strife broke out again, and with still greater violence. In spite of his many and powerful friends, Arius was defeated at the Council of Nicæa (325), and banished to Illyria.

Soon, however, a reaction in his favor set in. The Eusebian party espoused his cause more openly, and through Constantia, the sister of the emperor, he got access to the court. He was formally recalled from banishment; and all the chiefs of the Eusebians were assembled in Constantinople to receive him back into the bosom of the Church, when he suddenly died the day before the solemnity at the age of over eighty years, at a time and in a manner that seemed to the orthodox to be a direct interposition of Providence, and a condemnation of his doctrine; while his friends attributed his death to poison.

Webmaster's Comment

In the first paragraph of this page the writer didn't bother to define the nature of the Arian Heresy. I quote: "The bishop of that city, Alexander, took exception to his views concerning the eternal deity of Christ and his equality with the Father and thus, about 318, began the great controveray which bears the name of Arius. In order to understand Alexander's reaction to the beliefs of Arius, it is needful to delve into the controversy more deeply. The doctrines that came under question are at the very core of Christianity and this was no war of words or a simple misunderstanding of word meanings. There are points in the following section that are restatements of what has already been provided, however, the detail has been enhanced.

Arianism

Arianism is a heresy, named for its most prominent representative, Arius, a presbyter of Alexandria who died in 338. It denied that the Son was of the same substance (homoousios) with the Father and reduced him to the rank of a creature, though preexistent before the world. No Christological heresy of ancient Christianity was more widely accepted or tenacious. During a part of the fourth century it was the ruling creed in the Eastern Church, though there were constant and vigorous protests by the orthodox party. It was also the form of Christianity to which most of the barbarian Teutonic races were at first converted.

Origin of the Heresy

The roots of the Arian conflict lie deep in the differences of the Ante-Nicene doctrine of the Logos, especially in the contradictory elements, of Origen's Christology. Origen attributed to Christ eternity and other divine attributes, which lead to the Nicene doctrine that Christ was of the same substance (homooousios) of the Father. On the other hand, in his zeal for the personal distinctions in the Godhead, he taught with equal emphasis a separate essence and the subordination of the Son to the Father, calling him "a secondary God," while the Father is "the God"; the Logos was a creature and occupies a position between the nature of the unbegotten and the nature of all begotten things. He taught the eternal generation of the Son from the will of the Father, but represented it as the communication of a secondary divine substance.

In the East these different representations were discussed and found advocates, and a synod at Antioch (268) rejected the doctrine that the Father and Son were of the same substance. Through the Antiochian School the doctrine of the subordination of the Son was worked out. Lucian, the teacher of Arius and of Eusebius of Nicomedia, exercised a controlling influence on the views of Arius; Harnack calls him "the Arius before Arius." The first opponent of Arius was Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, and the greatest doctrinal opponent of the Arian Christology was Athanasius.

Outbreak of the Controversy

The origin of the controversy is involved in some obcurity, and the accounts are not easy to reconcile. The earliest date for the clash of views is 318. The Christological question had become a burning one in Egypt. Alexander both in church and presbyterial gatherings had taken it up and refuted false views, as Arius afterward reminded him. According to Socrates, Alexander gave the first impulse to the controversy by insisting, in a meeting of presbyters and other clergy, on the eternity of the Son; whereupon Arius openly opposed, and charged him with Sabellianism. He reasoned thus:

"If the Father begat the Son, he must be older than the Son, and there was a time when the Son was not; from this it further follows that the Son has his subsistence (hypostaaie) from nothing."
The accounts of Sozomen and Epiphanius differ in dating the conflict from discussions among the presbyters and laymen, and Sozomen represents Alexander as at first taking no decided position between the two opinions. In 320 or 321 Alexander convened a synod of about a hundred Egyptian and Lybian bishops at Alexandria, which excommunicated Arius and his followers. Arius found powerful friends in Eusebius of Nicomedia, Eusebius of Casarea, Paulinus of Tyre, Gregory of Berytus, Aetius of Lydda, and other bishops who either shared his view, or at least considered it innocent. He took refuge with Eusebius at Nicomedia, which had been the imperial residence since Diocletian, and spread his views in a half-poetic work, Thalia (" The Banquet"), of which Athanasius has preserved fragments. Alexander defended himself and warned against Arius in a letter which he sent to many bishops. Arius made appeal to Eusebius of Csesarea and others to secure his reinstatement as presbyter, and a Palestinian synod went so far as to authorize him to labor in Alexandria, subject to the authority of the bishop, Alexander. In a short time the whole Eastern Church became a metaphysical battlefield. The attention of the Emperor Constantine was called to the controversy, and in a letter to Alexander and Arius be pronounced it a mere battle of words, a wrangle over things incomprehensible; he also sent Hosius of Cordova to Egypt to mediate between the contending parties. From political considerations, however, at the suggestion of certain bishops, he called the first ecumenical council of the Church, to settle the Arian controversy together with the question of the time of celebrating Easter and the Meletian schism in Egypt.

The Nicene Creed - 325

The council met at Nicæa in Bithynia. It consisted of three hundred and eighteen bishops (about one-sixth of all the bishops of the Greco-Roman Empire), resulted in the formal condemnation of Arius, and the adoption of the "Nicene Creed," which affirms in unequivocal terms the doctrine of the eternal deity of Christ in these words:
[We believe] in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, begotten of the Father, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom ail things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate, and was made man; he suffered, and the third day he rose again, Arid w cended into heaven; from thence he cometh to judge the quick and the dead.
To the original Nicene Creed is added the following anathema:
And those who say there was a time when he [the Son) was not; and he was made out of nothing, or out of another substance or thing, or the Son of God is created, or changeable, or alterable--they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.
This anathema was omitted in that form of the Nicene Creed which is usually, though incorrectly, traced to the Constantinopolitan Synod of 381, and which after the Council of Chalcedon, in 451, entirely superseded the Nicene Creed of 325, in its primitive form.

Acceptance of the Creed

It is Possible that Alexander and Hosius had come to an understanding, before the council met, concerning the use of the term 'homoouaios'. Harnack positively takes this position, Loofs hesitates. The creed was signed by nearly all the bishops, Hosius at the head, even by Eusebius of Caesarea, who, before and afterward, occupied a middle position between Athanasius and Arius. This is the first instance of such signing of a doctrinal symbol. Eusebius of Nicomedis and Theognis of Nicæa signed the creed, but not the condemnatory formula appended, and for this they were deposed, and banished for a short time. Two Egyptian bishops-Theonas and Secundus-persistently refused to sign, and were banished, with Arius, to Illyria. This is the first example of the civil punishment of heresy, and opened the long and dark era of persecution for all departures from the catholic or orthodox faith. The books of Arius were burnt, and his followers branded as enemies of Christianity. The Nicene Creed has outlived all the subsequent storms, and, in the improved form recognized at Constantinople in 381, it remains to this day the most generally received creed of Christendom; and, if the later Latin insertion, the filioqua, be omitted, a bond of union between the Greek, the Roman, and the orthodox Protestant Churches.

Arian Reaction - Athanasius

Not long after the Nicene Council an Arian and semi-Arian reaction took place, and acquired for a time the ascendency in the empire. Arianism now entered the stage of its political power. This was a period of the greatest excitement in Church and State: Council was held against council; creed was set up against creed; anathema was hurled against anathema." The highways,"says the impartial non-Christian historian, Ammianus Mascellinus, "were covered with galloping bishops." The churches, the theaters, the hippodromes, the feasts, the markets, the streets, the baths, and the shops of Constantinople and other large cities were filled with dogmatic disputes. In intolerance and violence the Arians even exceeded the orthodox. The interference of emperors and their courts only poured oil on the flames, and heightened the bitterness of contest by adding confiscation and exile to the spiritual punishment of synodical excommunication. The unflinching leader of the orthodox party was Athanasius, a pure and sublime character, who had figured at the Council of Nicæa as a youthful archdeacon, in company with Alexander, whom he succeeded as bishop (326); but he was again and again deposed by imperial despotism, and spent twenty years in exile. He sacrificed everything to his conviction, and had the courage to face the empire in arms (hence the motto: Athanasius contra mundum - “Athanasius against the world.” ). He was a man of one idea and one passion,-the eternal divinity of Christ, which he considered the cornerstone of the Christian system. The -politico- ecclesiastical leader of the Arian party was Eusebias of Nicomedia who, probably owing to the influence of the Emperor Constantine, was recalled from exile and baptised Constantine on his deathbed. Constantine was turned favorably to Arius, accepted a confession he prepared, recalled him from exile, and ordered him to be solemnly restored to the communion of the catholic Church at Constantinople; he even demanded his restoration in Alexandria by Athanasius; but, on the day preceding his intended restoration, the heretic suddenly died (336). In the year following, Constantine himself died, and his son Constantine II. recalled Athanasius from his first exile. In the West the Nicene statement found universal Acceptance. But in the East, when Constantius, the second son of Constantine the Great, ruled, opposition to the Nicene formula was well-nigh universal, and was maintained with fanatical zeal by the court and by Eusebius of Nicomedia, who was transferred to Constantinople in 338. Athanasius was attacked on personal charges with great vehemence by the Eusebians, who sought to supersede the doctrine of the homoousia by indirect methods. He was banished to Gaul in 335. Eustathius of Antioch, A supporter of Athanasius, had been deposed at a synod at Antioch in 330, the charge being that he advocated Sabellianism. Marcellus of Ancyra, another vigorous defender of the Nicene symbol, was also deposed at a synod in Constantinople. Arius's death occurred a little later, but the work of punishing his opponents went on. Athanasius was deposed a second time (339), and took refuge with Julius of Rome, who, with the great body of the Western Church, believed him a martyr.

Various Synods and Parties

It is unnecessary to follow the varying fortunes of the two parties, and the history of councils, which neutralized one another, without materially advancing the points in dispute. The most important are the synod of Antioch, 341, which set forth an orthodox creed, but deposed Athanasius; the orthodox synod of Sardica, which declared Athanasius and Marcaus orthodox, and the Arian counter-synod of Philippopolis, 343; the synods of Sirmium, 351, which protested against Athanasius's reinstatement at Alexandria; Arles, 353; Milan, 355, which condemned Athanasius in obedience to Constantine; the second synod at Sirmium, 357; the third, 358; at Antioch, 358; at Aneyra, 368; at Constantinople, 360; at Alexandria, 362. Aided by Constantius, Arianism, under the modified form represented by the term homoiousios (" similar in substance," as distinct from the Nicene homoourios "same in substance" and the strictly Arian heteroousios) "different in substance"), gained the power in the empire; and even the papal chair in Rome was for a while desecrated by heresy during the Arian interregnum of Felix II. But the death of Constantius in 361, the indifference of his successor, the Emperor Julian, to all theological Disputes (the exiled bishops were at liberty to return to their sees, though he afterward banished Athanasius), the toleration of Jovian (d. 364), and especially the internal dissensions of the Arians, prepared the way for a new triumph of orthodoxy. The Eussebians, or semi-Arians, taught that the Son was similar in substance (homoiousios) to the Father; while the Aetians (from Aetius, a deacon of Antioch who revived Arianism) and the Eunomians (from Eunomius, Bishop of Cyzicus in Mysia) taught that he was of a different substance (heteroousios), and unlike the Father in everything. A number of compromising synods and creeds undertook to heal these dissensions, but without permanent effect.

Vindication of Orthodoxy

On the other hand, the defenders of the Nicene Creed, Athanasius, and, after his death in 373, the three Cappadocian bishops, Basil the Great, Gregory of Naziansus, and Gregory of Nyssa, triumphantly vindicated the catholic doctrine against all the arguments of the opposition. The Cappadocians made the homoourios the starting point of their discussions, as is apparent from the correspondenoe of Basil with Apollinaris. Damasus, the Roman bishop, true to the general policy of his predecessors and of Julius in particular, had Arianism condemned at two Roman synods, 369, 377. When Gregory of Nazismus was called to Constantinople in 379, there was but one small congregation in the city which had not become Arian; but his able and eloquent sermons on the deity of Christ, which won him the title of "the Theologian," contributed powerfully to the resurrection of the catholic faith. The rising influence of monasticism, especially in Egypt and Syria, was bound up with the cause of Athanasius and the Cappadocians; and the more conservative portion of the semi-Arians gradually approached the orthodox in spite of the persecutions of the violent Arian emperor, Valens.

The Council of Constantinople, 381

The final triumph of the Nicene Orthodoxy came un Theodosius the Great, a Spaniard by birth, and reared in the Nicene faith. On entering Constantinople he removed the Arians from the charge of the churches and substituted the orthodox party. During his reign (379-395) he completed externally the spiritual and intellectual victory of orthodoxy already achieved. He convened the second ecumenical council at Constantinople in 381, which consisted of only one hundred and fifty bishops, and was presided over successively by Meletius, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Nectarius of Constantinople. The council condemned the Pneumatomachian heresy (which denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit), the Sabellians, Eunomians, Apollinarians, and virtually completed the orthodox dogma of the Holy Trinity. The Nicene Greed now in common use (with the exception of the Latin clause filioque, which is of much later date and rejected by the Greek Church) can not be traced to this synod of Constantinople, but existed at an earlier date; it is found in the Ancoratus of Epiphanius (373), and derived by him from a still older source, namely, the baptismal creed of the Church of Jerusalem. It is not in the original acts of the Council of Constantinople, but was afterward incorporated in them and may have been approved by the Council. Dr. Hort derives it mainly from Cyril of Jerusalem, about 362-364. The emperor gave legal effect to the doctrinal decisions and disciplinary canons, and in July, 381, he enacted a law that all church property should be given up to those who believed in the equal divinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Bishops like Ambrose of Milan supported the emperor and did much to bring the Nicene doctrine into complete acceptance.

The Later Arianism

After Theodosius, Arianism ceased to exist as an organised moving force in theology and church history; but it reappeared from time to time as an isolated theological opinion, especially in England. Emlyn, Whiston, Whitby, Samuel Clarke, Lardner, and many who are ranked among Socinians and Unitarians, held Arian sentiments; but Milton and Isaac Newton, though approaching the Arian view on the relation of the Son to the Father, differed widely from Arianism in spirit and aim.

Arianism Among the Barbarians

The church legislation of Theodosius was confined, of course, to the limits of the Roman Empire. Beyond it, among the barbarians of the West, who had received Christianity in the form of Arianism during the reign of the Emperor Valens, it maintained itself for two centuries longer, though more as a matter of accident than choice and conviction. The Ostrogoths remained Arians till 563; the Visigoths, till the Synod of Toledo in 584; the Suevi in Spain, till 560; the Vandals, who conquered North Africa in 429, and furiously persecuted the catholics, till 534, when they were expelled by Belisarius; the Burgundians, till their incorporation in the Frank Empire in 534; the Lombards in Italy, till the middle of the seventh century. Alaric, the first conqueror of Rome, Genseric, the conqueror of North Africa, Theodoric the Great, King of Italy, were Arians; and the fast Teutonic translation of the Scriptures of which important fragments remain came from the Arian or semi-Arian missionary Ulfilas.

Note from the webmaster: Arianism is still extant today in the Jehovah's Witness cult.

The Arian Teaching

The Creed of Arianism: The Father alone is God; he alone is unbegotten, eternal, Wise, good, unchangeable. He is separated by an infinite chasm from man. God can not communicate his essence. The Son of God is preexistent, "before time and before the world," and "before all creatures." He is a middle being between God and the world, the perfect image of the Father, the executor of his thoughts, yea, even the Creator of the world. In a secondary or metaphorical sense be may be called "God." But, on the other hand, Christ is himself a "creature," the first creature of God, through whom the Father called other creatures into existence. He is "made," not of "the essence" of the Father, but "out of nothing," by "the will" of the Father, before all conceivable time, yet in time. He is not eternal, and there "was a time when he was not." Neither was he unchangeable by creation, but subject to the vicissitudes of a created being. By following the good uninterruptedly, he became unchangeable. With the limitation of Christ's duration is neoessarily connected a limitation of his power, wisdom, and knowledge. It was expressly asserted by the Arians that the Son does not perfectly know the Father, and therefore can not perfectly reveal him. He is essentially different from the Father (heteroousios, in opposition to the orthodox formula, homoousios, "coequal") and the semi-Asian homoiousios, "similar in essence "). Aetius and Eunomius afterward more strongly expressed this by calling him unlike the Father (anomoios). As to the humanity of Christ, Anus ascribed to him only, a human body with an animal soul, not a rational soul. He anticipated Apollinaris of Laodicea, who substituted the divine Logos for the human reason, but from the opposite motive,--to gave the unity of the divine personality of ,Christ. The subsequent development of Arianism by Aetius and Eunomius brought out no new features, except many inconsistencies and contradictions. The controversy degenerated into a heartless and barren metaphysical war. The eighteen or more creeds which Arianism and semi-Arianism produced between the first and the second ecumenical councils (325--381) are leaves without blossoms, and branches without fruit.

Arguments of the Arians

The Arians supported their doctrine from those passages of the Bible which seem to place Christ on a par with the creature (P'rov. 8:22-25; Acts 2:36; Col. 1:15), or which ascribe to the incarnate Christ (not the preexistent Logos) in his state of humiliation lack of knowledge, weariness, sorrow, and other changing affections and states of mind (Luke 2:52; Mark 13:32; Heb. 5:8, 9; John 12:27, 28; Matt. 26:39), or which teach some kind of subordination of the Son to the Father (especially John 14:28: "The Father is greater than I," which refers, not to the essential nature, but to the state of humiliation). Arius was forced to admit, in his first letter to Eusebius of Nioomedia, that Christ was called God (even "the full, only-begotten God," according to the famous disputed reading for '`only-begotten Son" in John1:18. But he reduced this expression to the idea of a subordinate, secondary, created divinity. The dogmatic and philosophical arguments were chiefly negative and rationalistic, amounting to this: The Nicene view of the essential deity of Christ is unreasonable, inconsistent with monotheism, with the dignity and absoluteness of the Father, and of necessity leads to Sabellisnism, or the Gnostic dreams of emanation.

Refutation of Arianism

On the other hand, Arianism was refuted by Scriptural passages, which teach directly or indirectly the divinity of Christ, and his essential equality with the Father. The conception of a created Creator, who existed before the world, and yet himself began to exist, was shown to be self-contradictory and untenable. There can be no middle being between Creator and creature; no time before the world, as time is itself a part of the world, or the force under which it exists successively; nor can the unchangeableness of the Father, on which Arius laid great stress, be maintained, except on the ground of the eternity of his Fatherhood, which, of course, implies the eternity of the Sonship. Athanasius charges Arianisrn with dualism, and even polytheism, and with destroying the whole doctrine of salvation. For if the Son is a creature, man still remains separated, as before, from God: no creature can redeem other creatures, and unite them with God. If Christ is not divine, much less can we be partakers of the divine nature, and in any real sense children of God.

D. S. Scrum.

 
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