« Argentina Arianism Arias, Benedictus »



I. History

Origin of the Heresy (§ 1).

1. From 318 to the Council of Niema. 325.

Outbreak of the Controversy (§ 2).

2. The Council of Niesss, 325.

The Nicene Creed (§ 3).

Acceptance of the Creed (§ 4).

3. From the Council of Nicæa, 325, to the Council of Constantinople, 381.

Arian Reaction. Athanasiue (§ 5).

Various Synods and Parties (§ 6).

Vindication of Orthodoxy (§ 7).

4. The Final Triumph of the Nicene Orthodoxy under Theodosius the Great, 381.

The Council of Constantinople, 381 (§ 8).

The Later Arianism (§ 9).

5. Arianism among the Barbarians.

II. The Creed of Arianism.

The Arian Teaching (§ 1).

Arguments of the Arians (§ 2).

Refutation of Arianism (§ 3).

Arianism is a heresy, named from its most Prominent representative, Arius, a presbyter of Alexandria (d. 336; see Arius). It denied that the Son was of the same substance (Gk. homoousίos) 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.

I. History:

1. 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, which was claimed by both parties. Origen attributed to Christ eternity and other divine attributes, which lead to the Nicene doctrine of the identity of substance, but, 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 (Gk. agennētos) God and the nature of all begotten things (Contra Celsum, iii. 34). 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 of identity of substance. Through the Antiochian School the doctrine of the subordination of the Son was worked out. Lucian, the teacher of Arius (see LUCIAN THE MARTYR). and of Eusebius of Nicomedia, exercised a controlling influence on the views of Arius; Harnack (History of Dogma, iv. 3) 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.

1. From 318 to the Council of Niceæa, 325:

2. Outbreak of the Controversy.

The origin of the controversy is involved in some obscurity, 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 (Epiphanius, Epist. Arii ad Alex.). According to Socrates (i. 5), 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 (Gk. hypostosis) from nothing.” The accounts of Sozomen (i. 15) 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 Arias and his followers. Arias found powerful friends in Eusebius of Nicomedia, Eusebius of Cæsarea, 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 Arias in a letter which he sent to many bishops (Epiphanius, lxix. 4, says 70; Socrates gives the letter, i. 6). Arias made appeal to Eusebius of Cæsarea 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 battle-field. The 279 attention of the Emperor Constantine was called to the controversy, and in a letter to Alexander and Arius he pronounced it a mere logomachy, a wrangle over things incomprehensible; he also sent Hosius of Cordova to Egypt to mediate between the contending parties (Socrates, i. 7, gives the letter, as does also Eusebius, Vita Const., ii.). 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.

2. The Council of Nicæa, 325:

3. The Nicene Creed.

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 all 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, and ascended 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. (See below, § 8.)

It is possible that Alexander and Hosius had come to an understanding, before the council met, concerning the use of the term homoousíos (Socrates, i. 7, says they discussed the ousia and hypostasis); Harnack positively takes this position, Loofs hesitates. The creed was signed by nearly all the bishops, Hosius at the head, even by Eusebius of Cæsarea, 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 Nicomedia and Theognis of Nicæa; a 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 filioque, be omitted, a bond of union between the Greek, the Roman, and the orthodox Protestant Churches.

3. From the Council of Nicæa, 325, to the Council of Constantinople, 381:

5. 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 heathen historian, Ammianus Marcellinus, “were covered with galloping bishops.” The churches, the theaters, the hippodromes, the feasts, the markets, the streets, the baths, and the and the baths, and the shops at 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). He was a man of one idea and one passion, the eternal divinity of Christ,—which he considered the corner-stone of the Christian system. The politico-ecclesiastical leader of the Arian party was Eusebius of Nicomedia who, probably owing to the influence of the Emperor Constantine (Socrates, i. 25 etc.), was recalled from exile and baptized Constantine on his death-bed. 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, where 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 280 at a synod at Antioch in 330 (Socrates, i. 23), 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.

6. 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 Marcellus orthodox, and the Arias 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 Ancyra, 358; at Constantinople, 360; at Alexandria, 362. Aided by Constantius, Arianism, under the modified form represented by the term homoiousios (“similar in essence,” as distinct from the Nicene homoousios and the strictly Arian heteroousios), 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 Il. 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 Eusebians, 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 (anomoios) the Father in everything as also in substance (hence the names Heteroousiasts and Anomoians or Anomœans). A number of compromising synods and creeds undertook to heal these dissensions, but without permanent effect.

7. 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 Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa,—triumphantly vindicated the catholic doctrine against all the arguments of the opposition. The Cappadocians made the homoousios the starting-point of their discussions, as is apparent from the correspondence 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 Naziansus 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 using 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 Arias emperor, Valens.

4. The Final Triumph of the Nicene Orthodoxy under Theodosius the Great, 381:

8. The Council of Constantinople, 381.

Theodosius was 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, 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, etc., and virtually completed the orthodox dogma of the Holy Trinity. The Nicene Creed 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 (cf. his Dissertations and see the article Constantinopolitan Creed). 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.

9. The Latter 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.

5. 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 281 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 553; the Visigoths, till the Synod of Toledo in 589; the Suevi in Spain, till 560; the Vandals, who conquered North Africa in 429, and furiously persecuted the catholics, till 530, 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 first Teutonic translation of the Scriptures of which important fragments remain came from the Arian or semi-Arian missionary Ulfilas.

II. The Creed of Arianism:

1. The Arian Teaching.

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 he 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 necessarily 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-Arian homoioueios, (“similar in essence”). Aetius and Eunomius afterward, more strongly expressed this by calling him unlike the Father (anomoios). As to the humanity of Christ, Arius 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 save 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 (Prov. viii. 22-25; Acts ii. 36; Col. i. 15), or which ascribe to the incarnate Christ (not the preexistent Logos) in his state of humiliation lack of the knowledge, weariness, sorrow, and other changing affections and states of mind (Luke ii. 52; Mark xiii. 32; Heb. v. 8, 9; John xii. 27, 28; Matt. xxvi. 39), or which teach some kind of subordination of the Son to the Father (especially John xiv. 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 Nicomedia, that Christ was called God (even “the full, only-begotten God,” according to the famous disputed reading for “only-begotten Son,” in John i. 18. Cf. Hort’s first dissertation). 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 Sabellianism, or the Gnostic dreams of emanation.

3. 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 form 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 Arianism 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.

(Phillip Schaff†) D. S. Schaff.

Bibliography: Sources (1) on the orthodox side, the church histories of Rufinus. Socrates, Sozomen, and Theodoret, and most of the Fathers of the fourth century, especially the dogmatic and polemic works of Athanasius (Orationes contra Arianos, etc.), Basil (Adv. Eunomium), Gregory of Nazianzus (Orationes theologicæ), Gregory of Nyssa (Contra Eunomium), Epiphanius (Ancoratus), Hilary (De Trinitate), Ambrose (De fide), Augustine De trinitate and Contra Maximum Arianum). (2) On the Arian side, the fragments of the Thalia, and epistles of Arius to Eusebius of Nicomedia and Alexander of Alexandria, preserved in Athanasius, Epiphanius, Socrates and Theodoret; the fragments of the church history of Philostorgius; Eusebius, Vita Constantini; Fragmenta Arianorum, in Mai, Nova collectio, iii., Rome, 1828. For the synodical transactions, Mansi, Concilia vols. ii.-iii. Later literature: L. Maimbourg, Histoire de l’Arianisme Paris, 1675; G. Bull. Defensio fidei Nicænæ Oxford, 1703, Eng. transl., 1851; C. W. F. Walch, Vollständige Historie der Ketzereien, vols. 282 ii.-iii., 11 vols., Leipsic, 1762 sqq.; F. C. Baur, Die christliche Lehre von der Dreieinigkeit und Menschwerdung Gottes, i. 306-825, Tübingen, 1841; J. A. Möhler, Athanasius der Grosse, books ii.-vi., Mainz, 1844; J. A. Dorner, Entwickelungsgeschichte der Lehre von der Person Christi, i. 773-1080, Stuttgart, 1854, Eng. transl., Edinburgh, 1861; E. Revillout, Le Concile de Nicée, Paris. 1861; H. Voigt, Die Lehre des Athanasius, Bremen, 1861; Neander, Christian Church, ii. 403-473; F. Böhringer, Athanasius und Arius, Leipsic, 1874; W. Kölling, Geschichte der arianischen Häresie biszur Entscheidung in Nicäa, 2 vols., Gütersloh, 1874-83; F. J. A. Hort, Two Dissertations on μονογενής θεός and on the “Constantinopolitan” Creed and other Eastern Creeds of the Fourth Century, Cambridge, 1876; J. H. Newman, Arians of the Fourth Century, London, 1876; A. P. Stanley, The Council and Creed of Constantinople in Christian Institutions, London, 1881; Schaff, Christian Church, iii. 616-649; H. M. Gwatkin, Studies of Arianism, Cambridge, new ed., 1900, earlier ed., popularized in The Arian Controversy, London, 1891; A. von Gutschmid, Kleine Schriften, ii. 427-449, Leipsic, 1890 (valuable for chronology); O. Seeck, in ZGK, xvii. (1896) 1-71; K. Künstle, Eine Bibliothek der Symbole and theologischen Tractate zur Bekämpfung des Priscillianismus and westgothischen Arianismus, Mainz, 1900; R.. Rainy, The Ancient Catholic Church, 323-357, London, 1902; W. Bright, The Age of the Fathers, i. 53-246, London, 1903. Consult also Gibbon, Decline and Fall, chap. xxi., Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, i.-ii., also in Eng. transl., the histories of Christian doctrine, such as Harnack, Eng. transl., iv., Loofs, Fisher, and Seeburg, and J. Chrystal, Authoritative Christianity, vol. i., Jersey City, 1891.

« Argentina Arianism Arias, Benedictus »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |