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CHAPTER VII

ARIANISM AND THE DIVINE NATURE OF CHRIST

Aritis.--About A.D. 319 there began in Alexandria a struggle which gradually affected the whole Christian world. Alexander the bishop was a member of the School of Origen and firmly maintained the eternal generation of the Son of God--'the Son being ever present with Him the Father is ever perfect.' There never was a time when the Father was not Father. The Eternal Son, so he taught, was mysteriously begotten without being created, and acted as a mediating power between the created world and the unbegotten Father. Alexander was opposed by Arius, a popular and ascetic presbyter of Alexandria. Arius had been a pupil of Lucian of Antioch, and inherited from him his modified form of the teaching of Paul of Samosata. He also was connected with a school of theologians who accepted Origen's teaching about the subordination of the Son to the Father, while they disliked his teaching about the true eternity of the Son. He himself particularly disliked any phrases which suggested that the Son was an eternal and personal expression of the Father's own life.

Arius himself taught as follows:--

  1. A father must exist before his son. Therefore the Son of God, whom we know as the Word, did not exist eternally with the Father.
  2. The Word, not being eternal, was created before time began, in order that He might be the instrument of God in the creation of the world.
  3. The Word, being created, is in all things unlike the 88 Father, and He might have sinned. He cannot know the Father perfectly.
  4. The body of Christ had no human soul, the place of its soul was taken by the Word.

In order to support this system of belief, Arius appealed to those passages in the Old Testament which assert the unity of God, and to those passages in the New Testament which show the dependence of the Son upon the Father. We are bound to believe that there must be some attraction in Arianism, because so many people, both in ancient and in modem times, have found it attractive. With some unimportant modifications it was accepted in the sixteenth century by Socinus and a large number of Protestants on the continent of Europe, and it was accepted more recently by many Presbyterians in England and Ireland, and by many Congregationalists in America. Hence the origin of modern Unitarianism. The attraction of the theory seems to lie in the fact that it does not reject the narrative of the Gospels, and at the same time avoids those difficulties which are occasioned by the idea of a threefold life within the divine Unity.

Nevertheless, Arius violated a fundamental principle of the Monotheism which he professed to defend. The Catholics accused the Arians of polytheism, and they were perfectly right. For the Arians denied that the Son was God in any real sense of the word, and yet they continued to worship Him. Moreover, the Arians in their devotion to logical syllogisms neglected an obvious truth. They argued that the Father must be older than the Son because they knew that a human father is always older than his son. But they forgot that we call a man the son of his father, not because he is younger than his father, but because he has derived his life from his father. The whole of the Christian idea of God and of redemption disappears in the Arian system. We are left with an unknown God, who teaches us through a demigod who is neither human nor divine.

The Council of Nicaea.--The religious policy of the Emperor Constantine differed as widely from the modern notion of toleration as it differed from the old Roman 89 policy of persecution. Constantine was at heart a believer in Christianity, but he remained the official head of Roman paganism. He supported the pagan religion of Rome and supported the Christian Church, allowing the world to see that he had a personal preference for the latter. He had no wish to support or countenance various forms of Christianity, and as soon as the contest between Arius and Alexander became serious he endeavoured to quiet the combatants with platitudes which were as ill timed as they were well meant. Finding that neither party was content to regard so important a question as a mere matter of dialectics, he summoned the bishops of the Church to meet at Nicaea in A.D. 325. The Council ended in a quick defeat of the Arian party and the adoption of a creed which was intended to exclude the possibility of Arianism ever finding an entrance into the Church again. The creed was that already in use at Caesarea, to which the Council added several significant phrases.11   These additional phrases are here printed in italics.

We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God, begotten of the Father, only-begotten that is of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, of one substance (homoousios) with the Father, by whom all things were made, both the things in heaven and the things on earth; who for us men and for our salvation came down and was incarnate, and suffered and rose on the third day, ascended into heaven and cometh to judge the living and dead.

And in the Holy Ghost.

But those who say that there was a time when He was not, and that before He was begotten He was not, and that He was made out of what did not exist, or assert that He is of a different hypostasis or substance, or that the Son of God is created or capable of change or alteration, the Catholic Church anathematises.

Among the most determined opponents of Arius was Athanasius, a deacon of Alexandria. He had written a 90 treatise On the Incarnation before the outbreak of the controversy. It is a wonderful production for so young a man. It is an inquiry into the reason of the incarnation, followed by a defence of Christianity against Judaism and paganism. In spirit it bears a considerable resemblance to the theology of Ignatius, Irenaeus, and St. John. 'He became man' in order that we might become divine; and He manifested himself through a body, in order that we might gain a conception of the unseen Father,' and, 'He takes a body capable of death in order that it, having been made to participate in the Word who is above all, might be fit to die instead of all, and through the indwelling Word might remain incorruptible, and that for the future corruption should cease from all by the grace of the resurrection.' The leading idea of the treatise is that man is restored to virtue and immortality through the work which Christ has done and the power which Christ bestows. The whole argument assumes that Christ is God indeed, and this conviction runs through all the writings of Athanasius. On the death of Alexander in 328 Athanasius became bishop of Alexandria, and was henceforth the pillar of Catholicism until his death in 373.

The Eusebians.--The Catholic victory at Nicaea was brilliant, but in one sense superficial. While it was destined to have an effect hardly inferior to the effect of the Council at Jerusalem in A.D. 49, it was encountered by a mass of sullen opposition. The leader of this opposition was Bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia. Trained in the school of Lucian of Antioch, he was a convinced Arian and a clever schemer. He hesitated to attack the Nicene Creed, but he rallied round him a great party of malcontents who were united by their dislike of the creed. They hoped to depose one Catholic bishop after another, and then secure the adhesion of the Church to another formula. Constantine was turned by the learned Eusebius of Caesarea, who stood half way between Athanasius and Arius, and in a short time ten Catholic leaders were exiled.

The Eusebians were given an opportunity by Marcellus of Ancyra, one of the warmest supporters of the Nicene 91 Creed. Marcellus endeavoured to beat the Arians on their own ground, with the result that he fell into Sabellianism and furnished the Eusebians with a powerful argument against the loyalty of the Nicene party. He agreed with the Arians that the idea of sonship implies beginning and inferiority, so that the Son of God cannot be the equal of His Father. The Arians argued that this proved that the Son is only a creature. Marcellus denied their conclusion, and turned to Scripture. St. John had said, 'In the beginning was the Word,' and had asserted the true Divinity of this Word who became the Son of Man. Therefore, said Marcellus, the Word was always divine. He was a silent thinking principle in the Father's mind, then He became an 'active energy' in order to create the universe, finally God 'expanded' into a Trinity, the Word took flesh and became a distinct person. Only when He took flesh did He become the Son of God and the Image of God. After the work of redemption is finished the Son will lay aside His human nature and deliver up the Kingdom to the Father, and the Trinity will 'contract' once more into one person. It is plain that this teaching was Monarchianism of a Sabellian type with some additional refinements resembling the distinction between the 'immanent' Word and the 'uttered' Word in Theophilus of Antioch. A pupil of Marcellus, named Photinus, exchanged this Monarchianism for a theory which closely resembled the doctrine of Paul of Samosata, and was singled out by the Eusebians for their special detestation.

In 336 Arius died, in 337 Constantine. The West was strictly Catholic, but in the East the Eusebians were masters of the situation. In the summer of 341 the retrograde character of their doctrine was clearly shown at the Council which assembled for the dedication of the cathedral church of Antioch. Three creeds were put out, the second of which is said to have been composed by the martyr Lucian. This 'Luciauic' or Dedication Creed is orthodox in phraseology, but is so worded as to leave Arianism possible. It asserts the exact likeness of the Son to the Father, omits the word Homo-ousios, and says that the three persons of the 92 Trinity are 'three in substance (hypostasis) but in agreement one.' After the Council was over, a few bishops reassembled and drew up a creed to present to Constans, the emperor of the West. The Nicene anathemas were ingeniously altered so as to strike at Marcellus and sanction an Arian doctrine of the divine Sonship. This creed became the basis on which the subsequent Arianising confessions of 343 (Philippopolis), 344 (the Macrostich creed of Antioch), and 351 (Sirmium), were fashioned. This multiplicity of creeds shows that the opponents of the Nicene Creed included conflicting parties, although the creeds do not conflict openly with one another. The mildly reactionary party wished to go behind the Nicene Creed because they feared Sabellianism and saw that the Roman Church which favoured that creed had accepted the explanations which Marcellus gave concerning his own doctrine. The strongly reactionary party, who were genuine Arians, took advantage of this feeling, and the result was that the new creeds, as a whole, only half condemned Arianism, while they tacitly set aside the Nicene formula and violently attacked Marcellus.

The Anomoeans.--Gradually the two streams of tendency which had been combined in the Eusebian party began to divide. It became more evident that some members of this party were influenced by Origen while others were the descendants of Paul of Samosata. They were only united by a negation and veiled their difference under evasive statements. But after 351 there arose a party of uncompromising Arians who were determined to teach the Arian system in all its bearings. This was the party called Anomoean, and it taught the complete dissimilarity of the Father and the Son. The leaders of the party were Aetius and Eunomius. They declared that the essence of the Son was to be found in the fact that He was begotten--by which word they really meant created. The essence of the Father was to be found in the fact that He was unbegotten. It will be seen at once that this theory represents God as a blank abstraction, and directly repudiates the teaching of Christ, 'He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.' The central facts of Christianity are so completely repudiated that God 93 becomes the vague, shadowy Being described in later Greek philosophy. Eunomius gave a finishing touch to the Anomoean faith by maintaining that since the essence of God is so perfectly simple, we can understand God as well as God understands himself.

A formula was drawn up in 357 at the third Council of Sirmium. It does not openly call the Son 'unlike' the Father, but it does not use the word 'like,' and it actually forbids the assertion that there is an essential likeness between the Father and the Son. 'The question which used to agitate some or many concerning substance, which in Greek is called ousia, that is, to explain the matter more expressly, the word homo-ousios, or what is called homoi-ousios, ought not to be mentioned, nor ought any one to preach it, for the reason that it is not contained in the divine Scriptures, and that it is above the knowledge of man.' The creed suggests that the Son was created by insisting upon His subjection to the Father, 'along with all things subjected to Him by the Father.' The Father is said to be 'greater in Godhead' than the Son.

This creed, which has been known through all Church history as the Blasphemy, was the greatest blunder in the annals of Arianism. It immediately alienated the moderate party, of which the numerical strength of the non-Catholics had been composed. The religious men who really feared Sabellianism, but had never intended to support Arianism for its own sake, saw that they must dissociate themselves from the Arians. In 358 they met at Ancyra under the leadership of Basil of Ancyra, a man of high character. Cyril of Jerusalem, Eustathius of Sebastia, Mark of Arethusa, Meletius of Antioch, and other influential bishops were in sympathy with Basil. The statement which was drawn up at Ancyra consolidated this party, which is known as Semi-Arian and may with equal truth be called Semi-Nicene. They were determined that the divine Sonship of Christ should not be represented as a merely titular dignity. And therefore while they repudiated the term Homo-ousios, they declared that 'every father is understood to be father of a substance (ousia) like his own.' The Son is 'like in substance, perfect of perfect.' The divine 94 substance is 'life,' and this is given by the Father to the Son, so the Son was not merely begotten by the 'power' of the Father, which would really imply that He was only created, but 'by the power and substance alike.' The confession of this divine Fatherhood in God is asserted to be the distinguishing mark which separates the Church from the Jew and the heathen, who only know God as Creator.

It is evident that the Semi-Arians who met at Ancyra had conceded almost everything that the Catholics desired. Nothing but a nominal breakwater now stood between them and the rising conviction that the Nicene Creed was scriptural. They had admitted the fact of the divine Sonship, they were only repudiating the use of a word which, though they did not see it, was the only word which did justice to that fact. In less than ten years numbers of them had accepted the faith in its fulness.

The Latitudinarians.--Thorough Arianism was now hopelessly discredited. It had failed to get more than a precarious foothold in the empire. The Catholic party had not entirely convinced the Semi-Nicene bishops, although St. Hilary of Poictiers in his masterly treatise De Synodis scu de fide Orientalium, probably written in 358, had done his best. He proved that the word Homoi-ousios, 'of like substance,' ought to imply the consubstantiality of the Son and the Father. But it was still possible to maintain that no formula had proved satisfactory, and to suggest a new scheme. If we cannot say of one substance, nor of like substance, nor yet unlike, the only course open is to say like, and forbid any further definition. To have a broad, elastic phrase and to persecute every bishop who preferred an unambiguous statement of his faith, was the policy of the Latitudinarians or Homoeans (from homoios like).

This party was led by Acacius in the East and by Valens in the West. These two bishops appear to have been among the most unscrupulous men of the period. Videns was at heart an Anomoean. But he was clever enough to see that he could only accomplish his purpose by making use of less extreme men than himself. He was willing to pose as a Homoean in order to win a body 95 of adherents strong enough to annihilate the Nicene Creed. The Blasphemy of 357 had been his work, and it had the full approval of Acacius, who was a court bishop willing to accept any creed which he thought would receive the support of the State. After the Council of Ancyra in 358 Valens saw a new opportunity. All ecclesiastical parties were excited and dissatisfied, and he therefore suggested to the Emperor Constantius the idea of a general Council. He also suggested that it should be divided into two parts. Half was to meet at Ariminum, where Valens would be present in person. The other half was to meet at Seleucia in Cilicia under the management of Acacius. It was agreed that these two synods should accept a Homoean creed which was composed beforehand. The result was the Dated Creed of May 22, 359. It prohibits the word ousia, and asserts that the Son is like in all things to the Father. Valens and his friend Ursacius endeavoured to suppress the words in all things, but the Emperor Constantius insisted that the words should be retained. Basil of Ancyra and George of Laodicea were both weak enough to sign the creed, and felt it so necessary to explain their conduct that they drew up a memorandum of a Semi-Nicene character. In this memorandum they insisted on the essential likeness of the Son and the Father, and repudiated the Anomoean doctrine that the nature of God is adequately expressed by the statement that he is unbegotten.

The two synods of Ariminum and Seleucia were completely outwitted by the Homoeans, although the majority of bishops at Ariminum was Catholic and at Seleucia was Semi-Arian. The majority at Ariminum rejected the Dated Creed, and the majority at Seleucia rejected another form of the same creed. From both synods went deputations to the emperor. He detained the deputies from Ariminum at Hadrianople and then at Nice in Thrace, where they were induced to sign a distinctly Homoean creed. Valens returned to Ariminum with this creed, and by a series of lies and evasions induced the simple Catholic Western bishops to sign it. He then hurried to Constantinople, where he met the 96 Semi-Arian deputies from Seleucia. He and Acacius invoked the help of the emperor, and induced the Semi-Arians to yield, partly by holding over them the threats of the emperor, partly by declaring that they repudiated the word unlike. The Semi-Arians yielded on New Year's Eve, 359-360. In January 360 a Council was held at Constantinople, and the creed of Nice was reissued without the anathemas against Anomoean doctrine which had been appended at Ariminum. The Latitudinarian party was now supreme. They persecuted Catholics and Semi-Arians alike, and while they sacrificed the Anomoean Aetius to the Homoean scruples of the emperor, they permitted the appointment of several Anomoeans to vacant episcopal sees. The Catholic cause appeared absolutely hopeless when it was saved from annihilation by the death of Constantius in 361.

The Catholic Revival.--Constantius was succeeded by Julian, a dilettante pagan, who had been brought up on Arian principles, and hoped that the conflicting Christian parties would destroy each other. He recalled the Christian bishops who had been banished from their sees, with the result that Athanasius was able to exercise his potent influence once more. Julian also persecuted and annoyed the Christians just enough to make them more inclined to close their ranks. The Council held under Athanasius at Alexandria in 362 proved that the Christians were neither as ignorant nor as narrow-minded as Julian hoped.

The Council dealt with three doctrinal points. (1) The terms on which communion should be granted to those Arians who desired to be admitted into the Church. It was decided that they should only be required to accept the Nicene Creed and to anathematise Arianism, including the doctrine that the Holy Spirit is a creature. It is evident that Arianism was now sacrificing the Deity of the Holy Spirit to a false idea of the unity of God as it had previously sacrified the Deity of the Son. (2) The integrity of Christ's human nature. It was asserted that the Son took not only a true human body but also a true human soul. This assertion was probably directed against Arianism, but it was soon to derive 97 new importance from the heresy of Apollinaris (see chap. viii.). (3) An old misunderstanding as to some theological phrases. In the anathemas appended to the Nicene Creed, the word hypostasis had been used as an equivalent to the word ousia, substance. The Latins used the word substantia to represent both these words. On the other hand, most of the Eastern bishops used the word hypostasis in the sense of subject or person. It was therefore natural that those who spoke of one hypostasis should regard the phrase 'three hypostaseis' as pagan or Arian, while those who spoke of three hypostaseis should regard the phrase 'one hypostasis' as Sabellian. The contradiction was only verbal, and the two parties came to a complete understanding. All agreed that it was better to use the language of the Nicene Creed than either of these conflicting phrases.

Owing to the influence of the writings of the three great Cappadocian fathers--Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus--the phrase, 'one ousia, three hypostaseis,' became and remained the ordinary formula of Catholic Christians. This is further explained by the following words of Gregory of Nyssa: 'One and the same person of the Father, of whom the Son is begotten and the Spirit . . . proceeds.' The Cappadocian Fathers were warm admirers of Origen, and it is partly to him that the habit of speaking of more than one hypostasis in the Godhead is to be traced.

The Council of Constantinople.--The final establishment of the Nicene faith throughout the empire took place in 381, when a Council was held at Constantinople at the command of the Emperor Theodosius the Great. This Council was not intended to be a General Council of the Church, but it received universal consent, and therefore has always been reckoned as the Second General Council of the Church. The Council ratified the Nicene Creed. The Council also appears to have expressed approval of another creed without intending that it should be publicly employed. This second creed was the baptismal creed of Jerusalem, into which some phrases of the Nicene Creed had been wisely inserted by Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem. It states that the Son is 'of one substance' 98 with the Father, but omits the words, 'That is of the substance of the Father.' It adds the words, 'Whose kingdom shall have no end.' After the words, 'And in the Holy Ghost, it goes on, 'The Lord, the Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spake by the Prophets. And one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. We acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins. And we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.'

This Jerusalem Creed has had a strange history. The approval which it received at Constantinople caused it to be known as the Creed of Constantinople. And after the Council of Chalcedon in 451 placed it side by side with the Nicene Creed it gradually began to take the place of the real Nicene Creed. It can only be called Nicene in the sense that it has incorporated the heart of the Nicene Creed.

The Council of Constantinople also condemned the Semi-Arian Pneumatomachi or 'Opponents of the Spirit,'11   Also known as Macedonians, after Macedonius, the Semi-Arian bishop of Constantinople. who made a point of denying the Divinity of the Holy Ghost, and the Apollinarians, whose heresy is described in our next chapter.

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