The Arian Controversy

The Arian Controversy—How It Divided Early Christianity
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That Eusebius was a decided subordinationist must be plain to every one that reads his works with care, especially his earlier ones. It would be surprising if he had not been, for he was born at a time when Sabellianism monarchianism was felt to be the greatest danger to which orthodox christology was exposed, and he was trained under the influence of the followers of Origen, who had made it one of his chief aims to emphasize the subordination of the Son over against that very monarchianism.

It must not be forgotten that at the beginning of the fourth century the problem of how to preserve the Godhood of Christ and at the same time his subordination to the Father in opposition to the monarchianists had not been solved. Eusebius in his earlier writings shows that he holds both he cannot be convicted of denying Christ's divinity , but that he is as far from a solution of the problem, and is just as uncertain in regard to the exact relation of Father and Son, as Tertullian, Hippolytus, Origen, Dionysius, and Gregory Thaumaturgus were; is just as inconsistent in his modes of expression as they, and yet no more so see Harnack's Dogmengeschichte, I.

Eusebius, with the same immature and undeveloped views which were held all through the third century, wrote those earlier works which have given rise to so much dispute between those who accuse him of Arianism and those who defend him against the charge. Let us suppose now that Eusebius, holding fast to the divinity of Christ, and yet convinced just as firmly of his subordination to the Father, becomes acquainted through Arius, or other like-minded disciples of Lucian of Antioch, with a doctrine which seems to preserve the Godhood, while at the same time emphasizing strongly the subordination of the Son, and which formulates the relation of Father and Son in a clear and rational manner.

That he should accept such a doctrine eagerly is just what we should expect, and just what we find him doing. In his epistles to Alexander and Euphration, he shows himself an Arian, and Arius and his followers were quite right in claiming him as a supporter.

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There is that in the epistles which is to be found nowhere in his previous writings, and which distinctly separates him from the orthodox party. How then are we to explain the fact that a few years later he signed the Nicene creed and anathematized the doctrines of Arius? Before we can understand his conduct, it is necessary to examine carefully the two epistles in question. Such an examination will show us that what Eusebius is defending in them is not genuine Arianism. He evidently thinks that it is, evidently supposes that he and Arius are in complete agreement upon the subjects under discussion; but he is mistaken.

The extant fragments of the two epistles are given below on p. It will be seen that Eusebius in them defends the Arian doctrine that there was a time when the Son of God was not. It will be seen also that he finds fault with Alexander for representing the Arians as teaching that the "Son of God was made out of nothing, like all creatures," and contends that Arius teaches that the Son of God was begotten, and that he was not produced like all creatures. We know that the Arians very commonly applied the word "begotten" to Christ, using it in such cases as synonymous with "created," and thus not implying, as the Athanasians did when they used the word, that he was of one substance with the Father compare, for instance, the explanation of the meaning of the term given by Eusebius of Nicomedia in his epistle to Paulinus; Theod.

It is evident that the use of this word had deceived our Eusebius, and that he was led by it to think that they taught that the Son was of the Father in a peculiar sense, and did in reality partake in some way of essential Godhood. And indeed it is not at all surprising that the words of Arius, in his epistle to Alexander of Alexandria see Athan. The words are as follows: "The God of the law, and of the prophets, and of the New Testament before eternal ages begat an only-begotten Son, through whom also He made the ages and the universe.

And He begat him not in appearance, but in truth, and subjected him to his own will, unchangeable and immutable, a perfect creature of God, but not as one of the creatures. Meanwhile Alexander in his epistle to Alexander of Constantinople Theod. Alexander undoubtedly thought that that was the legitimate result to which the other views of Arius must lead; but Eusebius did not think so, and felt himself called upon to remonstrate with Alexander for what seemed to him the latter's unfairness in the matter.

In his epistle to Euphration, however, Eusebius seems at first glance to go further and to give up the real divinity of the Son. His words are, "Since the Son is himself God, but not true God. In the epistle to Alexander he clearly reveals a belief in the real divinity of the Son, while in the other fragment of his epistle to Euphration he dwells upon the subordination of the Son and approves the Arian opinion, which he had defended also in the other epistle, that the "Father was before the Son.

That Eusebius misunderstood Arius, and did not perceive that he actually denied all real deity to the Son, was due doubtless in part to his lack of theological insight Eusebius was never a great theologian , in part to his habitual dread of Sabellianism of which Arius had accused Alexander, and toward which Eusebius evidently thought that the latter was tending , which led him to look with great favor upon the pronounced subordinationism of Arius, and thus to overlook the dangerous extreme to which Arius carried that subordinationism.

We are now, the writer hopes, prepared to admit that Eusebius, after the breaking out of the Arian controversy, became an Arian, as he understood Arianism, and supported that party with considerable vigor; and that not as a result of mere personal friendship, but of theological conviction.

At the same time, he was then, as always, a peace-loving man, and while lending Arius his approval and support, he united with other Palestinian bishops in enjoining upon him submission to his bishop Sozomen, H. How are we to explain his conduct? We shall, perhaps, do best to let him explain his own conduct.

But lest in such reports the circumstances of the case have been misrepresented, we have been obliged to transmit to you, first, the formula of faith presented by ourselves; and next, the second, which the Fathers put forth with some additions to our words.

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The Arian controversy was a series of Christian theological disputes that arose between Arius and Athanasius of Alexandria, two Christian theologians from. A summary of the Arian controversy prior to the First Council of Nicaea, the doctrines espoused by the Arians, and the origins of their teaching.

Our own paper, then, which was read in the presence of our most pious Emperor, and declared to be good and unexceptionable, ran thus: -- "As we have received from the Bishops who preceded us, and in our first catechisings, and when we received the Holy Laver, and as we have learned from the divine Scriptures, and as we believed and taught in the presbytery, and in the Episcopate itself, so believing also at the time present, we report to you our faith, and it is this: -- "We believe in One God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of all things visible and invisible.

And in One Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, God from God, Light from Light, Life from Life, Son Only-begotten, first-born of every creature, before all the ages, begotten from the Father, by whom also all things were made; who for our salvation was made flesh, and lived among men, and suffered, and rose again the third day, and ascended to the Father, and will come again in glory to judge quick and dead. Concerning whom we confidently affirm that so we hold, and so we think, and so we have held aforetime, and we maintain this faith unto the death, anathematizing every godless heresy.

That this we have ever thought from our heart and soul, from the time we recollect ourselves, and now think and say in truth, before God Almighty and our Lord Jesus Christ do we witness, being able by proofs to show and to convince you, that, even in times past, such has been our belief and preaching. He confessed, moreover, that such were his own sentiments; and he advised all present to agree to it, and to subscribe its articles and to assent to them, with the insertion of the single word, One in substance' homoousios , which, moreover, he interpreted as not in the sense of the affections of bodies, nor as if the Son subsisted from the Father, in the way of division, or any severance; for that the immaterial and intellectual and incorporeal nature could not be the subject of any corporeal affection, but that it became us to conceive of such things in a divine and ineffable manner.

And such were the theological remarks of our most wise and most religious Emperor; but they, with a view to the addition of One in substance,' drew up the following formula: -- "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, from the Substance of the Father; God from God, Light from Light, very God from very God, begotten, not made, One in substance with the Father, by whom all things were made, both things in heaven and things in earth; who for us men and for our salvation came down and was made flesh, was made man, suffered, and rose again the third day, ascended into heaven, and cometh to judge quick and dead.

But those who say, "Once He was not," and "Before His generation He was not," and "He came to be from nothing," or those who pretend that the Son of God is "Of other subsistence or substance," or "created," or "alterable," or "mutable," the Catholic Church anathematizes. However, if he were created, how could he at the same time be the Creator? If Christ were a created being, what would this say about the claims of his divinity?

Arius ultimately concluded that Christ was the most perfect of all creations, but not eternal and somehow less than God. Arius began to preach in church about his understanding of Christ. Because of the apparent logic and persuasiveness of his arguments, Arius soon developed a strong following in Egypt. His logical conclusions offered an easy explanation to the doubts and confusion many Christians had about the mystery of Jesus' humanity and divinity.

In AD the Pope of Alexandria, Alexander, began to take notice of the Arian movement in his parish, and grew concerned as to it's ramifications. He first took Arius aside and counseled him in a discreet manner to repent from his divergent teachings.

The Arian Controversy by Henry Melvill Gwatkin

Arius refused to listen to him. Later Alexander asked Arius to come and debate his views against other teachers of theology. Following the debate, Pope Alexander again asked Arius publicly to stop teaching his heretical ideas. Arius again refused, and disseminated his views even more zealously. Alexander eventually called for an ecclesiastic council for deposing Arius. Arius, knowing that was about to lose his position in the church, and likely be excommunicated, quickly retreated to Israel where gained the support a number influential people.

The most noteworthy of these was Eusebius of Nicomedia. He wrote to Eusebius, complaining that the Alexander " God always, the Son always, the Son exists from God himself. We are persecuted because we say the Son has a beginning, but God is without beginning. While in Israel, Arius wrote his thesis entitled Thalia.

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In it, he systematically presented his christological convictions. His writing style was easier to understand than the dry works of other Christian scholars, and he frequently used humor to prove his point. He wrote pithy rhymes about his view of Christ, such as "there was a time when he was not. Alexander fought back and started his own campaign, which caused the controversy to intensify.

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News of Arius' views continued to spread all over the Empire, and found a sympathetic ear with a large number of bishops in the Eastern Churches of Asia Minor. To his surprise, he found himself stepping right into the middle of the raging Arian Controversy in Asia Minor. By this time, the argument had fallen from the discussion of lofty theological concepts to an embarrassing contest of insults.

Confused by the pandemonium, Constantine tried arrange a quick fix by sending his advisor, Hosius of Cordova, with a letter that essentially advised everyone involved to stop arguing over trivial theological matters and get on with more important things. Soon the controversy began to fester in the streets. It was recorded that marketplaces were rife with Arian intriguers who would stir up arguments over silly questions such as if a son could exist before he was born.

In the summer of AD , Constantine decided that he would settle the Arian Controversy once and for all. He called for a Council of all the parties involved in the dispute. The meeting place was in the city in Asia Minor, called Nicaea. Most who came to the Council were from the Eastern Church.

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Representing the small group of Arian supporters was Eusebius of Nicomedia. Another group, which strongly supported Pope Alexander, included Eustathius of Antioch and a remarkable man from Alexandria by the name of Athanasius. He was a prolific writer and staunch enemy against all heretics of the faith.

With the arrival of the Emperor, who was to preside over the proceeding, the council could begin. Oddly enough, it seemed that everyone who came to the council was confident that their view would be vindicated. The Arians began by making impressive claims about the Savior. Other titles given to Christ were the power of God, the wisdom of God and the word of God. In the Johannine literature of the New Testament, it was frequently used to express the preexistent state of Christ before the incarnation. Eusebius of Nicomedia had stated that Christ was created born before time, and for that reason was unchangeable.

There were numerous references to scripture that were put forth to support this position. They pointed out that Christ sat at the right hand of God, and that he did not know the day or hour of the final judgement. Much of Arius' claims rested on the scriptural record that the Father "begot" the Son. It follows then of necessity that he had his existence from the non-existent".

Not only did Christ state that he and the Father were one, at least on one occasion He was almost stoned to death by a crowd who clearly understood that he equated himself with God. It was the humanity of Christ that was humbled, did not know certain things and died. The Logos was exalted, knew all things, and rose his Crucified body to life. For, "if He is called the eternal offspring of the Father, He is rightly so called.

For never was the substance of the Father imperfect God's offspring is eternal, for His nature is ever perfect. This was also true for Hebrew and other Semitic cultures as well. A pivotal issue then for both parties was how to define the sonship of the Logos. Arian confusion arose as to what "coming to be", "generated" or "begotten" actually meant. All parties decided that the controversy could be resolved by making a universal declaration of faith that would be the measuring rod for orthodox belief. Eusebius of Nicomedia offered up what was later called the Arian Creed.

No more than twenty votes could be mustered in support of it, and the bishops, in what appears to have been a free-for-all, ripped up the document in an angry clamor. After this show of violence, all but five persons completely abandoned Arius. Eusebius seemed well situated to make this proposal, because he tended to agree with some tenants of Arius' belief, and at the same time was in good standing with Constantine and the other bishops.

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It looked as if the council would soon finish without anything definitive being said about Arianism or the Nature of Christ, when Constantine suggested that the word homoousios be added into the creed. It was he and not Athanasius who was the official representative of the Alexandrian Church at the Council of Nicea. It was also he who called the Council of Alexandria in which deposed Arius.

At that time he was already an aged man and he died soon after Nicea. He was sound in his beliefs and held to the doctrine of eternal generation. Athanasius succeeded Alexander as head of the Alexandrian Church. He became the great champion of the Orthodox cause.

In fact, the history of the Orthodox party in the controversy is really no more than a history of Athanasius. He gave his life and energy to a defense of the Nicene Faith. Schaff says:. It was the passion and life-work of Athanasius to vindicate the deity of Christ, which he rightly regarded as the cornerstone of the edifice of the Christian Faith, and without which he could conceive no redemption.

What Did Arius Really Believe?

For this truth he spent all his time and strength; for this he suffered deposition and twenty years of exile; for this he would at any moment have been glad to pour Out his blood. For his vindication of this truth he was much hated, much loved, always respected or feared.

It was largely on account of his efforts that the Orthodox party finally prevailed. His role at the Council of Nicea is not completely clear. Nominally, he was the private secretary and trusted advisor of Alexander, but what influence he had there is the subject of much discussion. Whatever his role at the Council may have been, his place in the subsequent controversy is very clear, Inflexibly opposed to Arianism, he was both leader and champion of the orthodox party. His enemies, as a result, were many. Five times he was sent or forced into exile — twenty of the forty-five years of his official life were spent in exile.

Never did he waver in his convictions. Always the target of malicious charges, lies, and slander, he never returned as he received. In all the controversy he showed himself to be a man of God. His appeal is always Scriptural. Of his four great Orations Against the Arians, about eighty percent is exegetical explanation of various Scripture texts and this is characteristic of his writings. Never did he see the controversy as a dogmatic matter among theologians.

Again and again he sets forth as his conviction that if Jesus was not true God then He cannot be the Saviour. He was truly a great man. Hosius, or Osius, was Bishop of Cordova in Spain. It was he whom Constantine sent to Alexandria at the beginning of the controversy with an official rebuke of Arius.

He also advised and represented Constantine at Nicea. Again, due to lack of official records we do not know much about what he did at that Council. He seems to have had much influence. Athanasius says that the Creed of Nicea was in large measure composed by him. Whether or not that is true we know that he regarded the word as a bulwark against Arianism. Of the great Hosius, who answers to his name, that confessor of a happy old age.

When was there a Council held in which he did not take the lead, and by right counsel convince every one? Where is there a Church that does not possess some glorious monuments of his patronage? Who has ever come to him in sorrow, and has not gone away rejoicing? To the day of his death he supported Athanasius. He was one of the three or four banished by the Council of Milan , the only ones in the whole empire who would not subscribe to Arianism and a condemnation of Athanasius.

When Athanasius died the leadership of his party passed into the hands of three very capable men. Although they arose out of the ranks of the Semi-Arians, they were the ones who finally vindicated orthodoxy and implemented the final union of Orthodox and Semi-Arians.

They also further developed the doctrines of Nicea in combating Macedonianism and Apollinarianism. Mention should also be made here of Hilary of Potiers. He did much to clarify the terms which had resulted in so much confusion at Nicea. It was his work in this area that finally made the union of Orthodox and Semi-Arians possible. The views of the Orthodox party are best represented in the writings of Athanasius since he is the main figure in the controversy and since little else is extant.

Athanasius, Berkhof says, strongly emphasized the unity of God and insisted on a construction of the doctrine of the Trinity that would not endanger this unity. His views are best presented by quoting him. In his own statement of faith we have a brief and clear picture of what he taught:. We believe in one Unbegotten God, Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible, that hath His being from Himself. And in one Only-begotten Word, Wisdom, Son, begotten of the Father without beginning and eternally; word not pronounced, nor mental, nor an effluence of the Perfect, nor a dividing of the impassible Essence, nor an issue; but absolutely perfect Son, living and powerful Heb.

Neither do we ascribe the passible body which He bore for the salvation of the whole world to the Father. Neither can we imagine three Subsistences separated from each other, as results from their bodily nature in the case of men, lest we hold a plurality of Gods like the heathen. He the Son is then by nature an Offspring, perfect from prefect, begotten before all the hills Prov. For it would be inconsistent with His deity for Him to be called a creature. Finally, then, we come to the compromise party, usually called Semi-Arians. This was by far the largest party in the controversy.

The party itself arose at Nicea out of opposition to the use of the word homoousios , though it also rejected emphatically the views of Arius. In spite of the fact that the party really stood closer to the Orthodox doctrinally, and even though all signed the Creed of Nicea, the party afterwards sided with the ultra-Arians in opposition to the Orthodox. Many of them did not even understand the point at issue and in the interest of Church unity tried to compromise.

That compromise was never really successful. The many excesses of the Arian party eventually drove them closer and closer to the Orthodox. Finally, through the patient work of Athanasius and Hilary and the leadership of the Three Cappadocians they were united to the Orthodox in confession of homoousios. On the whole, they too held to eternal generation and the true divinity of the Son. They avoided homoousios , especially because of its Sabellian connotations. The Semi-Arian party was under the leadership of Eusebius of Caesarea. From every point of view he is an excellent representative.

In one person he represents the feelings of the whole Semi-Arian party: vacillating, indecisive, generally on the side of the Arians against Athanasius. But he is so inconsistent and indecisive that it is difficult to tell exactly what he believed. Most agree that he leaned toward Arianism but on the whole simply was not able to make up his mind where he stood:. At bottom, he thought like Arius; but in proportion as the latter was clear and precise in his explanations, so did the Bishop of Caesarea excel in clothing his ideas in a diffuse and flowing style, and in using many words to say nothing.

Nevertheless, he was considered to be the greatest scholar of his day and thus wielded considerable influence both with the Emperor and with his own party. As Bishop of Caesarea he was succeeded by Acaius, a friend of the Arians. The Emperors cannot be considered as a separate party in the Nicene debate. Nevertheless, they hold a special place in the controversy and must be taken into account.

Their interference in Church affairs made both the temporary triumph of Arianism and the final victory of Orthodoxy possible. Constantine was the first and most important of the Emperors who took a hand in church business. After becoming sole ruler of the Roman Empire he gave official recognition to the Christian church and used it as a force to weld together his huge empire. But he united the Empire under the banners of Christianity, only to find that the Church itself was divided and in turmoil over the Arian question.

He was determined to have unity and called together the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea to end the strife. He himself took a leading hand in the controversy and attended the Council of Nicea as well as several subsequent Councils in person. His desire for Church unity made itself felt in the Council. Probably at the prompting of Hosius he supported the Orthodox, and himself proposed the addition of homoousios to the Creed when it became evident that nothing else would do. Once passed, the decisions of Nicea were zealously defended by him. Those who spoke against the Creed or showed a spirit of rebellion he sent into exile Arius, Eusebius of Nicomedia, Theognis of Nicea.

While he lived the Orthodox party held sway. His interest in the question was primarily political. He does not seem to have had a great deal of interest in the question as such, dismissing it as petty bickering:. His political motives can be clearly seen in the restoration of both Arius and Eusebius after only a few years in exile, and in the exile of Athanasius on the basis of trumped-up charges by the Arians.