Arius and Arianism

Alexandrian priest. Born Libya c.250. Died Constantinople, 336.

In his book Thalia Arius taught a view about the person of Christ – that Jesus was a created being, to whom, before time began the Father gave existence, formed out of ‘not being’. Because Arius was convinced of the absolute uniqueness and distinctness of God, ‘one God, alone ingenerate, alone everlasting, alone unbegun, alone true, alone having immortality, alone wise, alone good, alone sovereign’, he considered Patriarch Alexander’s public proclamation that because God is eternal so is his Son to be blasphemy. Arius considered the equality of Christ and God to be a reversion to polytheism. Rather, he considered Christ special because he was created first as a necessary intermediary between the hand of God and the creation. Arius was defended by Eusebius of Nicodemia and Eusebius of Caesarea, but Alexander, who said ‘always the father, always the Son’, excommunicated him.

In 325 Athanasius and the Council of Nicaea decided that the Son was ‘of the same substance’ (homoousios) with the Father. Arius and the bishops who followed him were excommunicated and banished. When he was allowed to return in 335 a riot broke out among the people. In 336 the emperor summoned him to Constantinople. Alexander agreed to receiv him into the church once again, but Arius died suddenly the day before it happened.

Arianism was popular in the 350s to 370s, and developed into Anomeanism and Eunomianism. The Anomians further developed the idea that the Holy Spirit was simply next in line of created beings after the Son, created to give illumination and sanctification. Even some who opposed Arianism would not accede to the Deity of the Spirit. These were dubbed the Pneumatomachi (spirit fighters). This idea was also rebutted by the Nicene and Constaninople Creeds, which affirm the title ‘Lord’ as applied to the Spirit in Scripture, and say that he ‘procedes from the Father’.

Arianism remained a problem until 381 and the recognition of the orthodoxy of the Nicene doctrine by the Council of Constantinople.

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