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Arius

[uh-rahy-uhs, air-ee-]

Arius (AD ca. 250 or 256 - 336) was a Christian priest from Alexandria, Egypt in the early fourth century whose teachings, now called Arianism, were deemed heretical by the Church.

In about the year 318, he was involved in a dispute with his bishop, Alexander of Alexandria, maintaining against him that the Son of God was not consubstantial or coeternal with God the Father, but that there was once a time, before he was begotten, that he did not exist. Arius, with a following of other priests, was excommunicated, but debate continued throughout the Eastern Roman Empire. Many bishops, particularly those who studied under Lucian of Antioch, agreed with Arius. By the time Constantine I took over the East in 324, debate was fierce, with various councils condemning and approving Arius's views on the Son.

Arius's extant writings

Reconstructing the life and teachings of Arius is problematic. None of Arius' writings are extant. Constantine ordered their burning while Arius was still living, and any that survived that purge were later destroyed by his opponents. Those works which have survived are found in the works of churchmen who wrote after he had died and denounced him as a heretic, leading some but not all scholars to question their reliability.

The three remaining letters credited to Arius are his letter to Alexander of Alexandria (as preserved by Athanasius, On the Councils of Arminum and Seleucia, 16; Epiphanius, Refutation of All Heresies, 69.7; and Hilary, On the Trinity, 4.12), his letter to Eusebius of Nicomedia (as recorded by Epiphanius, Refutation of All Heresies, 69.6 and Theodoret, Church History, 1.5), and his confession to Constantine (as recorded in Socrates Scholasticus, Church History 1.26.2 and Sozomen, Church History 2.27.6-10). In addition, several lettersaddressed to him survive, and several times he is quoted by his opponents. Of course it is difficult to tell how accurately they quote him, and the quotations are often short and taken out of context.

His Thalia (literally, "Festivity"), a popularized work combining prose and verse, survives in fragmentary form. Both references are recorded by his opponent Athanasius. The first is a report of Arius' teaching in Orations Against the Arians., 1.5-6. This paraphrase has negative comments interspersed, so is difficult to consider a reliable quotation.

The second is a more direct quotation in On the Councils of Arminum and Seleucia, 15. This is entirely in irregular verse, and seems to be a direct quotation or a collection of quotations. Someone other than Athanasius, perhaps even someone sympathetic to Arius, may have compiled the quotations. This second quotation seems reasonably accurate because it does not contain several key statements usually attributed to Arius by his opponents (e.g. "There was a time when the Son did not exist), and has some positive statements about the son, is in metrical form, and resembles other passages attributed to Arius. But though these quotations seems reasonably accurate, their context is lost, so their place in a larger system of thought is impossible to reconstruct.

Constantine summoned the Council of Nicaea in 325. The Council condemned Arius’s teaching, exiling him. Arius was recalled within a few years, and seems to have spent the rest of his life trying to be readmitted to communion in Alexandria; Athanasius seems to have frustrated his efforts. Just as Arius was to be readmitted to communion in Constantinople in 336, he is said to have died suddenly. Several scholarly studies suggest that Arius was poisoned by his opponents.

The controversy was far from over, and would not be settled for decades to come (continuing later into the West as well). Those who agreed that the Son was not consubstantial were already at that time being labeled “Arians”, especially by Athanasius of Alexandria, and the name Arianism remains the descriptor of this teaching. The naming is incidental, as Arius’ role was only to ignite the controversy. The issue of the Son’s relationship to the Father had been discussed before in church history, only never so fervently and universally. Other “Arians” like Eusebius of Nicomedia and Eusebius of Caesarea were much more influential. In fact, some later "Arians" disavowed the name, claiming not to have been familiar with Arius. Nonetheless, Arius' (and his bishop's) stubborn insistence had brought the issue to the theological forefront, and so it is labeled as his.

Early life and personality

Arius was possibly of Libyan descent. His father's name is given as Ammonius. Arius probably was a student at the exegetical school in Antioch, where he studied under Saint Lucian.

Having returned to Alexandria, Arius sided with Meletius of Lycopolis and was ordained deacon under the latter's auspices. Arius was excommunicated by Bishop Peter of Alexandria in 311 for supporting the views of Meletius, but under Peter's successor Achillas, he was readmitted to communion and in 313 made presbyter of the Baucalis district in Alexandria.

Although the character of Arius has been severely assailed by his opponents, Arius appears to have been a man of personal ascetic character, pure morals, and decided convictions. Warren H. Carroll (paraphrasing Epiphanius of Salamis, an opponent of Arius) describes him as “tall and lean, of distinguished appearance and polished address. Women doted on him, charmed by his beautiful manners, touched by his appearance of asceticism. Men were impressed by his aura of intellectual superiority.”

Controversy

The historian Socrates of Constantinople reports that Arius first became controversial when Alexander, who succeeded Achillas as Bishop of Alexandria, gave a sermon on the similarity of the Son to the Father. Arius interpreted Alexander's sermon as a revival of Sabellianism, condemned it, and argued that "if the Father begat the Son, he that was begotten had a beginning of existence: and from this it is evident, that there was a time when the Son was not. It therefore necessarily follows, that he had his substance from nothing.

It is believed that Arius' doctrines were influenced by the teachings of Lucian of Antioch, a celebrated Christian teacher and martyr for the faith. In a letter to Bishop Alexander of Constantinople, Alexander of Alexandria wrote that Arius derived his theology from Lucian. The express purpose of his letter is to complain of the doctrines Arius was then diffusing but his charge of heresy against Arius is vague and unsupported by other authorities, and Alexander's language, like that of most controversialists in those days, is vituperative. Moreover, even Alexander does not accuse Lucian of having taught the same doctrines that Arius would teach, but Alexander accuses Lucian ad invidiam of heretical tendencies.

The patriarch of Alexandria was the subject of adverse criticism for his slow reaction against Arius. Like his predecessor Dionysius, he has been charged with vacillation. Yet it is difficult to see how he could have acted otherwise than he did. The question that Arius raised had been left unsettled two generations previously, or, if in any sense it could be said to have been settled, it had been settled in favor of the opponents of the homoousion. Therefore Alexander allowed the controversy to continue until he felt that it had become dangerous to the peace of the Church. Then he called a council of bishops and sought their advice. Once they decided against Arius, Alexander delayed no longer. He deposed Arius from his office, and excommunicated both him and his supporters.

Arius' doctrines

In explaining his actions against Arius, Alexander of Alexandria wrote a letter to Alexander of Constantinople and Eusebius of Nicomedia (where the emperor was then residing), detailing the errors into which he believed Arius had fallen. According to Alexander, Arius taught:

That God was not always the Father, but that there was a period when he was not the Father; that the Word of God was not from eternity, but was made out of nothing; for that the ever-existing God (‘the I AM’—the eternal One) made him who did not previously exist, out of nothing; wherefore there was a time when he did not exist, inasmuch as the Son is a creature and a work. That he is neither like the Father as it regards his essence, nor is by nature either the Father’s true Word, or true Wisdom, but indeed one of his works and creatures, being erroneously called Word and Wisdom, since he was himself made of God’s own Word and the Wisdom which is in God, whereby God both made all things and him also. Wherefore he is as to his nature mutable and susceptible of change, as all other rational creatures are: hence the Word is alien to and other than the essence of God; and the Father is inexplicable by the Son, and invisible to him, for neither does the Word perfectly and accurately know the Father, neither can he distinctly see him. The Son knows not the nature of his own essence: for he was made on our account, in order that God might create us by him, as by an instrument; nor would he ever have existed, unless God had wished to create us.

He quotes something similar from the Thalia:

God has not always been Father; there was a moment when he was alone, and was not yet Father: later he became so. The Son is not from eternity; he came from nothing.

Arius' concept of the Word

This question of the exact relationship between the Father and the Son, a part of Christology, had been raised some 50 years before Arius, when Paul of Samosata was deposed in AD 269 for his agreement with those who had used the word homoousios (Greek for same substance) to express the relation of the Father and the Son. The expression was at that time thought to have a Sabellian tendency, though, as events showed, this was on account of its scope not having been satisfactorily defined. In the discussion which followed, Dionysius, Patriarch of Alexandria, had used much the same language as Arius did later, and correspondence survives in which Pope Dionysius blames his brother of Alexandria for using such language. Dionysius of Alexandria responded with an explanation, which posterity has been inclined to interpret as vacillating. So far as the earlier controversy could be said to have been decided, it was decided in favor of the opinions later championed by Arius. But this settlement was so unsatisfactory that the question would have been reopened sooner or later, especially in an atmosphere so intellectual as that of Alexandria. For the synod of Antioch which condemned Paul of Samosata had expressed its disapproval of the word homoousios in one sense, and Patriarch Alexander undertook its defense in another.

Arius endorsed the following doctrines about The Son/The Word (Logos, referring to Jesus, see the Gospel of John chapter 1):

  1. that the Word (Logos) and the Father were not of the same essence (ousia);
  2. that the Son was a created being (ktisma or poiema); and
  3. that the worlds were created through him, so he must have existed before them and before all time.
  4. However, there was a "once" [Arius did not use words meaning "time", such as chronos or aion] when He did not exist, before he was begotten of the Father.

From "Thalia" Arius poem about his views of Jesus.

…"And so God Himself, as he really is, is inexpressible to all. He alone has no equal, no one similar (homoios), and no one of the same glory. We call him unbegotten, in contrast to him who by nature is begotten. We praise him as without beginning in contrast to him who has a beginning. We worship him as timeless, in contrast to him who in time has come to exist. He who is without beginning made the Son a beginning of created things. He produced him as a son for himself by begetting him. He [the son] has none of the distinct characteristics of God’s own being (kat’ hypostasis) For he is not equal to, nor is he of the same being (homoousios) as him".

1. Proverb 22:8 “Jehovah himself produced me as the beginning of his way, the earliest of his achievements of long ago".The Bible

From "Thalia" "At God’s will the Son has the greatness and qualities that he has. His existence from when and from whom and from then — are all from God. He, though strong God, praises in part (ek merous) his superior" .

That God's first thought was the creation of Jesus Christ, so time started with the word in Heaven.

From "Thalia" " In brief, God is inexpressible to the Son. For he is in himself what he is, that is, indescribable, So that the son does not comprehend any of these things or have the understanding to explain them. For it is impossible for him to fathom the Father, who is by himself. For the Son himself does not even know his own essence (ousia), For being Son, his existence is most certainly at the will of the Father.

What reasoning allows, that he who is from the Father should comprehend and know his own parent? For clearly that which has a beginning is not able to conceive of or grasp the existence of that which has no beginning".

Translation and introduction by AJW

2.Rev.3:15 "These are the things that the Amen says, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation by God "The Bible"

Everything else came though Jesus Christ because he was the only begotton.

3.(Colossians 1:15-17) . . .He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 because by means of him all [other] things were created in the heavens and upon the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, no matter whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All [other] things have been created through him and for him. 17 Also, he is before all [other] things and by means of him all [other] things were made to exist", The Bible.

From "Thalia" "Understand that the Monad [eternally] was; but the Dyad was not before it came into existence. It immediately follows that, although the Son did not exist, the Father was still God. Hence the Son, not being [eternal] came into existence by the Father’s will, He is the Only-begotten God, and this one is alien from [all] others"

This main idea started great division in the early congregations.(280bc till today.)

The subsequent controversy shows that Arius' avoidance of the words chronos and aion was adroit; when defending himself he clearly argued that there was a time when the Son did not exist. Moreover, he asserted that the Logos had a beginning. By way of contrast, Origen had taught that the relation of the Son to the Father had no beginning.

Arius obviously objected to this doctrine, for he complains of it in his letter to the Nicomedian Eusebius, who also studied under Lucian. Arius also contended that the Son was unchangeable (atreptos). But so far as we can understand his language on a subject that Athanasius admitted was beyond his power to thoroughly comprehend, Arius taught that the Logos was changeable in essence, but not in will. Arius drew support from the writings of Origen, who had made use of expressions which favored Arius' statement that the Logos was of a different substance than the Father, and that he owed his existence to the Father's will. But the theological speculations of Origen were often proffered to stimulate further inquiry rather than to enable men to dispense with it. This explains why in this, as well as other controversies, the authority of Origen is so frequently invoked by both sides.

Wider Church reaction and The Council of Nicaea

The Christian church had by this time become so powerful a force in the Roman world, Constantine having legalized it in 313 with the Edict of Milan, and partaken in several ecumenical issues, including judging over the Donatist issue in 316, Constantine I sent Hosius, bishop of Córdoba-the one who reportedly instructed him in the faith just before his march to Rome--to investigate and to put an end, if possible, to the controversy. Hosius was armed with an open letter from the Emperor: "Wherefore let each one of you, showing consideration for the other, listen to the impartial exhortation of your fellow-servant." But as the debate continued to rage, Constantine took an unprecedented step: he called a council of delegates, summoned from all parts of the empire, to resolve this issue (possibly at Hosius' recommendation).

All of the secular dioceses into which the empire had been divided, Roman Britain only excepted, sent one or more representatives to the council, the majority of the bishops coming from the East. Pope Sylvester I, himself too aged to be present, sent two presbyters as his delegates. Attending the conference, there was the already mentioned Eusebius of Nicomedia, and Alexander, patriarch of Alexandria. There was also the historian, Eusebius of Caesarea, as well as the young Athanasius, who was to eventually spend most of his life battling Arianism.

Before the main council, Hosius met with Alexander and his supporters at Nicomedia.

This was the First Council of Nicaea, which met in 325, near Constantinople. Some twenty-two of the bishops at the council, led by Eusebius of Nicomedia, came as supporters of Arius. But when some of the passages from Arius' writings were read aloud, they are reported to have been denounced as blasphemous by most of the council participants. Under the influence of Emperor Constantine I, the assembled bishops agreed upon a creed. This creed, which is known as the Nicene creed specifically included the word homoousios--“consubstantial,” or “one in being,”-- which was incompatible with the beliefs of Arius. On June 19, 325, both council and emperor issued a circular letter to the churches in and around Alexandria. Arius and two unyielding supporters (Theonas, and Secundus) were deposed and exiled to Illyricum, while three other bishops, who had also been supportive of Arius, namely Eusebius of Nicomedia, Theognis of Nicaea, and Maris of Chalcedon, were unwilling signatories of the document, but affixed their signatures in deference to the emperor. However, Constantine found some reason to suspect the sincerity of Eusebius of Nicomedia, as well as that of Theognis and Maris, for he soon after included them in the sentence pronounced on Arius. Eusebius of Caesarea defended himself in a letter as having objected to the changes in the creed which he had originally presented, but finally accepted them in the interests of peace (Theod. H. E. i. 12).

After the Council of Nicaea and his death

That the apparent public unanimity of the council (Secundus and Theonas of Lower Egypt being the only dissenters) masked a considerable amount of divergent opinion is indisputable. Doubts over the use of a term which had been previously denounced as Sabellian weighed on the minds of many. Eusebius of Caesarea has been charged by many later writers as having embraced Arianism. But his attitude suggests that his objections to the decision, which he allowed his love of peace to overrule, owed more to the dread of possible consequences than to the decision in itself. And his allusion to the proceedings at Nicaea in the letter just mentioned shows that his apprehensions were not unreasonable. For he remarks how the final consensus emerged after considerable discussion that the term homoousion was not intended to indicate that the Son formed an actual portion of the Father, which would have led to Sabellianism, the fear of which fed much of the dissension to the creed. On the other hand, Athanasius was convinced that unless the essence of the Son was definitely understood to be the same as that of the Father, it would inevitably follow that the Son would at best be no more than an aeon.

The homoousian party's victory at Nicaea was short-lived, however. The controversy recommenced as soon as the decrees were promulgated. When Alexander died at Alexandria in 327, Athanasius succeeded him despite not meeting the age requirement for a bishop. Eusebius of Nicomedia, after writing a diplomatic letter to Constantine, was soon reinstated to his see and the good graces of the emperor. Arius, who had taken refuge in Palestine, was also soon permitted to return, after reformulating his Christology in an effort to mute the ideas his opponents found most objectionable. Before long, this turn of events led to a complete reversal of the position of the contending parties. Eustathius of Antioch, a staunch supporter of Athanasius, was deposed after involving himself in a controversy with Eusebius of Caesarea. Marcellus of Ancyra, another partisan of Athanasius, was charged with Sabellianism in attempting to defend Nicene Christology and was deposed in 336. In the meantime, Eusebius of Nicomedia turned against pugnacious Athanasius. Following Arius' restoration to Constantine's favor, the emperor admonished Athanasius to readmit Arius to communion. Athanasius refused and was exiled to Trier.

Arius was summoned before Constantine and judged suitably compliant, whereupon the emperor directed Alexander of Constantinople to receive Arius back into communion despite his objections. However, the day before he was to be readmitted to communion, Arius is reported to have died suddenly. Socrates Scholasticus, a detractor, describes Arius' death as follows:

Many Nicene Christians asserted Arius' death was miraculous—a consequence of his heretical views. Several scholarly studies suggest that Arius was poisoned by his opponents. This article uses text from A Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century A.D., with an Account of the Principal Sects and Heresies by Henry Wace.

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