Informational Site NetworkInformational Site Network
Home - Articles - Church History - Catholic Morals - Prayers - Prayers Answered - Saints Children's Bible - History

The Outbreak Of The Arian Contro

The Arian controversy began in Alexandria about 318, as related by
Socrates (a). The positions of the two parties were defined from the
beginning both by Alexander, bishop of Alexandria (b), and Arius himself
(c), who by appealing to Eusebius of Nicomedia, his fellow-student in
the school of Lucian of Antioch, enlisted the support of that able
ecclesiastical politician and courtier and at once extended the area of
the controversy throughout the East. By means of poems of a somewhat
popular character entitled the Thalia, about 322 (d), Arius spread his
doctrines still further, involving others than the trained professional
theologian. In the meanwhile Arius and some other clergy sympathizing with
him in Egypt were deposed about 320 (e). Constantine endeavored to end
the dispute by a letter, and, failing in this, sent Hosius of Cordova, his
adviser in ecclesiastical matters, to Alexandria in 324. On the advice of
Hosius, a synod was called to meet at Nicaea in the next year, after the
pattern of the earlier synod for the West at Arles in 314. Here the basis
for a definition of faith was a non-committal creed presented by Eusebius
of Caesarea, the Church historian (f). This was modified, probably under
the influence of Hosius, so as to be in harmony at once with the tenets of
the party of Alexander and Athanasius, and with the characteristic
theology of the West (g).

Additional source material: J. Chrystal, Authoritative
Christianity, Jersey City, 1891, vol. I; The Council of Nicaea:
The Genuine Remains; H. R. Percival, The Seven Ecumenical
Councils (PNF, ser. II, vol. XIV); Athanasius, On the
Incarnation (PNF, ser. II, vol. IV).

(a) Socrates. Hist. Ec., I, 5. (MSG, 67:41.)

The outbreak of the controversy at Alexandria circa 318.

After Peter, who was bishop of Alexandria, had suffered martyrdom under
Diocletian, Achillas succeeded to the episcopal office, and after
Achillas, Alexander succeeded in the period of peace above referred to.
Conducting himself fearlessly, he united the Church. By chance, one day,
in the presence of the presbyters and the rest of his clergy, he was
discussing too ambitiously the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, teaching that
there was a unity in the Trinity. But Arius, one of the presbyters under
his jurisdiction, a man of no inconsiderable logical acumen, imagining
that the bishop was subtly introducing the doctrine of Sabellius the
Libyan, from the love of controversy took the opposite opinion to that of
the Libyan, and, as he thought, vigorously responded to the things said by
the bishop. "If," said he, "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 follows necessarily that He had His
subsistence [hypostasis] from nothing."

(b) Alexander of Alexandria. Ep. ad Alexandrum, in Theodoret, Hist.
Ec., I, 3. (MSG, 88:904.)

A statement of the position of Alexander made to Alexander, bishop
of Constantinople.

This extract is to be found at the end of the letter; it is
evidently based upon the creed which is reproduced with somewhat
free glosses. The omissions in the extract are of the less
important glosses and proof-texts. For the position of Alexander
the letter of Arius to Eusebius of Nicomedia given below (c)
should also be examined.

We believe as the Apostolic Church teaches, In one unbegotten Father, who
of His being has no cause, immutable and invariable, and who subsists
always in one state of being, admitting neither of progression nor
diminution; who gave the law and the prophets and the Gospel; of
patriarchs and Apostles and all saints, Lord; and in one Lord Jesus
Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten not out of that which is
not, but of the Father, who is; yet not after the manner of material
bodies, by severance or emanation, as Sabellius and Valentinus taught, but
in an inexpressible and inexplicable manner. We have learned that the Son
is immutable and unchangeable, all-sufficient and perfect, like the
Father, lacking only His "unbegottenness." He is the exact and precisely
similar image of His Father. And in accordance with this we believe that
the Son always existed of the Father. Therefore His own individual
dignity must be reserved to the Father as the Unbegotten One, no one being
called the cause of His existence: to the Son, likewise, must be given the
honor which befits Him, there being to Him a generation from the Father
which has no beginning. And in addition to this pious belief respecting
the Father and the Son, we confess as the sacred Scriptures teach us, one
Holy Spirit, who moved the saints of the Old Testament, and the divine
teachers of that which is called the New. We believe in one and only
Catholic and Apostolic Church, which can never be destroyed even though
all the world were to take counsel to fight against it, and which gains
the victory over all the impious attacks of the heterodox. After this we
receive the resurrection from the dead, of which Jesus Christ our Lord
became the first-fruits; who bore a body, in truth, not in semblance,
derived from Mary, the mother of God [theotokos] in the fulness of time
sojourning among the race, for the remission of sins: who was crucified
and died, yet for all this suffered no diminution of His Godhead. He rose
from the dead, was taken into heaven, and sat down on the right hand of
the Majesty on high.

(c) Arius, Ep. ad Eusebium, in Theodoret, Hist. Ec., I, 4. (MSG,

A statement in the words of Arius of his own position and that of
Alexander addressed to Eusebius of Nicomedia.

To his very dear lord, the man of God, the faithful and orthodox Eusebius,
Arius unjustly persecuted by Alexander the Pope, on account of that
all-conquering truth of which you are also the champion, sendeth greeting
in the Lord.

Alexander has driven us out of the city as atheists, because we do not
concur in what he publicly preaches; namely, "God is always, the Son is
always; as the Father so the Son; the Son coexists unbegotten with God; He
is everlastingly begotten; He is the unbegotten begotten; neither by
thought nor by any interval does God precede the Son; always God, always
the Son; the Son is of God himself." To these impieties we cannot listen
even though heretics threaten us with a thousand deaths. But we say and
believe and have taught and do teach, that the Son is not unbegotten, nor
in any way part of the Unbegotten; nor from any substance
[hypokeimenon],(99) but that of His own will and counsel He has subsisted
before time and before ages, as perfect God only begotten and
unchangeable, and that before He was begotten or created or purposed or
established He was not. For He was not unbegotten. We are persecuted
because we say that the Son has a beginning, but that God is without
beginning. This is the cause of our persecution, and likewise because we
say that He is of that which is not.(100) And this we say because He is
neither part of God, nor of any substance [hypokeimenon]. For this we are
persecuted; the rest you know. I bid thee farewell in the Lord,
remembering our afflictions, my fellow-Lucianist and true Eusebius
[i.e., pious].

(d) Arius, Thalia, in Athanasius, Orat. contra Arianos, I, 2. (MSG,

The following extracts from the Thalia, although given by
Athanasius, the opponent of Arius, are so in harmony with what
Arius and his followers asserted repeatedly that they may be
regarded as correctly representing the work from which they
profess to be taken.

God was not always Father; but there was when God was alone and was not
yet Father; afterward He became a Father. The Son was not always; for
since all things have come into existence from nothing, and all things are
creatures and have been made, so also the Logos of God himself came into
existence from nothing and there was a time when He was not; and that
before He came into existence He was not; but He also had a beginning of
His being created. For God, he says, was alone and not yet was there the
Logos and Wisdom. Afterward He willed to create us, then He made a certain
one and named Him Logos and Wisdom and Son, in order that by Him He might
create us. He says, therefore, that there are two wisdoms, one proper to,
and existing together with, God; but the Son came into existence by that
wisdom, and was made a partaker of it and was only named Wisdom and Logos.
For Wisdom existed by wisdom and the will of God's wisdom. So, he says,
that there is another Logos besides the Son in God, and the Son partaking
of that Logos is again named Logos and Son by grace. There are many
powers; and there is one which is by nature proper to God and eternal; but
Christ, again, is not the true power of God, but is one of those which are
called powers, of whom also the locust and the caterpillar are called not
only a power but a great power [Joel 2:2], and there are many other things
like to the Son, concerning whom David says in the Psalms: "The Lord of
Powers";(101) likewise the Logos is mutable, as are all things, and by His
own free choice, so far as He wills, remains good; because when He wills
He is able to change, as also we are, since His nature is subject to
change. Then, says he, God foreseeing that He would be good, gave by
anticipation to Him that glory, which as a man He afterward had from His
virtue; so that on account of His works, which God foresaw, God made Him
to become such as He is now.

(e) Council of Alexandria, A. D. 320, Epistula encyclica, in Socrates,
Hist. Ec., I, 6. (MSG, 67:45.) Cf. Kirch, nn. 353 ff.

The encyclical of the Council of Alexandria under Alexander, in
which Arius and his sympathizers were deposed, was possibly
composed by Athanasius. It is commonly found in his works,
entitled Depositio Arii. It is also found in the Ecclesiastical
History of Socrates. For council, see Hefele, 20.

Those who became apostates were Arius, Achillas, AEithales, Carpones,
another Arius, and Sarmates, who were then presbyters; Euzoius, Lucius,
Julianus, Menas, Helladius, and Gaius, who were then deacons; and with
them Secundus and Theonas, then called bishops. And the novelties which
they have invented and put forth contrary to the Scriptures are the
following: God was not always a Father, but there was a time when He was
not a Father. The Logos of God was not always, but came into existence
from things that were not; wherefore there was a time when He was not; for
the Son is a creature and a work. Neither is He like in essence to the
Father. Neither is He truly by nature the Logos of the Father; neither is
He His true Wisdom; but He is one of the things made and created, and is
called the Logos and Wisdom by an abuse of terms, since He himself
originated by God's own logos and by the wisdom that is in God, by which
God has made not only all things but Him also. Wherefore He is in His
nature subject to change and variation as are all rational creatures. And
the Logos is foreign, is alien and separated from the being [ousia] of
God. And the Father cannot be(102) described by the Son, for the Logos
does not know the Father perfectly and accurately, neither can He see Him
perfectly. Moreover, the Son knows not His own essence as it really is;
for He was made on account of us, that God might create us by Him as by an
instrument; and He would not have existed had not God willed to create us.
Accordingly some one asked them whether the Logos of God is able to change
as the devil changed, and they were not afraid to say that He can change;
for being something made and created, His nature is subject to change.

(f) Eusebius of Caesarea, Creed, in Socrates, Hist. Ec., I, 8. (MSG,
67:69.) Cf. Hahn, 188.

This creed was presented at the Council of Nicaea by the historian
Eusebius, who took the lead of the middle party at the council. He
stated that it had long been in use in his church.

We believe in one God, Father Almighty, the maker of all things visible
and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Logos of God, God of God,
Light of Light, Life of Life, only begotten Son, the first-born of all
creation, begotten of His Father before all ages, by whom, also, all
things were made, who for our salvation became flesh, who lived among men,
and suffered and rose again on the third day, and ascended to the Father,
and will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. We believe
also in one Holy Spirit. We believe that each of these [i.e., three] is
and subsists;(103) the Father truly Father, the Son truly Son; the Holy
Spirit truly Holy Spirit; as our Lord also said, when He sent His
disciples to preach: "Go teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of
the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" [Matt. 28:19].

(g) Council of Nicaea A. D. 325, Creed, in Socrates, Hist. Ec., I, 8.
(MSG, 67:68.) Cf. Hahn, 142.

The creed of Nicaea is to be carefully distinguished from what is
commonly called the Nicene creed. The actual creed put forth at
the council is as follows. The discussion by Loofs,
Dogmengeschichte, 32, is brief but especially important, as he
shows that the creed was drawn up under the influence of the
Western formulae.

We believe in one God, Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and
invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of His
Father, only begotten, that is of the ousia of the Father, God of God,
Light of Light, true God of true God; begotten, not made, of one
substance(104) 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 from heaven and was made [became] flesh and was made [became] man,
suffered and rose again on the third day, ascended into the heavens and
comes to judge living and dead. And in the Holy Ghost.

But those who say there was when He was not, and before being begotten He
was not, and He was made out of things that were not(105) or those who say
that the Son of God was from a different substance [hypostasis] or being
[ousia] or a creature, or capable of change or alteration, these the
Catholic Church anathematizes.

Next: The Beginnings Of The Eusebian R

Previous: Constantines Endeavors To Bring

Add to Informational Site Network