Arianism, and Arius (4th century CE)


The history of this movement, and its propagator, is given in the following extraction from the Encyclopaedia Britannica. The crux of the matter is the premise by Arius that Jesus was “a” son of God, as opposed to "The" Son of God.  In effect Arius was proposing that Jesus as “Christ” (the Anointed or Elect) was not co-equal to God, and was not therefore "Divine".  

Arianism was a Christian heresy first proposed early in the 4th century by the Alexandrian presbyter Arius.  It affirmed that Christ is not truly divine but a created being.  The fundamental premise of Arius was the uniqueness of God, who is alone self-existent and immutable.  The Son, who is not self-existent, cannot be God. 

An ascetical, moral leader of a Christian community in the area of Alexandria, Arius attracted a large following through a message integrating Neo-Platonism, which accented the absolute oneness of the divinity as the highest perfection, with a literal, rationalist approach to the New Testament texts.  Christ was viewed as the most perfect creature in the material world, whose moral integrity led him to be "adopted" by God as a son but who nevertheless remained a secondary deity, or Logos substantially unlike the eternal, uncreated Father and subordinate to his will.  Because the Godhead is unique, it cannot be shared or communicated so that the Son cannot be God.  Because the Godhead is immutable, the Son, who is mutable (being represented in the Gospels as subject to growth and change), cannot be God.  The Son must, therefore, be deemed a creature who has been called into existence out of nothing and has had a beginning.  Moreover, the Son can have no direct knowledge of the Father since the Son is finite and of a different order of existence.  This thesis was publicized ~323 through the poetic verse of his major work, Thalia (Banquet), and was widely spread by the tactic of popular songs written for labourers and travellers. 

According to its opponents, especially Athanasius, Arius' teaching reduced the Son to a demigod, reintroduced polytheism (since the worship of the Son was not abandoned), and undermined the Christian concept of redemption since only Christ who was truly God could redeem the world.  From the outset, the controversy between both parties took place upon the common basis of the Neoplatonic concept of ousia ("substance" or "stuff"), which was foreign to the New Testament itself. 

Following an exchange of condemnations (AD 323-324) between the Arians and various gatherings of clergy in Egypt, Palestine, and Syria, Constantine, eager for unity and peace, sent emissaries to mediate the conflict.  This effort failed, and he summoned the Council of Nicaea (the First Ecumenical Council) in May AD 325, to settle what he termed "a fight over trifling and foolish verbal differences".  The bishops issued a creed to safeguard orthodox Christian belief.  This creed states that the Son is homoousion to Patri (of one substance with the Father), thus declaring Him to be all that the Father is: He is completely divine.  When Arius refused to sign the creed, the bishops declared him a heretic and exiled him and the Arian leaders.  This seemed to end the controversy, but it was only the beginning of a long-protracted dispute. 

Although the Arian leaders were exiled, they tried by intrigue to return to their Churches and sees and to banish their enemies.  They were partly successful.  Influential support from colleagues in Asia Minor and from Constantia, the Emperor's daughter, succeeded in effecting Arius' return from exile and his readmission into the Church after consenting to a compromise formula, despite the opposition from Athanasius.  Shortly before he was to be reconciled, however, Arius collapsed and died while walking through the streets of Constantinople in AD 336. 

When Constantine died in AD 337, Constans became Emperor in the West and Constantius II became Emperor in the East.  The former was sympathetic to the orthodox Christians and the latter to the Arians.  At a council held at Antioch (AD 341), an affirmation of faith that omitted the homoousion clause was issued.  Another council was held at Sardica in AD 342, but little was achieved by either council.

In AD 350 Constantius II became sole ruler of the Empire, and under his leadership the Nicene party (orthodox Christians) was largely crushed.  The extreme Arians then declared that the Son was anomoios (unlike) the Father.  These Anomoeans succeeded in having their views endorsed at Sirmium AD 357, but their extremism stimulated the moderates, who asserted that the Son was homoiousios (of similar substance) with the Father, and conservatives, who asserted that the Son was homoios (like) the Father.  Constantius at first supported the Homoiousians but soon transferred his support to the Homoenas, led by Acacius.  Their views were approved in AD 360 at Constantinople, where all previous creeds were rejected, the term ousia ("substance" or "stuff") was repudiated, and a statement of faith was issued stating that the Son was "like the Father who begot Him". 

After Constantius' death in AD 361, the orthodox Christian majority in the West consolidated its position.  The Arian persecution conducted by Emperor Valens (AD 364-378) in the East and the success of the teaching of Basil the Great of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus led the Homoiousian majority in the East to realize its fundamental agreement with the Nicene party.  When the Emperors Gratian (AD 367-383) and Theodosius I (AD 379-395) took up the defense of orthodoxy, Arianism collapsed.  In AD 381 the Second Ecumenical Council met at Constantinople. Arianism was proscribed and the Nicene Creed was approved. 

Although this ended the heresy in the Empire, Arianism continued among some of the Germanic tribes to the end of the 7th Century.  In modern times some Unitarians are virtually Arians in that they are unwilling either to reduce Christ to a mere human being or to attribute to him a divine nature identical with that of the Father.  The Christology of the Jehovah's Witnesses is also a form of Arianism; they regard Arius as a forerunner of Charles Taze Russell, the founder of their movement. 

There are still some who claim that Arius was correct, and of course the above mentioned groupings or “Sects” are well known.  Some go further, and state that they have “proof” of Arius’s assertion.  Proof or otherwise in the temporal sense, could only be ascertained from documentation, which is accepted as "genuine", and such documentation does apparently exist in the form of "Pshitta", called by some "A", which is derived from the "Old Syriacs".  The dating of these is in dispute, and range from just after the execution of Christ, to AD 400 approx.

Regarding our western Bibles, one theory holds that these are derived from the "Pshitto", called by some “O”, translated to the Greek, followed by Latin, and then the languages of Europe.  Others maintain that the originals were in Greek.  See: Ancient Aramaic Manuscripts, Pshitta  "O" and "A".

The assertion of Arius, negating the Divinity of Christ, has been possible to be re-examined in the "temporal" sense, since the availability of the "Old Syriac Pshitta A".  Translations have been produced since the 1800s, but only two are recorded using the "A" document.  The first by Dr. George Lamsa, (1892-1975), who as a native Turk spoke Syrian Aramaic, and was a member of the Syrian Church of the East.  His translation has the question mark against it, as to how close Syriac Aramaic is to Palestinian Aramaic.  Also, his rendering of Christ’s utterances on the cross are different to the accepted. 

The interesting point about these translations is the way they treat John 17:14.  Victor Alexander’s renders the words of Christ; "I have given them your Trinity", which goes to the heart of the above debate!  Lamsa, shows "your word".  Murdock and Etheridge, using the "O" document show, "your word"

In the "Spiritual" sense, the "Trinity" is not doubted.  This latter translation is timely, as confirmation of what is implicit in both Old and New Testaments, regarding the Triune God.  See; The Triune God;

Also See:

The Events of Pentecost; What is the Truth? (Discussion Document).  

Ecumenical (The) Movement and the Bible: 


Charismatic Teaching:  

God's Only Begotten Son     


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