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A heresy which arose in the fourth century, and denied the Divinity of Jesus

First among the doctrinal disputes which troubled Christians after Constantine
had recognized the Church in A.D. 313, and the parent of many more during some
three centuries, Arianism occupies a large place in ecclesiastical history. It
is not a modern form of unbelief, and therefore will appear strange in modern
eyes. But we shall better grasp its meaning if we term it an Eastern attempt to
rationalize the creed by stripping it of mystery so far as the relation of
Christ to God was concerned. In the New Testament and in Church teaching Jesus
of Nazareth appears as the Son of God. This name He took to Himself (Matt., xi,
27; John, x, 36), while the Fourth Gospel declares Him to be the Word (Logos),
Who in the beginning was with God and was God, by Whom all things were made. A
similar doctrine is laid down by St. Paul, in his undoubtedly genuine Epistles
to the Ephesians, Colossians, and Philippians. It is reiterated in the Letters
of Ignatius, and accounts for Pliny's observation that Christians in their
assemblies chanted a hymn to Christ as God. But the question how the Son was
related to the Father (Himself acknowledged on all hands to be the one Supreme
Deity), gave rise, between the years A. D. 60 and 200, to number of Theosophic
systems, called generally Gnosticism, and having for their authors Basilides,
Valentinus, Tatian, and other Greek speculators. Though all of these visited
Rome, they had no following in the West, which remained free from controversies
of an abstract nature, and was faithful to the creed of its baptism.
Intellectual centers were chiefly Alexandria and Antioch, Egyptian or Syrian,
and speculation was carried on in Greek. The Roman Church held steadfastly by
tradition. Under these circumstances, when Gnostic schools had passed away with
their "conjugations" of Divine powers, and "emanations" from the Supreme
unknowable God (the "Deep" and the "Silence") all speculation was thrown into
the form of an inquiry touching the "likeness" of the Son to His Father and
"sameness" of His Essence. Catholics had always maintained that Christ was truly
the Son, and truly God. They worshipped Him with divine honors; they would never
consent to separate Him, in idea or reality, from the Father, Whose Word, Reason,
Mind, He was, and in Whose Heart He abode from eternity. But the technical terms
of doctrine were not fully defined; and even in Greek words like essence (ousia),
substance (hypostasis), nature (physics), person (hyposopon) bore a variety of
meanings drawn from the pre-Christian sects of philosophers, which could not but
entail misunderstandings until they were cleared up. The adaptation of a
vocabulary employed by Plato and Aristotle to Christian truth was a matter of
time; it could not be done in a day; and when accomplished for the Greek it had
to be undertaken for the Latin, which did not lend itself readily to necessary
yet subtle distinctions. That disputes should spring up even among the orthodox
who all held one faith, was inevitable. And of these wranglings the rationalist
would take advantage in order to substitute for the ancient creed his own
inventions. The drift of all he advanced was this: to deny that in any true
sense God could have a Son; as Mohammed tersely said afterwards, "God neither
begets, nor is He begotten" (Koran, cxii). We have learned to call that denial
Unitarianism. It was the ultimate scope of Arian opposition to what Christians
had always believed. But the Arian, though he did not come straight down from
the Gnostic, pursued a line of argument and taught a view which the speculations
of the Gnostic had made familiar. He described the Son as a second, or inferior
God, standing midway between the First Cause and creatures; as Himself made out
of nothing, yet as making all things else; as existing before the worlds of the
ages; and as arrayed in all divine perfections except the one which was their
stay and foundation. God alone was without beginning, unoriginate; the Son was
originated, and once had not existed. For all that has origin must begin to be.

Such is the genuine doctrine of Arius. Using Greek terms, it denies that the Son
is of one essence, nature, or substance with God; He is not consubstantial
(homoousios) with the Father, and therefore not like Him, or equal in dignity,
or co-eternal, or within the real sphere of Deity. The Logos which St. John
exalts is an attribute, Reason, belonging to the Divine nature, not a person
distinct from another, and therefore is a Son merely in figure of speech. These
consequences follow upon the principle which Arius maintains in his letter to
Eusebius of Nicomedia, that the Son "is no part of the Ingenerate." Hence the
Arian sectaries who reasoned logically were styled Anomoeans: they said that the
Son was "unlike" the Father. And they defined God as simply the Unoriginate.
They are also termed the Exucontians (ex ouk onton), because they held the
creation of the Son to be out of nothing.

But a view so unlike tradition found little favour; it required softening or
palliation, even at the cost of logic; and the school which supplanted Arianism
form an early date affirmed the likeness, either without adjunct, or in all
things, or in substance, of the Son to the Father, while denying His co-equal
dignity and co-eternal existence. These men of the Via Media were named Semi-
Arians. They approached, in strict argument, to the heretical extreme; but many
of them held the orthodox faith, however inconsistently; their difficulties
turned upon language or local prejudice, and no small number submitted at length
to Catholic teaching. The Semi-Arians attempted for years to invent a compromise
between irreconcilable views, and their shifting creeds, tumultuous councils,
and worldly devices tell us how mixed and motley a crowd was collected under
their banner. The point to be kept in remembrance is that, while they affirmed
the Word of God to be everlasting, they imagined Him as having become the Son to
create the worlds and redeem mankind. Among the ante-Nicene writers, a certain
ambiguity of expression may be detected, outside the school of Alexandria,
touching this last head of doctrine. While Catholic teachers held the Monarchia,
viz. that there was only one God; and the Trinity, that this Absolute One
existed in three distinct subsistences; and the Circuminession, that Father,
Word, and Spirit could not be separated, in fact or in thought, from one
another; yet an opening was left for discussion as regarded the term "Son," and
the period of His "generation" (gennesis). Five ante-Nicene Fathers are
especially quoted: Athenagoras, Tatian, Theophilus of Antioch, Hippolytus, and
Novatian, whose language appears to involve a peculiar notion of Sonship, as
though It did not come into being or were not perfect until the dawn of creation.
To these may be added Tertullian and Methodius. Cardinal Newman held that their
view, which is found clearly in Tertullian, of the Son existing after the Word,
is connected as an antecedent with Arianism. Petavius construed the same
expressions in a reprehensible sense; but the Anglican Bishop Bull defended them
as orthodox, not without difficulty. Even if metaphorical, such language might
give shelter to unfair disputants; but we are not answerable for the slips of
teachers who failed to perceive all the consequences of doctrinal truths really
held by them. >From these doubtful theorizings Rome and Alexandria kept aloof.
Origen himself, whose unadvised speculations were charged with the guilt of
Arianism, and who employed terms like "the second God," concerning the Logos,
which were never adopted by the Church - this very Origen taught the eternal
Sonship of the Word, and was not a Semi-Arian. To him the Logos, the Son, and
Jesus of Nazareth were one ever-subsisting Divine Person, begotten of the Father,
and, in this way, "subordinate" to the source of His being. He comes forth from
God as the creative Word, and so is a ministering Agent, or, from a different
point of view, is the First-born of creation. Dionysius of Alexandria (260) was
even denounced at Rome for calling the Son a work or creature of God; but he
explained himself to the pope on orthodox principles, and confessed the
Homoousian Creed.


Paul of Samosata, who was contemporary with Dionysius, and Bishop of Antioch,
may be judged the true ancestor of those heresies which relegated Christ beyond
the Divine sphere, whatever epithets of deity they allowed Him. The man Jesus,
said Paul, was distinct from the Logos, and, in Milton's later language, by
merit was made the Son of God. The Supreme is one in Person as in Essence. Three
councils held at Antioch (264-268, or 269) condemned and excommunicated the
Samosatene. But these Fathers would not accept the Homoousian formula, dreading
lest it be taken to signify one material or abstract substance, according to the
usage of the heathen philosophies. Associated with Paul, and for years cut off
from the Catholic communion, we find the well-known Lucian, who edited the
Septuagint and became at last a martyr. From this learned man the school of
Antioch drew its inspiration. Eusebius the historian, Eusebius of Nicomedia, and
Arius himself, all came under Lucian's influence. Not, therefore, to Egypt and
its mystical teaching, but to Syria, where Aristotle flourished with his logic
and its tendency to Rationalism, should we look for the home of an aberration
which had it finally triumphed, would have anticipated Islam, reducing the
Eternal Son to the rank of a prophet, and thus undoing the Christian revelation.

Arius, a Libyan by descent, brought up at Antioch and a school-fellow of
Eusebius, afterwards Bishop of Nicomedia, took part (306) in the obscure
Meletian schism, was made presbyter of the church called "Baucalis," at
Alexandria, and opposed the Sabellians, themselves committed to a view of the
Trinity which denied all real distinctions in the Supreme. Epiphanius describes
the heresiarch as tall, grave, and winning; no aspersion on his moral character
has been sustained; but there is some possibility of personal differences having
led to his quarrel with the patriarch Alexander whom, in public synod, he
accused of teaching that the Son was identical with the Father (319). The actual
circumstances of this dispute are obscure; but Alexander condemned Arius in a
great assembly, and the latter found a refuge with Eusebius, the Church
historian, at Caesarea. Political or party motives embittered the strife. Many
bishops of Asia Minor and Syria took up the defence of their "fellow-Lucianist,"
as Arius ...

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Keywords: arianism meaning, arianisme, arianism today, arianismo, arianism heresy catholic, arianism controversy, arianismus, arianism pronunciation

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