Arian Controversy – List of Articles

At the conclusion of the fourth-century ‘Arian’ Controversy, the church adopted the Trinity doctrine. However, over the past century, scholars have uncovered that the traditional account of how and why the church accepted the Trinity doctrine is grossly inaccurate, casting doubt on its legitimacy. Different articles in this series discuss different critical errors in the traditional narrative.

Introduction

Introduction to the fourth-century Arian Controversy
The Arian Controversy of the fourth century led to the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity. Based on discoveries since the 20th century, scholars describe the traditional account of the Arian Controversy as a gross misrepresentation.

Orthodoxy when the Arian Controversy began
While some speak of orthodoxy as something already existing, RPC Hanson says that no orthodoxy existed and that orthodoxy was only formed through that controversy. But that is not the full story.

Pre-Nicene Fathers

Sabellius was the first Trinitarian.
He was a third-century theologian. Literature often labels him a heretic for teaching modalism. However, for Sabellius, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three portions of the single divine essence, reminiscent of the Trinity doctrine.

Tertullian was a Sabellian.
During Tertullian’s era, the predominant Christological perspectives were Logos theology and Monarchianism and Sabellius refined Monarchianism. Tertullian’s theology was similar to Sabellius’: Both asserted that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three distinct portions of a single Person.

Did the church fathers describe Jesus as ‘god’ or ‘God’?
The early Church Fathers referred to the Son as ‘our God’ and the Father as ‘the only true God.’ This confusion arises from translation issues. The term ‘theos’ used then does not correspond directly to the contemporary understanding of ‘God.’ Thus, translating ‘theos’ as ‘God’ when it refers to the Son is an application of the Trinity doctrine.

Arius

Who was Arius and why is he important?
Arius is often described as a kind of Antichrist. The naming of the Arian Controversy after him implies his significance. However, not even the so-called Arians considered him a notable writer and he was irrelevant for most of the Arian Controversy.

Did Arius corrupt theology with pagan philosophy?
Arius was often accused of mixing philosophy into theology, which is untrue. In fact, it was the Cappadocian Fathers who were deeply influenced by philosophy.

Did Arius follow Origen?
Origen, a prominent theologian of the first three centuries, was eventually denounced as a heretic. While it is often claimed that Arius derived his theology from Origen, this article highlights significant differences between their teachings.

Did Arius say there was time when the Son of God did not exist?
Arius stated that the Son was begotten timelessly before everything but also that there was when the Son was not. Did he contradict himself?

Did Arius describe the Son as immutable?
Arius himself wrote that the Son of God does not change. Yet, Athanasius contended that Arius actually taught the exact opposite, that the Son is “like all others … subject to change.” This article explains why Arius described the Son as created but still immutable.

What did Arius teach?
Recent evaluations of his contributions conclude that he is a thinker and exegete of resourcefulness, sharpness, and originality, who was regrettably and detrimentally crushed.

What did Arius teach on John 1:1?
It is not true to say that Arius believed that Jesus was a creature, a created god, as if He is one among many. Arians believed that the Son created all things. Therefore, He is God of all things and worshiped by all things. He is our God; just like the Father is His God.

The Nicene Council

Constantine ensured that Nicaea concluded what he thought best.
The so-called first ecumenical council at Nicaea in 325 was actually the emperor’s meeting. He called and controlled it to achieve his own purpose.

Eusebius’ Explanation of the Creed
Eusebius of Caesarea, esteemed as the foremost theologian at the Council, immediately wrote to his church in Caesarea to explain why he accepted the Creed and his interpretation of its contentious terms.

Should a Protestant accept the Nicene Creed?
The terms ousia, homoousios, and hypostasis originate not from the Bible but from pagan philosophy. Moreover, the concept of homoousios (that the Son is of the same substance as the Father) is absent from the Bible. Consequently, the Creed does not adhere to the principle of sola scriptura.

In the Nicene Creed, homoousios means ‘one Person’.
This article addresses the misconception that the term homoousios in the Nicene Creed always meant, as it is interpreted by the Trinity doctrine, that Father and Son are a single Being existing as two Persons. It shows that, before the Council of Nicaea, homoousios was closely linked with Sabellianism and was adopted at Nicaea because Alexander allied with Sabellians. Consequently, at Nicaea, homoousios implied that Father and Son are one single Person.

Homoousios was not regarded as important at Nicaea.
For three decades after the Council of Nicaea, nobody mentions the term homoousios. It only became part of the Arian Controversy during the 350s, some 30 years after Nicaea. This article explains why this was accepted at Nicaea, and how and why it became part of the Controversy 30 years later.

The word Homoousios originates from Egyptian Paganism.
The term does not appear in the Bible or any orthodox Christian confession before Nicaea. This article traces the origin of this term and identifies who introduced it into the Creed.

The doctrine of the Trinity deviates from the Nicene Creed.
While the Creed uses the terms hypostasis (person) and ousia (substance) as synonyms and declares that the Father and Son are a single hypostasis (Person), the Trinty doctrine posits three hypostases.

After Nicaea, the church restored proper balance in its doctrine.
After Nicaea, Sabellians claimed that the term ‘homoousios’ means that Nicaea had accepted Sabellianism as the church’s official theology. This caused a dispute in during which leading Sabellians were deposed.

Arianism

Athanasius invented Arianism.
The term “Arianism” suggests that Arius’ theology dominated the fourth-century church. But Arius had no followers. Athanasius invented the term ‘Arian’ to falsely label his opponents with a theology that had already been officially condemned.

The Dedication Creed – AD 341
This Creed shows how the Nicene Creed would have read if Emperor Constantine had not manipulated that Council. It is anti-Arius. But the main threat was Sabellian. The Creed, therefore, is mainly anti-Sabellian.

The Long Lines Creed – AD 344
In response to the explicit one-hypostasis view of the Western manifesto at Serdica in 343, the East produced the Long Lines Creed in 344 with a three-hypostasis theology.

Did Arians describe the Son as a creature?
The frequent claim that Arius described the Son of God as a created being misrepresents his views. ‘Arians’ described Christ as originating from beyond our universe, the only being ever brought forth directly by the Father, and the only being able to endure direct contact with God.

Homoian theology rejected Nicaea’s new terms.
Different groups responded differently to the term homoousios. The Homoians said that the Son is like the Father but that we should not use the term homoousios because it is not in the Bible and we cannot understand God’s substance.

The Rise and Fall of the Homoiousianism.
While the Homoians said we should not refer to God’s substance and the Heterousians that the Son’s substance is different from the Father’s, the Homoiousians believed that His substance is not the same but similar.

How Arians interpreted Colossians 2:9
This article quotes the mainstream anti-Nicenes to show how they understood that verse.

The Pro-Nicenes

The Sabellians of the Fourth Century
Eustathius and Marcellus attended Nicaea, vigorously opposed the Arians, and played a major role in formulating the Creed. However, both were deposed for Sabellianism within ten years after Nicaea. This article provides an overview of their theology.

Athanasius was a Sabellian.
The present article addresses the misconception that Athanasius was a proponent of scriptural orthodoxy. It shows that he was a Sabellian and not a Trinitarian, meaning that he believed that the Father and Son are one and the same Person; a theology that had already been denounced as heretical in the preceding century.

Athanasius was justly deposed for violence.
In 335, Athanasius was condemned for violence and excommunicated. While the church traditionally believed Athanasius’ claims of being falsely accused by an anti-Nicene conspiracy, RPC Hanson shows that he was justly condemned.

Athanasius was deposed by the East but vindicated by the West.
The East exiled Athanasius in 335. Following Emperor Constantine’s death in 337, all exiles were allowed to return. When the East again took action against Athanasius, he sought support from the West, which shared his preference for a one-hypostasis theology. The West welcomed and vindicated him.

Basil of Caesarea taught three substances (three Beings).
In the traditional Trinity doctrine, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one indivisible substance (one Being). However, this article shows that Basil of Caesarea, a prominent pro-Nicene figure of the fourth century, taught that they are three distinct substances (Beings).

The Council of Serdica (AD 343)
Approximately an equal number of delegates from the East and the West arrived, yet they never met due to their disagreement regarding Marcellus and Athanasius. The Western manifesto shows that the West adhered to a one-hypostasis theology.

The Meletian Schism – Athanasius vs. Basil of Caesarea
During the Meletian Schism, a dispute in the fourth century between two Pro-Nicene groups, the two most prominent Pro-Nicenes of that era found themselves in opposition. While Athanasius supported the view that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are a single hypostasis (Person), Basil of Caesarea maintained three hypostases; three distinct Beings.

Emperor Theodosius

The Council of Constantinople in AD 381 was not ecumenical.
It was a regional synod of Antioch and attended only by pro-Nicenes because all other forms of Christianity, including the formerly dominant Homoian faction, had in the previous year already been outlawed and subjected to persecution.

Later Developments

After the Fall of Rome, Arianism dominated.
In 380, Emperor Theodosius made Trinitarian Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. By the fifth century, Arian Germanic immigrants dominated the Western Empire. But they respected the Trinitarian Roman Church because it was part of the Roman Empire.

Authors 

Extracts and summaries from the writings of scholars who have studied the ancient documents themselves:

Lewis Ayres, Nicaea and its Legacy
This summary of parts of this book provides an overview of the fourth-century Arian Controversy. Lewis Ayres is a Catholic theologian and Professor of Catholic and Historical Theology.

RPC (Richard) Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy, 318-381.
This is a summary of parts of this book, which is regarded by many as the best study of the primary sources surrounding the Arian controversy, in English. (E.g., Goddart, Hart)

Lecture by RPC Hanson
A very informative lecture on the Arian Controversy by RPC Hanson, a famous fourth-century scholar

Fortman, Edmund J. The Triune God – Nicene Creed

Erickson, Millard J. God in Three Persons

Boyd, William Union of Church and State in the Late Roman Empire

Trinity Doctrine – General

Elohim is plural. Is God more than one Person?
Elohim (often translated as God) is plural in form. Does this mean that the Old Testament writers thought God is a multi-personal Being?

The Eternal Generation of the Son
The Son has been begotten by the Father, which implies that the Son is reliant on and subordinate to the Father. However, ‘Eternal Generation’ explains “begotten” in such a way that the Son is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father.


Other Articles

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