What did Arius teach that caused the Arian Controversy?

Introduction

Purpose

The fourth-century ‘Arian’ Controversy, which revolved around the relation between God and His only begotten Son, began in the year 318 when Arius, a presbyter in charge of a district in Alexandria, publicly criticized the Christological views of his bishop Alexander (RH, 3):

“The crisis of the fourth century was the most dramatic internal struggle the Christian Church had so far experienced” (RW, 1).

The purpose of this article is to identify the main points of Arius’ teaching. What did he teach that had such an explosive effect on the church? Why does the church regard him as a great heretic?

Why should we earn about Arius?

After Emperor Theodosius, in the year 380, made the Trinitarian version of Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire and brutally eliminated all opposition, “Arius himself came more and more to be regarded as a kind of Antichrist among heretics, a man whose superficial austerity and spirituality cloaked a diabolical malice.” (RW, 1).

However, Bishop R.P.C. Hanson, a world expert on the Arian Controversy, concluded that the traditional account of the Arian Controversy is a complete travesty. More specifically, in a recent book about Arius, Archbishop Rowan Williams described Arius as:

“A thinker and exegete of resourcefulness, sharpness and originality.” (RW, 116)

“An important dimension in Christian life that was dis-edifyingly and unfortunately crushed.” (RW, 91)

Williams concluded that “Arius’ solution is no better or worse than most efforts that have been made by theologians through the ages” (RW, 114).

We do not have to agree with everything Arius said, but he had some very interesting perspectives that we would be deprived of if we limit ourselves to Trinitarian polemics.

Authors

This article series is largely based on three books by world-class scholars and Trinitarians who have made in-depth studies of the Arian Controversy of the fourth century:

RH Bishop RPC Hanson
The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God –
The Arian Controversy 318-381, 1987

RW Archbishop Rowan Williams
Arius: Heresy and Tradition, 2002/1987

LA = Lewis Ayres
Nicaea and its legacy, 2004
Ayres is a Professor of Catholic and Historical Theology

Summary

Arius’ Writings

AriusWe only have three letters in which Arius himself describes his theology. Everything else we know about Arius is found in the writings of his enemies; particularly Athanasius. Unfortunately, however, “Athanasius … would not have stopped short of misrepresenting what he (Arius) said” (RH, 10).

Arius’ theology may be summarized as follows:

The Son’s Origin

Does not exist without a cause – God alone exists without a cause and gave existence to all things that exist. Therefore, God has no equal. Arius’ entire theological system hangs on this central principle. It follows that the Son does not exist without a cause but that the Father gave existence to the Son.

Created Being – The Son is a created being. However:

      • He is the only being ever created directly by God: The Son is the Creator of all other beings.
      • Therefore, He is ‘God’ as far as the rest of creation is concerned.
      • He is also the greatest being that God could possibly produce. He received everything from the Father that a created being could possibly receive.

For these reasons, His only-begotten Son has nobody like him.

Begotten – “Begotten” must not be understood literally, as if the Son was born from God like human children are born from their parents. “Begotten” symbolizes that the Son is the only being ever directly produced by the Father and that He is an exact visible replica of the invisible God.

Before Time – Since He made all things, He has existed before all things. He was begotten before time itself existed. Therefore, from the perspective of beings who exist ‘in’ or subject to time, the Son has ‘always’ existed.

The Father precedes Him. – However, in that incomprehensible infinity beyond time, the Father exists metaphorically ‘before’ the Son. There was when He was not but there was no literal ‘time’ before the Son existed, as Arius’ enemies claimed Arius said.

Out of nothing – God made Him out of nothing. (This was one aspect in which Arius deviated from mainstream ‘Arianism’ which argued that the Son was begotten from the being of God.)

The Son’s Status

Subordinate – Since the Son received His life and being from the Father, the Son is subordinate to the Father. Arians even described the Father as the Son’s God whom He worships. However, when Arius wrote, all theologians regarded the Son as subordinate to the Father.

God – Arius did refer to the Son as ‘God’. However, the modern concept of “God” is the product of the Trinity doctrine and did not exist in the Greek language which Arius used. The term translated as “God” is theos, which basically means an immortal being with supernatural powers, which the Son most certainly is.

Trinity – Arius also referred to the Trinity but he simply meant a group of three. (The Trinity doctrine does not merely teach that three divine Persons exist, or even that they are equal, but that they are one single Being.)

Different Substance – In the Nicene Creed, the Son is of the same substance (homoousios) as the Father. But Arius said that the Son is “unlike in substance to the Father” because the substance of a created being can never be the same as God’s substance that exists without a cause.

Two Logoi – In the Logos-theology that was developed in the second century after the church became Gentile-dominated, and which still was the standard explanation of the Son when the Arian Controversy began, the Logos (the Son) was God’s only Logos (Word, Mind, or Wisdom). God did not have His ‘own’ Wisdom. (See – The Apologists) In contrast, Arius taught “two Logoi and two Wisdoms,” meaning that God also has His own Wisdom.

Immutable – Theologians, generally, accept that God is immutable, meaning, unable to change. In Nicene Christology, the Son is as immutable as the Father. Arius taught that “the Son is variable by nature, but remains stable by the gift of God.”

Knowledge of God – The Bible says several times that God is invisible (e.g., Col 1:15). Ancient writers understood this to mean that nobody understands God fully. Arius said that the Son also does not understand God fully, for how could “that which has a beginning could not possibly comprehend or grasp the nature of him who is without a beginning?” (RH, 15). But Arius also said that the Son knows everything about the Father that a created being is able to know.

– – – – END OF SUMMARY – – – – 

Arius’ Writings

Arius’ Own Writings

“We have only a handful of texts that can confidently be treated as giving us Arius’ own thinking in his own words,” (RW, 95), namely:

      • Arius’ confession of faith, presented to Alexander of Alexandria,
      • Arius’ letter to Eusebius of Nicomedia, and
      • The confession that was submitted by Arius and Euzoius to Emperor Constantine. (RW, 95)

The Writings of Arius’ Enemies

Apart from the three letters written by Arius, “we are wholly dependent upon the reports of his enemies.” (RW, 95) “Such reports, especially in the writings of Athanasius, have to be handled with caution.” (RW, 95)

Firstly, in the traditional account of the Arian Controversy, Athanasius is the hero of the story. However, he was a fierce opponent of Arius and Hanson concluded:

“Athanasius … would not have stopped short of misrepresenting what he (Arius) said” (RH, 10).

“In places (Athanasius) may be suspected of pressing the words maliciously rather further than Arius intended” (RH, 15).

For example, Athanasius wrote that Arius said that “the Son was no greater than the locust or caterpillar.” Hanson describes this as ‘malicious’ (RH, 20).

Secondly, the quotes by Arius’ enemies, “divorced from their own original literary context … are … very far from presenting to us the systematic thought of Arius as he himself saw it. In other words, we can never be sure that the theological priorities ascribed to Arius by his opponents were his own, even if his statements are transmitted correctly.” (RW, 95)

For example, Athanasius describes Arius’ teachings in two different places. “The differences in tone between these two versions is especially striking:” (RW, 103)

The one, which seems like a direct quote (De Synodis 15), “balances negations with affirmations of the Son’s dignity.” (RW, 103)

But the other – Athanasius’ paraphrase of Arius teachings (Contra Arianos 1.5-6) – “piles up a series of very negative-sounding terms to describe the distinction of the divine hypostases.” (RW, 104) For example:

“As everything else is alien to and unlike God in substance, so ‘the Word is different from and in all points unlike the Father’s substance and individual character” (RH, 13) … “totally different from both the Father” (RH, 14).

In this quote, Athanasius attempts to say that Arius described the Son as a normal created being. But Arius described the Son as “full of truth, and grace, God, Only-begotten, unaltering.” (RH, 6) Such statements Athanasius would not quote. Over the centuries, people have formed a wrong view of Arius’ theology because they base it on Athanasius’ writings.

We also have two letters from Alexander, archbishop of Alexandria, in which he gives an account of what Arius taught. Since the Arian Controversy began as a dispute between him and Arius, Alexander must be regarded as a biased witness.

The Nicene Creed

The Nicene Creed anathematizes those who say:

      • “There was when He was not,”
      • “He came into existence out of nothing,”
      • “He is of a different hypostasis or substance,”
      • He is “created”, or
      • “Subject to alteration or change.”

These anathemas reflect Arius’ views that attracted the most opposition and are discussed below

The Son’s Origin

God alone exists without a cause.

For Arius, only the Father is “unbegotten,” meaning to exist without a cause. The Father, therefore, gave existence to all things that exist. For example, Arius said:

      • The Father “is supremely sole without beginning” (RH, 8).
      • “The Father … is the source of all.” (RH, 7)
      • “God is … (the) origin of everything.” (RH, 8)
      • “God … has no equal.” (RH, 14)
      • “God … has none beside him …
        his will is uniquely sovereign.” (RW, 98)

Arius’ entire theological system hangs on this central principle:

“Assuming, as Arius did, that the Church’s teaching of God’s unique and immaterial nature is non-negotiable … then … all that is said about the begetting of the Son must be interpreted in the light of this central belief” (RW, 111).

The Father gave existence to the Son.

It follows that the Son does not exist without a cause but that the Father gave existence to the Son. For example, Arius wrote:

      • “The Son is not unbegotten” (RH, 6), meaning that He does not exist without cause.
      • The Son “received life and being from the Father” (RH, 7).
      • The Father “gave him existence alongside himself” (RH, 7).
      • “The Father … is the Son’s origin from which he derives his glories and life everlasting” (RH, 8).

A Created Being

Arius described the Son as a created being:

      • “The Son is a creature and a product” (RH, 16).

Both Athanasius and Alexander described Arius as teaching that the Son is equal to other created beings. For example:

      • “He was then such as is every man. We are able to become the sons of God as he is.” (RH, 17)
      • “He is one of the many ‘powers’ that exist besides God, among which are also the locust and the caterpillar.” (RH, 13)

This misrepresents Arius’ teaching for he taught that the Son is:

(a) The only being ever created directly by God.

      • He “alone has been given existence by the Father.” (RH, 8)
      • “This direct creation means that the Son has nobody like him.” (RH, 102)

(b) The Creator of all other beings.

      • “The Father is the origin of everything made, but the Son brings everything into actual existence.” (RH, 103)
      • “The Son creates the Spirit and then everything else.” (RH, 101)
      • “All things are said to be made through him.” (RW, 96)
      • “The only-begotten Son … through whom also he made the aeons and everything” (RH, 7).

The word “through” indicates that, for Arius, the Father is the primary Creator and the Son was His agent (cf. John 1:3; Col 1:16; 1 Cor 8:6; Heb 1:2). The Nicene Creed also says that “the Father almighty (is the) maker of all things” and all things came into being “through” the Son.

(c) As Creator, He is God.

      • The Son is “‘God’ as far as the rest of creation is concerned.” (RW, 177)
      • Arius described the Son as “God” (RH, 6), the “only-begotten God” (RH, 14) and as “the Mighty God [Isa 9:15]” (RH, 15).

This is discussed further below.

(d) The greatest being that God could possibly produce (RW, 103).

He received everything from the Father that a created being could possibly receive:

      • He is “a perfect creature, not just ‘one among others’; he is the inheritor of all the gifts and glories God can give him.” (RW, 98)
      • “A creature, yet one endowed with all the gifts that can be given.” (RW, 177)

For these reasons, Arius said that “His only-begotten Son … has nobody like him.” (RH, 105) For a further discussion, see – Did Arius describe Jesus Christ as a Created Being?

Created to Create

In Nicene theology, the Son is co-eternal with the Father. In other words, He does not exist for a specific reason. For Arius, the Son was created specifically to create all things:

      • “When he (God) wanted to make us, he then made a certain Person and called him Word and Spirit and Son so that he could make us.” (RH, 13)
      • “He (the Son) was made … in order that God should create us through him.” (Alexander, RH, 16)

Not Literally Begotten

By describing the Son as a created being, Arius seems to contradict the Bible, which says that the Son was “begotten;” the only Being ever “begotten” by God.

The Nicene Creed says that the Son was begotten from the substance of God and, therefore, is of the same substance as God. In other words, the Creed interprets “begotten” literally, as if the Son was born from God like human children are born from their parents.

Arius responded that the term “begotten” and the titles Father and Son must not be understood literally but symbolize that the Son is the only being ever directly produced by the Father and that He is an exact replica of the invisible God:

“The metaphor of sonship … cannot … be the semantic field that covers kinship, biological continuity …  it must be … familial intimacy, a dependency expressed in trust or love – the field evoked for us when we call God ‘Father’.” (RW, 112)

“’Son’ is … a metaphor.” (RW, 109) “Metaphorical uses of the language of ‘sonship’ and ‘begetting’ can be found elsewhere in Scripture (Isa. 1:2).” (RW, 112) Hanson adds Deut 32:18; Job 38:28 (RH, 31).

For these reasons, Arius used the terms “created” and “begotten” as synonyms (RH, 6, 8). For example:

“Before he was begotten or created or determined or established, he did not exist” (RH, 6).

Begotten before Time Existed

If the Son made all things, He must have existed before all things. Arius declared similarly that the Son was begotten before time itself existed:

      • “Brought into existence … before all times and ages.” (RW, 97)
      • “Begotten timelessly by the Father … before aeons … begotten timelessly before everything” (RH, 8, cf. 6).

From the perspective of beings who exist subject to time, therefore, the Son has ‘always’ existed.

There was when He was not

On the other hand, Arius argued that “God must preexist the Son. If not, we are faced with a whole range of unacceptable ideas .. (such as) that he is, like God, self-subsistent.” (RW, 97) Therefore, “the Son was produced before everything, before anything conceivable, but is still not co-eternal with the Father.” (RH, 103) For example, Arius wrote:

      • “God is prior to everything. Therefore, he is also prior to the Son” (RH, 8)
      • The Son “did not exist before he was begotten” (RH, 8; cf. RH. 6).
      • “We praise him (God) as without beginning in contrast to him (the Son) who has a beginning” (RH, 14)
      • “The Son has an origin, but God is unoriginated” (RH, 6).

The Nicene Creed expressly opposed this teaching. It explicitly anathematizes:

“Those who say,
There was when He was not, and,
Before being born He was not.”

Time when He was not

Both Athanasius and Alexander reported that Arius taught that:

“There was a time when God was not Father. …
There was a time when he did not exist.” (RH, 16, 13, 17).

But that is not what Arius said. He did not use the word “time” in this context. He said that the Son was “brought into existence … before all times and ages” (RW, 97). Time is part of our universe and, presumably, does not exist outside our universe. But God, since He gave existence to this universe, exists outside the universe. What exists beyond our universe, therefore, is infinitely more than what exists in our universe. What Arius said, in other words, is that the Son was begotten in the unknowable and timeless infinity beyond time, and “there was when He was not” only in a metaphysical sense. He did not say that there was literal time before the Son. In other words, for our purposes, living within time, the Son has ‘always’ existed.

For a further discussion, see – Did Arius teach there was time when the Son of God did not exist?

Out of Nothing

Arius stated:

“God … made him when he did not exist out of non-existence” (RH, 16).

In other words, He was made out of nothing. “This was certainly the feature of Arius’ thought which gave rise to more scandal than any other.” (RH, 88) By saying that the Son was derived from the substance of the Father, the Nicene Creed explicitly opposes Arius’ statement that the Son was made out of nothing.

After the Nicene Creed has anathematized this statement, “it is noteworthy too that … Arius deliberately refrains from describing the Son as ‘deriving from nonexistence’” (RH, 8).

This was one aspect in which Arius deviated from mainstream ‘Arianism’. Eusebius of Caesarea “consistently rejects the doctrine that the Son was produced from nonexistence” (RH, 59; cf. RH, 52, 53).

Created by the Will of God

Will and Creature

Williams summarizes Arius’s writings by saying that “Arius and his followers … establish three basic theological points:

(i) The Son is a creature … a product of God’s will;

(ii) ‘Son’ is therefore a metaphor … and must be understood in the light of comparable metaphorical usage in Scripture;

(iii) The Son’s status, like his very existence, depends upon God’s will.” (RW, 109)

From this, one important point is the relationship between “will” and “creature:”

If the Son exists without God’s “will,” then He is co-equal and co-eternal with God.

But if He exists by God’s “will,” then He is a creature.

Whether the Son exists by God’s will. therefore, was one major point of debate during the fourth century.

Eternal Generation

One key aspect of the standard Trinity theory is Eternal Generation. In it, the Son exists without God’s will; God never ‘willed’ to generate the Son. It teaches that the Father has always been begetting the Son and will always be begetting the Son. In other words, it is an eternal reality and part of what God is. God generated the Son by a “natural ‘inner dynamism’ compelling God to go forth in creation.” (RW, 98)

Arius’ View

In contrast, as Williams noted, Arius taught that:

      • “The Son exists by God’s free will” (RW, 97; cf. 98).
      • “The Son having not existed attained existence by the Father’s will.” (RH, 14)
      • “He would not have come into existence if the Father had not wished to make him.” (RH, 16)
      • “The Word exists because God chooses that he should.” (RW, 177)

Gregg and Groh concluded that Arius’ view in this regard “is good Biblical doctrine, reproduced by Ignatius, Justin, Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria and Origen.” (RH, 90)

The Son’s Status

The first half of this article above describes Arius’ view of the origin of the Son. The second half below explains Arius’ view of the Son’s status:

Subordinate

For Arius, “the Father … is the source of all.” Therefore. the Son “received life and being from the Father.” (RH, 7) “It is ‘by God’s will [that the Son] is as great as he is’.” (RW, 106) The Father is “the cause of the existence [of the Son] and of the kind of existence which he has’.” (RH, 57)

Consequently, Arius and his supporters taught that the Son is subordinate to the Father:

He “is not equal to God.” (RW, 102)

“He is dependent and subordinate. ” (RW, 177)

They even described the Father as the Son’s God:

“The Father is the Son’s God” (RH, 8).

“He … in some degree worships the Greater.” (RH, 15)

Their arguments included the following:

He cannot be on equal footing with the Father, for that would mean “two unoriginated ultimate principles.” (RH, 8)

They referred to “Christ’s human infirmities (as a proof of his divine inferiority).” (RH, 17)

However, when Arius wrote, all theologians regarded the Son as subordinate:

“There is no theologian in the Eastern or the Western Church before the outbreak of the Arian Controversy, who does not in some sense regard the Son as subordinate to the Father” (RH, 63).

“Subordinationism might indeed, until the denouement (end) of the controversy, have been described as accepted orthodoxy” (RH, xix).

“The initial debate was not about the rightness or wrongness of hierarchical models of the Trinity, which were common to both sides” (RW, 109).

So, the issue was not whether the Son is subordinate to the Father. Everybody accepted that He is. For most people who are somewhat familiar with the ‘Arian’ Controversy, this will be a surprising revelation. For further evidence, see – The Son is subordinate.

The title God

Although Arius and his supporters regarded the Son as subordinate to the Father, and said that “the Father is the Son’s God” (RH, 8), they also described the Son as “God.” For example, Arius described the Son as:

      • “God” (RH, 6),
      • “Only-begotten God” (RH, 14), and as
      • “Mighty God [Isa 9:15]” (RH, 15).

However, following John 17:3, the ‘Arians’ distinguished between “God” and “the one true God.” They described the Father alone as “true God” (RH, 13, 57; RW, 101). For example:

“There is, says Eusebius, the ‘one true God’ (John 17:3), and the Son who is God but not ‘the one true God’.” (RH, 57)

This confusion does not exist in the Greek but is caused by the translations:

Today, English uses “God” for only one Being, namely, the Ultimate Reality. All other beings with ‘supernatural’ powers are called “god.”

The ancient Greek, however, had no word equivalent to the modern word “God.” They used “theos” for both the Ultimate Reality and for what we today would call ‘gods’.

Theos, therefore, is translated as “God” when the translator thinks that the Ultimate Reality is intended. This means that, to translate theos as “God,” when it refers to the Son, is an application of the Trinity doctrine and should never be used as proof of the Trinity doctrine.

For a further discussion, see – Did the church fathers describe Jesus as “god” or as “God?

The title Trinity

Arius believed that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three distinct divine realities:

Arius taught “three hierarchically ordered divine subsistents” (RW, 105, cf. 98; RH, 7)

Arius had a “strong commitment to belief in three distinct divine hypostases.” (RW, 97)

Although he did not regard them as equal, Arius did refer to them as a Trinity:

“Certainly, there is a Trinity … their individual realities do not mix with each other, and they possess glories of different levels. (The Father is) infinitely more splendid in his glories.” (RH, 14; cf. RW, 102).

This does not mean that Arius believed in the Trinity doctrine. He used the term trinity in the original sense of a group of three. The Trinity doctrine does not merely teach that three divine Persons exist, or even that they are equal, but that they are one single Being. That Arius did not think. That theory was developed by the Cappadocians long after Arius’ death.

Heteroousion

The Nicene Creed states that the Son of God was “begotten from the Father … that is, from the substance of the Father” and, therefore, is of the same substance (homoousios) as the Father. But Arius said:

    • “The Son is ‘unlike in substance to the Father’” (Alexander, RH, 17).
    • “He (the Son) … is not equal … far less is he consubstantial to him (God)” (Athanasius in De Synodis, RH, 14).
    • “The Word is different from and in all points unlike the Father’s substance and individual character” (Athanasius’ paraphrase, RH, 13).
    • “The Father is in his substance alien from the Son because he [ME alone] remains without beginning” (RH, 14).

In other words, the substance of a created being can never be the same as God’s substance that exists without a cause. Arius may be what became later known as a Hetero-ousian (different substance). See – The branches of Christianity

Two Wisdoms

It is significant that both Alexander and Athanasius reported that Arius taught two Wisdoms or Words (Logoi):

Athanasius wrote that, for Arius, “There are … two Wisdoms, one God’s own who has existed eternally with God, the other the Son who was brought into existence. … There is another Word in God besides the Son” (RH, 13; cf. RW, 100)

Alexander similarly noted that Arius stated: “Nor is he the Father’s true Logos … nor his true Wisdom” (RH, 16). “He came into existence himself through the proper Logos of God and the Wisdom which was in God.” (RH, 16)

Hanson stated it like this:

In Arius’ theology, “there are two Logoi and two Wisdoms (Sophiae) … Arius distinguished between an original Reason (Logos) or Wisdom immanent from eternity in the Godhead and the Son who was not immanent in the Godhead but created.” (RH, 20)

Since Athanasius and Alexander found this surprising, it is implied that they understood that only one Wisdom exists and that the Son is the Father’s Wisdom and Word. In other words, the Son is God’s mind. The Father does not have His own ‘Wisdom’.

This was the Logos-theology which was developed by the Christian Apologists in the second century after the church became Gentile dominated. It was developed by merging the Bible with Greek philosophy and taught that the Logos always existed as part of God but was “begotten” to become a separate hypostasis (a separate reality), namely, the Son, when God decided to create. (See – The Apologists)

There was no place for the Spirit as a separate hypostasis in Logos-theology.

When the Arian Controversy began, this was still the standard explanation of the Son or Logos. But Arius deviated from this traditional teaching. One wonders whether Athanasius and Alexender commented on this deviation to criticize Arius, for the Nicene Creed does not criticize this deviation.

Note that to say that the Son is the Father’s Wisdom is different from the Trinitarian proposal in which the Father, Son, and Spirit share one Mind or ‘Wisdom’.

 

Immutable

To be immutable means to be unable to change. Ancient Greek philosophers thought that God cannot change. For example, Plato argues that God is perfect and cannot and does not change. (Wikipedia) and the God of Aristotle was called ‘The Unmoved Mover’.

After the church became Gentile-dominated, Christianity accepted this principle and it is still accepted today by most theologians. For example, Origen said: “The divine (is) distinguished from the rest by possessing immutable existence not subject to the change.” (RH, 67)

So, during the Arian Controversy, the question arose: Is the Son subject to change?

In Nicene Christology, the Son is as immutable as the Father.

In his own letters, Arius wrote that “the Son of God … is, like the Father, ‘unchangeable’” (RW, 96) and as “unchangeable and unalterable” (RH, 7; cf. RH, 6, 8). “By the will of God, the Son is stably and unalterably what he is.” (RW, 98)

In contrast, Arius’ enemies claimed that Arius taught the exact opposite. For example, Athanasius, in his paraphrasing of Arius’ writings, claimed that Arius wrote:

The Son is “like all others … subject to change … because he is changeable by nature” (RW, 100; cf. RH, 13).

“God foresaw that the Son was going to be good, and so exempted him from evil in advance, i.e., deprived him of the possibility of earning merit” (RH, 21; cf. RH, 13).

Similarly, Alexander described Arius as saying that the Son “is of a mutable nature” (RH, 16-17) and “mutable and alterable in his nature as are all rational beings” (RH, 16; cf. RW, 104-5)

Nicene Creed anathematizes those who say, “The Son of God is … subject to alteration or change.” Since these anathemas are specifically designed to oppose Arius’ theology, that seems to confirm that Arius described the Son as mutable.

However, the Son is mutable in one sense but immutable in another. Hanson summarizes Arius’ teaching as follows:

“The Son is variable by nature, but remains stable by the gift of God. … God foresaw that the Son was going to be good, and so exempted him from evil in advance” (RH, 21)

In other words, by nature, He is mutable, but He cannot change because God made Him unable to change (or sin).

Williams stated that it is possible that it is “a problem wholly generated by anti-Arian polemic” (RW, 105). So, Athanasius, for polemic purposes, emphasized that the Son is mutable by nature but omitted to add that Arius really taught that the Son cannot change.

For a further discussion, see – Did Arius describe the Son as immutable?

Knowledge of God

The Bible says several times that God is invisible. For example, Colossians 1:15 says that the Son is the (visible) “image of the invisible God” (cf. John 1:18; 1 Tim 6:16). Ancient writers understood this also to mean that nobody understands God fully. So, the question arose, Is the Son able to “see” and “understand” the Father fully?

Origen said that the Son has “perfect knowledge of the Father.” But he qualified this by saying that “all that can be known of the Father’s life is known by the Son.” By implication, certain things cannot be known. Specifically, he said that the Son does not have “the Father’s primary self-awareness.” (RW, 206)

Arius’ view was that “the Father remains invisible to the Son, and the Word cannot see or know his own Father completely and accurately. The Son cannot comprehend the Father.” (RH, 14; cf. RH, 16) He argued as follows:

“God is invisible to all” (RH, 14), By implication, God “is invisible … to the Son himself.” (RH, 14)

“It is clear that that which has a beginning could not possibly comprehend or grasp the nature of him who is without a beginning.” (RH, 15)

Or, as Williams interpreted his argument:

“It is logically out of the question that anything that is not God should understand … what it is to be God.” (RW, 106)

For Arius, “the Son’s ignorance is a logical consequence of his createdness.” (RW, 105)

But Arius also said that the Son knows everything about the Father that a created being is able to know:

“All that limits his selfcommunication and self-revelation is the irreducible difference between him and his creation; but what he can give, he does give.” (RW, 107)

The Son “receives all the grace a creature could receive.” (RW, 105)

Knowledge of Himself

Arius also said that “the Son does not know the nature of his own substance (ousia)” (RH, 16; cf. RH, 15). Williams understands Arius as saying:

“He is willed into existence by the Father, and cannot therefore have that ‘perspective’ on his own substance which his creator possesses.” (RW, 105-6)


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FOOTNOTES

  • 1
    Overview of the history, from the pre-Nicene Church Fathers, through the fourth-century Arian Controversy

5 Replies to “What did Arius teach that caused the Arian Controversy?”

  1. Yes! Only the Invisible Spirit of God IS Eternal.

    God Sees HIMSELF in the reflected Light of His Express(ed) Image. He Sees ONE, Quickening and Holy Spirit in Whom the whole of Creation Is made New and “Very Good!” by being returned to HIMSELF.

    We live on the darkened side of God’s Glass. We see…in our mirrors…the likeness of the creature whose life Jesus Christ denied and sacrificed to Consecrate the Way for us to enter into the reflected Light of His Glory. And most of us continue to love the darkness more than the Light…we love the visible likeness of the creature more than the Invisible Glory of the Creator!

  2. It’s the mind and body of the flesh (“self”) we must deny if we hope to See and Know God. The Word was made flesh to Consecrate the Way for us to follow Him into Spirit. “Flesh profits nothing.”

  3. The Risen Body/Church of the Firstborn “doth not yet appear”… it Is hidden in the Spirit Who “hath not flesh and bone.” Why do we try to show the body of Christ’s humiliation and death to be “Like” God, if not for our desire to exalt ourselves!

    1. Linda, if I understand you correctly, that is very insightful. I have wondered for a long time why people want to make the unique Son of God equal to or the same as the Ultimate Reality; the One who exists without cause. I understand you to say it is the desire of mankind to exalt itself, for the Son has become human flesh. Wow! It could then be for the same reason that the church teach that our souls are immortal!

      1. Souls are saved by being made Quickened spirits…and their Body/Church has not yet appeared. But it must be made of an enduring Substance…unlike the flesh we know.

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