The Dedication Council of Antioch of AD 341

SUMMARY

In the year 341, a council of the Eastern Church met in Antioch. It produced four documents. The second is the most important, known as the Dedication Creed because the council dedicated a new church building.

The Creed reveals what the church believed.

The Dedication Council was one of the many council meetings that were held during the Controversy. The most famous meeting was the Nicene Council in AD 325. However, Constantine manipulated the Nicene Council and forced the delegates to accept a creed that included the term homoousios, despite many objections to it.

The Nicene Council was attended almost exclusively by delegates from the Eastern Church. Since the Dedication Council was a council of the Eastern Church, the Dedication Creed shows how the Nicene Creed would have read if Constantine had not manipulated the outcome.

The Creed is anti-Arian.

Julius, the bishop of Rome accused the Eastern Church of being ‘Arians’, meaning followers of Arius. That strategy was developed by Athanasius while he was in Rome after he was exiled from the Eastern Church (See – Athanasius invented Arianism). Athanasius was accused of Sabellianism – a theology that was already rejected by the church – and returned the favor by tarring his enemies “with the name of a figure already in disrepute” (LA, 2), namely, AriusHowever, the Eastern Church did not follow Arius. The Dedication Creed explicitly anathematizes some key aspects of Arius’ theology.

Homoousios was not part of the Controversy.

After Nicaea, Homoousios disappeared from the scene. For about 30 years, nobody mentioned it. It was only brought back into the Controversy in the mid-350s when Athanasius began to use it to defend his own ‘one hypostasis’ (Sabellian) theology. Since the Dedication Council was held during the period that nobody mentions the term homoousios, the Dedication Creed also does not mention it.

Now the threat was Sabellianism.

With Arius and homoousios no longer issues, the real threat was Sabellianism. That theology was condemned by councils in the third century. Nevertheless, it was “the [Sabellian] theology of Eustathius and Marcellus was the theology which triumphed at Nicaea.” (RH, 235) Consequently, after Nicaea, in the ‘Post-Nicaea Correction‘, the two main Sabellians at Nicaea, Eustathius and Marcellus, were deposed. Thereafter, homousios was no longer debated. But the exiled Marcellus and Athanasius joined forces. Both of them believed that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one hypostasis (one single Person with one single Mind), which is Sabellianism.

Bishop Julius of Rome organized a council that declared Marcellus and Athanasius orthodox. (LA, 117) This indicates the Sabellian inclination of the Western Church.

Since Marcellus and Athanasius were Eastern bishops who were deposed by the Eastern Church and exiled to Rome, Julius’ indication of them caused significant tension between the Western and Eastern Churches. This friction was intensified by Julius’ letter to the Eastern Church. The Dedication Council was called in response to this letter.

Since the main threat was specifically the Sabellian tendency of the Western Church, the Dedication Creed is primarily anti-Sabellian. In contrast to the single hypostasis and single Mind of Sabellianism, the Dedication Creed explicitly asserts that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are “three in hypostasis but one in agreement” (LA, 118). “One in agreement” indicates the existence of three distinct ‘Minds’.

The Son is subordinate to the Father.

The Eastern Church was ‘Eusebian’, meaning followers of Eusebius of Caesarea and Eusebius of Nicodemia. The Eusebians regarded the Son as subordinate to the Father, and the Dedication Creed states that explicitly. However, “until Athanasius began writing, every single theologian, East and West, had postulated some form of Subordinationism.” 1RPC Hanson, “The Achievement of Orthodoxy in the Fourth Century AD” in Rowan Williams, ed., The Making of Orthodoxy (New York, NY: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1989) p. 153.

The Son is God.

The Creed does refer to the Son as “God.” However, “in the fourth century the word ‘God’ (theos, deus) had not acquired the significance which in our twentieth-century world it has acquired … viz. the one and sole true God. The word could apply to many gradations of divinity.” (RH, 456)


INTRODUCTION

“In the year 341 a council of ninety bishops assembled at Antioch.” (RH, 284) This council produced four documents. The “Second Creed of Antioch … was the Council’s most important result.” (RH, 285-6) This is called the ‘Dedication Creed’ because “the formal occasion was the dedication of a church in Antioch which [emperor] Constantius had built.” (RH, 284) 2RH=Hanson RPC, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy, 318-381. 1988

Extracts from the Dedication Creed

Hanson provides the entire Creed. The salient parts are as follows:

      • “We believe in one God Father Almighty,
        artificer and maker and designer of the universe;
      • And in one Lord Jesus Christ his only-begotten Son, God,
        Through whom are all things,
        Who was begotten from the Father before the Ages,
        God from God … Lord from Lord …
        Unchanging and unaltering,
        Exact image of the Godhead and the substance and will and power and glory of the Father,
        First-born of all creation, who was in the beginning with God, God the Word according to the text in the Gospel [‘and the Word was God’, by whom all things were made, and in whom all things exist;]
      • And in the Holy Spirit …
      • They are three in hypostasis but one in agreement.” (RH, 286)

The Creed ends by anathematizing all who say:

      • “That either time or occasion or age exists or did exist before the Son was begotten” (RH, 286)
      • “That the Son is a creature like one of the creatures” (RH, 286)

Historical Context

During the first three centuries, the Roman Empire persecuted Christianity. The Great Persecution (303-313), only the 2nd empire-wide persecution and easily the longest, was led by Diocletian and was Rome’s final attempt to limit the expansion of Christianity across the empire. Beginning around 303, Diocletian’s first edict commanded churches and holy sites razed to the ground, sacred articles burned, and believers jailed.

That persecution of Christians came to an end when Christianity was legalized through Galerius’ Edict of Toleration in 311 followed by Constantine’s Edict of Milan in 313, after Emperor Constantine himself had become a Christian.

The Arian Controversy began only 5 years later in 318 when Arius, who was in charge of one of the churches in Alexandria, publicly criticized his bishop Alexander for “carelessness in blurring the distinction of nature between the Father and the Son by his emphasis on eternal generation.” (Legal History Sources)

That controversy was brought to an end 62 years after it began by Emperor Theodosius who, in the year 380, through the edict of Thessalonica, made Trinitarian Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire.

That entire period of 62 years, from 318 to 380, is known as “the Arian Controversy” and was “the most dramatic internal struggle the Christian Church had so far experienced.” (RW, 1)3Williams, Rowan, Arius: Heresy and Tradition (Revised ed.). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. (2002)

Many different council meetings were held during that period with different conclusions. The Dedication Council was one of them.

WHY THIS CREED IS IMPORTANT

The emperor manipulated the Nicene Council.

Perhaps the most famous council of the Arian Controversy was the First Council of Nicaea in the year 325, where the Nicene Creed was formulated. However, “Constantine took part in the Council of Nicaea and ensured that it reached the kind of conclusion which he thought best.” (RH, 850) For this purpose, “Constantine had taken Alexander’s part.” (LA, 89) For details, see – Nicaea.

Consequently, many bishops were not comfortable with the creed. In particular, the term homoousios, or ‘consubstantial’, troubled many bishops. It is not to be found in the Scriptures but was borrowed from pagan philosophy. It was not a traditional term but was in fact rejected at the Council of Antioch in 286 because of its Sabellian orientation. It also sounds as if God has a body. See – Objections to Homoousios

The Dedication Creed reveals the real Nicaea.

The Nicene Creed was almost entirely an Eastern affair:

The delegates were “drawn almost entirely from the eastern half of the empire” (LA, 19). 4LA=Ayres, Lewis, Nicaea and its Legacy, An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology, 2004 “Very few Western bishops took the trouble to attend the Council (of Nicaea). The Eastern Church was always the pioneer and leader in theological movements in the early Church. … The Westerners at the Council represented a tiny minority.” (RH, 170)

The Dedication Council of the year 341 consisted exclusively of bishops from the Eastern part of the Empire and “represents the nearest approach we can make to discovering the views of the ordinary educated Eastern bishop.” (RH, 290-1) “They constituted a widespread point of view, but we can hardly call them a party.” (RH, 291) In other words, it reveals what the delegates to the Council of Nicaea really believed and how the Nicene Creed would have read in the absence of Emperor Constantine.

THE MAIN ISSUE

The Council responded to Julius’ letter.

“There can be little doubt that this Council of Antioch was conceived by those who organized it as an answer to Julius’ Council of Rome and the letter which he wrote to the Eusebian party after it.” (RH, 285)

The council was “an immediate response” to “Julius’ letter to ‘those around Eusebius’.” (LA, 117)

To understand Julius’ letter requires a brief discussion of the preceding history:

After Nicaea, Arius was unimportant.

After the Nicene Council, Arius’ theology was no longer of much significance. “Arius’ own theology is of little importance in understanding the major debates of the rest of the century.” (LA, 56-57) (For detail, see – Arius.) “The views of Arius were such as … to bring into unavoidable prominence a doctrinal crisis which had gradually been gathering. … He was the spark that started the explosion. But in himself he was of no great significance.” (RH, xvii)

After Nicaea, Homoousios was not mentioned.

In fact, after Nicaea, the Nicene Creed and the term homoousios were not important either. It was not mentioned for about 30 years

“What is conventionally regarded as the key-word in the Creed homoousion, falls completely out of the controversy very shortly after the Council of Nicaea and is not heard of for over twenty years.” (Hanson Lecture)

“During the years 326–50 the term homoousios is rarely if ever mentioned.” (LA, 431)

“Even Athanasius for about twenty years after Nicaea is strangely silent about this adjective (homoousios) which had been formally adopted into the creed of the Church in 325.” (RH, 58-59)

Homoousios was re-introduced into the Controversy by Athanasius in the mid 350s when he began to use this term to defend his theology:

“He began to use it first in the De Deeretis … in 356 or 357.” (RH, 438) “Athanasius’ decision to make Nicaea and homoousios central to his theology has its origins in the shifting climate of the 350s.” (LA, 144)

The Dedication Council, as well as the Council of Serdica two years later, therefore, were held during the period that nobody mentioned the Nicene Creed or the term homoousios, not even Athanasius. For that reason, the Dedication Creed was not concerned with the Nicene Creed or with the term homoousios. It did not oppose homoousios; that term was simply not an issue.

The Creed is mainly anti-Sabellianism.

Before the Dedication Council, the epicenter of the Controversy has shifted to the theology of Marcellus and Athanasius. For a discussion, see the Council of Serdica. In brief, both Marcellus and Athanasius were Eastern bishops who were deposed by the Eastern Church and exiled to Rome. Both of them believed that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one hypostasis (one single Being with one single Mind or Center of consciousness). (For detail, see Marcellus and Athanasius.)

Although that is Sabellianism, which was already rejected during the preceding century, bishop Julius of Rome organized a council that evaluated their theologies and declared them orthodox. (LA, 117) This indicates the Sabellian inclination of the Western Church. For example:

“That Julius and later the Westerners at Sardica should have declared him (Marcellus) orthodox was bound to appear to the Eastern theologians to be a condoning of Sabellianism.” (Hanson Lecture)

Hanson refers to “the apparent Sabellianism of N [the Nicene Creed], and the insensitiveness of the Western Church to the threat to orthodoxy which this tendency represented.” (RH, 290-1)

That action of the Western church caused significant tension between the Western and Eastern Churches. Furthermore, in the year 431, the bishop of Rome wrote a letter to the Eastern Church in which he accused the ‘East’ of Arianism. This brings us back to the purpose of the Dedication Council of 431, namely, to respond to Julius’ letter.

Since the main threat was specifically the Sabellian tendency of the Western Church, the Dedication Creed’s “chief bête noire [the thing that it particularly dislikes] is Sabellianism, the denial of a distinction between the three within the Godhead.” (RH, 287) The Dedication creed is “strongly anti-Sabellian.” (RH, 287) “The creed has a clear anti-Sabellian and anti-Marcellan thrust.” (LA, 119)

While Sabellianism asserts only one single hypostasis, meaning one single Mind, the Dedication Creed explicitly asserts that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are “three in hypostasis but one in agreement (συμφωνία)” (LA, 118). “One in agreement” indicates the existence of three distinct ‘Minds’.

What was Constantius’ purpose?

“The Emperor Constantius was in the city at the time, and attended the council.” “What he probably had in mind was a desire to prevent bishops exceeding the rights and limits of their sees (as in his view Julius of Rome was doing), and interfering with the decisions of other bishops and of councils far removed from their proper sphere of influence.” (RH, 284-5)

ANTI-ARIAN

Is the Dedication Creed Anti-Arian?

Julius’ letter, following Athanasius’ polemical strategy, accused the Eusebians of being ‘Arians’, meaning, followers of Arius. The council denied this:

“We have not been followers of Arius.” (LA, 117-8) “We have rather approached him as investigators and judges of his belief than followed him.’” (RH, 285)

What does ‘Arian’ mean?

Scholars debate whether the Dedication Creed is ‘Arian’. Some say it is, others say that it is not. This dispute is caused by confusion about the meaning of the term ‘Arian’. It is often used to describe ALL opposition to Nicene theology. However, Arius and his followers were only a small subset of those who opposed the Nicene Creed. After Nicaea, Arius was of little significance.

“The views of Arius were such as … to bring into unavoidable prominence a doctrinal crisis which had gradually been gathering. … He was the spark that started the explosion. But in himself he was of no great significance.” (RH, xvii)

Recent scholarship, therefore, for example Rowan Williams, says:

“’Arianism’ as a coherent system, founded by a single great figure and sustained by his disciples, is a fantasy … based on the polemic of Nicene writers, above all Athanasius.” (RW, 82)5Williams, Rowan, Arius: Heresy and Tradition (Revised ed.). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. (2002)

The Eusebians opposed both Arius and Nicaea.

In his discussion of the ‘trajectories’ at the beginning of the fourth century, Lewis Ayres included the ‘Arians’ under the category of the ‘Eusebians’:

“My second theological trajectory is the one in which we locate Arius himself. This loose alliance I will term ‘Eusebian’. When I use this term I mean to designate any who would have found common ground with either of Arius’ most prominent supporters, Eusebius of Nicomedia or Eusebius of Caesarea.” (LA, 52)

The ‘Eusebians’ opposed the extreme aspects of Arius’ theology:

“He (Arius) emphasized the transcendence of the Father in ways that distanced him from the others: Arius’ teaching that the Son does not know the Father seems to have been at odds with the theologies of other ‘Lucianists’—and with other Eusebians.” (LA, 57)

The Eusebians also opposed Alexander’s theology:

“The theological positions of Eusebius of Nicomedia and Eusebius of Caesarea are distinct and yet close enough for them to be allied in opposition to Alexander.” (LA, 52)

The Creed is Anti-Arius.

The Dedication Creed opposes Arius’ own theology. In that sense, it is anti-Arian:

It “deliberately excludes the kind of Arianism professed by Arius and among his followers by Eusebius of Nicomedia/Constantinople.” (RH, 290) It “does anathematize doctrines associated … with Arius.” (LA, 120)

For example:

The Creed anathematizes all who say: “that either time or occasion or age exists or did exist before the Son was begotten” (RH, 286)

“True-blue Arians would have found it impossible to accept the statement that the Son is ‘the exact image of the substance (ousia) … of the Godhead of the Father’” (RH, 287)

For that reason, some authors have considered the Dedication Creed anti-Arian, including Schwartz and Klein.

The Creed is pro-Eusebian.

The Creed describes the theology of the Eusebians. “Many scholars have noticed the affinities between this creed and the kind of doctrine which Eusebius of Caesarea taught … before the Arian Controversy came into the open.” (RH, 290) As already quoted, the Dedication Creed “represents the nearest approach we can make to discovering the views of the ordinary educated Eastern bishop who was no admirer of the extreme views of Arius but who had been shocked and disturbed by the apparent Sabellianism of N [the Nicene Creed], and the insensitiveness of the Western Church to the threat to orthodoxy which this tendency represented.” (RH, 290-1)

KEY ASPECTS

The Creed presents the Son as Subordinate.

The creed presents the Son as subordinate to the Father. For example:

      • It says “that the names of the Three signify the particular order and glory of each.” (RH, 287)
      • The Father alone is described as “Almighty.”
      • The Son is the Father’s agent in creation. The Father is “maker and designer of the universe” but the Son is the One “through whom are all things” and “by whom all things were made.”
      • In contrast to the Father as the “one God,” the Son is the “one Lord.”

But subordination is to be expected. ”Almost everybody in the East at that period would have agreed that there was a subordination of some sort within the Trinity.” (RH, 287) “Indeed, until Athanasius began writing, every single theologian, East and West, had postulated some form of Subordinationism.” 6RPC Hanson, “The Achievement of Orthodoxy in the Fourth Century AD” in Rowan Williams, ed., The Making of Orthodoxy (New York, NY: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1989) p. 153. In other words, the subordination in the Creed is not a concession to Arius’ theology.

He is the image of the Father’s substance.

“One particular expression in this creed has always attracted attention, the statement that the Son is ‘the exact Image of the Godhead, the ousia and the will and the power and the glory of the Father’.” (RH, 288) In contrast to the Nicene Creed, which says that the Son is of the same ousia as the Father (homoousios), the phrase “exact image of the … ousia … of the Father” means that the Son is distinct from the substance of the Father.

Later in the fourth century, in the mid-50s, after Athanasius had re-introduced the term homoousios into the Controversy, “image of the Father’s substance” became the catchphrase of the Homoi-ousians (meaning ‘similar substance’). But the Heter-ousians (meaning ‘different substance’) said that, since only the Father exists without cause, no other Being can have a substance similar to the Father’s. The third group, the Homoians said that we should not talk about God’s substance because it is not revealed in the Scriptures.

Jesus is God.

The creed quotes John 1:1-2 and refers to the Son as “God.” It describes Him as “God from God” and as:

“God the Word according to the text in the Gospel,
‘and the Word was God’,
by whom all things were made,
and in whom all things exist.”

Two years later the same people – the Easterners at Serdica – condemned those who say “that Christ is not God.” (RH, 298) Since the Easterners regarded the Son as subordinate to the Father, their description of Christ as “God” “reminds us of the variety of ways in which the term ‘God’ could be deployed at this point.” (LA, 124)

“It must be understood that in the fourth century the word ‘God’ (theos, deus) had not acquired the significance which in our twentieth-century world it has acquired … viz. the one and sole true God. The word could apply to many gradations of divinity and was not as absolute to Athanasius as it is to us.” (RH, 456)

The same term was used for the Greek gods and goddesses. See – Did the church fathers describe Jesus as “god” or as “God?”

THE FOURTH CREED

The Fourth Creed of Antioch was drawn up “by an anonymous group in Antioch some months later. … It is widely accepted that this creed was intended to function as a reconciling formula obnoxious to nobody and capable of being accepted by all.” (RH, 291) “It has a special clause inserted against Marcellus” (RH, 292) and ends with an anathema against Arius:

“But those who say that the Son is from non-existence or of a different hypostasis, and not from God, and that there was once a time or age when he did not exist, these the holy Catholic Church recognizes as alien’.” (RH, 292)

But otherwise, it leaves out all contentious issues, such as the words ousia and homoousios, and “it makes no attempt to establish the distinctness of the ‘Persons’ in an anti-Sabellian manner.” (RH, 292)

This creed “was destined to be used for nearly fifteen years as the basis for all other creeds which were designed to be ecumenical.” (RH, 292)


OTHER ARTICLES

Church Fathers

Arian Controversy

Arius

The Nicene Creed

Arianism

    • The Dedication Creed 25This Creed shows how the Nicene Creed would have read if emperor Constantine had not manipulated the Nicene Council.
    • Athanasius invented Arianism. 26The only reason we today refer to ‘Arians’ is that Athanasius invented the term to falsely label his opponents with a theology that was already formally rejected by the church.
    • Did Arians describe the Son as a creature? 27‘Arians’ described Christ as originating from beyond our universe, the only being ever brought forth directly by the Father, and as the only being able to endure direct contact with God.
    • Homoian theology 28In the 350s, Athanasius began to use homoousios to attack the church majority. Homoian theology developed in response.
    • Homoi-ousian theology 29This was one of the ‘strands’ of ‘Arianism’. It proposed that the Son’s substance is similar to the Father’s, but not the same.
    • How did Arians interpret Colossians 2:9? 30Forget about Arius. He was an isolated extremist. This article quotes the mainstream anti-Nicenes to show how they understood that verse.

The Pro-Nicenes

Authors on the Arian Controversy

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

Trinity Doctrine – General

    • Elohim 37Elohim (often translated as God) is plural in form. Does this mean that the Old Testament writers thought of God as a multi-personal Being?
    • The Eternal Generation of the Son 38The Son has been begotten by the Father, meaning that the Son is dependent on the Father. Eternal Generation explains “begotten” in such a way that the Son is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father.

All articles on this Site

FOOTNOTES

  • 1
    RPC Hanson, “The Achievement of Orthodoxy in the Fourth Century AD” in Rowan Williams, ed., The Making of Orthodoxy (New York, NY: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1989) p. 153.
  • 2
  • 3
    Williams, Rowan, Arius: Heresy and Tradition (Revised ed.). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. (2002)
  • 4
    LA=Ayres, Lewis, Nicaea and its Legacy, An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology, 2004
  • 5
    Williams, Rowan, Arius: Heresy and Tradition (Revised ed.). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. (2002)
  • 6
    RPC Hanson, “The Achievement of Orthodoxy in the Fourth Century AD” in Rowan Williams, ed., The Making of Orthodoxy (New York, NY: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1989) p. 153.
  • 7
    The pre-Nicene fathers described the Son as “our God” but the Father as “the only true God,” implying that the Son is not “true” God. This confusion is caused by the translations.
  • 8
    Sabellius taught that Father, Son, and Spirit are three portions of one single Being.
  • 9
    If we define Sabellianism as that only one hypostasis – only one distinct existence – exists in the Godhead, was Tertullian a Sabellian?
  • 10
    RPC Hanson states that no ‘orthodoxy’ existed but that is not entirely true. This article shows that subordination was indeed ‘orthodox’ at that time.
  • 11
    The term “Arianism” implies that Arius’ theology dominated the fourth-century church. But Arius was not regarded in his time as a significant writer. He left no school of disciples.
  • 12
    Over the centuries, Arius was always accused of this. This article explains why that is a false accusation.
  • 13
    There are significant differences between Origen and Arius.
  • 14
    Arius wrote that the Son was begotten timelessly by the Father before everything. But Arius also said that the Son did not always exist. Did Arius contradict himself?
  • 15
    New research has shown that Arius is a thinker and exegete of resourcefulness, sharpness, and originality.
  • 16
    The word theos, which is translated as “God” in John 1:1 is not equivalent to the modern English word “God.”
  • 17
    Constantine took part in the Council of Nicaea and ensured that it reached the kind of conclusion which he thought best.
  • 18
    Eusebius of Caesarea, the most respected theologian at the Council, immediately afterward wrote to his church in Caesarea to explain why he accepted the Creed and how he understood the controversial phrases.
  • 19
    The Creed not only uses non-Biblical words; the concept of homoousios (that the Son is of the same substance as the Father) is not in the Bible.
  • 20
    Does it mean that Father and Son are one single Being, as the Trinity doctrine claims? How was it understood before, at, and after Nicaea? – Summary of the next article
  • 21
    The Nicene Creed describes the Son as homoousios (same substance) as the Father. But how was the term used before, during, and after Nicaea?
  • 22
    The term homoousios was not mentioned by anybody during the first 30 years after Nicaea. It only became part of that controversy in the 350s.
  • 23
    The word is not found in the Bible or in any orthodox Christian confession before Nicaea.
  • 24
    The Creed seems to say that the Father and Son are the same hupostasis. This is Sabellianism.
  • 25
    This Creed shows how the Nicene Creed would have read if emperor Constantine had not manipulated the Nicene Council.
  • 26
    The only reason we today refer to ‘Arians’ is that Athanasius invented the term to falsely label his opponents with a theology that was already formally rejected by the church.
  • 27
    ‘Arians’ described Christ as originating from beyond our universe, the only being ever brought forth directly by the Father, and as the only being able to endure direct contact with God.
  • 28
    In the 350s, Athanasius began to use homoousios to attack the church majority. Homoian theology developed in response.
  • 29
    This was one of the ‘strands’ of ‘Arianism’. It proposed that the Son’s substance is similar to the Father’s, but not the same.
  • 30
    Forget about Arius. He was an isolated extremist. This article quotes the mainstream anti-Nicenes to show how they understood that verse.
  • 31
    Eustathius and Marcellus played a major role in the formulation of the Creed but were soon deposed for Sabellianism.
  • 32
    Athanasius presents himself as the preserver of Biblical orthodoxy but this article argues that he was a Sabellian.
  • 33
    In the Trinity doctrine, Father, Son, and Spirit are one substance or Being. This article shows that Basil taught three distinct substances.
  • 34
    This council reveals the state of Western theology at that time.
  • 35
    A summary of this book, which provides an overview of the fourth-century Arian Controversy. Lewis Ayres is a Catholic theologian and Professor of Catholic and Historical Theology.
  • 36
    A very informative lecture on the Arian Controversy by RPC Hanson, a famous fourth-century scholar
  • 37
    Elohim (often translated as God) is plural in form. Does this mean that the Old Testament writers thought of God as a multi-personal Being?
  • 38
    The Son has been begotten by the Father, meaning that the Son is dependent on the Father. Eternal Generation explains “begotten” in such a way that the Son is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father.

Homoian theology opposed the Nicene Creed.

The Nicene Creed of AD 325 said that the Son was begotten from the substance (ousia) of the Father and that He is of the same substance as the Father. The word in the Creed for “same substance” is homoousios (homo = same, ousia = substance).

In the fourth century, this was opposed by several church groups. Some said that the Son is homoi-ousios (of a similar substance) to the Father. Others said that He is heter-ousios (of a different substance). The Homoians (or Homoeans) were one of those groups that opposed the Nicene Creed but their approach was to avoid all uses of ousia-words on the grounds that “there is nothing written about them in divine Scripture and that they are above men’s knowledge and above men’s understanding.”

In particular, they opposed the term homoousios. They simply said that the Son is ‘like’ the Father, without reference to substance. From the Greek word for ‘like’ (hómoios), we get the name Homoian.

In “Homoian teaching … the Son … (and) the Father … were alike in energy or power or activity.” (RH, 574)

Summary

Origin of Homoian Theology

Homoian theology specifically opposed the word homoousios. However, during the first 20-25 years after Nicaea, nobody mentioned homoousios. Therefore, nobody also argued against it. Consequently, the Homoian theology did not yet exist

In the early 350s, after Constantius had become emperor of the entire Roman Empire and attempted to force Western councils to agree to the Eastern decrees, Athanasius resurrected homoousios to resist the emperor’s effort. It was only after Athanasius included homoousios in his polemical strategy that the West began to defend that term and that Homoian theology emerged.

To explain in a bit more detail:

Homoian theology is specifically anti-Nicene; particularly anti-ousia-language. They were “refusing to allow ousia-terms of any kind into professions of faith.” (RW, 234)1RW Archbishop Rowan Williams Arius: Heresy and Tradition, 2002/1987 It specifically opposes the word homoousios in that Creed.

However, “for nearly twenty years after Nicaea, nobody mentions homoousios, not even Athanasius.” (RH, 170)2RH Bishop R.P.C. Hanson The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God – The Arian Controversy 318-381, 1987

And since nobody argued for homoousios, nobody also argued against it. Consequently, during those 25 years after Nicaea, the Homoian theology did not yet exist. “Only in the 350s do we begin to trace clearly the emergence of directly anti-Nicene accounts.” (LA, 139)3LA = Lewis Ayres, Nicaea and its legacy, 2004. Ayres is a Professor of Catholic and Historical Theology at Durham University in the United Kingdom.

During those 20-25 years after Nicae, Athanasius’ developed “the full flowering of a polemical strategy that was to shape accounts of the fourth century for over 1,500 years;” “a masterpiece of the rhetorical art.” (LA, 106-7)

“Athanasius appealed to Julius of Rome in 339–40 by using his strategy of narrating a theological conspiracy of ‘Arians’. His success had a profound impact on the next few years of the controversy.” (LA, 108) At this stage, homoousios was not yet part of this strategy.

“Over the period AD 351–3 … the eastern Emperor Constantius achieved complete control of the whole empire.” He pushed “for a unified religious policy throughout his domains.” (LA, 133) “Through the 350s … we seem to see a growing opposition to Constantius’ attempts to force western councils to agree to the decrees of Sirmium 351.” (LA, 136)

In response, Athanasius resurrected homoousios and included it in his polemical strategy. “Athanasius’ decision to make Nicaea and homoousios central to his theology has its origins in the shifting climate of the 350s.” (LA, 144)

“In most older presentations, ‘western’ bishops were taken to be natural and stalwart defenders of Nicaea throughout the fourth century. The 350s show how Nicaea only slowly came to be of importance in the west.” (LA, 135) The West only began to support Nicaea after Athanasius included homoousios in his polemical strategy.

Thereafter, in the late 350s, Homoian theology emerged. “We cannot with confidence detect it (Homoian Arianism) before the year 357, when it appears in the Second Sirmian Creed.” (RH, 558)

The Dominant View

The Homoian view dominated during much of the Arian Controversy:

Homoian theology “was a development of the theology of Eusebius of Caesarea” (RH, 557). “Eusebius of Caesarea, the historian and theologian” (LA, 58) “was the most learned and one of the best-known of the 300-odd bishops present” at Nicaea. (RH, 159) Therefore, Homoian theology really already existed before the Nicene Creed was formulated.

“The Homoian group came to dominance in the church in the 350s” (RH, 558–559.) “Homoian Arians … had obtained power under Constantius from 360 to 361 and under Valens from 364 onwards.” (RH, 575) Homoian theology continued to dominate until Theodosius became emperor and immediately outlawed all non-Trinitarian branches of Christianity.

However, Marta Szada concluded that “the Latin Homoian Church survived long into the fifth century and had an active role in the process of converting the Goths into the Homoian Christianity.”

Theology

The main pillar of Homoian doctrine is “the incomparability of God the Father.” (RH, 563) For example, only the Father is Invisible, Immortal, and Ingenerate (exists without cause).

It also opposed Arius’ theology which said that the Son was created by the Father out of non-existence’.”

“A drastic subordination of the Son to the Father had been the keynote of this school of thought.” (RH, 567) “It is characteristic of this type of Arianism to teach that the Father is the God of the Son.” (RH, 568)

But they did refer to the Son as “God.” (RH, 570) “The Son was God or divine while not being fully equal to the Father.” (RH, 574) See – Did the church fathers describe Jesus as “god” or as “God?”

“The status of the Spirit in Homoian teaching is emphatically short of divine.” The Spirit “is … not to be worshipped nor adored.” (RH, 571)

Sola Scriptura

“They prided themselves on their appeal to Scripture. … they pointed out that homoousios and ousia did not occur in the Bible.” (RH, 559) “The Homoian Arians … were not particularly interested in philosophy:” (RH, 568) They were, therefore, the Protestants of the fourth century.

Objections to Homoousios

Those Pro-Nicenes who view the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as Three were accused of “Tritheism.” (RH, 576)

But those who view Them as One were accused by the Homoians of “Sabellianism.” (RH, 575, 576)

Homoian Creeds

As stated, Homoian theology is particularly anti-Nicene and anti-ousia-language. Since, during the first 25 years after Nicaea, nobody used or defended ousia language, we find the first Homoian creeds in the 350s.

“The confession of 357 [the third Council of Sirmium] … text demonstrates … the emergence of ‘Homoian’ theology.” (LA, 138)

The two main Homoian Creeds are “the Second Sirmian Creed of 357” and “the Creed of Nice (Constantinople) (of 360).” (RH, 558-9)

– END OF SUMMARY –


Authors

This article is largely based on the following recent writings of world-class scholars:

Hanson – A lecture by R.P.C. Hanson in 1981 on the Arian Controversy.

RH Bishop R.P.C. 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 at Durham University in the United Kingdom.

Origin of Homoian Theology

Anti-Ousia

Homoian theology is specifically anti-Nicene. Particularly, it opposes all ousia-language. They were “refusing to allow ousia-terms of any kind into professions of faith.” (RW, 234)4RW Archbishop Rowan Williams Arius: Heresy and Tradition, 2002/1987 For example, the Sirmian Manifesto (AD 357) said, concerning the ousia-terms:

There “ought to be no mention of any of them at all, nor any exposition of them in the Church, and for this reason and for this consideration that there is nothing written about them in divine Scripture and that they are above men’s knowledge and above men’s understanding.” (Athan., De Syn., xxviii; Soz., ii, xxx; Hil., De Syn., xi)

Nobody mentioned homoousios.

Nobody mentioned homoousios during the first 20-25 years after Nicaea:

“For nearly twenty years after Nicaea, nobody mentions homoousios, not even Athanasius. This may be because it was much less significant than either later historians of the ancient Church or modern scholars thought that it was.” (RH, 170)5RH Bishop R.P.C. Hanson The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God – The Arian Controversy 318-381, 1987

“After Nicaea homoousios is not mentioned again in truly contemporary sources for two decades. … It was not seen as that useful or important.” (LA, 96)6LA = Lewis Ayres, Nicaea and its legacy, 2004. Ayres is a Professor of Catholic and Historical Theology at Durham University in the United Kingdom.

Nobody attacked homoousios.

Since nobody argued for homoousios, nobody also argued against it during those 25 years after Nicaea:

“There is no single theology of opposition to Nicaea. Many of the theologies we have considered so far are non-Nicene more than anti-Nicene: only in the 350s do we begin to trace clearly the emergence of directly anti-Nicene accounts.” (LA, 139)

Athanasius’ Polemical Strategy

During those 25 years, Athanasius developed his polemical strategy:

“Athanasius’ engagement with Marcellus in Rome seems to have encouraged Athanasius towards the development of” “an increasingly sophisticated account of his enemies;” “the full flowering of a polemical strategy that was to shape accounts of the fourth century for over 1,500 years;” “a masterpiece of the rhetorical art.” (LA, 106-7)

Athanasius did not describe the Arian Controversy truthfully but misrepresented it:

“If Athanasius’ account does shape our understanding, we risk misconceiving the nature of the fourth-century crisis” (RW, 234).

“Once we begin to grasp the problems with Athanasius’ rhetorical unmasking of ‘Arians’ then we need to look beyond the Athanasian terminology of an ‘Arian’ conspiracy to get a more accurate sense of how to understand non-Marcellan and non-Athanasian eastern theologies during this period.” (LA, 432)

See The Creation of ‘Arianism’ for a discussion of that strategy.

Rome accepted this strategy.

Athanasius was able to sell his polemical strategy to the bishop of Rome:

“Athanasius appealed to Julius of Rome in 339–40 by using his strategy of narrating a theological conspiracy of ‘Arians’. His success had a profound impact on the next few years of the controversy.” (LA, 108)

Julius of Rome held a council in Rome which “quickly vindicated Marcellus and Athanasius.” (LA, 109)

“Julius wrote to the east in 341 in a letter which shows the strong influence of the emerging Athanasian account of ‘Arianism’.” (LA, 109)

At this stage, homoousios was not yet part of this strategy.

Constantius pushed for a unified policy.

In the early 350s, after Constantius had become emperor of the entire empire in the early 350s, he attempted to force Western councils to agree to the creed of Sirmium 351, which had become the standard in the East:

“Over the period AD 351–3, and after a complex civil war, the eastern Emperor Constantius achieved complete control of the whole empire.” “At this point Constantius found himself sole ruler of the Roman world and with the ability to push for a unified religious policy throughout his domains in a way no emperor had been able to do since the death of his father in 337.” (LA, 133)

“Through the 350s … we seem to see a growing opposition to Constantius’ attempts to force western councils to agree to the decrees of Sirmium 351.” (LA, 136)

Athanasius resurrected homoousios.

In the 350s, Athanasius decided to make Nicaea and homoousios central to his theology:

“During the 350s Athanasius honed his polemic.” (LA, 140)

“Athanasius’ decision to make Nicaea and homoousios central to his theology has its origins in the shifting climate of the 350s.” (LA, 144)

It was only after Athanasius included homoousios in his polemical strategy that the West began to defend that term:

“In most older presentations, ‘western’ bishops were taken to be natural and stalwart defenders of Nicaea throughout the fourth century. The 350s show how Nicaea only slowly came to be of importance in the west.” (LA, 135)

Athanasius and the West did not defend Nicaea because they have always defended Nicaea. Rather, after Constantius attempted to force them to accept the Eusebian Creeds, they turned to Nicaea to strengthen their existing opposition:

“It seems unlikely that previous adherence to Nicaea motivated their growing opposition: it is much more likely that events in the second half of the decade prompted a turn to Nicaea as a focus for their already strong opposition.” (LA, 136)

In the ‘West’ there were, already before 357, “the beginnings of attempts on the part of a few to turn to Nicaea as a standard against the direction of Constantius’ policies. Events of 357 deeply shaped this movement.” (LA, 139)

Homoian theology emerged.

In response to Athanasius’ decision to rely on homoousios to strengthen his polemical strategy, Homoian theology, which directly opposed ousia-language, emerged in the late 350s:

“Though Homoian Arianism derived from the thought both of Eusebius of Caesarea and of Arius, we cannot with confidence detect it before the year 357, when it appears in the Second Sirmian Creed.” (RH, 558)

The Dominant View

The Homoian view dominated during much of the Arian Controversy:

Eusebius of Caesarea

Homoian theology “was a development of the theology of Eusebius of Caesarea” (RH, 557):

“Homoian Arianism derived from the thought both of Eusebius of Caesarea and of Arius.” (RH, 558)

“Akakius of Caesarea is usually regarded as the leader of the Homoian Arians par excellence. … He was clearly a devoted disciple of his predecessor.” (RH, 579-580) Hanson refers to Eusebius of Caesarea as “Akakius’ master.” (RH, 583)

“Eusebius of Caesarea, the historian and theologian” (LA, 58) “attended the Council of Nicaea in 325” (RH, 47), was “universally acknowledged to be the most scholarly bishop of his day” (RH, 46; cf. 153), and “was the most learned and one of the best-known of the 300-odd bishops present” at Nicaea. (RH, 159)

Lewis Ayres identifies “the Eusebians” (the followers of Eusebius of Caesarea) as one of the four “trajectories” within Christianity when the Arian Controversy began. Therefore, since Homoian theology was a development of the Eusebians’ theology within the context of an attack on Eusebian theology on the basis of the Nicene Creed, Homoian theology really already existed before the Nicene Creed was formulated.

Dominated as from the 350s.

“The Homoian group came to dominance in the church in the 350s” (RH, 558–559.) “Homoian Arianism is a much more diverse phenomenon, more widespread and in fact more longlasting.” (RH, 557)

Throughout the Arian Controversy, the church’s Doctrine of God was decided by the Roman Emperors:

“If we ask the question, what was considered to constitute the ultimate authority in doctrine during the period reviewed in these pages, there can be only one answer. The will of the Emperor was the final authority.” (RH, 849)

Similarly, Homoian theology continued to dominate under emperors Constantius and Valens:

“Homoian Arians … had obtained power under Constantius from 360 to 361 and under Valens from 364 onwards.” (RH, 575)

“By 366 Valens the supporter of Homoian Arianism ruled in the East and Valentinian, the Western Emperor, was keeping as far as possible neutral in religious matters.” (RH, 595)

“The Emperor in the East, Valens, … was a fanatical opponent of the pro-Nicenes, as also of the Eunomians, and a supporter of the Homoian creed.” (RH, 582, 588)

Homoian theology continued to dominate until, in 380, Theodosius became emperor and immediately outlawed all non-Trinitarian branches of Christianity with the Edict of Thessalonica:

“When Theodosius had entered Constantinople in November 380 he had given the Homoian Demophilus the chance to remain as bishop if he subscribed to Nicaea. When he did not he was exiled.” (LA, 253) 

Continued after 381

Marta Szada wrote:

“Frequently, studies focusing on the fourth-century Trinitarian controversy stop at the 380s and emphasize the importance of the Council of Constantinople and the Council of Aquileia in 381, and the end of Italian rule of the last Homoian emperor, Valentinian II. In very common interpretation, these events mark the virtual end of the Latin Homoianism … In the present paper … I argue that the Latin Homoian Church survived long into the fifth century and had an active role in the process of converting the Goths into the Homoian Christianity.”7Marta Szada, The Missing Link: The Homoian Church in the Danubian Provinces and Its Role in the Conversion of the Goths, Published 1 December 2020, Zeitschrift für Antikes Christentum / Journal of Ancient Christianity)

Theology

The incomparability of God

The main pillar of Homoian doctrine is “the incomparability of God the Father.” (RH, 563) They had “a long list of texts … to demonstrate the incomparability of the Father.” (RH, 560) For example:

Invisible – “Christ is the visible God (the Father being the invisible God).” (RH, 569)

Immortal – “Christ is not the immortal God (for he is mortal, that is capable of in some sense encountering death, in contrast to the Father who is immortal).”

Ingenerate (exists without cause) – ‘We confess … one God, not two gods, for we do not describe him as two ingenerates.” (RH, 570)

Anti-Arius

Homoian theology also opposed Arius because it opposed the key aspect of Arius’ theology “that the Son was created by the Father ‘out of non-existence‘.” For example, the creed of the council of Ariminum anathematized those who say “that the Son is from nothing, and not from God the Father.” (RH, 564-5)

A Suffering God

The Homoian system was designed to avoid “the risk of saying that the Father suffered.” (RH, 566) “But they were perfectly ready to say that God the Son suffered. Indeed, their Christology was specifically designed to do so.” (RH, 565) “Here, they were on stronger ground than the pro-Nicenes, whose Christology … always wanted to avoid of concluding that the full, authentic Godhead suffered.” (RH, 566)

Christ is subordinate.

“A drastic subordination of the Son to the Father had been the keynote of this school of thought.” (RH, 567)

“The Son is eternally … subordinated to the Father,” even after everything is completed that must be done for our salvation. (RH, 567)

“It is characteristic of this type of Arianism to teach that the Father is the God of the Son.” Therefore, the Son “worships the Father.” (RH, 568)

Christ is divine.

But they did refer to the Son as “God.” For example, they described Him as “God from God.” (RH, 570) However, “they pointed out that the word ‘god’ in the Bible was in several places applied to beings much inferior to God Almighty (and was therefore applicable in a reduced sense to Christ), e.g., Exod 7:1, Ps 82(81):6.” (RH, 560)

“In the intellectual climate of the fourth century, it was quite logical to maintain that the Son was God or divine while not being fully equal to the Father.” (RH, 574) For a further discussion, see – Did the church fathers describe Jesus as “god” or as “God?”

The Holy Spirit

“The status of the Spirit in Homoian teaching is emphatically short of divine.” “The Holy Spirit is created, and this certainly implies that, unlike the Son, he is not God.” (RH, 571) The Spirit “is … not to be worshipped nor adored.” (RH, 571)

Sola Scriptura

The Homoians claimed that their theology is based on the Bible alone:

“The Arians tended … to avoid allegorising. … They tend to take Scripture literally.” (RH, 559)

“They prided themselves on their appeal to Scripture. … they pointed out that homoousios and ousia did not occur in the Bible. ‘We do not call the Holy Spirit God … because Scripture does not call him (so)’.” (RH, 559)

“Truth is discovered not from argument but is proved by reliable proof-texts.” (RH, 561)

“The Homoian Arians … were not particularly interested in philosophy:” (RH, 568)

“The theologians of the fourth century … use the terminology of Greek philosophy. … It was never accepted by the Homoian Arians).” (RH, 871)

They were, therefore, the Protestants of the fourth century. They rejected all ousia-terms, including homoousion (same in substance), homoi-ousion (similar substance), and heter-ousion (different substance).

Objections to Homoousios

“In their attack on the Nicene doctrine, Homoian Arians take several different lines.” (RH, 575) For example:

“This talk of ‘substance’ is corporeal, material.” (RH, 576)

“If you argue that the Holy Spirit is of the same substance as the Son you are making him a Son of the Father also.” (RH, 576)

The Pro-Nicenes “sometimes worships the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as if they were Three, and sometimes worships them as One” (RH, 576)

Pro-Nicenes who view the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as if they were Three were accused by the Homoians of “Tritheism.” (RH, 576): “Three Eternals … Three without origin” (RH, 575); “Three Almighty Gods” (RH, 577).

Pro-Nicenes who view the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as if they were One were accused by the Homoians of “Sabellianism.” (RH, 575, 576) “The term homoousion is in effect to say that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are identical.” (RH, 575-6) “Teaching that the Three are inseparable and equal identify them.” (RH, 576) (Sorry for the ambiguous words “identical” and “identify.” In these quotes, they mean that three are really one.)

See the discussion of the Meletian Schism for the two views in the homoousian camp.

Homoian Creeds

As stated, Homoian theology is particularly anti-Nicene and anti-ousia. Since, during the first 25 years after Nicaea, nobody mentioned or used or defended the Nicene Creed or ousia language, there were also no anti-Nicene creeds or statements during that period.

Sirmium 351

The first sign of an anti-Nicene doctrine was the creed of Sirmium 351:

“Sirmium 351 had not only omitted ousia language, but positively condemned some uses of that language.” (LA, 138)

“Most significant of all, perhaps, is the appearance of anathemas directly and explicitly aimed at N.” (RH, 328) “This creed marks a definite shift towards a more sharply anti-Nicene doctrine.” (RH, 329)

Sirmium 357

“The confession of 357 [the third Council of Sirmium] even more strongly argues against ousia language, condemning use of it,” saying, “there should be no mention of it whatever, nor should anyone preach it.” “This text demonstrates … the emergence of ‘Homoian’ theology.” (LA, 138)

Constantinople 360

The two main Homoian Creeds are “the Second Sirmian Creed of 357” and “the Creed of Nice (Constantinople) (of 360).” (RH, 558-9) “The creed of Nice-Constantinople … was temporarily registered as ecumenical in 360.” (RH, 557)


Other Articles

FOOTNOTES

  • 1
    RW Archbishop Rowan Williams Arius: Heresy and Tradition, 2002/1987
  • 2
    RH Bishop R.P.C. Hanson The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God – The Arian Controversy 318-381, 1987
  • 3
    LA = Lewis Ayres, Nicaea and its legacy, 2004. Ayres is a Professor of Catholic and Historical Theology at Durham University in the United Kingdom.
  • 4
    RW Archbishop Rowan Williams Arius: Heresy and Tradition, 2002/1987
  • 5
    RH Bishop R.P.C. Hanson The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God – The Arian Controversy 318-381, 1987
  • 6
    LA = Lewis Ayres, Nicaea and its legacy, 2004. Ayres is a Professor of Catholic and Historical Theology at Durham University in the United Kingdom.
  • 7
    Marta Szada, The Missing Link: The Homoian Church in the Danubian Provinces and Its Role in the Conversion of the Goths, Published 1 December 2020, Zeitschrift für Antikes Christentum / Journal of Ancient Christianity)
  • 8
    For the first more than 300 years, the church fathers believed that the Son is subordinate to the Father. The Trinity Doctrine was developed by the Cappadocian fathers late in the fourth century but the decision to adopt it was not taken by the church. This is a list of all articles on the Arian Controversy.
  • 9
    Who was he? What did he believe?
  • 10
    Who created it? What does it say?
  • 11
    What does it mean?
  • 12
    The conclusion that Jesus is ‘God’ forms the basis of the Trinity Doctrine.
  • 13
    Including Modalism, Eastern Orthodoxy view of the Trinity, Elohim, and Eternal Generation
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