The Macrostich (Long Lines Creed) reveals the heart of Arianism.

Christianity in the Fourth Century

This is an article in the series on the fourth-century Arian Controversy. It describes the events of the 340s after the failed Council of Serdica in 343 but focuses mostly on the Macrostich (the Long Liner Manifesto) as perhaps the most significant event of that period. At the Council of Serdica, the Western delegation formulated an explicitly one-hypostasis view. It says:

“We have received and have been taught this … tradition: that there is one hypostasis, which the heretics (also) call ousia, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Hanson, p. 301)

Against this view, the East, through the Macrostich, asserts three hypostases. These articles may seem complex and even unimportant but they are important for a proper understanding of the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation.

AUTHORS QUOTED

Ayres, Lewis, Nicaea and its Legacy, An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology, 2004

Hanson RPC, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy, 318-381. 1988

Due to discoveries of ancient documents and significant additional research, the scholarship of the past hundred years has concluded that the traditional account of the fourth-century Arian Controversy presents history from the winner’s perspective and is a complete travesty. These books reflect the revised account of that Controversy.

THEOLOGY CATEGORIES

One-hypostasis and three-hypostases theologies are key concepts in this article and, therefore, first explained.

One Hypostasis means one Person.

To say that Father, Son, and Spirit are one hypostasis is to say that they are a single Person with one single mind. There are variations of this view:

Three Names – The second-century Monarchians said that the Father, Son, and Spirit are three names for the same one God.

Three Parts – The third-century Sabellians taught that Father, Son, and Spirit are three parts of the one hypostasis (Person). Sabellius had many followers, but his teaching was formally condemned.

Part of the Father – Alexander and Athanasius maintained that the Son is part of the Father, namely, His only Word and Wisdom. Tertullian similarly said that the Father is the whole, and the Son is part of the whole. 

Three Hypostases means three Persons.

In the ‘three hypostases’ view, the Father, Son, and Spirit are three distinct Persons with three distinct minds. There are also variations of the ‘three hypostases’ theory:

In contrast to the ‘same substance’ (homoousios) of the Nicene Creed, some said their substances are unlike (heterousios), others said their substances are similar (homoiousios) and others refused to talk about substance (the Homoians).

Generally, in the ‘three hypostases’-view, the Son is subordinate to the Father. However, the Cappadocians had a three-hypostases view in which the substances are the same in all respects so that they are equal.

Hypostases in the Traditional Trinity Doctrine

There are various Trinity theories. (See – Tuggy) In the modern era, for example, some scholars propose a social Trinity in which the three hypostases are real Persons with real distinct minds. Similar to the Cappadocian view, this is open to the charge of tritheism. For that reason, the traditional Trinity doctrine, as taught by the Roman Church, retained Basil of Caesarea’s verbal formula of three hypostases but also describes the Father, Son, and Spirit as one Being. But it is important to note that the traditional Trinity doctrine uses the term hypostasis differently from how the ancients used it. In this doctrine, hypostasis does not mean ‘Person’ because each Person does not have a distinct mind. Rather, the three hypostases share a single mind. Therefore Hanson says: “I refrain from using the misleading word’ Person.” He describes the Three as “three ways of being or modes of existing as God.” The challenge would be to show how the traditional Trinity doctrine differs from Modalism, which is the name Von Harnack gave to second-century Monarchianism. 

OVERVIEW OF EARLIER HISTORY

Arius and Alexander

In 318, only five years after Christianity was legalized, a dispute broke out between bishop Alexander of Alexandria and one of his presbyters, Arius, about the nature of the Son of God:

Alexander believed that the Son is part of the Father. Consequently, they are a single hypostasis (Person). It follows that the Son is as immutable and eternal as the Father.

In contrast, Arius followed the traditional teaching in which Father and Son are two distinct Persons. However, he had some extreme teachings. For example, he said that the Son was begotten out of nothing.

Arius has several important supporters, not because they supported everything that he taught, but because they viewed Alexander’s one-hypostasis theology as a greater evil.

The Nicene Council

Nicene Creed
The emperor standing behind the church fathers

Emperor Constantine attempted to reconcile the quarreling parties by a letter and by sending Ossius, his religious advisor, to Alexandria. But his efforts failed. Probably based on Ossius’ recommendation, he took Alexander’s part in the dispute. Early in 325, Ossius chaired an “anti-Arian Council” in Antioch (Hanson, p. 131). That meeting provisionally excommunicated Eusebius of Caesarea, a supporter of Arius and perhaps the most respected theologian at the time.

This was followed by the Nicene Council later that same year. At that council, Alexander allied with the Sabellians because they all taught that Father and Son are one single hypostasis. And since Constantine had taken Alexander’s part in the dispute, this alliance dominated and managed to include in the Creed at least a hint of one-hypostasis theology.

After Nicaea, Sabellians claimed that the Nicene Creed identifies Sabellianism as the formally approved religion of the church. This resulted in a decade of conflict in which the main Sabellians were removed from their positions. (See – Post-Nicaea Correction.) Thereafter, Nicaea and the term homoousios were not mentioned by anybody for about 20 years. (See – Homoousios)

Athanasius

While the first crisis (the dispute between Arius and Alexander) seems to be put to rest, a second crisis was brewing, namely, Athanasius:

Alexander died in 328 and Athanasius was elected in his place as bishop of Alexandria. Seven years later, in 335, he was also exiled; not for his theology but for violence against the Melitians in his see. (See – Council of Tyre.) In 337, when Constantine died, all exiled bishops were allowed to return, including Athanasius.

However, the church soon again accused him before the emperor. Consequently, Athanasius then developed his polemical strategy, claiming that he was, in fact, exiled for his opposition to Arianism and that all his enemies were Arians, meaning followers of Arius. Using these arguments, he appealed to the bishop of Rome and was successful because the West, which was not initially part of the Controversy and not represented at the Council of Nicaea, traditionally had a one-hypostasis theology; just like Athanasius. (See – Vindicated.) At the Council of Rome in 340, the West vindicated both Marcellus and Athanasius. Marcellus was the best-known Sabellian at the time and was, for that reason, previously condemned and exiled by the Eastern Church. In 341, the bishop of Rome attacked the East by writing a letter, claiming that Marcellus and Athanasius are orthodox in their teachings and that the East follows Arius, who was condemned at Nicaea.

Dedication and Serdica Councils

Later in that same year (341), the East met to discuss the letter from the bishop of Rome and formulated the Dedication Creed, which condemned some of Arius’ teachings but particularly condemned the West’s one-hypostasis theology.

This was followed in 343 by the Council of Serdica. This council was supposed to reconcile the West and the East but the two parties never met as one because of their dispute over Athanasius and Marcellus. The West brought these two men with as part of its delegation and demanded that they be allowed to participate in the Council. But the Eastern Church refused because it had already condemned both men. The Western delegation then formulated a creed that explicitly presents a one-hypostasis theology:

“We have received and have been taught this … tradition: that there is one hypostasis, which the heretics (also) call ousia, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Hanson, p. 301)1Hanson refer to “`the suspicion of Sabellianism which hung around the one Western theological statement which had appeared since the controversy began, the Formula accompanying the Encyclical of the Western bishops at Serdica.” (Hanson, p. 311)

End of the Controversy

Various other articles describe the events of the 350s, 360s, and 370s. The Controversy ended when emperor Theodosius, in 380, put the Trinity doctrine into law and made the Trinitarian version of Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. (See – Emperor Theodosius). The next year, in 381, he called the Council of Constantinople, which ratified his decisions. (See – Constantinople,)

The most important conclusion of this series of articles is that the emperor was the final judge in the church’s doctrinal disputes. Furthermore, the Roman Empire selected the Trinitarian version of Christianity as the state religion of the Empire and exterminated other forms of Christianity. It is often said that the Empire made Christianity its state religion. No. It made the majority view in the West the state religion and persecuted all other views, including the majority view in the East. The Controversy began soon after persecution ended and ended when persecution was resumed.

Consequently, the church that entered the Middle Ages was a remnant of the Roman Empire; the ‘Roman Church’, meaning, the Church of the Roman Empire. The Trinity doctrine was its identifying mark.

RECONCILIATION ATTEMPTS

Serdica in 343 was perhaps intended to bring reconciliation but failed. In the 340s, the Empire remained divided between Emperor Constans in the West and his brother Constantius in the East. This allowed the church in the two halves of the Empire to revert to their traditional positions: While the Latin-speaking West depended on Tertullian, the Greek-speaking East relied heavily on Origen. After the failure of Serdica, little happened during the remainder of the 340s, except some attempts at rapprochement.2“The remainder of the 340s requires much less discussion. Richard Hanson rightly characterizes this period as one in which the failure of Serdica eventually prompted attempts at rapprochement.” (Ayres, p. 126)

Western Attempt

“After Serdica … both sides were ready for peace feelers. (Hanson, p. 306-7)

The three main Christian centers in the Fourth Century

In 344, “a Western delegation consisting of two bishops” arrived in Antioch. “This visit unfortunately proved abortive owing to the mischiefmaking proclivity of Stephen bishop of Antioch. He attempted to ensnare Euphrates (one of the two Western bishops) in a false charge of fornication by planting a prostitute in his bedroom. The plot miscarried and the instigator of it was exposed. Stephen was deposed from his see. … The two Western bishops returned home in understandable umbrage.” (Hanson, p. 307)

Athanasius Recalled

“Constans was at this point pressing his brother strongly to recall Athanasius to his see of Alexandria.” (Hanson, p. 307) “Constans was keen to assert his own ecclesiastical policy.” (Ayres, p. 127)

“In the summer of 345 Constantius permitted Athanasius back to Alexandria. … Athanasius made his way back cautiously, visiting Constantius, and did not arrive until 346.” (Ayres, p. 127)

“Meanwhile the opponents of Athanasius had gathered at Antioch and protested against his readmission to his see. … Constantius was pursuing a policy of reconciliation, when he had time to turn his attention to ecclesiastical affairs, and the enemies of Athanasius were powerless.” (Hanson, p. 312) “The watchword at this period was Reconciliation.” (Hanson, p. 313)

Eastern Attempt

“In other parts of the church, the prevailing temper was also one of reconciliation. The Council of Antioch … in 344 also produced a creed, which was conveyed [in 345] to the Western church by a delegation of Eastern bishops.” (Hanson, p. 308)3The Christian church originated in Jerusalem but, in the first century, Antioch soon became the leading gentile church.

This creed was “universally known as the Macrostich (‘Long-Liner’ Manifesto’). … The first part is much the same as, if not identical with, the IVth Antiochene Creed of 341,” (Hanson, p. 308) which leaves out, as far as possible, all contentious issues. It attempted to explain Christ simply from the Bible, without referring to the recent contentious views. However, the Macrostich added “a long explanation.” (Ayres, p. 127) “The conciliatory tone of this text is clear.” (Ayres, p. 129)

The closing section of the creed states the purpose as “to clear away all unjust suspicion concerning our opinions, … and that all in the West may know, … the audacity of the slanders.” The “slanders” refer, most probably, to the letter written by the bishop of Rome in 431 which, following Athanasius, accused the East of being followers of Arius. Through the creed, the bishops in Antioch attempted to clarify their position.

In 345, the Eastern delegation presented their manifesto to the Latin-speaking bishops in the western part of the empire. “The Council of Milan … gave audience to the Antiochenes with their creed. Before the Council would consider the Macrostich, however, they demanded that the Eastern bishops should condemn Arius. The Eastern delegation refused to do this, not assuredly because they were unwilling to condemn Arius, but because they thought it insulting to be suspected and arraigned in this way. They returned to Antioch, their purpose unaccomplished.” (Hanson, p. 312)

While Arius had some extreme views, he was, like the Eastern delegation, a ‘three hypostasis’ theologian. Therefore, his views were much closer to the Easterners’ than to the Western one-hypostasis theology.

The Controversy was deeply political.

“Political tensions between Constans and Constantius have shaped a controversy between a key group of eastern bishops and their … ‘western’ counterparts. That controversy is indeed partly theological … (but) also deeply political, both” politics inside and outside the church.” (Ayres, p. 129-130) 4“In ecclesial terms (what form of appeal is possible following conciliar condemnation? can eastern and western councils interfere in each other’s business? can one appeal to Rome?) and in extra-ecclesial terms.”

“But this period of rapprochement resolved nothing: the tensions remained.” (Ayres, p. 130)

THE MACROSTICH

The East answered the next year (344) with another creed, the Macrostich or Long-Lined Creed, confessing three hypostases. The term homoousios was only brought back into the Controversy in the 350s (see here). After that, the three-hypostases view subdivided into the Heterousian, Homoiousian, and Homoian views. The Macrostich explains the three-hypostases view before homoousios became an issue again. 

This section discusses this manifesto as an opportunity to understand the three-hypostases view in the middle of the fourth century. The term homoousios was only brought back into the Controversy in the 350s (see here) and, only after that, did the three-hypostases view subdivide into the heterousian, homoiousian, and Homoian views.

Hoping their creed would be acceptable to all, the Eastern bishops avoided controversial and non-biblical language as far as possible.

Believes in three hypostases.

The Macrostich describes the Father, Son, and Spirit as three distinct Persons. Attempting to avoid all the new terms borrowed from Greek philosophy, it does not mention “three hypostases” explicitly (Hanson, p. 311) but uses the terms ‘realities’ and ‘persons’:

      • “There are three realities (πράγματα) or persons (πρόσωπα),” (Ayres, p. 128)
      • It condemns “those who treat Father, Son, and Spirit as three names of one reality (πράγμα) or person (πρόσωπον),” (Ayres, p. 128) and

In one-hypostasis theology, the Son or Word does not have a true distinct existence. Therefore it “argues against Marcellan doctrines which … treat the Word as ‘mere word of God and unexisting, having his being in another’.” (Ayres, p. 127) “Against this theology the Macrostich confesses the Son as ‘living God and Word, existing in himself’.” (Ayres, p. 128)

These are aimed against one-hypostasis theology, specifically against Sabellianism, as the West held according to the manifesto of the Western delegates at Serdica in 343. The Macrostich says that, if the three were the same, then, when the Son became a man, the Unlimited has become limited, the Impassible5incapable of suffering or feeling pain had become passible and the Immutable6not subject to change had become mutable.

Only the Father exists without beginning.

The manifesto begins by saying:

“We believe in one God the Father Almighty,
the Creator and Maker of all things.”

This is the standard opening of all creeds, including the Nicene Creed, identifying the Father as the “one God.” The Macrostich adds: “We do assert ‘three Objects and three Persons’, but not three gods.” (Hanson, p. 310) It does not confess three Gods because the Father alone exists without cause or beginning, and has generated the Son. 7“This does not … mean three Gods because there is only one ingenerate, unbegun and because the Father ‘who alone has existence from himself, and alone gives this abundantly to all others’.” (Ayres, p. 128)8“Since we acknowledge the Self-complete and Ingenerate and Unbegun and Invisible God to be one only, the God and Father of the Only-begotten, who alone has being from Himself, and alone gives this to all others generously.”9“Only the Father of Christ is unbegotten and unbeginning.” (Hanson, p. 310) “We must not consider the Son to be co-unbegun.” “The Father is the Son’s origin.” (Hanson, p. 310) Only the Father is selfsufficient and invisible. (Hanson, p. 310)

Origin of the Son

The Son was begotten from the being of God.

The creed condemns “those who say, that the Son was from nothing, or from other subsistence and not from God.” Note that this sentence uses the word “from” three times, indicating three possible sources of the Son:

“It is not safe … to say that the Son is from non-existence,” as Arius said. Nor can we say that He is from some other “underlying hypostasis.” He is “genuinely begotten from God alone.” (Hanson, p. 310)

He exists by the Father’s will.

In the one-hypostasis view, since the Father and Son are one single ‘Person’, the Son has existed for as long as the Father has. Consequently, the Father had never decided to beget the Son; the Father ‘always’ was Father, and the Son ‘always’ was Son.

In contrast, the Macrostich anathematizes those who say that the Father had no choice but to beget the Son so that He begat the Son unwillingly. It says that the Father begat the Son by his counsel and his will. (Hanson, p. 309-10) 10“The Son is generated from the Father’s will as the only alternative to being generated by necessity.” (Ayres, p. 129)

In this way, the Macrostich avoids Origen’s doctrine of “eternal generation of the Son.” (Hanson, p. 311) Origen argued that God created all things through His Son, that God has always created, therefore the Son has always existed. Therefore, in Origen’s theory, the creation has also always existed.

There was no time before the Son.

Arius said, “there was when He (the Son) was not.” Although Arius explicitly taught that the Son was begotten “timelessly,” his enemies accused him of saying there was “time” when the Son was not. The Macrostich states:

It is dangerous to say that “there was a time when he did not exist.” We do not envisage “an interval of time preceding him.” Only God who begot him timelessly, preceded Him. (Hanson, p. 310) “The Son of God existed before the ages.” (Hanson, p. 309) He was begotten “before all ages.” There was no “time or age when He was not.”

In other words, the Son had a beginning, but that beginning was before time existed. Therefore, there never was “a time or age when He was not.”

He is not a Created Being.

Arius said that the Son is the only Being ever produced by the Father directly, that He is the only Being who can come directly into God’s presence, and that He is the Creator of all else. But Arius’ enemies accused him of saying that the Son is a mere created being. For a further discussion, see here.

The Macrostich similarly says that “the Son was not created as other creatures and products are produced; he cannot be compared with them.” He is the only being ever begotten by God. (Hanson, p. 310) All other creatures came into existence through the Son. “It is irreligious … to compare the Creator with handiworks created by Him.”

The opening phrase of the creed identifies the Father as “the Creator and Maker of all things.” The Bible says that God created all things through the Son (John 1:3; Heb 1:2-3; Col 1:15-16). The Father is the Force and Cause of creation. The Son is the Means or Hand through which God created.

The Son is both subordinate and God.

The Macrostich strongly affirms the subordination of the Son. (Hanson, p. 311)11The Son is “subordinate to his Father and God.” (Ayres, p. 127) It describes the Son as subordinate to the Father because the Father alone exists without cause.12“Three realities or persons … does not … mean three Gods because there is only one ingenerate, unbegun and because the Father … ‘alone has existence from himself’.” (Ayres, p. 128) It says that the Father alone is “Head over the whole universe wholly.” However:

“In saying that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is one only God, the only Ingenerate, do we (not) therefore deny that Christ also is God before ages …”

“Though he be subordinate to his Father and God, yet, being before ages begotten of God, he is God according to his perfect and true nature.” (Ayres, p. 127)

While the Nicene Creed describes the Son as “true God (the Son) from true God (the Father),” the Macrostich omits the word “true” in both instances and refers to Jesus as “God from God.”

That the Macrostich also describes the Son as subordinate to the Father may sound confusing to the modern ear. However, that confusion is caused by the translations. Ancient Greek did not have a word exactly equivalent to the modern word ‘God’. It only had the word theos, which means ‘divine’ or ‘god’. Even an exalted person may be called theos. We must read the context to determine whether “God” or “god” or “divine” is intended. Translators tend to translate theos, when it refers to Jesus, as “God,” but that is an application of the Trinity doctrine, not proof thereof. For a further discussion, see – The Meanings of the Word theos.

The incarnated Son is the preexistent Son.

The Macrostich refers to “His Only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ.” In other words, the pre-existent “Only-begotten Son” and the incarnated “Lord Jesus Christ” are one and the same.

In contrast, in one-hypostasis theology, the incarnated Son is a different person – often a mere human with a human soul or mind who is divinely inspired, because the Son cannot suffer or die because he is the same as or part of the Father.

The Trinity

He is One with the Father.

One-hypostasis theology has a strong unity of Father and Son because they are but one hypostasis (Person). In contrast, the Macrostich explains the unity of Father and Son as “’harmony’ and ‘conjunction’:” (Hanson, p. 311)

“Father and Son ‘are united with each other without mediation or distance’ and … they ‘exist inseparably’, all the Father embosoming the Son, and all the Son hanging and adhering to the Father.” (Ayres, p. 128-9)

These words are probably an interpretation of passages such as:

“I and the Father are one” (John 10:29), and
“No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:18).

Confesses a Triad.

“Believing then in the All-perfect Triad, the Most Holy, that is, in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

In this context, the translation “Triad” is better than “Trinity” because ‘Trinity’, with a capital T, implies the Trinity doctrine in which Father, Son, and Spirit are one Being, while the Macrostich presents them as three distinct Beings; a hierarchical group of “three realities and three Persons,” where the Father is the uncaused Cause of all else, and also generated the Son.

Says very little about the Holy Spirit.

The Macristich has a very scanty treatment of the Holy Spirit. It says:

“We believe in the Holy Ghost, that is, the Paraclete, which, having promised to the Apostles, He sent forth after the ascension into heaven, to teach them and to remind of all things.”

The Son is “granting the grace of the Holy Ghost unsparingly to the saints at the Father’s will.”

Similar to the Bible, it does not refer to the Holy Spirit as God, or as God from God. On the contrary, the phrase “two Gods” in the following implies that the Holy Spirit is not God:

“The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and calling the Father God, and the Son God, yet we confess in them, not two Gods.”

We see Jesus in the Old Testament.

The LMM finds Jesus in the OT. It says:

“He it is, to whom the Father said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness’ (Gen 1:26), who also was seen in His own Person by the patriarchs, gave the law, spoke by the prophets, and at last, became man …”

Some dispute that God was talking to His Son in Genesis 1:26, saying that God spoke to His angels, but man was not created in the image of angels, but in the image of God. Furthermore, the Son Himself “existed in the form of God.” (Phil. 2:6)

No ousia language

The Nicene Creed says that the Son was begotten from the ousios (substance or essence) of the Father and claims that the Son is homoousios (of the same substance as) the Father. It follows that the Son is equal to the Father.

The Dedication Creed of 431, which is, like the Macrostich, an Eastern creed, also uses the term ousia: “Exact image of the Godhead and the substance (ousia) and will and power and glory of the Father.”

In contrast, although the Macrostich says that He is “from God,” and “begotten,” it does not use the terms ousia (substance) and homoousios (same substance). It “appears to have been composed by theologians unhappy with the ousia language deployed in the Dedication creed.” (Ayres, p. 127) 13The Macrostich describes “the Father’s generation of the Son as a sharing of the divine existence, but … without materialist connotation. … The hierarchical scheme within which this occurs remains unaltered.” (Ayres, p. 129)


OTHER ARTICLES

FOOTNOTES

  • 1
    Hanson refer to “`the suspicion of Sabellianism which hung around the one Western theological statement which had appeared since the controversy began, the Formula accompanying the Encyclical of the Western bishops at Serdica.” (Hanson, p. 311)
  • 2
    “The remainder of the 340s requires much less discussion. Richard Hanson rightly characterizes this period as one in which the failure of Serdica eventually prompted attempts at rapprochement.” (Ayres, p. 126)
  • 3
    The Christian church originated in Jerusalem but, in the first century, Antioch soon became the leading gentile church.
  • 4
    “In ecclesial terms (what form of appeal is possible following conciliar condemnation? can eastern and western councils interfere in each other’s business? can one appeal to Rome?) and in extra-ecclesial terms.”
  • 5
    incapable of suffering or feeling pain
  • 6
    not subject to change
  • 7
    “This does not … mean three Gods because there is only one ingenerate, unbegun and because the Father ‘who alone has existence from himself, and alone gives this abundantly to all others’.” (Ayres, p. 128)
  • 8
    “Since we acknowledge the Self-complete and Ingenerate and Unbegun and Invisible God to be one only, the God and Father of the Only-begotten, who alone has being from Himself, and alone gives this to all others generously.”
  • 9
    “Only the Father of Christ is unbegotten and unbeginning.” (Hanson, p. 310) “We must not consider the Son to be co-unbegun.” “The Father is the Son’s origin.” (Hanson, p. 310) Only the Father is selfsufficient and invisible. (Hanson, p. 310)
  • 10
    “The Son is generated from the Father’s will as the only alternative to being generated by necessity.” (Ayres, p. 129)
  • 11
    The Son is “subordinate to his Father and God.” (Ayres, p. 127)
  • 12
    “Three realities or persons … does not … mean three Gods because there is only one ingenerate, unbegun and because the Father … ‘alone has existence from himself’.” (Ayres, p. 128)
  • 13
    The Macrostich describes “the Father’s generation of the Son as a sharing of the divine existence, but … without materialist connotation. … The hierarchical scheme within which this occurs remains unaltered.” (Ayres, p. 129)
  • 14
    Overview of the history, from the pre-Nicene Church Fathers, through the fourth-century Arian Controversy

Homoian theology rejected Nicaea’s new terms.

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.” (Hanson, p. 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.” (Williams, p. 234)1Archbishop 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.” (Hanson, p. 170)2Bishop 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.” (Ayres, p. 139)3Lewis 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 Nicaea, 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.” (Ayres, p. 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.” (Ayres, p. 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.” (Ayres, p. 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.” (Ayres, p. 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.” (Ayres, p. 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.” (Ayres, p. 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.” (Hanson, p. 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” (Hanson, p. 557). “Eusebius of Caesarea, the historian and theologian” (Ayres, p. 58) “was the most learned and one of the best-known of the 300-odd bishops present” at Nicaea. (Hanson, p. 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” (Hanson, p. 558–559.) “Homoian Arians … had obtained power under Constantius from 360 to 361 and under Valens from 364 onwards.” (Hanson, p. 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.” (Hanson, p. 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.” (Hanson, p. 567) “It is characteristic of this type of Arianism to teach that the Father is the God of the Son.” (Hanson, p. 568)

But they did refer to the Son as “God.” (Hanson, p. 570) “The Son was God or divine while not being fully equal to the Father.” (Hanson, p. 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.” (Hanson, p. 571)

Sola Scriptura

“They prided themselves on their appeal to Scripture. … they pointed out that homoousios and ousia did not occur in the Bible.” (Hanson, p. 559) “The Homoian Arians … were not particularly interested in philosophy:” (Hanson, p. 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.” (Hanson, p. 576)

But those who view Them as One were accused by the Homoians of “Sabellianism.” (Hanson, p. 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.” (Ayres, p. 138)

The two main Homoian Creeds are “the Second Sirmian Creed of 357” and “the Creed of Nice (Constantinople) (of 360).” (Hanson, p. 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.

Hanson, Bishop R.P.C.
The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God –

The Arian Controversy 318-381, 1987

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

Ayres, Lewis
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.” (Williams, p. 234)4Archbishop 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.” (Hanson, p. 170)

“After Nicaea homoousios is not mentioned again in truly contemporary sources for two decades. … It was not seen as that useful or important.” (Ayres, p. 96)5Lewis 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.” (Ayres, p. 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.” (Ayres, p. 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” (Williams, p. 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.” (Ayres, p. 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.” (Ayres, p. 108)

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

“Julius wrote to the east in 341 in a letter which shows the strong influence of the emerging Athanasian account of ‘Arianism’.” (Ayres, p. 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.” (Ayres, p. 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.” (Ayres, p. 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.” (Ayres, p. 140)

“Athanasius’ decision to make Nicaea and homoousios central to his theology has its origins in the shifting climate of the 350s.” (Ayres, p. 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.” (Ayres, p. 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.” (Ayres, p. 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.” (Ayres, p. 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.” (Hanson, p. 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” (Hanson, p. 557):

“Homoian Arianism derived from the thought both of Eusebius of Caesarea and of Arius.” (Hanson, p. 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.” (Hanson, p. 579-580) Hanson refers to Eusebius of Caesarea as “Akakius’ master.” (Hanson, p. 583)

“Eusebius of Caesarea, the historian and theologian” (Ayres, p. 58) “attended the Council of Nicaea in 325” (Hanson, p. 47), was “universally acknowledged to be the most scholarly bishop of his day” (Hanson, p. 46; cf. 153), and “was the most learned and one of the best-known of the 300-odd bishops present” at Nicaea. (Hanson, p. 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” (Hanson, p. 558–559.) “Homoian Arianism is a much more diverse phenomenon, more widespread and in fact more longlasting.” (Hanson, p. 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.” (Hanson, p. 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.” (Hanson, p. 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.” (Hanson, p. 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.” (Hanson, p. 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.” (Ayres, p. 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.”6Marta 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.” (Hanson, p. 563) They had “a long list of texts … to demonstrate the incomparability of the Father.” (Hanson, p. 560) For example:

Invisible – “Christ is the visible God (the Father being the invisible God).” (Hanson, p. 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.” (Hanson, p. 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.” (Hanson, p. 564-5)

A Suffering God

The Homoian system was designed to avoid “the risk of saying that the Father suffered.” (Hanson, p. 566) “But they were perfectly ready to say that God the Son suffered. Indeed, their Christology was specifically designed to do so.” (Hanson, p. 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.” (Hanson, p. 566)

Christ is subordinate.

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

“The Son is eternally … subordinated to the Father,” even after everything is completed that must be done for our salvation. (Hanson, p. 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.” (Hanson, p. 568)

Christ is divine.

But they did refer to the Son as “God.” For example, they described Him as “God from God.” (Hanson, p. 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.” (Hanson, p. 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.” (Hanson, p. 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.” (Hanson, p. 571) The Spirit “is … not to be worshipped nor adored.” (Hanson, p. 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.” (Hanson, p. 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)’.” (Hanson, p. 559)

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

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

“The theologians of the fourth century … use the terminology of Greek philosophy. … It was never accepted by the Homoian Arians).” (Hanson, p. 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.” (Hanson, p. 575) For example:

“This talk of ‘substance’ is corporeal, material.” (Hanson, p. 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.” (Hanson, p. 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” (Hanson, p. 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.” (Hanson, p. 576): “Three Eternals … Three without origin” (Hanson, p. 575); “Three Almighty Gods” (Hanson, p. 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.” (Hanson, p. 575, 576) “The term homoousion is in effect to say that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are identical.” (Hanson, p. 575-6) “Teaching that the Three are inseparable and equal identify them.” (Hanson, p. 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.” (Ayres, p. 138)

“Most significant of all, perhaps, is the appearance of anathemas directly and explicitly aimed at N.” (Hanson, p. 328) “This creed marks a definite shift towards a more sharply anti-Nicene doctrine.” (Hanson, p. 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.” (Ayres, p. 138)

Constantinople 360

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


OTHER ARTICLES

FOOTNOTES

TABLE OF CONTENTS