After Nicaea, the church restored proper balance in its doctrine.

INTRODUCTION

The True Origin of the Trinity Doctrine

The Trinity doctrine originated in the fourth-century Arian Controversy. However, based on new discoveries of ancient documents and progress in research over the past century, historians now say that the traditional account of that controversy presents history from the perspective of the winner and is a complete travesty.. This is one of the articles that explains the true origin of the Trinity doctrine. (See the list below.) Each article explains a different aspect of that ‘travesty’. This article describes the ten years after the Council of Nicaea.

These articles may seem complex and even unimportant but they are important for understanding the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation.

‘Eusebians’ is a better name for the ‘Arians’.

This article sometimes refers to the ‘Eusebians’. This refers to the followers of the two Eusebii of the early fourth century; Eusebius of Caesarea and Eusebius of Nicomedia. They were Athanasius’ opponents and he intended to insult them by falsely naming them ‘Arians’, meaning followers of Arius, which they were not. See – Athanasius invented Arianism.

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

Williams, Rowan, Arius: Heresy and Tradition (Revised ed.). Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2002

These are three of the most important books recent books on the Arian Controversy.

AFTER NICAEA

Arians were reinstated.

In the years after Nicaea, the ‘Arians’ who were exiled after Nicaea, were all reinstated. 1“Arius and most of his supporters were, at Constantine’s request, readmitted to communion within two or three years of the council.” (Ayres, p. 100) 2“Eusebius of Nicomedia quickly rose again to a position of importance, baptizing Constantine on his death-bed in 337 and becoming bishop of Constantinople.” (Ayres, p. 100)

Pro-Nicenes were deposed.

Alexander was the leader of the pro-Nicenes at Nicaea but died soon after Nicaea (in 328). With respect to the other leading pro-Nicenes, “within ten years of the Council of Nicaea all the leading supporters of the creed of that Council had been deposed or disgraced or exiled – Athanasius, Eustathius and Marcellus, and with them a large number of other bishops who are presumed to have belonged to the same school of thought.” Hanson provides a list of such people. (Hanson, p. 274)

THE TRADITIONAL ACCOUNT

It was an evil Arian Conspiracy.

In the traditional account of the Arian Controversy, this was the result of a wicked ‘Arian Conspiracy’, namely, some followers of Arius who secretly conspired to manipulate church councils, aiming to depose all supporters of the Nicene Creed to counter the influence of the Nicene Creed:

“The usual explanation (of the resistance to the Nicene Creed after Nicaea) … describes the favourers of Arianism as setting themselves with deliberate craft and malignant intrigue to depose and replace every and any bishop who was known to be particularly favourable to N.” (Hanson, p. 274)

HOWEVER, IN REALITY

After Nicaea, Arius was irrelevant.

Conceptually, the Nicene Creed may be divided into three parts:

      1. The traditional statements that were also found in previous creeds,
      2. The negations or condemnations of aspects of Arius’ theology, 
      3. The new affirmations, namely that:
        1. The Son is from the substance (ousia) of the Father,
        2. The Son is of the same substance (homoousios) as the Father, and
        3. The Son is the same hypostasis (Person) as the Father (in the anathemas).

After Nicaea, the first two parts (the traditional affirmations and the condemnations of Arius) remained generally accepted and were not disputed. The conflict during the decade after Nicaea after Nicaea was specifically about the new affirmations. Arius was no longer an issue:

“Arius’ own theology is of little importance in understanding the major debates of the rest of the century.” (Ayres, p. 56-57)

“Arius evidently made converts to his views … but he left no school of disciples.” (Williams, p. 233) 3“Late in 335 or early in 336, Arius died … The death of Arius marks, however, no significant turning point in the story of these years. By this time the focus was elsewhere.” (Ayres, p. 103)

For a discussion, see – After Nicaea, Arius was irrelevant.

The ‘conspirators’ were not Arian.

In the year 341, the anti-Nicenes of the Eastern Church (the Eusebians or ‘Arians’) formulated the Dedication Creed which explicitly condemns aspects of Arius’ theology. The so-called Conspirators, therefore, were not followers of Arius:

“Nor must we assume that what Eusebius and his party were aiming at was to substitute for the Creed of Nicaea a nakedly Arian formula. What precisely they wanted to establish as doctrine became quite clear when they showed their hand at the Council of Antioch in 341.” (Hanson, p. 284)

There is no evidence of a conspiracy.

After a discussion of several specific individuals, Hanson concludes that we do not see “a systematic campaign by the Eusebian party against known opponents of Arianism. … All that we can say is that a number of bishops were deposed between 328 and 336 for various reasons.” (Hanson, p. 279) 4“It should be noted that none of the evidence so far considered presents a reliable picture of a systematic campaign by the Eusebian party against known opponents of Arianism. … All that we can say is that a number of bishops were deposed between 328 and 336 for various reasons, and that Eusebius of Nicomedia or some of his party had a hand in most, or all, of these depositions. They were perhaps controlling events, but not controlling them in the interests of forwarding Arianism.” (Hanson, p. 279)

Eusebius did not engineer all exiles.

“It is usually asserted that the leader of this remarkably successful conspiracy was Eusebius of Nicomedia (later of Constantinople). That Eusebius was the leader of a party, and that he was recognized as such by his contemporaries, there can be no doubt at all. ‘The party of Eusebius’, is an expression used by Eustathius, by Julius and by Athanasius. But to see his hand active in every case of a bishop being deposed … is more than the evidence warrants.” Hanson, p. 275) “We cannot lay all depositions of all bishops between 328 and 431 at his door.” (Hanson, p. 284)

Athanasius was not exiled for anti-Arianism.

Athanasius could not have been exiled by an ‘Arian Conspiracy because he was not an obvious target for ‘Arians’. He was not a leading figure at the Council of Nicaea 5“He could not possibly have been, as he was later erroneously represented to have been, a leading figure at the Council of Nicaea.” (Hanson, p. 275) and only began his zealous support of the Nicene Creed after he had been exiled in 335. 6“There was … no reason to regard Athanasius as a zealous supporter of the doctrine of Nicaea until at earliest his second exile (339-346).” He had no love for the Arians but “he was not until much later in his career an obvious target for those who were anxious either to limit or to undo the achievement of the Council of Nicaea.” (Hanson, p. 275)

Athanasius was deposed for violence against Melitians in his see. “He was finally deposed at Tyre for reasons which had nothing to do with Arianism, nor with any doctrinal issue, but for misbehaviour in his see, disgraceful and undeniable, and that against Melitians rather than Arians.” (Hanson, p. 275) See – Athanasius was justly deposed for violence against the Melitians.

The target was specifically the Sabellians.

Origen taught that Father, Son, and Spirit are three hypostases (three ‘Persons’ with three distinct minds). In opposition to him, ‘one hypostasis’ theologians taught that Father, Son, and Spirit are one single hypostasis (one single Person with one single Mind). In other words, in ‘one hypostasis’ theology, the Son does not have real distinct existence. There were variations of that theory:

      • The Monarchians and Modalists said that the Father, Son, and Spirit are the three faces of the one God. See – The Monarchians.
      • The Sabellians taught that Father, Son, and Spirit are three parts of the one hypostasis (Person). See – Sabellius.
      • Alexander and Athanasius held that the Son and the Spirit are parts of the Father, but there still is only one hypostasis. See – Athanasius.

Apart from Athanasius, the other two important theologians who were deposed more or less at the same time as him were Eustathius and Marcellus. Both of them were strong supporters of the Nicene Creed but both of them were Sabellianism:

“We can be sure that both of these men had been strong supporters of the homoousian line at Nicaea. But both also had put forward views which were open to the charge of Sabellianism.” (Hanson, p. 276) 7The theology of “Marcellus and Eustathius” “was able to provoke a strong and sustained reaction from the Eusebians, and one that seems to have gained wide support throughout the east.” (Ayres, p. 102) 8“Marcellus of Ancyra was certainly deposed for unorthodoxy in 336.” “The new synod met in the summer of 336 and deposed Marcellus for holding the heresy of Paul of Samosata.” (Williams, p. 80) (This Paul was a well-known Sabellian of the third century.) “Eustathius of Antioch was deposed in all probability for similar reasons earlier.” (Hanson, p. 276)

So, the conflict after Nicaea was not specifically a pro-Arius initiative but anti-Sabellian. Sabellians were targeted and removed from their positions.

The dispute was about homoousios.

The conflict was specifically about the meaning of the term homoousios. For example:

“The fifth-century ecclesiastical historian Sozomen reports a dispute immediately after the council, focused not on Arius, but … concerning the precise meaning of the term homoousios. Some thought this term … implied the non-existence of the Son of God; and that it involved the error of Montanus and Sabellius. … Eustathius accused Eusebius [of Caesarea] of altering the doctrines ratified by the council of Nicaea, while the latter declared that he approved of all the Nicaean doctrines, and reproached Eustathius for cleaving to the heresy of Sabellius.” (Ayres, p. 101)

“This event was only one part of the conflict that now began.” (Ayres, p. 101) It occurred “probably in 326 or 327” (Ayres, p. 101)

In other words, the Eusebians understood the Sabellians as teaching that homoousios means that Father and Son are one single hypostasis so that the Son does not have a real distinct existence. Eusebius of Caesarea has signed the Nicene Creed but with the understanding that homoousios means that Father and Son are two distinct Beings of the same class. See – The Meaning of Homoousios in the Nicene Creed.

The rest of this article explains why the Sabellians specifically were targeted after Nicaea.

WHY SABELLIANS WERE TARGETED

‘One hypostasis’ dominated at Nicaea.

The ‘one hypostasis’ theologians had the upper hand in the Nicene Council because “(emperor) Constantine had taken Alexander’s part” in his quarrel with Arius (Ayres, p. 89) and because Alexander, who also had a ‘one hypostasis’ theology, allied with the Sabellians. 9“This imperial pressure coupled with the role of his advisers in broadly supporting the agenda of Alexander must have been a powerful force” (Ayres, p. 89).

“Alexander … accepted virtual Sabellianism in order to ensure the defeat of Arianism.” (Hanson, p. 171)

Ayres implies that “Eustathius, Athanasius, and Marcellus” were “the architects of Nicaea.” (Ayres, p. 105)

The Nicene Creed implies one hypostasis.

Since ‘one hypostasis’ theologians dominated at Nicaea, the Creed implies that the Father, Son, and Spirit are one hypostasis (one ‘Person’ with one single mind):

“Simonetti estimates the Nicene Council as a temporary alliance for the defeat of Arianism between the tradition of Alexandria led by Alexander and ‘Asiatic’ circles (i.e. Eustathius, Marcellus) … The ‘Asiatics’ were rootedly opposed to the thought of Origen, and were able to include in N a hint of opposition to the three hypostases theory.” (Hanson, p. 171)

“The production of N … must have been deeply disturbing for many who could not seriously be described as Arian in sympathy but could not believe that God had only one hypostasis, as the creed apparently professed.” (Hanson, p. 274)

“We can readily imagine that people such as Eusebius of Caesarea who were not whole-hearted supporters of the doctrines of Arius but who saw in N, if it were pushed to its logical conclusions, a serious threat to the proper distinction of Persons within the Trinity, would think it right to impugn (question) the orthodoxy and reduce the influence of Eustathius and Marcellus.” (Hanson, p. 276) 10“In the controversies which erupted over Eustathius of Antioch and Marcellus after Nicaea, both thought their theologies faithful to Nicaea—and they had good grounds for so assuming. Both were influential at the council, and Nicaea’s lapidary formulations were never intended to rule out their theological idiosyncrasies.” (Ayres, p. 99) 11“Marcellus and Eustathius presented their theologies as the natural context for Nicaea’s creed.” (Ayres, p. 105)

The Sabellians claimed Nicaea as support.

After Nicaea, with the extremities of Arius’ theology formally rejected, a new and perhaps much greater problem faced the church, namely, the claim that the wording of the Creed, particularly the term homoousios, means that the church has adopted a Sabellian ‘one hypostasis’ theology. It was to root out this ‘evil’ that the Sabellians were targeted. 

CONCLUSION

It was a campaign against Sabellianism.

After Nicaea, ‘Arians’ were reinstated and Pro-Nicenes deposed. In the traditional account of the Arian Controversy, this was the work of a wicked ‘Arian Conspiracy’ against the Nicene Creed. However, what happened in the decade after Nicaea was not the work of an evil ‘Arian Conspiracy’ but a campaign against Sabellians who explained the term homoousios as meaning that Father and Son are one single hypostasis and that Sabellianism, therefore, is now the church’s official theology.

Since ‘one hypostasis’ theology was already rejected by the church during the third century in church councils that condemned Sabellius and Paul of Somasata, the Eusebians, in targeting these Sabellians, were resisting a known error. Hanson concludes:

“They would have said that they were not conducting a persecution in the interests of Arianism but trying to restore proper balance to the Church’s understanding of its doctrine of God.” (Hanson, p. 276)

This website refers to the events of the decade after Nicaea as the Post-Nicaea Correction. After the Sabellians were removed from their positions, the term homoousios was not mentioned for about 20 years. It was only brought back into the Controversy in the mid-350s.

Athanasius was not exiled for his theology but for violence against the Melitians.


OTHER ARTICLES

CHURCH FATHERS

ARIAN CONTROVERSY

ARIUS

THE NICENE CREED

ARIANISM

    • The Dedication Creed 32This Creed shows how the Nicene Creed would have read if emperor Constantine had not manipulated the Nicene Council.
    • Athanasius invented Arianism. 33The 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? 34‘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 35In the 350s, Athanasius began to use homoousios to attack the church majority. Homoian theology developed in response.
    • Homoi-ousian theology 36This 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? 37Forget about Arius. He was an isolated extremist. This article quotes the mainstream anti-Nicenes to show how they understood that verse.

THE PRO-NICENES

EMPEROR THEODOSIUS

AUTHORS 

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

LATER

TRINITY DOCTRINE – GENERAL

    • Elohim 48Elohim (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 49The 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.

OTHER

FOOTNOTES

  • 1
    “Arius and most of his supporters were, at Constantine’s request, readmitted to communion within two or three years of the council.” (Ayres, p. 100)
  • 2
    “Eusebius of Nicomedia quickly rose again to a position of importance, baptizing Constantine on his death-bed in 337 and becoming bishop of Constantinople.” (Ayres, p. 100)
  • 3
    “Late in 335 or early in 336, Arius died … The death of Arius marks, however, no significant turning point in the story of these years. By this time the focus was elsewhere.” (Ayres, p. 103)
  • 4
    “It should be noted that none of the evidence so far considered presents a reliable picture of a systematic campaign by the Eusebian party against known opponents of Arianism. … All that we can say is that a number of bishops were deposed between 328 and 336 for various reasons, and that Eusebius of Nicomedia or some of his party had a hand in most, or all, of these depositions. They were perhaps controlling events, but not controlling them in the interests of forwarding Arianism.” (Hanson, p. 279)
  • 5
    “He could not possibly have been, as he was later erroneously represented to have been, a leading figure at the Council of Nicaea.” (Hanson, p. 275)
  • 6
    “There was … no reason to regard Athanasius as a zealous supporter of the doctrine of Nicaea until at earliest his second exile (339-346).”
  • 7
    The theology of “Marcellus and Eustathius” “was able to provoke a strong and sustained reaction from the Eusebians, and one that seems to have gained wide support throughout the east.” (Ayres, p. 102)
  • 8
    “Marcellus of Ancyra was certainly deposed for unorthodoxy in 336.” “The new synod met in the summer of 336 and deposed Marcellus for holding the heresy of Paul of Samosata.” (Williams, p. 80) (This Paul was a well-known Sabellian of the third century.)
  • 9
    “This imperial pressure coupled with the role of his advisers in broadly supporting the agenda of Alexander must have been a powerful force” (Ayres, p. 89).
  • 10
    “In the controversies which erupted over Eustathius of Antioch and Marcellus after Nicaea, both thought their theologies faithful to Nicaea—and they had good grounds for so assuming. Both were influential at the council, and Nicaea’s lapidary formulations were never intended to rule out their theological idiosyncrasies.” (Ayres, p. 99)
  • 11
    “Marcellus and Eustathius presented their theologies as the natural context for Nicaea’s creed.” (Ayres, p. 105)
  • 12
    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.
  • 13
    Sabellius taught that Father, Son, and Spirit are three portions of one single Being.
  • 14
    If we define Sabellianism as that only one hypostasis – only one distinct existence – exists in the Godhead, was Tertullian a Sabellian?
  • 15
    The Controversy gave us the Trinity doctrine but the traditional account of the Controversy is a complete traversy.
  • 16
    RPC Hanson states that no ‘orthodoxy’ existed but that is not entirely true. This article shows that subordination was indeed ‘orthodox’ at that time.
  • 17
    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.
  • 18
    Over the centuries, Arius was always accused of this. This article explains why that is a false accusation.
  • 19
    There are significant differences between Origen and Arius.
  • 20
    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?
  • 21
    New research has shown that Arius is a thinker and exegete of resourcefulness, sharpness, and originality.
  • 22
    The word theos, which is translated as “God” in John 1:1 is not equivalent to the modern English word “God.”
  • 23
    Constantine took part in the Council of Nicaea and ensured that it reached the kind of conclusion which he thought best.
  • 24
    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.
  • 25
    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.
  • 26
    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
  • 27
    The Nicene Creed describes the Son as homoousios (same substance) as the Father. But how was the term used before, during, and after Nicaea?
  • 28
    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.
  • 29
    The word is not found in the Bible or in any orthodox Christian confession before Nicaea.
  • 30
    The Creed seems to say that the Father and Son are the same hupostasis. This is Sabellianism.
  • 31
    There was no Arian Conspiracy. It was a campaign against the claim that homoousios identifies Sabellianism as the church’s official theology.
  • 32
    This Creed shows how the Nicene Creed would have read if emperor Constantine had not manipulated the Nicene Council.
  • 33
    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.
  • 34
    ‘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.
  • 35
    In the 350s, Athanasius began to use homoousios to attack the church majority. Homoian theology developed in response.
  • 36
    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.
  • 37
    Forget about Arius. He was an isolated extremist. This article quotes the mainstream anti-Nicenes to show how they understood that verse.
  • 38
    Eustathius and Marcellus played a major role in the formulation of the Creed but were soon deposed for Sabellianism.
  • 39
    Athanasius presents himself as the preserver of Biblical orthodoxy but this article argues that he was a Sabellian.
  • 40
    Many believe that these accusations were false but RPC Hanson shows that Athanasius was justly condemned.
  • 41
    The West deposed Athanasius for violence but the West, which, like Athanasius, preferred a one hypostasis theology, declared him blameless.
  • 42
    In the Trinity doctrine, Father, Son, and Spirit are one substance or Being. This article shows that Basil taught three distinct substances.
  • 43
    This council reveals the state of Western theology at that time.
  • 44
    It was a regional synod of Antioch and attended only by bishops who were friendly to the bishop of Antioch. But the emperor hijacked it.
  • 45
    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.
  • 46
    A very informative lecture on the Arian Controversy by RPC Hanson, a famous fourth-century scholar
  • 47
    In the fifth century, Arian ‘barbarians’ dominated the Western Empire, but they tolerated and even respected the Trinitarian Roman Church.
  • 48
    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?
  • 49
    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.

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