It is often said that Arius described the Son of God as a created being. But this article shows that that is a distortion of what Arius taught. The Arians taught as follows:
1. God produced all things through the Son. The Son is the only Being brought forth by God directly. Consequently, there is nobody like the Son.
2. Since God created all things through His Son, the Son is our Creator.
3. The Son is the only being who is able to endure direct contact with God. All other beings will be consumed by it. This makes an infinite distinction between the Son and the created universe.
4. The Son is not part of this universe for He created the entire universe and was begotten outside time.
5. The Son is our God because He created us, because our experience of God is limited to His Son, and because what we receive from God, we receive through His Son.
6. The church fathers used the term ‘creature’ for any being whose existence was caused by another. In this meaning of the term, the Son is also a creature because He was begotten by God. We must interpret Arius’ words using the meanings that words had then; not against the meanings that these words have today.
So, why does everybody seem to believe that Arius described the Son as a created being? Arius’ enemies, by claiming that He taught the Son is an ordinary created being, distorted his words. In misrepresenting Arius, Athanasius acted maliciously. Unfortunately, Trinitarian Christianity continued to misrepresent the Arians.
– END OF SUMMARY –
Authors / Sources
This article series is based largely on the books of three world-class scholars who are regarded as specialists in the fourth-century Arian Controversy, namely:
RH = Bishop RPC Hanson
The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God –
The Arian Controversy 318-381, 1987
RW = Archbishop Rowan Williams
Arius: Heresy and Tradition, 2002/1987
LA = Lewis Ayres
Nicaea and its legacy, 2004
Ayres is a Professor of Catholic and Historical Theology
It is often claimed that Arius described the Son of God as a created being. The purpose of this article is to show that that is a distortion of Arius’ theology. The Arians did not teach that the Son is a created being. They taught as follows:
The Son is the only Being brought forth by God directly.
God produced all things through the Son. The Son is the only Being brought forth by God directly. Consequently, there is nobody like the Son. The following confirms that this is what Arius taught:
He is “the product of the Father” (RH, 7);
“alone has been given existence by the Father” (RH, 8).
“He has been produced directly without mediation by God, and everything else has come into being through his mediation” (RH, 102).
“Nor does he live a life comparable to those things which were produced through him, but he has been brought forth alone from the Father himself and is Life in himself” (RH, 56; John 5:26).
Hanson concluded: “This direct creation means that the Son has nobody like him; the Arians’ favourite title for the Son was unigenitus (only-begotten, John 1:4, 18; 3:16)” (RH, 102).
The Son is our Creator.
The Arians, and the church in general at that time, argued that God created all things through His unique Son. We, therefore, and this earth and this entire universe were created by God through the Son. That implies an infinite distinction between the Son and the universe, similar to the infinite distinction between any creator and the thing created.
Only the Son is able to endure direct contact with God.
The Son is the only being who is able to endure direct contact with God. All other beings will be consumed by it. The following confirms that this is what the Arians taught:
One prominent Arian in Arius’ day (Asterius) explained that “when God desired that created nature should come into existence, he saw that nature could not endure his direct hand and so ‘he initially makes and created, himself sole, a sole Being, and calls this Son and Word’; consequently, once this mediating Being had come into existence, the rest could be created.” (RH, 100)
“Demophilus, the last Arian bishop of Constantinople before the advent of Theodosius (AD 380), [says] God … ‘could not come in contact with the creation which he intended to make, for he would have been under the necessity either of making everything gods so as to be worthy of him, or else everything would have disintegrated by contact with him. So the Son of God had to become a mediator between God and the things created by him.’” (RH, 101)
In this theory, following Asterius’ argument, the Son is the only Being who is able to endure direct contact with God. This makes an infinite distinction between the Son and the created universe.
This argument may sound strange to a modern ear, but it was foundational in the Logos theory, which was the church’s standard explanation of the Son of God when the Arian Controversy began. See – The Apologists. In this theory, since God could not come in direct contact with the creation, the Logos was necessary to act as mediator between God and the created things; firstly to create all things and, thereafter, to be the communication between God and the created things. (RH, 100-101)
The Son is not part of this universe.
If the Son created all things (the universe), then He is not part of this universe.
Furthermore, Arius and the Arians claimed time and again that the Son was begotten “before times and before aeons” (RH, 7). In other words, the Son was begotten before time even existed. If we argue that time began when the universe was brought into being, the Son originates from that which exists beyond the time, space, and matter of this universe; He comes from the unfathomable infinity beyond this finite universe.
The Son is our God.
For example, “Ulfilas, bishop of the Goths,” described the Son as:
“Our Lord and God, artificer (craftsman)
and maker of the whole creation,
who has nobody like him” (RH, 105).
They described the Son as “our God” because:
Firstly, the Son created us: “The Father is the origin of everything made, but the Son brings everything into actual existence” (RH, 103).
Secondly, God is invisible, meaning that created beings cannot experience God directly. Only His Son is able to experience God directly. Our experience of God is limited to His Son.
Thirdly, in all things, the Logos is the intermediary and mediator between God and creation. Whatever we receive from God, we receive through the Son of God. He has all authority in heaven and on earth. And whatever worship we give to God, we give to Him through His Son.
These concepts create an infinite distinction between the Son and the created things. It causes a hierarchy in which the Son is above all other beings. In practice, He is the God for all other beings. For us, He is God. He is our God, just like the Father is His God (e.g., Rev 1:6; 3:2, 12).
The term ‘creature’ refers to any being whose existence was caused by another.
For us, today, when we speak about Jesus Christ, there is a clear distinction between “created” and “begotten,” but at the beginning of the fourth century, Christians used these terms as synonyms:
(1) In the time of Origen, in the third century, “nobody distinguished ‘having come into existence’ from ‘begotten’” (RH, 63).
(2) “Christians had long been accustomed to interpret the figure of Wisdom in the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament as a reference to the preexistent Christ” (RH, 20; cf. RH 8) and Proverbs 8 describes His generation with phrases such as “established” and “brought forth” (Prov 8:22, 23, 25).
(3) “In the middle of the third century Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria; produced in a treatise an account of the Son as created” (RH, 872). This was the bishop in the same city in which Arius lived, and Arius was born (c. 256) while Dionysius still was writing.
(4) The following is an example of how the ‘Arians’ used these words as synonyms:
“He [the Father of Christ] created and begot, made and founded the Only-begotten God.” (RH, 105; cf. RH, 6, 8, 30, 90).
The point is that we must interpret Arius’ words using the meanings that words then had; not against the meanings that words have today. As discussed, both Origen and Arius used the word ‘creature’ for any being whose existence was caused by another. In this meaning of the term, the Son is also a creature because He was begotten by God.
The Nicene Creed describes the Son as “begotten not made.” Since the term “created” traditionally included the concept of “begotten,” that distinction between “begotten” and “made,” which the modern ear is quite used to, was a new development.
This is one example of a general principle: In the conventional account of the Arian Controversy, Arius’ theology was a break from the orthodoxy. In reality, it was the other way around: The Arians were the traditionalists and conservatives and Nicene theology was an innovation. For example:
Rowan Williams refers to “the radical words of Nicaea” (RW, 236) (referring particularly to the word homoousios) as “conceptual innovation” (RW, 234-5).
Hanson described homoousios as one of the “new terms borrowed from the pagan philosophy” (RH, 846).
Hanson concludes: “There is no doubt … that the pro-Nicene theologians throughout the controversy were engaged in a process of developing doctrine and consequently introducing what must be called a change in doctrine” (RH, 872). “The Arians failed just because they were so inflexible, too conservative, not ready enough to look at new ideas” (RH, 873).
So, why does everybody seem to believe that Arius described the Son as a created being?
Arius’ enemies distorted his words.
By claiming that He taught the Son is an ordinary created being, his enemies distorted his words:
Arius clearly taught that no other creature is comparable to the Son. For example, Arius wrote:
“He is only-begotten God and he is different from any others” (RH, 14).
But Athanasius and Alexander, the bitter theological enemies of the Arians, distorted what the Arians said. Alexander, for example, would write that, for the Arians:
- “the Son is a creature” and “He is one of the products” (RH, 16).
- “When he came into existence, he was then such as is every man: because they say that God made everything out of non-existence” (RH, 17).
- “We are able to become the sons of God as he is.” (RH, 17 – Alexander).
And Athanasius would describe the Arians as teaching: “He is properly of those who come into existence and are created” (RH, 14).
Since Alexander attempted to present the Arian’s Son as an ordinary created being, he attempted to reduce the impact of Arius’ statement that the Son created all things and interpreted Arius as saying:
“He was made for our sake, in order that God should create us through him as through an instrument” (RH, 16 – Alexander).
This distortion was known in Arius’ day. For example, in a letter, Eusebius of Caesarea took Alexander “to task for unjustly accusing Arius and his friends of teaching that ‘the Son has come into existence from non-existence like one of the mass‘, whereas what they had actually said was that the Son was “a perfect creature, but not as one of the creatures” (RH, 56-57).
Athanasius acted maliciously.
This section shows scholarly Trinitarians confirm that Athanasius was malicious in claiming that the Arians taught that the Son is an ordinary created being. On pages 104-105, Rowan Williams discusses Athanasius’ quotes of Arius’ works and shows how Athanasius distorts Arius’ words. He concludes:
“The Son is repeatedly assimilated to the level of other creatures, and the phrases ‘like us’ and ‘like all others‘ recur.” In contrast, Arius wrote: “The Son was a ‘perfect creature, yet not as one among the creatures, a begotten being, yet not as one among things begotten.” (RW, 104)
Williams interpreted this as that Athanasius applied “unscrupulous tactics in polemic and struggle” (RW, 239). Hanson agrees and wrote:
“Athanasius, a fierce opponent of Arius … certainly would not have stopped short of misrepresenting what he said” (RH, 10)
“Athanasius … may be suspected of pressing the words maliciously rather further than Arius intended” (RH, 15).
“He (Arius) did not teach (as his opponents maliciously alleged) that the Son was no greater than the locust or caterpillar” (RH, 20).
Trinitarian Christianity continued to misrepresent the Arians.
Unfortunately, however, after Emperor Athanasius made the Trinitarian version of Christianity the only official of the Roman Empire, and brutally eliminated the other and previously dominating versions of Christianity, Trinitarian Christianity accepted Athanasius’ message as truth. The “conventional account of the Controversy … stems originally from the version given of it by the victorious party.” (RPC Hanson) But that conventional account “is now recognized by a large number of scholars to be a complete travesty.”