Lewis Ayres, Nicaea and its Legacy

This is my summary of the book, Nicaea and its Legacy, An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology, 2004, by Lewis Ayres. He is a Catholic theologian and Professor of Catholic and Historical Theology at Durham University in the United Kingdom. This book was recommended to me by the theology faculty of my local university as a highly regarded treatment of the fourth-century Arian Controversy.

Based on ancient documents that have become more accessible, scholarship since about 1960 has painted that Controversy in a very different light. It is therefore important that this book is relatively recent and incorporates such new research. It is also important that Ayres is a Catholic and Trinitarian. As such, his views should be acceptable to a wider audience.

As far as possible, I summarize the book by selecting quotes. This article is a work in progress.

The headings I provide really are categories. So, in theory, if a reader searches for a specific category, all the quotes relating to that subject would be available.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Points of Departure

      • Introduction: Where To Begin? 1Where should we begin the discussion of the Arian Controversy?
      • 1.1 From Arius to Nicaea 2Did Arius cause the Controversy?
      • 1.2 Origen 3Was Arius’ ‘heresy’ based on Origen so that Origen was the real cause of the Controversy?
      • 1.3 Theology and the Reading of Scripture 4Did the church fathers disagree because they were unable to read the Scriptures correctly?

Chapter 2: Theological Trajectories in the early fourth century; Part 1 5Four different views of the Son of God

      • 2.1 Two Trends 6Basically, there were only two views; those who said that the Son is the same as the Father and those who said He is different.
      • 2.2 Alexander, Athanasius, and Friends 7The Nicene Creed reflects their view.
      • 2.3 The Eusebians 8Arius was part of this group, named after Eusebius of Caesarea and Eusebius of Nicodemia.

Chapter 3: Theological Trajectories in the Early Fourth Century: Part II

      • 3.1 Marcellus 9This is the third view. Marcellus was a Sabellian but had a significant influence at the council of Nicaea.
      • 3.2 Western (Latin) Theologists 10The Council of Nicaea was basically an Eastern affair and they held the three views above. What did the Latin theologians believe at the time?
      • 3.3 Incarnation and Soteriology at AD 300 11In the four views, how was the Son incarnated? Did He have a human soul?
      • 3.4 Heresy and Orthodoxy in the early fourth century 12Which of the four views was ‘orthodox’ at the time?

Chapter 4: Confusion and Controversy: AD 325–340

      • 4.1 The Nicene Creed as a Standard of Faith 13Was the Nicene Creed regarded as a binding and universal formula of the Christian faith?
      • 4.2 The Course of the Council 14Who had the upper hand, and why?
      • 4.3 Ousia and Hypostasis in the Creed of Nicaea 15Does Homoousios mean that Father and Son are one single Being?
      • 4.4 Was there a ‘Nicene’ theology in 325? 16Pro-Nicene theology was developed in the decades after Nicaea.
      • 4.5 AD 325–342: Towards the Creation of ‘Arianism’ 17After Nicaea, the so-called Arians were restored to their positions, and the people who dominated at Nicaea were removed.

Chapter 5: The Creation of ‘Arianism’: AD 340–350

      • 5.1 The Creation of ‘Arianism’ 18To defend himself against accusations of violence and to retain his authority as bishop, Athanasius created ‘Arianism’.
      • 5.2 The Orations Against the Arians 19For Athanasius, the Son is part of the Person of the Father. In other words, the Son does not have His own distinct existence.
      • 5.3 The ‘Dedication’ Council of Antioch – AD 341 20The view 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 Nicaea
      • 5.4 The Council of Serdica – AD 343 21Two emperors at war on theology
      • 5.5 Confusion and Rapprochement: AD 344–350 22Not much happened during the remainder of the decade. The Long-Lined Creed was one attempt at reconciliation.

Chapter 6: Shaping the Alternatives: AD 350–360

      • 6.1 Constantius and the Rise of the Homoians 23After Constantius became emperor of the entire Roman Empire, he pushed for a unified religious policy throughout his domains.
      • 6.2 Athanasius and the Defence of Homoousios 24Athanasius first began to defend Nicaea in the 360s. He did that as part of his polemical strategy. He interpreted the ousia-terms non-materially.
      • 6.3 Aetius and Eunomius 25While Homoians refused to talk about God’s substance, Heterousians such as Aetius and Eunomius emphasized the differences between the ousia of Father and Son.
      • 6.4 The Rise and Fall of the ‘Homoiousians’ 26They emphasize the ineffable depth of the Father’s self-gift in generating the Son. Substance language is necessary to reflect the closeness of the Father and Son.



Arian Controversy Overview: The fourth-century controversy “produced … the most important creed in the history of Christianity.” (LA, 1)

Fragmentary Documentary Evidence: “The fundamental problem in understanding … these controversies … (is that) the documentary evidence from this period is … fragmentary.” (LA, 2)

Read Scripture Differently: “Fourth-century theologians read Scripture differently from modern theologians.” They regarded certain Old Testament texts as “fundamental points of reference and departure for discussing the divine being.” Sometimes they seem “to rip terms or verses out of context.” (LA, 4)

No Arianism: A further challenge is that the surviving documents are often not reliable because theologians used labels to “tar enemies with the name of a figure already in disrepute:” (LA, 2)

The most famous label was “Arian.” The anti-Nicenes were divided into various groups with very different views but pro-Nicene writers such as Athanasius labeled them all as ‘Arians’, implying that they were a coherent group. However, “it is virtually impossible to identify a school of thought dependent on Arius’ specific theology. ”Furthermore, it is “certainly impossible to show that even a bare majority of Arians had any extensive knowledge of Arius’ writing.” (LA, 2)

Arius was not a particularly significant writer. For example, the so-called ‘Arians’ never quote him. “Arius was part of a wider theological trajectory; many of his ideas were opposed by others in this trajectory: he neither originated the trajectory nor uniquely exemplified it.” (LA, 2) (For a further discussion, see – Athanasius invented Arianism.)

“Scholars continue to talk as if there were a clear continuity among non-Nicene theologians by deploying such labels as Arians, semi-Arians, and neo-Arians. Such presentations are misleading.” (LA, 13)

Recent Scholarship: 

“Recent scholarship” has moved “beyond ancient heresiological categories.” (LA, 1)

“A vast amount of scholarship over the past thirty years has offered revisionist accounts of themes and figures from the fourth century” (LA, 2). In other words, that recent research has put that Controversy in a new light. This book summarizes this new perspective and offers “a narrative of … thought between approximately AD 300 and 383.” (LA, 2)

“Recent writers on the fourth century have tried to narrate the period with greater sensitivity to the continuities and divisions that these labels seek to hide.” (LA, 3)

Core Issue: In the traditional account of the ‘Arian’ Controversy, the core issue was “whether or not Christ was divine.” (LA, 3) In reality, the controversies focused “on debates about the generation of the Word or Son from the Father.” (LA, 3) “The controversies originally focused on the nature and consequences of the Word’s generation.” In other words, what does it mean that the Son was begotten from the Father? (LA, 3, 13) For example:

      • Did the Son emerge as a being “distinct” from the Father? (LA, 3)
      • Is He a created being?
      • “Or is this distinction analogous to that of a person who speaks his or her word (the word being here only a dependent and temporary product of the speaker)?” (LA, 3)
      • Is “the Word as an intermediary being, able to communicate something of the divine character because of an inherent mutability that makes communication possible?” (LA, 3)

Core Issue: / God: The core issue was also not “whether to place the Son on either side of a clear God/creation boundary.” The ancients did not have such a clear boundary. “Many fourth-century theologians (including some who were in no way anti-Nicene) made distinctions between being ‘God’ and being ‘true God’ that belie any simple account of the controversy in these terms.” (LA, 4) They described the Son as “God” and the Father as “true God’.” Therefore, both were on the “God” side of the boundary but were not seen as equal.

Core Issue: / Pro-Nicene: / God: It was the “late fourth-century theologians” who, by removing the distinction between ‘true God’ and ‘God’, and by admitting “no degrees” created “a clear distinction between God and creation.” (LA, 4)

Core Issue: / Share the Father’s Being: The core issue was also not whether the Son shared the Father’s being. “Many participants supposedly on different sides … (insisted) that one must speak of the Son’s incomprehensible generation from the Father as a sharing of the Father’s very being.” (LA, 4-5) “For some the position entailed recognizing the coeternity of the Son, for many it did not.” (LA, 5)

Authors: “Richard Hanson’s The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God (1988) and Manlio Simonetti’s La Crisi Ariana nel IV secolo (1975) remain essential points of reference.” (LA, 12)

This book is “not intended to replace the standard large surveys by Richard Hanson (The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God (1988)) and Manlio Simonetti (La Crisi Ariana nel IV secolo (1975)).” This book is based on those surveys and “in some measure advances on their texts.” (LA, 5)

Pro-Nicene: Ayres says, “The conflict that resulted eventually led to the emergence of a series of what I will term pro-Nicene theologies interpreting the Council of Nicaea in ways that provided a persuasive solution to the conflicts of the century.” (RH, 12)

‘Pro-Nicene’ refers to “those theologies, appearing from the 360s to the 380s … of how the Nicene creed should be understood. … All of these theologies build closely on and adapt themes found earlier in the century, but none is identical with any original ‘Nicene’ theology apparent in the 320s or 330s.” (LA, 6) In other words, ‘Pro-Nicene’, namely, what we today understand as Nicene theology, did not exist when the Nicene Creed was formulated in AD 325.

The century must be understood as “one of evolution in doctrine.”  (LA, 13)

East/West: “The East/West or Greek/Latin division which is often used as a primary dividing marker between varieties of fourth- and fifth-century Trinitarian theology is of far less significance than is usually thought.” (LA, 6)

Recent Trinitarian Theology: Ayres suggests “that recent Trinitarian theology has engaged the legacy of Nicaea at a fairly shallow level, frequently relying on assumptions about Nicene theology that are historically indefensible.” (LA, 1) He says that “pro-Nicene theologies” “challenge modern Trinitarian theologians to rethink some of their most cherished assumptions.” (LA, 2)

Chapter 16 discusses how “modern theological cultures have failed to” “sustain the theological practices” that shaped “pro-Nicene theology.” (LA, 6) “Modern Trinitarianism … has barely engaged with it (pro-Nicene theology) at all.” (LA, 7)

Chapter 1: Points of Departure

Homoousios Unimportant: In the “centuries-old account of the Council of Nicaea: … The whole power of the mysterious dogma is at once established by the one word homoousios … with one pronouncement the Church identified a term (homoousios) that secured its … beliefs against heresy.” But “such older accounts are deeply mistaken.” (LA, 11)

Introduction: Where To Begin? 

Recent Scholarship: / No Arianism: “The four decades since 1960 have produced much revisionary scholarship on the Trinitarian and Christological disputes of the fourth century. It is now commonplace that these disputes cannot simply be understood as … the Church’s struggle against a heretic and his followers grounded in a clear Nicene doctrine established in the controversy’s earliest stages. Rather, this controversy is a complex affair in which tensions between pre-existing theological traditions intensified as a result of dispute over Arius, and over events following the Council of Nicaea.” (LA, 11-12)

In the older account, “a clear Nicene doctrine (was) established in the controversy’s earliest stages.” Now we know that the ‘orthodoxy’ as we know it today did not exist at the beginning but was worked out through that struggle. (LA, 11-12) “The century is understood as one of evolution in doctrine.” (LA, 13)

Sides: Ayres says that his “account pays particular attention to the difficulties of identifying discrete parties and positions during the course of the controversy.” (LA, 13)

Travesty: The “traditional account,” presents “the Arian controversy as

      • A dispute over whether or not Christ was divine,
      • Initially provoked by a priest called Arius …
      • Eventually … the controversy extended throughout the century … because (of) a conspiracy of Arians
      • Against the Nicene tradition
      • Represented particularly by Athanasius perpetuated Arius’ views.” (LA, 13)

In this book, Ayres shows that every one of these assertions is either wrong or requires qualification.

No Arianism: / Arius Who: “This controversy is mistakenly called Arian. No clear party sought to preserve Arius’ theology.” “Even those who initially supported Arius in his struggle with Alexander” cannot be called ‘Arians’ because they did not follow Arius. Arius was not “their teacher or main inspiration.” (LA, 13) “Many of Arius’ earliest supporters appear to have rallied to him because they, like him, opposed Alexander’s theology.” (LA, 14) “For these reasons some scholars now simply refrain from using the term Arian.” (LA, 14)

Core Issue: / Created Being: / God: “It is misleading to assume that these controversies were about ‘the divinity of Christ’” (LA, 14) “Suggestions that the issue was one of placing Christ (and eventually the Spirit) on either side of a well-established dividing line between created and uncreated are particularly unhelpful.” “Until the last decades of the controversy” “the term ‘God’ could be deployed” “very flexibility.” “Many fourth-century theologians easily distinguished between ‘God’ and ‘true God’.” That implies “degrees of deity” (LA, 14)

No Arianism: Ayres’ book highlights “the variety of theological trajectories existing in tension at the beginning of the fourth century” and says that “the controversy surrounding Arius was an epiphenomenon of widespread existing tensions.” (LA, 15) (Arius had put his head in a beehive.)

1.1 From Arius to Nicaea

This section discusses the view that Arius caused the Controversy.

Alexander’s Theology: / Objections: “Alexander taught that God was always Father and that the Son was always Son, thus implying the eternal generation of the Son; as the Father’s Word and Wisdom the Son must always have been with the Father. At the same time, he taught that the Son is the exact image of the Father.” (The Father’s only Word and Wisdom?)

“Arius saw his bishop’s theology as implying two ultimate principles in the universe, and he thought that Alexander compromised the biblical insistence on the Father’s being alone God and alone immortal (1 Tim. 6:16). For Arius, any talk about Father and Son as coeternal ignored the hierarchy involved in the very language of Father and Son.” (LA, 16)

Arius Theology: “Arius saw the Son as a being distinct from and inferior to the Father.” The Son was “created as a derivative copy of some of the Father’s attributes.” (LA, 16)

Arius Who: “It is not likely, as was once argued, that Arius himself had an association with Melitius.” (LA, 17)

“Alexander and the Alexandrian clergy condemned Arius after he refused to sign a confession of faith presented by Alexander.” (LA, 17)

“Over the next few years Arius gained support from some bishops in Palestine, Syria, and North Africa, especially Eusebius of Caesarea in Palestine and Eusebius of Nicomedia, near Constantinople. … Although these supporters may have been wary of some aspects of Arius’ theology … they joined in opposition to Alexander. For all of them Alexander’s theology seemed to compromise the unity of God and the unique status of the Father.” (LA, 17)

Emperor’s Role: “In 324 the Emperor Constantine … (who) assumed control of the whole empire, took an interest in the dispute. Constantine wrote to Alexander and Arius telling them to stop quarrelling about what seemed to him to be such a small matter. Soon, however, Constantine began to see their dispute as more serious.” (LA, 17-18)

“Ossius the bishop of Cordoba in Spain … apparently acted in some sort of advisory capacity to Constantine, and perhaps also served as his representative in these events.” (LA, 18)

“Constantine himself summoned the bishops.” (LA, 18)

Premeeting: “Probably early in 325, a council took place in Antioch, possibly under the presidency of Ossius. … The meeting produced a statement of belief asserting that the Son is generated from the Father himself in an ineffable manner and that the transcendence and ineffability of this generation forbid us from speaking of the Son as in any way like the creation. … This council also temporarily excommunicated one of Arius’ senior supporters, Eusebius of Caesarea.” (LA, 18)

One Reality: “Originally Constantine seems to have summoned the council to Ancyra … (where) he would have had the support of Marcellus, bishop of Ancyra, who was either already known to Constantine, or had at least now been indicated as a strong opponent of the views held by Arius.” (LA, 18-19)

Eastern: / Emperor’s Role: “Around 250–300 attended, drawn almost entirely from the eastern half of the empire: Ossius probably presided.” (LA, 19)


“The decision of the council against Arius found expression in a short statement of faith, the creed of Nicaea:

We believe in one God, Father Almighty Maker of all things, seen and unseen;

and in one Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God, begotten as only begotten of the Father, that is of the being of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father, through whom all things came into existence, both things in heaven and things on earth; who for us men and for our salvation came down and was incarnate and became man, suffered and rose again the third day, ascended into the heavens, and is coming to judge the living and the dead.

And in the Holy Spirit.

But those who say
– ‘there was a time when he did not exist’,
– and ‘before being begotten he did not exist’,
– and that he came into being from non-existence,
– or who allege that the Son of God is from another hypostasis or ousia,
– or is alterable or changeable,
these the Catholic and Apostolic Church condemns.” (LA, 19)

Emperor’s Role: / Post-Nicaea correction: “Constantine exiled Arius along with two Libyan bishops … The Emperor also exiled Eusebius of Nicomedia. … Within two or three years, however, Arius and the others exiled by Constantine were recalled, it seems at the behest of the Emperor.” (LA, 19)

Arian conspiracy: “Those who assume that … Arius and his conflict with Alexander is the most important point of departure for the fourth-century controversies interpret the events after Nicaea by narrating the emergence of an Arian conspiracy to keep alive his theology, to oppose Athanasius, and to contend against Nicaea and its theology. In fact, little evidence for any Arian conspiracy can be found.” (LA, 19-20)

No Arianism: / Arius Who: “Through exploring this context (within which those claims were made) we will find pre-existing deep theological tensions at the beginning of the fourth century. Controversy over Arius was the spark that ignited a fire waiting to happen, and the origins of the dispute do not lie simply in the beliefs of one thinker, but in existing tensions that formed his background.” (LA, 20)

1.2 Origen


“The theology of Origen of Alexandria (c.185–c.251) lies beneath the surface of many early fourth-century theologies. … For some over the last century Arius’ own theology is a direct result of Origen’s ‘subordinationism’.” (LA, 20)

Ayres gives three reasons why “such a view is implausible:”

      1. “Origen exercised influence on all sides in Alexandria.” (LA, 21)
      2. No theologian adopted Origen’s system ” (LA, 21) “Even those partial to his work came to it with ideas from other writers.” (LA, 29)
      3. “Origen’s account of the Son as in some ways subordinate to the Father is in part simply that of his contemporaries.” (LA, 21)

“Origen was not the direct source of Arius, or even of Arius and his opponents. Origen’s influence was piecemeal.” (LA, 28)

Origen: / Subordinate

“Origen’s account of the Son as in some ways subordinate to the Father is in part simply that of his contemporaries.” (LA, 21)

Ayres distinguishes between “subordinationism” and saying that the Son is “inferior to the Father.” He says that “many pre-Nicene and early fourth-century theologies,” who said that the Son can “possess some of the Father’s attributes,” described the Son as subordinate but not inferior to the Father. In his book, Ayres “tried to reserve the term (subordinationism) … for theologians whose clear intent is to subordinate the Son to the Father in opposition to the gradual emergence of Nicene and pro-Nicene theologies.” (LA, 21) In other words, Ayres is saying that Alexander, and people with similar views, did not teach subordination.


“Origen … helped to shape the character of theology and exegesis in the fourth century.” (LA, 21) The following are some of Origen’s main teachings relevant to the status of the Son:

One Reality: “Father and Son are distinct beings.” (LA, 22) “Origen does consider the Son to be a distinct being dependent on the Father for his existence.” (LA, 23) “The Son is not the one power of God, but another distinct power dependent on God’s power for its existence.” (LA, 24) (One Reality:)

Eternal: “The Son is eternally generated from the Father. … He who is God’s Wisdom and Power must have always been with the Father.” (LA, 22)

One Reality: “While the Father is superior to the Son, Origen works to make the Son intrinsic to the being of God.” (LA, 23) (Note the phrase “works to make.” It means that Origen did not literally say this. That is how Ayres reads Origen.)

Ousia Language: “Origen is constantly concerned to describe the relationship of Father and Son without falling into the (for him) material-sounding language of a shared essence or nature.” “Origen directly denies that the Son can come from the Father’s ousia, as this would imply a material conception of the divine generation.” “Ousia language in most forms seemed to Origen unsuitable for application to the divine existence.” (LA, 24) (Substance:)

“One famous passage in which he seems to use the term homoousios (‘sharing the same being’) of the Father and Son may have been adulterated by later writers.” (LA, 24) (Substance:)

Hypostasis: /One Reality: Origen uses “the term hypostasis … to indicate ‘real existence’—as opposed to existence only in thought—but also as ‘individual, circumscribed existence’.” For instance:

“He argues against those who distinguish Father and Son only in thought (epinoia), not in hypostasis.” (against Sabellians?)

He “speaks of Father and Son as two ‘things (πργματα) in hypostasis, but one in like-mindedness, harmony, and identity of will’.” (LA, 25) (Are One)

“Here ‘in hypostasis’ seems to mean ‘in actual existence’. Origen is searching for a way to argue that Father and Son and Spirit each have a distinct existence.” (LA, 25)

One Reality: “Elsewhere … Origen writes that ‘we are persuaded that there are three hypostases, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit’. Here hypostasis indicates ‘individual circumscribed existence’.” (LA, 25)

The language of three hypostases evolves as part of a continuing attempt to describe the participation and hierarchy existing among the three that are most definitely three.” (LA, 25)

Father Transends: “In a number of places Origen emphasizes the transcendence of the Father over all things, including Son and Spirit.” For example, “He argues … that the Father transcends the Son and Spirit more than they transcend the created world.” (LA, 25-26)

Knowledge: “Origen presents the Son as contemplating the Father uninterruptedly and unmediatedly … And yet, Origen seems also to regard the Father as containing in his own depth, in his true simplicity (which the Son does not share) a mode of contemplation (θεωρία) which is reflected by the Son but not simply shared.” “The Son … knows the Father ‘as an infinite depth never fully to be sounded’.” (LA, 26)

One Reality: “Origen’s presentation of the relationship between Father and Son … (is a) shared but graded divine existence.” (LA, 26)

Will: Origen said that the Son is generated “as will proceeding from mind.” (LA, 24, 27) “This language serves not only to present the generation as non-material, but also to emphasize” that “the Son has no origin except the Father.” (LA, 27) “In Origen’s insistence that the Son is a product of the Father’s will, not his essence, we might seem to see … a key anti-Nicene argument in the fourth century: if the Son is from the will then he is not from the Father’s essence.” (LA, 27)

Created Being: “Origen seems to have spoken of the Son as created.” (LA, 27)

Image: “Origen distinguishes the three hypostases by attributing to them specific roles or activities in the world. … Origen’s concern is to distinguish Father, Son, and Spirit while maintaining the idea that the latter two reveal and bring to completion the one divine will and action.” (LA, 27-28)

“Origen writes: As regards the power of his works, then, the Son is in no way whatever separate or different from the Father, nor is his work anything other than the Father’s work, but there is one and the same movement, so to speak, in all they do.” (LA, 28)

“On the one hand, the Son’s will is so like the Father’s that they can be said to be one; on the other, the Son is generated like the will from the mind.” (LA, 28)

“Origen describes the Son as the image of the Father because his will directly mirrors the Father’s (mind?).” (LA, 28) Ayres is not clear here what aspect of the Father the Son mirrors.

Eternal: Ayres briefly mentions some criticism Origen received in the third century:

“Particularly important was the suspicion that Origen’s theology implied the eternal existence of the creation.” (LA, 29) (I have never studied Origen myself but it is for me obvious that creation always existed because God always existed and He is always a Creator. Never mind that we cannot understand that. We are surrounded by an infinity that we will never phantom.

“Under attack is Origen’s attempt to say both that all the first created spiritual things exist eternally in the Logos and that God is the beginning or arche of all things.” (LA, 29)

1.3 Theology and the Reading of Scripture

I did not summarize this section because, as a Protestant, I fundamentally disagree with it. It begins by referring to the comment by Richard Hanson “that ‘the expounders of the text of the Bible [in the fourth century] are incompetent and ill-prepared to expound it’.” (LA, 32) As I read it, this section basically says that the Bible cannot be trusted as a basis for theology because it can be read in different ways. For example:

“Patristic exegesis takes as its point of departure the ‘plain’ sense of the text of Scripture.” That is “the sense that a text had for a Christian of the period versed in ancient literary critical skills.” (LA, 32)

“The plain sense is pluralistic in a number of ways.” (LA, 32)

“A number of fourth- and fifth-century authors assume that one might understand ‘the way the words run’ in different ways” because the text speaks “about realities that are beyond comprehension.” (LA, 32, 33)

“For virtually all the flexibility of the plain sense results from its speaking about realities that are beyond comprehension.” (LA, 32)

Please forgive me if I am wrong but, in my view, Ayres, as a good Catholic, tries to justify the view that the church decrees take precedence over the Bible. For a Protestant, on the other hand, the study of the relation between God and His unique Son should start with an in-depth analysis of the Bible.

Chapter 2: Theological Trajectories in the early fourth century; Part 1

One Reality: Ayres outlines four “trajectories” in the early fourth century; when the Arian Controversy began:

      • Alexander, Athanasius, and friends (chapter 2.2)
      • The ‘Eusebians’, of which Arius was one (chapter 2.3)
      • Marcellus (chapter 3.1), namely, of a Sabellian type, and
      • Western theology (chapter 3.2).

The theologians of different streams often say very similar things. To obtain clarity, we have to identify the key issues. Ayres says that the fundamental starting point is that the Son is begotten; “the generation of the Word” (LA, 3, 13). The question is what that means.

One option is to understand that as saying that only the Father is “Unbegotten,” meaning, to exist without cause, and that the Son is subordinate to the Father. That would also mean that the Son is distinct from the Father. 

An alternative is to say that He is equal to the Father. In that case, we have two options:

      • Either two exist who are Unbegotten (two Gods) or
      • The Son is literally part of or one with the One unbegotten.

So, as we study the four trends, we will specifically search for indications of whether:

      • The Son “subordinate”
      • Or, whether two Gods exist,
      • Or, is the Son literally one with the one God?

The question is who the Word eternally is. Theories of incarnation will not be relevant to this question.

Theologians like to hide behind vague expressions. For example:

The word “nature” is a nice vague term to use in this context. To say that the Son’s nature is the same as the Father’s could refer to His character or to His ousia (substance).

To say that the Son is “in the bosom of the Father” (LA, 45) may be understood in a literal/material way or figuratively.

If two things are “identical” it may mean that they are one and the same thing or two things that are the same in all respects.

2.1 Two Trends

No Arianism: “To understand how the story of Arius and Alexander quickly spread beyond Alexandria we need to get some sense of the existing theological trajectories and tensions present in the early years of the fourth century.” (LA, 41)

“By way of introduction we can identify two distinct trends. … In talking about the status of the Son (the Spirit is, at least initially, much less a focus of attention),

      • some prefer language that emphasizes the sameness of Father and Son,
      • while others emphasize diversity between the two.” (LA, 41)

“Those who emphasize sameness frequently” say that the Son:

      • Has the same qualities as the Father (LA, 41)
      • Share “in almost all the Father’s characteristics … not just a ‘mirroring’,” (LA, 41) “but a real sharing of nature and qualities.” (LA, 42)
      • Is “one aspect or feature of the Father’s existence; for example, the Son may be conceived as the Father’s Wisdom” (LA, 42); The Logos is the (only) “rational capacity” of the Father. (LA, 42)

“Those who emphasize difference between Father and Son” say

      • The Son is an image of the Father (LA, 42)
      • “Father and Son language … implies) a relationship of clear hierarchy” (LA, 42)
      • The Logos is “a subordinate and independent (distinct) being.” (LA, 42)

Objections“When those who emphasize difference between Father and Son attack those who emphasize sameness, they argue that the latter group speaks materially of God, implying a division of God’s being in the Son’s generation. They also criticize what seems to be an envisaging of two eternal principles.” (LA, 42)

2.2: Alexander, Athanasius, and Friends

“The first trajectory is found in Alexander of Alexandria and in the early Athanasius.” (LA, 43) “Alexander’s theology found its most famous advocate in his successor Athanasius.” (LA, 45)

One Reality: “This trajectory emphasizes the eternally correlative status of Father and Son in ways close to Origen’s understanding of eternal generation, but is also resistant to speaking of three hypostases.” (LA, 43)

Alexander clearly distinguishes Father and Son, but his terminology for doing so is not precise. … We never find him using hypostasis as a technical term for the individual existence of one of the divine persons, and he never speaks of there being two or three hypostases.” (LA, 45)

“It should also be clear from the foregoing examples that Athanasius‘ most basic language and analogies for describing the relationship between Father and Son primarily present the two as intrinsic aspects of one reality or person.” (LA, 46) The “clear inference from his (Athanasius’) usage” is that “there is only one hypostasis in God.” (LA, 48)

Two Wisdoms: /One Reality: “Alexander argues that as Word or Wisdom the Son must be eternal or the Father would, nonsensically, have been at one time bereft of both.” (LA, 44) In other words, in his view, the Son is God’s only Word or Wisdom.

Athanasius argued similarly that the Son is “present with Him (the Father) as his Wisdom and his Word.” (LA, 46) The Son is “himself the Father’s own power.” (LA, 47)

These are further evidence that Alexander and Athanasius recognized only one hypostasis in God.

Immutable: “Alexander insists … on the immutability of the Logos against Arius’ claim that the Logos was not by nature immune from error or sin.” (LA, 44)

Soteriology: Alexander distinguishes between “the eternal Word” and “the incarnate Word.” The Arians regarded them to be one and the same. Therefore:

“Alexander argues that Arius and his associates use scriptural texts that refer to the mutability of the incarnate Word to describe the eternal Word as such.” (LA, 44)

Furthermore, since they regarded the Son also as “God,” but subordinate to the one true God, they could say that God suffered and died.

Subordinate: / Mediator: To some extent, Alexander did regard the Son as subordinate to the Father because “he argues for a ‘great distance’ between the unbegotten Father and the created order, and then describes the nature (φσις) of the only-begotten Word as mediating between these two, ‘holding the middle place’ (μεσιτεουσα).” He did not regard the Son as “unbegotten” (selfexistant). (LA, 44)

“Athanasius played down Alexander’s conception of the Word’s mediating status, and avoided statements that implied an intermediate ontological status.” (LA, 46)

Eternal: /Subordinate: “Alexander writes, Therefore the characteristic high status must be preserved for the unbegotten Father by saying that no one is the cause of his being. But the befitting honor must be assigned to the Son by ascribing to him generation without beginning from the Father.” (LA, 45) Does this describe the Son as equal to the Father?

Simple: Like God, “His Word also has true existence and is not composite.” (LA, 46)

Origen: /Eternal: “Alexander and Athanasius” took up “Origen’s attempt to present the Son as intrinsic to the life of God” “without his worries about the use of ousia language.” However, they rejected Origen’s linking of “the eternal generation of the Son and the eternal generation of the initial creation.” (LA, 47) (Origen regarded both the Son and the “initial creation” as eternal, which is logical; If the Son is eternally generated and the One through whom God made all things, there never was a beginning to God’s creation.)

Others in this Trajectory

“Athanasius will point to the theology of Dionysius of Alexandria as a precedent for his own.” (LA, 48) (If we read Hanson, we will see that the Arians also claimed this Dionysius as an antecedent, and were justified in doing so.)

“Athanasius also claims Theognostus, who taught in Alexandria in the latter half of the third century, as a predecessor.” (LA, 48) “It is a fascinating question whether Athanasius can fairly make a claim on Theognostus. Theognostus is criticized by other fourthcentury writers (most notably Gregory of Nyssa) for teaching that the Son was created.” (LA, 49)

Created Being: “Both Dionysius of Alexandria and Theognostus use a terminology of ‘creating’ as one among a range of terms, and we simply cannot be certain how this was heard in third-century Alexandria.” (LA, 49)

Like all of us sometimes, Ayres is biased here. As we have seen above, Alexander and Athanasius were Sabellians at heart. Therefore, people such as Sabellius himself and Dionysius of Rome were their predecessors. This is discussed in Hanson and Williams.

Hebrews 1:3: / Premeeting: The meeting held in Antioch a few months before the Nicene Council formulated a draft creed that said:

“He is the image, not of the will or of anything else, but of his Father’s very qnômâ (hypostasis).” (LA, 50-51) “If we are right to read hypostasis in the text here it probably alludes to Heb. 1:3 and indicates the Father’s nature” (LA, 51)

“This text makes no use of the ousia language that we see in Nicaea’s creed.” (LA, 51)

Theodosius: “Emperor Theodosius was himself baptized by Acholius, bishop of Thessalonica, and from there issued his famous edict defining Christian orthodoxy.” (LA, 51)

East/West: “Some writers still persist in assuming that theologies in the early fourth century can be divided between east and west, the westerners resolutely ‘beginning’ from the unity of God, easterners somehow naturally prone to a more diverse account of Father, Son, and Spirit.” Ayres describes this as “nonsensical.” (LA, 52) Alexander and Athanasius were Eastern or Greek theologians.


Although Trinitarians are slow to recognize this point, the above makes it fairly clear that Alexander and Athanasius were ‘One Reality’ theologians. They believed:

      • In only one hypostasis in God
      • That the Son is God’s only Wisdom or Word

2.3: The Eusebians

No Arianism:

“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)

This was a recognized grouping during the early fourth century and was called “those around Eusebius.” (LA, 52) Arius did not begin a new movement; he was part of an existing ‘trajectory’.

The opponents of Nicaea are traditionally called ‘Arians’ only because Athanasius invented the term ‘Arian’ “to tar” his opponents with the name of another theology that was already then formally rejected by the church:

“’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)

But Arius was of little significance:

“Arius’ own theology is of little importance in understanding the major debates of the rest of the century. (after Nicaea) … We … have only sporadic evidence of his texts being used by later ‘Arians’.” (LA, 56-57)

“The Thalia, appears … to have circulated only in Alexandria.” (LA, 56) (Arius who:)

Emperor’s role: The ’Eusebians’ were the majority in the church: “Many eastern bishops rallied around the Eusebii even while differing among themselves.” (LA, 52) And the delegates at Nicaea were ”drawn almost entirely from the eastern half of the empire.” (LA, 19)

Arius who: The two Eusebii were the most influential bishops when Arius wrote: “Eusebius of Nicomedia was a supporter of Arius and a bishop influential with the Emperors Licinius, Constantine, and Constantius.” (LA, 52)

“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)

Discussion: Ayres briefly discusses the views of four Eusebians; Eusebius of Nicomedia (EoN), Eusebius of Caesarea (EoC), Asterius and Arius. Eusebius of Caesarea is also a famous historian. (LA, 58) I summarize their views as follows:

Father Transends:

“Arius insists that the Father is alone God, simple and immutable.” (LA, 54)

The Father alone is “unoriginated.” (LA, 53)

Substance: The Son is not produced from the Father’s substance (EoN; LA, 53) not does He have the same substance as God:

The Son does not share in the Father’s “unoriginated nature nor in his substance.” (EoN; LA, 53)

“He is not equal to God, nor yet is he of the same substance.” “The Father is other than the Son in substance because he is without beginning.” (Arius, LA, 55)

Will: In opposition to Alexander’s view that the Son exists eternally and, therefore, by necessity, the Eusebians said that the Son exists by God’s will:

The Son “has been called into being by his (the Father’s) will.” (LA, 53)

“Generation from the will … served … to emphasize the unique character of the Father as true God.” (LA, 53)

“By God’s will he is as great as he is.” (Arius, LA, 55)

Two Wisdoms: For Alexander and Athanasius, the Son is God’s only Wisdom and Power:

“In Alexander, and in Athanasius … Christ is the one power and wisdom of the Father.” (LA, 54)

In contrast, Eusebians taught that God has His own wisdom and power, apart from the Son:

“God’s own power and wisdom is the source of Christ.”  “The proper power of God Himself … is natural to him and coexistent with him unoriginatedly.” (Asterius, LA, 53-54)

“Arius also talks of two wisdoms and powers, speaking of a Logos that was not distinct from the Father’s hypostasis, after whom the Son is designated Word.” (LA, 55)

Mediator: The Son was begotten for the specific purpose of creating all things and for mediating between God and creation:

“Asterius argues that the Son was generated because the Father foresaw the inability of created nature to bear his direct touch.” (LA, 54)

Begotten as “a mediator for the purpose of creation” (LA, 55)

“The one without beginning established the Son as the beginning of all creatures.” (LA, 55)

One Reality: In opposition to Sabellians, the Eusebians believed that the Father and Son were distinct ‘Persons’:

“Asterius insists also that Father, Son, and Spirit are three hypostases.” (LA, 54)

Created Being: The Eusebians made a clear distinction between the Son and the created universe:

“Asterius does clearly emphasize the uniqueness of the Son’s status as the first.” He described Him as: “The only begotten Logos (John 1:18) and first born of all creation … the alone … the perfect … the King … the Lord … God, exact image of the being and will and power and glory’.” (LA, 54)

God: The Eusebians referred to the Son as “God.” (LA, 54) Arius described the Son as “Mighty God” but subordinate to “God.” (LA, 55) In the ancient Greek language, “God” (theos) is simply an immortal being with supernatural powers. “God” did not refer, as it does today, to the Ultimate Reality alone. See – Did the church fathers describe Jesus as “god” or as “God?”

Image: The Bible says that the (visible) Son is the image of invisible God (e.g., Col 1:15). Eusebians took the concept of “image” as meaning that the Son is distinct from and subordinate to the Father:

The Son is “in complete likeness” of the Father’s “disposition and power.” (EoN; LA, 53)

“Arius … speaks of the Son as image, reflection (Heb. 1:3).” (LA, 55)

“Asterius shows himself happy to speak of the Logos as the image of the Father’s ousia, presumably because for him the term image carries a clear sense of difference and subordination. This text reappears at an important council in 341.” (LA, 54)

From nothing: “Arius may also have asserted that the Son is ‘from the things that did not exist ’… He later seems to have retracted such language.” (LA, 55)

Eternal: “Although we cannot describe the Son’s birth in temporal categories, we should not say that the Son is coeternal.” (Arius, LA, 54-55)

Immutable: “Arius … continued to insist that the Logos is potentially changeable: only the Father is by nature immutable (1 Tim. 6:16).” (LA, 55)

Arius extreme: Arius was an extreme subordinationist and says some things that other Eusebians did not agree with, for example:

Knowledge: The Son does not know God fully, for example:

Arius wrote: “He sings the praises of the Higher One with only partial adequacy. … God is inexpressible to the Son . . . For it is impossible to search out the mysteries of the Father, who exists in himself.” (LA, 55)

Ayres comments: “It … seems that 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)

“He [the Son] possesses nothing proper to God, in the real sense of propriety.”

The clash in Alexandria was between two extreme views.

Chapter 3. Theological Trajectories in the Early Fourth Century: Part II

3.1 Marcellus

Ayres’ “third theological trajectory is primarily associated with Marcellus of Ancyra.” (LA, 62) In his view, the Word is “in the Father.” For example:

“The Word … eternally is in the Father.” (LA, 63)

“Before the world existed the Word was in the Father.” (LA, 63)

In other words, in his view, there is only one hypostasis (Person) in God:

“Marcellus sees any language which separates God and Word as distinct beings either as illogical or as sacrilegious. He is particularly incensed at the use of hypostasis or ousia in the plural.” (LA, 63)

So, when Ayres says that, in this view, the Son is “intrinsic to God’s existence,” he means intrinsic to the Father’s existence:

“To describe the relationship between Word and God he (Marcellus) deploys the analogy of a human person and her reason.” In other words, the Word eternally exists “intrinsic to” God’s existence. (LA, 62)

“As power (of reason) the Word must be intrinsic to God’s existence.” (LA, 64)

For Marcellus, the Word is an activity or power of the Father:

“The Word was in the Father as a power.” (LA, 63)

It seems as if he thought of the Word as the ‘activity’ of the Father in creation: “In some sense the Word is this activity.” (LA, 64) He might also think of the Word as an “energy” or “power.” (LA, 64)

The Holy Spirit is also a power of the Father:

“Marcellus speaks of a “monad” expanding “to form a triad while in no way allowing itself to be divided.”

“The going forth of the Son and the Spirit occurs ‘in energy’” (from the Father).

“The same language of going forth in energy is used for the Spirit as was used in the case of the Son.” (LA, 66, 67)

Versions of Modalism: /One Reality: Marcellus strongly insisted “that he is not a Sabellian.” (LA, 63) There are different ways in which the Father and Son could be described as one single Reality:

In Sabellianism, the Father and Son are parts of the one God. See – Sabellius.

In contrast, as stated, for Marcellus, the Son is “in the Father,” (LA, 63, 64). This is different from Sabellianism but, in both views, the Son is not a distinct Reality from the Father.

Modalism, in which the Father and Son are different modes or faces of the same Being, is another way of saying that they are one single Reality.

The traditional Trinity doctrine is a fourth such theory. In it, the Persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit do not have real independent existence because they do not each have a mind/ They share one single mind and will. They exist independently only in name. In my view, as soon as one speaks of one single mind and will, you are speaking of one Reality or one ‘person’ in the ordinary sense of that word.

Incarnation: /Father and Son: While Asterius (a prominent Eusebian) uses “the language of Father and Son to emphasize the subordination of the Son and the distinction of Father from Son,” Marcellus said that Father and Son language only refers to “the incarnate Word.” (LA, 65)

Eschatology: For Marcellus, eventually, the Word will return “to its pre-‘going forth’ status.” “He is most concerned to uphold God’s rule as complete and unmediated, and thus the kingdom of Christ must end.” (LA, 66)

Logos-theology: The second-century Christian Apologists theorized that the Word has a two-stage existence: He always existed as part of God but emerged from God when God wanted to create.” This view remained dominant right into the fourth century and Marcellus’ view was a variation of it: 

Marcellus understood “the ‘Word’ being present somehow in the Father eternally but coming forth in connection with the creation.”

“Indeed, this link is not seen only in Marcellus … both the early theology of Hilary of Poitiers and that of Eusebius of Caesarea seem to envisage a state in which the Logos is ‘in’ the Father ‘before’ being generated.” (LA, 67)

“The basic position has a long history and many contemporary adherents in the early fourth century.” (LA, 68)

One Reality: “Scholarship has also consistently linked Marcellus with ‘Monarchian’ theologies. Monarchian theologians in the second and third centuries appear to have focused on the unity of God centred in the person of the Father. By their opponents they are accused of teaching that the Son and the Spirit do not have real independent existence and are in fact simply modes of the Father’s being. … Some scholarship has seen this theological tendency as a strong and persistent theological voice, both in Rome and in Asia through the third century, with Marcellus as the last prominent Monarchian voice.” (LA, 69)

The Title ‘Word’: Origen said that the title “Word” must be interpreted “alongside the other scriptural titles” but “Marcellus asserts the primacy of the title ‘Word’ over other scriptural titles.” (LA, 63) (Because he interprets the Word as God’s ‘reason’.)

John 1:1: In opposition to Marcellus, the conjunction ‘with’ in the phrase “the Word was with God” (John 1:1) “is used by many fourth-century theologians to indicate the Word’s presence with the Father as a distinct being.” (LA, 65)

One Reality: Alexander and Athanasius said that the Word is God’s only Wisdom and Power. Consequently, their view is similar to Marcellus’:

“Marcellus, Eustathius and Alexander were able to make common cause against the Eusebians.” (LA, 69)

“Athanasius and Marcellus could come together in Rome. The perception that these two trajectories held to very similar beliefs would help to shape widespread eastern antipathy to both in the years after Nicaea.” (LA, 69)

“The fragments of Eustathius that survive present a doctrine that is close to Marcellus, and to Alexander and Athanasius. Eustathius insists there is only one hypostasis.“ (LA, 69)

Post-Nicaea correction: /One Reality: Due to the dominating involvement of the Emperor before and during Nicaea, the ‘One Reality’ theologians (Alexander, Athanasius, Marcellus, and Eustathius) were able to formulate what Hanson calls a ‘blatantly’ Sabellian Creed. But after Nicaea, the situation was corrected. Alexander was replaced by Athanasius as bishop of Alexandria two years after Nicaea. But all three the others were deposed:

“Marcellus … played a major role at Nicaea, and was subsequently deposed … His theology was one of the central points of contention in the years following Nicaea.” (LA, 62)

Marcellus became “an object of condemnation in the decades after Nicaea.” (LA, 69)

“Eustathius, bishop of Antioch, was deposed from his see soon after Nicaea, probably in 327.” (LA, 68-69)

Athanasius was exiled five times; not for his theology, but for violence against the Egyptian Melitians. If it was not for that, he probably would have been exiled on theological grounds as well. Ayres says, “News of Athanasius’ tactics against the Meletians can have been nothing other than music to the ears of the Eusebians.” (LA, 105)

3.2 Western (Latin) Theologists

“All three of the trajectories I have so far outlined are found primarily in the eastern half of the empire.” (LA, 70) This section discusses the ‘western’ view; the views of Latin theologians.

“Our knowledge of Latin Christology and Trinitarian theology between 250 and 360 is extremely limited.” (LA, 70) “The main Latin theologians writing in the 250–350 period … are Novatian (fl. c.250) and Lactantius (c.250–c.325).” (LA, 70)


Subordinate: It is usually said that the Latin fathers were ‘orthodox’ as the church today defines orthodoxy, but for Novation, the best known third-century Latin father apart from Tertullian, the Son is subordinate to the Father. For example, the Son:

      • Is “a power proceeding from God.” (LA, 71)
      • “Receives his being only from the Father who is the one God.” (LA, 71, 72)
      • Is “born” (begotten), and therefore, cannot be “compared with Him who was unborn” (the One who exists without cause). (LA, 72)
      • Has a “beginning,” compared to the Father who is “without beginning” and who is “the beginning of all things.” (LA, 72)
      • Is visible, compared to “the invisible Father.” (LA, 72)
      • Is comprehensible, compared to the Father who is “incomprehensible.” (LA, 72)

The Father, on the other hand, transcends the Son. He:

      • “Has no origin (and, therefore,) necessarily precedes the Son.” (LA, 71)
      • “Is the one God.” (LA, 71)

God: The Son “is also God” (LA, 71, 72) but is still subordinate to the “one God:”

      • “God proceeding from God, causing a person second to the Father as being the Son, but not taking from the Father that characteristic that He is one God.” (LA, 72)

For a discussion of the term “God” (theos / deus in Latin), see – Did the church fathers describe Jesus as “god” or as “God?”

Logos-theology: Novation was a standard Logos theologian:

“Novatian does not possess a theology of eternal generation: the Word is eternally ‘in’ the Father and at some stage the Word comes forth from the Father.” (LA, 71)

One Reality: In my conclusion, Novation was an Eusebian. But Ayres emphasizes that Novation argued for “the unity of God.” Perhaps Ayres wants to interpret that as a physical unity (one Being) but that is not supported by the evidence. The contrasts Novation made between visible and invisible, comprehensible and incomprehensible, born and unborn, speak against a physical unity. Furthermore, Tertullian, to whom Novation is indebted, maintained both that “the Son is second in order” and that “the Godhead is not destroyed” (unity). (LA, 74) For these reasons, we need to interpret Novation’s “unity” as non-physical and as being of one mind and will.


Lactantius wrote around the year 310; 60 years after Novation. (LA, 72)

Lactantius described the Son as “the intelligible Word from the mouth of the Father, representing the mind of the Father.” (LA, 73) He has “no understanding of eternal generation.” (LA, 73) He described Father and Son as inseparable:

“When we speak of God the Father and God the Son, we do not speak of different things and do not separate the two, as neither can the Father be separated from the Son nor the Son from the Father.” (LA, 73)

“Since … the Father makes the Son and the Son the Father, there is one mind in each (una utrique mens), one spirit, one substance.” (LA, 73)

He says:

“The one is as an overflowing fount, the other as though a stream flowing from that, the one a sun, the other a direct ray from the sun.” (LA, 73)

“Whatever is in the Father flows to the Son,
and whatever is in the Son descends from the Father.” (LA, 73)

Different from Novatian, Lactantius described the Son as, like the Father:

      • “Incomprehensible,”
      • “Invisible, and”
      • Unknown; “known only to the Father.” (LA, 73)

One Reality: We are trying to categorize theologians into the following three categories, namely, that the Son is:

      • Subordinate and, therefore, a distinct Reality;
      • Equal, but a distinct Reality;
      • Not a distinct Reality

Lactantius sounds very different from Novation but it is difficult to classify him based on the data above. Ayres later says that he was a Logos-theologian (LA, 74), which would mean that He regarded the Son as subordinate. (Subordinate:)


Subordinate: For Tertullian, the Son is subordinate to the Father. He:

      • “Is second in order,”
      • “Comes from the Father in connection with the Father’s decision to create,” and
      • “Was always in the Father: the same two-stage conception we find in our two later Latin writers.” (LA, 74)

“Tertullian also describes the relationship between Father and Son as being like that between:

      • A tree and its root,
      • A river and a fountain, or
      • A ray and the sun.” (LA, 74)

Tertullian’s adversaries accepted that the Son is divine but rejected His existence as a distinct Reality. Novation’s adversaries taught the opposite, namely, they “admit Christ’s personal existence” but not His divinity. So, while Tertullian “argues for the true existence of the Son as a distinct reality,” Novation’s purpose was to prove His “deity.” (LA, 74-75)


“Hilary’s early Commentary on Matthew (c. 350) … is very different from his later On the Trinity.” (LA, 75) In his earlier work, Hilary:

“Seems to hold a two-stage Logos theory, rather than a theory of eternal generation,” (Subordinate:)

“Is most concerned to argue against those who see the infirmities of Christ’s flesh preventing our according him the true powers of divinity.” (LA, 75)


Ayres concludes:

Orthodoxy: “These Latin theologians have as far to travel towards later pro-Nicene theology as the eastern trajectories.” “Eternal generation … degrees of divine being, and … the very character of divine being are handled in a very different manner from the strategies we will find at the end of the fourth century.” (LA, 75)

One Reality: “An anti-monarchian, anti-‘modalist’ polemic fundamentally shapes these early Latin theologians.” Since, for “Monarchian theologians … the Word does not exist as a distinct existing thing,” (LA, 74) for these early Latin theologians, the Son is a distinct existing Reality. Ayres says that that is ironic.

3.3 Incarnation and Soteriology at AD 300

Soteriology: The different views of the Son have implications for His incarnation and Soteriology (how God saves people). In the fourth century, this question revolved around the question of whether the Incarnated Word has a human soul:

The Eusebians, including Arius, said that He does not have a human soul but that the Logos took the place of a soul. The Logos, therefore, directly suffered and died.

In opposition to them, the ‘One Reality’ theologians, such as Paul of Samosata, Eustathius, and Marcellus, taught that, since the Word is not a distinct Reality, He could not really become one with a human person. In other words, the Logos did not really suffer and die. Therefore, in this view, “Christ possessed a human soul.” (AL, 76) They were then criticized that it was only a human being that suffered and died.

Ayres discusses the views of specific individuals:

Paul of Samosata (who was) deposed by a council in Antioch in 268/9,” “is understood to have seen the Logos as God’s own inner Word and not as a distinct separate being.” Therefore, “he could not … envisage that the Logos really became one with a human person.” (AL, 76)

A few decades later, “Arius seems to be part of a tradition present in Paul’s third-century opponents and also visible in Eusebius of Caesarea.” In this tradition, “the mutability of the Logos enabled union with a human being, any such union involved the Logos replacing the human soul.” (AL, 76) In other words, the Logos really did suffer and die. “Eusebian theologians … (believed that) the Son acted as mediator between God and the creation was that God’s Word was truly God acting in the world.” (AL, 78)

Arius’s opponents, the ‘One Reality’ theologians “Eustathius of Antioch” and “Marcellus of Ancyra,” believed that Christ has a human soul. (AL, 76-77)

Therefore, for the mainstream church, to say that Christ possessed a human soul was a mark of ‘One Reality’-theology:

In the view of Paul’s opponents, “insisting that Christ had a soul meant that the Logos never truly entered into the man” and “could only result from semi-modalism.“ (AL, 76)

“According Christ a human soul seemed to many at the beginning of our period … incompatible with a real distinction between Father and Son.” (AL, 77)

“Thus, strangely to modern ears, there were many at the beginning of the fourth century who thought that confessing Christ to have a soul indicated a semi-modalist theology.” (AL, 77)

Here, I use the term ‘One Reality’-theology for theologians who do not believe that the Word has a real distinct existence apart from the Father. This would include Sabellians, Marcellians, and Modalists.

3.4 Heresy and Orthodoxy in the early fourth century

Orthodoxy: “Many readers will ask if we can identify in or between these four trajectories a Christian ‘orthodoxy’.” (LA, 78)

Ayres begins by saying that the traditional account, in which Arius introduced a novel heresy, divergent from an established orthodoxy, is no longer accepted:

“Older narratives” of the Arian Controversy “tended to assume that” Arius’ theology was a novel creation “divergent from a pre-existing orthodoxy.” What “such narratives” do is to project “back into earlier controversies” “what is later defined as orthodox.” In this way, these narratives assume “an unchanging orthodoxy ever victorious against novel heresies. Thus, for example, we still sometimes find Athanasius presented both as the upholder of the Church’s unchanging tradition.” (LA, 78)

Ayres then attempts to explain the right view with respect to ‘orthodoxy’. Amongst many other things, he says:

“Sets of logical principles concerning unity and differentiation in the Trinity that had emerged … over the 360–80 period … appear as key principles of definition in imperial legislation. Traditional terminologies and favoured scriptural images are now interpreted and understood by pro-Nicene theologians within these new sets of logical principles.” (LA, 80)

“Pro-Nicene theology is best understood as a theological culture.” (LA, 83)

“We should perhaps think, instead, of slow and subtle modifications to the structure of a particular cultural vision occurring throughout this period.” (LA, 84).

These few points do not do justice to Ayres’ discussion. However, we have already seen that two of the ‘trajectories’, namely Alexander & co and Marcellus, were ‘One Reality’ theologians. On the other hand, the Western theologians were also essentially ‘Eusebians’. Therefore, we are able to reduce the four trajectories to two. To answer the question: What was the orthodoxy when the Controversy began, we must determine which of these two trends were dominant. That will become clear as we continue to study this book.

4 Confusion and Controversy: AD 325–340

4.1 The Nicene Creed as a Standard of Faith

No Arianism: In the traditional account, Arius caused the Controversy. In reality, the “conflict in Alexandria” occurred and escalated “because of tension between existing theological trajectories.” (LA, 85) 

It “came to involve many prominent bishops and theologians in the eastern half of the empire … (and) reached its culmination at the Council of Nicaea in 325.” (LA, 85)

Nicaea was not intended as binding.

Binding: The Nicene Creed was not intended or regarded as a binding and universal formula of the Christian faith:

“Many modern readers assume that the Nicene creed was intended at its promulgation to stand as a binding and universal formula of Christian faith.” (LA, 85) However, “by the time Nicaea met, Church leaders … had no precedent for the idea of a council that would legislate for the Church as a whole.” (LA, 87) “Councils were not expected to produce precise statements of belief.” (LA, 87)

“The idea that the creed would serve as a universal and precise marker of Christian faith was unlikely to have occurred to anyone at Nicaea.” (LA, 85) “All the bishops at Nicaea would have understood their local ‘baptismal’ creed to be a sufficient definition of Christian belief.” (LA, 85) “The creed stood as a particular statement of faith designed for a particular purpose: any further status it might have would be a subject for argument in the following decades.” (LA, 88)

“Bishops were not expected to sign a universal statement of faith.” (LA, 86)

Nicaea’s position became more clearly established at the beginning of the fifth century:

“The idea that Nicaea would serve as a universal standard of faith, and as one whose precise wording and terminology was itself definitive, evolved through the fourth century, and was still evolving at the century’s end.” (LA, 86)

“Until the beginning of the fifth century, when Nicaea’s position became more clearly established in liturgical contexts, local creeds continued to be used in catechesis.” (LA, 86)

Premeeting: “Prior to Nicaea, there are only two documented uses of credal-type documents being used as conciliar tools for defining right belief. Both of these occurred in Antioch: in 268 … in the action taken against Paul of Samosata, and a few months before Nicaea, we have the Antiochene creed of 325.” (LA, 86) (At the time, Antioch seems to have been the head office of Christianity.)

Creeds: “Throughout the first forty years of the controversy councils of bishops formulated a number of creeds in words different from those used at Nicaea. While some were constructed by those who opposed Nicaea, others were understood as compatible with it.” (LA, 86)

Constantine’s Goal: “Constantine … seems to have promoted Christianity as a unifying religion for the empire (although his personal beliefs will almost certainly remain unclear). Unity of Christians as a body was of as much concern to Constantine as any doctrinal issue involved.” (LA, 87) For example, before Nicaea, he involved himself in the dispute between Arius and Alexander without understanding the issues. “It initially took the efforts of bishops like Ossius and Alexander of Alexandria to persuade him that anything significant was at issue in Alexandria.” (LA, 87-88) “Constantine’s attitude reflects deeply embedded Roman attitudes about the social function of religion.” (LA, 88)

Emperor’s role: “Constantine took a deep interest in the council, and issued a number of letters attempting to enforce its decisions.” (LA, 88)

4.2 The Course of the Council

Nicaea: We have very little detail about what happened at the Council. “We have to construct an account of the debate from some surviving scraps of evidence.” (LA, 88)

Emperor’s role: The council was controlled by the ‘One Reality’ theologians Eustathius of Antioch, Marcellus of Ancyra, and Alexander because the emperor has taken Alexander’s part:

Why was “the Nicene creed … agreed with little dissent?” (LA, 88) In other words, if Arius caused such a great controversy, and if even the two Eusebians – the most influential persons in the church at the time – supported Arius, why did only about 1% of the delegates refuse to sign the creed?

The answer “in older narratives of the fourth century … (is that) only the few ‘heretics’ would refuse such a clear acknowledgement of the Church’s constant faith.” (LA, 88) But “such older accounts are deeply mistaken.” (LA, 11)

“Tension among Eusebian bishops was caused by knowledge that Constantine had taken Alexander’s part and by events at the council of Antioch only a few months before.” (LA, 89) (At that council, the leader of the Eusebians and the most respected theologian of that era (Eusebius of Caesarea), was provisionally excommunicated.)

“We can certainly see that Eusebians … were under pressure and seem to have been on the defensive. … the direction of the council was very clearly in the hands of others.” (LA, 88-89) In whose hands?

“Ossius of Cordoba probably chaired the meeting.” (LA, 89) He was the emperor’s advisor and chaired the meeting in that capacity. His inferior position in the church would not have permitted him to chair the meeting.

“Eustathius of Antioch, Marcellus of Ancyra, and Alexander must all have been key players in the discussions.” (LA, 89)

“Despite the prominence of Ossius, Eustathius, Marcellus, and Alexander, Eusebius of Caesarea must still be counted as one of the most senior and influential bishops present” (LA, 89) but his influence was limited because “Constantine had taken Alexander’s part.” (LA, 89) “This imperial pressure coupled with the role of his advisers in broadly supporting the agenda of Alexander must have been a powerful force.” (LA, 89)

So, it was “imperial pressure” that caused to few to refuse to sign, as will become evident below.

Eusebius’ Creed: “Eusebius reports that he read a creed … to the assembly—which he quotes for us—and he tells us that this was accepted wholeheartedly. The text Eusebius read is in fact extremely cautious and offers very little description of … the Son’s generation.” (LA, 89) (The implications of the Son’s generation was the core issue of dispute.)

“Eustathius of Antioch reports a ‘Eusebius’ reading a text which was then very badly received. … It seems Eustathius must be referring to the other Eusebius, Eusebius of Nicomedia. … Thus, at some point it seems that Eusebius of Nicomedia failed to get approval for his theology.” (LA, 89) He probably represented Arius’ view.

Ecumenical: “Throughout the century large councils such as Nicaea were not constituted as a representative selection of bishops.” (LA, 90)

Homoousios: “The choice of the term homoousios seems to have been motivated in large part because Arius was known to reject it. Athanasius …  tells us that those running the council originally proposed describing the Son as ‘like’ the Father or ‘exactly like the Father in all things’ and as being ‘from God’. But these terms would not serve because everyone could agree to them. … Hence, homoousios and ‘from the essence of the Father’ were chosen specifically to exclude Arius’ supporters.” (LA, 90) “Homoousios and ‘from the essence of the Father’ were chosen specifically to exclude Arius’ supporters.” (LA, 90)

The meeting knew that the emperor would exile all who refused to sign the Creed and “desired to secure the condemnation of Arius.” (LA, 91)

Ayres agrees with Hanson that “the homoousion was probably not a flag to be nailed to the masthead, a word around which self-conscious schools of theology could rally. But it was an atropopaic formula for resisting Arianism.” (LA, 92) (Atropopaic means having the power to avert evil influences.) In other words, homoousio was not intended as a key word in theology.

Emperor’s role: /Homoousios: After Eusebius presented the baptismal creed from his home church, the Emperor spoke and accepted that creed but added homoousios. Ayres wrote that Constantine ‘endorsed’ the term homoousios. (LA, 90). Eusebius himself put Constantine’s role stronger, saying that Constantine himself proposed and insisted on the term.

Constantine also explained what the term means:

“Eusebius … writes that Constantine himself spoke, endorsing the term homoousios, but insisting that it did not imply any material division in God. Eusebius also reports that he himself secured clarity that the phrase ‘from the essence of the Father’ did not mean ‘is part of the Father’s substance’.” (LA, 90-91)

It is amazing that Constantine considered himself worthy of explaining these terms: Before him, the emperor had the most senior members of the church who had been wrestling with these concepts for years and who had developed views about what the terms mean. That they had to ‘accept’ his explanation of the term shows the extent of the “imperial pressure.” (LA, 89) Constantine had dominated both the chairperson and the entire meeting.

Homoousios: The emperor’s explanations are also interesting. Those who opposed these terms objected that these terms mean that God is material and that the Son is a cut-off part of the Father. But the emperor insists that that is not what these terms mean. That is a verbal denial of the apparent meaning of the terms, rendered the terms meaningless, and allowed the delegates to interpret the new terms as consistent with their existing theologies.

What the emperor did was “to placate Eusebians.” (LA, 91)

Subordinate: /Homoousios: “In Eusebius’ reading of the text it is still possible to read Nicaea as implying a certain subordinationism” (LA, 91) for, in his explanation:

“The creed’s technical terms are all interpreted to mean that the Son is like the Father, and is truly from the Father.” (LA, 91)

Eusebius explains the anathema in the Creed against those who say ‘before he was begotten he was not’ as that “the Son existed potentially in the Father before his actual begetting.” (LA, 91)

“His text does give us a very plausible account of how someone within his theological trajectory could have interpreted Nicaea’s terms.” (LA, 91)

“Eusebius’ discussion nicely demonstrates the extent to which the promulgation of homoousios involved a conscious lack of positive definition of the term.” (LA, 91) In other words, it was accepted more or less as meaningless.

One Reality: “Those who were broadly in the same trajectory as Alexander … would have read them (Nicaea’s terms) in a very different manner.” (LA, 91) In the years after Nicaea, the ‘One Reality’ theologians claimed that the Nicene Creed supports their theology.

“Eustathius of Antioch, Marcellus of Ancyra, and Alexander must all have been key players in the discussions” at Nicaea. (LA, 89) Richard Hanson noted that Simonetti, a highly regarded Italian scholar on the fourth-century Arian Controversy, proposed that the ‘One Reality’ theologians Eustathius and Marcellus, through cooperation with Alexander, “were able to include in N a hint of opposition to the three hypostases theory.” (RH, 171) Ayres says that he agrees with the following comments on this argument made by Richard Hanson:

“It is improbable that all of the people who had previously seen nothing offensive in the doctrine of Arius should have surrendered tamely to an openly Sabellian creed.” (LA, 92)

“It is improbable that the heirs of any side of Origen’s thought should have abandoned a doctrine of three hypostases. As N. [sic] does not openly mention the eternal generation of the Son, so it does not openly declare that there is only one hypostasis in the Godhead.” (LA, 92) In other words, it implies one single hypostasis.” (LA, 92)

Hanson concluded:

“It is exceeding the evidence to represent the Council as a total victory for the … opponents of the doctrine of three hypostases. It was more like a drawn battle.”

4.3 Ousia and Hypostasis in the Creed of Nicaea

Hypostasis or Ousia: /Homoousios: The terms “ousia and hypostasis” are “one of the most striking aspects of Nicaea.” These terms have not appeared in any previous creed. They also do not appear in the creed formulated just a few months earlier at Antioch. (LA, 92)

These terms “had been the subject of debate and confusion since the mid-third century. Hence, it is important to understand what” these terms mean in the Creed. (LA, 92) The meaning of these terms cannot be derived from what they meant outside the church. “We need to be attentive to the histories of theological use of these terms prior to Nicaea.” (LA, 92)

Homoousios: The word “ousia” is used in three statements in the Creed:

      • The Son is begotten “of the ousia of the Father,”
      • “Father and Son are subsequently described as homoousios.”
      • The Son is not “of another hypostasis or ousia.” (LA, 93)

Homoousios Numeric: The term homoousios in the Creed is today often regarded as saying the Father and Son are one single Being. The following discusses how the term was used before Nicaea:

The second-century Gnostics used it “probably to indicate” that the “lower deities” are of the “‘same ontological status’ or ‘of a similar kind’” as “the highest deity” from whom they were “derived” or emanated. “For Christian writers such notions seemed irredeemably materialist, and made it easy for them to suppose that the mere use of homoousios implies a certain materiality.” (LA, 93)

“Nicaea’s supporters are accused of ‘Manichaeism’ even before the council met.” The Manichees (another non-Christian religion) taught that the “creation of deities happens through a semi-materialist division of divine being.” (LA, 92)

“Origen may have rejected the term.” (LA, 92)

Around the year 260, the bishops of Rome and Alexandria – both named Dionysius – were in dispute about the word homoousios (LA, 93-94):

“Some local Sabellians” in Alexandria used the term. (LA, 94) While the Gnostics and Manichees used the term to describe distinct beings that are of a similar kind, for Sabellians, the Father and Son are one single Reality.

In his campaign against them, “Dionysius of Alexandria … denied the term to emphasize the Son’s secondary status.” (LA, 94)

But Dionysius of Rome agreed with the Sabellians “that Father and Son were homoousios.” Ayres says that by this he meant that “the Son shared the divine existence, not that Father and Son were one thing.” (LA, 94)

Dionysius of Alexandria “was then persuaded by his namesake of Rome to accept” the term but “responded … that the term was acceptable … only when it … (means) ‘belonging to the same class‘.’’ For him, the term did not mean that the two things are equal or one and the same.

Dionysius of Alexandria “also seems to have insisted that the term should not be understood to imply any materialist diminution in the Father when the Son is generated.” (LA, 94)

Only a few years later, “The council that deposed Paul of Samosata in 268 condemned the use of homoousios.” It is not clear in what sense Paul used the term. (LA, 94)

“In the years immediately before Nicaea” the Arians “rejected the term” “for being inherently materialistic” and because it implies:

        • “A materialistic division in God and”
        • “Two eternal co-ordinate realities” (Two being who are both eternal and equal in rank or importance.) (LA, 94)

In summary, “a standard connotation of the term homoousios was membership in a class.” (LA, 94) That is how the Gnostics, the Manichees, and the two Dionysii used the term. For them, it indicates a “generic similarity between things that were, in some sense, co-ordinate [equal in rank or importance].” (LA, 95) “The term was used loosely to point to markers of commonality.” (LA, 95) Being members of the same class, such beings are, in some sense” equal in rank or importance but “did not at all exclude relationships between realities that were hierarchically distinct in other ways.” (LA, 94-95) In other words, the term homoousios did not mean, as it is today most often understood, that two beings really are one single being. The only exception is the Sabellians.

Objections: / Homoousios: “Homoousios” was probably an expansion or explanation of the phrase ‘from the ousia of the Father’. (LA, 96) These two phrases, therefore, must be read as one. It then means that the Son was materially or genetically begotten from the Father:

In a “Christian contexts … it was inextricably linked with the question of the derivation of the Son from the Father. This derivative or genetic sense derived from a biological or material analogical base.” (LA, 95)

“Thus, for some theologians, the term emphasized that the Father’s generation of the Son was more like the generation of a human son by a human father, than like the creation of all other things.” (LA, 95)

“For their opponents the very genetic and materialistic connotations that rendered the term useful indicated the term’s problematic status.” (LA, 95)

The phrase ‘from the ousia of the Father’ was criticized by Origen, Eusebius of Nicomedia, Eusebius of Caesarea, and Arius as “something like a human birth,” as implying a “diminution of the Father’s being in the generation of the Son,” and as “materialistic.” (LA, 97)

However, at the Council, Emperor Constantine did his best to get the eastern majority to accept the term. For that reason, he explained these terms as not having any “material connotation” and to be understood “without reference to material division.” In his explanation, “this phrase served only to indicate that the Son was truly from the Father.” (LA, 96)

Homoousios Numeric: /One Reality: “It is unlikely that Alexander or Ossius would have chosen the term intending a simple co-ordinate sense. (two distinct but equal entities) … This would have played into the hands of those arguing that Alexander taught two eternal principles.” (LA, 95) Furthermore, “Marcellus and Eustathius,” who were both ‘One Reality’ theologians and prominent at the Council, “also seem likely to have endorsed homoousios because of the notion of shared being.” (LA, 95) In other words, Ayres thinks that at Nicaea, homoousios was used in a numerical sense, saying that Father and Son are one single Being. But that implies that the Creed uses the term in a Sabellian sense:

After Nicaea, the Creed was associated “with the theology of Marcellus of Ancyra. … The language of that creed seemed to offer no prophylactic (prevention) against Marcellan doctrine, and increasingly came to be seen as implying such doctrine.” (LA, 96, 97)

Homoousios Unimportant: The word homoousios later became very important. (LA, 93) However, “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)

No Arianism: The phrases ‘from the ousia of the Father’ and ‘homoousios’ were “to cause much controversy in the decades which followed.” (LA, 97) In the 55 years of Controversy after Nicaea, Arius and his theology were no longer relevant.

Hypostasis or Ousia: /Meaning of ‘of’: Christopher Stead and Lewis Ayres agree that the anathema is a reinforcement of the phrases “from the ousia of the Father” and “homoousios.” (LA, 98) But which of these two phrases does the anathema specifically emphasize?

      • Does it elaborate on what the Son’s substance (homoousios) or
      • Out of what “from the ousia of the Father” the Son was generated?

For Stead, “the ‘from’ (κ) here provides the key to understanding the anathema” (LA, 88) and interprets the anathema as not saying anything about the substance of the Son but only out of what the Son was generated. In that case, the anathema says that the Son was not generated out of “nothing,” as Arius proposed; neither from some other “divine source” but only from God. That would mean that the terms hypostasis and ousia are used jointly to refer to the being of God.

4.4 Was there a ‘Nicene’ theology in 325?

One Reality: Both Eustathius of Antioch and Marcellus “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.” (LA, 99)

Pro-Nicene: “Original Nicene theology was a fluid and diverse phenomenon, and one that kept evolving.” “It was to be many years before … (it) evolved into what I shall term pro-Nicene theology” (LA, 99)

4.5 AD 325–342: Towards the Creation of ‘Arianism’

No Arianism: “During the years 325–42 neither Arius nor the particular technical terminology used at Nicaea were at the heart of theological controversy.” (LA, 100)

“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.” (LA, 103)

Post-Nicaea correction: In the years after Nicaea, the Eusebians became dominant again:

“Arius and most of his supporters were, at Constantine’s request, readmitted to communion within two or three years of the council.” “The Emperor appears to have instructed a council of bishops (probably of a Eusebian turn of mind) to readmit him.”

“Unfortunately for him (Arius) Alexander and his successor as bishop, Athanasius … refused to readmit Arius to communion in Alexandria. Arius … made the mistake of writing to the emperor asking for redress and emphasizing the strength of his following in Libya. In 333 Constantine wrote to Arius with the anger he seems to have reserved particularly for those who threatened unity. Constantine also sent an edict with the letter ordering Arius’ works to be burnt.” (LA, 100)

“Eusebius of Nicomedia quickly rose again to a position of importance, baptizing Constantine on his death-bed in 337 and becoming bishop of Constantinople.” (LA, 100)

Post-Nicaea correction: /No Arianism: /One Reality: At the same period, in response to Nicaea, the ‘One Reality’ theologians, who were dominant at Nicaea, were removed from their positions:

“The fifth-century ecclesiastical historian Sozomen reports a dispute immediately after the council, focused not on Arius, but on … 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 (Bishop of Antioch) accused Eusebius [of Caesarea] of altering the doctrines ratified by the council of Nicaea, while the latter … reproached Eustathius for cleaving to the heresy of Sabellius. In this incident (probably in 326 or 327) Eusebius of Caesarea and Eustathius of Antioch play out for us the tensions between their respective theologies. Arius is not being discussed here: Nicaea has been a catalyst for conflict between pre-existing theological trajectories. Eustathius lost this battle and was deposed.” (LA, 101)

“In the years after Nicaea we see how the theology of Marcellus and Eustathius, which skirted Sabellian and Monarchian waters much more closely than Alexander’s, was able to provoke a strong and sustained reaction from the Eusebians, and one that seems to have gained wide support throughout the east.” (LA, 102)

“In 336 … Marcellus was condemned and deposed by a meeting of bishops in Constantinople. Unlike Athanasius, Marcellus was clearly deposed for theological reasons.” (LA, 103)

No Arianism: “During the years 325–42 neither Arius nor the particular technical terminology used at Nicaea were at the heart of theological controversy.” (LA, 100)

Homoousios Unimportant: “Within a few years (after Nicaea) there is a near-fifteen year absence before the creed is mentioned again.” (LA, 100) “Nicaea’s creed seemed problematic if not useless to many.” (LA, 100)

Post-Nicaea correction: /One Reality: “Those around whom debate was now to focus had been strong supporters of Nicaea.” (LA, 100)

Athanasius: /Post-Nicaea correction: In those years there also was a controversy about Athanasius, not about his theology, but about his behavior:

Hanson and Ayres agree that “Athanasius was indeed elected (as bishop of Alexandria), but not by immediate and unanimous acclamation, and not without suspicion of sharp practice.” “Athanasius seems to have encouraged his supporters to act violently towards Melitians, on occasion barring them from churches, having some arrested, and at least acquiescing in the beating of some.” “In the face of considerable evidence Athanasius earned the opprobrium of many eastern bishops.” (LA, 102)

“Athanasius was summoned with imperial support to Tyre in Palestine in 335.” The council sent “a commission to .. Egypt to investigate charges.” “When the commission returned and upheld some charges, Athanasius was deposed.” “Athanasius … fled to Constantinople to press his case directly before the Emperor.” “but when his enemies also charged him with interrupting the grain supply from Egypt Constantine turned against him: Athanasius was exiled to Trier.” (LA, 102-3)

Emperor’s role: “In May 337 Constantine died.” “Constantine’s three sons agreed on the division of the empire.” (LA, 103)

5 The Creation of ‘Arianism’: AD 340–350

5.1 The Creation of ‘Arianism’

Athanasius’ polemical strategy

Travesty: Athanasius developed a polemical strategy against the Eusebians:

“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)

“The development of Athanasius’ own polemical strategy seems to have begun only after his return from his first short exile (November 335–mid-337).” (LA, 108)

“These various themes emerging in the late 330s find their full expression during and immediately after Athanasius’ time in Rome.” (LA, 108)

In summary, Athanasius’ version of the Arian Controversy ran like this:

Orthodoxy: “Athanasius’ account begins by presenting Arius as the originator of a new heresy.” (LA, 107)

In contrast, “Athanasius presents himself as the preserver of the one theological tradition that is equivalent with scriptural orthodoxy.” (LA, 107)

No Arianism: Athanasius described “his enemies as ‘Arians’ seeking to perpetuate a theology stemming from Arius.” (LA, 106) “To this end Athanasius quotes extensively from Arius’ Thalia.” (LA, 107)

Athanasius’ strategy included insults. He refers to his opponents as “‘Arian madmen’ or ‘Ariomaniacs’.” (LA, 107) Furthermore, he said that they are followers of Arius and not of Christ. Therefore, they are ‘Arians’ and not ‘Christians:

“Athanasius argues, Alexander expelled Arius from the Church he and his followers are no longer Christians but Arians.” (LA, 107)

Arian conspiracy: Athanasius was not exiled for theological reasons but for violence. (LA, 102) But Athanasius claims that he was deposed on trumped-up charges due to “a conspiracy by the Eusebians against the architects of Nicaea.” (LA, 105)

“The encyclical letter resulting from the council held in Alexandria speaks of a conspiracy by those who deposed Athanasius at Tyre.” “Their conspiracy is motivated solely by theological concerns and by Athanasius’ strong opposition to Arius.” (LA, 108)

Ecumenical: Athanasius refers to Nicaea “as the ‘ecumenical’ council in opposition to all subsequent councils, especially those at which Athanasius was condemned.” (LA, 108)

Emperor’s role: Athanasius typified Tyre, where he was found guilty, “as not truly a council because of imperial support and involvement.” (LA, 108)

Rome accepted Athanasius’ version.

Since “these various themes … find their full expression during and immediately after Athanasius’ time in Rome … it is … no accident that Athanasius’ account of ‘Arians’ was of considerable importance in the west.” (LA, 108) “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)

Julias 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)

“Relations between Rome and the Eusebians were shaped for many years by Athanasius’ account of events. Once Julius had acted we begin to see divisions between the Church in the eastern and western halves of the empire emerging,” particularly between “one group of eastern bishops taking their lead from Eusebius of Nicomedia and Julius and his immediate associates.” (LA, 109)

Furthermore, after Emperor Theodosius made the Trinitarian version of Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire, Athanasius’ version of the Arian Controversy was accepted and taught by the Roman Church (the church of the Roman Empire).

Recent scholarship: Ayres says that Athanasius’ “masterpiece of the rhetorical art” “was to shape accounts of the fourth century for over 1,500 years.” (LA, 106-7) 1,500 years bring us to somewhere in the 19th century. It was only in the 20th century that scholars who specialize in the Arians Controversy, such as Richard Hanson, Manlio Simonetti, Lewis Ayres, and Rowan Williams, were able to detect and describe the true story. In reality:

1. Arius did not say anything new.

Orthodoxy: What was new was the way in which he combined the thoughts of his predecessors. Arius taught an extreme version of subordination, but all theologians at the time taught some version of subordination.

2. Arius did not cause the Controversy.

The Controversy about who the Son is has been smoldering for centuries but has been kept under control by the persecution of Christians. As soon as that persecution came to an end, the dispute between Arius and his bishop was the spark that ignited the fire.

3. Athanasius did not represent the orthodoxy at the time.

One Reality: Both Alexander and Athanasius were ‘One Reality’ or ‘one hypostasis’ theologians, similar to the Sabellians. For example, with respect to Alexander:

“Marcellus, Eustathius, and Alexander had worked together at Nicaea.” (LA, 106)

“Marcellus, Eustathius and Alexander were able to make common cause against the Eusebians.” (LA, 69)

With respect to Athanasius, he and the Sabellian Marcellus were allies:

“Athanasius and Marcellus can and should both be counted as ‘original Nicene’.” (LA, 99)

“In Rome during the 339–40 … the exiled Athanasius and Marcellus made common cause against their eastern opponents.” (LA, 106)

“Athanasius and Marcellus now seem to have made common cause again those who insisted on distinct hypostases in God.” (LA, 106)

“We have no evidence that they considered themselves allies until their meeting in Rome.” (LA, 106)

Both believed that “the Son was intrinsic to the Father’s external existence.” “The overlaps (in their theologies) were significant enough for them to be at one on some of the vital issues.” (LA, 106)

Contrary to the traditional account, “it is … no longer clear that Athanasius ever directly repudiated Marcellus, and he certainly seems to have been sympathetic to Marcellus’ followers through into the 360s.” (LA, 106)

As ‘One Reality’ theologians, Alexander and Athanasius were part of a minority in this church. Furthermore, Sabellius’ ‘One Reality’-theology and the term homoousios were already formally rejected by the church during the previous century. Alexander and Athanasius, therefore, followed an already discredited theology.

4. There was no ‘conspiracy’ against the pro-Nicenes.

Arian conspiracy: Ayres discusses the possible evidence for a conspiracy and concludes:

“We cannot take his account (of a conspiracy) at face value.” (LA, 105) “The events of these years are not the result of one intentional ‘conspiracy’ by ‘Arians’.” (LA, 106)

To understand what happened after Nicaea, one has to consider the context:

Above, Ayres describes four ‘trajectories’ at the time of Nicaea. As argued, the Western or Latin trajectory is similar to the Eusebians and Alexander approximates the Sabellians. We can, therefore, summarize the four trajectories into two; the Eusebians and the Sabellians.

Arius extreme: Arius was an extreme version of the Eusebians. So, another way to describe the ‘sides’ at Nicaea is the mainstream Eusebians and the two extreme groups; the followers of Arius and the Sabellians:

“Arius … is treated largely as one half of a formal pairing of extremes: ‘orthodoxy’ avoids both Arius and Sabellius.” (LA, 108-9)

One Reality: At Nicaea, on the one hand, Alexander and his ‘One Reality’ friends had the upper hand in the formulation of the Nicene Creed against the will of the majority:

“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.” (LA, 99)

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

“Marcellus and Eustathius presented their theologies as the natural context for Nicaea’s creed.” (LA, 105)

Emperor’s role: Alexander and his friends were able to dominate because “Constantine had taken Alexander’s part” (LA, 89) and “imperial pressure coupled with the role of his advisers in broadly supporting the agenda of Alexander.” (LA, 89)

Consequently, after the council, the Nicene Creed and the term homoousios were not mentioned for about 20 years. Not even Athanasius mentioned it. It was not thought useful or important.

One Reality: On the other hand, at Nicaea, Arius was crushed. So, after Nicaea, the Controversy continued between the Eusebians and the ‘One Reality’ theologians:

“Conflict between Eusebians and Marcellans in the wake of Nicaea could hardly be unexpected and is not simply an epiphenomenon (a secondary symptom) of the previous conflict in Alexandria.” (LA, 105)

Post-Nicaea correction: So, what happened after Nicaea was that the church corrected the situation by removing the ‘One Reality’ theologians Marcellus and Eustathius from their positions. If Athanasius was not found guilty of violence, he probably would also have been removed for his theology. Alexander himself retired two years after Nicaea. But, as Ayres stated, there is no evidence of a ‘conspiracy’. It was the expected consequence of the distortion at Nicaea because the emperor had taken the part of the ‘One Reality’ theologians.

5. The Eusebians were not followers of Arius.

No Arianism: The term ‘Arianism’ implies that the opponents of the Nicene Creed were a cohesive group; all following the doctrines of Arius of Alexandria. But this is a fallacy. The Eusebians also rejected Arius’ extreme subordination:

Athanasius uses this tactic “to attack contemporary opponents whose theologies were distinct from Arius’.” (LA, 107)

As the heading of this chapter indicates, this part of the chapter describes how Athanasius invented Arianism. (No Arianism: )

6. The subsequent councils were regular.

Ecumenical: While Athanasius said that “all subsequent councils” after Nicaea were not ecumenical, Ayres says that these “were appropriately constituted.” (RH, 108) Ayres mentions “the difficulties inherent in arguing for the superiority of any one council at this point in the fourth century.” (LA, 108)

The Council of Constantinople in 360, where the terms ousia and homoousios were rejected, was at least as ‘ecumenical’ as the Nicene Council of 325 and the Council of Constantinople of 381 was by no means ‘ecumenical’. Already in the year before the 381-council the emperor outlawed all non-Trinitarian versions of Christianity and only Trinitarian Christians, who were in the majority at the time, were allowed into the Council.

7. Emperors controlled all general councils.

Emperor’s role: Ayres says that, “Having seen the story of Nicaea itself,” meaning the significant influence the emperor had at that council, it is difficult to typify Tyre “as not truly a council because of imperial support and involvement.” (LA, 108)

The reality is that, after Christianity was legalized in 313, the emperor effectively became the head of the church and the final authority for doctrine. The church did not call these ‘ecumenical’ councils. The general councils were the instruments through which the emperors controlled the church. For a discussion, see chapter 24.2 of Richard Hanson’s book.

5:2 The Orations Against the Arians

While 5.1 discussed Athanasius’ version of the Arian Controversy, the current part of the chapter discusses his theology.

One Reality: /Athanasius: For Athanasius, the Son and Son are one single Reality:

He insisted “on the priority of Father and Son language.” (LA, 113) He “argues that the core of the language is to convey a genetic relationship in which the son is ‘from’ the father in a unique sense.” That “unique sense” means that “it should qualify texts that seem to indicate co-operation between Father and Son as distinct entities.” (LA, 112)

In other words, Athanasius did not see Father and Son as two distinct entities. For him, the Father and the Son are one Being but not as in the Trinity doctrine, where you have three distinct Person. For him, the Son is part of the Person of the Father. In other words, the Son does not have His own distinct existence. For example:

“Athanasius’ increasing clarity in treating the Son as intrinsic to the Father’s being.” (LA, 113)

“The Word is intrinsic to the Father’s action.” (LA, 114)

“The Son’s existence is intrinsic to the Father’s nature and flows from the Father’s existence.” (LA, 116)

“Athanasius’ argument speaks not of two realities engaged in a common activity, but develops his most basic sense that the Son is intrinsic to the Father’s being.” (LA, 114)

For Athanasius, Christ is the Father’s one and only wisdom:

He criticized “the idea that Christ is a derivative Wisdom and not God’s own wisdom.” (LA, 116) (Two Wisdoms:)

“The Word is the Father’s will, intrinsic to the divine mode of action.” (LA, 114)

Athanasius used the Greek term idios, meaning “pertaining to one’s self, one’s own, belonging to one’s self” (biblestudytools), to convey this message:

“The Word and Son is idios to the Father’s essence.” (LA, 114)

Athanasius himself wrote: “For the Son is in the Father … because the whole being of the Son is idios to the Father’s essence, as radiance from light and stream from fountain.” (LA, 115)

“Initially used to indicate that certain qualities and activities are intrinsic to being human, the use of the term to indicate that the Son is idios to the Father’s ousia serves to reinforce his tendency to present the Father/Son relationship as most like that of a person and their faculties.” (LA, 115)

“It probably served only to reinforce his opponents’ sense that the use of ousia language could only serve to confuse the clear distinction between Father and Son, God and Word.” (LA, 115)

For this reason, Athanasius was criticized for teaching “only one reality” (LA, 115) or “modalism” (LA, 117). In response, Athanasius wrote:

“They are two, because the Father is Father and is not also Son, and the Son is not also Father.” (LA, 116)

This does not say much because, for it is true even if the Son is the Father’s wisdom. Therefore, his second defense is that we cannot understand God:

“He is increasingly clear that, beyond stating the logical distinction of Father from Son, charges of modalism and materialism are most appropriately resisted by focusing attention on the character of the divine existence as unique and beyond comprehension.” (LA, 117)

“Athanasius explains that there are two, but not in such a way as to compromise the divine unity.” (LA, 116)

“It is … characteristic of Athanasius that he does not make use of any technical terms for identifying Father and Son as two” (e.g., hypostasis). (LA, 116)

Homoousios Unimportant: The word homoousios appears only once in the Orations. This is understood as “evidence of Athanasius’ lack of commitment to Nicaea’s terminology at this stage of his career.” (LA, 115) Ayres refers to “his growing engagement with Nicaea’s creed.” (LA, 115)

“Athanasius has seen the virtues of ousia language to emphasize the closeness of the Son to the Father, especially the phrase ‘from the ousia of the Father’. It is noticeable, however, that Athanasius never bothers to claim this terminology as credal; such a style of reference did not yet exist.” (LA, 115)

?? “Throughout all three Orations Athanasius condemns Asterius’ theology as itself implying some of the very same problems that Asterius sees in Athanasius.” (LA, 116)

5.3 The ‘Dedication’ Council of Antioch – AD 341

“I left the narrative of events with Julius’ support for Athanasius and Marcellus. Julius’ letter to ‘those around Eusebius’ met with an immediate response:” (LA, 117)

“In 341 a group of bishops present in Antioch ostensibly to dedicate a church built by the Emperor Constantius also considered Julius’ decision to vindicate Athanasius and Marcellus,” both of whom were deposed by the church in the East.

In his letter, based on Athanasius’ polemical strategy, Julius accused the East of being followers of Arius. The council rejected this suggestion:

“We have not been followers of Arius—how could bishops, such as we, follow a presbyter—nor did we receive any other faith beside that which has been handed down.” (LA, 117-8)

The council composed “a formal extended statement of faith … known as the ‘Dedication’ creed.” (LA, 118) The main points 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 … sole from sole …
unchanging and unaltering,
exact image of the Godhead and the ousia 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;

who … became man, mediator between God and men … author of life, as he says. . . (John 6:38), who suffered for us  …

And in the Holy Spirit, …

the Father who is truly Father,
and the Son who is truly Son
and the Holy Spirit who is truly Holy Spirit,
because the names … signify exactly the particular hypostasis and order and glory of each of those who are named, so that they are three in hypostasis but one in agreement. …

if anybody teaches …

that either time or occasion or age exists or did exist before the Son was begotten, let him be anathema. …

that the Son is a creature like one of the creatures … let him be anathema. (LA, 118)

Ayres says the creed “represents the views of those unhappy with some of the key architects of Nicaea.” (LA, 119-120) Richard Hanson wrote:

‘[The 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 Nicaea.” (RH, 290)

As discussed, we attempt to classify views by determining:

      • Is the Son subordinate or equal to the Father?
      • Does the Son have a real existence distinct from the Father?

Subordinate: There are several indications in this creed that the Son is subordinate:

      • God: The Son is “God” but the Father is the “one God.” This creed omits the reference to the Son as “true God” which we find in the Nicene Creed. (In the ancient Greek, many different beings were called “God” (theos). For that reason, when there is the risk of ambiguity, the Bible and the ancients used additional words to identify the one true God (e.g., John 17:3).)
      • The Father alone is said to be “Almighty.”
      • Creator: 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.”
      • Immutable: The Son is said to be “unchanging.” However, that does not exclude the possibility that He is changeable by nature.
      • Mediator: He is the “mediator between God and men.”
      • The creed says that the names Father, Son, and Holy Spirit “signify exactly the … order and glory of each.”

One Reality: Ayres says that “the creed has a clear anti-Sabellian and anti-Marcellan thrust.” (LA, 119) In other words, in this creed, the Son has a real existence distinct from the Father:

The creed explicitly says that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are “three in hypostasis but one in agreement (συμφωνα)” (LA, 118), meaning that they have three distinct minds.

While the Nicene Creed says that the Son is of the same ousia as the Father (homoousios), in this creed, He is the “exact image of the … ousia … of the Father” (LA, 118).

“The 341 creed does anathematize doctrines associated by Nicaea with Arius. Thus,

      • the Son’s generation is not to be considered as preceded temporally in any way (meaning there was no “time” before the Son was begotten.)
      • and he is not to be considered a creature ‘like one of the creatures’.” 129)

“Missing entirely is Nicaea’s insistence on the Son being from the Father’s ousia” (LA, 120) In place of Nicaea’s homoousios (same substance), the creed says that the Son is the image of the Father’ ousia (substance). By ‘image’ they mean that the Son is distinct from the Father.

Also missing what later would become an emphasis in anti-Nicene theology, namely the Father as the only one who exists without cause.

5.4 The Council of Serdica – AD 343

Emperor’s role: As indicated by the following, the dispute was between the theological views of the two emperors. In the fourth century, the emperor effectively was the head of the church. The theology of the church was determined by the view of the emperor, and whoever had the ear of the emperor.

“During these years dispute between Constans and his brother Constantius plays an important role. In later years, after Constans was dead, Athanasius had to defend himself to Constantius against charges that he had, in 342–3, encouraged Constans to oppose his brother.” (LA, 122)

The purpose of the council was “to resolve the disputes.” (LA, 122) 

The council met “in 343 at Serdica … a city near the border between Constans’ half of the empire and Constantius’. Constans himself attended.” (LA, 122-123)

“While Constans promoted the interests of the anti-Eusebian bishops … so too Constantius attempted to assert his authority, sending imperial officials with the bishops who headed unwillingly towards Serdica.” (LA, 123)

East/west: Consistent with this, Ayres argues that it is not accurate to describe it as an East/West or Latin/Greek division: 

After discussing the evidence, He concludes that it is an error to assume “that Greek-speaking areas of the east divided clearly in theology from the Latin-speaking west. … ‘East’ vs. ‘West’ is far too clumsy a tool of analysis for almost anything in the fourth century.” (LA, 123)

East/west: The Western delegation was really from a small area in the West:

“At least half of those attending the ‘western’ meeting were from areas to the east of northern Italy and the largest single block of attendees were the Greek and Balkan bishops. The ‘western’ council was as localized as most during this century.” (LA, 123)

“The council was a disaster: the two sides, one from the west and the other from the east, never met as one.” (LA, 123) “The majority (of the ‘easterners’) refused to meet with the ‘westerners’ who wished Athanasius and Marcellus to be allowed normal participation in the meeting.” “The ‘easterners’ … excommunicated all the ‘western’ leaders at Serdica.” (LA, 124)

God: The ‘easterners’ issued a statement that included an existing creed with some clauses added. One of these was to anathema those “‘those who say. . .that Christ is not God’.” Since the ‘easterners’ regarded the Son as subordinate to the Father, this “reminds us of the variety of ways in which the term ‘God’ could be deployed at this point.” (LA, 124)

Athanasius: Athanasius has been found guilty of “tyrannical behaviour.” (LA, 124)

One Reality: The ‘Western’ bishops issued “a long profession of faith” (LA, 124) which shows that they were ‘One Reality’-theologians; not affording the Son a distinct existence. For example, they said (LA, 125):

      • “Father, Son, and Spirit have only one hypostasis.
      • “The Son has no beginning.”
      • “The Son is from the Father as the Father’s ‘true’ Wisdom and Power and Word.” (As in Logos-theology)
      • “The statement speaks as if the Spirit were identical with the Logos and once describes the Son as ‘Logos-Spirit’.” (This may be a remnant of Logos theology.)
      • “The statement offers no technical terminology for identifying what Father and Son are as distinct.”
      • “‘Arianism’ is also defined in such broad terms that almost any theology which was willing to insist on there being more than one hypostasis was in error.”

Travesty: “The fact that the letter openly invokes the name of Arius to describe the eastern bishops is one indication that an Athanasian account of the conflict had been influential.” (LA, 125)

Subordinate: “Concerns among Eusebians about the Father’s transcendence pushed in very different directions from theologians whose main concern was to show a direct continuity of being between Father and Son.” (LA, 125-6)

Homoousios Unimportant: These events show that participants at Nicaea, “such as Ossius, Athanasius, and Marcellus” were “willing to turn to an alternative statement of faith, just as many of their eastern counterparts had done at Antioch two years before.” “This reflects … a context in which conciliar formulations were not seen as fixed.” (LA, 126)

A letter that was written by Westerners after the council says “that while circumstances demanded a supplementary statement they in no way intended to alter Nicaea’s decrees.” In other words, they interpreted Nicaea as teaching ‘One Reality’. Here, in the year 343, “we perhaps find the first direct mention of Nicaea’s creed since 326–7.” (LA, 126)

5.5 Confusion and Rapprochement: AD 344–350

After “the failure of Serdica,” little happened during the remainder of the 340s, except some “attempts at rapprochement.” (LA, 126)

Travesty: “These years do demonstrate that few as yet shared Athanasius’ rhetorical presentation of this controversy as revolving solely around two opposed theological options.” (LA, 126)

The Long-Lined Creed:

In 345, “an embassy from Antioch” headed “west with another credal statement. This, “known as the ‘Macrostich’ creed (‘long-lined’), consists of a slightly changed version of the fourth Antiochene creed with a long explanation.” (LA, 127) “The conciliatory tone of this text is clear.” (LA, 129)

The text explicitly asserts “three distinct ‘realities’ while still finding a way to indicate their unity” but with a “continued strong hierarchy.” (LA, 129)

    • Father Transends: The Son is “subordinate to his Father and God.” (LA, 127) He “is not coingenerate and the Father alone is unbegun and ingenerate.” (LA, 128)
    • Will: “The Son is generated from the Father’s will as the only alternative to being generated by necessity.” (LA, 129)
    • Eternal: He was begotten of God “before ages.” (LA, 127)
    • God: “He is God according to his perfect and true nature’.” (LA, 127)
    • Image: “The Son … is ‘like in all things to the Father’.” (LA, 128)
    • Unity: “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.” (LA, 128-9)

Unity: “Earlier ‘Lucianists’” insisted “that only the Father is true God and that assertions of unity in God are about the Father’s status alone.” In this creed “the unity of God somehow encompasses Father and Son as distinct beings.” (LA, 129) It defines “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.” (LA, 129)

One Reality: The creed condemns “those who treat Father, Son, and Spirit as three names of one reality (πργμα) or person (πρσωπον).” (LA, 128) Specifically, “the text argues against Marcellan doctrines which … treat the Word as ‘mere word of God and unexisting, having his being in another’.” (LA, 127) “Against this theology the Macrostich confesses the Son as ‘living God and Word, existing in himself’.” (LA, 128) “The text goes on to argue that there are three realities (πργματα) or persons (πρσωπα) … This does not, we are told, mean three Gods because there is only one ingenerate, unbegun and because the Father ‘who alone has existence from himself’.” (LA, 128)

“The creed was presented at a council in Milan in 345, but the easterners were required to condemn Arius before their creed could be discussed. This insult had a predictable result and the embassy returned east.” (LA, 129)

Emperor’s role:

“While some saw a clash between different theological trajectories, many others also assumed that political motives were behind much of what had happened in the previous fifteen years.” (LA, 126)

“Constans was keen to assert his own ecclesiastical policy.” (LA, 127)

“Political tensions between Constans and Constantius have shaped a controversy between a key group of eastern bishops and their Roman, Balkan, and some other ‘western’ counterparts. That controversy is indeed partly theological … (but) also deeply political.” (LA, 129-130)

II The Emergence of Pro-Nicene Theology

6 Shaping the Alternatives: AD 350–360

6.1 Constantius and the Rise of the Homoians

Emperor’s role: /Travesty:

“Over the period AD 351–3, and after a complex civil war, the eastern Emperor 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)

“Constantius has frequently been seen as a ruthless and brutal ruler and was painted by later pro-Nicene writers as a persecuter of supporters of Nicaea. The true picture is more complex: within the fourth-century context Constantius was a fairly mild ruler.” (LA, 133)

“Constantius was certainly deeply interested in the affairs of the Church. As his control over the empire grew Constantius pursued a policy of encouraging rapprochement (reconciliation) between ecclesiastical groups, but within the framework of the Eusebian theology that was so influential in the east.” (LA, 134)

“He seems to have desired a basic formulation of the theological issues at stake that would (within some bounds) enable as many as possible to agree, and he was not beyond subterfuge and force to achieve public agreement between factions.” (LA, 134)

“As his control over the west grew Constantius increased his attempts to get bishops to agree to the key eastern decisions of the previous few years.” (LA, 135)

Sirmium 351:

One Reality: The focus of the council that met at Sirmium in 351 “was the examination and condemnation of Photinus, bishop of Sirmium.” Photinus was “perhaps the most visible representative of a Marcellan theology in these years.” (LA, 134) 

Ousia Language: “The creed issued by this council is of importance for our narrative, and is largely a copy of the fourth Antiochene creed with a series of anathemas attached. Two of these strongly condemn some uses of ousia language.” The creed specifically opposes:

“Uses of ousia language that have materialistic implications” (LA, 135), specifically that “the Father’s being is ‘extended’ in the generation of the Son,” (LA, 134) and

Subordinate: The view “that Father and Son are coeternal or two (equal) Gods. While the Son is ‘before the ages’ he is not unbeginning or without origin, and is subordinate to the Father.” (LA, 134) 

Homoousios Unimportant:

“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) (Travesty: /East/West:)

“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. … 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)

One Reality:

While “the easterners have condemned Athanasius,” the bishop of Rome (Liberius) defended Athanasius and accused the ‘easterners’ of “unwilling to condemn Arius’ views.” (LA, 136) Arius and Athanasius represented the two extremes on the continuum of views. While Arius held an extreme subordination of the Son, Athanasius represented the ‘One Reality’-view. (Sides:)

Some of the ‘Westerners’ agreed with Liberius but others did not. (LA, 136) (East/West:)

Milan 355:

“Liberius (of Rome) … calls on the Emperor to summon a council as his father Constantine had done.” (LA, 136) Constantius granted this request and “summoned all western bishops to Milan for 355.” (LA, 136) That council condemned “Athanasius, Marcellus, and Photinus” and exiled some of their supporters. (LA, 136-7) [My comment: Why did Liberius call for this council? Did he not know that he would be defeated? Perhaps he did not understand that the bishops would submit so easily to ‘imperial pressure’.]

Homoousios Unimportant: Hilary claimed that it was at Milan in 355 that “he first heard the Nicene creed recited,” perhaps meaning “that he had not heard the creed recited in a public context as an authoritative statement of faith.” (LA, 137)

Sirmium 357:

The “meeting of bishops at Sirmium in 357 … (was) a significant turning point.” (LA, 137) It “was attended by only a few bishops.” (LA, 137) “Under considerable pressure Ossius signed.” (LA, 137) He “may well have been approaching his hundredth year.” (LA, 137)

Homoians: “Sirmium 351 had not only omitted ousia language, but positively condemned some uses of that language. The confession of 357 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.”  (LA, 138) “This text demonstrates … the emergence of ‘Homoian’ theology. … Over the next two or three decades Homoian theologians come in different varieties, but are united in their strong resistance to any theologies that see commonality of essence between Father and Son.” (LA, 138) “Homoians were willing to talk of Son being ‘like’ (homoios) the Father, or ‘like according to the Scriptures’, but all further technical terminology was avoided” (LA, 138) (Ousia Language: )

One Reality: The Homoians “included bishops of different stripes.” What “united” them was “the desire to find a solution to the ongoing controversy that would rule out any theologies seemingly tainted with Marcellan emphases.” (LA, 138) In other words, the attack on the term “ousia” implies that they saw it as “tainted with Marcellan emphases.” (Sides:)

“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) [My comment: Did “anti-Nicene accounts” emerge in response to the “West” using Nicaea as defense?] (Homoians: /Homoousios Unimportant:)

“The leadership of this alliance (Homoians) was always diverse. In the east Acacius of Caesarea (bishop from 340 to c.365), the successor of Eusebius of Caesarea, was a powerful figure, and a bishop who had significant influence with Constantius.” (LA, 138) (Homoians:)

“Homoians are found in east and west.” (LA, 138)

Heterousians: “Even as it formed, this group found itself fracturing with the emergence of those who push the subordinationist impulse of Homoian theology even further and increasingly interpret ‘likeness’ as indicating a fundamental distinction in essence (those whom we will term Heterousians).” (LA, 139)

6.2 Athanasius and the Defence of Homoousios

Athanasius: Athanasius was deposed several times. In 356, “Constantius sent troops to Alexandria to remove him. From the beginning of 356 to the end of 361 Athanasius … spent most of these years in hiding in Egypt.” (LA, 140)

Polemical Strategy – As discussed, Athanasius developed his polemical strategy in the 340s. In the 350s, after Constantius had become emperor of the entire Empire and was trying to convince the Western church to accept the creeds formulated by the Eastern church, Athanasius refined that strategy:

In chapter 5.1, Ayres explains that Athanasius and Marcellus were both exiled to Rome during 339-40 and “made common cause against their eastern opponents.” (LA, 106) Thereafter, 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)

“During the 350s Athanasius honed (refined) his polemic,” (LA, 140) including claiming “that Acacius’ own theology is just another version of the theology of Asterius and Arius.” (LA, 141) (Travesty:)

Defense of Nicaea – As part of that refinement, Athanasius developed “a detailed defence of Nicaea’s terminology.” (LA, 140) It is important to understand that Athanasius did not defend Nicaea for the first 25 years after Nicaea in 325:

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

Strangely enough, in this defense of Nicaea, Athanasius adopted Eusebius’ interpretation of the Nicene Creed in which the ousia-terms are interpreted non-materially:

Athanasius wrote that the Son was generated immaterially. (LA, 141) and pointed out that “Eusebius of Caesarea had himself interpreted Nicaea’s language in a non-modalist, non-materialist sense.” (LA, 140)

“Athanasius seems not only to allude to, but also to build on, the argument of Eusebius of Caesarea in his Letter to his Diocese written in 326. … he never argues directly against the letter. … Athanasius actually directly draws on the basic structure of Eusebius’ account of how homoousios is only intended to emphasize that the Son is ‘from God’. Of course, his adoption of Eusebius’ argument is also a careful adaptation: he has a very different understanding of what ‘from God’ entails.” (LA, 143) (Eusebius’ Letter:)

By interpreting the ousia-terms non-materially, they become more or less meaningless. Athanasius said:

“When we speak of God’s essence we do no more than say that God is, (for) we do not know what God is.” (LA, 142) “God’s nature is unknown to us” (LA, 142).

Begotten from the substance of God then simply means that He is truly from God:

“From the essence of the Father” identifies “the Word to be other than the nature of things originate, being alone truly from God’.” (LA, 141)

“Describing the Word as ‘of the essence of God’ is the same as saying that the Word is ‘of God’.” (LA, 142)

Homoousios merely means that He is inseparable from the Father:

Homoousios means that “the Son’s generation is unlike the generation of human beings and does not involve the creation of one thing that may be separated from its originator.” (LA, 141) (Homoousios Meaning:)

“Homoousios is thus defended not by reference to a detailed understanding of what the term implies in itself, but by arguing that it is an important cipher for other terms and phrases.” (LA, 142-3)

The question then is, with that interpretation, why do we need the ousia-terms at all? Athanasius argued that we need those terms because the “scriptural titles for the Son such as Power, Wisdom, and Word” require “the ousia language of Nicaea.” (LA, 141)

I understand this argument as follows: The Bible describes the Son as “the Power of God,” “the Word of God,” and “the Wisdom of God.” This Athanasius interprets as that the Son is God’s only Power, Word, and Wisdom and, therefore, inseparable from the Father. He is part of the Father. I do not understand why ousia language would be required to explain that inseparability. However, if He is part of God, He is also unoriginated. (One Reality:)

Athanasius “fails to offer any terminology for the distinctions between the persons.” (LA, 143)

Athanasius’ “assumption of a complete break between the created and the uncreated undergirds his reading of what is implied when Eusebius and others speak of Christ as ontologically inferior to the Father.” (LA, 143) To explain, the Eusebians differentiate between:

    • The Father who alone is Unoriginated (exists without cause),
    • The Son who was begotten, and
    • All other beings who were created.

In contrast, Athanasius distinguishes only between two types of beings; Unoriginated and Created. In this categorization, he placed the Son in the “Unoriginated” category:

“The Son is truly a Son of the Father and not just the same as any other created thing.” (LA, 142)

“The deployment of such a clear distinction between Creator and creation and the placing of all talk about the Word on the uncreated ‘side’ of the boundary will become a central plank of pro-Nicene theologies in the 360s.” (LA, 143) (God:)

The Eusebian objection to this was that the Bible teaches that the Father alone is ‘ingenerate’ (exists without a cause). For that reason, “Athanasius spends considerable time arguing against ‘Arian’ use of ‘ingenerate’. … (This) reflects the continued presence of the term in Eusebian theology and polemic, and perhaps marks an increased significance ‘ingenerate’ had in the late 340s and early 350s.” (LA, 144) (Objections:)

6.3 Aetius and Eunomius

Heterousians: “One of the most significant signs of the tensions within the Homoian alliance is the emergence of ‘Heterousian’ theology.” (LA, 144) The theologies of the Homoians and Heterousians are similar. Both regarded the Son as subordinate to the Father. The difference is that while Homoians refused to talk about God’s substance, “Heterousians emphasized the differences between the ousia of Father and Son” (LA, 144)

“The two key Heterousian figures were Aetius and Eunomius.” (LA, 145)

Aetius’ theology appeared “during the late 350s.” It appeared “within the Homoian alliance.” (LA, 145)

Neo-Arian: “The habit is still widespread of calling this movement ‘neo-Arian’” (LA, 145) but Ayres, for the following reasons, does not support this name:

    • “There are … significant differences between Arius’ theology and that of Aetius and Eunomius.” (LA, 145)
    • Neither Aetius nor Eunomius “ever appears to have made any claim on Arius’ legacy.” (LA, 145)
    • “Their most persistent and important opponents (were) the Cappadocians” and they never refer to “Aetius and Eunomius as new Ariuses.” (LA, 145)

“It is sometimes argued that Heterousian use of ‘ingenerate’ was directly dependent on earlier ‘Arian’ use back to Arius‘ own in the Thalia” (LA, 147) but Ayres argues that Alexander of Alexandria also used this term (LA, 147). “Rowan Williams even suggests that use of the term begins with Alexander.” (LA, 147) “It seems best that we imagine a slow development in reflection on the term ‘ingenerate’” (LA, 147)

Anomoians: Another title that Ayres rejects is “‘Anomoians’—those who teach the general ‘unlikeness’ of Father and Son. This term was coined by their opponents and both (Aetius and Eunomius) were keen to defend themselves against it, insisting that their concern was to teach ‘unlikeness according to essence’: there were many other ways in which Father and Son were alike.” (LA, 145)

Ayres prefers “the term ‘Heterousian’ because of its precision in indicating exactly where they saw the key difference between Father and Son.” (LA, 145)

Aetius argued that only a Being who is compound (consists of parts) can generate from his substance another being that is homoousios with him (of the same substance). But God, since He is ingenerate (exists without cause), is not compound. Therefore, the Son is not generated from God’s substance and not homoousios with Him; not even homoi-ousios (of a similar substance):

“For Aetius the essence of God lies in being ingenerate … which also involves not consisting in a compound essence. If God is truly ‘not generated’, he argues, then no logical sense can be given to an act of generation that results in one who is either homoousios or homoiousios with God. All that is generated and all that generates from its own substance must be compound. God, not being compound, cannot generate in this way, but only by God’s will or authority. The Son is thus the product of God’s will.” (LA, 146)

“Eunomius deploys the same argument as Aetius to explain why the Son cannot come from the Father’s essence.” (LA, 147) He “gives great weight to ingenerate as a term summing up the character of God’s essence” (LA, 147) and argues similarly that “it is simply illogical to imagine that any generated thing shares God’s ingenerate nature” (LA, 147) or “the Father’s simplicity” (LA, 146).

“Eunomius was around 25 years younger than Aetius.” (LA, 146) He:

Father and Son: Takes “the term ‘Son’ … to indicate that he is essentially subordinate.” (LA, 146)

“Appeals to Christ’s own confession of the Father’s superiority at John 14:28.” (LA, 146) (“The Father is greater than I.)

Image: “Describes the Son as ‘like [the Father] according to the Scriptures’, a phrasing embodied in the Homoian creed of 360.” (LA, 147)

Image: Argues that “the Son … is the image of the Father’s will: but he is the Father’s power only in being an image of his power and activity.” (LA, 148)

Created Being: “Eunomius does describe the Son as created, but he is concerned to show that the Son is distinct from the creation we inhabit: the Son is a product unlike other products and stands in the relationship of maker to all other things.” (LA, 148) ”The Son holds a unique status because he is a uniquely direct product of the Father’s will.” (LA, 148)

A possible predecessor of the Heterousians was “Dionysius of Alexandria (in the third century) (who) seems to have held the doctrine” “that ungeneracy defines God’s essence.” (LA, 148)

Origen: Ayres refers to “Origen’s perceived belief in the eternity of the creation.” (LA, 149)

6.4 The Rise and Fall of the ‘Homoiousians’

“The emerging shape of Heterousian theology” in the form of the creed of “Sirmium 357,” based on the teachings of Aetius, “prompted a strong reaction,” initially by “a small council … at Ancyra at the invitation of its bishop Basil” (LA, 149-150). (Sirmium 357: / Homoiousian:)

Another cause of this formation of Homoiousian theology was the “subordinationist” trend of the “radical Homoians” “shaping Constantius’ policies during the 350s.” (LA, 150)

“From this (Basil’s) gathering at least one extensive letter survives, written by Basil of Ancyra himself.” (LA, 150)

Basil was able to form an alliance with the Homoians against Marcellus’ Sabelianism, but his theology “emphasizes the ineffable depth of the Father’s self-gift in generating the Son.” Consequently, he had a higher view of the Son than the Homoians. (LA, 150)

It is argued that homoiousian (similar substance) theology was an attempt to reconcile the homoousian (same substance) theology with the homoian notion of similarity. However, Homoiousianism was “most prominently associated with … Basil of Ancyra” and “the term homoiousios plays no role in Basil’s surviving texts,” implying that such a compromise was not intended. Lewis Ayres proposes that Homoiousianism was not merely a compromise but “a significant and persistent strand in earlier eastern theology.” (LA, 150)

While Homoians refused to talk of the ousia (substance) of God, Basil insisted that, although this may have “corporeal connotations,” substance language is necessary to reflect the closeness of the Father and Son that is expressed by the concepts “Father/Son” and “begotten.” If we “remove the corporeal connotations of the Father/Son relationship then” the Son is a mere creature. (LA, 151)

“Basil argues that if the Father gives the Son to have life in himself (John 5:26),” then the Son must have that same life in His substance and, in that respect at least, the Son’s substance is the same as the Father’s. (LA, 152)

“Basil’s council sent a delegation to the Emperor Constantius … and this embassy met with success.” The Emperor condemned “Aetius and his teaching.” This supports the view that this formulation of homoiousian theology was particularly intended to oppose the Neo-Arians. Constantius exiled Aetius and his supporters. Constantius wrote, “when we first made a declaration of our belief. . .we confessed that our Saviour is the Son of God, and of like substance with the Father’. … Basil’s influence was at its height. (LA, 152-153)

  • 1
    Where should we begin the discussion of the Arian Controversy?
  • 2
    Did Arius cause the Controversy?
  • 3
    Was Arius’ ‘heresy’ based on Origen so that Origen was the real cause of the Controversy?
  • 4
    Did the church fathers disagree because they were unable to read the Scriptures correctly?
  • 5
    Four different views of the Son of God
  • 6
    Basically, there were only two views; those who said that the Son is the same as the Father and those who said He is different.
  • 7
    The Nicene Creed reflects their view.
  • 8
    Arius was part of this group, named after Eusebius of Caesarea and Eusebius of Nicodemia.
  • 9
    This is the third view. Marcellus was a Sabellian but had a significant influence at the council of Nicaea.
  • 10
    The Council of Nicaea was basically an Eastern affair and they held the three views above. What did the Latin theologians believe at the time?
  • 11
    In the four views, how was the Son incarnated? Did He have a human soul?
  • 12
    Which of the four views was ‘orthodox’ at the time?
  • 13
    Was the Nicene Creed regarded as a binding and universal formula of the Christian faith?
  • 14
    Who had the upper hand, and why?
  • 15
    Does Homoousios mean that Father and Son are one single Being?
  • 16
    Pro-Nicene theology was developed in the decades after Nicaea.
  • 17
    After Nicaea, the so-called Arians were restored to their positions, and the people who dominated at Nicaea were removed.
  • 18
    To defend himself against accusations of violence and to retain his authority as bishop, Athanasius created ‘Arianism’.
  • 19
    For Athanasius, the Son is part of the Person of the Father. In other words, the Son does not have His own distinct existence.
  • 20
    The view 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 Nicaea
  • 21
    Two emperors at war on theology
  • 22
    Not much happened during the remainder of the decade. The Long-Lined Creed was one attempt at reconciliation.
  • 23
    After Constantius became emperor of the entire Roman Empire, he pushed for a unified religious policy throughout his domains.
  • 24
    Athanasius first began to defend Nicaea in the 360s. He did that as part of his polemical strategy. He interpreted the ousia-terms non-materially.
  • 25
    While Homoians refused to talk about God’s substance, Heterousians such as Aetius and Eunomius emphasized the differences between the ousia of Father and Son.
  • 26
    They emphasize the ineffable depth of the Father’s self-gift in generating the Son. Substance language is necessary to reflect the closeness of the Father and Son.