Arius was a conservative, not an exegetical rebel.

Introduction

In the traditional account, the ‘Arian’ Controversy began with a dispute between Arius and his bishop Alexander.

Arius was a presbyter in the city of Alexandria, Egypt. In the year 318, he confronted his bishop Alexander for ‘erroneous’ teachings concerning the nature of the Son of God. Their disagreement escalated. So, Emperor Constantine called a council at Nicaea in the year 325 where Arius’ theology was presented, discussed, and soon rejected.

Purpose

This article discusses Arius’ antecedents: From whom did Arius receive his theology? Or did he develop his theology himself? In the traditional account of the Arian Controversy, Arius’ theology was an innovation opposing established orthodoxy. But this article shows that Arius did not say anything new.

Was Arius important?

In the fourth century, Arius was not regarded as important. He is regarded as important today because Athanasius falsely claimed that the anti-Nicenes were followers of Arius.

Only a few pages of what Arius wrote survived until today because, as discussed in a previous article, Arius was not regarded as a particularly significant writer. As discussed here, while Athanasius’ enemies labeled him as a Sabellian, Athanasius invented the terms ‘Arian’ and ‘Arianism’ to label his enemies as followers of Arius’ theology, with all the incoherence and inadequacy that teaching displayed. But Athanasius’opponents did not follow Arius. They were the anti-Nicenes of a different place and time. Indeed, they also opposed Arius’ theology.

Nevertheless, Arius was significant in the first 7 of the 62 years of the ‘Arian’ Controversy. (See – The Arian Controversy had two phases.) To understand the Nicene Creed, we need to understand Arius.

Authors Quoted

This article series is based on the latest available books on this subject, all by world-class Catholic scholars and Trinitarians.

Following the last full-scale book on the Arian Controversy, published in English by Gwatkin at the beginning of the 20th century,1“Gwatkin nearly a century ago in the last full-scale book written in English on the Arian Controversy” (Hanson Lecture) R.P.C. Hanson in 1988 published perhaps the most influential book in modern history on the Arian Controversy.2Hanson RPC, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy, 318-381. 1988 This was followed in 2004 by a book by Lewis Ayres.3Ayres, Lewis, Nicaea and its Legacy, An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology, 2004 Ayres confirmed the importance of Hanson’s book.4“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.” (Ayres, p. 12) Ayres’ book is based on those surveys and “in some measure advances on their texts.” (Ayres, p. 5) I also quote from another important book by Rowan Williams, focusing specifically on Arius.5Williams, Rowan (24 January 2002) [1987]. Arius: Heresy and Tradition (Revised ed.). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 978-0-8028-4969-4.

Specific Predecessors

“A very large number of names have been suggested as predecessors of Arius.” (Hanson, p. 60)

“His enemies first associated him with Paul of Samosata and with Judaizing tendences in Christology; later on, after the reputation of Origen had been virtually ruined in the Church, Arius was regarded by some as an Origen redivivus (a reborn Origen). Some more modern scholars have been much preoccupied with the question of whether Antioch or Alexandria should be seen as his spiritual and intellectual home.” (Williams, p. 116)

This section summarizes Hanson’s and Williams’ conclusions concerning Arius’ dependence on specific predecessors:

Plato

Arius was influenced by Plato, but so was every other theologian of his time.

Plato’s philosophy of time and the origin of the universe still dominated in the fourth century and shaped what most influential writers of that time said about creation:

“Plato’s Timaeus served as the central text upon which discussions of the world’s origins focused, not only in late antiquity, but right up to the revival of Christian Aristotelianism in the thirteenth century. …

There can be no doubt that for many of the most influential writers of the age, from Origen to Eusebius Pamphilus, the contemporary discussion of time and the universe shaped their conceptions of what could intelligibly be said of creation.” (Williams, p. 181)

“Plato distinguishes between:

      • What exists without cause and, therefore always exists and never comes into being, and
      • The universe as we perceive it, which had a beginning, is not eternal, and never exists stably.” (Williams, p. 181)

Furthermore, Plato argues that, since the cosmos is beautiful; it must therefore be modeled upon what is higher and better. The Creator made something like himself; reflecting order and beauty. To establish this order, God created time. The heavenly bodies are made in order to measure and regulate time. In other words, so to speak, time did not always exist. (Williams, p. 181-2) (Similar to the modern big bang theory)

Philo of Alexandria

To the same extent that Arius was influenced by Philo, Alexandrian theologians, in general, were also influenced by him. Philo was not the origin of Arius’ idiosyncrasies.

Philo (20 BC – 50 AD) was a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher who interpreted Jewish scripture in terms of Greek philosophy. That is significant because the Christian theologians of the second and third centuries did the same with the New Testament (See – the Apologists).

Wolfson concluded, “Arius was responsible for ‘a reversion to the original view of Philo’ on the Logos, after the aberrations of a modalism which deprived the Logos of real subsistence” (Williams, p. 117).

“Wolfson … suggested that Philo may have been a former of Arius’ thought because he too taught two Logoi, and the creation of one of them ex nihilo, and the incomparability of God.

But then, Wolfson was obsessed to an excessive degree with the influence of Philo on the fathers; Philo’s Logos-doctrine is confused and obscure; he does not make the same division between the Logos and God as did the Arians. We cannot claim Philo as an ancestor of Arius’ thought.” (Hanson, p. 60)

After discussing the evidence, Rowan Williams comes to a similar conclusion. He says that the similarities between Philo and Arius “should not … mislead us into hastily concluding that Arius was an assiduous student of Philo. What all this shows is, rather, that Philo mapped out the ground for the Alexandrian theological tradition to build on, and that Arius’ theological problematic is firmly within that tradition.” (Williams, p. 122-123)

Gnosticism

Arius also did not receive his theology from the Gnostics.

“There are some resemblances to Gnostic doctrines in Arius’ thought. … But these resemblances are either too general or refer to terms used for different things in the two authors. Furthermore, Arius several times rejects the favourite Gnostic concept of the ‘issue’ … of beings, from God.” (Hanson, p. 60)

Clement of Alexandria (150-215)

Arius inherited many things from Clement, just like he received many things from many other theologians, but the peculiar aspects of Arius’ theology cannot be blamed on Clement (Hanson, p. 60).

Clement was the bishop of Alexandria in the early third century in the same city where Arius and his bishop lived.

Clément’s theology included one of the peculiar aspects of Arius’ theology, namely, “two Logoi.” (See the explanation below.) However, Clement’s “two Logoi are quite different from those of Arius.” (Hanson, p. 60)

Furthermore, while Arius taught ‘there was when He (the Son) was not, Clement taught “the eternity of the Son.” (Hanson, p. 60)

Clement describes the Logos as:

“The primary image of God …
the ‘second cause’ in heaven,
‘life itself’.” (Williams, p. 125-126)

After showing that Clement’s theology is significantly different from that of Arius, Williams concludes:

“However, this is not to deny that Clement also passes on a positive legacy to Arius and his generation. … There are the numerous parallels in vocabulary between Arius’ Thalia and the language of Clement.” (Williams, p. 126)

“It is less a question of a direct influence on Arius than of a common ethos … Arius begins from the apophatic tradition shared by Philo, Clement and heterodox Gnosticism … but his importance lies in his refusal to … (admit) into the divine substance … a second principle.” (Williams, p. 131)

Origen (185-253)

Arius “was not without influence from Origen, but cannot seriously be called an Origenist.” (Hanson, p. 98)

Origen was the most influential theologian of the first three centuries. “From very early on, there were those who saw Origen as the ultimate source of Arius’ heresy” (Williams, p. 131). The similarities and differences between Origen and Arius are discussed in a separate article. Hanson concluded:

“Arius probably inherited some terms and even some ideas from Origen, … he certainly did not adopt any large or significant part of Origen’s theology.” (Hanson, p. 70)

Another article compares Arius’ theology to that of Origen in more detail. Origen taught three hypostases, meaning that the Father, Son, and Spirit are three distinct Persons with three distinct minds. This was the dominant view in the third century and was also taught by the Eusebians, including Arius, in the fourth century. 

Dionysius of Alexandria

Arius probably received his theology from Dionysius of Alexandria, who was the bishop of the city when Arius was born.

“Dionysius was bishop of Alexandria from 247 to 264.” (Hanson, p. 72) “The Arians … were adducing (offering) Dionysius of Alexandria as a great authority in the past who supported their doctrine.” (Hanson, p. 73) For example, Dionysius wrote:

“The Son of God is a creature and generate,
and he is not by nature belonging to
but is alien in ousia from the Father,
just as the planter of the vine is to the vine,
and the shipbuilder to the ship;

Further, because he is a creature
he did not exist before he came into existence” (Hanson, p. 73).

“Dionysius … rejected homoousios because it did not occur in the Bible.” (Hanson, p. 75)

“Athanasius defends Dionysius, though he admits that he wrote these words, on the grounds that the circumstances, since he was combating Sabellianism, justified such expressions” (Hanson, p. 73).

“Basil … says that Dionysius unwittingly sowed the first seeds of the Anhomoian error, by leaning too far in the opposite direction in his anxiety to correct wrong Sabellian views” (Hanson, p. 74).

Hanson concludes as follows:

“However Dionysius may have refined his later theology, it is impossible to avoid seeing some influence from his work in the theology of Arius. The later Arians and Basil were right. The damning passage quoted from his letteris altogether too like the doctrine of Arius for us to regard it as insignificant.” (Hanson, p. 75-76)

“If, as seems likely, Arius put together an eclectic pattern of theology … Dionysius of Alexandria certainly contributed to that pattern.” (Hanson, p. 76)

In conclusion, of the writers discussed so far, Dionysius is the first one who really could have been the source of Arius’ theology.

Paul of Samosata

While this Paul believed that Jesus was a ‘mere man’ and did not exist before His birth, Arius believed that the Father begat the Son before time began.

Paul was Bishop of Antioch from 260 to 268. At the time, Antioch was the headquarters of the church. “Many scholars have conjectured that the views of Paul of Samosata, or at least of his school, must have influenced Arius” (Hanson, p. 70). However:

“Apparently for Paul the Son was Jesus Christ the historical figure without any preexistent history at all.

And the stock accusation made against Paul by all ancient writers who mention him from the ivth century onward was that he declared Jesus to be no more than a mere man.” (Hanson, p. 71)

“Apart from his (moral?) superiority to us in all things because of his miraculous generation, he is ‘equal to us’. Wisdom dwells in Jesus ‘as in a temple’: the prophets and Moses and “many lords’ (kings?) were indwelt by Wisdom, but Jesus has the fullest degree of participation in it.” (Williams, p. 159-160)

“This is an idea which all Arian writers after Arius (and, in my view, probably Arius himself) regularly rejected.” “Arius believed firmly in a pre-existent Son.” (Hanson, p. 71) “Arius … ranges himself with those who most strongly opposed Paul. (Williams, p. 161)

To conclude:

“We know very little with certainty about Paul of Samosata.” Therefore, “any attribution of influence from Paul of Samosata upon Arius must rest almost wholly upon speculation.” (Hanson, p. 72)

Theognostus of Alexandria

While Arius believed in two Logoi, meaning that the Son is a distinct Person with a distinct mind, Theognostus taught one Logoi, meaning that Father and Son share a single mind.

“We cannot glean any satisfactory evidence that Theognostus was a predecessor of Arius.” (Hanson, p. 79) Theognostus wrote between 247 and 280. His views “echoes Arian concerns in insisting that the Father is not divided” but he also had some quite un-Arian views, such as that:

The Son is an issue of the Father (Hanson, p. 78).

“The ousia of the Son … was (not) introduced from non-existence, but it was of the Father’s ousia.” (Hanson, p. 77) “Theognostus explicitly disowned the doctrine, which Arius certainly held, that the Son was created out of non-existence” (Hanson, p. 78).

While Arius taught “that there are two Logoi (one immanent in the Father and one a name given somewhat inaccurately to the Son),” … Theognostus insisted that there was only one Logos (Hanson, p. 79).

Methodius of Olympia

Methodius, like Arius, taught that the Father alone exists without cause, and that the Son is subordinate to the Father; the first of all created things.

Methodius of Olympia (died c. 311) was a bishop, ecclesiastical author, and martyr.

He was “the most vocal critic of Origen in the pre-Arian period” (Williams, p. 168). He “seems to assume that Origen’s doctrine of the eternity of creation implies the eternity of matter as a rival self-subsistent reality alongside God” (Williams, p. 168).

He “produces some views which interestingly resemble those of Arius. For example:

“The Son … is wholly dependent on the Father.” (Hanson, p. 83).

The Son is “the first of all created things” (Hanson, p. 83).

“God alone … is ingenerate [meaning, exists without a cause]; nothing else in the universe is so, certainly not, he implies, the Son.” (Hanson, p. 83)

“God the Father is the ‘unoriginated origin’, God the Son the beginning after the beginning, the origin of everything else created.” (Hanson, p. 83)

“God the Father creates by his will alone. God the Son is the ‘hand’ of the Father, orders and adorns what the Father has created out of nothing.” (Hanson, p. 83)

Lucian of Antioch

Arius drew on the teachings of Lucian. Arius represents a school, probably the school of Lucian of Antioch, but we do not know what Lucian taught.

The authorities above are discussed in chronological sequence. Lucian was the last of them. He died as a martyr in 312, only 6 years before Arius and his bishop clashed.

“Jerome ... describes Lucian thus: ‘A very learned man, a presbyter of the church of Antioch” (Hanson, p. 81). He was “well versed in sacred learning” (Hanson, p. 79).

Evidence that Arius was a follower of Lucian

“A figure to whom many scholars have looked in order to explain the origins of Arius’ thought is Lucian of Antioch:”

“Arius describes Eusebius of Nicomedia, to whom he is writing, as ‘a genuine fellow-disciple of Lucian’” (Hanson, p. 80), implying that Arius himself was a “disciple of Lucian.”

Philostorgius also described Eusebius of Nicomedia, one of Arius’ close friends, as “the _ disciple of Lucian the martyr’” (Hanson, p. 81).

Epiphanius identifies “the Arians” with “the Lucianists” (Hanson, p. 80). “’Lucian and all the Lucianists’, he says, ‘deny that the Son of God took a soul [i.e. a human soul), ‘in order that, of course, they may attach human experiences directly to the Logos.” (Hanson, p. 80) This was a standard teaching of the Arians.

Lucian’s theology

“According to Sozomen, the second creed of the Dedication Council on Antioch in 341 was said to be a confession of faith stemming from Lucian.” (Williams, p. 163-4; cf. RH, 80-81)

“There is one fact, and one fact only, which we can with any confidence accept as authentic about Lucian’s doctrine. … Lucian taught that the Saviour at the Incarnation assumed a body without a soul” (Hanson, p. 83).

But Arius deviated from Lucian.

“Philostorgius knew of a tradition that Arius and the Lucianists disagreed about the Son’s knowledge of the Father, (Williams, p. 165)

While Arius maintained “that God was incomprehensible … also to the only-begotten Son of God’ (Williams, p. 165), “the Lucianists … were remembered to have held that God was fully known by the Son … Eusebius of Caesarea says much the same.” (Williams, p. 165)

If these are true, then Arius differed from Lucian on this key aspect of his teachings.

Conclusions re Lucian

“We can be sure that Arius drew on the teachings of Lucian, but … we do not know what Lucian taught” (Hanson, p. 82, cf. 83). “Our witnesses to Lucian’s theology are fragmentary and uncertain in the extreme.” (Williams, p. 163)

“It is wholly unlikely that Arius was a vox clamantis in deserto (a lone voice calling in the desert). He represents a school, probably the school of Lucian of Antioch, and the school was to some extent independent of him. Arianism did not look back on him later with respect and awe as its founder.” (Hanson, p. 97)

Antioch or Alexandria?

Arius is an unmistakable Alexandrian. We have no real justification even for regarding him as a rebel in the matter of exegesis.”

“Some … modern scholars have been much preoccupied with the question of whether Antioch or Alexandria should be seen as his spiritual and intellectual home.” (Williams, p. 116).

However, “the stark distinctions once drawn between Antiochene and Alexandrian exegesis or theology have come increasingly to look exaggerated. (Williams, p. 158)

“Arius is an unmistakable Alexandrian in his apophaticism (knowledge of God). … We have no real justification even for regarding him as a rebel in the matter of exegesis.” (Williams, p. 156) “Arius inherits a dual concern that is very typically Alexandrian.” (Williams, p. 176)

Conclusions

Arius did not cause the Controversy.

The dispute around Arius continued the dispute that raged during the preceding century.

The analysis above shows that the authors preceding Arius had very conflicting views of the Son. Sabellian and his supporters are not even mentioned above because Arius was on the opposite end of the spectrum. Consequently:

“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.” (Ayres, p. 20)

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

Two authors influenced Arius.

The two authors who particularly influenced Arius were Dionysius of Alexandria and Methodius of Olympia:

Arius rejected Gnosticism and the theology of Paul of Samosata.

Arius is unmistakably Alexandrian in his theology and the general heritage of the church in Alexandria was shaped by Plato, Philo, Clement, Origen, and Lucian:

Arius’ theology was “clearly the result of a very large number of theological views.” (Williams, p. 171)

The two authors whom Arius could rightly claim as his theological predecessors are Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, and Methodius, bishop of Olympia:

It is likely that Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria contributed to Arius’ theology (Hanson, p. 76).

Bishop Methodius of Olympia regarded the Father alone as ingenerate; the ‘unoriginated origin’ and the Son as the first of all created things and wholly dependent on the Father (Hanson, p. 83).

While Hanson said that “Arius … represents a school, probably the school of Lucian of Antioch” (Hanson, p. 97), Williams proposed that “it is perhaps a mistake to look for one self-contained and exclusive ‘theological school’ to which to assign him” (Williams, p. 115).

Arius did not say anything new.

Arius was not the strange monster of heresy traditionally claimed.

Arius’ book (The Thalia) “is conservative in the sense that there is almost nothing in it that could not be found in earlier writers; it is radical and individual in the way it combines and reorganizes traditional ideas and presses them to their logical conclusions.” (Williams, p. 177).

“Arius … can no longer be regarded as the strange monster of heresy which Gwatkin, and even Harnack, depicted him to be” (Hanson, p. 84-85).

Specific Doctrines

This second section discusses specific doctrines that Arius might have received from his predecessors. Almost everything that Arius wrote can be found in the writings of his predecessors. This section relies on both the discussion above and the article – Was Origen the ultimate source of Arius’ heresy?

A Creature

Both Origen and Dionysius of Alexandria, like Arius, described the Son as a ‘creature’ (Hanson, p. 63).

“Origen did … describe the Son both as ‘having come into existence’ and as a ‘creature’. … But at the same time, he declares his belief in the eternity of the Son as a distinct entity from the Father” (Hanson, p. 63-64). He used the term ‘creature’ in the general sense of a being whose existence was caused by another. That would include ‘begotten’ beings.

Dionysius described the Son of God as “a creature,” “alien in ousia from the Father” (Hanson, p. 73).

Originated

Methodius and Origen, like Arius, taught that the Father generated the Son.

Methodius emphasized that the Father alone exists without a cause and, therefore, without a beginning. Origen, similarly, described the Son as “the originated God” (Hanson, p. 62).

Subordinate

All theologians of the first three centuries, like Arius, claimed that the Son is subordinate to the Father.

“Origen, with Arius, can be said to have subordinated the Son to the Father” (Hanson, p. 64). Hanson also explains that, for Origen, the Son was less subordinate than for Arius (Hanson, p. 64). Nevertheless, Hanson goes on to say that all theologians in the Eastern or the Western Church before the outbreak of the Arian Controversy regarded the Son as subordinate to the Father.

“Subordinationism might indeed, until the denouement (end) of the controversy, have been described as accepted orthodoxy” (Hanson, p. xix).

For example, Bishop Methodius of Olympia (died c. 311) regards the Son as the first of all created things and wholly dependent on the Father (Hanson, p. 83).

Not fully understand

Like Arius, Origen taught that the Son does not fully understand the Father.

Produced by the Father’s will

In contrast to Nicene theology, in which God never decided to generate the Son, but that the Son simply always exists, “Ignatius, Justin, Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria and Origen,” like Arius, taught “the Son was produced by the Father’s will.” (Hanson, p. 90)

Not homoousios

Dionysius of Alexandria, like Arius, “rejected homoousios” (Hanson, p. 75) and said that “the Son of God … is alien in ousia from the Father.” (Hanson, p. 73)

There was when He was not

Dionysius of Alexandria, like Arius, said that the Son did not always exist.

As indicated by the anathemas attached to the Nicene Creed, one of the main aspects of Arius’ theology to which the Council objected was that the Son is from non-existence and, related to that, that there was when He was not. In opposition to this view, the Nicene Creed interprets “begotten” as that He is from the substance of the Father. Hanson says that “Arius’ view, that “the Son was created from non-existent things, has never been supplied with a convincing antecedent.” (Hanson, p. 88)

But I would like to differ a bit from Hanson in this regard. I cannot find where Arius adds the word “things” to this statement. Arius merely said, “God made him ‘out of non-existence'” (Hanson, p. 20, 24). This means that the Son did not exist before He was begotten. Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria said the same thing about 50 years earlier when he said:

“Because he is a creature he did not exist before he came into existence” (Hanson, p. 73).

Two Logoi

Both the traditional Logos-theology of the Gentile church and Sabellianism taught ‘one Logos’, meaning that Father and Son only have one mind between them. Alexander and Athanasius continued this teaching by Arius taught ‘two Logoi’.

One of the aspects of Arius’ teaching was ‘two logoi’. Clement of Alexandria also taught “two Logoi” (Hanson, p. 60) but Theognostus of Alexandria “insisted that there was only one Logos” (Hanson, p. 79).

Logos-theology had only one Logos.

The church became Gentile (non-Jewish) dominated in the second century but was still persecuted by the Roman Empire. Most of these Gentile Christians accepted Logos-theology, which interpreted the New Testament based on Greek philosophy, which still dominated the intellectual world of the Roman Empire (see – The Apologists).

In Greek philosophy, God’s Logos (the Word or Wisdom has always existed as part of God but became a hypostasis (a distinct existence) when God decided to create. These church fathers explained the pre-existent Jesus Christ as the Logos of Greek philosophy and, therefore, as God’s only Logos. In this theology, God does not have another Logos. In other words, God does not have his own ‘mind’ or ‘Wisdom’ apart from His Son.

In the third century, Sabellianism challenged Logos-=theology but Sabellianism was rejected. Consequently, Logos-theology was the general explanation of the Son with which the church entered the fourth century. For example, Theognostus of Alexandria (247 to 280) “insisted that there was only one Logos” (Hanson, p. 79).

Since Hanson mentions only one theologian who taught “two Logoi” (Clement of Alexandria, p. 60), presumably all other theologians taught one single Logos – as per the traditional Logos theology. For a further discussion, see – Logos-Theology

Arius deviated from Logos-theology.

Both Alexander and Athanasius noted that Arius taught two Logoi (two Wisdoms): The Son is Logos and God has His own Logos (mind). For example, Athanasius, in his paraphrasing of Arius’ teaching, wrote:

“There are … two Wisdoms, one God’s own who has existed eternally with God, the other the Son who was brought into existence. … There is another Word in God besides the Son” (Hanson, p. 13, cf. 16).

The fact that they mentioned this shows that they regarded this as noteworthy and a deviation from tradition. Arius is very often accused of bringing philosophy into the church. However, his ‘two Logoi’ seem to protest against the influence of Greek philosophy on church doctrine:

“Our mistake is to try to interpret him (Arius) in terms of a theology with which he was not at home, the Logos-theology he shares with his opponents.” (Williams, p. 12)


OTHER ARTICLES

FOOTNOTES

  • 1
    “Gwatkin nearly a century ago in the last full-scale book written in English on the Arian Controversy” (Hanson Lecture)
  • 2
    Hanson RPC, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy, 318-381. 1988
  • 3
    Ayres, Lewis, Nicaea and its Legacy, An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology, 2004
  • 4
    “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.” (Ayres, p. 12)
  • 5
    Williams, Rowan (24 January 2002) [1987]. Arius: Heresy and Tradition (Revised ed.). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 978-0-8028-4969-4.

Homoousios was not regarded as important at Nicaea.

PURPOSE

The church adopted the Trinity doctrine at the conclusion of the fourth-century ‘Arian’ Controversy. However, discoveries of ancient documents and research over the past century have revealed that the traditional account of how and why the church accepted that doctrine is grossly inaccurate, casting doubt on its legitimacy. Different articles in this series discuss different critical errors in the traditional narrative.

The present article challenges the common belief that ‘homoousios’ was the key term in the Nicene Creed of 325. It shows that the term was not mentioned by anybody for about 25 years after the Nicene Council. It wasn’t until the 350s, some 30 years later, that it again became part of the controversy. This article explains why a term, that was regarded as unimportant, was accepted at Nicaea, and how and why it became part of the Controversy 30 years later.

SUMMARY

Why was the term included?

The Nicene Creed of AD 325 says that the Son is homoousios (of the same substance as / consubstantial with) the Father. It was inserted in the Creed, not because it was regarded as an important term but, because Arius had already rejected it, it was included merely to force Arius and his supporters to reject the Creed so that the emperor could exile them.

But it was not the entire council that agreed to the term. The majority at Nicaea strongly objected to it because it is not Biblical, was borrowed from pagan philosophy, was not part of the standard Christian language of the day, and was already condemned by an important church council as associated with the heresy of Sabellianism. Furthermore, ‘same substance’ implies that God has a body. However, a minority-dominated the Council of Nicaea because Constantine had taken Alexander’s part. Following this minority, Constantine insisted on the inclusion of the term.

Given the modern culture of religious freedom, the reader might find it strange that an emperor could insist on including a keyword in a church creed. However, the Roman Empire was not a democracy and religious freedom did not exist. The empire was ruled by the general who commanded the strongest army. Consequently, the emperors decided which religions were allowed. Furthermore, in the Christian Roman Empire, the emperors were the final judge in religious disputes.

How was homoousios revived?

As stated above, the term homoousios was re-introduced into the Controversy in the 350s; about 30 years after Nicaea. This section explains the history chronologically.

At first, the West was not part of the Controversy. For example, the Westerners at the Nicene Council represented a tiny minority.

The term homoousios caused an intense struggle during the years immediately after Nicaea. Sabellians claimed homoousios as a victory for their side. However, that struggle resulted in the exile of all leading Sabellians. After that, homoousios disappears from the debate.

After he was exiled for violence against the Melitians in 335, ten years after Nicaea, Athanasius developed a masterful polemical strategy to explain why he was exiled. He claimed that Arius developed a novel heresy, that he (Athanasius) represents scriptural orthodoxy and really was exiled for his opposition to Arianism, and that his opponents, the Eastern bishops, are ‘Arians’, meaning followers of Arius’ already condemned theology. None of these points are true but the important point is that homoousios was not yet part of his polemical strategy.

Using this strategy, Athanasius appealed to the bishop of Rome. The bishop accepted Athanasius’ version of reality, called a council in Rome in 340, and declared both Athanasius and Marcellus orthodox, causing division between the Eastern and Western churches.

In the 340s, while the empire remained divided East and West, the division between the church in the East and West also remained. However, after Constantius became emperor of the entire empire in the early 350s, he sought unity in the church. For this purpose, he attempted to get the Western church to agree to the key eastern decisions of the previous few years.

Since Athanasius was Constantius’ greatest enemy, his primary goal was to isolate Athanasius. In response to the emperor’s attack on him, Athanasius incorporated homoousios into his polemical strategy. Athanasius was very influential in the Western church. Therefore, the church in the West also slowly came to accept the term. In this way, beginning in the mid-350s, homoousios became part of the dispute.

As a result of the introduction of homoousios into the Controversy, the church divided into various factions. Those who accepted homoousios were divided between one-hypostasis and three-hypostases views. Those who rejected homoousios were divided between those who rejected all ousia (substance) language (the Homoians) and those who did use the term in their theologies (the Heterousians and the Homoiousians).

INTRODUCTION

Recommended Prior Reading

Two articles should be read before this one:

Since this is a highly controversial subject, these articles quote extensively from leading scholars. Therefore, the green blocks have been designed to sufficiently summarize the concepts in this article without the need to read all these quotes.

Thought to be the Key Word

The Nicene Creed of AD 325 says that the Son is homoousios (of the same substance as / consubstantial with) the Father. In the traditional account of the Arian Controversy, this term is the key word of the Creed:

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 that secured its … beliefs against heresy.” (Ayres, p. 11) 1“The decisive catchword of the Nicene confession, namely, homoousios …” (Bernard Lohse, in ‘A Short History of Christian Doctrine’, 1966, p51-53)

But was not mentioned for 25 years.

The view that homoousios was of fundamental importance is deeply mistaken. For about 25 years after Nicaea, nobody mentioned the term, not even those who defended the term at Nicaea, nor Athanasius, the main defender of the term, nor the Western church, which is often described as the stalwart defender of Nicaea throughout the fourth century.

Referring specifically to the view that homoousios was of fundamental importance, Ayres says that “such older accounts are deeply mistaken.” (Ayres, p. 11) For about 25 years after Nicaea, nobody mentions homoousios:

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

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

Not even Athanasius, who is traditionally regarded as the great hero of the Arian Controversy and defender of the Nicene Creed, mentioned the term:

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

“In most older presentations, ‘western’ bishops were taken to be natural and stalwart defenders of Nicaea throughout the fourth century.” (Ayres, p. 135) However:

“Even the Western bishops at Serdica in 343 did not mention the word.” (Hanson, p. 436) That council, 18 years after Nicaea, “opted clearly for Una substantia meaning one hypostasis, (rather than consubstantial).” (Hanson, p. 201)

The events of the Council of Serdica in AD 343 show that the main drivers of the Nicene Creed, “such as Ossius, Athanasius, and Marcellus” were “willing to turn to an alternative statement of faith.” (Ayres, p. 126)

The word homoousios “has left no traces at all in the works of … the leaders of the anti-Arian party such as Alexander of Alexandria, Ossius of Cordova, Marcellus of Ancyra, and Eustathius of Antioch, who are usually considered Constantine’s theological advisers and the strongest supporters of the council.” (P.F. Beatrice) For example, the draft creed formulated at the Council of Antioch just a few months before Nicaea, which was an anti-Arian, pro-Alexander council, does not mention the term. (See here.)

It only became important in the 350s.

Athanasius re-introduced the term into the debate in the 350s, some 30 years after Nicaea, but it took some time before the Western church adopted it.

“It is not until he (Athanasius) writes the De Decretis (356 or 357) that Athanasius again mentions the word and begins to defend it.” (Hanson, p. 436)

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

“The 350s show how Nicaea only slowly came to be of importance in the west.” (Ayres, p. 135) (For more detail, see here.)

Since homoousios was first defended in the 350s, we see attacks on it only in the 350s:

“Many of the theologies we have considered so far are non-Nicene more than anti-Nicene: only in the 350s do we begin to trace clearly the emergence of directly anti-Nicene accounts.” (Ayres, p. 139)

Authors Quoted

Based on discoveries and research over the past century, leading scholars explain the fourth-century Arian Controversy very differently from scholars in preceding centuries.

The main authors quoted in this article are:

Ayres, Lewis, Nicaea and its legacy, 2004, Ayres is a Professor of Catholic and Historical Theology at Durham University in the United Kingdom.

Hanson, Bishop R.P.C., The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God – The Arian Controversy 318-381, 1987

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

Beatrice – Pier Franco, Professor of Early Christian Literature at the University of Padua, Italy.

WHY NOT MENTIONED

It was not important.

This absence of the term homoousios in the 20 or more years after Nicaea means that it was not regarded as important.

“For nearly twenty years after Nicaea nobody mentions homoousios, not even Athanasius. This may be because it was much less significant than either later historians of the ancient Church or modern scholars thought that it was.” (Hanson, p. 170)

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

“It is … likely … that the word homoousios when it was inserted in N did not have the crucial importance in the eyes of people of that time which it was later supposed to have.” (Hanson, p. 437)

The term was a problem even for anti-Arians:

“Homoousios was in fact a foreign body or stumbling block for all the people attending the council, without distinction, Arians and anti-Arians, and for this very reason it soon disappeared in the following debates.” (P.F. Beatrice)

It was simply used to oust Arius.

The term homoousion was inserted in the Creed, not because it was an important concept, but merely to force Arius and his supporters to reject the Creed so that the emperor could exile them.

“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.” (Ayres, p. 90) 2Arius and his supporters had already rejected the word before the Nicene Council (Hanson, p. 10).

Hanson concludes similarly that “the most satisfactory explanation of why it was put there is that it was certainly a word … which serious and wholehearted Arians could not stomach.” (Hanson, p. 167; cf. Hanson, p. 172)

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.” (Ayres, p. 92) (Atropopaic means to avert evil influences.)

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

The majority opposed homoousios.

Even though homoousios was inserted in the Creed to get Arius exiled, most delegates strongly objected to the concept. As discussed here, the Eusebians opposed the term because it is not Biblical, was borrowed from pagan philosophy, was not part of the standard Christian language of the day, and was already condemned as associated with the heresy of Sabellianism. Furthermore, ‘same substance’ implies that God has a body. The Dedication Creed of 341 shows what the majority at Nicaea really believed, when not compelled by an emperor. They opposed both Arius and the term homoousios. The decisions of Nicaea were really the work of a minority.

More or less the same people who attended Nicaea, 16 years later formulated the Dedication Creed:

The delegates to the Nicene Council of 325 were “drawn almost entirely from the eastern half of the empire” (Ayres, p. 19), and the Dedication Creed of 341 “represents the nearest approach we can make to discovering the views of the ordinary educated Eastern bishop.” (Hanson, p. 290-1)

They opposed both Arius and also the term homoousios:

“Loofs comes nearest to the truth when he says that it (the Dedication Creed) is both anti-Marcellan and anti-homoousian.” (Hanson, p. 287-8)

The Dedication Creed also “deliberately excludes the kind of Arianism professed by Arius.” (Hanson, p. 290)

So, the Nicene Creed did not reflect die views of the majority:

“The decisions of Nicaea were really the work of a minority.” (Henry Bettenson, Documents of the Christian Church, 2nd Ed 1963, p 41)

“We will grant … that a majority opposed the Nicene creed. … The majority who opposed the creed were not aligned with Arius!” (bible.ca)

Constantine insisted on homoousios.

A minority dominated at Nicaea because Constantine had taken Alexander’s part. Therefore, Constantine insisted on the inclusion of the term.

“Tension among Eusebian bishops was caused by knowledge that Constantine had taken Alexander’s part.” (Ayres, p. 89) “This imperial pressure coupled with the role of his advisers in broadly supporting the agenda of Alexander must have been a powerful force.” (Ayres, p. 89)

“Once he (Constantine) discovered that the Eustathians (extreme anti-Arians) were in favour of it [the term homoousios], and that, when he had insisted that it did not have the objectionable meaning which Arius and Eusebius of Nicomedia had attached to it, the favourers of Arius in the Council could accept it, he pressed for its inclusion.” (Hanson, p. 202)

Did Ossius propose the term?

If Ossius, the chairperson, proposed the term, as some think, then it was on instruction of the emperor, for he was the emperor’s agent.

“According to the Arians … the Nicene Creed was presented by Ossius of Cordova in his capacity as president of the assembly.” (P.F. Beatrice) However, Ossius did not preside because of his position in the church. He was the bishop of the “obscure” see of Cordova (Hanson, p. 155). He presided in his capacity “as the Emperor’s representative” (Hanson, p. 154) and represented “the Emperor’s interest.” (Hanson, p. 156) 

The emperor was the final authority.

Given the modern culture of religious freedom, the reader might find it strange that an emperor was able to insist on the inclusion of a keyword in a church creed. However, the Roman Empire was not a democracy and religious freedom did not exist. The empire was ruled by the general who commanded the strongest army. Consequently, the emperors decided which religions were allowed and also acted as the final judge in religious disputes.

“If we ask the question, what was considered to constitute the ultimate authority in doctrine (during the Arian Controversy), there can be only one answer. The will of the Emperor was the final authority.” (Hanson, p. 849)

The so-called ‘ecumenical’ church councils of the fourth century were “the very invention and creation of the Emperor” (Hanson, p. 855). “Everybody recognised the right of an Emperor to call a council, or even to veto or quash its being called” (Hanson, p. 849-50). “The Emperor was expected to dominate and control them” (Hanson, p. 855).

Conclusion

The term was not mentioned for some decades after Nicaea because the Nicene Creed was the work of a minority under the protection of the emperor, while the majority was most uncomfortable with this term.

Nicaea was not regarded as binding.

Furthermore, at the time, the Nicene Creed was not regarded as binding. It was a temporary solution to an immediate problem. 

“Many modern readers assume that the Nicene creed was intended at its promulgation to stand as a binding and universal formula of Christian faith.” (Ayres, p. 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.” (Ayres, p. 87) “Councils were not expected to produce precise statements of belief.” (Ayres, p. 87)

“All the bishops at Nicaea would have understood their local ‘baptismal’ creed to be a sufficient definition of Christian belief.” (Ayres, p. 85)

For a further discussion of this point, see Ayres – 4.1 The Nicene Creed as a Standard of Faith.

HOW WAS HOMOOUSIOS REVIVED?

As stated above, the term homoousios was re-introduced into the Controversy in the 350s; about 30 years after Nicaea. This section explains the history chronologically.

The West was not at Nicaea.

At first, the West was not part of the Controversy. For example, the Westerners at the Council represented a tiny minority.

At Nicaea in 325, “around 250–300 attended, drawn almost entirely from the eastern half of the empire.” (Ayres, p. 19)

“The Westerners at the Council represented a tiny minority.” “The Eastern Church was always the pioneer and leader in theological movements in the early Church.” (Hanson, p. 170)

Post-Nicaea Correction

The inclusion of the term homoousios caused an intense struggle during the years immediately after Nicaea. Sabellians claimed the homoousios in the Creed as a victory for their side but that struggle resulted in the exile of all leading Sabellians. After that, homoousios disappears from the debate. (See here.)

Period of no Controversy

As already mentioned, after the post-Nicaea Correction, the Nicene Creed and Homoousios were not part of the Controversy for more than 25 years. In fact, there was no controversy.

“At some times there was almost no controversy at all. If there was any controversy from 330 to 341, it was a controversy about the behaviour of Athanasius in his see of Alexandria.” (Hanson, p. xviii)

“There was a long period of confusion and uncertainty from 341 to 357 when it was far from clear what the controversy was about, if there was a controversy.” (Hanson, p. xviii)

In other words, the Council of Nicaea brought the dispute between Arius and his bishop Alexander to an end. The Real Controversy began only decades later:

Athanasius’ Polemical Strategy

After he was exiled in 335, Athanasius developed a masterful polemical strategy to explain why he was exiled. He claimed that:

      • Arius developed a novel heresy.
      • He (Athanasius) represents scriptural orthodoxy.
      • He was exiled for his opposition to Arianism.
      • An Arian Conspiracy manipulated the council of Tyre to exile him for violence, of which he was innocent.
      • His opponents are ‘Arians’, meaning followers of Arius’ condemned theology.

None of these points are true but the important point for the current article is that homoousios was not yet part of his polemical strategy.

During those decades after Nicaea, while nobody thinks about homoousios, Athanasius and Marcellus were both exiled from the East and sent to the West (Rome). There they met and joined forces against the East:

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

In Rome, Athanasius developed his polemical strategy:

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

What was his polemical strategy?

“Athanasius’ account begins by presenting Arius as the originator of a new heresy.” (Ayres, p. 107) In contrast, “Athanasius presents himself as the preserver of the one theological tradition that is equivalent with scriptural orthodoxy.” (Ayres, p. 107)

Athanasius described “his enemies as ‘Arians’ seeking to perpetuate a theology stemming from Arius.” (Ayres, p. 106) “To this end Athanasius quotes extensively from Arius’ Thalia.” (Ayres, p. 107) See also – Athanasius invented Arianism.

This polemical strategy is discussed further in – The Creation of ‘Arianism’. It presents a misleading picture of that Controversy:

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

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

Rome accepted Athanasius.

Using his polemical strategy, Athanasius appealed to the bishop of Rome. The bishop accepted his version of reality, called a council, and vindicated both him and Marcellus.

The subsequent events are described in more detail here. In brief:

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

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

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

Caused division between East and West

It is traditionally thought that the West had always supported Nicaea. In reality, similar to the East, most in the West believed that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three distinct Beings. However, after the West had declared Athanasius and Marcellus orthodox, cracks in that unity began to appear. That was the real beginning of the ‘Arian’ Controversy.

In Ayres’ discussion of the Western (Latin) Theologists at the time of Nicaea, he concludes that they believed more or less the same as the theologians in the East:

“These Latin theologians have as far to travel towards later pro-Nicene theology as the eastern trajectories.” (Ayres, p. 75)

“Ironically, an anti-monarchian, anti-‘modalist’ polemic fundamentally shapes these early Latin theologians, and that is taken so often to be determining the future course of a unitary western theology!” (Ayres, p. 74)

This last quote says that the West opposed the idea that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one Being.

So, around the time of Nicaea, there was harmony between East and West. It was the West’s acceptance of Athanasius’ polemical strategy that first caused division between East and West:

“Once Julius had acted we begin to see divisions between the Church in the eastern and western halves of the empire emerging.” (Ayres, p. 109)

This, in the early 340s, was the real beginning of the ‘Arian’ Controversy. However, the bishop of Rome’s acceptance of Athanasius’ strategy did not mean that the entire West accepted it.

“We should … be cautious in our reading of these divisions. The divisions we initially observe are between one group of eastern bishops taking their lead from Eusebius of Nicomedia and Julius and his immediate associates. We must be wary of reading this as reflecting a simple division between eastern and western theology. Even when just such a division appears to come clearly into the open at the Council of Serdica in 343, even there the participants cannot usefully be divided in purely geographic terms.” (Ayres, p. 109-110)

Constantius strived for unity.

In the 340s, while the empire remained divided East and West, the division between the church in the East and West remained. However, after Constantius became emperor of the entire empire in the early 350s, he attempted to get the Western church to agree to the key eastern decisions of the previous few years.

In the same year that Julius wrote his letter to the East (AD 341), the East formulated the Dedication Creed which says that the Father, Son, and Spirit “are three in hypostasis but one in agreement.” Two years later, in 343, the West formulated a Manifesto at Serdica which “opted clearly for Una substantia meaning one hypostasis.” (Hanson, p. 201) There-after. the Western and Eastern churches continued to oppose one another. Since they were ruled by different emperors, there was little incentive to reconcile these opposing views.

However, in the early 350s, Constantius became emperor of the entire Roman Empire:

“Over the period AD 351–3, and after a complex civil war, the eastern Emperor Constantius achieved complete control of the whole empire.” (Ayres, p. 133)

“At this point Constantius found himself sole ruler of the Roman world and with the ability to push for a unified religious policy throughout his domains in a way no emperor had been able to do since the death of his father in 337.” (Ayres, p. 133)

He attempted to get the Western church to agree to the eastern Creeds:

“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.” (Ayres, p. 135)

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

He attempted to isolate Athanasius.

Since Constantius’ greatest enemy, both politically and in the church, was Athanasius, his primary goal was to isolate Athanasius.

“Athanasius had a desire for power; he suppressed ruthlessly whenever he could any opposition to him within his diocese … towards the end of his life he had reached a position in which his power (in Egypt), not only ecclesiastical but also political, was virtually beyond challenge.” (Hanson, p. 421)

Therefore, the emperor “attempted to get the condemnation of Athanasius and probably some sort of theological statement accepted throughout the west.” (Ayres, p. 135) With that double goal in mind, “the council of Sirmium in 351 set the trend for a series of councils.” (Ayres, p. 135) For here for a discussion of the Creed of 351.

Athanasius re-introduced Homoousios.

In response to the emperor’s attack on him, Athanasius incorporated homoousios into his polemical strategy, which was the basis for the schism between the East and West. Therefore, homoousios became part of the dispute. As argued above, that was in the mid-350s.

“He began to use it [homoousios] first in the De Deeretis and thereafter regularly in his theological works, defending it fiercely against all criticism of it. If we place De Deeretis in 356 or 357, we can perhaps see the reason for this change of policy. By then it had become abundantly clear not only that Constantius was everywhere trying to isolate Athanasius himself from ecclesiastical support both in the East and the West … Athanasius decided that he must begin a policy of defending the very words of N as a slogan or banner round which to gather.” (Hanson, p. 438)

It was a turn to Nicaea.

Athanasius and the West did not oppose Constantius because they defended Nicaea. Rather, they turned to Nicaea to strengthen their resistance to the emperor’s efforts.

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

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

Anti-Nicene Accounts Emerged.

As stated above, anti-Nicene theologies, particularly Homoianism, emerged in the late 350s; only after Athanasius introduced homoousios into his polemical strategy.

For example, Homoian theology is specifically anti-Nicene. Particularly, it opposes ousia-language. For example, they were “refusing to allow ousia-terms of any kind into professions of faith.” (Williams, p. 234) It appeared only in the 350s:

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

“Many of the theologies we have considered so far are non-Nicene more than anti-Nicene: only in the 350s do we begin to trace clearly the emergence of directly anti-Nicene accounts.” (Ayres, p. 139)

Homoousios divided the church.

As a result of the introduction of homoousios into the Controversy, the church divided into various factions. Those who accepted homoousios were divided between one-hypostasis and three-hypostases views. Those who rejected homoousios were divided between those who rejected all ousia (substance) language and those who did use the term in their theologies.

One-hypostasis Homo-ousians (Sabellians), such as Athanasius and Marcellus, interpreted homoousios as “one substance,” namely, as saying that Father and Son are one Being. See above the Council of Serdica in 343, where the Western delegates asserted ‘one hypostasis’.

Three-hypostases Homo-ousians, such as Basil of Caesarea and Meletius of Antioch, interpreted homoousios as “same substance,” namely, that Father and Son are two beings with the same type of substance. (See – Basil.)

The Homoi-ousians (from ὅμοιος, hómoios, “similar”) maintained that the Son’s substance is like the Father’s, but not the same.

The Heter-ousians said that the Son is like the Father but His substance is unlike the Father’s.

The Homo-ians, who remained the dominant emperor-supported faction, rejected all use of ousia-terms. They held that Jesus Christ is like the Father, without referencing ousia (essence or substance).


OTHER ARTICLES

FOOTNOTES

  • 1
    “The decisive catchword of the Nicene confession, namely, homoousios …” (Bernard Lohse, in ‘A Short History of Christian Doctrine’, 1966, p51-53)
  • 2
    Arius and his supporters had already rejected the word before the Nicene Council (Hanson, p. 10).