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, since Arius had already rejected that term, 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 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. 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, both politically and in the church, 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).

Athanasius was not a Trinitarian. He was a Unitarian.

PURPOSE: The Trinity doctrine was adopted by the church at the conclusion of the fourth-century ‘Arian’ Controversy. However, over the last 100 years, scholars have uncovered that the traditional account of how it came that the church accepted this doctrine is grossly inaccurate. Different articles in this series discuss different critical errors in the traditional narrative. The present article addresses the misconception that Athanasius was a proponent of scriptural orthodoxy. It shows that he was a Sabellian and not a Trinitarian, meaning that he believed that the Father and Son are one and the same Person; a theology that had already been denounced as heretical in the preceding century.

INTRODUCTION

Purpose

During the Arian Controversy, Athanasius was the main defender of the Nicene Creed and the term homoousios. He presented himself as the preserver of scriptural orthodoxy.1“Athanasius presents himself as the preserver of the one theological tradition that is equivalent with scriptural orthodoxy.” (Ayres, p. 107)

But this article shows that Athanasius was a one-hypostasis theologian, meaning that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are a single Person with a single Mind. This is similar to Sabellianism; a theology already rejected as heretical during the preceding century.

The Arian Controversy began with a dispute between Arius and his bishop Alexander of Alexandria. Much less of Alexander’s writings survived but this article concludes that he was also a one-hypostasis theologian.

The green blocks summarize the various sections.

Authors

This article quotes from the world-class specialists in the fourth-century Arian Controversy.

Hanson Lecture – An informative 1981 lecture by R.P.C. Hanson on the Arian Controversy.

Hanson, Bishop RPC
The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God –

The Arian Controversy 318-381, 1988

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

Ayres, Lewis
Nicaea and its legacy, 2004

Ayres is a Professor of Catholic and Historical Theology

What is a Sabellian?

The Trinity is one Person.

Sabellians believed that, before the world existed, the Word was IN the Father and an aspect of the Father. Consequently, Father and Son are only one Person (hypostasis).

As discussed in the article – The Sabellians of the Fourth Century, concerning the eternal Godhead:

Sabellians believed that “before the world existed the Word was IN the Father.” (Ayres, p. 63) In their view, the Logos is the Father’s only rational capacity.

Hanson refers to “a Sabellian, believing in only one Person (hypostasis) in the Godhead.” (Hanson, p. 801)

The preexistent Logos is merely “a power or aspect” of the Father and “not in any serious sense distinct from him.” (Hanson, p. 237)

The Son is a mere man.

Since the Logos has no real distinct existence, the incarnated Jesus is a mere man. He may be maximally inspired, but he remains a mere man.

Consequently:

      1. Christ did not exist before He was born from Mary.
      2. The Logos dwells in the man Jesus merely as an energy, an activity, or as inspiration from God.
      3. Christ is a complete human being with a human soul and mind. That soul or mind absorbed all human suffering so that God did not suffer at all. It was a human being that suffered, died, was resurrected, and now sits at God’s right hand.

The purpose of this article is to show that this is also what Alexander and Athanasius believed.

The Eusebians taught three Minds.

In opposition to this view, the Eusebians (the so-called Arians) believed that the Father, Son, and Spirit are three distinct ousiai (substances), meaning three hypostases (Persons), with three distinct Minds that are united in agreement.

For example:

The Eusebians were followers of Origen, who “speaks of Father and Son as two ‘things (πργματα) in hypostasis, but one in like-mindedness, harmony, and identity of will’.” (Ayres, p. 25) “Like-mindedness” speaks of two distinct minds united in agreement.

Arius, one of the Eusebians, spoke about a second Wisdom and Word; that the Son is not the Father’s only Wisdom and Word. He said: “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). 2“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.” (Ayres, p. 55) In other words, Arius believed that each Person has a distinct mind. See – Arius’ Theology.

“Asterius (a leading Eusebian) insists also that Father, Son, and Spirit are three hypostases.” (Ayres, p. 54) He made a distinction between God’s wisdom and Christ, implying distinct minds. For example: “God’s own power and wisdom is the source of Christ.” (Ayres, p. 53-54)

The Dedication Creed, which was a statement of the Eusebian Eastern Church, says: “They are three in hypostasis but one in agreement.” The phrase “one in agreement” implies three minds.

Challenges with Terminology

Terminology is a major barrier to understanding. Firstly, in the fourth century, the terms ousia and hypostasis were synonyms but the Trinity doctrine uses them for contrasting concepts.

Another article shows that, during the Arian Controversy, most people used hypostasis (Person) and ousia (substance) as synonyms. However, the traditional Trinity doctrine uses these terms as contrasting concepts, saying that God exists as one substance but three hypostases.

Secondly, while, in the fourth century, each hypostasis had a distinct Mind, in the Trinity doctrine, the three hypostases (Persons) share a single Mind.

If the Trinity doctrine taught three distinct and equal minds, that would have been Tritheism. Karl Rahner, a leading Catholic scholar, confirms that, in the traditional Trinity doctrine, the three Persons share a single Mind:

“Each Person shares the Divine will … that come from a mind. … Each Person’s self-awareness and consciousness is not inherent to that Person (by nature of that Person being that Person) but comes from the shared essence.”

“There is only one real consciousness in God, which is shared by the Father, Son, and Spirit, by each in his own proper way.”

For that reason, R.P.C. Hanson says that the term “Person” in the traditional Trinity doctrine is misleading. He describes the three ‘Persons’ as “three ways of being or modes of existing as God.” (Hanson) Since, in normal English, each Person has a unique mind, it is false to explain the Trinity doctrine as teaching one Being but three Persons.

The term ousia (substance) is fairly clear. We understand it today more or less in the same way as the ancients did. Two substances are two beings with two distinct minds. In the Trinity doctrine, the Father, Son, and Spirit are one substance and, therefore, one mind.

The term hypostasis was fairly clear during the Arian Controversy. As shown above, each hypostasis or Person is a distinct substance with a distinct mind. However, since the Trinity shares a single substance and a single mind in the traditional Trinity doctrine, modern readers find it difficult to understand the writings of fourth-century theologians.

The core issue is the Number of Minds.

We can avoid the confusion by asking how many Minds a particular theology taught. That approach goes directly to the core of the Controversy.

To sidestep the difficulties with terminology, this article asks how many Minds (rational capacities, wills, or consciousness) a specific theologian taught:

      • The Sabellians taught one.
      • The Eusebians taught three.
      • The Trinity doctrine also teaches one.

ATHANASIUS’ THEOLOGY

The quotes in this article sometimes refer to ‘the Son’ and sometimes to ‘the Logos’. Alexander and Athanasius used these terms as synonyms.3For example: “The original Logos and Wisdom … is the Son.” (Hanson, p. 427). “The Word and Son is idios to the Father’s essence.” (Ayres, p. 114)

The Son is part of the Father.

Athanasius regarded the Son (the Logos), similar to the Sabellians, as part of the Father. Firstly, he described the Son as IN the Father.

Athanasius described the Son, not as in God generally, but specifically as IN the Father. For example:

“In the Father we have the Son: this is a summary of Athanasius’ theology.” (Hanson, p. 426)

“The Son is in the Father ontologically.” (Hanson, p. 428)

“Athanasius’ increasing clarity in treating the Son as intrinsic to the Father’s being” (Ayres, p. 113) 4Other relevant quotes include: (1) “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.” (Ayres, p. 114) [Note that this quote uses ‘reality’ as a synonym for ‘Person’.] (2) “The Son’s existence is intrinsic to the Father’s nature.” (Ayres, p. 116) (3) “Although Athanasius’ theology was by no means identical with Marcellus’, the overlaps were significant enough for them to be at one on some of the vital issues—especially their common insistence that the Son was intrinsic to the Father’s external existence.” (Ayres, p. 106)

The Son is one of the Father’s faculties.

Secondly, Athanasius often described the Son as idios to the Father, meaning He is one of the Father’s faculties, confirming that He is part of the Father.

Athanasius used the Greek term idios to describe how the Son relates to the Father. For example:

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

“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.” (Ayres, p. 115)

He “insisted continually that the Son was the Father’s own (idios).” (Hanson, p. 425)

Idios means “pertaining to one’s self, one’s own, belonging to one’s self” (Bible Study Tools). Ayres comments:

“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.” (Ayres, p. 115)

The Son is the Father’s only Wisdom.

Thirdly, while the Eusebians taught two Logoi (two Wisdoms or minds or ‘Words’), namely, the Father and the Son, Athanasius said there is only one Logos, namely, that the Son is also God’s one and only Logos and Wisdom (rational capacity).

The Eusebians were the anti-Nicenes, usually but inappropriately called ‘Arians’. As already quoted above, Arius, as an example of the Eusebians, said:

“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).

In this view, the one Word or Wisdom is the Son and the other is the Father. In contrast, Athanasius said that the Son is the Father’s one and only Logos:

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

Athanasius wrote: “There is no need to postulate two Logoi.” (Hanson, p. 431)

He argued that the pre-existent Son is “present with Him (the Father) as his Wisdom and his Word.” (Ayres, p. 46)

He criticized “the [Arian] idea that Christ is a derivative Wisdom and not God’s own wisdom.” (Ayres, p. 116)

This again means that the Son is part of the Father.

The Holy Spirit is also a part of the Father.

Fourthly, the Holy Spirit is also part of the Father. Just as the Son is part of the Father, the Holy Spirit is part of the Son and, therefore, not a distinct Person.

“Just as his (Athanasius’) account of the Son can rely heavily on the picture of the Father as one person with his intrinsic word, so too he emphasizes the closeness of Spirit to Son by presenting the Spirit as the Son’s ‘energy’.” (Ayres, p. 214)

Consequently, the Cappadocians concluded that Athanasius did not afford the Holy Spirit a distinct existence (a separate Person or hypostasis). For example:

“The language also shows Athanasius trying out formulations that will soon be problematic. … ‘The Cappadocians’ will find the language of νργεια [superhuman activity] used of the Spirit … to be highly problematic, seeming to indicate a lack of real existence.” (Ayres, p. 214)\

Father, Son, and Spirit are a single hypostasis.

Following Origen, the Eusebians taught that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three distinct hypostases (Persons). In contrast, consistent with the idea that the Son is part of the Father, Athanasius believed that Father and Son are a single hypostasis (a single Person).

For example:

The “clear inference from his (Athanasius’) usage” is that “there is only one hypostasis in God.” (Ayres, p. 48)

“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.” (Ayres, p. 46)

“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.“ (Ayres, p. 69)

“He [Athanasius] had attended the Council of Serdica among the Western bishops in 343, and a formal letter of that Council had emphatically opted for the belief in one, and only one, hypostasis as orthodoxy. Athanasius certainly accepted this doctrine at least up to 359, even though he tried later to suppress this fact.” (Hanson, p. 444)

Therefore, Athanasius opposed the concept of “three hypostases.” He regarded the phrase as “unscriptural and therefore suspicious.” (Ayres, p. 174; Hanson, p. 440)

For example:

“He clearly approves of the sentence of … that it is wrong to divide the divine monarchy into ‘three powers and separate hypostases and three Godheads’, thereby postulating ‘three diverse hypostases wholly separated from each other’.” (Hanson, p. 445)

Another article argues that the real and fundamental issue in the entire Arian Controversy was whether God is one or three hypostases. For Athanasius, the enemy was those who taught more than one hypostasis (Person) in God:

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

Father, Son, and Spirit are a single Person.

Athanasius defended the view that Father and Son are one Being. This sounds like the Trinity doctrine but he did not distinguish between Person and Being. For him, one Being is one Person. So, he said that Father and Son are one Person.

Athanasius “defends constantly … the ontological unity of the Father and the Son.” (Hanson, p. 422, cf. 428) This sounds like the Trinity doctrine, believing that Father and Son are a single ousia (substance or Being). However, “clearly for him hypostasis and ousia were still synonymous.” (Hanson, p. 440) In other words, when he argues for “ontological unity,” meaning that Father and Son are one ousia (substance), he is also saying that they are a single hypostasis (Person).

The Logos is not a Mediator.

Athanasius’ insistence on a single hypostasis in God is further illustrated by his opposition to the idea that the Logos is the Mediator between God and creation.

In the traditional Logos-theology of the preceding centuries, based mostly on principles from Greek philosophy, which says that God cannot interact directly with matter, the second-century Gentile church fathers developed the two-stage Logos-theology. In this theology, God’s Logos always existed inside Him but, when God decided to create, God’s Logos became a separate hypostasis with a lower divinity enabling Him to create and interact with matter. God created all things through the Logos and reveals Himself to the creation through the Logos. (See – the Apologists.)

Since this was largely based on Greek philosophy, Hanson refers to this Logos as “a convenient philosophical device.” But Athanasius rejected the idea of the pre-existent Logos as Mediator between God and creation:

He said: “He (the Father) was no remote God who required a lesser god (the Logos) to reveal Him.” (Hanson, p. 423)

“He never accepted the Origenistic concept of the Logos as a mediating agent within the Godhead.” (Hanson, p. 425)

“He refused to use the pre-existent Christ as a convenient philosophical device.” (Hanson, p. 423)

The Mediator is the man Jesus.

The Bible describes Christ as the Mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5). In the Eusebian view, the Son always was the Mediator between God and creation. But Athanasius, since he did not recognize the Logos as a distinct hypostasis, limited Christ’s role as Mediator to the incarnation.

For example:

Athanasius said: “God needed no mediator to create the world. … The Logos/Son is a redemptive, not a cosmic principle.” (Hanson, p. 423)

“When he comes to interpret the crucial text, Proverbs 8:22 ff, [The Lord made me at the beginning of His ways] he insists that its terms apply to the incarnate, not the pre-existent Christ … it shows that Athanasius placed the mediating activity of the Son, not in his position within the Godhead, but in his becoming incarnate.” (Hanson, p. 424; cf. ) OR

“Athanasius firmly places the mediating activity of the Logos, not within the Godhead, but in the Incarnation.” (Hanson, p. 447)

Athanasius was a Unitarian, not a Trinitarian.

Therefore, Athanasius had a ‘unitarian’ theology, similar to the Sabellians.

Ayres describes both Athanasius’ and Marcellus’ Sabellian theologies as “unitarian:”

Ayres refers to “Athanasius’ own strongly unitarian account.” (Ayres, p. 435)

But he also describes Marcellus’ theology as ‘Unitarian’. He refers to “supporters of Nicaea whose theology had strongly unitarian tendencies. Chief among these was Marcellus of Ancyra.” (Ayres, p. 431)

“Studer’s account [1998] here follows the increasingly prominent scholarly position that Athanasius’ theology offers a strongly unitarian Trinitarian theology whose account of personal differentiation is underdeveloped.” (Ayres, p. 238)

Athanasius and Marcellus

Thus far, this article has shown that Athanasius believed that the Son is intrinsic to the Father ontologically and that the Father and Son are a single hypostasis. Both are clear indications of Sabellianism. This section provides additional support for this conclusion:

Athanasius’ theology was similar to Marcellus’.

The theologies of Marcellus, the main Sabellian of the fourth century, and Athanasius were similar.

For example:

“The perception that these two trajectories (Athanasius and Marcellus) held to very similar beliefs would help to shape widespread eastern antipathy to both in the years after Nicaea.” (Ayres, p. 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.“ (Ayres, p. 69) (Eustatius was the other important Sabellian in the fourth century. See – The Sabellians of the Fourth Century).

Athanasius and Marcellus were allies.

The similarity of their theologies allowed Athanasius to form an alliance with Marcellus and Athanasius never repudiated Marcellus.

For example:

“They considered themselves allies.” (Ayres, p. 106)

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

They supported and defended each other:

“At the Council of Jerusalem and the Council of Tyre in the same year he (Marcellus) had supported Athanasius.” (Hanson, p. 217)

“Athanasius … continued to defend the orthodoxy of Marcellus.” (Hanson, p. 220)

It is often claimed that Athanasius at a point repudiated Marcellus. However:

“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.” (Ayres, p. 106)

“Though he (Athanasius) may temporarily at this period, when he was preparing to return from his second exile, have wished to place a distance between himself and Marcellus, he had no intention of making a final break with him. It is doubtful if he ever did this.” (Hanson, p. 220)

The Meletian Schism

The Meletian Schism was a dispute in Antioch between two factions within the pro-Nicene camp. The one faction was Sabellian, and Athanasius sided with them.

The faction which Athanasius supported was the Eustathians. They followed the theology of Eustathius,5He derived “his tradition in continuity from Eustathius who had been bishop about forty years before” (Hanson, p. 800-1). who was deposed some decades earlier for Sabellianism.6“It seems most likely that Eustathius was primarily deposed for the heresy of Sabellianism.” (Hanson, p. 211) Their rallying call was ‘one hypostasis’,7“’One hypostasis’ of the Godhead was to become the slogan and rallying-cry of the continuing Eustathians.” (Hanson, p. 213) which means that Father, Son, and Spirit are one Person, which is a Sabellian statement. In the 360s, the Eustathians elected a rival bishop for Antioch named Paulinus. He was also a Sabellian:

Hanson says Paulinus was “Marcellan/Sabellian.” (Hanson, p. 799)

“Basil suspected that Paulinus was at heart a Sabellian, believing in only one Person (hypostasis) in the Godhead.” (Hanson, p. 801)

Athanasius supported Paulinus:

Paulinus “was recognized as legitimate bishop of Antioch by Athanasius.” (Hanson, p. 801)

This illustrates again the Sabellian tendency of Athanasius’ theology.

“Basil was never sure in his own mind that Athanasius had abandoned Marcellus of Ancyra and his followers.” (Hanson, p. 797)

“About the year 371 adherents of Marcellus approached Athanasius, presenting to him a statement of faith. … He accepted it and gave them a document expressing his agreement with their doctrine.” (Hanson, p. 801)

See here for a detailed discussion of the Meletian Schism.

ALEXANDER’S THEOLOGY

Alexander believed similar to Athanasius.

Athanasius learned his theology from Alexander. Similar to the Sabellians, both believed that the Son is a property or quality of the Father, namely, God’s only Wisdom or Word, and explained Father and Son as a single hypostasis; a single Person.

“Alexander’s theology found its most famous advocate in his successor Athanasius.” (Ayres, p. 45) Similar to Athanasius and the Sabellians, Alexander:

      • Maintained that the Son is a property or quality of the Father and, therefore, part of the Father.

“[Rowan] Williams’ work is most illuminating. Alexander of Alexandria, Williams thinks, had maintained that the Son … is a property or quality of the Father, impersonal and belonging to his substance. Properties or qualities cannot be substances …; they are not quantities.” (Hanson, p. 92)

      • Described the Son as idios to the Father.

“The (Alexander’s) statement then that the Son is idios to (a property or quality of) the Father is a Sabellian statement.” (Hanson, p. 92)

      • Taught that the Logos in Christ is the Father’s intrinsic Word and Wisdom, God’s only Wisdom or Word and, therefore, part of the Father.

“Alexander taught that … as the Father’s Word and Wisdom the Son must always have been with the Father.” (Ayres, p. 16)

“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.” (Ayres, p. 44)

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

      • Explained Father and Son as a single hypostasis, similar to the Sabellians.

“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.“ (Ayres, p. 69)

With respect to Alexander and Athanasius, Ayres concludes, “This trajectory … is also resistant to speaking of three hypostases.” (Ayres, p. 43)

In conclusion, there is no substantial difference between the theology of Alexander and Athanasius and that of the main Sabellians of their day; Eustathius and Marcellus. Since Athanasius learned his theology from Alexander, this is further evidence that Athanasius was a Sabellian.

THE INCARNATION

Athanasius described Jesus as God the Father walking around on earth in a human body but without a human mind. This is different from the Sabellian explanation of Jesus as a mere human being but is also a very unconvincing explanation.

If Athanasius was a Sabellian, we should also see this in his theory of the incarnation. If he was a Sabellian, he should describe the incarnated Christ as a maximally inspired man, but still a mere man with a human soul (mind).

However, Athanasius refused to admit that Jesus had a human mind. He describes Jesus as the Logos dwelling in a human body. Since, in his view, the Logos is part of the Father, it is really the Father who dwells in the human body.

He completely ignored the human side of Jesus Christ, so much so that scholars “conclude that whatever else the Logos incarnate is in Athanasius’ account of him, he is not a human being.” (Hanson, p. 451) In other words, he described Jesus as God in a human body. For example, when he discusses Jesus’ ignorance and fears, Athanasius says that God only pretended to be ignorant and to fear. For such reasons, scholars say:

“The chief reason for Athanasius’ picture of Jesus being so completely unconvincing is of course that, at least till the year 362, it never crossed his mind that there was any point in maintaining that Jesus had a human soul or mind.” (Hanson, p. 451)

“Athanasius involves himself in the most far-fetched explanations to explain away some of the texts which obviously represents Jesus as having faith.” (Hanson, p. 450)

See – The Incarnation for a discussion of Athanasius’ view on the subject.

CONCLUSION

As ‘one hypostasis’ theologians, Alexander and Athanasius were part of a minority in this church. And since both Sabellius’ theology and the term homoousios were already formally condemned as heretical during the preceding century, they followed an already discredited theology.

The Western Council of Serdica in 343, where Athanasius played a dominant part, is devastating evidence. It explicitly describes the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as one hypostasis and Athanasius approved and supported this creed.

“The Westerners had at Serdica in 343 produced a theological statement which appeared to have the most alarmingly Sabellian complexion, and ‘Athanasius had certainly supported this statement, though he later denied its existence.” (Hanson, p. xix)

People struggle with this conclusion is that it shows that Athanasius, who is regarded as the hero of the Arian Controversy, was a Sabellian; not a Trinitarian. But, as Hanson stated, the traditional account of the Arian Controversy is a Complete Travesty.


OTHER ARTICLES

FOOTNOTES

  • 1
    “Athanasius presents himself as the preserver of the one theological tradition that is equivalent with scriptural orthodoxy.” (Ayres, p. 107)
  • 2
    “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.” (Ayres, p. 55)
  • 3
    For example: “The original Logos and Wisdom … is the Son.” (Hanson, p. 427). “The Word and Son is idios to the Father’s essence.” (Ayres, p. 114)
  • 4
    Other relevant quotes include: (1) “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.” (Ayres, p. 114) [Note that this quote uses ‘reality’ as a synonym for ‘Person’.] (2) “The Son’s existence is intrinsic to the Father’s nature.” (Ayres, p. 116) (3) “Although Athanasius’ theology was by no means identical with Marcellus’, the overlaps were significant enough for them to be at one on some of the vital issues—especially their common insistence that the Son was intrinsic to the Father’s external existence.” (Ayres, p. 106)
  • 5
    He derived “his tradition in continuity from Eustathius who had been bishop about forty years before” (Hanson, p. 800-1).
  • 6
    “It seems most likely that Eustathius was primarily deposed for the heresy of Sabellianism.” (Hanson, p. 211)
  • 7
    “’One hypostasis’ of the Godhead was to become the slogan and rallying-cry of the continuing Eustathians.” (Hanson, p. 213)