The Sabellians of the Fourth Century

OVERVIEW

This article discusses the views of the three main Sabellian theologians of the fourth century:

      • Eustathius of Antioch,
      • Marcellus of Ancyra, and
      • Photinus of Sirmium.

The first two attended Nicaea, joined forces with Alexander, vigorously opposed the Arians, and had a significant role in formulating the Nicene Creed. However, both were deposed for Sabellianism within about ten years after Nicaea. Photinus lived a little later and was deposed in 351.

After the Eastern Church deposed Marcellus, the Western Church vindicated him. Athanasius, who was found guilty of violence and tyranny by the Eastern Church, was also declared orthodox and innocent of crimes by the Western Church.

Alexander and Athanasius were similar enough in their theology to the Sabellians to join forces with them, both at Nicaea and during the decades after Nicaea.

In Sabellian theology, the Logos is not a distinct Person and does not have a real distinct existence. The Logos or Son is God’s only Logos and is “in” the Father. Consequently, Father and Son are one single hypostasis (one single Person with one single mind). The Son and Holy Spirit are simply attributes or activities of the one God. The Logos is merely a word spoken by God or God’s thought. This has some important implications:

(1) Christ did not exist before He was born from Mary.

(2) Christ is a complete human being with a human soul (mind). In other words, it was a mere human being who suffered, died, was resurrected, and now sits at God’s right hand. The Logos or Son did not suffer or die.

(3) The eternal Logos dwells in the man Jesus as an Energy, an Activity, Inspiration, and Moral agreement.

INTRODUCTION

Authors quoted:

In this article, the main authors quoted are:

Hanson RPC,
The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy, 318-381 (1988(

Williams, Rowan,
Arius: Heresy and Tradition (2002/1987)

Ayres, Lewis,
Nicaea and its Legacy, An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology (2004)

Based on ancient documents that have become available during the previous century1“In the first few decades of the present (20th) century … seminally important work was … done in the sorting-out of the chronology of the controversy, and in the isolation of a hard core of reliable primary documents.” (Williams, p. 11-12) and based on significant progress in research,2Ayres wrote in 2004: “A vast amount of scholarship over the past thirty years has offered revisionist accounts of themes and figures from the fourth century” (Ayres, p. 2). modern scholarship has concluded that the traditional account of the fourth-century Arian Controversy is history written from the winner’s perspective and a complete travesty. These books reflect the revised account of that Controversy.

The three prominent Sabellians

In chapter 8 of his book, RPC Hanson discusses the three Sabellian bishops who were prominent during the fourth-century Arian Controversy. They are:

    • Eustathius of Antioch
    • Marcellus of Ancyra, and
    • Photinus of Sirmium. (Sirmium was one of the four main centers of the Roman Empire. For example, Emperor Constans made “Sirmium his Head Quarters.” (Hanson, p. 316))

Ayres, in chapter 3.1 of his book, discusses Marcellus as one of the four “trajectories” in the church when the Arian Controversy began. The current article summarizes these two sections in these two books.

The theologies of the three Sabellians were similar. Marcellus learned his theology from Eustathius and Photinus was a devoted disciple of Marcellus. They continued the tradition of the second-century Monarchians.3“Marcellus learnt the main lines of his theology from Eustathius.” (Hanson, p. 234) Their theologies only differ “in minor respects” (Hanson, p. 216) and “stem from the same theological tradition.” (Hanson, p. 234)4“Photinus, bishop of Sirmium … came from Ancyra, was a devoted disciple of Marcellus of Ancyra.” (Hanson, p. 235-6)

OVERVIEW OF HISTORY

The Nicene Council

Both Eustathius and Marcellus attended Nicaea. There, they joined forces with Alexander5“Marcellus, Eustathius and Alexander were able to make common cause against the Eusebians.” (Ayres, p. 69)6“Eustathius and Marcellus … certainly met at Nicaea and no doubt were there able to join forces with Alexander of Alexandria and Ossius.” (Hanson, p. 234) (Ossius presided over the meeting as the emperor’s agent.) and were some of the most vocal opponents of Arius.7Eustathius “was clearly a vigorous opponent of Arius and Arianism.” (Hanson, p. 208)

Through their alliance with Alexander, and since the emperor had taken Alexander’s part in his dispute with Arius,8“Tension among Eusebian bishops was caused by knowledge that Constantine had taken Alexander’s part and by events at the council of Antioch only a few months before.” (Ayres, p. 89) Eustathius and Marcellus were able to influence the wording of the Nicene Creed:

“Marcellus … played a major role at Nicaea.” (Ayres, p. 62)

“If we are to take the creed N at its face value, the theology of Eustathius and Marcellus was the theology which triumphed at Nicaea. That creed admits the possibility of only one ousia and one hypostasis. This was the hallmark of the theology of these two men.” (Hanson, p. 235)

In the previous quote, note that “one ousia and one hypostasis … was the hallmark of the theology of these two men.” This means that Father and Son are one single Person with one single mind, meaning that the Son does not have a distinct existence.

After Nicaea

Deposed for Sabellianism

Both Eustatius and Marcellus were deposed within about ten years after Nicaea. Photinus lived a little later and was deposed in 351.9Eustathius was “deposed from the see of Antioch by a council and exiled by Constantine.” (Hanson, p. 209) Ayres says that this was “soon after Nicaea, probably in 327.” (Ayres, p. 68-69). Hanson says it “cannot have been later than 331.” (Hanson, p. 209)10“About ten years after the Council of Nicaea he (Marcellus) was deposed by a council held in Constantinople.” (Hanson, p. 217)11Photinus was “censured” and “condemned” in 344, 345, and 347, “but was only ousted and exiled finally … in 351.” (Hanson, p. 236) Eustathius and Marcellus were deposed for Sabellianism:

“It seems most likely that Eustathius was primarily deposed for the heresy of Sabellianism.” (Hanson, p. 211)

“Marcellus of Ancyra had produced a theology … which could quite properly be called Sabellian.” (Hanson, p. ix)12Marcellus of Ancyra “cannot be acquitted of Sabellianism.” (Hanson Lecture) “Marcellus was deposed for Sabellian leanings.” (Hanson, p. 228)

Marcellus’ book “was accused of favouring the ideas of Paul of Samosata.” (Hanson, p. 217). (This Paul was a prominent third-century Sabellian who had been condemned at a council in Antioch in 268.)

Eusebius regards Marcellus’ “doctrine as outright Sabellianism, that is a failure to distinguish Father and Son.” (Hanson, p. 224)

In the last quote, note again that Sabellianism is defined as “a failure to distinguish Father and Son.” They are regarded as one single Person. 

Vindicated in the West

While Marcellus was deposed in the East (Constantinople), he was vindicated as orthodox in the West (Rome):

“Julius (bishop of Rome), in the year 341, summoned a council to Rome, which vindicated the orthodoxy of Marcellus, as well as that of Athanasius.” (Hanson, p. 218)

Note that the West also vindicated Athanasius. His theology was similar to the Sabellians:

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

The similarity of their theologies is also shown by their alliance:

“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) “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)

Another article provides further evidence of the Sabellian leaning of the theologies of Alexander and Athanasius. For example, “Studer’s account 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) The question is, why did the West vindicate these two Sabellians?

One possible answer is that the West did not understand the issues. At first, the West was not involved in the Arian Controversy. For example, the delegates at Nicaea were “drawn entirely from the East. almost entirely from the eastern half of the empire.” (Ayres, p. 19) Hanson concludes that the East failed to properly understand the issues:

“Pope Julius and his associates who declared Marcellus’ doctrine to be orthodox can have never met the works of Origen nor known anything of the theology of the Eastern Church.” (Hanson, p. 231)

An alternative answer is that the West was also Sabellian. Hanson comments: “In this medley of opinions it is quite unrealistic to indulge in the business of labelling some as ‘heretical’ and some as ‘orthodox’.” (Hanson, p. 216)

THEOLOGY

The Son is in the Father.

These Sabellians described the Logos, not only as in “God,” but as in “the Father.” With respect to Marcellus, for example:

“The Word … eternally is in the Father.” (Ayres, p. 63) “Before the world existed the Word was in the Father.” (Ayres, p. 63) “The Word was in the Father as a power.” (Ayres, p. 63)

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

Father, Son, and Spirit are one Hypostasis.

Hanson defines Sabellianism above as “a failure to distinguish Father and Son.” (Hanson, p. 224) Since the Logos is “in” the Father, it follows that God is only One Hypostasis (Reality). In later Trinitarian language, these Sabellians believed that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one single ‘Person’. The Son and Holy Spirit are simply attributes or activities of the one God. For example:

Hanson refers to Eustathius’ “insistence that there is only one distinct reality (hypostasis) in the Godhead, and his confusion about distinguishing Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” (Hanson, p. 216) The “’one hypostasis’ of the Godhead was to become the slogan and rallying-cry of the continuing Eustathians.” (Hanson, p. 213)

“One point about Marcellus which is unequivocally clear is that he believed that God constituted only one hypostasis.” (Hanson, p. 229-230) “The point’ which was to them (Marcellus’ followers) crucial, that there was one hypostasis with one ousia.” (Hanson, p. 223-4) “Marcellus … is particularly incensed at the use of hypostasis or ousia in the plural.” (Ayres, p. 63)

The Logos has no real existence.

It follows that the Logos does not have a real distinct existence. For that reason, Ayres also refers to them as Unitarians (Ayres, p. 431). For example:

“’The Logos for Eustathius,’ says Loofs, … ‘has or is no proper hypostasis’.” (Hanson, p. 215) In other words, the Logos does not have an existence distinct from the Father.

Eusebius of Caesarea “accuses Marcellus of Ancyra of rejecting the hypostasis i.e. the distinct individuality, of the Son.” (Hanson, p. 53) 13Bishop RPC Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God – The Arian Controversy 318-381, 1987 For Marcellus, the Logos was only a temporary word spoken by God: “The Son was a mere word … immanent [inherent] during the time that the Father was silent, but active in fashioning the creation, just as one’s speech is inactive when we are silent, but active when we speak.” (Hanson, p. 224)

For Photinus, “The Logos … was simply a mode of manifestation of the Father, a power or aspect of him not in any serious sense distinct from him.” (Hanson, p. 237) “Like Marcellus, he favoured the analogy of a man and his thought for the relation of the Father to the Son.” (Hanson, p. 237)

They claimed they are not Sabellians.

Marcellus insists “that he is not a Sabellian.” (Ayres, p. 63) Technically, this may be true. In Sabellianism, the Father and Son are parts of the one God. See – Sabellius. In contrast, as stated, for Marcellus, the Son is “in the Father.” (Ayres, p. 63, 64) Nevertheless, in both views, the Father and Son are one single hypostasis (Reality) and the Son is not a distinct reality. This article, therefore, uses the term “Sabellian” for any view in which God is only one hypostasis.

WHO IS JESUS?

The discussion above pertains only to the nature of God apart from the incarnation. But the more important issue is what ‘one hypostasis’ theology means for the question of who Jesus Christ is or was. That, after all, was the big question in the Arian Controversy.

Christ had no pre-existence.

All three theologians made a distinction between the Logos and the Son:

      • The Logos is eternal and an attribute of God.
      • The Son came into existence when He was born from Mary.

For example, for Marcellus, “the only-begotten Son” was equal to “Logos + assumed flesh.” (Hanson, p. 227) We usually say that the Son was “begotten” in eternity past. But, for Marcellus, the term “begotten” refers to the event, 2000 years ago, when the Logos assumed flesh. Before that event, the “Son” did not exist:

“It was not the Logos that was begotten, but the Son.” (Hanson, p. 224)

“The Logos was only called Son or Jesus or Christ after the Incarnation.” (Hanson, p. 225)

Eustathius, similarly, “distinguishes between ‘the Logos … and ‘Christ’s man’ who was raised from the dead and is exalted and glorified.” (Hanson, p. 213) “It is the man who sits at God’s right hand.” (Hanson, p. 214)

And Photinus wrote: “The Son did not come into existence until the Incarnation and was defined as the whole human being who was born of Mary; Christ had no pre-existence.” (Hanson, p. 237)

Christ has a Human Mind.

The fourth-century Eusebians (the so-called Arians) said that Christ does not have a human soul: God gave Him a body without a human soul or mind so that the Logos may function as Christ’s soul and mind. In that way, the Logos suffered all the pain and insult of the Cross. The Eusebians described the Son as God (divine) but with a lower form of divinity that is able to suffer and even die. They, therefore, were able to say that God suffered and God died. 

In contrast, the Sabellians said that the Son has a human soul (mind) and that that soul absorbed all human experiences. The underlying principle is that the Logos is God and God cannot suffer. For example:

Eustathius wrote:

“The man whom the Logos assumed was a complete man: ‘he consists of soul and body.” (Hanson, p. 213)

“The human being absorbs all the human experiences attributed to Christ in the Gospels, leaving the divine element untouched.” (Hanson, p. 215)

“This soul was able to endure the human experiences which it was unfitting for the divine element in Christ to endure.” (Hanson, p. 212)

So, in this theology, it was only a human person that suffered and died.

With respect to Marcellus, Hanson at first says:

“There is no reason to conclude that Marcellus saw the necessity of postulating a human psyche in the flesh assumed by the Logos at the Incarnation.” (Hanson, p. 229)

But he later mentions factors that: “might cause us to consider again the conjecture discussed above, that Marcellus did in his middle or later period admit a human soul to Christ.” (Hanson, p. 238)

Photinus “certainly taught that the human body of Jesus had a human mind or soul.” (Hanson, p. 236)

Christ is Limited.

Since Christ has a human mind, He is limited. For example:

Eustathius said: “God hid the knowledge of the day of the Second Coming from the man, but the divine element in Jesus Christ was omniscient.” (Hanson, p. 213-4)

And Photinus argued: “Christ was only Son of God in the sense that all Christians are.” (Hanson, p. 238)

The Logos dwells as an Energy in Jesus.

So, the question is, in what sense was God in this man? For the Sabellians, the eternal Logos dwells in the man Jesus as an Energy or an Activity or as Inspiration and Moral agreement:

“It would seem that Eustathius … holds that the Logos is … dwelling as an ‘ENERGY’ in Jesus.” (Hanson, p. 215)

For Marcellus, with respect to “the Incarnation … the Godhead would appear to be extended simply by ACTIVITY so that in all likelihood the Monad is genuinely indivisible.” (Hanson, p. 228)

“Everybody in the ancient world accuses Photinus of reducing Christ to a mere man adopted by God, i.e. the union between Logos and man was one of INSPIRATION AND MORAL AGREEMENT” (Hanson, p. 237)

There is only one Logos.

Marcellus described the Logos as “the proper and true Logos of God.” (Hanson, p. 230). He said: There is not “another Logos and another Wisdom and Power.” (Hanson, p. 230) This is an attack aimed at the Eusebians who said that Jesus Christ is the Logos of God but God also has His own Logos. The Sabellians, therefore, found it ‘surprising’ that the Eusebians spoke of two Logoi. For the Sabellians, God only has one Logos, and that Logos works in Jesus as an activity.

Eventually, Jesus will be no more.

If the Logos is only an activity of God in the man Jesus, then that activity might end when the goal is accomplished. “Marcellus set a limit to this period of Christ’s reign. At the end of this reign the flesh of Christ was to be abandoned, the body deserted, and the Logos would return to God from whom he had (before the creation of the world) come forth.” (Hanson, p. 226-7) “He is most concerned to uphold God’s rule as complete and unmediated, and thus the kingdom of Christ must end.” (Ayres, p. 66)

Marcellus seemed to have later changed his view on this. “He played down his more eccentric earlier ideas” (Hanson, p. 238)

THE HOLY SPIRIT

An activity of or an energy from God

In the same way, the Holy Spirit is merely an activity of or an energy from God. For Marcellus: “The Spirit remains inseparably in God, but goes forth as activity from the Father and the Logos.” (Hanson, p. 229) “The same language of going forth in energy is used for the Spirit as was used in the case of the Son.” (Ayres, p. 67)

ANTECEDENTS

The Monarchians

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

CONCLUSIONS

The perhaps surprising conclusion is that the Arian (Eusebian) view of Jesus Christ is infinitely higher than the Sabellian view.

Another perhaps surprising conclusion is that the Socianians or so-called Biblical Unitarians are the continuation of the ancient Sabellians.


OTHER ARTICLES

Origin of the Trinity Doctrine

CHURCH FATHERS

ARIAN CONTROVERSY

ARIUS

THE NICENE CREED

ARIANISM

    • The Dedication Creed 33This Creed shows how the Nicene Creed would have read if emperor Constantine had not manipulated the Nicene Council.
    • Athanasius invented Arianism. 34The only reason we today refer to ‘Arians’ is that Athanasius invented the term to falsely label his opponents with a theology that was already formally rejected by the church.
    • Did Arians describe the Son as a creature? 35‘Arians’ described Christ as originating from beyond our universe, the only being ever brought forth directly by the Father, and as the only being able to endure direct contact with God.
    • Homoian theology 36In the 350s, Athanasius began to use homoousios to attack the church majority. Homoian theology developed in response.
    • Homoi-ousian theology 37This was one of the ‘strands’ of ‘Arianism’. It proposed that the Son’s substance is similar to the Father’s, but not the same.
    • How did Arians interpret Colossians 2:9? 38Forget about Arius. He was an isolated extremist. This article quotes the mainstream anti-Nicenes to show how they understood that verse.

THE PRO-NICENES

EMPEROR THEODOSIUS

AUTHORS 

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

LATER

TRINITY DOCTRINE – GENERAL

    • Elohim 47Elohim (often translated as God) is plural in form. Does this mean that the Old Testament writers thought of God as a multi-personal Being?
    • The Eternal Generation of the Son 48The Son has been begotten by the Father, meaning that the Son is dependent on the Father. Eternal Generation explains “begotten” in such a way that the Son is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father.

Other Articles

All articles on this Site

FOOTNOTES

  • 1
    “In the first few decades of the present (20th) century … seminally important work was … done in the sorting-out of the chronology of the controversy, and in the isolation of a hard core of reliable primary documents.” (Williams, p. 11-12)
  • 2
    Ayres wrote in 2004: “A vast amount of scholarship over the past thirty years has offered revisionist accounts of themes and figures from the fourth century” (Ayres, p. 2).
  • 3
    “Marcellus learnt the main lines of his theology from Eustathius.” (Hanson, p. 234) Their theologies only differ “in minor respects” (Hanson, p. 216) and “stem from the same theological tradition.” (Hanson, p. 234)
  • 4
    “Photinus, bishop of Sirmium … came from Ancyra, was a devoted disciple of Marcellus of Ancyra.” (Hanson, p. 235-6)
  • 5
    “Marcellus, Eustathius and Alexander were able to make common cause against the Eusebians.” (Ayres, p. 69)
  • 6
    “Eustathius and Marcellus … certainly met at Nicaea and no doubt were there able to join forces with Alexander of Alexandria and Ossius.” (Hanson, p. 234) (Ossius presided over the meeting as the emperor’s agent.)
  • 7
    Eustathius “was clearly a vigorous opponent of Arius and Arianism.” (Hanson, p. 208)
  • 8
    “Tension among Eusebian bishops was caused by knowledge that Constantine had taken Alexander’s part and by events at the council of Antioch only a few months before.” (Ayres, p. 89)
  • 9
    Eustathius was “deposed from the see of Antioch by a council and exiled by Constantine.” (Hanson, p. 209) Ayres says that this was “soon after Nicaea, probably in 327.” (Ayres, p. 68-69). Hanson says it “cannot have been later than 331.” (Hanson, p. 209)
  • 10
    “About ten years after the Council of Nicaea he (Marcellus) was deposed by a council held in Constantinople.” (Hanson, p. 217)
  • 11
    Photinus was “censured” and “condemned” in 344, 345, and 347, “but was only ousted and exiled finally … in 351.” (Hanson, p. 236)
  • 12
    Marcellus of Ancyra “cannot be acquitted of Sabellianism.” (Hanson Lecture)
  • 13
    Bishop RPC Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God – The Arian Controversy 318-381, 1987
  • 14
    The pre-Nicene fathers described the Son as “our God” but the Father as “the only true God,” implying that the Son is not “true” God. This confusion is caused by the translations.
  • 15
    Sabellius taught that Father, Son, and Spirit are three portions of one single Being.
  • 16
    If we define Sabellianism as that only one hypostasis – only one distinct existence – exists in the Godhead, was Tertullian a Sabellian?
  • 17
    The Controversy gave us the Trinity doctrine but the traditional account of the Controversy is a complete traversy.
  • 18
    RPC Hanson states that no ‘orthodoxy’ existed but that is not entirely true. This article shows that subordination was indeed ‘orthodox’ at that time.
  • 19
    The term “Arianism” implies that Arius’ theology dominated the fourth-century church. But Arius was not regarded in his time as a significant writer. He left no school of disciples.
  • 20
    Over the centuries, Arius was always accused of this. This article explains why that is a false accusation.
  • 21
    There are significant differences between Origen and Arius.
  • 22
    Arius wrote that the Son was begotten timelessly by the Father before everything. But Arius also said that the Son did not always exist. Did Arius contradict himself?
  • 23
    New research has shown that Arius is a thinker and exegete of resourcefulness, sharpness, and originality.
  • 24
    The word theos, which is translated as “God” in John 1:1 is not equivalent to the modern English word “God.”
  • 25
    Constantine took part in the Council of Nicaea and ensured that it reached the kind of conclusion which he thought best.
  • 26
    Eusebius of Caesarea, the most respected theologian at the Council, immediately afterward wrote to his church in Caesarea to explain why he accepted the Creed and how he understood the controversial phrases.
  • 27
    The Creed not only uses non-Biblical words; the concept of homoousios (that the Son is of the same substance as the Father) is not in the Bible.
  • 28
    Does it mean that Father and Son are one single Being, as the Trinity doctrine claims? How was it understood before, at, and after Nicaea? – Summary of the next article
  • 29
    The Nicene Creed describes the Son as homoousios (same substance) as the Father. But how was the term used before, during, and after Nicaea?
  • 30
    The term homoousios was not mentioned by anybody during the first 30 years after Nicaea. It only became part of that controversy in the 350s.
  • 31
    The word is not found in the Bible or in any orthodox Christian confession before Nicaea.
  • 32
    The Creed seems to say that the Father and Son are the same hupostasis. This is Sabellianism.
  • 33
    This Creed shows how the Nicene Creed would have read if emperor Constantine had not manipulated the Nicene Council.
  • 34
    The only reason we today refer to ‘Arians’ is that Athanasius invented the term to falsely label his opponents with a theology that was already formally rejected by the church.
  • 35
    ‘Arians’ described Christ as originating from beyond our universe, the only being ever brought forth directly by the Father, and as the only being able to endure direct contact with God.
  • 36
    In the 350s, Athanasius began to use homoousios to attack the church majority. Homoian theology developed in response.
  • 37
    This was one of the ‘strands’ of ‘Arianism’. It proposed that the Son’s substance is similar to the Father’s, but not the same.
  • 38
    Forget about Arius. He was an isolated extremist. This article quotes the mainstream anti-Nicenes to show how they understood that verse.
  • 39
    Eustathius and Marcellus played a major role in the formulation of the Creed but were soon deposed for Sabellianism.
  • 40
    Athanasius presents himself as the preserver of Biblical orthodoxy but this article argues that he was a Sabellian.
  • 41
    In the Trinity doctrine, Father, Son, and Spirit are one substance or Being. This article shows that Basil taught three distinct substances.
  • 42
    This council reveals the state of Western theology at that time.
  • 43
    It was a regional synod of Antioch and attended only by bishops who were friendly to the bishop of Antioch. But the emperor hijacked it.
  • 44
    A summary of this book, which provides an overview of the fourth-century Arian Controversy. Lewis Ayres is a Catholic theologian and Professor of Catholic and Historical Theology.
  • 45
    A very informative lecture on the Arian Controversy by RPC Hanson, a famous fourth-century scholar
  • 46
    In the fifth century, Arian ‘barbarians’ dominated the Western Empire, but they tolerated and even respected the Trinitarian Roman Church.
  • 47
    Elohim (often translated as God) is plural in form. Does this mean that the Old Testament writers thought of God as a multi-personal Being?
  • 48
    The Son has been begotten by the Father, meaning that the Son is dependent on the Father. Eternal Generation explains “begotten” in such a way that the Son is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father.

Introduction to the fourth-century Arian Controversy

SUMMARY

The fourth-century Arian Controversy is important because it produced the Trinity doctrine. By way of introduction, this article provides an overview of some aspects of that Controversy.

The fundamental problem in understanding the Controversy is that a limited number of the ancient documents survived. Particularly very little of the writings of the anti-Nicenes survived. The traditional account of the Controversy developed from the writings of the pro-Nicenes. However, after further documents became accessible and some groundbreaking research over the last 100 years, some scholars now describe that traditional account as a ‘complete travesty’. (Hanson Lecture) For example:

Firstly, there were no ‘Arians’. This term was derived from Arius’ name, implying that he developed a new heresy in contrast to an existing orthodoxy and was able to convince many Christians of his views. In reality:

Arius was an insignificant writer, did not say anything new, did not leave behind a school of disciples, was part of a wider theological trajectory, and did not cause the Controversy. The Controversy continued the controversy that raged during the previous century.

The name ‘Arian’ was invented by Athanasius to insult his opponents by tarring them as followers of a discredited theology. But Athanasius’ opponents did not follow Arius. The term Arian is a misnomer.

Secondly, there was no Controversy. For much of that period, there was no controversy. And controversy raged about different things at different times. After Nicaea, the term homoousios disappeared from the debate and came back into Controversy only in the 350s when Athanasius began using the Nicene Creed and homoousios to defend his theology.

Thirdly, Athanasius was a Sabellian. He is often acclaimed as the main defender of the Nicene Creed but a study of his theology reveals that, in his view, the Father, Son, and Spirit are one single hypostasis, meaning one Person with one single mind; similar to Sabellianism.

Fourthly, subordination was orthodox. In the traditional account, the Trinity doctrine was ‘orthodoxy’ when the Controversy began. But the opposite is true. The orthodoxy was that the Son is distinct from the Father and subordinate to Him.

Fifthly, the core issue was whether Jesus is a distinct Person. In the traditional account, it is often stated that the dispute was whether Christ is God. But that was not the issue. All sides described His as God. The real main issue was whether the Son is part of the Father or a real Person, distinct from the Father with a distinct mind.

These are just a few of the false claims of the traditional account. Since the Trinity doctrine is the most fundamental doctrine of the church, and since the Arian Controversy gave us that doctrine, every Christian should study that Controversy. It will be shown that it is critical for understanding the Mark of the Beast.

An important conclusion of this series is that the church did not decide to adopt the Trinity doctrine. The Roman emperors took that decision.1“If we ask the question, what was considered to constitute the ultimate authority in doctrine during the period reviewed in these pages, there can be only one answer. The will of the Emperor was the final authority.” (Hanson, p. 849)2“The history of the period shows time and time again that … the general council was the very invention and creation of the Emperor. General councils … were the children of imperial policy and the Emperor was expected to dominate and control them.” (Hanson, p. 855)

– END OF SUMMARY –


INTRODUCTION

Authors Quoted

Published in 1988, RPC Hanson wrote perhaps the most influential modern book on the Arian Controversy.3Hanson RPC, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy, 318-381. 1988 This was followed in 2004 by another influential book by Lewis Ayres.4Ayres, Lewis, Nicaea and its Legacy, An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology, 2004 Ayres confirmed the importance of Hanson’s book.5“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) I also quote from another important book by Rowan Williams, which focused specifically on Arius.6Williams, Rowan (24 January 2002) [1987]. Arius: Heresy and Tradition (Revised ed.). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 978-0-8028-4969-4.

Revisionary Accounts

The main problem in understanding this Controversy is that the documentary evidence is fragmented.7“The fundamental problem in understanding the course of these controversies stems from the nature of our sources. … The documentary evidence from this period is, in many cases, fragmentary.” (Ayres, p. 2) These two books oppose several aspects of the traditional account of the Arian Controversy. The reason is that many ancient documents have become accessible during the 20th century and recent research explains that Controversy differently:

“In the first few decades of the present (20th) century … seminally important work was … done in the sorting-out of the chronology of the controversy, and in the isolation of a hard core of reliable primary documents.” (Williams, p. 11-12)

Hanson provides examples of such additional documents:

“Schwartz has established much of the chronology of the period more securely. Bell has published the papyrus which throws such a lurid light on the behaviour of Athanasius in his see. … so important for our estimation of Athanasius’ character. … The existence of the Synod of Antioch of 325 has now been brought to light. … A store of Arian literature hitherto unknown or little known has been made available by Turner, Gryson and others.” (Hanson, p. xx)

Consequently, the scholarly view of the Arian Controversy has changed dramatically over the past 100 years:

Ayres wrote around 2000: “A vast amount of scholarship over the past thirty years has offered revisionist accounts of themes and figures from the fourth century” (Ayres, p. 2).

Hanson says his book exists because of this new perspective on the Arian Controversy.8“It is because this manner of presenting the ‘Arian Controversy’ has not hitherto been found in textbooks that this work should be thought to have its raison d’2tre.” (Hanson, p. xx)

Purpose of this article

This article is a summary and discussion of the introductions in these two books, which highlight some of the false conclusions of the traditional account. These conclusions and many others are discussed in much more detail in other articles in this series.  

THE NAME ‘ARIAN’

“The expression ‘the Arian Controversy’ is a serious misnomer.” (Hanson, p. xvii)

“’Arianism’ as a coherent system, founded by a single great figure and sustained by his disciples, is a fantasy … based on the polemic of Nicene writers, above all Athanasius.” (Williams, p. 82)9Williams, Rowan, Arius: Heresy and Tradition (Revised ed.). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. (2002)

Arius was an insignificant writer.

The term ‘Arian’ is a misnomer because it was derived from Arius’ name and implies that he was an important person, the leader of those who opposed the Nicene Creed, and the developer of a new heresy. In reality, Arius was an insignificant writer. He did not say anything new and he did not leave behind a school of disciples:

“The people of his (Arius’) day, whether they agreed with him or not, did not regard him as a particularly significant writer. … Neither his supporters nor his opponents thought them (his writings) worth preserving. … He virtually disappears from the controversy at an early stage in its course.” (Hanson, p. xvii)

“Arius was part of a wider theological trajectory; many of his ideas were opposed by others in this trajectory: he neither originated the trajectory nor uniquely exemplified it.” (Ayres, p. 2)

Arius had no followers.

To call somebody an Arian implies that that person is a follower of Arius, but Arius had no followers:

“Most famously some participants in the debate [i.e., Athanasius] described loosely related but clearly distinct thinkers as Arians. In fact, it is virtually impossible to identify a school of thought dependent on Arius’ specific theology, and certainly impossible to show that even a bare majority of Arians had any extensive knowledge of Arius’ writing.” (Ayres, p. 2)

Arius was not a radical.

To call it the ‘Arian’ Controversy implies also that Arius caused it by creating a new heresy that opposed the existing orthodoxy. But that is also false. Arius was not a radical:

“A great deal of recent work … helped to demolish the notion of Arius and his supporters as deliberate radicals, attacking a time-honoured tradition.” (Williams, p. 21)

“Arius was a committed theological conservative; more specifically, a conservative Alexandrian.” (Williams, p. 175)

Arius did not cause the Controversy.

Rather, the Controversy was the continuation of a controversy about the nature of Christ that had been raging in the previous century:

“Many of the issues raised by the controversy were under lively discussion before Arius and Alexander publicly clashed” (Hanson, p. 52).

“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)

What was different in the fourth century is not that Arius introduced a new heresy but that the emperor had legalized Christianity, intended to use Christianity to help keep the empire united, and was determined to end the controversy because it put the unity of the empire at risk. For that purpose, the emperors called general councils to force the church towards a consensus. 

The name Arian was invented to insult.

The reason that the Controversy is named after Arius is that Athanasius accused his opponents of being followers of Arius, and, therefore, followers of a theology that was already condemned:

“The textbook picture of an Arian system … inspired by the teachings of the Alexandrian presbyter, is the invention of Athanasius’ polemic.” (Williams, p. 234)

“Heresiological labels enabled early theologians and ecclesiastical historians to portray theologians to whom they were opposed as distinct and coherent groups and they enabled writers to tar enemies with the name of a figure already in disrepute.” (Ayres, p. 2)

But Athanasius’ opponents were not followers of Arius. Unfortunately, the church has traditionally believed Athanasius. For further reading, see – Athanasius invented Arianism.

THE TERM ‘CONTROVERSY’

The term is also a misnomer.

Hanson explains that the term “Controversy” is also a misnomer:

“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. … 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)

After Nicaea, Homoousios disappears.

One indication of the lack of ‘controversy’ is that the key term from the Nicene Creed (homoousios) was not mentioned for several decades after Nicaea:

By supporting the Sabellian faction in the Nicene Council, Emperor Constantine forced that council to include the term in the Creed. (See – Nicene Council)

In the years after that council, the Sabellians claimed that the church, through the Creed, had officially adopted Sabellianism. However, the church then deposed the main Sabellians. (See –  Post-Nicaea Correction.)

After that, homoousios was not mentioned for two decades. During that period, there was no controversy around this term. (See – here)

“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)

The controversy around homoousios began again in the 350s when Athanasius began to use the term to defend his own one-hypostasis (one-Person) theology (see below).

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

Athanasius was a powerful man; both religiously and politically.10“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) He was the “paragon” of the West (Hanson, p. 304) and, following him, the ‘West’ also began to defend homoousios.

ORTHODOXY

At first, there was no Orthodoxy.

In the traditional account, the Trinity doctrine was established orthodoxy when the Controversy began and this is reflected in the Nicene Creed of 325. However, that is another piece of fiction. Our authors explain:

The “Arian Controversy” “was not a history of the defence of an agreed and settled orthodoxy against the assaults of open heresy. … There was not as yet any orthodox doctrine. The accounts of what happened which have come down to us were mostly written by those who belonged to the school of thought which eventually prevailed and have been deeply coloured by that fact. The supporters of this view wanted their readers to think that orthodoxy on the subject under discussion had always existed and that the period was simply a story of the defence of that orthodoxy against heresy and error.” (Hanson, p. xviii-xix)

“This is not the story of a defence of orthodoxy, but of a search for orthodoxy.” (Hanson, p. xix-xx) That is why Hanson named his book, ‘The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God’.

Subordination was ‘orthodoxy’.

But this is also not the full story. There was an ‘orthodoxy’ when the Controversy began. What later became ‘orthodox’ was not ‘orthodox’ when the Controversy began. While the Nicene Creed presents the Son as equal to the Father, when the Controversy began, the ‘orthodoxy’ was that the Son is subordinate to the Father:

“Almost all the Eastern theologians believed that the Son was in some sense subordinated to the Father before the Incarnation.” (Hanson, p. xix)

“With the exception of Athanasius virtually every theologian, East and West, accepted some form of subordinationism at least up to the year 355; subordinationism might indeed, until the denouement (end) of the controversy, have been described as accepted orthodoxy.” (Hanson, p. xix)

“’Subordinationism’, it is true was pre-Nicene orthodoxy11Henry Bettenson, The Early Christian Fathers p. 239.

In the first quote, Hanson refers to “the Eastern theologians.” Remember that at Nicaea, the delegates were “drawn almost entirely from the eastern half of the empire” (Ayres, p. 19). So, if almost all the Eastern theologians believed that the Son was subordinated to the Father, then almost all delegates at Nicaea believed the same.

Pro-Nicene Theology developed after 360.

‘Pro-Nicene’, namely, what we today understand as Nicene theology, has only been developed in the years 360-380 and is not the same as the theology of the Nicene Creed of AD 325:

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

“By ‘pro-Nicene’ I mean those theologies, appearing from the 360s to the 380s … of how the Nicene creed should be understood. … These theologies build closely on and adapt themes found earlier in the century, but none is identical with any original ‘Nicene’ theology apparent in the 320s or 330s.” (Ayres, p. 6)

THE CORE ISSUE

Is Christ God?

In the traditional account of the ‘Arian’ Controversy, the main issue was “whether or not Christ was divine.” (Ayres, p. 3) But that was not the issue. Even the so-called Arians described Christ as God. For example, the ‘Arian’ creed of 357 describes the Son as “God from God.” (Hanson, p. 345)

The issue was also not “whether to place the Son on either side of a clear God/creation boundary.” All participants in the debate placed both the Father and Son on the Creator’s side of that boundary. 

Until the last decades of the controversy, the term ‘God’ was used with a high level of flexibility.12“At issue until the last decades of the controversy was the very flexibility with which the term ‘God’ could be deployed.” (Ayres, p. 14)13“Many fourth-century theologians (including some who were in no way anti-Nicene) made distinctions between being ‘God’ and being ‘true God’ that belie any simple account of the controversy in these terms.” (Ayres, p. 4) Although the Eusebians described both the Father and the Son as “God” (theos or deus), they still described the Son as subordinate to the Father. Both were on the “God” side of the boundary but they were not seen as equal. (See – Did the church fathers describe Jesus as God?)

It was the “late fourth-century theologians” who, by removing the distinction between ‘true God’ and ‘God’, and by admitting “no degrees” created “a clear distinction between God and creation.” (Ayres, p. 4)

Does the Son share the Father’s being?

The core issue was also not whether the Son shared the Father’s being:

“Many participants supposedly on different sides … (insisted) that one must speak of the Son’s incomprehensible generation from the Father as a sharing of the Father’s very being.” (Ayres, p. 4-5)14“For some the position entailed recognizing the coeternity of the Son, for many it did not.” (Ayres, p. 5)

Is the Son a distinct Person?

The core issue was whether the Son is a distinct Person.

The Sabellians of the Third Century

Already in the third century, the main dispute was whether the Son has a real distinct existence:

The Sabellians taught that the Father, Son, and Spirit are one hypostasis, meaning one single ‘Person’ with one single mind. In this view, the Logos (Christ) is somehow part of the Father and does not have a distinct existence.

But the majority view, as taught, for example, by Origen, was that the Father, Son, and Spirit are three hypostases, meaning three distinct Persons with three distinct minds united in agreement. Consequently, more than one church council in the third century declared Sabellianism a heresy.

Sabellians dominated at Nicaea.

Sabellianism nevertheless continued into the fourth century. At Nicaea, the Sabellians Eustathius and Marcellus had the upper hand15“Marcellus of Ancyra … had been an important figure at the council and may have significantly influenced its wording.” (Ayres, p. 431)16“Once he (Constantine) discovered that the Eustathians … were in favour of it (homoousios) … he pressed for its inclusion.” (Hanson, p. 211) because they joined forces with Alexander,17“Eustathius and Marcellus … certainly met at Nicaea. and no doubt were there able to join forces with Alexander of Alexandria and Ossius.” (Hanson, p. 234) who also taught one single hypostasis,18“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) and because the emperor had taken Alexander’s part in the dispute.“19“Tension among Eusebian bishops was caused by knowledge that Constantine had taken Alexander’s part and by events at the council of Antioch only a few months before.” (Ayres, p. 89) For details, see – Nicaea. Consequently, the Sabellians significantly influenced the wording of the Nicene Creed.20“If we are to take the creed N at its face value, the theology of Eustathius and Marcellus was the theology which triumphed at Nicaea. That creed admits the possibility of only one ousia and one hypostasis. This was the hallmark of the theology of these two men.” (Hanson, p. 235)

Athanasius also taught one hypostasis.

After Nicaea, Athanasius and the Western church defended the Nicene Creed. What is less well known is that Athanasius and the Western Church were one-hypostasis theologians, similar to the Sabellians:

A separate article discusses Athanasius’ theology. It shows that, for Athanasius, the Son is part of the Father.21In the Father we have the Son: this is a summary of Athanasius’ theology.” (Hanson, p. 426) For Athanasius, Father and Son are one hypostasis.“22The 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)

Concerning the Western Church, Hanson refers to their “traditional Monarchianism.” (Hanson, p. 272) The Monarchians of the second century believed that ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ are two names for the same Person.23“This ‘monarchian’ view was … suggesting the Father and Son were different expressions of the same being, without any personal distinctions between them. In other words, the Father is himself the Son, and therefore experiences the Son’s human frailties.” (Litfin)

One indication of the Western one-hypostasis theology is that they, in 341, vindicated Marcellus, who was already exiled by the East for Sabellianism,24“Marcellus of Ancyra had produced a theology … which could quite properly be called Sabellian.” (Hanson, p. ix) “Marcellus was deposed for Sabellian leanings.” (Hanson, p. 228) as well as Athanasius, who also had a one-hypostasis theology.

Furthermore, at the Council of Serdica in 343, the Westerners produced a statement of faith that explicitly claims one hypostasis.25“We have received and have been taught this … tradition: that there is one hypostasis, which the heretics (also) call ousia, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Hanson, p. 301)

MISTAKES AND FAULTS

All sides made mistakes.

Traditionally, it is stated that the so-called ‘Arians’ proposed a defective theology. But Hanson says that all sides made mistakes. Concerning the pro-Nicene, for example, Hanson wrote:

“Hilary in order to defend his Trinitarian theology plunges wildly into Docetism. Pope Liberius signs a doctrinal formula which was widely believed in the West to be rankly Arian and certainly was not in accordance with pro-Nicene orthodoxy. Ambrose supports the Apollinarian Vitalian for some time after his unorthodoxy has been evident to Eastern theologians, and Damasus supports the near Sabellian Paulinus of Antioch.” (Hanson, p. xix)

PHILOSOPHY

All sides used philosophy.

In the past, Arius and the ‘Arians’ were often accused of using philosophy. The fact is that all sides used philosophy:

“It would of course be absurd to deny that discussion and dispute between 318 and 381 were conducted largely in terms of Greek philosophy. … The theologians of the Christian Church were slowly driven to a realization that the deepest questions which face Christianity cannot be answered in purely biblical language, because the questions are about the meaning of biblical language itself.” (Hanson, p. xxi)

Actually, the shoe is on the other foot. The theologians who were most indebted to philosophy were the three pro-Nicene Cappadocian Fathers.


OTHER ARTICLES

In this Series

Church Fathers

Arian Controversy

Arius

The Nicene Creed

Arianism

    • The Dedication Creed 45This Creed shows how the Nicene Creed would have read if emperor Constantine had not manipulated the Nicene Council.
    • Athanasius invented Arianism. 46The only reason we today refer to ‘Arians’ is that Athanasius invented the term to falsely label his opponents with a theology that was already formally rejected by the church.
    • Did Arians describe the Son as a creature? 47‘Arians’ described Christ as originating from beyond our universe, the only being ever brought forth directly by the Father, and as the only being able to endure direct contact with God.
    • Homoian theology 48In the 350s, Athanasius began to use homoousios to attack the church majority. Homoian theology developed in response.
    • Homoi-ousian theology 49This was one of the ‘strands’ of ‘Arianism’. It proposed that the Son’s substance is similar to the Father’s, but not the same.
    • How did Arians interpret Colossians 2:9? 50Forget about Arius. He was an isolated extremist. This article quotes the mainstream anti-Nicenes to show how they understood that verse.

The Pro-Nicenes

Authors on the Arian Controversy

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

Trinity Doctrine – General

    • Elohim 57Elohim (often translated as God) is plural in form. Does this mean that the Old Testament writers thought of God as a multi-personal Being?
    • The Eternal Generation of the Son 58The Son has been begotten by the Father, meaning that the Son is dependent on the Father. Eternal Generation explains “begotten” in such a way that the Son is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father.

Other Articles

All articles on this Site

FOOTNOTES

  • 1
    “If we ask the question, what was considered to constitute the ultimate authority in doctrine during the period reviewed in these pages, there can be only one answer. The will of the Emperor was the final authority.” (Hanson, p. 849)
  • 2
    “The history of the period shows time and time again that … the general council was the very invention and creation of the Emperor. General councils … were the children of imperial policy and the Emperor was expected to dominate and control them.” (Hanson, p. 855)
  • 3
  • 4
    Ayres, Lewis, Nicaea and its Legacy, An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology, 2004
  • 5
    “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)
  • 6
    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.
  • 7
    “The fundamental problem in understanding the course of these controversies stems from the nature of our sources. … The documentary evidence from this period is, in many cases, fragmentary.” (Ayres, p. 2)
  • 8
    “It is because this manner of presenting the ‘Arian Controversy’ has not hitherto been found in textbooks that this work should be thought to have its raison d’2tre.” (Hanson, p. xx)
  • 9
    Williams, Rowan, Arius: Heresy and Tradition (Revised ed.). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. (2002)
  • 10
    “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)
  • 11
    Henry Bettenson, The Early Christian Fathers p. 239.
  • 12
    “At issue until the last decades of the controversy was the very flexibility with which the term ‘God’ could be deployed.” (Ayres, p. 14)
  • 13
    “Many fourth-century theologians (including some who were in no way anti-Nicene) made distinctions between being ‘God’ and being ‘true God’ that belie any simple account of the controversy in these terms.” (Ayres, p. 4)
  • 14
    “For some the position entailed recognizing the coeternity of the Son, for many it did not.” (Ayres, p. 5)
  • 15
    “Marcellus of Ancyra … had been an important figure at the council and may have significantly influenced its wording.” (Ayres, p. 431)
  • 16
    “Once he (Constantine) discovered that the Eustathians … were in favour of it (homoousios) … he pressed for its inclusion.” (Hanson, p. 211)
  • 17
    “Eustathius and Marcellus … certainly met at Nicaea. and no doubt were there able to join forces with Alexander of Alexandria and Ossius.” (Hanson, p. 234)
  • 18
    “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)
  • 19
    “Tension among Eusebian bishops was caused by knowledge that Constantine had taken Alexander’s part and by events at the council of Antioch only a few months before.” (Ayres, p. 89)
  • 20
    “If we are to take the creed N at its face value, the theology of Eustathius and Marcellus was the theology which triumphed at Nicaea. That creed admits the possibility of only one ousia and one hypostasis. This was the hallmark of the theology of these two men.” (Hanson, p. 235)
  • 21
    In the Father we have the Son: this is a summary of Athanasius’ theology.” (Hanson, p. 426)
  • 22
    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)
  • 23
    “This ‘monarchian’ view was … suggesting the Father and Son were different expressions of the same being, without any personal distinctions between them. In other words, the Father is himself the Son, and therefore experiences the Son’s human frailties.” (Litfin)
  • 24
    “Marcellus of Ancyra had produced a theology … which could quite properly be called Sabellian.” (Hanson, p. ix) “Marcellus was deposed for Sabellian leanings.” (Hanson, p. 228)
  • 25
    “We have received and have been taught this … tradition: that there is one hypostasis, which the heretics (also) call ousia, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Hanson, p. 301)
  • 26
    The pre-Nicene fathers described the Son as “our God” but the Father as “the only true God,” implying that the Son is not “true” God. This confusion is caused by the translations.
  • 27
    Sabellius taught that Father, Son, and Spirit are three portions of one single Being.
  • 28
    If we define Sabellianism as that only one hypostasis – only one distinct existence – exists in the Godhead, was Tertullian a Sabellian?
  • 29
    The Controversy gave us the Trinity doctrine but the traditional account of the Controversy is a complete traversy.
  • 30
    RPC Hanson states that no ‘orthodoxy’ existed but that is not entirely true. This article shows that subordination was indeed ‘orthodox’ at that time.
  • 31
    The term “Arianism” implies that Arius’ theology dominated the fourth-century church. But Arius was not regarded in his time as a significant writer. He left no school of disciples.
  • 32
    Over the centuries, Arius was always accused of this. This article explains why that is a false accusation.
  • 33
    There are significant differences between Origen and Arius.
  • 34
    Arius wrote that the Son was begotten timelessly by the Father before everything. But Arius also said that the Son did not always exist. Did Arius contradict himself?
  • 35
    New research has shown that Arius is a thinker and exegete of resourcefulness, sharpness, and originality.
  • 36
    The word theos, which is translated as “God” in John 1:1 is not equivalent to the modern English word “God.”
  • 37
    Constantine took part in the Council of Nicaea and ensured that it reached the kind of conclusion which he thought best.
  • 38
    Eusebius of Caesarea, the most respected theologian at the Council, immediately afterward wrote to his church in Caesarea to explain why he accepted the Creed and how he understood the controversial phrases.
  • 39
    The Creed not only uses non-Biblical words; the concept of homoousios (that the Son is of the same substance as the Father) is not in the Bible.
  • 40
    Does it mean that Father and Son are one single Being, as the Trinity doctrine claims? How was it understood before, at, and after Nicaea? – Summary of the next article
  • 41
    The Nicene Creed describes the Son as homoousios (same substance) as the Father. But how was the term used before, during, and after Nicaea?
  • 42
    The term homoousios was not mentioned by anybody during the first 30 years after Nicaea. It only became part of that controversy in the 350s.
  • 43
    The word is not found in the Bible or in any orthodox Christian confession before Nicaea.
  • 44
    The Creed seems to say that the Father and Son are the same hupostasis. This is Sabellianism.
  • 45
    This Creed shows how the Nicene Creed would have read if emperor Constantine had not manipulated the Nicene Council.
  • 46
    The only reason we today refer to ‘Arians’ is that Athanasius invented the term to falsely label his opponents with a theology that was already formally rejected by the church.
  • 47
    ‘Arians’ described Christ as originating from beyond our universe, the only being ever brought forth directly by the Father, and as the only being able to endure direct contact with God.
  • 48
    In the 350s, Athanasius began to use homoousios to attack the church majority. Homoian theology developed in response.
  • 49
    This was one of the ‘strands’ of ‘Arianism’. It proposed that the Son’s substance is similar to the Father’s, but not the same.
  • 50
    Forget about Arius. He was an isolated extremist. This article quotes the mainstream anti-Nicenes to show how they understood that verse.
  • 51
    Eustathius and Marcellus played a major role in the formulation of the Creed but were soon deposed for Sabellianism.
  • 52
    Athanasius presents himself as the preserver of Biblical orthodoxy but this article argues that he was a Sabellian.
  • 53
    In the Trinity doctrine, Father, Son, and Spirit are one substance or Being. This article shows that Basil taught three distinct substances.
  • 54
    This council reveals the state of Western theology at that time.
  • 55
    A summary of this book, which provides an overview of the fourth-century Arian Controversy. Lewis Ayres is a Catholic theologian and Professor of Catholic and Historical Theology.
  • 56
    A very informative lecture on the Arian Controversy by RPC Hanson, a famous fourth-century scholar
  • 57
    Elohim (often translated as God) is plural in form. Does this mean that the Old Testament writers thought of God as a multi-personal Being?
  • 58
    The Son has been begotten by the Father, meaning that the Son is dependent on the Father. Eternal Generation explains “begotten” in such a way that the Son is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father.