The Macrostich (Long Lines Creed) reveals the heart of Arianism.

Christianity in the Fourth Century

This is an article in the series on the fourth-century Arian Controversy. It describes the events of the 340s after the failed Council of Serdica in 343 but focuses mostly on the Macrostich (the Long Liner Manifesto) as perhaps the most significant event of that period. At the Council of Serdica, the Western delegation formulated an explicitly one-hypostasis view. It says:

“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)

Against this view, the East, through the Macrostich, asserts three hypostases. These articles may seem complex and even unimportant but they are important for a proper understanding of the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation.

AUTHORS QUOTED

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

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

Due to discoveries of ancient documents and significant additional Research, the scholarship of the past hundred years has concluded that the traditional account of the fourth-century Arian Controversy presents history from the perspective of the winner and is a complete travesty. These books reflect the revised account of that Controversy.

THEOLOGY CATEGORIES

One-hypostasis and three-hypostases theologies are key concepts in this article and, therefore, first explained.

One Hypostasis means one Person.

To say that Father, Son, and Spirit are one hypostasis is to say that they are one single Person with one single mind. There are variations of this theory. For example:

Three Names – The second-century Monarchians said that the Father, Son, and Spirit are three names for the same one God.

Three Parts – The third-century Sabellians taught that Father, Son, and Spirit are three parts of the one hypostasis (Person). Sabellius had many followers, but his teaching was formally condemned.

Part of the Father – Alexander and Athanasius maintained that the Son is part of the Father, namely, His only Word and Wisdom. Tertullian similarly said that the Father is the whole, and the Son is part of the whole. 

Three Hypostases means three Persons.

In the traditional ‘three hypostases’ view, the Father, Son, and Spirit are three distinct Persons with three distinct minds. There are also variations of the ‘three hypostases’ theory. In contrast to the ‘same substance’ (homoousios) of the Nicene Creed, some said their substances are unlike (heterousios), others said their substances are similar (homoiousios) and others refused to talk about substance (the Homoians).

Generally, in the ‘three hypostases’-view, the Son is subordinate to the Father. However, the Cappadocians had a three-hypostases view in which the substances are exactly alike so that they are equal. In the one-hypostasis view, there is no thought of subordination.

OVERVIEW OF EARLIER HISTORY

Arius and Alexander

In 318, only five years after Christianity was legalized, a dispute broke out between bishop Alexander of Alexandria and one of his presbyters, Arius, about the nature of the Son of God:

Alexander believed that the Son is part of the Father so that they are one single hypostasis (Person). It follows that the Son is as immutable and eternal as the Father.

In contrast, Arius followed the traditional teaching in which Father and Son are two distinct Persons. However, he had some extreme teachings. For example, he said that the Son was begotten out of nothing.

Arius has several important supporters, not because they supported everything that he taught, but because they viewed Alexander’s one-hypostasis theology as a greater evil.

The Nicene Council

Nicene Creed
The emperor standing behind the church fathers

Emperor Constantine attempted to reconcile the quarreling parties by a letter and by sending his religious advisor, Ossius, but his efforts failed. Probably on Ossius’ recommendation, he took Alexander’s part in the dispute. Early in 325, Ossius held an “anti-Arian Council” in Antioch (RH, 131). That meeting provisionally excommunicated Eusebius of Caesarea, a supporter of Arius and perhaps the most respected theologian at the time.

This was followed by the Nicene Council later that same year. At that council, Alexander was able to form an alliance with the Sabellians because they all taught that Father and Son are one single hypostasis. And since Constantine had taken Alexander’s part in the dispute, this alliance dominated at Nicaea and was able to include in the Creed at least a hint of one-hypostasis theology.

After Nicaea, Sabellians claimed that the Nicene Creed identifies Sabellianism as the formally approved religion of the church. This resulted in a decade of conflict in which the main Sabellians were removed from their positions. Thereafter, Nicaea and the term homoousios were not mentioned by anybody for about 20 years.

Athanasius

While the first crisis (Arius – Nicene Creed – Sabellians) seems to be put to rest, a second crisis was brewing, namely, Athanasius:

Alexander died in 328 and Athanasius was elected in his place as bishop of Alexandria. Seven years later, in 335, he was also exiled; not for his theology but for violence against the Melitians in his see. In 337, when Constantine died, all exiled bishops were allowed to return, including Athanasius.

However, the church soon again accused him before the emperor. Consequently, Athanasius then developed his polemical strategy, claiming that he was, in fact, exiled for his anti-Arian stance and that all his enemies were Arians, meaning followers of Arius. Using these arguments, he appealed to the bishop of Rome and was successful because the West, which was not initially part of the Controversy and which was not represented at the Council of Nicaea, traditionally had a one-hypostasis theology; just like Athanasius. At the Council of Rome in 340, the West vindicated both Marcellus and Athanasius. Marcellus was the best-known Sabellian at the time and was previously condemned and exiled by the Eastern Church for that reason. In 341, the bishop of Rome attacked the East by writing a letter, declaring that Marcellus and Athanasius are orthodox in their teachings and that the East follows Arius, who was condemned at Nicaea.

Dedication and Serdica Councils

Later in that same year (341), the East met to discuss the letter from the bishop of Rome and formulated the Dedication Creed, which condemned some of Arius’ teachings but particularly condemned the West’s one-hypostasis theology.

This was followed in 343 by the Council of Serdica. This council was supposed to reconcile the West and the East but the two parties never met as one because of their dispute over Athanasius and Marcellus. The West brought these two men with as part of its delegation and demanded that they be allowed to participate in the Council. But the Eastern Church refused because it had already condemned both men. The Western delegation then formulated a creed that explicitly presents a one-hypostasis theology. 1“… the suspicion of Sabellianism which hung around the one Western theological statement which had appeared since the controversy began, the Formula accompanying the Encyclical of the Western bishops at Serdica.” (RH, 311)

End of the Controversy

Various other articles describe the events of the 350s, 360s, and 370s. The Controversy came to an end when emperor Theodosius, in 380, put the Trinity doctrine into law and made the Trinitarian version of Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire, and, in 381, ratified his decisions through the Council of Constantinople.

The most important conclusion of this series of articles is that the emperor was the final arbiter in the church’s doctrinal disputes, and that the Roman Empire selected the Trinitarian version of Christianity as the state religion of the Empire and exterminated other forms of Christianity. The Controversy began soon after persecution ended and ended when persecution was resumed.

Consequently, the church that entered the Middle Ages was a remnant of the Roman Empire; the ‘Roman Church’, meaning, the Church of the Roman Empire. The Trinity doctrine was its identifying mark.

RECONCILIATION ATTEMPTS

Serdica in 343 was perhaps intended to bring reconciliation but failed. In the 340s, the Empire was divided between Emperor Constans in the West and his brother Emperor Constantius in the East. These two emperors supported the conflicting views of the churches in their domains. After the failure of Serdica, little happened during the remainder of the 340s, except some attempts at rapprochement: 2“The remainder of the 340s requires much less discussion. Richard Hanson rightly characterizes this period as one in which the failure of Serdica eventually prompted attempts at rapprochement.” (LA, 126)

Western Attempt

“After Serdica … both sides were ready for peace feelers. (RH, 306-7)

The three main Christian centers in the Fourth Century

In 344, “a Western delegation consisting of two bishops” arrived in Antioch. “This visit unfortunately proved abortive owing to the mischiefmaking proclivity of Stephen bishop of Antioch. He attempted to ensnare Euphrates (one of the two Western bishops) in a false charge of fornication by planting a prostitute in his bedroom. The plot miscarried and the instigator of it was exposed. Stephen was deposed from his see. … The two Western bishops returned home in understandable umbrage.” (RH, 307)

Athanasius Recalled

“Constans was at this point pressing his brother strongly to recall Athanasius to his see of Alexandria.” (RH, 307) “Constans was keen to assert his own ecclesiastical policy.” (LA, 127)

“In the summer of 345 Constantius permitted Athanasius back to Alexandria. … Athanasius made his way back cautiously, visiting Constantius, and did not arrive until 346.” (LA, 127)

“Meanwhile the opponents of Athanasius had gathered at Antioch and protested against his readmission to his see. … Constantius was pursuing a policy of reconciliation, when he had time to turn his attention to ecclesiastical affairs, and the enemies of Athanasius were powerless.” (RH, 312) “The watchword at this period was Reconciliation.” (RH, 313)

Eastern Attempt

“In other parts of the church, the prevailing temper was also one of reconciliation. The Council of Antioch … in 344 also produced a creed, which was conveyed [in 345] to the Western church by a delegation of Eastern bishops.” (RH, 308) 3The Christian church originated in Jerusalem but, in the first century, Antioch soon became the leading gentile church.

This creed was “universally known as the Macrostich (‘Long-Liner’ Manifesto’). … The first part is much the same as, if not identical with, the IVth Antiochene Creed of 341,” (RH, 308) which leaves out, as far as possible, all contentious issues. It had added, however, “a long explanation.” (LA, 127) “The conciliatory tone of this text is clear.” (LA, 129)

In the closing section of the creed, the bishops in Antioch state their purpose as “to clear away all unjust suspicion concerning our opinions, … and that all in the West may know, … the audacity of the slanders.” The “slanders” refer, most probably, to the letter written by the bishop of Rome in 431, following Athanasius in accusing the East of being followers of Arius. Through the creed, the bishops in Antioch attempted to clarify their position.

In 345, the Eastern delegation presented their manifesto to the Latin-speaking bishops in the western part of the empire. “The Council of Milan … gave audience to the Antiochenes with their creed. Before the Council would consider the Macrostich, however, they demanded that the Eastern bishops should condemn Arius. The Eastern delegation refused to do this, not assuredly because they were unwilling to condemn Arius, but because they thought it insulting to be suspected and arraigned in this way. They returned to Antioch, their purpose unaccomplished.” (RH, 312)

While Arius had some extreme views, he was, like the Eastern delegation, a ‘three hypostasis’ theologian. His views were, therefore, much closer to the Easterners’ than the Western one-hypostasis theology.

The Controversy was deeply political.

“Political tensions between Constans and Constantius have shaped a controversy between a key group of eastern bishops and their … ‘western’ counterparts. That controversy is indeed partly theological … (but) also deeply political, both” politics inside and outside the church.” (LA, 129-130) 4“In ecclesial terms (what form of appeal is possible following conciliar condemnation? can eastern and western councils interfere in each other’s business? can one appeal to Rome?) and in extra-ecclesial terms.”

“But this period of rapprochement resolved nothing: the tensions remained.” (LA, 130)

THE MACROSTICH

This section discusses this manifesto as an opportunity to understand the three-hypostases view in the middle of the fourth century. The term homoousios was only brought back into the Controversy in the 350s (see here) and, only after that, did the three-hypostases view subdivide into the heterousian, homoiousian, and Homoian views.

Avoiding, as far as possible, controversial, non-biblical language, the Eastern bishops hoped that their creed would be acceptable all around.

Believes in three hypostases.

The Macrostich describes the Father, Son, and Spirit as three distinct Persons. It does not mention “three hypostases” explicitly (RH, 311) but:

      • Asserts “that there are three realities (πράγματα) or persons (πρόσωπα),” (LA, 128)
      • Condemns “those who treat Father, Son, and Spirit as three names of one reality (πράγμα) or person (πρόσωπον),” (LA, 128) and
      • “Argues against Marcellan doctrines which … treat the Word as ‘mere word of God and unexisting, having his being in another’.” (LA, 127) “Against this theology the Macrostich confesses the Son as ‘living God and Word, existing in himself’.” (LA, 128)

These are aimed against one-hypostasis theology, specifically against Sabellianism, as the West held according to the manifesto of the Western delegates at Serdica in 343. The Macrostich says that, if the three were the same, then, when the Son became a man, the Unlimited has become limited, then the Impassible5incapable of suffering or feeling pain had become passible, and the Immutable6not subject to change had become mutable.

Only the Father exists without beginning.

The manifesto begins by saying:

“We believe in one God the Father Almighty,
the Creator and Maker of all things.”

This is the standard opening of all creeds, including the Nicene Creed, identifying the Father as the “one God.” The Macrostich adds: “We do assert ‘three Objects and three Persons’, but not three gods.” (RH, 310) It does not confess three Gods because the Father alone exists without cause or beginning, and has generated the Son. 7“This does not … mean three Gods because there is only one ingenerate, unbegun and because the Father ‘who alone has existence from himself, and alone gives this abundantly to all others’.” (LA, 128) 8“Since we acknowledge the Self-complete and Ingenerate and Unbegun and Invisible God to be one only, the God and Father of the Only-begotten, who alone has being from Himself, and alone gives this to all others generously.” 9“Only the Father of Christ is unbegotten and unbeginning.” (RH, 310) “We must not consider the Son to be co-unbegun.” “The Father is the Son’s origin.” (RH, 310) Only the Father is selfsufficient and invisible. (RH, 310)

Origin of the Son

The Son was begotten from the being of God.

The creed condemns “those who say, that the Son was from nothing, or from other subsistence and not from God.” Note that this sentence uses the word “from” three times, indicating three possible sources of the Son:

“It is not safe … to say that the Son is from non-existence,” as Arius said. Nor can we say that He is from some other “underlying hypostasis.” He is “genuinely begotten from God alone.” (RH, 310)

He exists by the Father’s will.

In the one-hypostasis view, since the Father and Son are one single ‘Person’, the Son has existed for as long as the Father has. Consequently, the Father had never decided to beget the Son; the Father ‘always’ was Father, and the Son ‘always’ was Son.

In contrast, the Macrostich anathematizes those who say that the Father had no choice but to beget the Son so that He begat the Son unwillingly. It says that the Father begat the Son by his counsel and his will. (RH, 309-10) 10“The Son is generated from the Father’s will as the only alternative to being generated by necessity.” (LA, 129)

In this way, the Macrostich avoids Origen’s doctrine of “eternal generation of the Son.” (RH, 311) Origen argued that God created all things through His Son, that God has always created, therefore the Son has always existed. In Origen’s theory, the creation has also always existed.

There was no time before the Son.

Arius said, “there was when He (the Son) was not.” Although Arius explicitly taught that the Son was begotten “timelessly,” his enemies accused him of saying there was “time” when the Son was not. The Macrostich states:

It is dangerous to say that “there was a time when he did not exist.” We do not envisage “an interval of time preceding him.” Only God who begot him timelessly, preceded Him. (RH, 310) “The Son of God existed before the ages.” (RH, 309) He was begotten “before all ages.” There was no “time or age when He was not.”

In other words, the Son had a beginning, but that beginning was before time existed. Therefore, there never was “a time or age when He was not.”

He is not a Created Being.

Arius said that the Son is the only Being ever produced by the Father directly, that He is the only Being who can come directly into God’s presence, and that He is the Creator of all else. But Arius’ enemies accused him of saying that the Son is a mere created being. For a further discussion, see here.

The Macrostich similarly says that “the Son was not created as other creatures and products are produced; he cannot be compared with them.” He is the only being ever begotten by God. (RH, 310) All other creatures came into existence through the Son. “It is irreligious … to compare the Creator with handiworks created by Him.”

The opening phrase of the creed identifies the Father as “the Creator and Maker of all things.” The Bible says that God created all things through the Son (John 1:3; Heb 1:2-3; Col 1:15-16). The Father is the Force and Cause of creation. The Son is the Means or Hand through which God created.

The Son is both subordinate and God.

The Macrostich strongly affirms the subordination of the Son. (RH, 311)11The Son is “subordinate to his Father and God.” (LA, 127) It describes the Son as subordinate to the Father because the Father alone exists without cause.12“Three realities or persons … does not … mean three Gods because there is only one ingenerate, unbegun and because the Father … ‘alone has existence from himself’.” (LA, 128) It says that the Father alone is “Head over the whole universe wholly.” However:

“In saying that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is one only God, the only Ingenerate, do we (not) therefore deny that Christ also is God before ages …”

“Though he be subordinate to his Father and God, yet, being before ages begotten of God, he is God according to his perfect and true nature.” (LA, 127)

While the Nicene Creed describes the Son as “true God (the Son) from true God (the Father),” the Macrostich omits the word “true” in both instances and refers to Jesus as “God from God.”

That the Macrostich also describes the Son as subordinate to the Father may sound confusing to the modern ear. However, that confusion is caused by the translations. Ancient Greek did not have a word exactly equivalent to the modern word ‘God’. It only had the word theos, which means ‘divine’ or ‘god’. Even an exalted person may be called theos. We must read the context to determine whether “God” or “god” or “divine” is intended. Translators tend to translate theos, when it refers to Jesus, as “God,” but that is an application of the Trinity doctrine, not proof thereof. For a further discussion, see – The Meanings of the Word theos.

The incarnated Son is the preexistent Son.

The Macrostich refers to “His Only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ.” In other words, the pre-existent “Only-begotten Son” and the incarnated “Lord Jesus Christ” are one and the same.

In contrast, in one-hypostasis theology, the incarnated Son is a different person – often a mere human with a human soul or mind who is divinely inspired, because the Son cannot suffer or die because he is the same as or part of the Father.

The Trinity

He is One with the Father.

One-hypostasis theology has a strong claim on the unity of Father and Son because they are but one hypostasis (Person). In contrast, the Macrostich explains the unity of Father and Son as “’harmony’ and ‘conjunction’:” (RH, 311)

“Father and Son ‘are united with each other without mediation or distance’ and … they ‘exist inseparably’, all the Father embosoming the Son, and all the Son hanging and adhering to the Father.” (LA, 128-9)

These words are probably an interpretation of passages such as:

“I and the Father are one” (John 10:29), and
“No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:18).

Confesses a Triad.

“Believing then in the All-perfect Triad, the Most Holy, that is, in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

In this context, the translation “Triad” is better than “Trinity” because ‘Trinity’, with a capital T, implies the Trinity doctrine in which Father, Son, and Spirit are one Being, while the Macrostich presents them as three distinct Beings; a hierarchical group of “three realities and three Persons,” where the Father is the uncaused Cause of all else, and also generated the Son.

Says very little about the Holy Spirit.

The Macristich has a very scanty treatment of the Holy Spirit. It says:

“We believe in the Holy Ghost, that is, the Paraclete, which, having promised to the Apostles, He sent forth after the ascension into heaven, to teach them and to remind of all things.”

The Son is “granting the grace of the Holy Ghost unsparingly to the saints at the Father’s will.”

Similar to the Bible, it does not refer to the Holy Spirit as God, or as God from God. On the contrary, the phrase “two Gods” in the following implies that the Holy Spirit is not God:

“The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and calling the Father God, and the Son God, yet we confess in them, not two Gods.”

We see Jesus in the Old Testament.

The LMM finds Jesus in the OT. It says:

“He it is, to whom the Father said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness’ (Gen 1:26), who also was seen in His own Person by the patriarchs, gave the law, spoke by the prophets, and at last, became man …”

Some dispute that God was talking to His Son in Genesis 1:26, saying that God spoke to His angels, but man was not created in the image of angels, but in the image of God. Furthermore, the Son Himself “existed in the form of God.” (Phil. 2:6)

No ousia language

The Nicene Creed says that the Son was begotten from the ousios (substance or essence) of the Father and claims that the Son is homoousios (of the same substance as) the Father. It follows that the Son is equal to the Father.

The Dedication Creed of 431, which is, like the Macrostich, an Eastern creed, also uses the term ousia: “Exact image of the Godhead and the substance (ousia) and will and power and glory of the Father.”

In contrast, although the Macrostich says that He is “from God,” and “begotten,” it does not use the term ousia (substance) and homoousios (same substance). It “appears to have been composed by theologians unhappy with the ousia language deployed in the Dedication creed.” (LA, 127) 13The Macrostich describes “the Father’s generation of the Son as a sharing of the divine existence, but … without materialist connotation. … The hierarchical scheme within which this occurs remains unaltered.” (LA, 129)


OTHER ARTICLES

FOOTNOTES

  • 1
    “… the suspicion of Sabellianism which hung around the one Western theological statement which had appeared since the controversy began, the Formula accompanying the Encyclical of the Western bishops at Serdica.” (RH, 311)
  • 2
    “The remainder of the 340s requires much less discussion. Richard Hanson rightly characterizes this period as one in which the failure of Serdica eventually prompted attempts at rapprochement.” (LA, 126)
  • 3
    The Christian church originated in Jerusalem but, in the first century, Antioch soon became the leading gentile church.
  • 4
    “In ecclesial terms (what form of appeal is possible following conciliar condemnation? can eastern and western councils interfere in each other’s business? can one appeal to Rome?) and in extra-ecclesial terms.”
  • 5
    incapable of suffering or feeling pain
  • 6
    not subject to change
  • 7
    “This does not … mean three Gods because there is only one ingenerate, unbegun and because the Father ‘who alone has existence from himself, and alone gives this abundantly to all others’.” (LA, 128)
  • 8
    “Since we acknowledge the Self-complete and Ingenerate and Unbegun and Invisible God to be one only, the God and Father of the Only-begotten, who alone has being from Himself, and alone gives this to all others generously.”
  • 9
    “Only the Father of Christ is unbegotten and unbeginning.” (RH, 310) “We must not consider the Son to be co-unbegun.” “The Father is the Son’s origin.” (RH, 310) Only the Father is selfsufficient and invisible. (RH, 310)
  • 10
    “The Son is generated from the Father’s will as the only alternative to being generated by necessity.” (LA, 129)
  • 11
    The Son is “subordinate to his Father and God.” (LA, 127)
  • 12
    “Three realities or persons … does not … mean three Gods because there is only one ingenerate, unbegun and because the Father … ‘alone has existence from himself’.” (LA, 128)
  • 13
    The Macrostich describes “the Father’s generation of the Son as a sharing of the divine existence, but … without materialist connotation. … The hierarchical scheme within which this occurs remains unaltered.” (LA, 129)
  • 14
    Overview of the history, from the pre-Nicene Church Fathers, through the fourth-century Arian Controversy