The Council of Serdica in AD 343

OVERVIEW

The Western emperor Constans proposed this council to his brother Constantius; emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire. These two emperors supported conflicting Christologies and the purpose was to seek reconciliation.

It was not the bishop of Rome who suggested this council to Constans. The suggestion came from a specific small group of Western bishops who were influential with Constans. Their leader was Ossius.

More or less the same number of delegates arrived in Serdica from East and West but the two groups never met as one due to a long-standing dispute over Marcellus and Athanasius. The council and its documents reveal particularly the state of Western theology at that time.

This dispute already began in the Nicene Council, where Alexander formed an alliance with Marcellus; perhaps the best-known Sabellian of the fourth century. Since the emperor (Constantine) had taken Alexander’s part, Alexander’s alliance was able to dominate that council and to include the Sabellian term homoousios in the Nicene Creed.

After the council, however, Marcellus was exiled to Rome for Sabellianism. Athanasius, who had become bishop of Alexandria 3 years after the Nicene Council, was also deposed to Rome; not for Sabellianism but for violence and “tyrannical behaviour.”

In this way, both Marcellus and Athanasius, who were bishops in the eastern part of the Empire, were deposed by the Eastern Church and were exiled to Rome.

Since Athanasius, similar to Marcellus, taught one hypostasis, they formed an alliance against those who taught that the Father, Son, and Spirit are three hypostases (three Centres of Consciousness). They were also able to convince the bishop of Rome of their orthodoxy and of Athanasius’ innocence. That bishop arranged a council which declared them innocent and orthodox.

However, since both Marcellus and Athanasius were Eastern bishops and were deposed by the Eastern Church, the Western Church’s vindication of them created tension between the East and the West. 

It was in this context that a small group of bishops convinced Constans to propose an “ecumenical council’ at Serdica. To add insult to injury, the Western delegation included the deposed Eastern bishops. For that reason, the two groups of bishops never met as one. The Easterners refused to allow these deposed bishops to take part in the Council and the Westerners refused to meet without them.

This small group of Western bishops was the Sabellians in the Western Empire who found in Athanasius “their paragon.” This is confirmed by the manifesto that they formulated at Serdica, which explicitly states that they believed in only one hypostasis; meaning one single Centre of Consciousness. For them, the Logos or Son is part of the Father, namely, the Father’s only Wisdom and Word.

They also claimed that their manifesto was an interpretation of the Nicene Creed. In other words, they interpreted that creed as Sabellian.

This council was probably not the emperor’s idea. The idea probably originated from his trusted bishops. The Council, however, would not have been possible without the approvals of the emperors. One wonders what purpose Constans and his small band of bishops had in mind. Were they seeking reconciliation or domination?

INTRODUCTION

This ‘council’ and its documents are important because they reveal the nature of the Controversy at this point in the fourth century; particularly, the nature of Western theology.

This article is a consolidated summary and interpretation of the relevant sections in the following books:

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

The Arian Controversy 318-381, 1987

LA = Lewis Ayres
Nicaea and its legacy, 2004

Ayres is a Professor of Catholic and Historical Theology

The council was called by Emperors.

In the fourth century, only emperors were able to call general (ecumenical) councils:

“Constans decided to take the initiative … His brother Constantius … agreed to permit, at the suggestion of Constans, that a grand Ecumenical Council should take place, with the intention of resolving the tension between East and West in the Church, at Serdica, modern Sofia, a city carefully chosen as standing between the Eastern and Western halves of the Roman Empire.” (RH, 293)

The idea came from a small group of bishops.

The suggestion for such a council, however, did not come from the West generally or from Rome specifically:

“The devisers [planners] of this meeting were certainly not Eastern bishops. Socrates (HE II.20) expressly says that they did not want to come. It was a small group of Western bishops, influential with Constans, who planned the Council: Maximinus of Trier, Protasius of Milan, Ossius of Cordova, Fortunatianus of Aquileia and Vincent of Capua. Julius of Rome was not a prime mover in the affair; he sent a comparatively minor delegation who kept a low profile.” (RH, 294)

“Ossius was generally regarded as the leader of the Westerners.” (RH, 294) This must be understood as the leader of the “small group of Western bishops” and of the Western delegation to Serdica. He was not the leader of the Western Church generally. 

After discussing the evidence, Ayres concludes that it is not accurate to describe the divide that existed as an East/West or a Latin/Greek divide. He says it is an error to assume “that Greek-speaking areas of the east divided clearly in theology from the Latin-speaking west. … ‘East’ vs. ‘West’ is far too clumsy a tool of analysis for almost anything in the fourth century.” (LA, 123) In other words, the dispute that existed, that required reconciliation, was between the ‘East’ and a specific group of bishops in the West.

The Delegates

“In 343 … about 90 bishops from the West and about 80 from the East set off to meet in Serdica. Constans himself, accompanied by Athanasius and several other Eastern bishops who had been deposed during the past twenty years, attended the encounter.” (RH, 293-4) “Athanasius, Asclepas and Marcellus were present as Eastern bishops with a grievance.” (RH, 294) These Eastern bishops were deposed by Eastern courts. Their attendance under the protection of the Western emperor was a direct challenge and insult by Emperor Constans to the authority of the Eastern church.

At this time, “Constantius was on the Eastern frontier occupied with war against the Persians” (RH, 293) and could not attend.

“The unwilling Eastern bishops … on reaching Serdica were housed in a wing of the imperial palace and carefully kept from informal contact with the Western bishops.” (RH, 295)

The “small group of Western bishops” reflects also in the Western attendees:

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

The council never met.

“The council was a disaster: the two sides, one from the west and the other from the east, never met as one.” (LA, 123) “It was in fact a debacle rather than a Council, and it is absurd to reckon it among the General Councils.” (RH, 295)

“The majority (of the ‘easterners’) refused to meet with the ‘westerners’ who wished Athanasius and Marcellus to be allowed normal participation in the meeting.” (LA, 124) These two bishops “had been tried, condemned and deposed by regularly convened and ordered Eastern councils.” (RH, 295) Athanasius had been found guilty of “tyrannical behaviour.” (LA, 124) “The Easterners had no intention of allowing the Westerners to review decisions which they were competent to make. … The Easterners had a perfectly good case, and this fact till recently has not been sufficiently realized. Western bishops had no right to review the verdicts of Eastern councils. … Metropolitan jurisdictions were fairly clearly established in the East but were still in an uncertain and unformed state in the West.” (RH, 295)

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

A Sabellian Alliance dominated at Nicaea.

The dispute over Marcellus and Athanasius did not arise in Serdica. It already began at Nicaea, where Alexander formed an alliance with some Sabellians, including Marcellus:

“Simonetti estimates the Nicene Council as a temporary alliance for the defeat of Arianism between the tradition of Alexandria led by Alexander and ‘Asiatic’ circles (i.e. Eustathius, Marcellus) whose thought was at the opposite pole to that of Arius. … Alexander … accepted virtual Sabellianism in order to ensure the defeat of Arianism.” (RH, 171)

“Marcellus learnt the main lines of his theology from Eustathius.” (RH, 234) “Eustathius and Marcellus … certainly met at Nicaea. and no doubt were there able to join forces with Alexander of Alexandria and Ossius.” (RH, 234)

Since Constantine had taken Alexander’s part (LA, 89), Alexander’s alliance was able to dominate that council:

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

“Marcellus of Ancyra … had been an important figure at the council and may have significantly influenced its wording.” (LA, 431)

“Once he (Constantine) discovered that the Eustathians ([Sabellians and] 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.” (RH, 202)

As the previous quote shows, these Sabellians were influential in the insertion into the Creed of the term homoousios which, hitherto, was preferred only by the Sabellians.

“Athanasius was certainly present as a deacon accompanying Alexander of Alexandria. … But it is equally certain that he can have taken no prominent nor active part, in spite of later legends to this effect and the conviction of some scholars that he was the moving spirit in the Council.” (RH, 157)

The East exiled Athanasius and Marcellus.

After Alexander died in 328, 1“The Index to the Festal Letters of Athanasius dates the death of Alexander firmly to April 27th, 328.” (RH, 175) Athanasius, who was still underage, became bishop of Alexandria. However, Athanasius was found guilty of violence and “tyrannical behaviour.” (LA, 124)

“It was beyond doubt that Athanasius had behaved with violence against the Melitians and evinced in his general conduct an authoritarian character determined to exploit the influence of his see.” (RH, 272)

Marcellus was perhaps the best-known Sabellian of the fourth century. “Marcellus of Ancyra had produced a theology … which could quite properly be called Sabellian.” (RH, ix)  In 336, more or less at the same time as Athanasius, Marcellus was deposed for Sabellianism. 2“The new synod met in the summer of 336 and deposed Marcellus for holding the heresy of Paul of Samosata.” (RW, 80)

Marcellus and Athanasius, therefore, were both bishops in the eastern part of the Empire, both were deposed by the Eastern Church, and both were exiled to Rome.

Athanasius and Marcellus formed an alliance.

What is less well known, is that Athanasius, similar to Marcellus, taught one hypostasis. For example:

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

“The fragments of Eustathius that survive present a doctrine that is close to Marcellus, and to Alexander and Athanasius. Eustathius insists there is only one hypostasis.“ (LA, 69) (Eustatius was another important Sabellian in the fourth century. See – The Sabellians of the Fourth Century).

For that reason, Athanasius and Marcellus, while in Rome, were able to form an alliance against those who taught that the Father, Son, and Spirit are three hypostases (three Centres of Consciousness):

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

Both of them believed that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are but one single Centre of Consciousness (mind, will).

Athanasius’ Masterpiece of the Rhetorical Art

While in Rome, Athanasius developed his polemical strategy, 3“Athanasius’ engagement with Marcellus in Rome seems to have encouraged Athanasius towards the development of” “an increasingly sophisticated account of his enemies;” “the full flowering of a polemical strategy that was to shape accounts of the fourth century for over 1,500 years;” “a masterpiece of the rhetorical art.” (LA, 106-7) including claiming that all of his enemies were Arians (followers of Arius), which they were not, and that Athanasius himself was deposed by an Arian ‘conspiracy’, which is also untrue.

The Empire was divided.

Constantine was emperor of the entire Roman Empire and managed to quell outbursts of further religious disagreements within the church. However, after he died in 337, his sons divided the empire between them. This created the opportunity for theologies in different parts of the empire to develop in different directions.

Western Church attacked the Eastern.

After the empire was divided in this way, Athanasius was able to convince the bishop of Rome of his polemical strategy. They were also able to convince the bishop of Rome of their orthodoxy and of Athanasius’ innocence. That bishop arranged a council which declared them innocent and orthodox.

“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.” (RH, 218)

Western theology was very reliant on Tertullian and he also described the Son as part of the Father, which is a form of Sabellianism. Hanson refers to the “traditional Monarchianism” of the Western bishops. (RH, 272) So, the West had a Sabellian inclination and, for that reason, could easily accept Marcellus and Athanasius as orthodox.

However, since both Marcellus and Athanasius were Eastern bishops and were deposed by the Eastern Church, their vindication by the Western Church created tension between the East and the West. 

In the year 341, the bishop of Rome attacked the Eastern Church by means of a letter, using Athanasius’ polemical strategy and accusing the Eastern Church of being ‘Arians’, meaning followers of Arius. This, for the first time, caused a division between East and West. In response, the Eastern Dedication Council of 341 discussed and rejected that letter.

Failed Eastern Initiative at Reconciliation

“Early in the year 342 a delegation from the Eastern Church presented itself at the court of the Emperor Constans in Trier. … It carried with it the Fourth Creed of Antioch 341 and asked the Emperor to consider it. As a gesture of reconciliation, this embassy was fruitless, because nobody in the West took any notice of the creed.” (RH, 293)

THE COUNCIL OF SERDICA

It was in this context that a small group of bishops convinced Constans to propose an “ecumenical council’ at Serdica.

At that time, like the two iron legs of the statue in Daniel 2, the Roman Empire was divided between East and West, ruled by two brothers; Constans in the West and Constantius in the East. The relationship between the two was not friendly. 4“During these years [political] dispute between Constans and his brother Constantius plays an important role.” (LA, 122) The two emperors also supported different theologies. While Constantine supported the Eastern (Eusebian) Church, “Constans promoted the interests of the anti-Eusebian bishops.” (LA, 123) 

To add insult to injury, the Western delegation included the deposed Eastern bishops. For that reason, the two groups of bishops never met as one. The Easterners refused to allow these deposed bishops to take part in the Council and the Westerners refused to meet without them.

The Council only widened the Rift.

Both sides took the most imprudent measures toward the other: (RH, 296)

“The Western bishops examined the cases of Athanasius, of Marcellus, of Asclepas and of Lucius all over again and declared them innocent.” (RH, 296) They “stigmatized all the Easterners as Arians” and excommunicated Eastern leaders. (RH, 296)

“The ‘easterners’ … excommunicated all the ‘western’ leaders at Serdica” (LA, 124) and “branded all the Westerners as Sabellians” (RH, 296).

The fact that the Western bishops re-evaluated the cases of Athanasius and Marcellus implies that that was their agenda all along. It implies further that the small group of bishops whose views Constans accepted was those who were aligned with the theologies of Athanasius and Marcellus.

“So ended the Council of Serdica. Intended as a means of healing a dangerous rift which was developing between the Eastern and Western Church, it succeeded only in widening that rift to an apparently unbridgeable extent.” (RH, 306)

The Eastern Church asserted three Minds.

After the failed council, both sides issued statements. The Eastern manifesto “is no more or less than the Fourth Creed of Antioch 341, the one sent vainly to Constans, with an addition to the anathemas at the end tacked on to it.” (RH, 298) That 341-Creed says: “They are three in hypostasis but one in agreement.” (RH, 286) “Agreement” implies more than one mind. Three hypostases means three Minds. 

The Easterners “reject Arian doctrine equally with Sabellianism.” (RH, 298) “Their profession of faith cannot possibly be described as Arian. But neither is intended to be a supplement to N [Nicene Creed]. It is the production of men who were searching for a substitute for N.” (RH, 299)

The Western Church asserted only one Mind.

One important point of this article is that this particular group of Westerners believed in only one hypostasis. For example, they condemned the Eastern view “that the hypostases of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit are distinct and are separate” (RH, 301) and said:

“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.” (RH, 301)

(See the end of this article for the full Western Manifesto.)

Consequently, in their view, “the Logos … is IN the Father.” (RH, 301) In contrast to the Easterners who taught that the Father has His own wisdom and word apart from the Logos, the Westerners said that the Son is the Father’s ONLY Word and Wisdom:

“We confess that the Son is the power of the Father. We confess he is the Logos of God the Father.” (RH, 301)

They described the Son as “the Father’s ‘true’ Wisdom and Power and Word.” (LA, 125)

The Western Group were Sabellians.

They believed, therefore, that the Father, Son, and Spirit only have one single mind. For that reason, the following confirms that this small group of Western bishops, who were influential with Constans, were Sabellians who found in Athanasius “their paragon” (RH, 272):

They accepted Marcellus.

These Westerners had accepted the theologies of Marcellus and Athanasius as orthodox. Marcellus was the most prominent Sabellian of the fourth century and Athanasius was at least a semi-Sabellian.

“That Julius and later the Westerners at Sardica should have declared him (Marcellus) orthodox was bound to appear to the Eastern theologians to be a condoning of Sabellianism.” (Hanson Lecture)

They did not distinguish between Father and Son.

The easterners “branded all the Westerners as Sabellians” (RH, 296).

“Their (the Western) thought upon the subject is so confused that one can understand why they gave their opponents the impression that they were Sabellians. The Son, they are sure, is not the same as the Father and in some not very clear way is less than he. But they do not know how he is distinct.” (RH, 303)

“Sabellianism, a doctrine which … the emphatic identification of the ousia and hypostasis of the Father and the Son in the Western statement after the Council of Sardica only seemed to support.” (Hanson Lecture)

Scholars interpret their creed as Sabellian.

“Zeiller and Declercq find the profession of faith gravely embarrassing … because it appears to commit the Western church to a form of Sabellianism.” (RH, 304)

The Western Church understood Nicaea as Sabellian.

The Western delegates presented their manifesto as an interpretation of the Nicene Creed:

That Western council wrote: “While circumstances demanded a supplementary statement they in no way intended to alter Nicaea’s decrees.” (LA, 126)

“Loofs saw the document as an official attempt, fostered by Ossius and Protogenes and accepted by the Western bishops, to produce, with the aid of Marcellus’ theology, an interpretation of N which would satisfy the Westerners and oppose the Easterners. This is perhaps the nearest we can come to classifying it.” (RH, 304)

“Ossius and Protogenes … describe the formula with which the Encyclical ends as simply a justification and clarification of the creed of Nicaea.’ Had this letter come into the hands of an Eastern theologian it would only have confirmed his suspicion that N was of a dangerously Sabellian tendency.” (RH, 305)

Marcellus and Athanasius at the centre of the dispute

In the Eastern statement, “Marcellus of Ancyra is violently condemned.” (RH, 296) “They next turn their attention to Athanasius. They complain of his violent and arbitrary behaviour in his see … but also supply a list of other violent acts such as floggings and incarcerations.” (RH, 296-7) They stated: “At least the Westerners should realize the wickedness of splitting the whole Church for the sake of Athanasius and Marcellus.” (RH, 296-7)

Just like the Eastern statement begins by condemning Marcellus and Athanasius, “the Westerners’ Encyclical to all Churches begins by defending Athanasius, Marcellus and Asclepas.” (RH, 300) This shows again that the main dispute was whether the theologies of Marcellus and Athanasius, which were similar, were orthodox.  

Did Athanasian orchestrate the entire affair?

“The Eastern Church was always the pioneer and leader in theological movements in the early Church.” (RH, 170) For example, at Nicaea, “around 250–300 attended, drawn almost entirely from the eastern half of the empire.” (LA, 19) So, what convinced the Western Church to enter so aggressively into the Controversy?

One wonders to what extent Athanasius was behind this initiative as revenge for his exile by the Eastern Church. “In later years, after Constans was dead, Athanasius had to defend himself to Constantius against charges that he had, in 342–3, encouraged Constans to oppose his brother.” (LA, 122) Furthermore, the eastern bishops “headed unwillingly towards Serdica.” (LA, 123) Since they already had sought reconciliation, if the purpose of this council was reconciliation, why would they be unwilling, unless they were aware of a hidden agenda?“

It was within Athanasius’ substantial ability to orchestrate this entire affair. He was extremely powerful :

“The eminent German scholar Eduard Schwartz maintained that Athanasius was motivated purely by political considerations and that his theological opinions and pretensions were no more than pretexts to cover his desire for power. Certainly 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.” (RH, 421)

It really was a clash between two emperors.

It was Emperor Constans who took the initiative. In the fourth century, the emperor was the final arbiter in doctrinal disputes. 5If 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. (RH, 849) Only the emperors could arrange a general council like this one. In fact, these ‘ecumenic councils’ were the tools through which the emperors governed the church. 6“The general council was the very invention and creation of the Emperor. General councils, or councils aspiring to be general, were the children of imperial policy and the Emperor was expected to dominate and control them.” (RH, 855) This council was probably not the emperor’s idea. The idea probably originated from one of his trusted bishops. The Council, however, would not have been possible without the approvals of the emperors. 

Constans brought deposed Eastern bishops under his protection to the council. That was a direct attack on the Eastern Church.

Constantius sent a military official and two comes (trusted officials from the Imperial Court) with the Eastern bishops. (RH, 294) After the council, he “duly exiled Lucius of Adrianople and some Egyptian clergy who had met with the Easterners’ disapproval.” (RH, 294) We can assume, therefore, that the decision not to meet with the Western bishops was precisely consistent with his instructions for the council. It may, therefore, be said that this entire affair was part of the struggle between the two emperors for supremacy.

The Real Issue in the entire Arian Controversy

As was the case in Serdica, other articles in this series show that the real battle in the fourth century was between one hypostasis and three hypostases theologies. Perhaps another way to put it is to say that the battle was between those who believed that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one single Centre of Consciousness and those who believed that they are three distinct Centres of Consciousness. For example, Sabellians believed that the Logos is the Father’s ONLY Logos and Wisdom, meaning that they believed in only one Centre of Consciousness.

Abusive Language

A regular feature of Athanasius and his Western spiritual children was abusive language. One of their regular insults was to label the Easteners as ‘Arians’. In other words, they labeled the Easterners as followers of a person whose theology was already formally rejected at Nicaea. For example, the Western Manifesto says: “Recently two adders have been born from the Arian asp, Valens and Ursacius. who declare and state …” (RH, 301)

“The letters of Athanasius to the clergy of Alexandria and to the Churches of the Mareotis consist almost wholly of unlimited abuse of his opponents.” (RH, 305)

“The other letters of the Western bishops at Serdica consist of much the same material as those of Athanasius, that is plentiful abuse, several allegations of atrocities committed by their opponents, and regular treatment of those opponents as if they were Arians to a man.” (RH, 305)

In the Middle Ages, this evil spirit of abuse resulted in countless deaths of God’s people.

Nobody mentions Homoousios.

Nobody at Serdica, not even the Western delegates used the term homoousios. In fact, during this period of history, nobody used the term homoousios. Ayres concludes:

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

See – Homoousios was not mentioned after Nicaea for 30 years.


FULL WESTERN MANIFESTO

Hanson quotes the Western statement of faith in full:

(1) ‘We disqualify and extrude from the catholic church those who assert that Christ is indeed God,

(2) but that he is not true God, that he is Son, but not true Son; that he is begotten and at the same time has come into existence; for this is the way in which they regularly interpret “begotten”, professing, as we have said above, that “begotten” is “having come into existence”; [and that though Christ has existed before the ages they assign to him a beginning and an end which he has not in time but before all time].

(3) And recently two adders have been born from the Arian asp, Valens and Ursacius. who declare and state, without equivocation, though they call themselves Christian, that the Logos and the Spirit was pierced and wounded and died and rose again, and (what the heretical rabble likes to claim) that the hypostases of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit are distinct and are separate,

(4) But we have received and have been taught this (tradition), we have this catholic and apostolic tradition: that there is one hypostasis, which the heretics (also) call ousia, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And if anyone asks, “What is the hypostasis of the Son?”, it is obviously that which is of the sole Father. We confess that neither the Father ever existed without the Son nor the Son without the Spirit nor ever could [text corrupt hereJ. The witness of the Son himself is [Jn I4:10] and [Jn 10:30].

(5) None of us denies the term “begotten” ( … ) but begotten in what circumstances? (do we say), the artificer of archangels and angels and the world and the human race was begotten along with absolutely everything else which is called visible and invisible, because the text runs [Wisd 7:22] and [Jn 1:3]? For he could never have received beginning of existence, for the Logos of God exists eternally and has no beginning, nor does he undergo an end.

(6) We do not say that the Father is the Son, nor again that the Son is Father. But the Father is Father and the Son (is) Son of the Father. We confess that the Son is the power of the Father. We confess the < h > e is the Logos of God the Father, beside whom there is no other, and the Logos is true God and Wisdom and Power. We have handed down that he is true Son, but we do not name him Son as other sons are named, because they are named sons either by adoption or because they have been born again or because they deserve (the name), not because of the single hypostasis, which is that of the Father and of the Son.

(7) We confess that he is Only-begotten and First-born; but the Logos is Only-begotten since he always was and is in the Father, but the term “first-born” applies to his humanity and to the new creation, because he is also first-born from the dead. We confess that there is one God, we confess one Godhead of Father and Son.

(8) And nobody denies that the Father is somehow greater than the Son, not because of another hypostasis nor because of any difference but because the name of Father itself is greater than ‘Son”.

(9) This is their blasphemous and corrupt interpretation; they contend that he said [Jn 10:30] because of the agreement and harmony. We who are catholics condemn this silly and wretched idea of theirs. Just as mortal men when they begin to differ confront each other in their disputes and then again return to reconciliation, so they say that differences and disputes could exist between God the Father Almighty and the Son, which is altogether absurd either to think or to conjecture.

(10) But we believe and affirm and so think, that he uttered [Jn 10:30] with his sacred voice because of the unity of the hypostasis, which is a single one of Father and of Son. This we have always believed, that he reigns without beginning and without end with the Father and that his kingdom has neither term nor decline, because what exists eternally has neither begun to exist nor can decline.

(11) We believe in and hand down the Comforter the Holy Spirit which the Lord promised and sent to us. And we believe that he was sent. And he (the Spirit) did not suffer, but the man whom he put on, whom he assumed from the Virgin Mary, the man who was capable of suffering, because man is mortal but God immortal. We believe that he rose again the third day, and God did not rise in the man but the man in God, (the man) whom he also offered to the Father as his gift, whom he had freed. We believe that at a proper and determined time he will judge all men and all causes.

(12) Such is their folly and their mind is blinded by so thick a darkness that they cannot see the light of truth. They do not understand the words of the text [Jn 17:21]. It is clear why “one” (is said), because the apostles have received the Holy Spirit of God, but not however that they themselves were Spirit nor any of them was Logos or Wisdom or Power nor was any only-begotten [Jn 17:21]. But the divine utterance carefully distinguished: “they may be one in us”, It says; It did not say “we are one I and the Father”; but the disciples are linked and united among themselves by their confession of faith, so that they could be one in grace and worship of God the Father and ill the peace and love of our Lord and Saviour’.


Other Articles in this Series

Church Fathers

Arian Controversy

Arius

The Nicene Creed

Arianism

    • Athanasius invented Arianism. 25The 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? 26‘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 27In the 350s, Athanasius began to use homoousios to attack the church majority. Homoian theology developed in response.
    • Homoi-ousian theology 28This 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? 29Forget 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 36Elohim (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 37The 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.

All articles on this Site

FOOTNOTES

  • 1
    “The Index to the Festal Letters of Athanasius dates the death of Alexander firmly to April 27th, 328.” (RH, 175)
  • 2
    “The new synod met in the summer of 336 and deposed Marcellus for holding the heresy of Paul of Samosata.” (RW, 80)
  • 3
    “Athanasius’ engagement with Marcellus in Rome seems to have encouraged Athanasius towards the development of” “an increasingly sophisticated account of his enemies;” “the full flowering of a polemical strategy that was to shape accounts of the fourth century for over 1,500 years;” “a masterpiece of the rhetorical art.” (LA, 106-7)
  • 4
    “During these years [political] dispute between Constans and his brother Constantius plays an important role.” (LA, 122)
  • 5
    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. (RH, 849)
  • 6
    “The general council was the very invention and creation of the Emperor. General councils, or councils aspiring to be general, were the children of imperial policy and the Emperor was expected to dominate and control them.” (RH, 855)
  • 7
    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.
  • 8
    Sabellius taught that Father, Son, and Spirit are three portions of one single Being.
  • 9
    If we define Sabellianism as that only one hypostasis – only one distinct existence – exists in the Godhead, was Tertullian a Sabellian?
  • 10
    RPC Hanson states that no ‘orthodoxy’ existed but that is not entirely true. This article shows that subordination was indeed ‘orthodox’ at that time.
  • 11
    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.
  • 12
    Over the centuries, Arius was always accused of this. This article explains why that is a false accusation.
  • 13
    There are significant differences between Origen and Arius.
  • 14
    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?
  • 15
    New research has shown that Arius is a thinker and exegete of resourcefulness, sharpness, and originality.
  • 16
    The word theos, which is translated as “God” in John 1:1 is not equivalent to the modern English word “God.”
  • 17
    Constantine took part in the Council of Nicaea and ensured that it reached the kind of conclusion which he thought best.
  • 18
    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.
  • 19
    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.
  • 20
    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
  • 21
    The Nicene Creed describes the Son as homoousios (same substance) as the Father. But how was the term used before, during, and after Nicaea?
  • 22
    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.
  • 23
    The word is not found in the Bible or in any orthodox Christian confession before Nicaea.
  • 24
    The Creed seems to say that the Father and Son are the same hupostasis. This is Sabellianism.
  • 25
    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.
  • 26
    ‘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.
  • 27
    In the 350s, Athanasius began to use homoousios to attack the church majority. Homoian theology developed in response.
  • 28
    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.
  • 29
    Forget about Arius. He was an isolated extremist. This article quotes the mainstream anti-Nicenes to show how they understood that verse.
  • 30
    Eustathius and Marcellus played a major role in the formulation of the Creed but were soon deposed for Sabellianism.
  • 31
    Athanasius presents himself as the preserver of Biblical orthodoxy but this article argues that he was a Sabellian.
  • 32
    In the Trinity doctrine, Father, Son, and Spirit are one substance or Being. This article shows that Basil taught three distinct substances.
  • 33
    This council reveals the state of Western theology at that time.
  • 34
    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.
  • 35
    A very informative lecture on the Arian Controversy by RPC Hanson, a famous fourth-century scholar
  • 36
    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?
  • 37
    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.