After the Fall of Rome, Arianism dominated.

ABSTRACT: In 380, Emperor Theodosius made the Trinitarian version of Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. This was the birth of the Roman Church. In the fifth century, Arian Germanic immigrants dominated the Western Empire and the West was Arian once again. But they tolerated the Roman Church and it actually grew in strength.

This is an article in the series that explains how the Trinity doctrine became established in the Church. The current article considers the events of the Fifth Century.


The Origin of the Roman Church

In the year 379, Theodosius became emperor. One year later, in 380, he issued an edict that made the Trinity doctrine the sole state religion of the Roman Empire. In this way, the Trinity doctrine became the identifying mark of the Roman Church, understood as the Church of the Roman Empire.

While the Nicene Creed still identifies the “one God” as the Father, Theodosius’ edict identified the “one God” as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It was, therefore, a significant ‘advance’ on the Nicene Creed. As discussed, when the Arian Controversy began, the ‘orthodoxy’ was that the Son is distinct from and subordinate to the Father. What is declared as ‘orthodox’ in Theodosius’ edict was not orthodox when the Controversy began:

In the traditional account of the Arian Controversy, the Trinity doctrine was orthodoxy when the Controversy began. However, we know today that the traditional account is a complete travesty. The 20th century has produced much revisionary scholarship on the Trinitarian and Christological disputes of the fourth century.” (LA, 11) 1LA = Lewis Ayres Nicaea and its legacy, 2004

One year later, the Council of Constantinople in 381 issued a creed that is very similar to the creed of 325 but still identifies the “one God” as the Father.

Nevertheless, in 380, Theodosius outlawed all non-Trinitarian forms of Christianity and ruthlessly exterminated all opposition to the Trinity doctrine. He expelled their bishops, forbade them to meet and preach, and gave their churches to Trinitarian congregations. He was responsible for the first official executions of Christian ‘heretics’. [Jones 1964, p. 164] Religious persecution was part of the Roman culture. Roman emperors always used religion to strengthen the unity of their vast empire and persecuted religions that threatened unity.

The West became Germanic-dominated.

However, the Germanic peoples (called ‘barbarians’ by the Romans) remained anti-Trinitarian. Huge numbers of Germanic peoples migrated into the territory of the Empire over the previous century. Many of them were recruited into the Roman army, to such an extent that the Imperial forces became dependent on Germanic soldiers. They were also appointed to top positions in the military. Since Roman generals always were very influential in the Roman Empire, this put these ‘barbarians’ in a very strong position.

Theodosius was the last Roman emperor to rule the entire Empire. Soon after he died in 395, Germanic people effectively had control of the Western Roman Empire. Nevertheless, the Graeco-Roman population still treated them as second-class citizens. Therefore, to demand equal rights and permanent residency in the empire, the Germanic people revolted against the severe conditions of their tenure in the Roman Empire. They sacked Rome in 410 and again in 455. (See Fall of the Roman Empire.)

Although they dominated the Western Empire already from the beginning of the 400s (the fifth century), they tolerated figurehead Western Roman Emperors until 476, when Odoacer—an Arian Germanic chieftain—deposed the last Western Roman Empire and soon conquered the whole of Italy.

They then divided the territory of the Western Empire between the Germanic tribes. However, these tribes continued to function as part of the Roman Empire. In name at least, they were subject to the Emperor in Constantinople. For these reasons, historians today prefer to refer to the Transformation of the Western Roman Empire; rather than to its Fall. It was a slow process over decades and even centuries during which the Germanic people wrestled control of the Western Empire from the Romans. 

The ‘Germans’ were ‘Arians’.

Theodosius had exterminated opposition to the Trinitarian doctrine from among the Roman people. But the Germanic nations were converted by the efforts of the church in the time before Theodosius when the church majority was ‘Arian’. These Germanic people, therefore, were ‘Arian’. Consequently, the Western Roman Empire was once again ‘Arian’. dominated.

The term ‘Arian’ is a serious misnomer because Arius was an insignificant theologian. He did not leave a school of disciples. Today, we use the term ‘Arian’ for all opposition to the Trinity doctrine because Athanasius invented to term to insult his opponents by labelling them with an already discredited theology. This article continues to use the term ‘Arian’, not to refer to the theology of Arius, which was one specific anti-Trinitarian theology, but to refer to all opposition to the Trinity doctrine.


United with the Roman Empire.

The Roman Church survived throughout this period. There are at least two reasons why we might have expected the Church in Rome to perish with the demise of the Western Empire. Firstly, as stated, while the Roman Church was Trinitarian, the Germanic peoples were ‘Arian’. 

Secondly, the Church in Rome was part of the government of the Roman Empire. After Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in 313 AD, the church became united with the state. Division of church and state was not a reality. The emperors decided which religions were legal and they effectively became the head of the church. He had the final say concerning controversies in the church and with respect to whether bishops should be exiled and re-admitted. The view of the emperor, and whoever had the ear of the emperor, determined the theology of the church. For example:

Emperor Constantine had a huge role in the decisions of the Council of Nicaea. He called the council, presided over it, guided the discussions, proposed and enforced the important word Homoousios, and exiled all bishops who refused to sign the Creed. The preference of the emperor allowed the inclusion of the term homoousios.

When Theodosius I became emperor in 379, the imperial capital was solidly Arian. But he almost immediately outlawed all non-Trinitarian forms of Christianity, exiled Arian bishops, and excluded Arians from the Council of 381. (See Theodosius.)

As a consequence of the elevated status of the church, Christianity became wealthy and the religion of any ambitious civil official.

The ‘Germans’ tolerated the Roman Church.

Given the unity of the Roman Church and the Roman Empire, one might have expected the Germanic peoples to oppose the Roman Church in the West. However, the Roman Church survived in the West. The new Arian rulers in the Western Empire allowed the Roman Church (the Church of the Roman Empire) to co-exist unimpeded. The Germanic people, after they took control of the Western Empire, intended to remain part of the Roman Empire and tolerated the Roman Church because it was an official part of the Roman system of government; accountable to the emperor. The Germanic people voluntarily—in name at least—subjected themselves to the Roman Emperor, who reigned from the east. Consequently, Arianism and the Trinitarian Church of the Roman people existed side by side. The Jewish Encyclopaedia describes the situation:

“Most Germanic peoples—such as the eastern and western Goths, as also the Franks, the Lombards, the Suevi, and the Vandals—were baptized into Arian Christianity. These tribes settled in widely spread districts of the old Roman empire. A large number of Jews, already resident in those lands, fell under Arian domination. In contrast with the domination of the orthodox church, the Arian was distinguished by a wise tolerance and a mild treatment of the population of other faiths. This conduct was traceable to some degree to certain points of agreement between the Arian doctrine and Judaism. The very insistence upon the more subordinate relationship of the Son to the God-father is much nearer to the Jewish doctrine of the Messiah than to the conception of the full divinity of the Son, as enunciated at Nicaea.” (Kohler, Kaufmann; Krauss, Samuel. “ARIANISM”. Jewish Encyclopedia. Kopelman Foundation.)

The tolerance of the Arian tribes towards other religions resulted in entirely distinct Arian and Trinitarian systems of churches and bishops in the previous Western Empire. 

Although the Arian Germanic tribes were generally tolerant towards Nicene Christians, the Vandals in North Africa tried to force their Arian beliefs on their North African Nicene subjects, exiling Nicene clergy, dissolving monasteries, and exercising heavy pressure on non-conforming Nicene Christians. This matter will become important when we read of Emperor Justinian’s efforts in the sixth century to regain control of the Western Empire, for the first ‘barbarian’ nation that he attacked was the Vandals.

The Roman Church became stronger.

Actually, instead of perishing, the Church in Rome grew in strength after the ‘barbarians’ wrestled control of the western provinces from the original Graeco-Roman population (Britannica). The reasons include the following:

(A) The Church had a strong, centralized organization: The pope in Rome is the head of the Church. All clergy, including bishops and priests, fell under his authority. Bishops supervised priests; the lowest-ranking members of the clergy. For most people, local priests served as the main contact with the Church.

(B) At the same time, after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, there was no single state or government that united all people who lived on the European continent. The transformation of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century was a time of great political chaos and warfare and the well-organized church became the only stabilizing force. As secular governments came and went, the Papacy remained. The church was a stable force during an era of constant warfare and political turmoil.

(C) The Church also bonded people together. It gave a sense of communal identity. At the local level, the village church was a unifying force in the lives of most people. It served as a religious and social center. Religious holidays, especially Christmas and Easter, were occasions for festive celebrations.

Arians converted to the Roman Church.

One consequence of the growing strength of the Roman Church was that the Germanic peoples converted to the Trinity doctrine, rather than to Arianism. The Franks were the first to convert.

The Franks and the Anglo-Saxons also were Germanic peoples but never were Arians. They entered the Western Roman Empire as Pagans.

The Franks were the first to convert. In 496, Clovis, king of the Franks, converted to Nicene Christianity—as opposed to the Arianism of most other Germanic tribes. Consequently, sometime between 496 and 508, Clovis I forcibly converted the Franks to Christianity. (So much for religious freedom!) This led to widespread conversion among the Frankish peoples across what is now modern-day France, Belgium, and Germany.

Æthelberht of Kent did the same for the Anglo-Saxons (see also Christianity in Gaul and Christianisation of Anglo-Saxon England). 

Visigothic Spain was Arian until 589. 

The Lombards were Arians until the 7th century.


The religious preferences of the Roman Emperors determined the Christology of the church. The current article refers to the roles which Constantine and Theodosius played. As the next article will show, in the sixth century, Emperor Justinian gave Arianism a death wound and it died during the subsequent Byzantine Papacy. The fact that the church today is dominated by the Trinity doctrine is the direct result of decisions taken by Roman Emperors.


Origin of the Trinity Doctrine






    • The Dedication Creed 21This Creed shows how the Nicene Creed would have read if emperor Constantine had not manipulated the Nicene Council.
    • Athanasius invented Arianism. 22The 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? 23‘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 24In the 350s, Athanasius began to use homoousios to attack the church majority. Homoian theology developed in response.
    • Homoi-ousian theology 25This 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? 26Forget about Arius. He was an isolated extremist. This article quotes the mainstream anti-Nicenes to show how they understood that verse.




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


    • Elohim 34Elohim (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 35The 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


  • 1
    LA = Lewis Ayres Nicaea and its legacy, 2004
  • 2
    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.
  • 3
    Sabellius taught that Father, Son, and Spirit are three portions of one single Being.
  • 4
    If we define Sabellianism as that only one hypostasis – only one distinct existence – exists in the Godhead, was Tertullian a Sabellian?
  • 5
    The Controversy gave us the Trinity doctrine but the traditional account of the Controversy is a complete traversy.
  • 6
    RPC Hanson states that no ‘orthodoxy’ existed but that is not entirely true. This article shows that subordination was indeed ‘orthodox’ at that time.
  • 7
    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.
  • 8
    Over the centuries, Arius was always accused of this. This article explains why that is a false accusation.
  • 9
    There are significant differences between Origen and Arius.
  • 10
    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?
  • 11
    New research has shown that Arius is a thinker and exegete of resourcefulness, sharpness, and originality.
  • 12
    The word theos, which is translated as “God” in John 1:1 is not equivalent to the modern English word “God.”
  • 13
    Constantine took part in the Council of Nicaea and ensured that it reached the kind of conclusion which he thought best.
  • 14
    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.
  • 15
    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.
  • 16
    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
  • 17
    The Nicene Creed describes the Son as homoousios (same substance) as the Father. But how was the term used before, during, and after Nicaea?
  • 18
    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.
  • 19
    The word is not found in the Bible or in any orthodox Christian confession before Nicaea.
  • 20
    The Creed seems to say that the Father and Son are the same hupostasis. This is Sabellianism.
  • 21
    This Creed shows how the Nicene Creed would have read if emperor Constantine had not manipulated the Nicene Council.
  • 22
    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.
  • 23
    ‘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.
  • 24
    In the 350s, Athanasius began to use homoousios to attack the church majority. Homoian theology developed in response.
  • 25
    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.
  • 26
    Forget about Arius. He was an isolated extremist. This article quotes the mainstream anti-Nicenes to show how they understood that verse.
  • 27
    In the fifth century, Arian ‘barbarians’ dominated the Western Empire, but they tolerated and even respected the Trinitarian Roman Church.
  • 28
    Eustathius and Marcellus played a major role in the formulation of the Creed but were soon deposed for Sabellianism.
  • 29
    Athanasius presents himself as the preserver of Biblical orthodoxy but this article argues that he was a Sabellian.
  • 30
    In the Trinity doctrine, Father, Son, and Spirit are one substance or Being. This article shows that Basil taught three distinct substances.
  • 31
    This council reveals the state of Western theology at that time.
  • 32
    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.
  • 33
    A very informative lecture on the Arian Controversy by RPC Hanson, a famous fourth-century scholar
  • 34
    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?
  • 35
    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.

Three interpretations of the evil horn of Daniel 8


The two animals in Daniel 8 are explicitly identified as Mede-Persia and as Greece. But the main character in the chapter—an anti-god power that persecutes God’s people and corrupts God’s message—is not explicitly identified. This evil power is the same as the one in Daniel 7 that persecutes the saints and blasphemes God. The different schools of prophetic interpretation identify the horn differently as:

      • The Greek king Antiochus IV Epiphanes;
      • An end-time antichrist; or as
      • The Roman Church.


The previous two articles are preliminary overviews respectively of the metal statue of Daniel 2 and the four beasts of Daniel 7. The Daniel 7 article did not identify the four beasts. Neither did it identify the main character in that chapter, represented by the 11th horn that “will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One” (Dan 7:25)

Daniel 8The current article gives an overview of Daniel 8 and lists the alternative interpretations of the main character in this chapter, also represented by a small horn.


The Ram and the Goat

Only two animals appear in the Daniel 8 vision; a ram and a goat:

The first is a ram, conquering into three directions: to the north, west, and the south (Dan 8:3-4). It is explicitly identified as Mede-Persia (Dan 8:20).

Next, a goat with one large horn appears. It defeats the Medo-Persian ram and becomes the dominant power (Dan 8:5-7). The goat is explicitly identified as Greece (Dan 8:20-21).

The Horns

The goat, at first, has one large horn. But this horn was “broken” and four horns, extending out to the four winds of heaven (we would say, the four directions of the compass), came up in its place (Dan 8:8). Commentators generally concur that the one large horn refers to the kingdom of Alexander the Great and that the four horns are the four kingdoms into which Alexander’s empire was divided after his death.

But then another horn (“a little horn“) appears on the scene. There is much disagreement about its identity. It did not attack any beast or kingdom, but it opposed:

(a) God’s people, identified as “the host of the stars” (Dan 8:10).
(b) God’s work of redemption, described as the tamid (daily or continual) and the temple (Dan 8:11-12), and
(c) God’s principal representative, called “the Prince of the host” or “the Prince of princes” (Dan 8:11, 25).

The Conversation in Heaven

Daniel then overheard two heavenly beings discussing the vision. One asked:

“How long will the vision about the regular sacrifice apply, while the transgression causes horror, so as to allow both the holy place and the host to be trampled?”

The other responded:

“For 2300 evenings and mornings; then the holy place will be properly restored.”

Daniel 8 does not mention the first kingdom of Daniel 7 (Babylon). Neither does it mention the last (eternal) kingdom. It rather focuses on and provides additional information about the main evil character in the book of Daniel, symbolized by an evil horn-king in Daniel 7 and Daniel 8. Most of Daniel 8 is devoted to this king.


It is the same evil horn as in Daniel 7.

For the following reasons, it is generally agreed that the evil horn of Daniel 8 is the same as the evil horn of Daniel 7:

The same symbol

The same symbol (a horn) is used for both. If a distinction had been intended, the best way would have been to use a different symbol.

They are similar.


      • Begin small and become great (Dan 7:8 and 8:9);
      • Blaspheme God (Dan 7:8, 25 and 8:11, 25);
      • Persecute God’s people (Dan 7:21, 25 and 8:11, 25);
      • Are the last in a series of symbols;
      • Are identified with a period (Dan 7:25 and 8:14); and
      • Eventually suffer similar fates (Dan 7:26 and 8:25).

Later prophecies amplify the earlier ones.

Virtually all commentators accept this principle. For example, Daniel 7 repeats the four empires of Daniel 2, with additional information, particularly through the use of horns to represent the divisions of these empires. The book of Daniel itself also mentions this principle at least twice:

In Daniel 9:22-23, Gabriel said that he came to give Daniel an understanding of “the vision.” This would be the vision in Daniel 8.

In Daniel 10-12, Daniel receives a “message” to explain the “vision” (Dan 10:1, 14). This also refers to the vision in Daniel 8, for that is the last “vision” before Daniel 10.

This principle implies that the vision of Daniel 8 elaborates on the vision of Daniel 7, which supports the conclusion that the little horn in Daniel 8 represents the same force as the little horn in Daniel 7.


The Three Interpretations of the Horn

Who is this little horn that blasphemes God and persecutes His people (Dan 8:9-14)? And what is its 2300 evening-mornings, when it will profane the sanctuary? The Preterist, Futurist, and Historicist schools of prophetic interpretation have different answers to these questions:

Preterist – The Greek king Antiochus

In this view:

(A) The majority of the prophecies of the book of Daniel have already been fulfilled and, therefore, have no significance for the present day or for the future.

(B) The little horn arose from one of the divisions of Alexander’s Greek empire.

(C) The little horn is the Greek king Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

(D) The 2300 “evening-mornings” are 2300 individual morning and evening sacrifices, or 1150 literal days. These are then applied to events in the career of Antiochus IV Epiphanes in the second century B.C.

(E) The sanctuary refers to the temple in Jerusalem which was polluted by Antiochus and later purified by the victorious Jewish rebels. It was purified before January 1, 164 B.C.

Futurists – An end-time Antichrist

Futurists generally follow this line of interpretation as well. But they also see Antiochus as a type of an end-time Antichrist who will arise in the final years of earth’s history; just before Christ’s Second Advent. Some futurists also apply the 2300 “evening-mornings” to the end time. They interpret it as literal evenings-mornings or the literal 2300 days of the future reign of this final Antichrist. During the final seven years of earth’s history, according to this interpretation, a literal temple (to be rebuilt in Jerusalem for the Jews) will be polluted by this Antichrist. The temple will be restored when Christ comes and puts an end to the reign of the Antichrist.

Historicists – Church of the Roman Empire

In this view:

(A) The prophecies in Daniel portray an outline of history and the story of the ongoing struggle between good and evil down to the end of time.

(B) The evil horn-king represents the church of the Roman Empire (the Roman Church):

In the year 380, the emperor Theodosius made the Trinitarian version of Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. During the fifth century, Europe became ‘Arian’ again as ‘Arian’ Germanic tribes fragmented Western Europe into various kingdoms. In the sixth century, Emperor Justinian subjected these ‘Arian’ nations. Thereafter, through two centuries of rule by the Eastern Roman Empire through the church in the West, all ‘Arian’ nations converted to Trinitarian Christianity. Consequently, the church of the Middle Ages was the Roman Church; the Church of the Roman Empire. 

(C) Utilizing the day-for-a-year principle, historicists have held that the 2300 evening-mornings refer to a period of 2300 literal years, commencing in the time of the Persian Ram and concluding with the recovery of the message of the Bible truth after the distortions of the Middle Ages.

(D) The purification of the sanctuary is interpreted symbolically as the restoration of God’s people and/or their message.

Comparison of the Three Views

These three interpretations of the various elements in Daniel 8:9-14 may be summarized as follows:

Preterlst Historicist Futurist
Little horn Antiochus IV Roman Church End-time Antichrist
2300 days 1150 past days 2300 historical years 2300 end-time days
Temple In Jerusalem God’s people In end-time Jerusalem
Cleansing Before 164 BC After the Middle Ages Return of Christ

The next article evaluates these three interpretations and identifies the evil horn-king by comparing the Animals in Daniel 7 to the animals in Daniel 8.