Cut and Pasted from CARM www.carm.org
Chrisian Apologetics and Research Ministry
For those interested enough to take the time.
Arianism is the idea that Jesus Christ is not equal to the Father by nature, but He is the first creation of God. The founder of Arianism was Arius who died in 336. His ideas would have a tremendous impact on the early Church by causing it to define orthodoxy with a number of creeds. However, his impact continues to this present day with such groups as the Jehovah’s Witnesses. As a result of their convictions, these modern day Arians produce a number of Biblical arguments to support their contention that Jesus is not God. Though Arianism is false Biblically, its doctrines force the Church throughout all generations to define what she believes regarding the person and nature of Christ.
The Historical Background of Arianism
The founder of Arianism was no other than Arius. He studied under Lucian of Antioch who saw Jesus as a semi divine intermediate being. In fact, Lucian thought the Logos was not fully God or man. Therefore, Jesus has a high status among the creatures even being called “the firstborn of all creation (Col. 1).” Jesus is supernatural, but He is not equal to the Father. Brown states, “Arianism developed the idea that the Son is a semidivine being created, not begotten, by the Father and having an origin in time, or at least a definite beginning before the creation of the material world.”1 Arius would later receive his ordination as a presbyter in Alexandria in 311. He had many friends in high places including quite a few Asian bishops who tolerated his ideas.
As a result of the spread of his teachings, Arius received opposition from some of his opponents. One of these opponents was Bishop Alexander. He argued that Jesus was the same substance with the Father (homoousios). The contrasting party was known as the homoiousios group. They believed that Jesus was of similar substance with the Father. As a result of this disagreement, there was great controversy among the various local churches. This arguing would convince Constantine to call the Council of Nicea.
Council of Nicea
318 bishops from the East and a few from the West came to the Council in Nicea. They debated the matters for quite a while, but no agreement was reached. Eventually, the Arians made the mistake of presenting a statement of their faith from Eusebius of Nicomedia. Brown comments, “It frankly and flatly denied the deity of Christ, stunning even the least acute of the uncommitted majority.”2 As a result, “It was roundly rejected.”3 The Arians appealed to Eusebius of Caesarea who drew up a creed that would become the blueprint for the Nicene Creed. Constantine himself acted and advocated the addition of homoousios (consubstantial). Most of the Arian bishops gave in and the emperor commanded that the writings of Arius be burned.
Despite the efforts of the emperor, the Nicene Creed did not completely settle the issue. The emperor soon began to listen to Arian sympathizers. He even reinstated Eusebius of Nicomedia. He also removed some pro-Nicene bishops. After Constantine’s death, his three sons allowed many of the pro-Nicene bishops to return to their positions.
The Conflict of 340-380
The period of 340-380 marks a period of turmoil in the Empire. There was a great struggle between Orthodoxy and Arianism. The short restoration by some of Constantine’s sons would not last long. In 356 Constantius condemned Athanasius who was forced to flee to the desert. Constantius favored Arianism to such an extent that Brown remarks, “By 361, a generation after Nicea, the victory of the Arians seemed complete.”4 However, the battle was not over yet. Soon Julian came to the throne. He was the last of the pagan monarchs. He favored religious toleration and restored many of the Orthodox bishops. Under his rule, Arianism never solidified and Orthodoxy gained strong ground. In 362, there was a Synod in Alexandria which stressed the deity of the Son and Holy Spirit. It would become the forerunner for Constantinople. In 363 there was more turmoil, but it was short lived. Around 370 Valens came to the throne. He was the last of the pro-Arian emperors. In 378 he died and this left the East with a lack of Arian political support.
Gratian eventually became co-emperor with Theodosius (379-95 – coemperor, 394-95 – sole emperor). Shortly after his inauguration, he became baptized and issued an edict promoting Trinitarian Orthodoxy. Brown comments, “The Nicene Creed itself placed the emphasis on the incarnation, passion, resurrection, and Second Coming of Christ, and was thus historical rather than theological in its orientation. In contrast, the decree of Theodosius emphasizes the deity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and the doctrine of the Trinity and does not mention the work of Christ as such.”5 He then summoned the Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople. Theodosius took all the bishoprics from the Arians and gave them to the Orthodox. Brown comments, “This Second Ecumenical Council really marks the beginning of ecumenical orthodoxy, for unlike Nicea, it represented the conclusion rather than the beginning of the conflict with Arianism.”6 With Constantinople and the efforts of Theodosius, Arianism had clearly run its course and Orthodoxy was triumphant in Christendom.