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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Arius and the Death of Arius

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Arius (AD ca250/256 - 336, of Alexandria) was an early Christian theologian, who taught that the Son of God was not eternal, and was subordinate to God the Father (a view known generally as Arianism). Although he attracted considerable support at the time (and since), Arius's views were declared heretical at the Council of Nicaea, leading to the formation of the Nicene Creed. Arius is also known as Arius of Alexandria.

Reconstructing the life and teachings of Arius can be problematic and controversial. None of Arius' writings are extant; many were destroyed by his opponents. Indeed, our only record of his teaching is found in writings of those who opposed him and denounced him as a heretic - sources which are obviously far from dispassionate. Yet these, as the only surviving references to him, are all the scholars have. These few remaining works credited to him are Epiphanius' recordings of his letter to Alexander of Alexandria, Theodoret's recording of his letter to Eusebius of Nicomedia, and Athanasius' recording of fragments of Thalia, a popularized work combining prose and verse.

Early life and personality
He was possibly of Libyan and Berber descent. His father's name is given as Ammonius. Arius was a student at the exegetical school in Antioch, where he studied under the school's founder Saint Lucian.[1] He was made presbyter of the district of Baucalis in Alexandria in 313. Although the character of Arius has been severely assailed by his opponents, Arius appears to have been a man of personal ascetic character, pure morals, and decided convictions. Warren H. Carroll (paraphrasing Epiphanius of Salamis, an opponent of Arius) describes him as “tall and lean, of distinguished appearance and polished address. Women doted on him, charmed by his beautiful manners, touched by his appearance of asceticism. Men were impressed by his aura of intellectual superiority.”[2]

Arius starts a controversy
The historian Socrates Scholasticus reports that Arius first became controversial under the bishop Achillas of Alexandria, when he made the following syllogism: "‘If,’ said he, ‘the Father begat the Son, he that was begotten had a beginning of existence: and from this it is evident, that there was a time when the Son was not. It therefore necessarily follows, that he had his substance from nothing.’" (Thus his actions were not the result of any jealousy on account of his unsuccessful candidacy for the patriarchate of Alexandria in rivalry with Alexander.)
It is believed that Arius' doctrines were influenced by the teachings of Lucian of Antioch, a celebrated Christian teacher and martyr for the faith. In a letter to Bishop Alexander of Constantinople, Alexander of Alexandria wrote that Arius derived his theology from Lucian. The express purpose of his letter is to complain of the doctrines Arius was then diffusing but his charge of heresy against Arius is vague and unsupported by other authorities, and Alexander's language, like that of most controversialists in those days, is vituperative. Moreover, Lucian is not stated, even by Alexander himself, to have fallen into the heresy afterwards promulgated by Arius, but is accused ad invidiam of heretical tendencies.

The patriarch of Alexandria was the subject of adverse criticism for his slow reaction against Arius. Like his predecessor Dionysius, he has been charged with vacillation. Yet it is difficult to see how he could have acted otherwise than he did. The question that Arius raised had been left unsettled two generations previously, or, if in any sense it could be said to have been settled, it had been settled in favour of the opponents of the homoousion. Therefore Alexander allowed the controversy to continue until he felt that it had become dangerous to the peace of the Church. Then he called a council of bishops and sought their advice. Once they decided against Arius, Alexander delayed no longer. He deposed Arius from his office, and excommunicated both him and his supporters.

Arius' doctrines
In explaining his actions against Arius, Alexander of Alexandria wrote a letter to Alexander of Constantinople and Eusebius of Nicomedia (where the emperor was then residing), detailing the errors into which he believed Arius had fallen. According to Alexander, Arius taught:
"That God was not always the Father, but that there was a period when he was not the Father; that the Word of God was not from eternity, but was made out of nothing; for that the ever-existing God (‘the I AM’—the eternal One) made him who did not previously exist, out of nothing; wherefore there was a time when he did not exist, inasmuch as the Son is a creature and a work. That he is neither like the Father as it regards his essence, nor is by nature either the Father’s true Word, or true Wisdom, but indeed one of his works and creatures, being erroneously called Word and Wisdom, since he was himself made of God’s own Word and the Wisdom which is in God, whereby God both made all things and him also. Wherefore he is as to his nature mutable and susceptible of change, as all other rational creatures are: hence the Word is alien to and other than the essence of God; and the Father is inexplicable by the Son, and invisible to him, for neither does the Word perfectly and accurately know the Father, neither can he distinctly see him. The Son knows not the nature of his own essence: for he was made on our account, in order that God might create us by him, as by an instrument; nor would he ever have existed, unless God had wished to create us."

He states something similar in Thalia:
“God has not always been Father; there was a moment when he was alone, and was not yet Father: later he became so. The Son is not from eternity; he came from nothing.[3]

Arius's concept of Christ
This question of the exact relationship between the Father and the Son, a part of Christology, had been raised some 50 years before Arius, when Paul of Samosata was deposed in AD 269 for his agreement with those who had used the word homoousios (Greek for same substance) to express the relation of the Father and the Son. The expression was at that time thought to have a Sabellian tendency, though, as events showed, this was on account of its scope not having been satisfactorily defined. In the discussion which followed, Dionysius, Patriarch of Alexandria, had used much the same language as Arius did later, and correspondence survives in which Pope Dionysius blames his brother of Alexandria for using such language. Dionysius of Alexandria responded with an explanation, which posterity has been inclined to interpret as vacillating. So far as the earlier controversy could be said to have been decided, it was decided in favor of the opinions later championed by Arius. But this settlement was so unsatisfactory that the question would have been reopened sooner or later, especially in an atmosphere so intellectual as that of Alexandria. For the synod of Antioch which condemned Paul of Samosata had expressed its disapproval of the word homoousios in one sense, and Patriarch Alexander undertook its defense in another.

Arius formulated the following doctrines about Jesus:

that the Logos and the Father were not of the same essence (ousia);
that the Son was a created being (ktisma or poiema); and
that though He was the creator of the worlds, and must therefore have existed before them and before all time, there was a "time" [although Arius refused to use words meaning time, such as chronos or aion] when He did not exist.

The subsequent controversy shows that Arius' avoidance of the words chronos and aion was adroit; when defending himself he clearly argued that there was a time when the Son did not exist. Moreover, he asserted that the Logos had a beginning. By way of contrast, Origen had taught that the relation of the Son to the Father had no beginning and that, to use Dorner's words (Person of Christ, ii. 115), "the generation of the Son is an eternally completed, and yet an eternally continued, act" - or in other words, the Father has, from all eternity, been communicating His Being to the Son, and is doing so still. However, Arius seems to have further support in his view as his is purely intellectual, whereas those claiming the eternity of the "begotten" (i.e. created, made, or produced) Son need textual revelation to back their belief, which they have not been able to gather.

Arius was obviously perplexed by this doctrine, for he complains of it in his letter to the Nicomedian Eusebius, who, like himself, had studied under Lucian. It is to be regretted that so much stress should have been laid in the controversy on words, but this is understood under the influence of Greek philosophical thought, with concepts such as "substance" that are alien to the Jewish religious experience of the Divine. Arius also contended that the Son was unchangeable (atreptos). But what he thus gave with the one hand he appears to have taken away with the other. For so far as we can understand his language on a subject which Athanasius seems to have admitted that it was beyond his power thoroughly to comprehend - he taught that the Logos was changeable in Essence, but not in Will. The best authorities consider that he was driven to this concession by the force of circumstances. He was doubtless confirmed in his attitude by his fear of falling into Sabellianism. Bishop Macedonius, who had to a certain extent imbibed the opinions of Arius, certainly regarded the Son and the Spirit in much the same way that the Gnostic teachers regarded their aeons. Arius undoubtedly drew some support from the writings of Origen, who had made use of expressions which favored Arius's statement that the Logos was of a different substance to the Father, and that He owed His existence to the Father's will. But the speculations of Origen were then, as well as currently, considered as pioneer work in theology, often hazarded to stimulate further inquiry rather than to enable men to dispense with it. This explains why in this, as well as other controversies, the authority of Origen is so frequently invoked by both sides.

Wider Church reaction and The Council of Nicaea

The Christian church had by this time become so powerful a force in the Roman world that Constantine found himself unable to keep aloof from the controversy. He therefore sent Hosius, bishop of Córdoba-the one who reportedly instructed him in the faith just before his march to Rome--to investigate and to put an end, if possible, to the controversy, armed with an open letter from the Emperor: "Wherefore let each one of you, showing consideration for the other, listen to the impartial exhortation of your fellow-servant." But as it continued to rage, Constantine took an unprecedented step: he called a council of delegates, summoned from all parts of the empire, to resolve this issue (possibly at Hosius' recommendation[4]).
All of the secular dioceses into which the empire had been divided, Roman Britain only excepted, sent one or more representatives to the council, the majority of the bishops coming from the East. Pope Sylvester I, himself too aged to be present, sent two presbyters as his delegates. Attending the conference, there was the already mentioned Eusebius of Nicomedia, and Alexander, patriarch of Alexandria. There was also the historian, Eusebius of Caesarea, as well as the young Athanasius, who was to eventually spend most of his life battling Arianism.
This was the First Council of Nicaea, which met in 325, near Constantinople. Some twenty-two of the bishops at the council, led by Eusebius of Nicomedia, came as supporters of Arius. But when some of the passages from Arius' writings were read aloud, they are reported to have been denounced as blasphemous by most of the council participants.[5] Under the influence of Emperor Constantine, the assembled bishops agreed upon a creed. This creed, which is known as the Nicene creed specifically included the word homoousios--“consubstantial,” or “one in being,”-- which was incompatible with the beliefs of Arius.[6] On June 19, 325, both council and emperor issued a circular letter to the churches in and around Alexandria. Arius and two unyielding supporters (Theonas, and Secundus [7]) were deposed and exiled to Illyricum, while three other bishops, who had also been supportive of Arius, namely Eusebius of Nicomedia, Theognis of Nicaea, and Maris of Chalcedon, were unwilling signatories of the document, but affixed their signatures in deference to the emperor. However, Constantine found some reason to suspect the sincerity of Eusebius of Nicomedia, as well as that of Theognis and Maris, for he soon after included them in the sentence pronounced on Arius. Eusebius of Caesarea defended himself in a letter as having objected to the changes in the creed which he had originally presented, but finally accepted them in the interests of peace (Theod. H. E. i. 12).

After the Council of Nicaea

The neutrality of this section is disputed.Please see the discussion on the talk page.
That the apparent public unanimity of the council (Secundus and Theonas of Lower Egypt being the only dissenters) masked a considerable amount of divergent opinion is indisputable. Doubts over the use of a term which had been previously denounced as Sabellian weighed on the minds of many. Eusebius of Caesarea has been charged by many later writers as having embraced Arianism. But his moderate attitude throughout the following period suggests that his objections to the decision, which he allowed his love of peace to overrule, owed more to the dread of possible consequences than to the decision in itself. And his allusion to the proceedings at Nicaea in the letter just mentioned shows that his apprehensions were not altogether unreasonable. For he remarks how the final consensus emerged after considerable discussion that the term homoousion was not intended to indicate that the Son formed an actual portion of the Father - which would have been Sabellianism pure and simple, a fear which fed much of the dissension to the adoption of the creed. On the other hand, Athanasius was convinced that unless the essence of the Son was definitely understood to be the same as that of the Father, it would inevitably follow that the Son would at best be no more than the highest of a series of Gnostic aeons.
The homoousian party's victory at Nicaea was short-lived, however. The controversy recommenced as soon as the decrees were promulgated. When Alexander died at Alexandria in 327, the election of Athanasius in his place was secured despite his not meeting the age requirement for a bishop. Soon after, Eusebius of Nicomedia was reinstated in his see, after having written a diplomatic letter to the emperor. Arius, who had taken refuge in Palestine, was also soon permitted to return, after reformulating his Christology in an effort to mute the ideas his opponents found most objectionable. It was not long before the Nicomedian Eusebius regained his influence with the emperor, which led to a complete reversal of the position of the contending parties. Eustathius of Antioch, one of the staunchest supporters of Athanasius, was deposed. If Theodoret is to be trusted, one of his accusers, when seized by a serious illness, retracted her accusation in a sensational manner. But Socrates Scholasticus and Sozomen are reticent about the nature of the charges, and only tell us that Eustathius had been unfortunate enough to get involved in a controversy with Eusebius of Caesarea. Marcellus of Ancyra was the next victim, a friend and champion of Athanasius, found it impossible to defend the Nicene decisions without falling into Sabellianism; he was deposed in 336. In the meantime, Eusebius of Nicomedia turned against obdurate Athanasius. Following Arius' restoration to the emperor's favor, the emperor commanded Athanasius to readmit Arius to communion. Athanasius refused - leading to accusations of treason against the emperor.

Athanasius was exiled to Trier, and Alexander of Constantinople was ordered to receive Arius back into communion. Alexander dared not disobey the command, but he was opposed to Arius' reinstatement. He requested the prayers of his fellow Nicene Christians that either he or Arius might be removed from the world before the latter was admitted to communion. The prayer was, Henry Wace notes, a strange one. Meanwhile, Arius was summoned before the emperor and found to be suitably compliant. And yet, the very day before he was to be readmitted to communion, Arius is reported to have died suddenly. Socrates Scholasticus describes his death thus:

It was then Saturday, and . . . going out of the imperial palace, attended by a crowd of Eusebian [Eusebius of Nicomedia is meant] partisans like guards, he [Arius] paraded proudly through the midst of the city, attracting the notice of all the people. As he approached the place called Constantine's Forum, where the column of porphyry is erected, a terror arising from the remorse of conscience seized Arius, and with the terror a violent relaxation of the bowels: he therefore enquired whether there was a convenient place near, and being directed to the back of Constantine's Forum, he hastened thither. Soon after a faintness came over him, and together with the evacuations his bowels protruded, followed by a copious hemorrhage, and the descent of the smaller intestines: moreover portions of his spleen and liver were brought off in the effusion of blood, so that he almost immediately died. The scene of this catastrophe still is shown at Constantinople, as I have said, behind the shambles in the colonnade: and by persons going by pointing the finger at the place, there is a perpetual remembrance preserved of this extraordinary kind of death.

Whether Arius' death was miraculous, as many Nicene Christians believed, or he was the victim of poisoning by his enemies, is a matter of supposition, but the extraordinary death of Arius, followed as it was a year later by that of Constantine himself, led to a temporary lull in the controversy.

This article uses text from A Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century A.D., with an Account of the Principal Sects and Heresies by Henry Wace.


  • At 4:00 PM, Anonymous kisstheconcrete said…

    Today with freedom of religion we are able to express ourselves and our religion freely. In Arius' time he was persecuted for voicing his views on religion. Like many figures we've discussed in class Arius appears to have been on a conquest for truth. He had questions about religion and the answers he came up with threatened the views of others.

    The controversy linked to Arius was his view that the Son did not always exist and that he would not have existed if God hadn't wished to create humans. Therefore God was not always the Father because there was a time in which the Son didn't exist and during this time God was alone. People don't like hearing things that are different from what they've been taught and people definitely don't like being proved wrong. Arius views threatened those of others and so Arius was punished for causing a dispute in the peace of the Church.

    Another strange, memorable thing about Arius is the way in which he died. He died while having a bowel movement. During this bowel movement he lost his liver and intestine. His death by feces is kind of a mystery, but with these different views Arius gained enemies and perhaps he was poisoned.

  • At 6:05 PM, Anonymous lovelikewinter said…

    "That God was not always the Father, but that there was a period when he was not the Father,..."

    Hmmm, interesting logic here. Jesus was not always around, at least not in this world. So, Jesus unlike God the Father had a beginning. Was the birth of Jesus his true beginning or had he been another unmentioned entity in Heaven who was never mentioned until the New Testament? If Jesus had a beginning does he have an end? Obviously his mortality came to an end but like a real end? Does any of this really end? In the afterlife (according to Christian beliefs) we will either be eternally rewarded in Heaven or forever punished in Hell.

    But part of Christianity teaches that we are all God's children. So, techically God did not become the Father upon Jesus' birth. Instead, He became the Father upon the creation of Adam on the sixth day of creation.

    As for the death of Arius, I do not believe I would use the word 'miraculous' to describe it. It sounds like a rough way to go. I know I would hate to die in that way. I am not sure though if that was the caused by poison or by "God striking him down." I cannot resist doing this but in the words of Johnny Cash, "Sooner or later God's gonna cut you down."

  • At 10:49 PM, Anonymous bittersweetaddiction said…

    Arius is seemingly guilty of one thing, separating the Trinity- more importantly the Father and Son. Teaching that the son of God isn’t eternal and is under God the Father. Though the church taught in the Holy Trinity and that Jesus and God are one in the same. But to be honest, he does make some sense in that how can a person exist before they are even born. So there must have been a time in which God existed and Jesus didn’t, making for a time when the Holy Trinity didn’t exist either. Contriversial isn’t it. But presently we don’t face these “condemning issues.” People have even switched Arius’ belief around to revolve around their own personal religion, going so far to say it is the Son of God who is the Almighty. Many people today even seemingly direct their prayers to Jesus, rather than God the Father. So the questions remain was Arius a heretic? It doesn’t appear that way in the present sense. Was he trying to dinounce the Catholic Church and turn people to the dark side with his teachings? Ummm, NO. Was he poisoned for his beliefs, making him a martyr of a sort? Well it depends on your outlook of Arius.
    Arius is a man just trying answer questions burning deep inside of himself, and I can’t rightfully condemn a man for trying to find the truth. The one right idea that I totally support Arius on is the fact that it is beyond our power as humans to fully comprehend God, the Son, and the divine plan.

  • At 12:01 PM, Anonymous pirateARG said…

    Arius' statement that "That God was not always the Father, but that there was a period when he was not the Father..." can be interpreted in two different ways. It could be taken literally where God is the "Father" of just Jesus or on the other hand, that God is the Father of all creation. If I interpret it literally, then I do agree with Arius' statement because when there was no Jesus, then God couldn't have been the father. However, the way I interpreted this statement was that God is the Father all creation which as a result, would refute his statement that there was a period where God wasn't the Father. This is because as soon as the very first particle existed in the universe, God was the Father of that particle. So, how can there be a period of time that God wasn't the father when God throughout the existence of time itself has been the creator of it?
    Another topic that is interesting about Arius is how he died. People's fascination with life and death of that period was extensive and for Arius to die by having his intestines come out of his butt while sitting on the toliet was probably greatly looked upon. Of course, the consensus back then was that it was God's way of striking him down for his heresey. Yet, if that happened today there would be some scientific explanation for it either having it be caused by really strong mexican food or some type of drug that would make someone have such explosive feces. My best advice to anyone who says God isn't the father is to 1) Stay away from toliets or 2) DO NOT EAT MEXICAN FOOD.


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