Arius

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Arius (AD 256-336) was an early Christian theologian who taught Arianism, a theology that rejected the Trinity and taught that Jesus was lesser than God the Father. All of the writings of Arius were systematically destroyed by the Church, but historians have reconstructed his thoughts from the arguments used against them by orthodox trinitarians.

Contents

Career

Arius was born in Libya (or Alexandria) in 256. He was tall, lean, learned, morally exemplary, a fine orator, and inclined to be disputatious, He was educated in the theological school of Antioch under the distinguished scholar Lucian. This school was noted for its emphasis upon (1) the historical and inductive method of religious investigation and (2) the unity and transcendence of the Godhead. Combined with these was a tendency to regard Christ as a created being, subordinate to the Father, a view that affected Arius.

Arius became a presbyter (minor priest) in Alexandria. In 318 he disagreed with his bishop on the nature of Christ, and was condemned with his associates at a synod at Alexandria in 320 or 321 and banished. He left the city and found refuge with two powerful churchmen, Eusebius of Caesarea and Eusebius of Nicomedia, who sympathized with his view. The debate spread across the region.

Nicea

The controversy became so heated that the Emperor Constantine, now military master of the East and the West, called the first General Council of the Church at Nicaea to resolve the issue in May 325. Three parties emerged at the Council: the Arian, led by Eusebius of Nicomedia; the Alexandrian; and the moderate, led by Eusebius of Caesarea. The Council banished Arius to Illyria, condemned Arianism, and affirmed that Christ was "begotten, not made," "of one essence with the Father." The unity of the Church seemed achieved.

However, controversy continued. Arius returned from banishment through the favor of the Empress Constantia and presented a new creed to the Emperor, which seemed like a retraction of his heretical views. The Emperor commanded that Arius be restored to his position in Alexandria, which Athanasius, who was then bishop of Alexandria, refused to do. Charged with insubordination, Athanasius was banished to Gaul in 335. The opposition to Arianism seemed broken, and the bishops decided to restore Arius to the fellowship of the Church through a formal ceremony. The aged Arius died in Constantinople in 336, before the ceremony took place, perhaps because the emotional stress was too great. His friends thought he had been poisoned, but his enemies regarded his death as the act of a vengeful Providence.

Works

The principal work of Arius is Thalia ("The Banquet"), in which he defends his doctrine in prose and poetry. The document is lost and the knowledge of his writings comes through his critics. Arianism continued in the Church for many years, particularly in the Christianity of the Germanic tribes; Ulfilas, "the apostle to the Goths," was their Arian missionary.

see Arianism

Further reading

  • Gonzalez, Justo L. A History of Christian Thought: Volume 1: From the Beginnings to the Council of Chalcedon (2nd ed. 1987); excerpt and text search vol 1
  • Williams, Rowan. Arius: Heresy and Tradition (2002) excerpt and text search
  • New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (1911), major sources of older scholarly articles; mainline Protestant perspective: Vol. 1: Aachen- Basilians

References

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