History of the Christian Church, Volume III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 311-600.
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§ 119. The Arian Controversy down to the Council of Nicaea, 318–325.

I. – Trinitarian Controversies.


I. Sources: On the orthodox side most of the fathers of the fourth century; especially the dogmatic and polemic works of Athanasius (Orationes c. Arianos; De decretis Nicaenae Synodi; De sententia Dionysii; Apologia c. Arianos; Apologia de fuga sua; Historia Arianorum, etc., all in tom. i. pars i. ii. of the Bened. ed.), Basil (Adv. Eunomium), Gregory Nazianzen (Orationes theologicae), Gregory Of Nyssa (Contra Eunom.), Epiphanius (Ancoratus), Hilary (De Trinitate), Ambrose (De Fide), Augustine (De Trinitate, and Contra Maximinimum Arianum), Rufinus, and the Greek church historians.

On the heretical side: The fragments of the writings of Arius (Qavleia, and two Epistolae to Eusebius of Nicomedia and Alexander of Alexandria), preserved in quotations in Athanasius, Epiphanius, Socrates, and Theodoret; comp. Fabricius: Biblioth. gr. viii. p. 309. Fragmenta Arianorum about 388 in Angelo Mai: Scriptorum veterum nova collect. Rom. 1828, vol. iii. The fragments of the Church History of the Arian Philostorgius, a.d. 350–425.

II. Works: Tillemont (R.C.): Mémoires, etc. tom. vi. pp. 239–825, ed. Paris. 1699, and ed. Ven. (the external history chiefly). Dionysius Petavius (Jesuit, † 1652): De theologicis dogmatibus, tom. ii., which treats of the divine Trinity in eight books; and in part toms. iv. and v. which treat in sixteen books of the Incarnation of the Word. This is still, though incomplete, the most learned work of the Roman church in the History of Doctrines; it first appeared at Paris, 1644–’50, in five volumes fol., then at Amsterdam, 1700 (in 6 vols.), and at Venice, 1757 (ed. Zacharia), and has been last edited by Passaglia and Schrader in Rome, 1857. J. M. Travasa (R.C.): Storia critica della vita di Ario. Ven. 1746. S. J. Maimburg: Histoire de l’Arianisme. Par. 1675. John Pearson (bishop of Chester, † 1686): An Exposition of the Creed (in the second article), 1689, 12th ed. Lond. 1741, and very often edited since by Dobson, Burton, Nichols, Chevalier, etc. George Bull (Anglican bishop of St. David’s, † 1710): Defensio fidei Nicaenae. Ox. 1685 (Opp. Lat. fol. ed. Grabe, Lond. 1703. Complete Works, ed. Burton, Oxf. 1827, and again in 1846, vol. 5th in two parts, and in English in the Anglo-Catholic Library, 1851). This classical work endeavors, with great learning, to exhibit the Nicene faith in all the ante-Nicene fathers, and so belongs more properly to the previous period. Dan. Waterland (archdeacon of Middlesex, † 1730, next to Bull the ablest Anglican defender of the Nicene faith): Vindication of Christ’s Divinity, 1719 ff., in Waterland’s Works, ed. Mildert, vols. i. ii. iii. Oxf. 1843. (Several acute and learned essays and sermons in defence of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity against the high Arianism of Dr. Sam. Clarke and Dr. Whitby.) Chr. W. F. Walch: Vollständige Historic der Ketzereien, etc. 11 vols. Leipzig, 1762 ff. Vols. ii. and iii. (exceedingly thorough and exceedingly dry). Gibbon: History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ch. xxi. A. Möhler (R.C.): Athanasius der Grosse u. die Kirche seiner Zeit. Mainz (1827); 2d ed. 1844 (Bk ii.-vi.). J. H. Newman (at the time the learned head of Puseyism, afterwards R.C.): The Arians of the Fourth Century. Lond. 1838; 2d ed. (unchanged), 1854. F. Chr. Baur: Die christl. Lehre von der Dreieinigkeit u. Menschwerdung in ihrer geschichtl. Entwicklung. 3 vols. Tübingen, 1841–’43. Vol. i. pp. 306–825 (to the council of Chalcedon). Comp. also Baur’s Kirchengesch. vom 4ten his 6ten Jahrh. Tüb. 1859, pp. 79–123. Js. A. Dorner: Entwicklungsgesch. der Lehre von der Person Christi. 1836, 2d ed. in 2 vols. Stuttg. 1845–’53. Vol. i. pp. 773–1080 (English transl. by W. L. Alexander and D. W. Simon, in Clark’s Foreign Theol. Library, Edinb. 1861). R. Wilberforce (at the time archdeacon of East Riding, afterwards R.C.): The Doctrine of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. 4th ed. Lond. 1852. Bishop Kaye: Athanasius and the council of Nicaea. Lond. 1853. C. Jos. Hefele (R.C.): Conciliengeschichte. Freib. 1855 ff. Vol. i. p. 219 ff. Albert Prince de Broglie (R.C.): L’église et l’empire romain, au IV. siècle. Paris, 1856–’66, 6 vols. Vol. i. p. 331 sqq.; vol. ii. 1 sqq. W. W. Harvey: History and Theology of the Three Creeds. Lond. 1856, 2 vols. H. Voigt: Die Lehre des Athanasius von Alexandrien. Bremen, 1861. A. P. Stanley: Lectures on the History of the Eastern Church. 2d ed. 862 (reprinted in New York). Sects. ii.-vii. (more brilliant than solid). Comp. also the relevant sections in the general Church Histories of Fleury, Schröckh(vols. v. and vi.), Neander, Gieseler, and in the Doctrine Histories of Münscher-cölln, Baumgarten-Crusius, Hagenbach, Baur, Beck, Shedd.

The Arian controversy relates primarily to the deity of Christ, but in its course it touches also the deity of the Holy Ghost, and embraces therefore the whole mystery of the Holy Trinity and the incarnation of God, which is the very centre of the Christian revelation. The dogma of the Trinity came up not by itself in abstract form, but in inseparable connection with the doctrine of the deity of Christ and the Holy Ghost. If this latter doctrine is true, the Trinity follows by logical necessity, the biblical monotheism being presumed; in other words: If God is one, and if Christ and the Holy Ghost are distinct from the Father and yet participate in the divine substance, God must be triune. Though there are in the Holy Scriptures themselves few texts which directly prove the Trinity, and the name Trinity is wholly wanting in them, this doctrine is taught with all the greater force in a living form from Genesis to Revelation by the main facts of the revelation of God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, besides being indirectly involved in the deity of Christ and the Holy Ghost.

The church always believed in this Trinity of revelation, and confessed its faith by baptism into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. This carried with it from the first the conviction, that this revelation of God must be grounded in a distinction immanent in the divine essence. But to bring this faith into clear and fixed knowledge, and to form the baptismal confession into doctrine, was the hard and earnest intellectual work of three centuries. In the Nicene age minds crashed against each other, and fought the decisive battles for and against the doctrines of the true deity of Christ, with which the divinity of Christianity stands or falls.

The controversies on this fundamental question agitated the Roman empire and the church of East and West for more than half a century, and gave occasion to the first two ecumenical councils of Nicaea and Constantinople. At last the orthodox doctrine triumphed, and in 381 was brought into the form in which it is to this day substantially held in all orthodox churches.

The external history of the Arian controversy, of which we first sketch the main features, falls into three stages:

1. From the outbreak of the controversy to the temporary victory of orthodoxy at the council of Nicaea; a.d. 318–325.

2. The Arian and semi-Arian reaction, and its prevalence to the death of Constantius; a.d. 325–361.

3. The final victory, and the completion of the Nicene creed; to the council of Constantinople, a.d. 381.

Arianism proceeded from the bosom of the Catholic church, was condemned as heresy at the council of Nicaea, but afterwards under various forms attained even ascendency for a time in the church, until at the second ecumenical council it was cast out forever. From that time it lost its importance as a politico-theological power, but continued as an uncatholic sect more than two hundred years among the Germanic nations, which were converted to Christianity under the Arian domination.

The roots of the Arian controversy are to be found partly in the contradictory elements of the christology of the great Origen, which reflect the crude condition of the Christian mind in the third century; partly in the antagonism between the Alexandrian and the Antiochian theology. Origen, on the one hand, attributed to Christ eternity and other divine attributes which logically lead to the orthodox doctrine of the identity of substance; so that he was vindicated even by Athanasius, the two Cappadocian Gregories, and Basil. But, on the other hand, in his zeal for the personal distinctions in the Godhead, he taught with equal clearness a separateness of essence between the Father and the Son13111311   Ἑτερότης τῆς οὐσίας, or τοῦ ὑποκειμένου.De Orat. c. 15. and the subordination of the Son, as a second or secondary God beneath the Father,13121312   Hence be termed the Logos δεύτερος Θεός, or Θεός(without the article, comp. John i. 1), in distinction from the Father, who is absolute God, ὁ Θεός, or αὐτόθεος, Deus per se. He calls the Father also the root (ῥιζα) and fountain (πηγή) of the whole Godhead. Comp. vol. i. § 78. Redepenning: Origenes, ii. 304 sq., and Thomasius: Origenes, p. 118 sq. and thus furnished a starting point for the Arian heresy. The eternal generation of the Son from the will of the Father was, with Origen, the communication of a divine but secondary substance, and this idea, in the hands of the less devout and profound Arius, who with his more rigid logic could admit no intermediate being between God and the creature, deteriorated to the notion of the primal creature.

But in general Arianism was much more akin to the spirit of the Antiochian school than to that of the Alexandrian. Arius himself traced his doctrine to Lucian of Antioch, who advocated the heretical views of Paul of Samosata on the Trinity, and was for a time excommunicated, but afterwards rose to great consideration, and died a martyr under Maximinus.

Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, made earnest of the Origenistic doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son (which was afterwards taught by Athanasius and the Nicene creed, but in a deeper sense, as denoting the generation of a person of the same substance from the substance of the Father, and not of a person of different substance from the will of the Father), and deduced from it the homo-ousia or consubstantiality of the Son with the Father.

Arius,13131313   Ἄρειος. a presbyter of the same city after 313, who is represented as a tall, thin, learned, adroit, austere, and fascinating man, but proud, artful, restless, and disputatious, pressed and overstated the Origenistic view of the subordination, accused Alexander of Sabellianism, and taught that Christ, while he was indeed the creator of the world, was himself a creature of God, therefore not truly divine.13141314   This, however, is manifestly contrary to Origen’s view, which made Christ an intermediate being between the uncreated Father and the creature, Contra Cels. iii. 34.

The contest between these two views broke out about the year 318 or 320. Arius and his followers, for their denial of the true deity of Christ, were deposed and excommunicated by a council of a hundred Egyptian and Libyan bishops at Alexandria in 321. In spite of this he continued to hold religious assemblies of his numerous adherents, and when driven from Alexandria, agitated his doctrine in Palestine and Nicomedia, and diffused it in an entertaining work, half poetry, half prose: The Banquet (Θάλεια), of which a few fragments are preserved in Athanasius. Several bishops, especially Eusebius of Nicomedia and Eusebius of Caesarea, who either shared his view or at least considered it innocent, defended him. Alexander issued a number of circular letters to all the bishops against the apostates and Exukontians.13151315   Οἱ ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων. So he named the Arians, for their assertion that the Son of God was made ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων out of nothing. Bishop rose against bishop, and province against province. The controversy soon involved, through the importance of the subject and the zeal of the parties, the entire church, and transformed the whole Christian East into a theological battle-field.

Constantine, the first emperor who mingled in the religious affairs of Christendom, and who did this from a political, monarchical interest for the unity of the empire and of religion, was at first inclined to consider the contest a futile logomachy, and endeavored to reconcile the parties in diplomatic style by letters and by the personal mission of the aged bishop Hosius of Spain; but without effect. Questions of theological and religious principle are not to be adjusted, like political measures, by compromise, but must be fought through to their last results, and the truth must either conquer or (for the time) succumb. Then, in pursuance, as he thought, of a “divine inspiration,” and probably also with the advice of bishops who were in friendship with him,13161316   At least Rufinus says, H. E. i. 1: “Ex sacerdotum sententia.” Probably Hosius and Eusebius of Caesarea had most influence with the emperor in this matter, as in others. But of any coöperation of the pope in the summoning of the council of Nicaea the earliest documents know nothing. he summoned the first universal council, to represent the whole church of the empire, and to give a final decision upon the relation of Christ to God, and upon some minor questions of discipline, the time of Easter, and the Meletian schism in Egypt.

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