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History of the Christian Church, Volume III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 311-600.
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§ 124. Arianism.


The doctrine of the Arians, or Eusebians, Aëtians, Eunomians, as they were called after their later leaders, or Exukontians, Heteroousiasts, and Anomoeans, as they were named from their characteristic terms, is in substance as follows:

The Father alone is God; therefore he alone is unbegotten, eternal, wise, good, and unchangeable, and he is separated by an infinite chasm from the world. He cannot create the world directly, but only through an agent, the Logos. The Son of God is pre-existent,13521352   Πρὸ χρόνων καὶ αἰώνων. before all creatures, and above all creatures, a middle being between God and the world, the creator of the world, the perfect image of the Father, and the executor of his thoughts, and thus capable of being called in a metaphorical sense God, and Logos, and Wisdom.13531353   Θεός, λόγος , σοφία. But on the other hand, he himself is a creature, that is to say, the first creation of God, through whom the Father called other creatures into existence; he was created out of nothing13541354   Ποίημα, κτίσμα ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων. Hence the name Exukontians (not out of the essence of God) by the will of the Father before all conceivable time; he is therefore not eternal, but had a beginning, and there was a time when he was not.13551355   Ἀρχὴν ἔχειοὐκ ἦν πρὶν γεννηθῇ, ἤτοι κτισθῇἦν ποτε ὅτε οὐκ ἦν.

Arianism thus rises far above Ebionism, Socinianism, deism, and rationalism, in maintaining the personal pre-existence of the Son before all worlds, which were his creation; but it agrees with those systems in lowering the Son to the sphere of the created, which of course includes the idea of temporalness and finiteness. It at first ascribed to him the predicate of unchangeableness also,13561356   Ἀναλλοίωτος, ἄτρεπτος ὁ υἱός. but afterwards subjected him to the vicissitudes of created being.13571357   Τρεπτὸς φύσει ὡς τὰ κρίσματα. This contradiction, however, is solved, if need be, by the distinction between moral and physical unchangeableness; the Son is in his nature (φύσει) changeable, but remains good (καλός) by a free act of his will. Arius, after having once robbed the Son of divine essence,13581358   οὐσία could not consistently allow him any divine attribute in the strict sense of the word; he limited his duration, his power, and his knowledge, and expressly asserted that the Son does not perfectly know the Father, and therefore cannot perfectly reveal him. The Son is essentially distinct from the Father,13591359   Ἑτεροούσιος τῷ πατρί. and—as Aëtius and Eunomius afterward more strongly expressed it—unlike the Father;13601360   Ἀνόμοιος κατὰ οὐσίαν. Hence the name Ἀνόμοιοι, Anomoeans. and this dissimilarity was by some extended to all moral and metaphysical attributes and conditions.13611361   Ἀνόμοιος κατὰ πάντᾳ.. The dogma of the essential deity of Christ seemed to Arius to lead of necessity to Sabellianism or to the Gnostic dreams of emanation. As to the humanity of Christ, Arius ascribed to him only a human body, but not a rational soul, and on this point Apollinarius came to the same conclusion, though from orthodox premises, and with the intention of saving the unity of the divine personality of Christ.

The later development of Arianism brought out nothing really new, but rather revealed many inconsistencies and contradictions. Thus, for example, Eunomius, to whom clearness was the measure of truth, maintained that revelation has made everything clear, and man can perfectly know God; while Arius denied even to the Son the perfect knowledge of God or of himself. The negative and rationalistic element came forth in ever greater prominence, and the controversy became a metaphysical war, destitute of all deep religion, spirit. The eighteen formulas of faith which Arianism and Semi-Arianism produced between the councils of Nice and Constantinople, are leaves without blossoms, and branches without fruit. The natural course of the Arian heresy is downward, through the stage of Socinianism, into the rationalism which sees in Christ a mere man, the chief of his kind.

To pass now to the arguments used for and against this error:

1. The Arians drew their exegetical proofs from the passages of Scripture which seem to place Christ in any way in the category of that which is created,13621362   Such as Prov. viii. 22-25 (Comp. Sir. i. 4; xxiv. 8f.), where personified Wisdom, i.e., the Logos, says (according to the Septuagint): Κύριος ἔκτισέν με [Heb. קָנָנִי
   Vulg. possedit me] ἀρχὴν ὁδῶν αὐτοῦ εἰς ἔργα αὐτοῦ· πρὸ τοῦ αἰῶνος ἐθεμελίωσέν με, κ.τ.λ.This passage seemed clearly to prove the two propositions of Arius, that the Father created the Son, and that he created him for the purpose of creating the world through him (εἰς ἔργα αὐτοῦ). Acts ii. 36: Ὅτι καὶ κύριον αὐτὸν καὶ Χριστὸν ἐποίησεν ὁ θεός.Heb. i. 4: Κρείττων γενόμενος τῶν ἀγγέλων. Heb. iii. 2: Πιστὸν ὄντα τῷ ποιήσαντι αὐτόν. John i 14: Ὁ λόγος σάρξ ἐγένετο. Phil. ii. 7-9. The last two passages are of course wholly inapposite, as they treat of the incarnation of the Son of God, not of his pre-temporal existence and essence. Heb. i. 4 refers to the exaltation of the God-Man. Most plausible of all is the famous passage: πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως, Col. i. 15, from which the Arians inferred that Christ himself is a κτίσις of God, to wit, the first creature of all. But πρωτότοκοςis not equivalent to πρωτόκτιστοςor πρωτόπλαστος: on the contrary, Christ is by this very term distinguished from the creation, and described as the Author, Upholder, and End of the creation. A creature cannot possibly be the source of life for all creatures. The meaning of the expression, therefore, is: born before every creature, i.e., before anything was made. The text indicates the distinction between the eternal generation of the Son from the essence of the Father, and the temporal creation of the world out of nothing by the Son. Yet there is a difference between μονογενήςand πρωτότοκος , which Athanasius himself makes: the former referring to the relation of the Son to the Father, the latter, to his relation to the world.
or ascribe to the incarnate (not the pre-temporal, divine) Logos growth, lack of knowledge, weariness, sorrow, and other changing human affections and states of mind,13631363   Such as Luke ii. 52; Heb. v. 8, 9; John xii. 27, 28; Matt. xxvi. 39; Mark xii. 52; &c. or teach a subordination of the Son to the Father.13641364   E.g., John xiv. 28: Ὁ πατήρ μείζων μού ἐστιν.. This passage also refers not to the pre-existent state of Christ, but to the state of humiliation of the God-Man.

Athanasius disposes of these arguments somewhat too easily, by referring the passages exclusively to the human side of the person of Jesus. When, for example, the Lord says he knows not the day, nor the hour of the judgment, this is due only to his human nature. For how should the Lord of heaven and earth, who made days and hours, not know them! He accuses the Arians of the Jewish conceit, that divine and human are incompatible. The Jews say How could Christ, if he were God, become man, and die on the cross? The Arians say: How can Christ, who was man, be at the same time God? We, says Athanasius, are Christians; we do not stone Christ when he asserts his eternal Godhead, nor are we offended in him when he speaks to us in the language of human poverty. But it is the peculiar doctrine of Holy Scripture to declare everywhere a double thing of Christ: that he, as Logos and image of the Father, was ever truly divine, and that he afterwards became man for our salvation. When Athanasius cannot refer such terms as “made,” “created,” “became,” to the human nature he takes them figuratively for “testified,” “constituted,” “demonstrated.”13651365   The ἔκτισεand ἐθεμελίωσε in Prov. viii. 22 ff., on which the Arians laid special stress, and of which Athanasius treats quite at large in his second oration against the Arians, he refers not to the essence of the Logos (with whom the σοφίαwas by both parties identified), but to the incarnation of the Logos and to the renovation of our race through him: appealing to Eph. ii. 10: “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” As to the far more important passage in Col. i. 15, Athanasius gives substantially the correct interpretation in his Expositio fidei, cap. 3 (ed. Bened. tom. i. 101), where he says: πρωτότοκον εἰπὼν [Παῦλος] δηλοῖ μὴ εἶναι αὐτὸν κτίσμα, ἀλλὰ γέννημα τοῦ πατρός · ξένον γάρ ἐπὶ τῆς θεότητος αὐτοῦ τὸ λέγεσθαι κτίσμα. Τὰ γὰρ πάντα ἐκτίσθησαν ὑπὸ τοῦ πατρὸς διὰ τοῦ υἱοῦ, ὁ δὲ υἱὸς μόνος ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς ἀϊδίως ἐγεννήθη· διὸ πρωτότοκός ἐστι πάσης κτίσεως ὁ Θεὸς λόγος ·, ἄτρεπτος ἐξ ἀτρέπτου.

As positive exegetical proofs against Arianism, Athanasius cites almost all the familiar proof-texts which ascribe to Christ divine names, divine attributes, divine works, and divine dignity, and which it is unnecessary here to mention in detail.

Of course his exegesis, as well as that of the fathers in general, when viewed from the level of the modern grammatical, historical, and critical method, contains a great deal of allegorizing caprice and fancy and sophistical subtilty. But it is in general far more profound and true than the heretical.

2. The theological arguments for Arianism were predominantly negative and rationalizing. The amount of them is, that the opposite view is unreasonable, is irreconcilable with strict monotheism and the dignity of God, and leads to Sabellian or Gnostic errors. It is true, Marcellus of Ancyra, one of the most zealous advocates of the Nicene homoousianism, fell into the Sabellian denial of the tri-personality,13661366   Comp. on Marcellus of Ancyra below, § 126. but most of the Nicene fathers steered with unerring tact between the Scylla of Sabellianism, and the Charybdis of Tritheism.

Athanasius met the theological objections of the Arians with overwhelming dialectical skill, and exposed the internal contradictions and philosophical absurdities of their positions. Arianism teaches two gods, an uncreated and a created, a supreme and a secondary god, and thus far relapses into heathen polytheism. It holds Christ to be a mere creature, and yet the creator of the world; as if a creature could be the source of life, the origin and the end of all creatures! It ascribes to Christ a pre-mundane existence, but denies him eternity, while yet time belongs to the idea of the world, and is created only therewith,13671367   Mundus non factus est in tempore, sed cum tempore, says Augustine, although I cannot just now lay my hand on the passage. Time is the successional form of existence of all created things. Now Arius might indeed have said: Time arose with the Son as the first creature. This, however, he did not say, but put a time before the Son. so that before the world there was nothing but eternity. It supposes a time before the creation of the pre-existent Christ; thus involving God himself in the notion of time; which contradicts the absolute being of God. It asserts the unchangeableness of God, but denies, with the eternal generation of the Son, also the eternal Fatherhood; thus assuming after all a very essential change in God.13681368   Of less weight is the objection, which was raised by Alexander of Alexandria: Since the Son is the Logos, the Arian God must have been, until the creation of the Son, ἄλογος, a being without reason. Athanasius charges the Arians with dualism and heathenism, and he accuses them of destroying the whole doctrine of salvation. For if the Son is a creature, man remains still separated, as before, from God; no creature can redeem other creatures, and unite them with God. If Christ is not divine, much less can we be partakers of the divine nature and children of God.13691369   Comp. the second Oration against the Arians, cap. 69 ff.



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