Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century A.D., with an Account of the Principal Sects and Heresies.
« Arius, the heresiarch Arius, Followers of Arnobius »

Arius, Followers of

Arius, Followers of. After the deaths of Arius and Constantine we enter on a tangled web of controversy which lasted from A.D. 336 to 381, when the question was finally decided by the acceptance of the Nicene Creed at the council of Constantinople. This period of confusion is due to the change of conditions under which the contest was carried on. For a time the division of the empire between three Augusti contributed an additional element of uncertainty to the conflict. Yet when the deaths of the younger Constantine and his brother Constans left the whole empire for eleven years in the hands of Constantius, matters were scarcely less involved. Constantius, though by no means devoid of ability, as his success in maintaining his undivided authority against such rebellions as those of Magnentius and Vetranio proves, was far inferior to his father in clearness of vision and breadth of aim. The great Constantine himself was not altogether inaccessible to flattery and family influences. His sister Constantia is credited with having prevailed upon him to allow Eusebius of Nicomedia and Arius to return from exile. But her influence was still more strongly felt in the next reign, and after the death of the astute and able Eusebius of Nicomedia, mere intriguers, such as Ursacius and Valens, and even the worthless eunuchs about the court, were able to persuade the emperor into unreasonable and tortuous courses, of which jealousy of the great Athanasius formed in reality the secret motive. Amid all the distractions of the time, three main stages may be marked in the progress of the controversy. The first consisted of the six years between the death of Constantine and the council of Sardica (343). During this period the attitude of all the various parties save those who adhered to the Nicene symbol is most perplexing, and the changes of opinion most bewildering. Court intrigue occupies a prominent place in the history. Yet it gradually became clear, as far as the march of opinion was concerned, that the West was irrevocably attached to the views of Athanasius, while in the East opinion was divided and variable, and the court influence grew more decisive on the progress of events in proportion as the power of Constantius increased. The second period was that between the councils of Sardica and Ariminum (Rimini, in Italy) in 359, during which opinion was gradually settling down into three distinct forms, which may be roughly described as the orthodox, the semi-Arian, and the Arian view. The last period, that between 359 and 381, is that during which Homoeanism and Anomoeanism (see below) became gradually discredited, while Homoiousians and orthodox approximated by degrees, until the final victory of the Nicene symbol at Constantinople. The ferment of opinion may be gauged by the fact that the historian Socrates gives no less than ten forms of creed—eleven if we count that presented at Nicaea by Eusebius of Caesarea—which were produced at various councils in hope of settling the controversy. But the Nicenes remained firmly attached to the creed of Nicaea, while their opponents were divided into three groups—the Anomoeans, or Arians proper, who taught the unlikeness of the nature of the Son to that of the Father; the Homoeans, who believed the Son's nature to bear only a general resemblance to that of the Father; and the Homoiousians, who believed in the similarity (but not the identity) of the essence of the Son to that of the Father. These last are also called semi-Arians.

The first important step in the history of the controversy after the death of Arius was the return of Athanasius to his diocese (337) permitted by Constantine II., in whose division of the empire Egypt lay. But he was not suffered to remain long unmolested. In 340 Constantine II. died, and Eusebius of Nicomedia, the ablest of Athanasius's antagonists, contrived to get himself removed to Constantinople after the death of the bishop, Alexander. His proximity to the emperor secured to him the leading influence in affairs ecclesiastical. The orthodox party had elected Paul as their bishop, but Eusebius contrived to get this election annulled, and to secure the vacant post for himself. He "left no stone unturned," as the historian Socrates puts it, to overthrow one whom he had long regarded as a rival. A council was assembled at Antioch (338–339) in which the old charges were revived against Athanasius, and which confirmed his sentence of deposition from his see. Athanasius was expelled in the spring of 339; and after a third Eusebius (afterwards bp. of Emesa), a man of principle and character, had declined to take his place, one Gregory was appointed, who speedily became unpopular in consequence of his violence and cruelty. Eusebius Pamphili of Caesarea, who would undoubtedly, had he survived, have been a moderating force, died about this time, and was succeeded by Acacius, who played a prominent part in the subsequent proceedings, but lacked the special knowledge of Church history, as well as the experience and judgment, of his celebrated predecessor. Athanasius fled to Rome, and thus brought its bishop Julius on the scene. Julius acted with spirit and discretion. He summoned a synod of 50 bishops of the West, who annulled the deposition of Athanasius, and acquitted him of all the charges against him. He further transmitted to Antioch a strong remonstrance against the inconsistency and unfairness of the proceedings at the council held there. The Eastern bishops, however, were not to be deterred from their course by his representations. At the council held at the dedication (encaenia) of a church at Antioch in 341, the sentence on Athanasius was confirmed, and after the rejection of a creed of distinctly Arian tendencies, a new creed, either composed by Lucian the Martyr or by his disciple Asterius, was brought forward as a substitute for the symbol of Nicaea. It rejected the expression ὁμοούσιον, but it as emphatically rejected Arianism by declaring the Son to be unchangeable and unalterable, and by adding that He was "the Image of the essence, the power, the will, and the glory of the Father." But Eusebius had not thrown over the symbol of Nicaea for such a halting substitute as this. On the other hand, Athanasius did not fail to point out that the language of the creed of Lucian was not more that of Scripture than was the language of the creed of Nicaea. The court party, whose object was simply to produce a formula which would, as they thought, meet the emperor's views by putting a stop to controversy, endeavoured to force another creed on the council, but in vain. This additional creed was a compromise pure and simple, enshrining no truth, although in form corresponding as nearly to the Nicene formula as possible. Its supporters then put the document into the hands of Constans, emperor of the West, who had demanded the assembling of another general council. The West had been roused by the proceedings at Antioch, and Constantius, now engaged in a war with Persia, dared not refuse. The able leader of the dissentients, however, Eusebius of Nicomedia, was now dead, and the leadership had fallen into the hands of Ursacius and Valens, who were mere opportunists. To their dismay and that of their party, it was settled that the council should be held at Sardica, in Dacia, just within the limits of the Western empire. Thither, in 343, the deputies repaired. But the courtiers perceived that there was no chance whatever of forcing their views upon a phalanx consisting, as it is now thought, of about 100 Western bishops devoted to the decisions of Nicaea. So they left Sardica in haste, and betook themselves to Philippopolis, a city just across the Eastern border. There, after declaring that the decrees of one council cannot be revised by another, they began inconsistently to revise the decrees of former councils, and to hurl charges against the venerated Fathers of the West, Hosius and Julius. The Westerns at Sardica, meanwhile, had once more acquitted Athanasius and his allies, and had rejected the Eastern formulae, as leaning to the Gnostic doctrine of successive emanations from the source of all being. The proceedings at Philippopolis and the outrageous conduct of Stephen, then patriarch of Antioch, gave offence even in the East, and the decision of the Western bishops to hold no communion with their Eastern brethren while the existing state of things lasted produced a reaction. Another council was held at Antioch, and a new and more conciliatory creed, usually called μακρόστιχος from its exceeding length, was substituted for the Lucianic document. As Constans pressed for the restoration of Athanasius, and Constantius had the war with Persia still on hand, the latter gave way, the more readily because Gregory the intruder was now dead (345). Constantius summoned Athanasius to his presence, and after a friendly interview dismissed him, and wrote three letters, one to the bishops and clergy in Egypt, one to the laity, and one to the governors of provinces, explaining that it was his will that Athanasius should be allowed to return in peace to his flock. But when he demanded of Athanasius that he should allow the use of one church to the Arians in Alexandria, the latter preferred a request in his turn that the same thing should be done in cities where the Arians were in possession—a request which Constantius did not deem it prudent to grant. Athanasius therefore, unfettered by conditions, returned (346) to Alexandria, and the people, wearied of Arian violence and cruelty, received him with the warmest demonstrations of joy.

Peace was thus restored for the moment, but it endured only so long as Constantius was occupied with foreign war and intestine strife. It is noteworthy that the restless intriguers, Ursacius and Valens, found it prudent just at present to repair to Rome and make friends with Julius and the West. Socrates (H. E. ii. 37) remarks on their disposition to identify themselves with the strongest side. But permanent peace was impossible until the questions at issue had been fully threshed out. As soon as Constans (350) was dead, and Magnentius, the usurper, defeated and slain (353), the strife recommenced. For ten years Athanasius had remained undisturbed at Alexandria, but premonitory signs of the eruption which was soon to burst forth had long been discernible. On the one hand the Easterns were beginning to substitute the semi-Arian doctrine of the likeness (ὁμοιούσιος) of the Son to the Father for the vaguer conception of the more moderate Arians of the earlier period. On the other hand, the unlikeness of the Son to the Father was more boldly and defiantly pressed by the holders of that doctrine, and by degrees a sect, which almost reduced Christ to the level of a mere man, appeared on the scene. The chief exponents of this doctrine were Aetius and EUZOIUS. The Anomoeans now began to separate themselves more definitely from the orthodox. All this was not without its effect on Constantius, whose sole object, like that of most politicians, was to avoid dissensions. When the tide turned, Ursacius and Valens were ready, as usual, with suggestions. But he could not at once take the steps they urged. New wars confronted him, and the attitude of the West was decidedly disquieting. The Western church had found a new champion in Hilary of Poictiers (Hilarius Pictavensis), whose ability, learning, and high character were recognized by his own contemporaries. Constantius shewed his sense of his abilities by exiling him, as well as Liberius, bp. of Rome, who had succeeded Julius (355). Early in 356 the imperial troops burst into the cathedral at Alexandria to seize Athanasius, who was at prayer with his flock. It was night, and Athanasius almost miraculously escaped in the tumult, and remained secreted for some time. From his undiscovered retreat he issued numerous letters and treatises, by which he kept up the courage of his adherents. His Arian successor, one George, did not venture to set foot in Alexandria till a year after the departure of Athanasius, and his atrocious cruelties soon made him hated as well as feared by the populace.

Meanwhile the court intriguers resumed their activity. Sirmium, in Slavonia, between the Save and the Drave, now takes the place of Antioch in the matter of creed-making. A creed had already been issued thence in 351 against Sabellianism. In the latter part of 357 the emperor was in residence there, and Ursacius and Valens naturally took the opportunity of renewing their mischievous activity. A second creed was promulgated there, in which the difference between the Father and the Son was strongly insisted upon; the Father and the Son were declared to be two Persons (πρόσωπα), and the use of the words οὐσία and ὑπόστασις, as applied to God's nature, was condemned, as not warranted by Scripture. The intriguers no doubt imagined that, as the supporters of the Nicene formula were in exile, they could give no further trouble, and that the line of least resistance would be to come to an arrangement with the Arian (Anomoean) party. But events proved them utterly wrong. The result was just the opposite: to convert the moderates into a distinctly semi-Arian party, laying especial stress on the likeness of the Son's essence (ὁμοιούσιον) to that of the Father, instead of minimizing the likeness, as the Homoeans had done. The Homoiousians thus began to lean to the orthodox side, while the Homoeans inclined more and more to those who denied even the likeness of the Son's essence to that of the Father. Hilary now (359) intervened with his de Synodis, in which he reviewed the action of previous councils, and defended the Nicene Creed, yet in such a way as he thought best calculated to win back the semi-Arians (or Homoiousians) to the orthodox camp. This treatise marks the stage in the controversy in which semi-Arianism began definitely to separate itself from its doubtful allies, and to draw towards union with the orthodox party. Hilary, it may be added, admits the force of some semi-Arian objections to the word ὁμοούσιον, and suggests certain express limitations of its meaning. Two other creeds of considerable length, one of them provided with innumerable anathemas, were drawn up at Sirmium. The last of these, commonly known as the dated creed (359), was ridiculed by Athanasius for its pompous opening, and for its assumption that the Catholic faith had, at the date given, been proclaimed for the first time. It is clear, he adds, from their own confession, that theirs is a new faith, not the old one.

We now enter upon the last stage of the controversy. It is marked by the first attempt to make a distinction between οὐσία and ὑπόστασις—terms which had hitherto been regarded as synonymous—and to use the former as indicating the nature which is common to beings of the same order, while the latter was used to express the diversities between these possessors of a common nature. The word οὐσία was used to indicate the Divine Nature, while ὑπόστασις was henceforth used by the Greeks of the Persons in the Trinity. (It should, however, be observed that substantia remained the Latin equivalent of οὐσία.) The first to press this use of language was Basil of Ancyra, at a council he had called to protest against the proceedings at Sirmium. He defends the new use of the word ὑπόστασις in an able minute he issued, criticizing the proceedings at Sirmium, by pointing out that a word was needed—and it must be neither οὐσία nor ἀρχή—to denote the underlying and definitely existing (ὑπαρχούσας) distinctions (ἰδιότητας) of the Persons (προσώπων); and he acutely remarks that if οὐσία was a term not to be found in Scripture, the Godhead was indicated there by the words ὁ ὤν. In the end, this new and more careful use of words completely revolutionized the situation. Henceforth the semi-Arians as a body not only laboured for an understanding with the orthodox, but also drew still more markedly apart from the Homoeans and Anomoeans. The calling of a new council in the same year at Rimini (Ariminum) in Italy brought these new tendencies very plainly to light. Constantius, finding it impossible to lay down a common basis for action between the East and the West, commanded the Eastern bishops to meet at Seleucia in Cilicia, a mountain fortress near the sea. Sozomen tells us that the reason for calling this council was the growing influence of Anomoeanism through the influence of Aetius. The Western bishops, who numbered more than 200, had no scruples in the matter. They boldly deposed Ursacius and Valens, who had been sent to bring them to submission, and as boldly reaffirmed the Nicene symbol, and they sent a deputation of 20 bishops to the emperor to defend their action. He was, however, (or pretended to be) too busy to see them. The Easterns were still inclined to hesitate. The semi-Arian majority desired to accept the Nicene Creed, with the omission of the obnoxious ὁμοούσιον. The Homoeans, under the leadership of Acacius of Caesarea in Cappadocia, condemned the expressions ὁμοούσιον and ὁμοιούσιον, but anathematized the expression ἀνόμοιον. "The Acacian [Homoean] party" (Socr. H. E. ii. 40) "affirmed that the Son was like the Father as respected His will only, and not in His substance or essence." And they tendered yet another creed in accordance with these views, which the council rejected, and deposed those who had tendered it. Among those who were present at this council were men so diverse as the hated tyrant George of Alexandria, and Hilary of Poictiers, still exiled from his diocese. Meanwhile, Ursacius and Valens were engaged in the congenial task of endeavouring to persuade the deputies from Ariminum to sign yet another creed at Niké in Thrace, in the hope, if some authorities are to be trusted, of making the world believe, from the similarity of names, that it was the renowned document promulgated at the Nicene council. But this was surely an impossibility. The Nicene symbol was far too well known to the Christian world. Athanasius now intervened from his retreat, and wrote his famous treatise de Synodis, in which he reviewed the creeds and acts of the various councils. But he assumed no non-possumus attitude. He had even seemed inclined, for a moment, to admit the orthodoxy of the expression ὁμοιούσιον. But in this treatise he points out (c. 41) that though brass is like gold, tin like iron, and the dog like the wolf, yet they are of different natures, and no one could call the wolf the offspring of the dog. Nevertheless, he still endeavours to bridge over the gulf between himself and the semi-Arians.

These two councils were the final turning-point of the controversy. It had clearly appeared that, whenever the Nicene definitions had been rejected, Anomoeanism, which was Arianism in a more definite philosophical shape, came once more to the front, and this fact was increasingly seen to point to the Nicene symbol as the only safe way out of the difficulty. Henceforth the secular authority might retard, but it could not prevent, the victory of Athanasius and his followers. From this moment (see Socr. H. E. ii. 22) the Western churches definitely renounced communion with those of the East. The episode of Meletius of Antioch (not to be confounded with Meletius of Egypt) shewed plainly which way events were tending. He had been elected patriarch of Antioch by the Homoean party. But in his inaugural speech he frankly confessed his Nicene leanings, and when a busy archdeacon rushed up and closed his mouth, he continued by gestures to affirm what he had previously affirmed by his voice. Meletius was promptly banished, but before the year (361) was over Constantius was dead. The action of his successor Julian, who had renounced Christianity, gave a still further impulse to the policy of conciliation. As between heathenism and Christianity, impartiality cannot certainly be predicated of him. But he was impartial enough in his hostility to Christians of all shades of opinion. This threw them, for the time, into one another's arms. True, when the external pressure was removed, the suspicions and jealousies, as is commonly the case, broke out afresh. But none the less had an impulse been given towards union which henceforth never ceased to be felt. The oppressor George had been expelled from Alexandria by a rising of the populace as early as 358. In 361, on his return to Alexandria, he was seized and murdered by his exasperated flock. The edict of Julian (361) permitting the return of the exiles left the way open to Athanasius to rejoin his people. He at once (362) summoned a council, in which Macedonianism [Macedonius], an offshoot from Arianism which applied the same line of argument to the Holy Spirit which had previously been applied to the Son, was condemned as well as Arianism. But Athanasius was wise and liberal enough to make overtures to the semi-Arians. Three men almost worthy to stand on a level with Athanasius himself had appeared among the Eastern bishops—men who were capable of negotiating on equal terms with that great and prescient theologian. These were Basil, afterwards bp. of Caesarea in Cappadocia, his brother Gregory, bp. of Nyssa, and the brilliant orator, poet, and thinker Gregory of Nazianus, who was the intimate friend of both. These men had some opinions in common with the less extreme members of the semi-Arian party, and were therefore quite ready to resume the work of conciliation which, as we have seen, had been attempted by Basil of Ancyra. Athanasius, on his part, was ready to accept the distinction mentioned above between οὐσία and ὑπόστασις, which had not been recognized at Nicaea. Before the death of Jovian (364), Acacias of Caesarea, who cannot be acquitted of being an unworthy intriguer or at best a time-server, came forward to make his peace by accepting the Nicene formula. On the death of Jovian the empire was divided between Valentinian and Valens, the former taking the West, the latter the East, under his charge. Valentinian, as a man unacquainted with theology, was naturally influenced by the general opinion in the West, which had remained decisively Nicene. Valens as naturally fell under the influence of the Eastern bishops, and the time was not yet ripe for their acceptance of the Nicene decision. The Anomoeans were still a powerful party, and so determined were they to enforce their views that they persecuted not only the orthodox but the semi-Arians and Macedonians. When the semi-Arians, with the permission of Valentinian, held a council at Lampsacus in 364, its decisions were set aside by Valens, whose hand had already been heavy on the Homoousians, and who now exiled the semi-Arian bishops. Four years later he dealt equally harshly with the Macedonians, who were terrified into imploring the help of the orthodox West, and endeavoured to secure it by promising Liberius that they would receive the Nicene Creed. But the latter replied in a letter in which he declared that the faith depended on the acceptance of the words hypostasis (in the sense in which it is used in the Nicene formula) and homoöusios. On the other hand, the dissensions which broke out between Eudoxius, patriarch of Antioch and afterwards of Constantinople and his Arian (or Anomoean) allies, drove both him and Valens into the arms of the Homoeans, in whose possession most of the churches were. But the affairs of the empire fell into confusion in the incompetent hands of Valens, and the influence of the Arian and Homoean parties was steadily waning. Athanasius died in 373, after a noteworthy attempt to cast his shield over his faithful supporter and friend Marcellus. The result was that Marcellus was acquitted, but his school disappeared with him (he died in 371), and the way lay clear for the conciliatory action of the three great Eastern leaders already mentioned. There was no theologian in Christendom who could withstand them. Among their opponents no concert reigned, but only confusion; their ascendancy was founded on court intrigue and imperial violence. Sozomen (H. E. vi. 6) tells us how Valentinian, while he stedfastly clung to orthodoxy, studiously refrained from harassing those opposed to it, and notes with disapproval the different course taken by Valens. The cause of genuine, practical Christianity suffered seriously under these divisions, intrigues, and acts of violence, and men of earnest and even indifferent minds were longing for peace. When Theodosius succeeded Valens in 379 (Valentinian was already dead) there was no force strong enough among the heretical factions to resist the coalition between the semi-Arians and the Nicenes. The West was united in support of the latter, the strength and patience of the divided East were exhausted. A council of 150 bishops—all Easterns—assembled at Constantinople, and the weary 56 years of conflict and confusion terminated in the acceptance of the symbol99It ends, however, as far as the council of Nicaea is concerned, with the words, "And I believe in the Holy Ghost." which, in the East and West, is repeated whenever Christians who profess the Catholic faith meet for communion with one another and their Lord. Arianism had no moral strength with which to resist persecution. But it still lingered among the Goths for some centuries. They were not an educated race, and Ulphilas, who converted them to Christianity, was a missionary rather than a theologian. And so it came to pass in the end that, so far as this vital doctrine of the Christian faith is concerned, "they all escaped safe to land."

The bibliography of this period is much the same as has been given in art. Arius, only that the Life of Constantine, by Eusebius Pamphili, is of course no longer available. The de Synodis of Athanasius passes in review the various councils and their creeds, from the Encaenia at Antioch to the councils of Ariminum and Seleucia. Various monographs connected with the history of this period will be found mentioned by Prof. Gwatkin in his Studies of Arianism, if the student wishes to go more deeply into the subject than is possible here.


« Arius, the heresiarch Arius, Followers of Arnobius »


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