Arius facts for kids
Quick facts for kids
Arius arguing for the supremacy of God the Father, and that the Son had a beginning as a true Firstborn
|Died||336 (aged 80)
|Era||3rd and 4th centuries AD|
|Tradition or movement||Arianism|
Arius (/, -/; Koinē Greek: Ἄρειος, Áreios; 250 or 256 – 336) was a Cyrenaic presbyter, ascetic, and priest best known for the doctrine of Arianism. His teachings about the nature of the Godhead in Christianity, which emphasized God the Father's uniqueness and Christ's subordination under the Father, and his opposition to what would become the dominant Christology (Homoousian Christology) made him a primary topic of the First Council of Nicaea convened by Emperor Constantine the Great in 325.
After the Roman Emperors Licinius and Constantine legalized and formalized Christianity, Constantine sought to unify the newly recognized Church and remove theological divisions. The Christian Church was divided by disagreements on Christology - specifically about the nature of the relationship between the first and second persons of the Trinity. Homoousian Christians, including Athanasius of Alexandria, used Arius and Arianism as epithets to describe those who disagreed with their doctrine of coequal Trinitarianism, a Christology representing God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son as "of one essence" ("consubstantial") and coeternal.
Negative writings[jargon] describe Arius's theology as one imputing there was a time before the Son of God existed—that is, when only God the Father existed. Despite concerted opposition, Arian Christian churches persisted for centuries throughout Europe (especially in various Germanic kingdoms), the Middle East, and North Africa. They were suppressed by military conquest or by voluntary royal conversion between the fifth and seventh centuries.
The Son's precise relationship with the Father had been discussed for decades before Arius's advent; Arius intensified the controversy and carried it to a Church-wide audience, where others like Eusebius of Nicomedia proved much more influential in the long run. In fact, some later Arians disavowed the name, claiming not to have been familiar with the man or his specific teachings. However, because the conflict between Arius and his foes brought the issue to the theological forefront, the doctrine they said he proclaimed—though he had definitely not originated—is generally labeled as "his".
Early life and personality
Reconstructing the life and doctrine of Arius has proven to be a difficult task, as none of his original writings survive. Emperor Constantine ordered their burning while Arius was still living, and any that survived this purge were later destroyed by his orthodox opponents. Those works which have survived are quoted in the works of churchmen who denounced him as a heretic. This leads some—but not all—scholars to question their reliability.
His father's name is given as Ammonius. Arius is believed to have been a student at the exegetical school in Antioch, where he studied under Saint Lucian. Having returned to Alexandria, Arius, according to a single source, sided with Meletius of Lycopolis in his dispute over the re-admission of those who had denied Christianity under fear of Roman torture, and was ordained a deacon under the latter's auspices. He was excommunicated by Bishop Peter of Alexandria in 311 for supporting Meletius, but under Peter's successor Achillas, Arius was re-admitted to Christian communion and in 313 made presbyter of the Baucalis district in Alexandria.
Although his character has been severely assailed by his opponents, Arius appears to have been a man of personal ascetic achievement, pure morals, and decided convictions. Paraphrasing Epiphanius of Salamis, an opponent of Arius, Catholic historian Warren H. Carroll 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."
Though Arius was also accused by his opponents of being too liberal and too loose in his theology, engaging in heresy (as defined by his opponents), some historians argue that Arius was actually quite conservative, and that he deplored how, in his view, Christian theology was being too freely mixed with Greek paganism.
Exile, return, and death
The homoousian party's victory at Nicaea was short-lived, however. Despite Arius's exile and the alleged finality of the Council's decrees, the Arian controversy recommenced at once. When Bishop Alexander died in 327, Athanasius succeeded him, despite not meeting the age requirements for a hierarch. Still committed to pacifying the conflict between Arians and Trinitarians, Constantine gradually became more lenient toward those whom the Council of Nicaea had exiled. Though he never repudiated the council or its decrees, the emperor ultimately permitted Arius (who had taken refuge in Palestine) and many of his adherents to return to their homes, once Arius had reformulated his Christology to mute the ideas found most objectionable by his critics. Athanasius was exiled following his condemnation by the First Synod of Tyre in 335 (though he was later recalled), and the Synod of Jerusalem the following year restored Arius to communion. The emperor directed Alexander of Constantinople to receive Arius, despite the bishop's objections; Bishop Alexander responded by earnestly praying that Arius might perish before this could happen.
Modern scholars consider that the subsequent death of Arius may have been the result of poisoning by his opponents. In contrast, some contemporaries of Arius asserted that the circumstances of his death were a miraculous consequence of Arius's heretical views.
The death of Arius did not end the Arian controversy, which would not be settled for centuries in some parts of the Christian world.
Arianism after Arius
Historians report that Constantine, who had not been baptized for most of his lifetime, was baptized on his deathbed in 337 by the Arian bishop, Eusebius of Nicomedia.
Constantius II, who succeeded Constantine, was also an Arian sympathizer. Under him, Arianism reached its high point at the Third Council of Sirmium in 357. The Seventh Arian Confession (Second Sirmium Confession) held, regarding the doctrines homoousios (of one substance) and homoiousios (of similar substance), that both were non-biblical; and that the Father is greater than the Son, a confession later dubbed the Blasphemy of Sirmium:
But since many persons are disturbed by questions concerning what is called in Latin substantia, but in Greek ousia, that is, to make it understood more exactly, as to 'coessential', or what is called, 'like-in-essence', there ought to be no mention of any of these at all, nor exposition of them in the Church, for this reason and for this consideration, that in divine Scripture nothing is written about them, and that they are above men's knowledge and above men's understanding.
Following the abortive effort by Julian the Apostate to restore paganism in the empire, the emperor Valens—himself an Arian—renewed the persecution of Nicene bishops. However, Valens's successor Theodosius I ended Arianism once and for all among the elites of the Eastern Empire through a combination of imperial decree, persecution, and the calling of the Second Ecumenical Council in 381 that condemned Arius anew while reaffirming and expanding the Nicene Creed. This generally ended the influence of Arianism among the non-Germanic peoples of the Roman Empire.
Arianism in the West
Arianism played out very differently in the Western Empire; during the reign of Constantius II, the Arian Gothic convert Ulfilas was consecrated a bishop by Eusebius of Nicomedia and sent to missionize his people. His success ensured the survival of Arianism among the Goths and Vandals until the beginning of the eighth century, when their kingdoms succumbed to the adjacent Niceans or they accepted Nicean Christianity. Arians continued to exist in North Africa, Spain and portions of Italy until they were finally suppressed during the sixth and seventh centuries.
In the 12th century, the Benedictine abbot Peter the Venerable described the Islamic prophet Muhammad as "the successor of Arius and the precursor to the Antichrist". During the Protestant Reformation, a Polish sect known as the Polish Brethren were often referred to as Arians due to their antitrinitarian doctrine.
There are several contemporary Christian and Post-Christian denominations today that echo Arian thinking.
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) are sometimes accused of being Arians by their detractors. However, the Christology of the Latter-day Saints differs in several significant aspects from Arian theology.
The Jehovah's Witnesses teach that the Son is a created being, and is not actually God.
Some Christians in the Unitarian Universalist movement are influenced by Arian ideas. Contemporary Unitarian Universalist Christians often may be either Arian or Socian in their Christology, seeing Jesus as a distinctive moral figure but not equal or eternal with God the Father; or they may follow Origen's logic of Universal Salvation, and thus potentially affirm the Trinity, but assert that all are already saved.
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.
The question of the exact relationship between the Father and the Son (a part of the theological science of Christology) had been raised some fifty years before Arius, when Paul of Samosata was deposed in 269 for agreeing with those who used the word homoousios (Greek for 'same substance') to express the relation between the Father and the Son. This term was thought at that time 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 Paul's deposition, Dionysius, the Bishop of Alexandria, used much the same language as Arius did later, and correspondence survives in which Pope Dionysius blames him for using such terminology. Dionysius responded with an explanation widely interpreted as vacillating. The Synod of Antioch, which condemned Paul of Samosata, had expressed its disapproval of the word homoousios in one sense, while Bishop Alexander undertook its defense in another. Although the controversy seemed to be leaning toward the opinions later championed by Arius, no firm decision had been made on the subject; in an atmosphere so intellectual as that of Alexandria, the debate seemed bound to resurface—and even intensify—at some point in the future.
- that the Word (Logos) and the Father were not of the same essence (ousia);
- that the Son was a created being (ktisma or poiema); and
- that the worlds were created through him, so he must have existed before them and before all time.
- However, there was a "once" [Arius did not use words meaning 'time', such as chronos or aion] when he did not exist, before he was begotten of the Father.
Three surviving letters attributed to Arius are his letter to Alexander of Alexandria, his letter to Eusebius of Nicomedia, and his confession to Constantine. In addition, several letters addressed by others to Arius survive, together with brief quotations contained within the polemical works of his opponents. These quotations are often short and taken out of context, and it is difficult to tell how accurately they quote him or represent his true thinking.
Arius's Thalia (literally, 'Festivity', 'banquet'), a popularized work combining prose and verse and summarizing his views on the Logos, survives in quoted fragmentary form. In the Thalia, Arius says that God's first thought was the creation of the Son, before all ages, therefore time started with the creation of the Logos or Word in Heaven (lines 1–9, 30–32); explains how the Son could still be God, even if he did not exist eternally (lines 20–23); and endeavors to explain the ultimate incomprehensibility of the Father to the Son (lines 33–39). The two available references from this work are recorded by his opponent Athanasius: the first is a report of Arius's teaching in Orations Against the Arians, 1:5-6. This paraphrase has negative comments interspersed throughout, so it is difficult to consider it as being completely reliable.
The second quotation is found on page 15 of the document On the Councils of Arminum and Seleucia, also known as De Synodis. This second passage is entirely in irregular verse, and seems to be a direct quotation or a compilation of quotations; it may have been written by someone other than Athanasius, perhaps even a person sympathetic to Arius. This second quotation does not contain several statements usually attributed to Arius by his opponents, is in metrical form, and resembles other passages that have been attributed to Arius. It also contains some positive statements about the Son. But although these quotations seem reasonably accurate, their proper context is lost, so their place in Arius's larger system of thought is impossible to reconstruct.
The part of Arius's Thalia quoted in Athanasius's De Synodis is the longest extant fragment. The most commonly cited edition of De Synodis is by Hans-Georg Opitz. A translation of this fragment has been made by Aaron J. West, but based not on Opitz' text but on a previous edition: "When compared to Opitz' more recent edition of the text, we found that our text varies only in punctuation, capitalization, and one variant reading (χρόνῳ for χρόνοις, line 5)." The Opitz edition with the West translation is as follows:
Αὐτὸς γοῦν ὁ θεὸς καθό ἐστιν ἄρρητος ἅπασιν ὑπάρχει.
... And so God Himself, as he really is, is inexpressible to all.
A slightly different edition of the fragment of the Thalia from De Synodis is given by G.C. Stead, and served as the basis for a translation by R.P.C. Hanson. Stead argued that the Thalia was written in anapestic meter, and edited the fragment to show what it would look like in anapests with different line breaks. Hanson based his translation of this fragment directly on Stead's text.
In Spanish: Arrio para niños
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