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The Arians Of The Fourth Century - Blessed John Henry Newman

Arius first introduced the heresy into the Church

IT remains to give some account of the heretical doctrine, which was first promulgated within the Church by Arius. There have been attempts to impute this heresy to Catholic writers previous to his time; yet its contemporaries are express in their testimony that he was the author of it, nor can any thing be adduced from the Ante-Nicene theology to countenance the desired hypothesis. Sozomen expressly says, that Arius was the first to introduce into the Church the doctrine of the ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων, and the ἦν ποτὲ ὅτε οὐκ ἦν, the creation and non-eternity of the Son of God. Alexander and Athanasius, who had the amplest means of information on the subject, confirm his testimony. That the heresy existed before the time of Arius outside the Church, may be true; though little is known on the subject. Although the heresiarch does not venture to adduce in his favour, the evidence of former Catholics, he and his supporters nevertheless speak in a general way of having received their doctrines from others. Arius too, appears to be but a partizan of the Eusebians, and they in turn are referrible to an excommunicated body, the Lucianists of Antioch. But here we lose sight of the heresy; except that Origen assails a doctrine, whose we know not, which bears a resemblance to it; nay, if we may trust Ruffinus, which has adopted the very same heterodox formula which Sozomen declares that Arius was the first to preach within the Church.

Before detailing, however, in what his heresy consisted, it may be right briefly to confront it with such previous doctrines, in or out of the Church, as may be considered to bear a resemblance to it.

Arianism

The fundamental tenet of Arianism was, that the Son of God was a creature, or in the scientific language of the times, ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων, of a substance that once was not; hence the Arians were called, οἱ ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων, or the Exucontii. It followed, that He only possessed a super-angelic nature, being made at God’s good pleasure before the worlds, after the pattern of the attribute Logos or Wisdom, existing in the Divine Mind, gifted with the illumination of it, and in consequence called after it; the instrument of creation and revelation; and at length united to a human body, in the place of its soul, in the person of Jesus Christ.

Contrasted with the doctrine of the fiveFathers

1. This doctrine resembled that of the five philosophizing Fathers, described in the last section, so far as this; that it identified the Son with the λόγος προφορικός, spoke of the real Logos as if merely an attribute, and yet affected to maintain a connexion between the Logos and the Son. It differed from it, inasmuch as they believed, that He who was the Son had ever been in personal existence as the Logos in the Father’s bosom; whereas it dated His personal existence from the time of His manifestation.

With Eclecticism

2. It resembled the Eclectic theology, so far as to maintain the Son was by nature inferior to the Father; and, again, formed by the Father’s will. It differed from it, in considering the Son to have a beginning of existence, whereas the Platonists held him to be an eternal emanation, and the Father’s will to be a concomitant, not an antecedent of His γέννησις.

With the Oriental Theology

3. It agreed with Gnostics and Manichees, in maintaining the Son’s essential inferiority to the Father. It vehemently opposed them, in their material notions of the Deity.

With Paulianism

4. It agreed with the Paulianists, in considering the Intelligent Principle in Christ to be a mere creature, by nature subject to a moral probation, as other men, and exalted on the ground of his obedience; and gifted, moreover, with a heavenly wisdom called the Logos, which guided Him. The two heresies also agreed, as the last words imply, in considering the Logos an attribute or manifestation, not a Person. Paulus considered it as if a voice or sound, which comes and goes; so that God may be said to have spoken in Christ. Arius makes use of the same illustration. “Πολλοὺς λόγους λαλεῖ ὁ Θεός,” he says, “which of them is manifested in the flesh?” He differs from Paulus, in holding the pre-existence of the spiritual intelligence in Christ, which he considers to be the first and only created by the Father, and the instrument of all subsequent creation, and other divine operations.

With Sabellianism

5. Arianism agreed with the heresy of Sabellius, in considering God to exist only in one Person, and His Logos to be but an attribute, manifested in the Son, who was a creature. It differed from it, as regards the sense in which it believed the Logos to be in Christ. The Sabellian, lately a Patripassian, at least insisted much upon the abiding presence of the Logos in Him. The Arian, but partially admitting the influence of the real Logos on His pre-existing soul, transferred the name to that soul itself, and maintained that the incarnate Logos was not the true Wisdom of God, which was one with Him, but a created semblance of it.

With orthodoxy

Such is Arianism in its relations to the principal errors of its time; and of these it was most opposed to the Valentinian and Sabellian, which, as we shall see, it did not scruple to impute to its Catholic adversaries. Towards the Catholics, on the other hand, it stood thus:—it was willing to ascribe to the Son all that is commonly attributed to Almighty God, His name, authority, and power; all but the incommunicable nature, or οὐσία; i. e. all but that which alone could give Him a right to these titles of honour in a real and literal sense:—Now, to turn to the arguments, by which the heresy defended itself, or rather attacked the Church.

Argument of Arius from the word Son, as implying a beginning

Arius commenced his heresy thus, as Socrates informs us. “(1) If the Father begat the Son, He who was begotten has a beginning of existence (ἀρχὴν ὑπάρξεως); (2) therefore once the Son did not exist (ἦν ὅτε οὐκ ἦν); (3) therefore He is formed from what once was not (ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων ἔχει τὴν ὑπόστασιν).” It appears, then, that he inferred his doctrine from the very meaning of the word Son, which is the scriptural designation of our Lord; and so far he adopted a fair and unexceptionable mode of reasoning. Human relations, though the merest shadows of “heavenly things,” yet would not of course be employed by Divine Wisdom without fitness, nor unless with the intention of instructing us. But what should be the exact instruction derived by us from the word Son is another question. The Catholics, (not to speak of their guidance from tradition in determining it,) had taken it in its most obvious meaning; as interpreted moreover by the word μονογενής, and as confirmed by the general tenor of revelation. But the Arians selected as the sense of the figure that part of the original import of the word, which, though undeniably included in it when referred to us, is at best what logicians call a proprium, deduced from the essence, not a part of the essence, and was peculiarly out of place, when the word was used to express a sacred doctrine. That a Father is prior to his Son, is not suggested, though it be implied by the force of the terms, as ordinarily used; and it is an inference altogether irrelevant, when the inquiry has reference to that Being, from the notion of whom time as well as space is necessarily excluded. It is fair, indeed, to object at the outset to the word Father being applied at all in its primary sense to the Supreme Being; but this was not the Arian ground, which was to argue from, not against, the metaphor employed. Nor was even this the extent of perverseness which their argument evidences. Let it be observed, that they admitted the primary sense of the word, in order to introduce a mere secondary sense; contending, that because our Lord was to be considered really as a Son, therefore in fact He was no Son at all. In the first proposition Arius assumes that He is really a Son, and argues as if He were; in the third, he has arrived at the conclusion that He is created, i. e. no Son at all, except in a secondary sense, as having received from the Father a sort of adoption. An attempt was made by the Arians to smooth over their inconsistency, by bringing passages from Scripture, in which the works of God are spoken of as births; as in the instance from Job, “He giveth birth to the drops of dew.” But this is obviously an entirely new mode of defending the theory of adoption, and does not relieve their original offence; which consisted in their arguing from an assumed analogy, which the result of their own argument destroyed. For, if He be the Son of God no otherwise than we are, i. e. by adoption, what becomes of the argument from the anterior and posterior in existence? as if the notion of adoption contained in it any necessary reference to the nature and circumstances of the two parties between whom it takes place.

Argument from the θέλησις of the Father

Accordingly, the Arians were soon obliged to betake themselves to a more refined argument. They dropped the mention of time, and withdrew the inference concerning it which they had drawn from the literal sense of the word Son. Instead of this, they maintained that the relation of Father and Son, as such, in whatever sense employed, could not but imply the notion of voluntary originator, and on the other hand, of a free gift conferred; or that the Son must be essentially inferior to Him, from whose θέλησις, or will, His existence resulted. Their argument was conveyed in the form of a dilemma: “utrum volens an nolens Pater genuerit Filium?” The Catholics wisely answered them by a counter-inquiry, which was adapted to silence, without indulging the presumptuous disputant. Gregory of Nazianzen asked them, whether the Father is God, “volens an nolens,” willingly or unwillingly; and Cyril of Alexandria, “whether God is good, compassionate, merciful, and holy, with or against His choice? For if He is so in consequence of choosing it, and choice ever precedes what is chosen, ἧν χρόνος ὅτε οὐκ ἧν ταῦτα θεός, these attributes once did not exist.”—Athanasius gives substantially the same answer, solving, however, rather than confuting, the objection. “The Arians,” he says, “direct their view to the contrary to willing, instead of considering what is the prior and more fundamental. For as unwillingness is opposed to willing, so nature is that which it depends on and follows.”

Argument from the ἀγέννητον

Further:—the Arians attempted to draw their conclusion of the dissimilarity of the Father and Son from the ἀγέννητον, which was acknowledged on all sides to be the peculiar attribute of the Father, while it had been the philosophical as well as Valentinian appellation of the supreme God. This was the chief resource of the Anomœans, who revived the pure Arian heresy, some years after the death of its first author. Their argument has been expressed in the following form; that “the essence of the Father is ἀγέννητον, that of the Son γεννητόν; but ἀγέννητον and γεννητόν cannot be the same.” The shallowness, as well as the miserable trifling of such disputations on a serious subject, renders them unworthy a refutation.

Argument from the materiality of the word Son literally taken

Moreover, they argued against the Catholic sense of the word Son, from what they conceived to be its materiality; and unwarrantably contrasting its primary with its figurative signification, as if both could not be preserved, they contended that, since the word must be figurative, that therefore it could not retain its primary sense, i. e. must be taken in the secondary sense of adoption.

Inferences from these arguments

The reasonings of the Arians, so to call them, had now conducted them thus far; to maintain that our Lord was a creature, advanced, after creation, to be a son of God. They did not shrink from the inference which these positions implied, viz. that he was tried as other moral agents, and adopted on being found worthy; that his holiness was not essential, but acquired.

Evasions of the Arians

It was next incumbent on them to explain in what sense our Lord was the μονογενής, since they refused to understand that word according to the Catholic comment of the ὁμοούσιον. Accordingly, they pronounced the γέννησις to be a kind of creation; and then they at once proceeded to hide the offensiveness of this dogma by the variety and dignity of the titles, by which they distinguished the Son from other creatures. They declared that He was, strictly speaking, the only creature of God, as alone made immediately by Him; and hence called μονογενὴς, as γεννηθεὶς μόνος παρὰ μόνου; whereas all others were created through Him, as the instrument of Divine Power; and that in consequence, He was κτίσμα, ἀλλʼ οὐχ ὡς ἓν τῶν κτισμάτων• γέννημα, ἀλλʼ οὐχ ὡς ἓν τῶν γεγεννημένων; or, to express it with something of the ambiguity of the Greek, that He was not a creature like other creatures. Another ambiguity of expression followed. The idea of time depending on that of creation, they were able to grant, that He, who was employed in forming the worlds, therefore existed before all time, πρὸ χρόνων καὶ αἰώνων, not granting thereby that He was from everlasting, but that He was brought into existence, ἀχρόνως, independent of that succession of second causes, (as they are called,) that elementary system, seemingly self-sustained, and self-renovating, to the laws of which creation itself may be considered as subjected.

Pretended Concessions

Nor lastly, bad they any difficulty either in allowing or explaining away the other attributes of Divinity ascribed to Christ in Scripture. They night safely confess Him to be perfect God, one with God, adorable, the author of good; still with the reserve, that sacred appellations belonged to Him only in the same general sense in which they are sometimes accidentally bestowed on the faithful servants of God, and without interfering with the prerogatives of the one eternal, self-existing Cause of all things.

Documents of the controversy

This account of the Arian system may suitably be illustrated by some of the original documents of the controversy. Here, then, shall follow two letters of Arius himself, an extract from his Thalia, a letter of Eusebius of Nicomedia, and parts of the circular epistles of Alexander of Alexandria, in justification of his excommunicating Arius and his followers.

Letter from Arius to Eusebius

1. “To his most esteemed superior, Eusebius, a man of God, faithful and orthodox, Arius, unjustly persecuted by Alexander for the all-conquering truth’s sake, of which thou too art a champion, sends health in the Lord! As Ammonius, my father, was going to Nicomedia, it seemed becoming to address thee through him; and withal to urge upon that deep-seated affection which thou bearest towards the brethren for the sake of God and His Christ, how fiercely the bishop besets and pursues us, leaving no means untried in his opposition. At length he has driven us out of the city [Alexandria] as impious men, (ἀθέους,) merely for dissenting from his public declarations, that ‘as God is eternal, so is His Son;—when the Father, then the Son;—the Son is present in God without a birth (ἀγεννήτως), ever-begotten (ἀειγενής), an unbegotten-begotten (ἀγεννητογενής);—neither in thought, nor by an instant of time, is God anterior to the Son;—an eternal God, an eternal Son;—the Son is from God Himself (ἐξ αὐτοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ). Since, then, Eusebius, thy brother of Cæsarea, Theodotus, Paulinus, &c.… say that the unoriginated God exists before the Son, they are (thus) become excommunicate by Alexander’s sentence; all but Philogonius, Hellanicus, and Macarius, heretical, ill-grounded men, who say that He is the offspring or issue without birth (οἱ μὲν ἐρυγὴν, οἱ δὲ προβολὴν ἀγέννητον). These blasphemies we cannot bear to hear even, no, not if the heretics should threaten us with ten thousand deaths. What, on the other hand, are our statements and opinions, our past and present teaching? that the Son is not unoriginate (ἀγέννητος); nor any how a part of the Unoriginate (μέρος ἀγεννήτου); nor made of any previously existing substance (ἐξ ὑποκειμένου τινός); but that, by the will and purpose of God, He was in being before time (πρὸ χρόνων καὶ πρὸ αἰώνων), perfect God, the only-begotten (πλήρης θεὸς μονογενής), unchangeable; and that before this generation, or creation, or appointment, or constitution, [these words are selected by Arius as being found in Scripture,] He was not (πρὶν γεννηθῇ, ἤτοι … κ.τ.λ.… οὐκ ἦν), inasmuch as He did not exist without birth (ἀγέννητος). And we are persecuted for saying, The Son has an origin (i. e. beginning, ἀρχήν), but God is unoriginate (ἄναρχος); for this, we are under persecution, and for saying, that He is of a substance that once was not (ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων), inasmuch as He is not part of God (μέρος θεοῦ), nor of any previously existing substance. Therefore we are persecuted; the rest thou knowest. Be strong in the Lord, remembering our affliction, fellow-Lucianist, truly named Eusebius [the pious].”

Letter from Arius to Alexander

2. The second letter is written in the name of himself and his partizans of the Alexandrian Church; who, finding themselves excommunicated, had withdrawn to Asia, where they gained leave to propagate their opinions. It was composed under the direction of Eusebius of Nicomedia, and is far more temperate and cautious than the former. “To Alexander, our blessed Father and Bishop, the Priests and Deacons send health in the Lord. Our hereditary faith, which thou too, blessed Father, hast taught us, is this. We believe in one God, alone without birth, alone everlasting, alone unoriginate, alone truly God, alone immortal, alone wise, alone good, alone sovereign, alone judge of all, ordainer and dispenser, unchangeable, and unalterable, just and good, of the Law and the Prophets, and of the New Testament. We believe that this God gave birth to the only-begotten Son before eternal periods (πρὸ χρόνων αἰωνίων), through whom He hath made those periods themselves (αἰῶνας), and all things else;—that He gave birth to Him, not in semblance but in truth, giving Him a real existence (ὑποστήσαντα) at His own will, so as to be unchangeable and unalterable, God’s perfect creature, but not as other creatures (οὐχ ὡς ἓν τῶν κτισμάτων), His making (offspring) but not as if made (γέννημα, ἀλλʼ οὐχ ὡς ἓν τῶν γεγεννημένων); not as Valentinus maintained, a development (προβολήν), nor again as Manichæus, a consubstantial part (μέρος ὁμοούσιον), nor as Sabellius, Son and Father at once (υἱοπάτορα εἶπεν), which is to make two out of one, nor as Hieracas, [the Manichee,] a light from light, or torch divided in two; nor, as if He was previously in being and afterwards begotten, (i. e. created again to be a Son,) a notion condemned by thyself, blessed Father, in full Church and among the assembled clergy; but, as we affirm, created by the will of God before times and before periods, and having life and existence from the Father, who at the same time gave Him to share His own glorious perfections (τάς δόξας συνυποστήσαντας αὐτῷ). For, when the Father gave to Him the inheritance of all things, He did not thereby deprive Himself of attributes which are His without origination (ἀγεννήτως), being the source (πηγή) of all things.

“So there are three Persons (ὑποστάσεις); and whereas God is the cause (αἴτιος) of all things, and therefore unoriginate, and altogether separate from all, the Son on the other hand, begotten by the Father time-apart (ἀχρόνως γεννηθείς), and created and set forth before all periods, did not exist before He was begotten, but being begotten by the Father time-apart, was brought into being (ὑπέστη), the one production of the one Father. For He is not eternal, or co-eternal, or co-unbegotten with the Father; nor hath an existence collateral with the Father (ἅμα τῷ πατρὶ τὸ εἶναι ἔχει), as if there were two unbegotten principles (ἀρχάς); but God is before all things, as being individual (μονάς) and the principle of all;—and therefore before Christ also; as indeed we have learned from thee, in thy public preaching. Inasmuch then as He hath His being (τὸ εἶναι) from God, and His glorious perfections, and His life, and is intrusted with all things, for this reason God has sovereignty over Him (ἀρχὴ αὐτοῦ), as being His God and before Him. As to such phrases as ‘from Him’ (ἐξ αὐτοῦ), and ‘from the womb,’ (Ps. 110:3.) and ‘issued forth from the Father, and am come,’ (John 16:28.) if they be understood, as they are by some, to denote a part of one and the same substance (μέρος τοῦ ὁμοουσίου), and a development (προβολή), then the Father will be of a compound nature (σύνθετος), and divisible, and changeable, and corporeal; and thus, as far as their words go, the incorporeal God will be subjected to the properties of matter. I pray for thy health in the Lord, blessed Father.”

Arius’s Thalia

3. About the same time Arius wrote his Thalia, or song for banquets and merry-makings, from which the following is extracted. He begins thus: “According to the faith of God’s elect, who know God, holy children, sound in their creed, gifted with the Holy Spirit of God, I have received these things from the partakers of wisdom, accomplished, taught of God, and altogether wise. Along their track I have pursued my course with like opinions, I the famous among men, the much-sufferer for God’s glory; and, taught of God, I have gained wisdom and knowledge.” After this exordium, he proceeds to declare, “that God made the Son the origin or beginning of creation (ἀρχήν), being Himself unoriginate, and adopted Him to be His Son; who on the other hand has no character of divinity in His Own Person (ἴδιον οὐδὲν τοῦ θεοῦ καθʼ ὑπόστασιν ἰδιότητος), not being equal, nor consubstantial (ὁμοούσιος) with Him; that God is invisible, not only to the creatures created through the Son, but to the Son Himself; that there is a Trinity, but not with an equal glory; the Persons being separate from each other (ἀνεπίμικτοι),One infinitely more glorious than the Other [this is in opposition to the περιχώρησις]; that the Father is different in substance from the Son (ξένος κατʼ οὐσίαν), as existing unoriginate; that by God’s will the Son became Wisdom, Power, the Spirit, the Truth, the Word, the Glory, and the Image of God; that the Father, as being Almighty, is able to give existence to a Being equal to the Son, though not superior to Him; that from the time He was made, being a mighty God, He has celebrated (ὑμνεῖ) the Greater; that He cannot investigate (ἐξιχνιάσαι) His Father’s nature, it being plain that the originated cannot comprehend the Unoriginate; nay, that He does not know His own, nor understand any thing with that true knowledge which God possesses.”

Letter from Eusebius to Paulinus

4. On the receipt of the letter from Arius, which was the first document here exhibited, Eusebius of Nicomedia, addressed a letter to Paulinus of Tyre, of which the following is an extract. “We have neither heard of two unoriginated principles (ἀγέννητα), nor of one divided into two, subjected to any material process; but of one Unoriginate (ἀγέννητον), and one originated (γεγονός) by Him really; not from His substance (οὐσίας), but altogether foreign to the nature of the Unoriginate, totally different (ἕτερον) in nature and in power, though made after the perfect likeness of the character and excellence of His Maker … But if He was of Him in the sense of ‘from Him,’ as if a part of Him, or of the effluence of His substance (ἐξ ἀπόρροιας τῆς οὐσίας), He would not be spoken of (in Scripture) as created, or set forth;.… for what exists as belonging to the Unoriginate (ἐκ τοῦ ἀγεννήτου ὑπάρχον), cannot be considered as created or set forth, whether by another or by the Unoriginate Himself, as being from the first of a nature which had no beginning … Nothing is of His substance; but all things are made at His will.”

Letters of Alexander

5. Alexander, in his public accusation of Arius and his party, writes thus. “They say that there was a time when the Son of God was not (ἧν ποτὲ ὅτε οὐκ ἧν), and that He who before had no existence was at length made, such as any other man is by nature. Numbering the Son of God among created things, they are but consistent in adding that he is of an alterable nature, capable of virtue and vice.… When it is urged on them that the Saviour differs from others called sons of God, by the unchangeableness of His nature, throwing off all reverence, they say, that God, foreknowing and foreseeing His obedience, chose Him out of all creatures; chose Him, I say, not as if possessing aught by nature and right above the others, (since, as they say, there is no Son of God by nature,) nor bearing any peculiar relation towards God; but as being of an alterable nature, preserved from falling by the pursuit and exercise of virtuous conduct, so that if Paul or Peter had made such strenuous progress, they would have gained a sonship equal to His.” In another letter, which was a circular addressed to the Christian Churches, he says, “It is their doctrine that ‘God was not always a Father, that the Word of God has not always existed, but was made of created substance (ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων); for the ever-existing God made Him who once was not, out of a substance which once was not (ὁ ὢ θεὸς τὸν μὴ ὄντα ἐκ τοῦ μὴ ὄντος πεποίηκε.).… He is neither like the Father in substance (ὅμοιος κατʼ οὐσίαν), nor is He the true and innate Logos of the Father, nor His true wisdom; but one of His works and creatures; and by a strong figure (καταχρηστικῶς) the Word and Wisdom; inasmuch as He Himself was made by the real Logos of God, and that Wisdom which is in God, by which God made all things, and Him in the number. Hence He is foreign and external to the Divine substance (οὐσίας), being separated off from it. He was made for our sakes, in order that God might create us by Him as by an instrument, and He would not have had being, had not God willed our making. Some one asked them, if the Word of God could fall as the devil fell? they scrupled not to answer, ‘Certainly He can.’ ”

More than enough has now been said in explanation of a controversy, the very sound of which will ever be painful to a Christian mind. Yet so it has been ordered, that He who was once lifted up to the gaze of the world, and hid not His face from the shame of derision and contumely, has again been subjected to rude and impious scrutiny in the promulgation of His religion to the world. And His true followers have been themselves obliged to raise and fix their eyes on Him, as if He were one of themselves, dismissing the reverence which would keep them ever at His feet. The subject may be dismissed with the following remarks.

Unscriptural character of the Arian arguments

1. First, it is obvious to notice the unscriptural character of the arguments on which the heresy was founded. It is true, that the Arians did not neglect to support their case from such detached portions of the inspired volume, as suited their purpose; but still it never can be said that they showed that earnest desire of sacred truth, and careful search into its documents, which alone marks the Christian inquirer. The question is not merely whether they confined themselves to the language of Scripture, but whether they began with the study of it. Doubtless to forbid in controversy the use of all words but those which actually occur in Scripture, is a superstition, an encroachment on Christian liberty, and an impediment to freedom of thought; and especially unreasonable, considering that a traditionary system of theology, consistent with, but independent of Scripture, has existed in the Church from the Apostolic age. “Why shouldest thou be in that excessive slavery to the letter,” says Nazianzen, “and yield to a Judaical wisdom, poring over syllables, while letting slip realities? Suppose, on thy saying twice five, or twice seven, I were to understand thence ten or fourteen; or if I spoke of a man, when thou hadst named an animal rational and mortal, should I in that case appear to thee to trifle? how could I so appear, in merely expressing your own meaning?” But, inasmuch as this liberty was an evangelical privilege which might be allowed to the Arian disputants, on the other hand it was a dangerous privilege also, ever to be subjected to a profound respect for the sacred text, a cautious adherence to the whole of the doctrine therein contained, and a regard also for those received statements, which, though not given to us as inspired, probably are derived from inspired teachers. Now the most liberal admission which can be made in behalf of the Arians, is, to grant that they did not altogether throw aside in controversy the authority of Scripture; i. e. proclaim themselves unbelievers; for it is evident that they took only just so much of it, as would afford them a basis for erecting their system of heresy by an abstract logical process. The mere words, Father and Son, γέννησις, &c. were all they wanted of revealed authority; they professed to do all the rest for themselves. The meaning of these terms in their context, the illustration which they afford to each other, and, much more, the Divine doctrine considered as one undivided message, variously exhibited and dispersed in the various parts of Scripture, were excluded from the consideration of controversialists, who thought that truth was gained by disputing instead of investigating.

Their assumption of the absence of mystery in theology

2. Next, it will be observed, that throughout their discussions they assumed as an axiom that there could be no mystery in the Scripture doctrines respecting the nature of God. In this, indeed, they did but follow the example of the contemporary spurious theologies; though their abstract mode of reasoning from the mere force of one or two Scripture terms, necessarily forced them more than others into the use and avowal of it. The Sabellian, to avoid mystery, denied the distinction of Persons in the Divine Nature. Paulus, and afterwards Apollinaris, for the same reason, denied the existence of two Intelligent Principles at once, the Word and the human Soul, in the Person of Christ. The Arians adopted both errors. Yet what is a mystery in doctrine, but a difficulty or inconsistency in the intellectual expression of it? and what reason is there for supposing that revelation addresses itself to the intellect, except so far as it is necessary for conveying and fixing its truths on the heart? Why are we not content to take and use what is given us, without asking questions? The Catholics, on the other hand, pursued the intellectual investigation of the doctrine, under the guidance of Scripture and Tradition, merely as far as some immediate necessity called for it; and cared little though one mode of expression seemed inconsistent with another. E. g. they developed the notion of οὐσία against the Pantheists, of the ἐνυπόστατος λόγος against the Sabellians, of the ἐνδιάθετος against heathen Polytheism and the Emanatists; still, they did not use these for more than shadows of sacred truth, symbols witnessing against the speculations into which the unbridled intellect fell. Accordingly, they were for a time inconsistent with each other in the minor particulars of their doctrinal statements, being far more bent on opposing error, than forming a theology;—inconsistent, i. e. before the experience of controversy, and the voice of Tradition, had detached them from less accurate or advisable expressions, and made them concede, or at least compare and adjust their several declarations. Thus, some said that there was but one ὑπόστασις (substance) in the Godhead; others three ὑποστάσεις (substances or persons), and one οὐσία (substance); others spoke of more than one οὐσία. Some allowed, some rejected, the terms προβολὴ and ὁμοούσιον, according as they were guided by the prevailing heresy of the day, and their own judgment concerning the mode of meeting it. Some spoke of the Son as existing from everlasting in the Divine Mind; others implied that the Logos was everlasting, and became the Son in time. Some asserted His ἄναρχον, others denied it. Some, when interrogated by heretics, taught that He was begotten by the Father, θελήσει; others, φύσει καὶ μὴ ἐκ βουλήσεως; others, οὔτε θέλοντος τοῦ πατρὸς οὔτε μὴ θέλοντος, ἀλλὰ ἐν τῇ ὑπὲρ βουλὴν φύσει; Others spoke of a σύνδρομος θέλησις. Some declare that God is ἀριθμῷ τρεῖς; others, numerically one; while to others it might appear more philosophical to exclude the idea of number altogether, in the discussion of that Mysterious Nature, which is beyond comparison, whether viewed as One or Three, and neither falls under nor forms any conceivable species.

Their consequent misrepresentation of the catholic doctrine

In all such various statements, the object is clear and unexceptionable, being merely that of protesting and practically guarding against dangerous deductions from the Scripture doctrine; and the problem implied in all of them is, to determine how this end may best be effected. There are no signs of an intellectual curiosity in the tenor of these Catholic expositions, prying into things not seen as yet; nor of an ambition to account for the representations of the truth given us in the sacred writings. But such a temper is the very characteristic of the Arian disputants. They insisted on taking the terms of Scripture and the Church for more than they signified, and expected their opponents to admit inferences altogether foreign from the theological sense in which they were really used. Hence they sometimes accused the orthodox of heresy, sometimes of inconsistency. To believe that the pre-existent Logos was the Son of God, was called Valentinianism; that the Son was the real Logos, was called Sabellianism. The Fathers of the Church have come down to us loaded with the imputation of the strangest errors, merely because they united truths which heresies but shared among themselves; nor have writers been wanting in modern times, from malevolence or carelessness, to aggravate these charges. The mystery of their Creed has been converted into an evidence of concurrent heresies. To believe in the actual Incarnation of the Eternal Wisdom, has been treated, not as orthodoxy, but as an Ariano-Sabellianism. Gregory of Neocæsarea was called a Sabellian, because he spoke of one substance in the Divine Nature; he was called a forerunner of Arius, because he said that Christ was a creature. Origen, so frequently accused of Arianism, seemed to be a Sabellian, when he said that the Son was the αὐτοαλήθεια Athenagoras is charged with Sabellianism by the very writer (Petau), whose general theory it is, that he was one of those Platonizing fathers who anticipated Arius. Alexander, who at the opening of the controversy was accused by Arius of Sabellianizing, has in these latter times been detected by the flippant Jortin to be an advocate of Semi-Arianism, which was the peculiar enemy and assailant of Sabellianism in all its forms. The celebrated word ὁμοούσιον has not escaped a similar contrariety of charges. Arius himself ascribes it to the Manichees; the Semi-Arians at Ancyra anathematize it as Sabellian. It is in the same spirit that Arius, in his letter to Alexander, scoffs at the ἀειγεννές and ἀγενητογενές, ascribed to the Son on the orthodox system; as if the inconsistency, which the full sense of the words involved, was a sufficient refutation of the doctrine really expressed by them.

The Catholics explain

The Catholics sustained these charges with a prudence, which has, (humanly speaking), secured the success of their cause; though it has availed little to remove the calumnies heaped upon themselves. The great Dionysius, who has himself been defamed by the “accuser of the brethren,” declares perspicuously the principle of the orthodox teaching. “The particular expressions which I have used,” he says, in his defence, “must not be taken separate from each other … whereas my opponents have separated two insignificant words from the context, and sling them at me from a distance; not understanding, that, in the case of subjects partially known, illustrations foreign to them in nature, nay, inconsistent with each other, aid the discussion.”

Guard their statements, and are accused of Materialism

However, the Catholics found themselves under the necessity of removing, as far as they could, their own verbal inconsistencies, and of sanctioning one form of expression above the rest. Hence distinctions, e. g. were made between the use of ἀγένητος and ἀγέννητος, ἀρχὴ and αἴτιον, as already noticed. But these, clear and intelligible as they were in themselves, and valuable, both as facilitating the argument and disabusing the perplexed inquirer, opened to the heretical party the opportunity of a new misrepresentation. Whenever the orthodox writers showed an anxiety to reconcile and discriminate their own expressions, the charge of Manicheeism was urged against them; as if to dwell upon, were to rest in the material images which were the signs of the unknown truths. E. g. the phrase, “Light of Light,” the orthodox and almost apostolic emblem of the derivation of the Son from the Father, as symbolizing Their inseparability, mutual relation, and the separate fulness and exact parallelism of Their perfections, was interpreted by the gross conceptions of the Manichæan Hieracas.

Arians adopt a figurative interpretation

3. When in answer to such objections the Catholics denied that they attached other than a figurative meaning to their words, their opponents suddenly turned round, and professed the figurative meaning of the terms to be that which they themselves advocated. This inconsistency in their mode of conducting the argument deserves notice. It has already been instanced in the original argument of Anus, who maintained, that, since the word Son in its literal sense included among other ideas that of a beginning, the Son of God had had a beginning or was created, and therefore was not really a Son of God at all. It was on account of such unscrupulous dexterity in the controversy, that Alexander and Athanasius give them the title of chameleons. “They are as variable and uncertain in their opinions, (says the latter,) as chameleons in their colour. When refuted, they look confused, and when examined they are perplexed; however, at length they recover their assurance, and bring forward some evasion. Then, if this in turn is exposed, they do not rest till they have devised some new absurdity, and, as Scripture says, meditate vain things, so that they may obtain the privilege of being profane. Thus the Jews first asked a sign from Christ; next attributed His miracles to Beelzebub.”

Their interpretation of γέννησις by creation

Let us, however, pursue the Arians on their new ground of allegory. It has been already observed, that they explained the word μονογενὴς in the sense of μονοκτιστός; and considered the oneness of the Father and Son to consist in an unity of character and will, such as exists between God and His Saints, not in nature.

Implies a base temper of mind

Now, surely, the temper of mind, which had recourse to such a comparison between Christ and us, to defend a heresy, was still more odious, if possible, than the original impiety of the heresy itself. Thus, the honours graciously bestowed upon human nature, as well as the condescending self-abasement of our Lord, were made to subserve the cause of the blasphemer. It is a known peculiarity of the message of mercy, that it views the Church of Christ as if clothed with, or hidden within, the glory of Him who ransomed it; so that there is no name or title belonging to Him literally, which is not in a secondary sense applied to the reconciled penitent. As our Lord is the Priest and King of His redeemed, they, as members of Him, are accounted kings and priests also. They are said to be Christs, or the anointed, to partake of the Divine nature, to be the well-beloved of God, His sons, one with Him, and heirs of glory; in order to express the fulness and the transcendant excellence of the blessings gained to the saints by Christ. In all these forms of speech, no religious mind runs the risk of confusing its own privileges with the real prerogatives of Him who gave them; yet it is obviously difficult in argument to discriminate between the primary and secondary use of the words, and to elicit and exhibit the delicate reasons lying in the context of Scripture for conclusions, which the common sense of a Christian is impatient as well as shocked to hear disputed. Who would so trifle with words, to take a parallel case, as to argue that, because Christians are said by St. John to “know all things,” that therefore God is not omniscient in a sense infinitely above man’s highest intelligence?

And a shallow philosophy

It may be observed, moreover, that the Arians were inconsistent in their application of the allegorical rule, by which they attempted to interpret Scripture; and showed as great deficiency in their philosophical conceptions of God, as in their practical devotion to Him. They seem to have fancied that some of His acts were more comprehensible than others, and might accordingly be made the basis on which the rest might be interpreted. They referred the γέννησις to the notion of creation; but creation is in fact as mysterious as the divine γέννησις; i. e. we are as little able to understand our own words, when we speak of the world’s being called into being at God’s word, as when we confess that His Eternal Perfections are reiterated, without being doubled, in the Person of His Son. “How is it,” asks Athanasius, “that the impious men dare to speak flippantly on subjects too sacred to approach, mortals as they are, and incapable of explaining even God’s works upon earth? Why do I say, His earthly works? let them treat of themselves, if so be they can investigate their own nature; yet venturous and self-confident, they tremble not before the glory of God, which angels desire reverently to inspect, though in nature and rank far more excellent than they.” Accordingly he argues that nothing is gained by resolving one of the Divine operations into another; that to make when attributed to God is essentially distinct from the same act when ascribed to man, as incomprehensible as the Divine γέννησις; and consequently that it is our highest wisdom to take the truths of Scripture as we find them there, and use them for the purposes for which they are vouchsafed, without attempting accurately to systematize or to explain away. Far from elucidating, we are evidently enfeebling the revealed doctrine, by substituting μονοκτιστὸν for μονογενές; for if the words are synonymous, why should the latter be insisted on in Scripture? Accordingly, it is proper to make a distinction between the primary and the literal meaning of a term. All the terms which human language applies to the Supreme Being, may perhaps be more or less figurative; but their primary and secondary meaning may still remain as distinct, as when they are referred to earthly objects. We need not give up the primary meaning of the word Son as opposed to the sense of adoption, because we forbear to use it in its literal and material sense.

Arian reasonings tend to polytheism

4. This being the general character of the Arian reasonings, it is natural to inquire what was the object towards which they tended. Now it will be found, that this audacious and elaborate sophistry could not escape one of two conclusions;—either the establishment of a sort of polytheism, or, as the more practical alternative, that of the mere humanity of Christ; i. e. either the superstition of paganism, or the virtual atheism of philosophy. If the professions of the Arians are to be believed, they confessed our Lord to be God, πληρὴς θεός, yet at the same time to be infinitely distant from the perfections of the One Eternal Cause. Here at once a ditheism is acknowledged; but Athanasius pushes on the admission to that of an unlimited polytheism. “If,” he says, “the Son were an object of worship for His transcendant glory, then every subordinate being is bound to worship his superior.”

Or to Humanitarianism

But so repulsive is the notion of a secondary God both to reason, and much more to Christianity, that the real tendency of Arianism lay towards the sole remaining alternative, the humanitarian scheme.—Its essential agreement with Samosatenism has already been incidentally shown; it differed from it only when the pressure of controversy required it. Its history is the proof of this. It started with a boldness not inferior to that of Paulus; but as soon as it was attacked, it suddenly coiled itself into a defensive posture, and plunged amid the thickets of verbal controversy. At first it had not scrupled to admit the peccable nature of the Son; but it soon learned to disguise such consequences of its doctrine, and avowed that, in matter of fact, He was indefectible. Next it borrowed the language of Platonism, which, without committing it to any real renunciation of its former declarations, admitted of the dress of a high and almost enthusiastic piety. Then it professed an entire agreement with the Catholics, except as to the adoption of the single word ὁμοούσιος, which they urged upon it, and concerning which, it affected to entertain conscientious scruples. At this time, it was ready to confess that our Lord was the true God, God of God, born ἀχρόνως, or before all time, and not a creature as other creatures, but peculiarly the Offspring of God, and His accurate Image. Afterwards, changing its ground, it protested against non-scriptural expressions, of which itself had been the chief inventor; and proposed an union of all opinions, on the comprehensive basis of a creed, in which the Son should be merely declared to be κατὰ πάντα ὅμοιος, or simply ὅμοιος τῷ πατρί. This versatility of profession is an illustration of the character given of the Arians by Athanasius, some pages back, which is further exemplified in their conduct at the Council in which they were condemned; but it is here adduced to show the danger to which the Church was exposed from a party who had no fixed tenet, except that of opposition to the true notion of Christ’s divinity; and whose teaching, accordingly, had no firm footing of internal consistency to rest upon, till it descended to the notion of His simple humanity; to the doctrine, that is, of Artemas and Paulus, the forerunners of Arius, though they too, as well as he, had enveloped their impieties in such admissions and professions, as assimilated it more or less in appearance to the faith of the Catholic Church.

Conduct of the Arians At Nicæa

The conduct of the Arians at Nicæa, as referred to, was as follows. “When the Bishops in council assembled,” says Athanasius, an eye-witness, “were desirous of ridding the Church of the impious expressions invented by Arius, τὸ ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων, τὸ κτίσμα λέγειν τὸν υἱόν, τὸ ἦν ποτὲ ὅτε οὐκ ἦν, ὅτι τρεπτῆς ἐστὶ φύσεως, and perpetuating those which we receive on the authority of Scripture, that the Son is ἐκ θεοῦ φύσει μονογενής, the Word, Power, the sole Wisdom of the Father, very God, as the Apostle John says, and as Paul, the Radiance of His glory, and the express Image of His Person; the Eusebians, influenced by their own heterodoxy, said one to another, ‘Let us agree to this; for we too are ἐκ θεοῦ, there being one God, of whom are all things’.… The Bishops, however, discerning their cunning, and the artifice adopted by their impiety, in order to express more clearly the ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ, wrote down ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας τοῦ θεοῦ, of the substance of God; creatures being spoken of as ἐκ τοῦ θσεοῦ, as not existing of themselves without cause, but having a beginning of production; but the Son being peculiarly ἐκ τῆς τοῦ πατρὸς οὐσίας … Again, on the Bishops asking the few advocates of Arianism present, whether they allowed the Son to be, not a creature, but the sole Power, Wisdom, and Image of the Father, eternal, and in all respects like the Father (ἀπαράλλακτον), and very God, the Eusebians were detected making signs to each other, to express that this also fell in with their sentiments. ‘For we too,’ they said, ‘are called in Scripture the image and glory of God; we are eternal … There are many powers, God being the Lord of them. Nay, that we are the real sons of God, is proved expressly from the text, in which the Son calls us brethren. Nor should their assertion, that He is the very (true) God, distress us; for inasmuch as He was made true, He is true.’ This was the abandoned meaning of the Arians. But here too the Bishops seeing through their deceit, brought together from Scripture, the radiance, source and stream, express Image of Person, ‘In Thy light we shall see light,’ ‘I and the Father are one,’ and last of all, expressed themselves more clearly and concisely in the phrase ὁμοούσιον εἶναι τῷ πατρὶ τὸν υἱόν; for all that was beforesaid has this meaning. As to their complaint about non-scriptural phrases, they themselves refute it. It was they who began with their impious expressions, τὸ ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων, and τὸ ἦν ποτὲ ὅτε οὗκ ἦν, which are not Scripture; and now they make it a charge, that they are detected by means of non-scriptural terms, which have been reverently adopted.” The last remark is important; even those traditional statements of the Catholic doctrine, which were more explicit than Scripture, had not taken the shape of formulæ. It was the Arian defined propositions of the ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων, and the like, which called for the imposition of the ὁμοούσιον.

Conduct of the Catholics towards them

It has sometimes been said, that the Catholics anxiously searched for some offensive test, which might operate to the exclusion of the Arians. This is not correct, inasmuch as they have no need to search; the ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας having been openly denied by the Arians, five years before the Council, and no practical distinction between it and the ὁμοούσιον existing, till the era of Basil and his Semi-Arians. Yet, had it been necessary, doubtless it would have been their duty to seek for a test of this nature; nay, to urge upon the heretical teachers the plain consequences of their doctrine, and to drive them into the adoption of them. These consequences are certain of being elicited in the long run; and it is but equitable to anticipate them in the persons of the heresiarchs, rather than to suffer them gradually to unfold and spread far and wide after their day, sapping the faith of their deluded and less guilty followers. Many a man would be deterred from outstepping the truth, could he see the end of his course from the beginning. The Arians felt this, and therefore resisted a detection, which would at once expose them to the condemnation of all serious men. In this lies the difference between the treatment due to an individual in error, and to one who is confident enough to publish his innovations. The former claims from us the most affectionate sympathy, and the most considerate attention. The latter should meet with no mercy; he assumes the office of the Tempter, and, so far forth as his error goes, must be dealt with by the competent authority, as if he were embodied Evil. To spare him is a false and dangerous pity. It is to endanger the souls of thousands, and it is uncharitable towards himself.








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