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The Arians Of The Fourth Century - Blessed John Henry Newman

IT remains to relate the open disunion and schism between the Semi-arians and the Anomœans. In order to set this clearly before the reader, a brief recapitulation must first be made of the history of the heresy, as already traced; as it has been somewhat obscured in the last section, by the narrative of the political events which attended it.

Recapitulation of the history of the heresy

The Semi-arian school was the offspring of the ingenious refinements, under which the Eusebians concealed impieties, which the spirit of the times made it inexpedient for them to avow. Here the history of the original Arians is reversed, whether they be regarded in their Meletian or Antiochene connexion. The creed of Semi-arianism preceded the party; i. e. those subtleties, which were too feeble to entangle the shrewdness of the Lucianists, produced their due effect upon the natural subjects of them, viz. men who, with more devotional feeling than the Arians, had less plain sense, and a like deficiency of humility. A Platonic fancifulness made them the victims of an Aristotelic subtlety; and in the philosophising Eusebius and the sophist Asterius, we recognise the appropriate inventors, though hardly the sincere disciples, of the new creed. For a time, the distinction between them and the Eusebians did not openly appear; the creeds put forth by the party being all, more or less, of a Semi-arian cast, down to the Council of Sirmium inclusive (A.D. 351), in which Photinus was condemned. In the meanwhile the Eusebians, little pleased with the growing dogmatism of members of their own body, fell upon the expedient of confining their confessions to Scripture terms; which, when separated from their context, were of course inadequate to concentrate and ascertain the true doctrine. Hence the formula of the Homoion; which was introduced by Acacius with the express purpose of deceiving or baffling the Semi-arian party. This measure was the more necessary for Eusebian interests, inasmuch as a new variety of the heresy arose in the East at the same time, advocated by Aetius and Eunomius; who, by professing boldly the pure Arian tenet, alarmed Constantius, and threw him back upon Basil, and the other Semi-arians. These Anomœans, however, as they were called, (viz. from maintaining that the οὐσία of the Son was unlike, ἀνόμοιος, the Divine οὐσία,) were actually joined by one portion of the Eusebians, Valens and his rude Occidentals; whose language and temper, not admitting the refinements of Grecian genius, led them to rush from orthodoxy into the most hard and undisguised impiety. And thus the parties stand at the date now before us (A. D. 356–361); Constantius being alternately swayed by Basil, Acacius, and Valens; by his personal attachment to Valens, the talent of Acacius, and his respect for Basil and the Semi-arians.

History of Aetius

Aetius, the founder of the Anomœans, is a remarkable instance of the struggles and success of a restless and aspiring mind under the pressure of difficulties. He was a native of Antioch; his father, who had an office under the governor of the province, dying when he was a child, he was made the servant or slave of a vine-dresser. He was first promoted to the trade of a goldsmith or travelling tinker, according to the conflicting testimony of his friends and enemies. Falling in with an itinerant practitioner in medicine, he acquired so much knowledge of the art, as to assume the character of a physician himself; and, the further study of his new profession introducing him to the disputations of his more learned brethren, he manifested such acuteness and boldness in argument, that he was soon engaged, after the manner of the Sophists, as a paid advocate for such, as wished their own theories exhibited in the most advantageous form. The schools of Medicine were at that time infected with Arianism, and thus introduced him to the science of theology, as well as the profession of a Sophist; giving him a bias towards heresy, which was soon after confirmed by the tuition of Paulinus, Bishop of Antioch. Here he so boldly conducted the principles of Arianism to their legitimate results, as to scandalize the Eusebian successor of Paulinus; who forced him to retire to Anazarbus, and to resume his former trade of a goldsmith. The energy of Aetius, however, could not be restrained by the obstacles, which birth, education, and decency opposed to its public manifestation. He made acquaintance with a teacher of grammar; and, readily acquiring a smattering of polite literature, he was soon enabled to expose his master’s expositions of sacred Scripture before his pupils. A quarrel, as might be expected, ensued; and Aetius was received into the house of the Bishop of Anazarbus, who had been one of the Arian prelates at Nicæa. This man was formerly mentioned, as one of the rudest and most daring among the first assailants of our Lord’s divinity. It is probable, however, that, after signing the Homoousion, he had sunk into the characteristic duplicity and worldliness of the Eusebian party; for Aetius is said to have complained, that he was deficient in depth, and, in spite of his hospitality, looked out for another instructor. Such an one he found in the person of a priest of Tarsus, who had been from the first a consistent Arian; and with him he read the Epistles of St. Paul. Returning to Antioch, he became the pupil of Leontius, in the prophetical Scriptures; and, after a while, put himself under the instruction of an Aristotelic sophist of Alexandria. Thus accomplished, he was ordained deacon by Leontius (A.D. 350), who had been lately raised to the patriarchal See of Antioch. Thus the rise of the Anomœan sect coincides in point of time with the death of Constans, an event already noticed in the history of the Eusebians, as transferring the empire of the West to Constantius, and, so furthering their splitting into the Homœan and Homœusian factions. Scarcely had Aetius been ordained, when the same notorious irregularities in his carriage, whatever they were, which had more than once led to his expulsion from the lay communion of the Arians, caused his deposition from the diaconate, by the very prelate who had promoted him to it. After this, little is known of him for several years; excepting a dispute, which he held with the Semi-arian Basil, which marks his rising importance. During the interval, he ingratiated himself with Gallus, the brother of Julian; and was implicated in his political offences. Escaping, however, the anger of Constantius, by his comparative insignificance, he retired to Alexandria, and lived for some time in the train of George of Cappadocia, who allowed him to officiate as deacon. Such was at this time the character of the clergy, whom the Arians had introduced into the Syrian Churches, that this despicable adventurer, whose vulgarities were as odious, as his life was extravagant, and his creed blasphemous, had influence to found a sect, which engaged the attention of the learned Semi-arians at Ancyra (A.D. 358), and has employed the polemical powers of the orthodox Fathers, Basil, and Gregory Nyssen.


Eunomius, his most celebrated disciple, was the principal disputant in the controversy. With more learning than Aetius, he was enabled to complete and fortify the Anomœan system, inheriting from his master two peculiarities of character, which belong to his school; the first, a faculty of subtle disputation and hard mathematical reasoning, the second, a fierce, and in one sense an honest, disdain of compromise and dissimulation. These had been the two marks of Arianism at its first rise; and the first associates of Arius, who, after his submission to Constantine, had kept aloof from the Court party in disgust, now joyfully welcomed and joined the Anomœans. The new sect justified their anticipations of its boldness. The same impatience, with which Aetius had received the ambiguous explanations of the Eusebian Bishop of Anazarbus, was expressed by Eunomius for the Acacianism of Eudoxius of Antioch, who in vain endeavoured to tutor him into a less real and systematic profession of the Arian tenets. So far did his party carry their vehemence, as even to re-baptize their Christian converts, as though they had been heathen; and that, not in the case of Catholics only, but, to the great offence of the Eusebians, even of those, whom they proselyted from the other forms of Arianism. Earnestness is always respectable; and, if it be allowable to speak with a sort of moral catachresis, the Anomœans merited on this account, as well as ensured, a success, which a false conciliation must not hope to obtain.

Rise of the Anomœans

The progress of events rapidly carried them forward upon the scene of ecclesiastical politics. Valens, the self-constituted organ of the Western Church, was seconded in his patronage of them by the eunuchs of the Court; of whom Eusebius, the Grand Chamberlain, had unlimited sway over the weak mind of the Emperor. The concessions of Liberius and Hosius, furnished an additional countenance to Arianism, being misrepresented as actual advances towards the heretical system. The inartificial cast of the Western theology, which scarcely recognized any middle hypothesis between that of the Homoousion and pure Arianism, strengthened the opinion, that those, who had abandoned the one, must in fact have embraced the other. And, as if this were not enough, it appears, that an Anomœan creed was circulated in the East, under the pretended sanction of the two prelates. Events in the Churches of Antioch and Jerusalem furthered the schism between the Semi-arians and the Anomœans. Leontius of Antioch dying (A. D. 357), the eunuchs of the Court contrived to place Eudoxius in his see, a man of restless and intriguing temper, and opposed to the Semi-arians. Acacius, quarrelling with Cyril of Jerusalem, was easily persuaded to join the attack, which was organizing against the party of the latter.

Homœan Council of Antioch

A Council was held at Antioch (A. D. 358), which was attended by Acacius, Eudoxius, Eunomius, Aetius, and others of the baser sort; in which, without venturing on the distinct Anomœan doctrine, the second creed of Sirmium, which Hosius had signed, was received and confirmed, and a letter of thanks and congratulations was written to the party of Valens, for having brought the troubles of the West to so satisfactory a termination.

Semi-arian Council of Ancyra

Mention has already been made of one George, a presbyter of Alexandria; who, being among the earliest supporters of Arius, was degraded by Alexander, but, being received by the Eusebians into the Church of Antioch, became at length Bishop of Laodicea. George was justly offended at the promotion of Eudoxius, without the consent of himself and Mark of Arethusa, the most considerable Bishops of Syria; and, at this juncture, took part against the combination of Homœans, and Anomœans, at Antioch, who had just published their assent to the creed of Sirmium. Falling in with some clergy whom Eudoxius had excommunicated, he sent letters by them to Macedonius, Basil of Ancyra, and other leaders of the Semi-arians, intreating them to raise a protest against the proceedings of the Council of Antioch, and so to oblige Eudoxius to separate himself from Aetius and the Anomœans. This remonstrance produced its effect; and, under pretence of the dedication of a church, a Council was immediately held by the Semi-arian party at Ancyra (A. D. 358), in which the Anomœan heresy was condemned. The Synodal letter, which they published, professed to be grounded on the Semi-arian creeds of the Dedication (A. D. 341), of Philippopolis (A. D. 347), and of Sirmium (A. D. 351), when Photinus was condemned and deposed. It is a valuable document, even as a defence of orthodoxy; its error consisting in its obstinate rejection of the Nicene Homoousion, the sole practical bulwark of the Catholic faith against the misrepresentations of heresy, against a sort of tritheism on the one hand, and a degraded conception of the Son and Spirit on the other.

Semi-arian Creed of Sirmium

The two parties thus at issue, appealed to Constantius. That feeble Prince had lately sanctioned the almost Acacian creed of Valens, which Hosius had been compelled to subscribe, when the deputation from Antioch arrived at Sirmium; and he readily gave his assent to their confession, which was professedly but an echo of the former. Scarcely had he done so, when the Semi-arians made their appearance from Ancyra, with Basil at their head; and succeeded so well in representing its dangerous character, that, recalling the messenger who had been sent off to Antioch, he held the Conference, of which a notice was given in the last section, in which a Semi-arian creed was imposed on all parties, Eudoxius and Valens, the representatives of the Eusebians there present, being compelled to join with the orthodox Liberius, in a creed which Basil compiled from the creeds against Paulus of Samosata, and Photinus (A. D. 264. 351), and the creed of Lucian, published by the Council of the Dedication (A. D. 341). Yet in spite of the learning, and personal respectability of the Semi-arians, which at the moment exerted this strong influence over the mind of Constantius, the dexterity of the Eusebians in disputation and intrigue was ultimately successful. Though seventy Bishops of their party were immediately banished, these were in a few months re-instated by the capricious Emperor, who from that time inclined first to the Acacian or Homœan, and then to the open Anomœan or pure Arian doctrine; and before his death, A. D. 361, he had received baptism from the hands of Euzoius, one of the original associates of Arius, then recently placed in the see of Antioch.—The history of this change, with the Councils attending it, will bring us to the close of this chapter.

Semi-arians intrusted by the Emperor with the management of a General Council

The Semi-arians, elated with their triumph, obtained the Emperor’s consent for an Œcumenical Council, in which the faith of the Christian Church should definitively be declared. A meeting of the whole of Christendom had not been imagined, except in the instance of the Council of Sardica, since the Nicene; and the Sardican itself had been convoked principally to decide upon the charges urged against Athanasius, and not to open the doctrinal question. Indeed it is evident, that none but the heterodox party, now dominant, could consistently debate an article of belief, which the united testimony of the Churches of the East and West had once for all settled at Nicæa.

Intrigues of the Eusebians

While Basil laboured for the accomplishment of this purpose, the Eusebians, on the other hand, headed by Eudoxius and Valens, perceiving that it would be more for their own interest that the prelates of the East and West should not meet in the same place, (two bodies being more manageable than one,) exerted themselves so strenuously with the assistance of the eunuchs of the palace, that at last it was determined, that, while the Orientals met at Seleucia in Isauria, the Occidental Council should be held at Ariminum, in Italy. Next, a previous Conference was held at Sirmium, in order to determine on the creed to be presented to the bipartite Council; and here again the Eusebians gained an advantage, though not at once to the extent of their wishes. Warned by the late indignation of Constantius against the Anomœan tenet, they did not attempt to rescue it from his displeasure; but they struggled for the adoption of the Acacian Homoion, which the Emperor had already received and abandoned, and they actually effected the adoption of the κατὰ πάντα ὅμοιον, κατὰ τὰς γραφάς,—a phrase in which the Semi-arians indeed included their κατʼ οὐσίαν ὅμοιον or Homoiousion, but which did not necessarily refer to substance or nature at all. Under these circumstances the two Councils met in the autumn of A. D. 359, under the nominal superintendence of the Semi-arians; but on the Eusebian side, the sharp-witted Acacius undertaking to deal with the disputatious Greeks, the overbearing and cruel Valens with the plainer Latins.

Council of Seleucia

About 150 Bishops of the Eastern Church assembled at Seleucia, of whom not above forty were Eusebians. Far the greater number were Semi-arians; the Egyptian prelates alone, of whom but twelve or thirteen were present, displaying themselves, as at the first, the bold and faithful adherents of the Homoousion. It was soon evident that the forced reconciliation which Constantius had imposed on the two parties at Sirmium, was of no avail in their actual deliberations. On each side an alteration of the proposed formula was demanded. In spite of the sanction given by Basil and Mark to the κατὰ πὰντα ὅμοιον, the majority of their partizans would be contented with nothing short of the definite κατʼ οὐσίαν ὅμοιον, or Homoiousion, which left no opening, (as they considered,) to evasion; and in consequence proposed to return to Lucian’s creed, adopted by the Council of the Dedication. Acacius, on the other hand, not satisfied with the advantage he had gained in the preliminary meeting at Sirmium, where the mention of the οὐσία or substance was dropped, (which had but lately been imposed by Constantius on all parties, in the formulary which Liberius signed,) proposed a creed in which the Homoousion and Homoiousion, were condemned, the Anomoion anathematized, as the source of confusion and schism, and his own Homoion adopted; and when he found himself unable to accomplish his purpose, not waiting for the formal sentence of deposition, which the Semi-arians proceeded to pronounce upon himself and eight others, he set off to Constantinople, where the Emperor then was, hoping in the absence of Basil and his party to gain what had been denied him at Sirmium. It so happened, however, that his object had been effected even before his arrival; for, a similar quarrel having resulted from the meeting at Ariminum, and deputies from the rival parties having similarly been despatched to Constantius, a conference had taken place at a city called Nice or Nicæa, in the neighbourhood of Hadrianople, and an emendated creed adopted, in which, not only the Semi-arian safeguard of the κατὰ πάντα was omitted, and the Ousia condemned, but even the word Hypostasis also, on the ground of its being a refinement on Scripture. So much had been already gained by the influence of Valens, when the arrival of Acacius at Constantinople, gave fresh activity to the Eusebian party.

Council of Constantinople

A Council was summoned of the neighbouring Bishops, principally of those of Bithynia. Constantius was easily persuaded to believe of Basil, what had before been asserted of Athanasius, that he was the impediment to the settlement of the question, and the tranquillity of the Church. Various charges of a civil and ecclesiastical nature were alleged against him and other Semi-arians, as formerly against Athanasius, with what degree of truth it is impossible at this day to determine; and a sentence of deposition was issued against them. Cyril of Jerusalem, Eleusius of Cyzicus, Eustathius of Sebaste, and Macedonius of Constantinople, were in the number of those who suffered with Basil; Macedonius being succeeded by Eudoxius, who, being thus seated in the first see of the East, became the principal stay of Arianism under the Emperor Valens.

This triumph of the Eusebian party took place in the beginning of A. D. 360; by which time the Council of Ariminum had been brought to a conclusion. To it we must now turn our attention.

Council of Ariminum

The Latin Council had commenced its deliberations, before the Orientals had assembled at Seleucia; yet it did not bring them to a close till the end of the year. The struggle between the Eusebians and their opponents had been so much the more stubborn in the West, in proportion as the latter were more numerous there, and further removed from Arianism, and Valens more unscrupulous and armed with fuller powers. Four hundred Bishops were collected at Ariminum, of whom but eighty were Arians; and the civil officer, to whom Constantius had committed the superintendence of their proceedings, had orders not to let them stir out of the city, till they should agree upon a confession of faith. At the opening of the Council, Valens, Ursacius, Germinius, Auxentius, Caius, and Demophilus, the Imperial Commissioners, had presented to the assembly the formula of the κατὰ πάντα ὅμοιον, agreed upon in the preliminary conference at Sirmium; and demanded, that, putting aside all strange and mysterious terms of theology, it should be at once adopted by the assembled Fathers. They had received for answer, that the Latins determined to adhere to the formulary of Nicæa; and that, as a first step in their present deliberations, it was necessary that all present should forthwith anathematize all heresies and innovations, beginning with that of Arius. On their refusal, they had been promptly condemned and deposed; and a deputation of ten was sent from the Council to Constantius, to acquaint him with the result of its deliberations. The issue of this mission to the Court, to which Valens opposed one from his own party, has been already related. Constantius, with a view of wearing out the Latin Fathers, pretended that the barbarian war required his immediate attention, and delayed the consideration of the question till the beginning of October, several months after the opening of the Council; and then, frightening the Catholic commissioners into compliance, he effected at Nice the adoption of the Homœan creed, and sent it back to Ariminum.

Its disgraceful termination

The termination of the Council there assembled was disgraceful to its members, but more so to the Emperor himself. Distressed by their long confinement, impatient at their absence from their respective dioceses, and apprehensive of the approaching winter, they began to waver. At first, indeed, they refused to communicate with their own apostate deputies; but these, almost in self-defence, were active and successful in bringing over others to their new opinions. A threat was held out by Taurus, the Prætorian Prefect, who superintended the discussions, that fifteen of the most obstinate should be sent into banishment; and Valens was importunate in the use of such arguments and explanations, as were likely to effect his object. The Prefect conjured them with tears to abandon an unfruitful obstinacy, to reflect on the length of their past confinement, the discomfort of their situation, the rigors of the winter, and to consider, that there was but one possible termination of the difficulty, which lay with themselves, not with him. Valens, on the other hand, affirmed that the Eastern Bishops had abandoned the Ousia; and he demanded of those who still stood their ground, what objection they could make to the Scriptural creed proposed to them, and whether, for the sake of a word, they would be the authors of a schism between Eastern and Western Christendom. He affirmed, that the danger apprehended by the Catholics was but chimerical; that he and his party condemned Arius and Arianism as strongly as themselves, and were only desirous of avoiding a word, which confessedly is not in Scripture, and had in past time been productive of much scandal. Then, to put his sincerity to the proof, he began with a loud voice to anathematize the maintainers of the Arian blasphemies in succession; and he concluded by declaring, that he believed the Word to be God, begotten of God before all time, and not in the number of the creatures, and that whoever should say that He was a creature as others, was anathema. The foregoing history of the heresy has sufficiently explained how the Arians evaded the force of these strong declarations; but the inexperienced Latins did not detect their insincerity. Satisfied, and glad to be released, they gave up the Homoousion, and signed the formula of the Homoion; and scarcely had they separated, when Valens, as might be expected, boasted of his victory, arguing that the faith of Nicæa had been condemned by the very circumstance of his being allowed to confess, that the Son was “not a creature as others,” and so to imply, that, though not like other creatures, still He was created. Thus ended this celebrated Council; the result of which is well characterized in the lively description of Jerome: “Ingemuit totus orbis, et Arianum se esse miratus est.”

Triumph of the Eusebians over Semi-arians and Anomœans

In the proceedings attendant on the Councils of Seleucia and Ariminum, the Eusebians had skilfully gained two important objects, by means of unimportant concessions on their part. They had sacrificed Aetius and his Anomoion; and effected in exchange the disgrace of the Semi-arians as well as of the Catholics, and the establishment of the Homoion, the truly characteristic symbol of a party, who, as caring little for the sense of Scripture, found an excuse and an indulgence of their unconcern, in a pretended maintenance of the letter. As to the wretched mountebank just mentioned, whose profaneness was so abominable, as to obtain for him the title of the Atheist, he was formally condemned in the Constantinopolitan Council (A. D. 360), in which the Semi-arian Basil, Macedonius, and their associates, had been deposed. During the discussions which attended it, Eleusius, one of the latter party, laid before the Emperor an Anomœan creed, which he ascribed to Eudoxius. The latter, when questioned, disowned it; and named Aetius as its author, who was immediately summoned. Introduced into the Imperial presence, he was unable to divine, in spite of his natural acuteness, whether the Emperor was pleased or displeased with the composition; and, hazarding an acknowledgment of it, he drew down on himself the full indignation of Constantius, who banished him into Cilicia, and obliged his patron Eudoxius to anathematize both the confession in question, and all the positions of the pure Arian heresy. Such was the fall of Aetius, at the time of the triumph of the Eusebians; but soon afterwards he was promoted to the episcopate, (under what circumstances is unknown,) and was favourably noticed, as a former friend of Gallus, by the Emperor Julian, who gave him a territory in the Island of Mitelene.

Council of Antioch

Eunomius, his disciple, escaped the jealousy of council of Constantius through the good offices of Eudoxius, and was advanced to the Bishoprick of Cyzicus; but, being impatient of dissimulation, he soon fell into disgrace, and was banished. The death of the Emperor took place at the end of A. D. 361; his last acts evincing a further approximation to the unmitigated heresy of Arius. At a Council held at Antioch in the course of that year, he sanctioned the Anomœan doctrine in its most revolting form; and shortly before his decease, received the sacrament of baptism from Euzoius, the personal friend and original associate of Arius himself.

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