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The Arians Of The Fourth Century - Blessed John Henry Newman

THE Council of Alexandria was also concerned in determining a doctrinal question; and here too it exercised a virtual mediation between the rival parties in the Antiochene Church.

The idea of Personality

The word Person, which we venture to use in speaking of those three distinct manifestations of Himself, which it has pleased Almighty God to give us, is in its philosophical sense too wide for our ‘meaning. Its essential signification, as applied to ourselves, is that of an individual intelligent agent, answering to the Greek ὑπόστασις, or reality. On the other hand, if we restrict it to its etymological sense of persona or πρόσωπον, i. e. character, it evidently means less than the Scripture doctrine, which we wish to ascertain by it; denoting merely certain outward expressions of the Supreme Being relatively to ourselves, which are of an accidental and variable nature. The statements of Revelation then lie between this internal and external view of the Divine Essence, between Tritheism, and what is popularly called Unitarianism.

expressed by the Latins by Persona

In the choice of difficulties, then, between words which say too much and too little, the Latins, looking at the popular and practical side of the doctrine, selected a term expressive of the external and defective notion of the Son and Spirit, and called Them Personæ, or (literally) Characters; with no intention, however, of infringing on the doctrine of Their completeness and reality, as distinct from the Father, but aiming at the whole truth, as nearly as their language would permit.

by the Greeks by Hypostasis

The Greeks, on the other hand, with their instinctive anxiety for philosophical accuracy of expression, secured the notion of Their existence in Themselves, by calling them Hypostases or Realities; for which they considered, with some reason, that they had the sanction of the Apostle. (Heb. 1:3.) Moreover, they were led to insist upon this internal view of the doctrine, by the prevalence of Sabellianism in the East in the third century; a heresy, which professed to resolve the distinction of the Three Persons, into a mere distinction of character. Hence the prominence given to the τρεῖς ὑποστάσεις, (the Three Realities,) in the creeds of the Semi-arians, (e. g. Lucian’s and Basil’s, A.D. 341–358,) who were the especial antagonists of Sabellius, Marcellus, Photinus, and kindred heretics. It was this praiseworthy jealousy of the Sabellians, which obliged the Greeks to lay stress upon the doctrine of the ἐνυπόστατος λόγος, (the Word in real existence), lest the bare use of the terms, Word, Voice, Power, Wisdom, and Radiance, in designating our Lord, should lead to a forgetfulness of His Personality. At the same time, the word οὐσία (substance) was adopted by them, to express the simple individuality of the Divine Nature, to which the Greeks, as scrupulously as the Latins, referred the separate Personalities of the Son and Spirit.

Consequent misunderstanding between them

Thus the two great divisions of Christendom, rested satisfied each with its own theology, agreeing in doctrine, though differing in the expression of it. But, when the course of the detestable controversy, which Arius had raised, introduced the Latins to the phraseology of the Greeks, accustomed to the word Persona, they were startled at the doctrine of the Three Hypostases; a term, which they could not translate except by the word substantia, and therefore considered synonymous with the Greek οὐσία, and which, in matter of fact, had led to Arianism on the one hand, and Tritheism on the other. And the Orientals, on their part, were suspicious of the Latin maintenance of the One Hypostasis, and Three Personæ; as if such a formula tended to Sabellianism.

Difficulties of the history

This is but a general account of the difference between the Eastern and Western theology; for it is difficult to ascertain, when the language of the Greeks first became fixed and consistent. Some eminent critics have considered, that οὐσία was not discriminated from ὑπόστασις, till the Council which has given rise to these remarks. Others maintain, that the distinction between them is recognized in the ἐξ οὐσίας ἢ ὑποστάσεως of the Nicene Anathema; and these certainly have the authority of St. Basil on their side. Without attempting an opinion on a point, obscure in itself, and not of chief importance in the controversy, the existing difference between the Greeks and Latins, at the times of the Alexandrian Council, shall here be stated.

Usage of the Asiatics at the date of the Council

At this date, the formula of the Three Hypostases seems, as a matter of fact, to have been more or less a characteristic of the Arians. At the same time, it was held by the orthodox of Asia, who had communicated with them; i. e. interpreted by them, of course, in the orthodox sense which it now bears. This will account for St. Basil’s explanation of the Nicene Anathema; it being natural in an Asiatic Christian, who seems (unavoidably) to have arianized for the first thirty years of his life, to imagine, (whether rightly or not,) that he perceived in it the distinction between οὐσία and ὑπόστασις, which he himself had been accustomed to recognize. Again, in the schism at Antioch, which has been lately narrated, the party of Meletius, which had so long arianized, maintained the Three Hypostases, in opposition to the Eustathians, who, as a body, agreed with the Latins, and had in consequence been accused by the Arians of Sabellianism. Moreover, this connexion of the Oriental orthodox with the Semi-arians, partly accounts for some apparent tritheisms of the former; a heresy, into which the latter certainly did fall.

of Athanasius

Athanasius, on the other hand, without caring to be uniform in his use of terms, about which the orthodox differed, favours the Latin usage, speaking of the Supreme Being as one Hypostasis, i. e. substance. And in this he differed from the previous writers of his own Church; who, not having experience of the Latin theology, nor of the perversions of Arianism, adopt, not only the word ὑπόστασις, but, (what is stronger,) the words φύσις and οὐσία, to denote the separate Personality of the Son and Spirit.

of the Latins

As to the Latins, it is said that, when Hosius came to Alexandria before the Nicene Council, he was desirous that some explanation should be made about the Hypostasis; though nothing was settled in consequence. But, soon after the Council of Sardica, an addition was made to its confession, which in Theodoret runs as follows: “Whereas the heretics maintain that the Hypostases of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, are distinct and separate, we declare that according to the Catholic faith there is but one Hypostasis, (which they call Ousia,) of the Three; and the Hypostasis of the Son is the same as the Father’s.”

Decision of the Council

Such was the state of the controversy, if it may so be called, at the time of the Alexandrian Council; the Church of Antioch being, as it were, the stage, upon which the two parties in dispute were represented, the Meletians siding with the orthodox of the East, and the Eustathians with those of the West. The Council, however, instead of taking part with either, determined, in accordance with the writings of Athanasius himself, that, since the question merely related to the usage of words, it was expedient to allow Christians to understand the Hypostasis in one or other sense indifferently. The document which conveys its decision, informs us of the grounds of it. “It any propose to add explanations to the Creed of Nicæa, (says the Synodal letter,) silence such persons, and rather persuade them to study to be peaceable; for we ascribe such conduct to nothing short of a love of controversy. Some offence having been given by a declaration on the part of certain persons, that there are Three Hypostases, and it having been urged that this language is not scriptural, and for that reason suspicious, we desired that the inquiry might not be pushed beyond the Nicene Confession. At the same time, in order to put an end to the controversy, we questioned them, whether they spoke, as the Arians, of Hypostases foreign and dissimilar to each other, and distinct in substance, each independent and separate in itself, as in the case of individual creatures, or the offspring of man, or, as gold differs in substance from silver, and both from brass; or, again, as other heretics, of Three Principles, and Three Gods. In answer, they solemnly assured us, that they neither said nor had imagined any such thing. On our inquiring, ‘In what sense then do you say this, or why do you at all use such expressions?’ they answered, ‘Because we believe in the Holy Trinity, not as a Trinity in name only, but in truth and reality (ὑφεστῶσαν). We acknowledge the Father truly and really such, and likewise the Son and the Holy Spirit, (υἱὸν ἀληθῶς ἐνούσιον ὄντα καὶ ὑφεστῶτα, καὶ πνεῦμα ἅγιον ὑφεστὸς καὶ ὑπάρχον).’ They Said too, that they had not spoken of Three Gods, or Three Principles, nor would tolerate the statement or notion of it; but acknowledged a Trinity indeed, but only One Godhead, and One Principle, and the Son consubstantial with the Father, as the Council declared, and the Holy Spirit, not a creature, nor separate, but essential to and indivisible from, the substance of the Son and the Father.

“This explanation of the expressions in question, and the reasons for their use, seeming satisfactory, we next examined the other party, who were accused by the above-mentioned as holding but One Hypostasis, whether their sentiments coincided with those of the Sabellians, in destroying the real existence of the Son and Holy Spirit. They were as earnest as the others could be, in denying both the statement and thought of such a doctrine; ‘but we use ὑπόστασις,’ they said, ‘considering it means the same as οὐσία (substance), and we hold that there is but one, because the Son is from the οὐσία (substance) of the Father, and because Their nature is one and the same; for we believe, as in One Godhead, so in the unity of God’s nature, and not that the Father’s is one, and that the Son’s is another, and the Holy Ghost’s another.’ It appeared then, that both those, who were accused of holding Three Hypostases, agreed with the other party, and those, who spoke of one Substance, professed the doctrine of the former in the sense of their interpretation; by both was Arius anathematized as an enemy of Christ, Sabellius and Paulus of Samosata as impious, Valentinus and Basileides as strangers to the truth, Manichæus, as an originator of wicked doctrines. And, after these explanations, all, by God’s grace, unanimously agreed, that such expressions were not so desirable or accurate as the Nicene creed, the words of which they promised for the future to acquiesce in and to use.”

Subsequent fortunes of the question

Plain as was this statement, and natural as the decision resulting from it, yet it could scarcely be expected to find acceptance in a city, where recent events had increased dissensions of long standing. In providing the injured and zealous Eustathians with an ecclesiastical head, Lucifer had, under existing circumstances, administered a stimulant to the throbbings and festerings of the baser passions of human nature, passions, which it requires the strong exertion of Christian magnanimity and charity to overcome. The Meletians, on the other hand, recognized as they were by the Oriental Church as a legitimate branch of itself, were in the position of an establishment, and so exposed to the temptation of disdaining those, whom the surrounding Churches considered as schismatics. How far each party was in fault, we are not able to determine; but blame lay somewhere, for the controversy about the Hypostasis, verbal as it was, became the characteristic of the quarrel between them, and only ended, when the Eustathians were finally absorbed by the larger and more powerful body.

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