Philip Schaff, "Arianism," Philip Schaff, ed.,
A Religious Encyclopaedia or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology, 3rd edn., Vol. 1.
Toronto, New York & London: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1894. pp.134-137.

Theology on the Web helps over 2.5 million people every year to find high quality theological resources that will help to equip them to serve God and to know Him better (2 Timothy 2:15). Like other websites that provide free services, it is dependent on donations to enable it to grow and develop and only 0.004% of visitors currently do so. If you would like to support this site, please use one of the options to the right of this message.

ARIANISM, so called from its leader - Arius (), a presbyter of Alexandria (d. 336), see ARIUS - is one of the most powerful and tenacious christological heresies in the history of ancient Christianity. It was during a part of the fourth century the ruling creed in the Eastern Church, though under constant vigorous protest of the orthodox party. It was also at first the creed of most of the barbarian Teutonic races, before they were converted to Catholicity.

I. History of Arianism. The roots of the Arian conflict lie deep in the differences of the ante-Nicene doctrine of the Logos, especially in the contradictory elements of Origen’s Christology, which was claimed by both parties. Origen, on the one hand, attributed to Christ eternity and other divine attributes, which lead to the Nicene doctrine of the identity of substance (homo-ousia); but, on the other hand, in his zeal for the personal distinctions in the Godhead, he taught with equal emphasis a separate essence and the subordination of the Son to the Father, calling him a secondary God," without the article, while the Father is "the God." He taught the eternal generation of the Son from the will of the Father, but represented it as the communication of a secondary divine substance. Athanasius laid stress on the first, Arius on the second element in the Christology of Origen.

(1) History of Arianism from 318 to the Council of Nicæa (325).- The controversy broke out at Alexandria, AD. 318. According to the account of Socrates, Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria, gave the first impulse by insisting, in a meeting, on the eternity of the Son; whereupon Anus openly opposed, and charged him with Sabellianism. lie reasoned thus: "if the Father begat the Son, he must be older than the Son, and there was a time when the Son was not; from this it further follows, that the Son has his substance (hypostasis) from nothing." The accounts of Sozomenus and Epiphanius differ in this, that they date the conflict from discussions among the presbyters and laymen, and Sozomenus represents Alexander as at first wavering between the two opinions. In 321 Alexander convened a council of about a hundred AEgyptian and Lybian bishops at Alexandria, which excommunicated Anus and his followers for their open denial of the true deity of Christ. But Anus spread his views all the more zealously in an entertaining half-poetic work, Thalia (the Banquet), of which only fragments remain in Athanasius. He found powerful friends in Eusebius of Nicomedia, Eusebius of Cæsarea (the famous church historian), and other bishops, who either shared his view, or at least considered it innocent. In a short time the whole Eastern Church was turned into a metaphysical battle-field. The Emperor Constantine was at first inclined to look upon the controversy as a mere logomachy, and never understood its deeper import. But, for political considerations, he called, at the suggestion of some bishops, the first oecumenical synod of the church, to settle the Arian controversy, together with the question of the time of celebrating Easter, and the Meletian schism in Egypt.

(2) The Council of Nicæa (325). - The first oecumenical council, held at Nicæa, Bithynia (now a miserable Turkish village, - Is-nik), consisting of three hundred and eighteen bishops (about one-sixth of all the bishops of the Græco-Roman Empire), resulted in the formal condemnation of Arius, and the adoption of the "Nicene Creed," so called, which affirms in unequivocal terms the doctrine of the eternal deity of Christ in these words: "(We believe) in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only begotten, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made [in heaven and on earth]; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate, and was made man; he suffered, and the third day he rose again, and ascended into heaven; from thence he cometh to judge the quick and the dead." The passages enclosed in brackets were omitted or changed in the so-called Constantinopolitan Creed (381). To the original Nicene Creed is added the following anathema: "And those who say: there was a time when he (the Son) was not; and: lie was made out of nothing, or out of another substance or thing, or the Son of God is created, or changeable, or alterable; - they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church." This anathema was likewise omitted in that form of the Nicene Creed which is usually, though incorrectly, traced to the Constantinopolitan synod of 381, and which since the Council of Chalcedon in 451 entirely superseded the original Nicene Creed of 325. (See below.)

The creed was signed by nearly all the bishops, Hosius at the head, even by Eusebius of Cæsarea, who, before and afterwards, occupied a middle position between Athanasius and Arius.


This is the first instance of such signing of a doctrinal symbol. Eusebius of Nicomedia arid Theognis of Nicæa signed the creed, but not the condemnatory formula appended, and for this they were deposed. and banished for a short time.

Only two Egyptian bishops - Theonas and Secundus - persistently refused to sign, and were banished, with Arius, to Illyria. This is the first example of the civil punishment of heresy, and opened the long and dark era of persecutions for all departures from the catholic or orthodox faith. The books of Arius were burnt, and his followers branded as enemies of Christianity. The Nicene Creed has outlived all the subsequent storms, and, in the improved form given to it at Constantinople in 381, it remains to this day the most generally received creed of Christendom, and, if we omit the later Latin insertion, Filioque, a bond of union between the Greek, the Roman, and the orthodox Protestant churches.

(3) From the Council of Nicæa (325) to the Council of Constantinople (381).- After the Nicene Council an Arian and semi-Arian reaction took place, and acquired for a time the ascendency in the Roman Empire. Arianism now entered the stage of its political power. This was a period of the greatest excitement in Church and State: Council was held against council; creed was set up against creed; anathema was hurled against anathema. "The highways," says the impartial heathen historian, Ammianus Marcellinus, "were covered with galloping bishops." The churches, the theatres, the hippodromes, the feasts, the markets, the streets, the baths, and the shops of Constantinople and other large cities, were filled with dogmatic disputes. In intolerance and violence the Arians even exceeded the orthodox. The interference of emperors and their court only poured oil on the flame, and heightened the bitterness of contest by adding confiscation and exile to the spiritual punishment of synodical excommunication. The unflinching leader of the orthodox party was Athanasius, a pure and sublime character, who had figured at the Council of Nicæa as a youthful archdeacon, in company with Bishop Alexander of Alexandria, and after his death became his successor (328). but was again and again deposed by imperial despotism, and spent twenty years in exile. He sacrificed every thing to his conviction, and had the courage to face the empire in arms ("Athanasius contra mundum"). he was a man of one idea and one passion, - the eternal divinity of Christ, - which he rightly considered as the cornerstone of the Christian system. The politico-ecclesiastical leader of the Arian party was Eusebius of Nicomedia (not to be confounded with the historian), afterwards Bishop of Constantinople, who baptised Constantine on his death-bed. Constantine was turned favorably to Arms, he recalled him from exile, and ordered him to be solemnly restored to the communion of the Catholic Church at Constantinople; but, on the day preceding his intended restoration, the heretic died suddenly (336). See ARIUS. In the year following, Constantine himself died, and his son Constantine II. recalled Athanasius from his first exile, into which his father had sent him. But in the East, where Constantius, the second son of Constantine the Great, ruled, Arianism prevailed, and was maintained with fanatical zeal by the court, and by Eusebius of Nicomedia, now transferred to Constantinople (since 338). Athanasius was deposed a second time, and took refuge with Julius of Rome (340), who, with the great body of the Western Church, sided with the Nicene Creed, and gloried in Athanasius as a martyr of the Christian truth.

It is unnecessary to follow the varying fortunes of the two parties, and the history of councils, which neutralized one another, without materially advancing the points in dispute. The most important are the Synod of Antioch, A.D. 341, which set forth an orthodox creed, but deposed Athanasius; the orthodox Council of Sardica, A.D. 343 (not 347, as formerly supposed; see Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, I., 515 sqq.) ; and the Arian counter-synod of Philippopolis; the councils of Sirmium, 351 ; Arles, 353; Milan, 355; the second council at Sirmium, 357; the third, 358; at Antioch, 358; at Ancyra, 358; at Constantinople, 360. Aided by Constantius, Arianism, under the modified form represented by the term homoi-ousion (similar in essence, as distinct from the Nicene homo-ousion and the strictly Arian hetero-ousion) gained the power in the empire; and even the papal chair in Rome was for a while desecrated by heresy during the Arian interregnum of Felix II. But the death of Constantius in 361, the indifference of his successor, Julian the Apostate, to all theological disputes, the toleration of Jovian (d. 364), and especially the internal dissensions of the Arians, prepared the way for a new triumph of orthodoxy. The Eusebians, or semi-Arians, taught that the Son was similar in substance (homoiousios) to the Father; while the Aëtians (from Aëtius, a deacon of Antioch) and the Eunomians (from Eunomius, Bishop of Cyzicus in Mysia) taught that he was of a different substance (heteroousios), and unlike (anomoios) to the Father (hence the names Hetero-ousiasts and Anomoeans). A number of synods and creeds of compromise were devoted to the healing of these dissensions, but without permanent effect.

On the other hand, the defenders of the Nicene Creed, Athanasius, and, after his death (373), the three Cappadocian bishops, - Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzum, and Gregory of Nyssa, - triumphantly vindicated the Catholic doctrine against all the arguments of the opposition. When Gregory of Nazianzum was called to Constantinople in 379, there was but one small congregation in the city which had not become Arian; but his able and eloquent sermons on the deity of Christ, which won him the title of the "Theologian," contributed powerfully to the resurrection of the Catholic faith; and two years afterwards he presided over the second oecumenical council. The rising influence of monasticism, especially in Egypt, was bound up with the cause of Athanasius; and the more conservative portion of the semi-Arians gradually approached the orthodox in spite of the persecutions of the violent Arian emperor, Valens.

(4) The final triumph of the Nicene orthodoxy under Theodosius the Great (381). - This emperor was a Spaniard by birth, and reared in the Nicene faith. During his long and powerful reign (379- 395) he completed externally the spiritual and


intellectual victory of orthodoxy already achieved. He convened the second oecumenical council at Constantinople (381), which consisted of only one hundred and fifty bishops, and was presided over successively by Meletius, Gregory of Nazianzum, and Nectarius of Constantinople. The council condemned the Pneumatomachian heresy, which denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit, and virtually completed the orthodox dogma of the Holy Trinity. The Nicene Creed now in common use (with the exception of the Latin clause Filioque which is of much later date, and rejected by the Greek Church) is usually traced to this synod of Constantinople, but existed at an earlier date: it is found in the Ancoratus of. Epiphanius, A.D. 873, and derived by him from a still older source, namely the baptismal creed of the Church of Jerusalem. It is not in the original acts of the Council of Constantinople, but was afterwards incorporated in them. Dr. Hort derives it mainly from Cyril of Jerusalem, about 362-364....

The emperor gave legal effect to the doctrinal decisions and disciplinary canons, and in July, 381, he enacted a law that all church-property should be given up to those who believed in the equal divinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Arianism, after forty years’ reign, was forcibly driven out of all the churches of Constantinople, and generally forbidden throughout the empire. We meet the last traces of it in Constantinople under the Emperor Anastasius (491-518).

After Theodosius, Arianism ceased to exist as an organized moving force in theology and church-history; but it re-appeared from time to time as an isolated theological opinion, especially in England. Emlyn, Whiston, Whitby, Samuel Clarke, Lardner, and many who are ranked among Socinians and Unitarians, held Arian sentiments; but Milton and Isaac Newton, though approaching the Arian view on the relation of the Son to the Father, differed widely from Arianism in spirit and aim.

(5) Arianism among the Barbarians. - The church legislation of Theodosius was confined, of course, to the limits of the Roman Empire. Beyond it, among the barbarians of the West, who had received Christianity in the form of Arianism during the reign of the Emperor Valens, it maintained itself for two centuries longer, though more as a matter of accident than choice and conviction. The Ostrogoths remained Arians till 553; the Visigoths, till the Synod of Toledo in 589; the Suevi in Spain, till 560; the Vandals, who conquered North Africa in 429, and furiously persecuted the Catholics, till 530, when they were expelled by Belisarius; the Burgundians, till their incorporation in the Frank Empire (in 534); the Longobards in Italy, till the middle of the seventh century. Alaric, the ‘first conqueror of Rome, Genseric, the conqueror of North Africa, Theodoric the Great, King of Italy, and hero of the Niebelungenlied, were Arians; and the first Teutonic translation of the Scriptures, of which important fragments remain, came from the Arian or semi-Arian missionary Ulfilas.

II. The Creed of Arianism. - The Father alone is God: he alone is unbegotten,. eternal, wise, good, unchangeable. lie is separated by an infinite chasm from man. God cannot create the world directly, but only through an agent, the Logos, who is himself created for the purpose of creating the world. The Son of God is preexistent, "before time and before the world," and "before all creatures." He is a middle being between God and the world, the perfect image of the Father, the executor of his thoughts, yea, even the Creator of the world. In a secondary or metaphorical sense he may be called "God." But, on the other hand, Christ is himself a "creature," - the first creature of God, through whom the Father called other creatures into existence. He is "made," not of "the essence" of the Father, but "out of nothing," by "the will" of the Father, before all conceivable time, yet in time: he is therefore not eternal, and there "was a time when he was not." Neither is he unchangeable, but subject to the vicissitudes of a created being. With the limitation of Christ’s duration is necessarily connected a limitation of his power, wisdom, and knowledge. It was expressly asserted by the Arians that the Son does not perfectly know the Father, and therefore cannot perfectly reveal him. He is essentially different from the Father (heteroousios, in opposition to the orthodox formula, homoousios, co-equal, and the semi-Arian homoiousios, similar, in essence). Aetius and Eunomius afterwards more strongly expressed this by calling him unlike the Father (anomoios).

As to the humanity of Christ, Anus ascribed to him only a human body with an animal soul, not a rational soul. He anticipated Appollinarius, who substituted the divine Logos for the human reason, but from the opposite motive, of saving the unity of the divine personality of Christ.

The subsequent development of Arianism by Aëtius arid Eunomius brought out no new features, except many inconsistencies and contradictions, and the negative and downward tendency of christological error. The controversy degenerated into a heartless and barren metaphysical war. The eighteen or more creeds which Arianism and semi-Arianism produced between the first and the second oecumenical councils (325-381) are leaves without blossoms, and branches without fruit.

The Arians supported their doctrine from those passages of the Bible which seem to place Christ en a par with the creature (Prov. viii. 22-25; Acts ii. 36; Col. i. 15), or which ascribe to the incarnate Christ (not the pre-existent Logos) in his state of humiliation lack of knowledge, weariness, sorrow, and other changing affections and states of mind (Luke ii. 52; Mark xiii. 32; Heb. v. 8, 9; John xii. 27, 28; Matt. xxvi. 39), or which teach some kind of subordination of the Son to the Father (especially John xiv. 28: "The Father is greater than I," which refers, not to the essential nature, but to the state of humiliation). Anus was forced to admit, in his first Letter to Eusebius of Nicomedia, that Christ was called God (even , "the full, Dnly-begotten God," according to the famous disputed reading for , "only-begotten Son," in John i. 18. See on this the first Dissertation of Professor Hort, Lond., 1876). But he


reduced this expression to the idea of a subordinate, secondary, created divinity. The dogmatic and philosophical arguments were chiefly negative and rationalistic, amounting to this: The Nicene view of the essential deity of Christ is unreasonable, inconsistent with monotheism, with the dignity and absoluteness of the Father, and of necessity leads to Sabellianism, or the Gnostic dreams of emanation.

On the other hand, Arianism was refuted by an array of scriptural passages, which teach directly or indirectly the divinity of Christ, and his essential equality with the Father. The conception of a created Creator, who existed before the world, and yet himself began to exist, was shown to be self-contradictory and untenable. There can be no middle being between Creator and creature; no time before the world, as tune is itself a part of the world, or the form under which it exists successively; nor can the unchangeableness of the Father, on which Anus laid great stress, be maintained, except on the ground of the eternity of his Fatherhood, which, of course, implies the eternity of the Sonship. Athanasius charges Arianism with dualism, and even polytheism, and with destroying the whole doctrine of salvation. For if the Son is a creature, man still remains separated, as before, from God: no creature can redeem other creatures, and unite them with God. If Christ is not divine, much less can we be partakers of the divine nature, and in any real sense children of God.

The Arian system is a refined form of Paganism, and substitutes a created demigod for the eternal uncreated Logos. It lowers Christianity to a merely relative value. It separates God and the world by an impassable gulf, and makes a real reconciliation and atonement impossible. It represented the Erastian principle of the Byzantine Empire, and associated itself with the secular political power, without which it soon lost its vitality. Its logical tendency is downward to Socinianism, Unitarianism, and Rationalism, until the untenable conception of a secondary God, who originated before the world, out of nothing, gives way to the idea of Christ as a mere man. The cause of Christian civilization was bound up with the defeat of Arianism, and the triumph of the Nicene doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

LIT. - (1) The sources of the early history of Arianism are: (a) on the orthodox side, the church-histories of RUFINUS, SOCRATES, SOZOMEN, and THEODORET, and most of the Fathers of the fourth century, especially the dogmatic and polemic works of ATHANASIUS (his Orations against the Arians, etc., all in Tom. I., pars I. and II. of the Bened. ed. of ATHAN. Opera), BASIL (Adv. Eunomiurn), GREGORY OF NAZIANZUM (Orationes Theologicæ), GREGORY OF NYSSA (Contra Eunom.), EPIPHANIUS (Ancoratus), HILARY (De Trinitate), AMBROSE (De Fide), AUGUSTINE (De Trinitate, and Contra Maximum Arianum). The material of the synodical transactions is collected in MANSI, Concil. Tom. II. and III. - (b) On the Arian side, fragments of the Thalia and two Epistles of ARIUS, one addressed to Eusebius of Nicomedia, and one to Alexander of Alexandria, preserved in Athanasius, Epiphanius, Socrates, and Theodoret; the fragments of the church-history of PHILOSTORGIUS (350-425); Fragmenta Arianorum in Angelo Mai’s Scriptorum Veterum Nova Collectio, Rom., 1828, vol. III.


Become a Patron!Buy Me a Coffee! Support this siteSponsored Ad: Biblemesh ActivEreader