The shadows of the long Arian controversy were darkening over the Church in the very hour of her emerging into the region of imperial favour and protection.
The Monarchian theories had been practically rejected. The existence of the Divine Word or Son, personally distinct from the Father, incarnate in Jesus Christ, maintained itself as the belief which the Church was to assert. It was a belief not free from difficulties. It had been associated with ideas of a certain derivation from the Father, and a certain subordination to the Father, by which, it was conceived, the unity of Godhead was guarded, while yet the distinction between the First and Second in the Godhead was made tangible. From Justin downwards expounders of this doctrine had been led by various motives, intellectual or religious, to ascribe to the Son characteristics that seemed to draw Him somewhat nearer to the creatures, - a limited sphere, a definite origination, a particular destiny;but then they balanced these ideas against others which imported essential connection with the Father, and derivation from within the Fathers being. How far these explanations could be carried, and how far they could be deemed successful or safe was not yet clear. Dionysius of Alexandria, opposing Sabellius, had found himself on the point of collision with Dionysius of Rome. Going back
a little further, no writer had exerted more influence than Origen, and he had familiarised many minds with the thought of the Sons generation as eternal. Yet the true construction of the modes of speech on this subject, which he brought together, has been matter of debate ever since. All this holds true of the East especially. In the West, Rome was the place most accessible to waves of influence of this kind; but in the West, generally, a simpler and steadier mood prevailed, and that counter influence prevailed at Rome on the whole.
Arius proposed to clear the way through this region of thought by making thorough work, as he conceived, with the great distinction between uncreated God and created beings. With the Church in general, he owned that He who became incarnate pre-existed as the Logos, personally subsisting, presiding over creation, the source of existence to all beings lower than Himself. But this Logos, though thus exalted, is not, according to Arius, within the sphere of Godhead; is not, therefore, divine in the proper and primary sense, but is only the first and greatest of creatures. Terms which suggest divinity are indeed applicable to Him, because He is the creature who stands nearest to the Father, and most fully represents Him. How far lofty terms of this kind may be carried in the case of the Logos, was a subject on which Arius probably fluctuated. But the assertion of the Logos as the central and personal element in Christ, and, at the same time; the denial of His proper and essential divinity and the assertion of His essential creaturehood, was Arianism. The Arians maintained this to be the only logical way of escaping Sabellianism.
Arianism commended itself to men who wished for a scheme of thought running clear, apparently, from end to end, and not, on the surface, offering difficulty or incoherence. This seeming advantage was secured at the cost of sacrificing all the main interests for the sake of which the Churchs mind had laboured. The Church had spoken of Christ as divine and human;some, supposing themselves driven to make a choice, had asserted one aspect so as to wrong the
other. According to Arius, Christ, who was not divine, was not truly human either. He had the body of a man, but the Logos (a creature of a higher order) supplied the place of the soul.
The opinions of Arius have sometimes been considered to be a development of those of Origen. Others have traced them to influences which had their home at Antioch.(1)
A remarkable presbyter, named Lucian, had lived and worked at Antioch during the latter part of the third century. Like his namesake, the author of the Dialogues, he was said to have been born at Samosata. He was trained at Edessa, and early in his life he settled at Antioch. It is said that during the episeopates of the three bishops who followed PaulDomnus, Timaeus, and Cyrillus (A.D. 275-305), Lucian was not in the communion of the Catholic Church at Antioch. But all this time he was growing into celebrity as a teacher, especially as an interpreter of Scriptures. He must have been reconciled to the Church eventually: his reputation continued to be high, and many who became distinguished in their generation had formed their theology under him. In 312 he was arrested by the civil authorities and removed to Nicomedia; he died there as a martyr, enduring suffering with fortitude.
As he had so long continued separate from the party at Antioch recognised as orthodox and opposed to Paul, it was a natural suggestion that Lucian shared Pauls errors. Again, as Arius was among his pupils (as were various churchmen who afterwards sympathised with Arius), it is equally natural to infer that Lucian might be the real author of Arianism. Both views have been maintained, though they are not obviously compatible; a dynamical Monarchian (which is Pauls theological label) being very different from an Anianm.(2) It would certainly
seem, however, that Lucians teaching, whatever it was, influenced in an Arianising direction the minds of many who had been under him. Arius, writing to Eusebius of Nicomedia, appeals to him as SylloukianistesFellow Lucianist.(3)
Arius is described to us as a Libyan by birth, who had visited different centres of church life. Latterly he is found as an influential presbyter at Alexandria. A parochial system had developed there, and Arius was in permanent charge of the church called Baucalis. He valued himself much on his reasoning powers. Indeed, Alexander, the bishop, imputed to him and his followers a spirit of boundless arrogance; they spoke, he said, as if they, and they only, were the enlightened portion of the Church.(4) However, Arius was not merely logical, but enthusiastic also; and he lived an ascetic life, using the scanty dress at that time becoming usual with ascetics. When the dispute attracted the attention of the Church, Arius was already sixty years of age - a tall, thin, eager, excitable man, with something strange in his appearance, and yet with great gentleness of voice and manner in his calmer moods. He had a considerable following among Christian ladies in Alexandria.
It is said that the bishop Alexander, expounding in the church the Christian doctrine of God, assented a unity in the Trinity - ev rptd& pova&z eivat.(5) Arius controverted this, and charged the bishop with Sabellianism. In the earliest letters bearing on the controversy,(6) Arius objects to the co-eternity of the Logos, and asserts in more than one form the precedency of the Father. Therefore, "there was when the Son was not";(7) and he already argues that the Son was called into existence "out of nothing."(8)
to emphasise the unique position of the Son. Though He is neither the unbegotten, nor part of the unbegotten, yet "by the divine counsel and will He took subsistence before the ages";(9) and he is willing to confess Him to be "fully God, only begotten and immutable."(10) Afterwards he developed more resolutely, both the distinction from the true God and the participation in creature qualities, - positions which were certainly implied in his radical assertion that the Son is one of the creatures, though the first and most glorious. Thus his later teaching asserted that the Son is by nature capable of going wrong as well as right; and he argued that the Father must be to the Son also, as well as to others, incomprehensible and "invisible," known by the Son only, as it were, along the same lines on which some knowledge of Him opens to others.(11) These and similar developments appeared in the Thalia, a versification of his principles with a view to popular impression.(12)
Still, while the Second Person, in the judgment of Arius, is a creature, called into existence out of nothing by the will of the Father, He has divine perfections so communicated to Him that no creature can surpass Him;(13) all other creatures are called into existence by His ministry, and He stands completely between the Universe and the Father. There are therefore two Gods, the unbegotten (who corresponds to the abstract and unknowable God of the philosophers) and the only-begotten God - inferior, even infinitely, to the first, yet the object also of faith and worship.
Sabellius had explained away the Three as transient phases of One. In the course of efforts made, against Sabellius, to emphasise the reality and the distinction of those blessed personalities, a tendency had appeared to carry subordination of the Second to the First so far as to turn distinction into separation. Arius gave decisive expression to this tendency; he did so with all the more animosity, because men were beginning to guard against it; while, in his view, it ought rather to be more roundly and logically carried out. He seems to have been possessed, too, by a real enthusiasm for the Divine Unity, which seemed to him to be subverted by the Athanasian doctrine.
A local council,(14) numerously attended, met at Alexandria and deposed Arius, with Theonas and Secundus, bishops who favoured him, and several deacons. Arius sought support among his friends, who occupied important positions in various churches.
Indeed it soon appeared that the breach could not continue merely local. Churchmen were taking sides upon it in different places. When the debate began Egypt was under the government of the Emperor Licinius. Constantine won his victory in 323; and Egypt, with the East, passed under his sway. All the more that Constantine
had committed himself to Christianity, a violent conflict about the Christian faith was unwelcome to him. Already (AD. 314) he had experienced, in connection with Donatus, the obstinacy of ecclesiastical parties; and he was anxious to suppress this new strife. The debate seemed to him a needless one which might be dropped, and he interposed his good offices through Hosius, bishop of Corduba, to reconcile the parties. This proved to be impracticable; and we may reckon it likely that the report of Hosius would dispose the emperor to take the anti-Arian side. The bent of the Christian West had long been to affirm plainly both the Godhead and the manhood of Christ, and to abstain from minute speculation. Hosius no doubt shared this tendency; and Constantine, so long resident in the West, might be familiar to some extent with the manner of thought and speech which this disposition suggested. If so, the elaborate effort of Arius to break down the divinity of Christ, while he continued to call Him a God, could hardly fail to repel Hosius, and might weir seem to Constantine a provoking and needless sophistication. For the present, however, he does not seem to have indicated any bias. With the advice, doubtless, of ecclesiastical persons, he resolved to call a council, oecumenical enough to represent the whole Church. Only under a Christian emperor could such a convention have taken place; and it is very possible that the imagination of Constantine was fired by the idea of occupying a position in which he could seem to elicit, and in some degree to control, oracular decrees in connection with the religion which he had adopted.
The importance of the step thus taken ought to be well considered by the student of Church history. Local councils had been in use for a considerable time, and had exerted authority. In dogmatic questions such councils were understood to formulate the actual tradition of the Church, their authority in that respect depending mainly on the feeling that their agreement afforded a reasonable guarantee for a correct account of that tradition, and carried with it a share of that general presumption as to divine guidance and care
which it was pious to associate with ecclesiastical actings. But the first council that could claim to be oecumenjcal must have been contemplated as something new and great. It would have the character of the collective Church speaking by its authentic voice. And whatever of the sacred and the supernatural, whatever presumption of divine guidance and care was associated with the Church as a whole, might easily be imputed to such an assembly. Hence its decisions might have something more in them than record of tradition; they might have a more oracular character. The significance of it might not be realised in anticipation. Yet it must have been felt to be excitingly new. It came to pass afterwards that a council was a recognised ecclesiastical expedient, became so far a part of the machinery of church life, and presented plainly enough to observers the tokens of "human nature" in its procedure. As yet this was something new, - part of the new world into which the Church had come.
Nicaea lies east of Constantinople, across the Bosphorus, at a distance of some forty-four miles. The council assembled there in May on June 325. Practically it represented Eastern Christendom, - there were not ten bishops from the West: the distance and the growing disuse of Greek in the West were obstacles. Sylvester, bishop of Rome, being old and feeble, was represented by two presbyters. The number of bishops present has been reckoned variously from 218 to 318; the latter is the figure which is generally accepted. Hosius of Corduba, Eusebius of Caesarea, Eustathius of Antioch, Alexander of Alexandria, are the personages most prominent, at the outset at least, and among them the presidents of the meeting must be sought. Athanasius was in attendance on his bishop, and took pant, perhaps, as his spokesman in some of the discussions.
No continuous and consecutive account of the proceedings has been handed down. Arius was present, and about eighteen bishops, headed by Eusebius of Nicomedia, were in general agreement with him. It would appear that at a pretty early stage, explicit statements of the views of Arius were
elicited, including passages of his Thalia, and these drew forth energetic disapprobation. A creed was put forward drawn up by the eighteen, the terms of which have not been preserved; but it was rejected, and torn in pieces. Perhaps it was at this point that Eusebius of Caesarea rehearsed the creed of his church, which he conceived might be accepted as a sound and adequate statement of the Churchs doctrine.(15)
This creed is given by Eusebius himself in his account of the proceedings at Ni&ea, contained in a letter to his flock (Theodoret, Eccl. Hist. i. 12). The last sentence, and perhaps the one before, do not read like clauses in a creed, and may embody rather assurances with which Eusebius accompanied it, when he submitted it to the council.
The Arians by this time, we are told, had become aware of the position in which they stood; they saw that they must, if possible, shelter themselves under the terms of some decision which, without sanctioning their views, might be interpreted as not excluding them. They showed themselves ready to accept the Caesarean formula, but this suggested to their opponents that they meant to interpret it in an Arian sense. On this the Alexandnian party (who had the powerful support of Eustathius of Antioch, Macarius
of Jerusalem, and also Marcellus of Ancyra), without objecting to anything in the Caesarean formula, set themselves to strengthen and make it more effective in excluding Arianism, by the insertion of appropriate words and clauses. It would be interesting to know in detail the process of discussion by which this took place. But only scattered glimpses are afforded us: The creed ultimately took shape as follows:(16) - "We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible: and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, only begotten, that is, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father, by whom all things were made that are in heaven or in earth; who for us men, and for our salvation descended and took flesh, and became man; He suffered and rose again the third day, ascended into heaven, and cometh to judge the quick and dead: and in the Holy Spirit. But those that say there was when He was not, and before He was begotten He was not, and that He was made out of nothing or of some other substance or essence, or that say the Son of God was liable to perversion or mutation, them the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematises."
The word consubstantial - ~eooto-ioc - henceforth became the banner of the orthodox, although "of the substance" - C Tm3c o~o~ac - was perhaps the phrase which Athanasius valued niost. The Arian teaching was effectually shut out by these phrases, and by the condemnatory clauses at the close.
The question was whether the formula thus built up could secure acceptance in a measure sufficient to constitute it an utterance of the Church. The emperors influence was freely employed to promote this object, and in the end almost everyone signified acquiescence. A letter of Eusebius of Caesarea(17) to his church, exists, in which he explains his signature of the creed,_-evidently conscious that he might be charged with having acted against his convictions. Most of the eighteen bishops who had supported Arius signed; but Eusebius of Nicomedia with Theognis of Nicaea, demurring to the condemnatory clauses, were deprived of their sees and banished. It is alleged, however, that before the end of the council or soon after it, they were induced to submit and were restored.(18) Arius also was banished, and some of his more obscure followers also shared this fate.
The Nicene Council might not at once disclose all its significance to its contemporaries and to those who took part in it. That is common in the case of great events; the actors are occupied with the details and the temporary forces. But the first general council crystallised and embodied in a new form the idea of the Church: it exhibited the form in which, as regards faith and duty, the Church could appear, and speak, and act in time and space. A presence heretofore believed, shall we say worshipped, found means of gathering itself into a tangible shape, in a Bithynian town, during some weeks of the autumn of 325.
Heretofore the Church spoke as from the past. Men and companies of men professed to receive and reproduce her genuine tradition, cherished by the constant faith of her members. To the great subject of the nature of our Lord men had striven to do justice by selecting and combining Biblical phrases. In doing this the inevitable expository function, in the exercise of which we declare our understanding of that which has come to us, was not idle.
But men had striven always to keep the attitude of reproducing what was undeniably ancient. The Nicene Council felt itself competent to go further, and to give a more independent expression to its utterance of the distinctive faith. The decisive words o~ota, ~Oougtoç~ (&ir&rTaoLc), had been employed, or had been allowed to pass, by some eminent teachers.(19) But they had not been regarded with uuiform satisfaction, and they were understood to be welcomed by Sabellius and his followers. No very authoritative tradition applied to them. But. the council chose them to define what it judged to be the true sense of the received faith concerning Christ.
This liberty, which is indispensable to the theologian, is also surely not forbidden to councils. And councils may be - it is to be hoped are - inwardly persuaded that their exposition is absolutely just. But much depends on whether, once made, it is held to be final, irreformable, infallible.
Consciously or unconsciously the Nicene decision really meant that ways of thinking and speaking which hitherto had been open must cease. Esteemed teachers had admitted speculation which either leant in the direction of merging the Son in the Father - in that case with risk of construing the distinct personality of Christ as human merely - or, for the sake of escaping that danger, they emphasised the distinct personality before the human birth, and tried to make that conceivable by ascribing to this personality a later origin and a restricted class of attributes, as of one hovering between God and the creatures. But in the presence of Arianism, with its created God and its creature God, this had to end. Tile contrast between the Creator and the creature must be emphasised, - and the personal distinction between the Son and the Father must be associated with the resolute assertion of Christs true and essential Godhead.
Theologically, the writer believes that the turn of thinking on this high subject sanctioned at Nicaea, was the just outcome of the whole discussion. Whether the terms em-
ployed to express it are the best or the only ones, has been questioned. Those who do so, object to metaphysical and non-Biblical terms; and they point to the history of varying meanings attachable to oz~cria, o,uoovuioc, ~ o-ranc. But it is not needful to track all these windings in order to understand the Nicene Creed. The subject in hand determines the range of meaning. O~oici is etymologically = Being or Essence; and it suggests that whatever that manner of existence is which differences God from all creatures, that is to be ascribed to the Son as well as to the Father.
It can be maintained, indeed, that this term o~)o-ia and others do not apply to God with certainty or clearness. These terms are derived from our thoughts of existences nearer to ourselves. Amid the changing appearances and relations to which they are subject we ascribe to each object something abiding, its om)crta, which makes it what it is, and is the source and secret of its properties. It may be said we do not know that oi)oia in any of the shades of sense of which it is capable is at all applicable to God. But the answer seems to be that if we think of God at all we do, in our thoughts, ascribe to Him Being, and a manner of Being, which is peculiarly His. We cannot most likely clear these words of implications which originate in our dealing with objects presented to our senses. But terms which have been found indispensable must be presumed to have a right. It is a saying which carries its sense clearly, that if and when we ascribe to God os)oia, as we shall inevitably do, we are to ascribe the same also to the Son of God because He is divine.
This conviction had substantially prevailed in the Church before, but not so consistently and clearly, nor expressed so inevitably, as now it was to be.
But while this may be maintained theologically, ecclesiastically it is a question whether the Church was prepared for the Nicene decision. Was the council itself so united on it as it seemed to be? Face to face with Arianism, from which they recoiled, impelled by the clearness and äonsistency of those who led on the Alexandrian side,
influenced eventually by the emperors concurrence with the proposers of the creed, those members who might have preferred something short of it found no standing ground. They were embarrassed perhaps by the circumstance that the course of procedure which their views suggested had been early put forward by the bishop of Caesarea, and had been discredited as fitted to shelter the Arians. But it is very possible that many of them, in adopting the phrases of the creed, went further than their own convictions warranted, and would have preferred to rest in expressions of earlier creeds less peremptory and precise. When they departed to their churches, and found themselves again in contact with brethren who had not experienced the influences of the council, a change came for many in the direction of relaxation or recoil. In no other way can we explain the course of subsequent events.
Of those who, refusing to accede to Arianism, yet proved to be dissatisfied with the Nicene Creed, there might be various shades; but on the whole they may be referred to two classes. One was composed of men who simply wished to abide by the language already familiar to them, and felt uneasy as to the amount of change and also of exclusion which the Nicene phrases might turn out to carry with them. The other class were Semi-Arians proper. They had adopted subtle theories about the Logos, which really were attempts to find a middle category between the creating nature and the created. They did not sympathise with the resolute clearness of Arius in ranking the Logos among the creatures, called into existence "out of nothing"; but neither did they sympathise with the corresponding clearness of the Nicene Creed on the other side. They believed in a middle ground. These two classes shaded into one another, and it was the interest of both to find common phrases and to act together.
Such persons could unite in objecting to the phrase of the creed, as leaning to Sabellianism. For some of them this might be merely a good popular cry; but in the ease of others it was a genuine apprehension. The assertion
of the ojtouo~&a, as they felt, so identified the Father with the Son that the distinction between them could not afterwards be maintained. The word itself also had had a questionable history. In using it the council were consecrating a suspected phrase.
Some justification for such suspicions was furnished by the case of Marcellus of Ancyra.. He had been prominent at the council as an opponent of Arius, and afterwards continued to support the Nicene Creed. But he held a peculiar doctrine, which was eventually disclosed in a book written by Marcellus, against Asterius an advocate of Arianism. Marcellus, as we shall see, did not own a real distinction between the Father and the Logos. He was felt to deny both the pre-existence of Christ and His continued existence after the consummation of the Church. He had no motive therefore, and hardly a feasible ground, for any doctrine of the Holy Spirit.
The energy and success with which the Athanasian view was carried through at the council against every hostile or temporising tendency, seems to be reflected in the attitude of Constantine. There is reason to suppose that before the council began he had been made acquainted with the creed of Caesarea (proposed by Eusebius), and had thought it might suffice. If this be so, his change of attitude, and his resolute advocacy, at last, of the creed eventually adopted, indicates that the way in which the Homoousian doctrine was pressed and carried had impressed him deeply, and led him to think it his true policy to rally the Church on that line, and break down opposition or hesitation. This memorable decision of Church and State - uttered by a new organ, in the very dawn of the new day, must have fallen with weight on the minds of men. Yet the elements of reaction existed, as we have seen, in many minds, and the Arians, as well as the more advanced and dogmatic Semi-Arians, resolved to take advantage of this to shake the authority of the Nicene formula. Constantine was by and by won to their views.
What proved to be at first the policy of the party
was not to repudiate Nicene doctrine, but to administer the Church with liberal toleration for Arianising views; to smother the Nicene Creed in numerous formulas less precise; and to contrive pretexts for discrediting and destroying leading advocates of the Nicene decision.
(1) Newman, whose theological antipathies were energetic, traces the course of Christian thought at Antioch in lurid colours. Arians, 3rd ed. 1871, pp. 1-25.
(2) Harnack has ingeniously tried to show how the combination might be accomplished, and ascribes to Lucian, on the strength of this speculation, an articulately Arian position. Dogmengesch. II. vii. 1.
(3) Theodor. Eccl. Hist. i. 4.
(4) Theodor. Eccl. Hist. i. 3.
(5) Socrat. Hist. Eccl. i. 5.
(6) One of Alexander of Alexandria to his namesake of Constantinople; one of Arius to Eusebius of Nicomedia; and one of the Arians to Alexander of Alexandria. Theod. Eccl. Hist. i. 3, 4 ; Athan. De Synodisa, 16.
(11) Arius originally spoke of the Logos as &rperroe; hut that perhaps concealed an ambiguity, for the idea of the Logos, both in the superhuman sphere and in the human, by trial and fidelity turning a position that was precarious into one that was assured, seems to have been an original element in his thought. Take the scheme of Paul of Antioch, and you have Christ as mere man, but, under an impersonal Logos influence, making good His standing by virtue. He might have fallen, hut He stood. Make the Logos personal, but created, substitute this Logos for the Soul of Christ, and suppose Him to be peccable, but at all stages, before and after His human birth, to overcome all influence and surmount all risks that might shake a creature, and you have Arianism. In both schemes God foresees the moral victory, and so appoints the office of Saviour to the victor. Lucian of Antioch may have suggested this modification of Pauls view. If this was the original scheme of Arius, his earlier ascription to the Logos of the attribute ärpeirres must have referred only to the divine foreknowledge.
(12) Athanasius has preserved for us some of these strange verses (de Syn. 15), e.g.
God as He is in Himself, exists by none comprehended,
He alone has no equal, no like, no sharer of glory;
Unbegotten we call Him, comparing Him with the begotten,
And praise Him as unbeginning in contrast with him who began.
Thus He, the heginningless, gave to the Son beginning of being;
He brought Him forth as a child, and Him to be Son He adopted.
In His own substance the Son has nought that to Godhead pertaineth,
Nor consubstantial is He, nor equal in ought to the Father," etc. etc.
(13) "One that is even as the Son is, God can beget at His pleasure. But one that excels Him, or better, or greater, not even He can." Thalia; Athan. de Syn. 15. Beget is for Arius equivalent to create. It mainly suggests to him beginning of being.
(14) Date uncertain; A.D. 320 or 321 has been assigned ; see Hefele, Conciliangeschichte, i. p. 235.
(15) "I believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of all things both visible and invisible: and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, God of God, Light of Light, Life of Life, the only.begotten Son, the firstborn of every creature, begotten of the Father before all worlds, by whom all things were made; who for our salvation was incarnate, and lived among men, and suffered, and rose again on the third day, and ascended to tbe Father, and shall come in glory to judge the quick and dead. And we believe in one Holy Ghost. We believe that each of these Three is and subsists, the Father truly as Father, the Son truly as Son, the Holy Ghost truly as Holy Ghost: as also our Lord, sending forth His own disciples to preach, said, Go, and teach all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Concerning which things we affirm that this is so, that we so think, and that it has long so been held, and that we remain steadfast to death for this faith, anathematising every godless heresy. That we have taught these things from our heart and soul from the time we have known ourselves, and that we now think and say this in truth, we testify in the name of Almighty God, and of our Lord Jesus Christ, being able to prove even by demonstration and to persuade you that in past times also thus we believed and preached."
(16) [Greek text omitted]
(17) Theod. Eccl. Hist. i. 11.
(18) It is more likely that their return to position and influence fell somewhat later.
(19) Origen sometimes, Hippolytus (Ref. x. 33), Dion. Alex. in Athan. de Sententia, xviii.