Who was Arius?

Over the course of Church History there were many issues and false teaching that arose.  One such false teaching involved a priest by the name of Arius.  Arius was a student of Lucian of Alexandria and ordained around 311.  He started to make waves when he publicly denied the teaching of the Trinity which was being taught by his bishop Alexander.  He was able to do this because he was a brilliant orator, but also because he laced his verbiage with just enough orthodoxy that some bishops fell his teachings.  Through the whole Arian controversy, the Church was forced to clarify the relationship between the Son and the Father.

Arianism was a big issue that had the potential to rip the infant Church apart.  What was he teaching that was so bad?  In short, Arius was teaching that Christ was not divine, or more specifically not the same substance as the Father.  The Father existed first and created the Son who in turn created everything else.  He took passages of scripture, such as Matthew 28:18, and took it to mean that Christ was somehow less than the Father (Norris 83).

Arius’s bishop, Alexander, became very concerned about the teachings of Arius.  For time he ignored them and though they would just cease, but when it became apparent that Arius was becoming more influential Alexander had to act.  Bishop Alexander called a synod that publicly anathematized the teachings of Arius.  One of the ways that Bishop Alexander and the synod did this was interesting.  Alexander took Arius’s Christology to task by showing that Arius denied the immutability of the Father.  Arius did this because, in his view, the Father was not immutable until the Son was finally created.

Though this synod acted swiftly to defend orthodox Christology from Arius, his teaching would remain for a while.  This came to the attention of the emperor Constantine via his bishop Hosius.  As previously stated this issue had he potential to end in schism, and this would have had horrible consequences for a young church, and the entire empire.  The Council of Nicea was called, and in all 318 bishops were in attendance, and two papal legates were in attendance because Pope Sylvester was to elderly to make the long journey.

The council fathers heard what Arius had to say, but they also listened to what St. Athanasius has to say.  They defended the doctrine of Christ by declaring that he is of the same substance of the Father, but not the Father.  Since he is of the same substance he has always existed and is eternal.  The Logos knows all things before their origination, and St. Athanasius showed that this was an attribute of God since God alone can know all things (Lecture Notes).  The council declared that Christ was of the same substance by using the Greek word Homoousios which means “of the same substance”.

In Conclusion, the teaching of Arius regarding Christ forced the church to formally define the nature of Christ.  The council fathers used a combination of sacred scripture and sacred tradition to defend the deity of Christ.  The canons that they laid out at Nicea are still binding on the church and is what the church teaches today.  In fact, we recite the Nicean creed at mass as a statement of Christian belief.

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Norris, Richard.  The Christological Controversy.  Philadelphia, PA:  Fortress Press.  1980.  Print.

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