|John Henry Newman
The Arians of the Fourth Century
Table of Contents
Catalogue of Titles
Logos Virtual Library
The Arians of the Fourth Century
Section 5: The Arian Heresy
It remains to give some account of the heretical doctrine, which was first promulgated within the Church by Arius. There have been attempts to attribute this heresy to Catholic writers previous to his time; yet its contemporaries are express in their testimony that he was the author of it, nor can anything be adduced from the Ante-Nicene theology to countenance such an imputation. Sozomen expressly says, that Arius was the first to introduce into the Church the formulæ of the “out of nothing,” and the “once He was not,” that is, the creation and the non-eternity of the Son of God. Alexander and Athanasius, who had the amplest means of information on the subject, confirm his testimony. That the heresy existed before his time outside the Church, may be true,—though little is known on the subject; and that there had been certain speculators, such as Paulus of Samosata, who were simply humanitarians, is undoubtedly true; but they did not hold the formal doctrine of Arius, that an Angelic being had been exalted into a God. However, he and his supporters, though they do not venture to adduce in their favour the evidence of former Catholics, nevertheless speak in a general way of their having received their doctrines from others. Arius too himself appears to be only a partisan of the Eusebians, and they in turn are referable to Lucian of Antioch, who for some cause or other was at one time under excommunication. But here we lose sight of the heresy; except that Origen assails a doctrine, whose we know not, which bears a resemblance to it; nay, if we may trust Ruffinus, which was expressed in the very same heterodox formulæ, which Sozomen declares that Arius was the first to preach within the Church.
Before detailing, however, the separate characteristics of his heresy, it may be right briefly to confront it with such previous doctrines, in and out of the Church, as may be considered to bear a resemblance to it.
The fundamental tenet of Arianism was, that the Son of God was a creature, not born of the Father, but, in the scientific language of the times, made “out of nothing.” It followed that He only possessed a super-angelic nature, being made at God’s good pleasure before the worlds, before time, after the pattern of the attribute Logos or Wisdom, as existing in the Divine Mind, gifted with the illumination of it, and in consequence called after it the Word and the Wisdom, nay inheriting the title itself of God; and at length united to a human body, in the place of its soul, in the person of Jesus Christ.
1. This doctrine resembled that of the five philosophizing Fathers, as described in the foregoing Section, so far as this, that it identified the Son with the External or Prophoric Logos, spoke of the Divine Logos Itself as if a mere internal attribute, and yet affected to maintain a connexion between the Logos and the Son. Their doctrine differed from it, inasmuch as they believed, that He who was the Son had ever been in personal existence as the Logos in the Father’s bosom, whereas Arianism dated His personal existence from the time of His manifestation.
2. It resembled the Eclectic theology, so far as to maintain that the Son was by nature separate from and inferior to the Father; and again, formed at the Father’s will. It differed from Eclecticism, in considering the Son to have a beginning of existence, whereas the Platonists held Him, as they held the universe, to be an eternal Emanation, and the Father’s will to be a concomitant, not an antecedent, of His gennesis.
3. It agreed with the teaching of Gnostics and Manichees, in maintaining the Son’s essential inferiority to the Father: it vehemently opposed them in their material notions of the Deity.
4. It concurred with the disciples of Paulus, in considering the Intellectual and Ruling Principle in Christ, the Son of God, to be a mere creature, by nature subject to a moral probation, as other men, and exalted on the ground of His obedience, and gifted, moreover, with a heavenly wisdom, called the Logos, which guided Him. The two heresies also agreed, as the last words imply, in holding the Logos to be an attribute or manifestation, not a Person. Paulus considered it as if a voice or sound, which comes and goes; so that God may be said to have spoken in Christ. Arius makes use of the same illustration: “Many words speaketh God,” he says, “which of them is manifested in the flesh?” He differs from Paulus, in holding the pre-existence of the spiritual intelligence in Christ, or the Son, whom he considers to be the first and only creation of the Father’s Hand, superangelic, and the God of the Christian Economy.
5. Arianism agreed with the heresy of Sabellius, in teaching God to exist only in one Person, and His true Logos to be an attribute, manifested in the Son, who was a creature. It differed from Sabellianism, as regards the sense in which the Logos was to be accounted as existing in Christ. The Sabellian, lately a Patripassian, at least insisted much upon the formal and abiding presence of the Logos in Him. The Arian, only partially admitting the influence of the Divine Logos on that superangelic nature, which was the Son, and which in Christ took the place of a soul, nevertheless gave it the name of Logos, and maintained accordingly that the incarnate Logos was not the true Wisdom and Word of God, which was one with Him, but a created semblance of it.
6. Such is Arianism in its relations to the principal errors of its time; and of these it was most opposed to the Gnostic and Sabellian, which, as we shall see, it did not scruple to impute to its Catholic adversaries. Towards the Catholics, on the other hand, it stood thus: it was willing to ascribe to the Son all that is commonly attributed to Almighty God, His name, authority, and power; all but the incommunicable nature or being (usia), that is, all but that which alone could give Him a right to these prerogatives of divinity in a real and literal sense. Now to turn to the arguments by which the heresy defended itself, or rather, attacked the Church.
1. Arius commenced his heresy thus, as Socrates informs us:—“(1) If the Father gave birth to the Son, He who was born has an origin of existence; (2) therefore once the Son was not; (3) therefore He is created out of nothing.” It appears, then, that he inferred his doctrine from the very meaning of the word “Son,” which is the designation of our Lord in Scripture; and so far he adopted a fair and unexceptionable mode of reasoning. Human relations, though the merest shadows of “heavenly things,” yet would not of course be employed by Divine Wisdom without fitness, nor unless with the intention of instructing us. But what should be the exact instruction derived by us from the word “Son” is another question. The Catholics (not to speak of their guidance from tradition in determining it) had taken “Son” in its most obvious meaning; as interpreted moreover by the title “Only-begotten,” and as confirmed by the general tenor of Revelation. But the Arians selected as the sense of the figure, that part of the original import of the word, which, though undeniably included in it, when referred to us, is at best what logicians call a property deduced from the essence or nature, not an element of its essential idea, and which was especially out of place, when the word was used to express a truth about the Divine Being. That a father is prior to his son, is not suggested, though it is implied, by the force of the terms, as ordinarily used; and it is an inference altogether irrelevant, when the inquiry has reference to that Being, from our notion of whom time as well as space is necessarily excluded. It is fair, indeed, to object at the outset to the word “Father” being applied at all in its primary sense to the Supreme Being; but this was not the Arian ground, which was to argue from, not against, the metaphor employed. Nor was even this the extent of perverseness which their argument evidences. Let it be observed, that they admitted the primary sense of the word, in order to introduce a mere secondary sense, contending that, because our Lord was to be considered really as a Son, therefore in fact He was no Son at all. In the first proposition Arius assumes that He is really a Son, and argues as if He were; in the third he has arrived at the conclusion that He was created, that is, no Son at all, except in a secondary sense, as having received from the Father a sort of adoption. An attempt was made by the Arians to smooth over their inconsistency, by adducing passages of Scripture, in which the works of God are spoken of as births,—as in the instance from Job, “He giveth birth to the drops of dew.” But this is obviously an entirely new mode of defending their theory of a divine adoption, and does not relieve their original fault; which consisted in their arguing from an assumed analogy, which the result of that argument destroyed. For, if He be the Son of God, no otherwise than man is, that is, by adoption, what becomes of the argument from the anterior and posterior in existence? as if the notion of adoption, contained in it any necessary reference to the nature and circumstances of the two parties between whom it takes place.
2. Accordingly, the Arians were soon obliged to betake themselves to a more refined argument. They dropped the consideration of time, and withdrew the inference involving it, which they had drawn from the literal sense of the word “Son.” Instead of this, they maintained that the relation of Father and Son, as such, in whatever sense considered, could not but imply the notion of voluntary originator, and on the other hand, of a free gift conferred; and that the Son must be essentially inferior to Him, from whose will His existence resulted. Their argument was conveyed in the form of a dilemma:—“Whether the Father gave birth to the Son volens or nolens?” The Catholics wisely answered them by a counter inquiry, which was adapted to silence, without countenancing, the presumptuous disputant. Gregory of Nazianzus asked them, “Whether the Father is God, volens or nolens?” And Cyril of Alexandria, “Whether He is good, compassionate, merciful, and holy, with or against His choice? For, if He is so in consequence of choosing it, and choice ever precedes what is chosen, these attributes once did not exist in God.” Athanasius gives substantially the same answer, solving, however, rather than confuting, the objection. “The Arians,” he says, “direct their view to the contradictory of willing, instead of considering the more important and the previous question; for, as unwillingness is opposed to willing, so is nature prior to willing, and leads the way to it.”
3. Further:—the Arians attempted to draw their conclusion as to the dissimilarity of the Father and the Son, from the divine attribute of the “Ingenerate” (unborn or increate), which, as I have already said, was acknowledged on all hands to be the peculiar attribute of the Father, while it had been the philosophical as well as Valentinian appellation of the Supreme God. This was the chief resource of the Anomœans, who revived the pure Arian heresy, some years after the death of its first author. Their argument has been expressed in the following form:—that “it is the essence of the Father to be ingenerate, and of the Son to be generate; but unborn and born cannot be the same.” The shallowness, as well as the miserable trifling of such disputations on a serious subject, renders them unworthy of a refutation.
4. Moreover, they argued against the Catholic sense of the word “Son,” from what they conceived to be its materiality; and, unwarrantably contrasting its primary with its figurative signification, as if both could not be preserved, they contended that, since the word must be figurative, therefore it could not retain its primary sense, but must be taken in the secondary sense of adoption.
5. Their reasonings (so to call them) had now conducted them thus far:—to maintain that our Lord was a creature, advanced, after creation, to be a Son of God. They did not shrink from the inference which these positions implied, viz. that He had been put on trial as other moral agents, and adopted on being found worthy; that His holiness was not essential, but acquired.
6. It was next incumbent on them to explain in what sense our Lord was the “Only-begotten,” since they refused to understand that title in the Catholic sense of the Homoüsion or consubstantial. Accordingly, while pronouncing the divine birth to be a kind of creation, or an adoption, they attempted to hide the offensiveness of the heretical doctrine by the variety and dignity of the prerogatives, by which they distinguished the Son from other creatures. They declared that He was, strictly speaking, the only creature of God, as being alone made immediately by Him; and hence He was called Only-begotten, as “born alone from Him alone,” whereas all others were made through Him, as the instrument of Divine Power; and that in consequence He was “a creature, but not as being one of the creatures, a birth or production, but not as being one of the produced”; that is, to express their sentiment with something of the same ambiguity, “He was not a creature like other creatures.” Another ambiguity of language followed. The idea of time depending on that of creation, they were able to grant that He, who was employed in forming all things, therefore brought time itself into being, and was “before all time”; not granting thereby that He was everlasting, but meaning that He was brought into existence “timelessly,” independent of that succession of second causes (as they are called), that elementary system, seemingly self-sustained and self-renovating, to the laws of which creation itself may be considered as subjected.
7. Nor, lastly, had they any difficulty either in allowing or in explaining away the other attributes of divinity ascribed to Christ in Scripture. They might safely confess Him to be perfect God, one with God, the object of worship, the author of good; still with the reserve, that sacred appellations belonged to Him only in the same general sense in which they are sometimes accidentally bestowed on the faithful servants of God, and without interfering with the prerogatives of the One, Eternal, Self-existing Cause of all things.
This account of the Arian theology may be suitably illustrated by some of the original documents of the controversy. Here, then, shall follow two letters of Arius himself, an extract from his Thalia, a letter of Eusebius of Nicomedia, and parts of the encyclical Epistle of Alexander of Alexandria, in justification of his excommunication of Arius and his followers.
1. “To his most dear Lord, Eusebius, a man of God, faithful and orthodox, Arius, the man unjustly persecuted by the Pope Alexander for the all-conquering truth’s sake, of which thou too art a champion, sends health in the Lord. As Ammonius, my father, was going to Nicomedia, it seemed becoming to address this through him; and withal to represent to that deep-seated affection which thou bearest towards the brethren for the sake of God and His Christ, how fiercely the bishop assaults and drives us, leaving no means untried in his opposition. At length he has driven us out of the city, as men without God, for dissenting from his public declarations, that, ‘As God is eternal, so is His Son: where the Father, there the Son; the Son co-exists in God without a beginning (or birth): ever generate, an ingenerately-generate; that neither in idea, nor by an instant of time, does God precede the Son; an eternal God, an eternal Son; the Son is from God Himself.’ Since then, Eusebius, thy brother of Cæsarea, Theodotus, Paulinus, &c.…and all the Bishops of the East declare that God exists without origin before the Son, they are made anathema by Alexander’s sentence; all but Philogonius, Hellanicus, and Macarius, heretical, ill-grounded men, who say, one that He is an utterance, another an offspring, another co-ingenerate. These blasphemies we cannot bear even to hear; no, not if the heretics should threaten us with ten thousand deaths. What, on the other hand, are our statements and opinions, our past and present teaching? that the Son is not ingenerate, nor in any way a part of the Ingenerate, nor made of any subject-matter; but that, by the will and counsel of God, He subsisted before times and ages, perfect God, Only-begotten, unchangeable; and that before this generation, or creation, or determination, or establishment, He was not, for He is not ingenerate. And we are persecuted for saying, The Son has an origin, but God is unoriginate; for this we are under persecution, and for saying that He is out of nothing, inasmuch as He is neither part of God, nor of any subject-matter. Therefore we are persecuted; the rest thou knowest. I pray that thou be strong in the Lord, remembering our afflictions, fellow-Lucianist, truly named Eusebius.”
2. The second letter is written in the name of himself and his partisans of the Alexandrian Church; who, finding themselves excommunicated, had withdrawn to Asia, where they had a field for propagating their opinions. It was composed under the direction of Eusebius of Nicomedia, and is far more temperate and cautious than the former.
“To Alexander, our blessed Pope and Bishop, the Priests and Deacons send health in the Lord. Our hereditary faith, which thou too, blessed Pope, hast taught us, is this:—We believe in One God, alone ingenerate, alone everlasting, alone unoriginate, alone truly God, alone immortal, alone wise, alone good, alone sovereign, alone judge of all, ordainer, and dispenser, unchangeable and unalterable, just and good, of the Law and the Prophets, and of the New Covenant. We believe that this God gave birth to the Only-begotten Son before age-long times, through whom He has made those ages themselves, and all things else; that He generated Him, not in semblance, but in truth, giving Him a real subsistence (or hypostasis), at His own will, so as to be unchangeable and unalterable, God’s perfect creature, but not as other creatures, His production, but not as other productions; nor as Valentinus maintained, an offspring (probole); nor again, as Manichæus, a consubstantial part; nor, as Sabellius, a Son-Father, which is to make two out of one; nor, as Hieracas, one torch from another, or a flame divided into two; nor, as if He were previously in being, and afterwards generated or created again to be a Son, a notion condemned by thyself, blessed Pope, in full Church and among the assembled Clergy; but, as we affirm, created at the will of God before times and before ages, and having life and being from the Father, who gave subsistence as to Him, so to His glorious perfections. For, when the Father gave to Him the inheritance of all things, He did not thereby deprive Himself of attributes, which are His ingenerately, who is the Source of all things.
“So there are Three Subsistences (or Persons); and, whereas God is the Cause of all things, and therefore unoriginate simply by Himself, the Son on the other hand, born of the Father time-apart, and created and established before all periods, did not exist before He was born, but being born of the Father time-apart, was brought into substantive existence (subsistence), He alone by the Father alone. For He is not eternal, or co-eternal, or co-ingenerate with the Father; nor hath an existence together with the Father, as if there were two ingenerate Origins; but God is before all things, as being a Monad, and the Origin of all;—and therefore before the Son also, as indeed we have learned from thee in thy public preaching. Inasmuch then as it is from God that He hath His being, and His glorious perfections, and His life, and His charge of all things, for this reason God is His Origin, as being His God and before Him. As to such phrases as ‘from Him,’ and ‘from the womb,’ and ‘issued forth from the Father, and am come,’ if they be understood, as they are by some, to denote a part of the consubstantial, and a probole (offspring), then the Father will be of a compound nature, and divisible, and changeable, and corporeal; and thus, as far as their words go, the incorporeal God will be subjected to the properties of matter. I pray for thy health in the Lord, blessed Pope.”
3. About the same time Arius wrote his Thalia, or song for banquets and merry-makings, from which the following is extracted. He begins thus:—“According to the faith of God’s elect, who know God, holy children, sound in their creed, gifted with the Holy Spirit of God, I have received these things from the partakers of wisdom, accomplished, taught of God, and altogether wise. Along their track I have pursued my course with like opinions,—I, the famous among men, the much-suffering for God’s glory; and, taught of God, I have gained wisdom and knowledge.” After this exordium, he proceeds to declare, “that God made the Son the origin (or beginning) of creation, being Himself unoriginate, and adopted Him to be His Son; who, on the other hand, has no property of divinity in His own Hypostasis, not being equal, nor consubstantial with Him; that God is invisible, not only to the creatures created through the Son, but to the Son Himself; that there is a Trinity, but not with an equal glory, the Hypostases being incommunicable with each other; One infinitely more glorious than the other; that the Father is foreign in substance to the Son, as existing unoriginate; that by God’s will the Son became Wisdom, Power, the Spirit, the Truth, the Word, the Glory, and the Image of God; that the Father, as being Almighty, is able to give existence to a being equal to the Son, though not superior to Him; that, from the time that He was made, being a mighty God, He has hymned the praises of His Superior; that He cannot investigate His Father’s nature, it being plain that the originated cannot comprehend the unoriginate; nay, that He does not know His own.”
4. On the receipt of the letter from Arius, which was the first document here exhibited, Eusebius of Nicomedia addressed a letter to Paulinus of Tyre, of which the following is an extract:—“We have neither heard of two Ingenerates, nor of One divided into two, subjected to any material affection; but of One Ingenerate, and one generated by Him really; not from His substance, not partaking of the nature of the Ingenerate at all, but made altogether other than He in nature and in power, though made after the perfect likeness of the character and excellence of His Maker…But, if He were of Him in the sense of ‘from Him,’ as if a part of Him, or from the effluence of His substance, He would not be spoken of (in Scripture) as created or established…for what exists as being from the Ingenerate ceases to be created or established, as being from its origin ingenerate. But, if His being called generate suggests the idea that He is made out of the Father’s substance, and has from Him a sameness of nature, we know that not of Him alone does Scripture use the word ‘generate,’ but also of things altogether unlike the Father in nature. For it says of men, ‘I have begotten sons and exalted them, and they have set Me at nought’; and, ‘Thou hast left the God who begat thee’; and in other instances, as ‘Who has given birth to the drops of dew?’…Nothing is of His substance; but all things are made at His will.”
5. Alexander, in his public accusation of Arius and his party to Alexander of Constantinople, writes thus:—“They say that once the Son of God was not, and that He, who before had no existence, was at length made, made such, when He was made, as any other man is by nature. Numbering the Son of God among created things, they are but consistent in adding that He is of an alterable nature, capable of virtue and vice…When it is urged on them that the Saviour differs from others, called sons of God, by the unchangeableness of His nature, stripping off all reverence, they answer, that God, foreknowing and foreseeing His obedience, chose Him out of all creatures; chose Him, I say, not as possessing aught by nature and prerogative above the others (since, as they say, there is no Son of God by nature), nor bearing any peculiar relation towards God; but, as being, as well as others, of an alterable nature, and preserved from falling by the pursuit and exercise of virtuous conduct; so that, if Paul or Peter had made such strenuous progress, they would have gained a sonship equal to His.”
In another letter, which was addressed to the Churches, he says, “It is their doctrine, that ‘God was not always a Father,’ that ‘the Word of God has not always existed, but was made out of nothing; for the self-existing God made Him, who once was not, out of what once was not…Neither is He like the Father in substance, nor is He the true and natural Logos of the Father, nor His true Wisdom, but one of His works and creatures; and He is catachrestically the Word and Wisdom, inasmuch as He Himself was made by the proper Logos of God, and by that Wisdom which is in God, by which God made all things, and Him in the number. Hence He is mutable and alterable by nature, as other rational beings; and He is foreign and external to God’s substance, being excluded from it. He was made for our sakes, in order that God might create us by Him as by an instrument; and He would not have had subsistence, had not God willed our making.’ Some one asked them, if the Word of God could change, as the devil changed? They scrupled not to answer, ‘Certainly, He can.’ ”
More than enough has now been said in explanation of a controversy, the very sound of which must be painful to any one who has a loving faith in the Divinity of the Son. Yet so it has been ordered, that He who was once lifted up to the gaze of the world, and hid not His face from contumely, has again been subjected to rude scrutiny and dishonour in the promulgation of His religion to the world. And His true followers have been themselves obliged in His defence to raise and fix their eyes boldly on Him, as if He were one of themselves, dismissing the natural reverence, which would keep them ever at His feet. The subject may be dismissed with the following remarks:—
1. First, it is obvious to notice the unscriptural character of the arguments on which the heresy was founded. It is true that the Arians did not neglect to support their case from such detached portions of the Inspired Volume as suited their purpose; but still it can never be said that they showed that earnest desire of sacred truth, and careful search into its documents, which alone mark the Christian inquirer. The question is not merely whether they confined themselves to the language of Scripture, but whether they began with the study of it. Doubtless, to forbid in controversy the use of all words but those which actually occur in Scripture, is a superstition, an encroachment on Scripture liberty, and an impediment to freedom of thought; and especially unreasonable, considering that a traditional system of theology, consistent with, but independent of, Scripture, has existed in the Church from the Apostolic age. “Why art thou in that excessive slavery to the letter,” says Gregory Nazianzen, “and employest a Judaical wisdom, dwelling upon syllables, while letting slip realities? Suppose, on thy saying twice five, or twice seven, I were to understand thence ten or fourteen; or, if I spoke of a man, when thou hadst named an animal rational and mortal, should I in that case appear to thee to trifle? How could I so appear, in merely expressing your own meaning?” But, inasmuch as this liberty was an evangelical privilege, which might be allowed to the Arian disputants, on the other hand it was a dangerous privilege also, ever to be subjected to a profound respect for the sacred text, a cautious adherence to the whole of the doctrine therein contained, and a regard also for those received statements, which, though not given to us as inspired, probably are derived from inspired teachers. Now the most liberal admission which can be made in behalf of the Arians, is, to grant that they did not in controversy throw aside the authority of Scripture altogether; that is, proclaim themselves unbelievers; for it is evident that they took only just so much of it as would afford them a basis for erecting their system of heresy by an abstract logical process. The mere words “Father and Son,” “birth,” “origin,” &c., were all that they postulated of revealed authority for their argument; they professed to do all the rest for themselves. The meaning of these terms in their context, the illustration which they afford to each other, and, much more, the divine doctrine considered as one undivided message, variously exhibited and dispersed in the various parts of Scripture, were excluded from the consideration of controversialists, who thought that truth was gained by disputing instead of investigating.
2. Next, it will be observed that, throughout their discussions, they assumed as an axiom, that there could be no mystery in the Scripture doctrine respecting the nature of God. In this, indeed, they did but follow the example of the contemporary spurious theologies; though their abstract mode of reasoning from the mere force of one or two Scripture terms, necessarily forced them more than other heretics into the use and avowal of the principle. The Sabellian, to avoid mystery, denied the distinction of Persons in the Divine Nature. Paulus, and afterwards Apollinaris, for the same reason, denied the existence of two Intelligent Principles at once, the Word and the human soul, in the Person of Christ. The Arians adopted both errors. Yet what is a mystery in doctrine, but a difficulty or inconsistency in the intellectual expression of it? And what reason is there for supposing, that Revelation addresses itself to the intellect, except so far as intellect is necessary for conveying and fixing its truths on the heart? Why are we not content to take and use what is given us, without asking questions? The Catholics, on the other hand, pursued the intellectual investigation of the doctrine, under the guidance of Scripture and Tradition, merely as far as some immediate necessity called for it; and cared little, though one mode of expression seemed inconsistent with another. Thus, they developed the notion of “substance” against the Pantheists, of the “Hypostatic Word” against the Sabellians, of the “Internal Word” to meet the imputation of Ditheism; still they did not use these formulæ for any thing beyond shadows of sacred truth, symbols witnessing against the speculations into which the unbridled intellect fell.
Accordingly, they were for a time inconsistent with each other in the minor particulars of their doctrinal statements, being far more bent on opposing error, than on forming a theology:—inconsistent, that is, before the experience of controversy and the voice of tradition had detached them from less accurate or advisable expressions, and made them correct, or at least compare and adjust their several declarations. Thus, some said that there was but one hypostasis, meaning substance, in God; others three hypostases, meaning Subsistences or Persons; and some spoke of one usia, meaning substance, while others spoke of more than one usia. Some allowed, some rejected, the terms probole and homoüsion, according as they were guided by the prevailing heresy of the day, and by their own judgment how best to meet it. Some spoke of the Son as existing from everlasting in the Divine Mind; others implied that the Logos was everlasting, and became the Son in time. Some asserted that He was unoriginate, others denied it. Some, when interrogated by heretics, taught that He was born of the Father at the Father’s will; others, from His nature, not His will; others, neither with His willing nor not willing. Some declared that God was in number Three; others, that He was numerically One; while to others it perhaps appeared more philosophical to exclude the idea of number altogether, in discussions about that Mysterious Nature, which is beyond comparison with itself, whether viewed as Three or One, and neither falls under nor involves any conceivable species.
In all these various statements, the object is clear and unexceptionable, being merely that of protesting and practically guarding against dangerous deductions from the Scripture doctrine; and the problem implied in all of them is, to determine how this end may best be effected. There are no signs of an intellectual curiosity in the tenor of these Catholic expositions, prying into things not seen as yet; nor of an ambition to account for the representations of the truth given us in the sacred writings. But such a temper is the very characteristic of the Arian disputants. They insisted on taking the terms of Scripture and of the Church for more than they signified, and expected their opponents to admit inferences altogether foreign to the theological sense in which they were really used. Hence, they sometimes accused the orthodox of heresy, sometimes of self-contradiction. The Fathers of the Church have come down to us loaded with the imputation of the strangest errors, merely because they united truths, which heresies only shared among themselves; nor have writers been wanting in modern times, from malevolence or carelessness, to aggravate these charges. The mystery of their creed has been converted into an evidence of concurrent heresies. To believe in the actual Incarnation of the Eternal Wisdom, has been treated, not as orthodoxy, but as an Ariano-Sabellianism. To believe that the Son of God was the Logos, was Sabellianism; to believe that the pre-existent Logos was the Son of God, was Valentinianism. Gregory of Neo-Cæsarea was called a Sabellian, because he spoke of one substance in the Divine Nature; he was called a forerunner of Arius, because he said that Christ was a creature. Origen, so frequently accused of Arianism, seemed to be a Sabellian, when he said that the Son was the Auto-aletheia, the Archetypal Truth. Athenagoras is charged with Sabellianism by the very writer (Petau), whose general theory it is that he was one of those Platonizing Fathers who anticipated Arius. Alexander, who at the opening of the controversy, was accused by Arius of Sabellianizing, has in these latter times been detected by the flippant Jortin to be an advocate of Semi-Arianism, which was the peculiar enemy and assailant of Sabellianism in all its forms. The celebrated word, homoüsion, has not escaped a similar contrariety of charges. Arius himself ascribes it to the Manichees; the Semi-Arians at Ancyra anathematize it, as Sabellian. It is in the same spirit that Arius, in his letter to Eusebius, scoffs at the “eternal birth,” and the “ingenerate generation,” as ascribed to the Son in the orthodox theology; as if the inconsistency, which the words involved, when taken in their full sense, were a sufficient refutation of the heavenly truth, of which they are, each in its place, the partial and relative expression.
The Catholics sustained these charges with a prudence, which has (humanly speaking) secured the success of their cause, though it has availed little to remove the calumnies heaped upon themselves. The great Dionysius, who has himself been defamed by the “accuser of the brethren,” declares perspicuously the principle of the orthodox teaching. “The particular expressions which I have used,” he says, in his defence, “cannot be taken separate from each other…whereas my opponents have taken two bald words of mine, and sling them at me from a distance; not understanding, that, in the case of subjects, partially known, illustrations foreign to them in nature, nay, inconsistent with each other, aid the inquiry.”
However, the Catholics of course considered it a duty to remove, as far as they could, their own verbal inconsistencies, and to sanction one form of expression, as orthodox in each case, among the many which might be adopted. Hence distinctions were made between the unborn and unmade, origin and cause, as already noticed. But these, clear and intelligible as they were in themselves, and valuable, both as facilitating the argument and disabusing the perplexed inquirer, opened to the heretical party the opportunity of a new misrepresentation. Whenever the orthodox writers showed an anxiety to reconcile and discriminate their own expressions, the charge of Manicheism was urged against them; as if to dwell upon, were to rest in the material images which were the signs of the unknown truths. Thus the phrase, “Light of Light,” the orthodox and almost apostolic emblem of the derivation of the Son from the Father, as symbolizing Their inseparability, mutual relation, and the separate fulness and exact parallelism and unity of Their perfections, was interpreted by the gross conceptions of the Manichæan Hieracas.
3. When in answer to such objections the Catholics denied that they attached other than a figurative meaning to their words, their opponents suddenly turned round, and professed the figurative meaning of the terms to be that which they themselves advocated. This inconsistency in their mode of conducting the argument deserves notice. It has already been instanced in the original argument of Arius, who maintained, that, since the word Son in its literal sense included among other ideas that of a beginning of being, the Son of God had had a beginning or was created, and therefore was not really a Son of God at all. It was on account of such unscrupulous dexterity in the controversy, that Alexander and Athanasius give them the title of chameleons. “They are as variable and uncertain in their opinions,” (says the latter,) “as chameleons in their colour. When refuted, they look confused, and when examined they are perplexed; however, at length they recover their assurance, and bring forward some evasion. Then, if this in turn is exposed, they do not rest till they have devised some new absurdity, and, as Scripture says, meditate vain things, so that they may secure the privilege of being profane.”
Let us, however, pursue the Arians on their new ground of allegory. It has been already observed, that they explain the word Only-begotten in the sense of only-created; and considered the oneness of the Father and Son to consist in an unity of character and will, such as exists between God and His Saints, not in nature.
Now, surely, the temper of mind, which had recourse to such a comparison between Christ and us, to defend a heresy, was still more odious, if possible, than the original impiety of the heresy itself. Thus, the honours graciously bestowed upon human nature, as well as the condescending self-abasement of our Lord, were made to subserve the cause of the blasphemer. It is a known peculiarity of the message of mercy, that it views the Church of Christ as if clothed with, or hidden within, the glory of Him who ransomed it; so that there is no name or title belonging to Him literally, which is not in a secondary sense applied to the reconciled penitent. As our Lord is the Priest and King of His redeemed, they, as members of Him, are accounted kings and priests also. They are said to be Christs, or the anointed, to partake of the Divine Nature, to be the well-beloved of God, His sons, one with Him, and heirs of glory; in order to express the fulness and the transcendent excellence of the blessings gained to the Saints by Christ. In all these forms of speech, no religious mind runs the risk of confusing its own privileges with the real prerogatives of Him who gave them; yet it is obviously difficult in argument to discriminate between the primary and secondary use of the words, and to elicit and exhibit the delicate reasons lying in the context of Scripture for conclusions, which the common sense of a Christian is impatient as well as shocked to hear disputed. Who would so trifle with words, to take a parallel case, as to argue that, because Christians are said by St. John to “know all things,” that therefore God is not omniscient in a sense infinitely above man’s highest intelligence?
It may be observed, moreover, that the Arians were inconsistent in their application of the allegorical rule, by which they attempted to interpret Scripture; and showed as great deficiency in their philosophical conceptions of God, as in their practical devotion to Him. They seem to have fancied that some of His acts were more comprehensible than others, and might accordingly be made the basis on which the rest might be interpreted. They referred the divine gennesis or generation to the notion of creation; but creation is in fact as mysterious as the divine gennesis; that is, we are as little able to understand our own words, when we speak of the world’s being brought out of nothing at God’s word, as when we confess that His Eternal Perfections are reiterated, without being doubled, in the person of His Son. “How is it,” asks Athanasius, “that the impious men dare to speak flippantly on subjects too sacred to approach, mortals as they are, and incapable of explaining even God’s works upon earth? Why do I say, His earthly works? Let them treat of themselves, if so be they can investigate their own nature; yet venturous and self-confident, they tremble not before the glory of God, which Angels are fain reverently to look into, though in nature and rank far more excellent than they.” Accordingly, he argues that nothing is gained by resolving one of the divine operations into another; that to make, when attributed to God, is essentially distinct from the same act when ascribed to man, as incomprehensible as to give birth or beget; and consequently that it is our highest wisdom to take the truths of Scripture as we find them there, and use them for the purposes for which they are vouchsafed, without proceeding accurately to systematize them or to explain them away. Far from elucidating, we are evidently enfeebling the revealed doctrine, by substituting only-created for only-begotten; for if the words are synonymous, why should the latter be insisted on in Scripture? Accordingly, it is proper to make a distinction between the primary and the literal meaning of a term. All the terms which human language applies to the Supreme Being, may perhaps be more or less figurative; but their primary and secondary meaning may still remain as distinct, as when they are referred to earthly objects. We need not give up the primary meaning of the word Son as opposed to the secondary sense of adoption, because we forbear to use it in its literal and material sense.
4. This being the general character of the Arian reasonings, it is natural to inquire what was the object towards which they tended. Now it will be found, that this audacious and elaborate sophistry could not escape one of two conclusions:—the establishment either of a sort of ditheism, or, as the more practical alternative, of a mere humanitarianism as regards our Lord; either a heresy tending to paganism, or the virtual atheism of philosophy. If the professions of the Arians are to be believed, they confessed our Lord to be God, God in all respects, full and perfect, yet at the same time to be infinitely distant from the perfections of the One Eternal Cause. Here at once they are committed to a ditheism; but Athanasius drives them on to the extreme of polytheism. “If,” he says, “the Son were an object of worship for His transcendent glory, then every subordinate being is bound to worship his superior.” But so repulsive is the notion of a secondary God both to reason, and much more to Christianity, that the real tendency of Arianism lay towards the sole remaining alternative, the humanitarian doctrine.—Its essential agreement with the heresy of Paulus has already been incidentally shown; it differed from it only when the pressure of controversy required it. Its history is the proof of this. It started with a boldness not inferior to that of Paulus; but as soon as it was attacked, it suddenly coiled itself into a defensive posture, and plunged amid the thickets of verbal controversy. At first it had not scrupled to admit the peccable nature of the Son; but it soon learned to disguise such consequences of its doctrine, and avowed that, in matter of fact, He was indefectible. Next it borrowed the language of Platonism, which, without committing it to any real renunciation of its former declarations, admitted of the dress of a high and almost enthusiastic piety. Then it professed an entire agreement with the Catholics, except as to the adoption of the single word consubstantial, which they urged upon it, and concerning which, it affected to entertain conscientious scruples. At this time it was ready to confess that our Lord was the true God, God of God, born time-apart, or before all time, and not a creature as other creatures, but peculiarly the Son of God, and His accurate Image. Afterwards, changing its ground, it protested, as we shall see, against non-scriptural expressions, of which itself had been the chief inventor; and proposed an union of all opinions, on the comprehensive basis of a creed, in which the Son should be merely declared to be “in all things like the Father,” or simply “like Him.” This versatility of profession is an illustration of the character given of the Arians by Athanasius, some pages back, which is further exemplified in their conduct at the Council in which they were condemned; but it is here adduced to show the danger to which the Church was exposed from a party who had no fixed tenet, except that of opposition to the true notion of Christ’s divinity; and whose teaching, accordingly, had no firm footing of internal consistency to rest upon, till it descended to the notion of His simple humanity, that is, to the doctrine of Artemas and Paulus, though they too, as well as Arius, had enveloped their impieties in such admissions and professions, as assimilated it more or less in appearance to the Faith of the Catholic Church.
The conduct of the Arians at Nicæa, as referred to, was as follows. “When the Bishops in Council assembled,” says Athanasius, an eye-witness, “were desirous of ridding the Church of the impious expressions invented by Arius, ‘the Son is out of nothing,’ ‘is a creature,’ ‘once was not,’ ‘of an alterable nature,’ and perpetuating those which we receive on the authority of Scripture, that the Son is the Only-begotten of God by nature, the Word, Power, the sole Wisdom of the Father, very God, as the Apostle John says, and as Paul, the Radiance of His glory, and the express Image of His Person; the Eusebians, influenced by their own heterodoxy, said one to another, ‘Let us agree to this; for we too are of God, there being one God, of whom are all things.’…The Bishops, however, discerning their cunning, and the artifice adopted by their impiety, in order to express more clearly the ‘of God,’ wrote down ‘of God’s substance,’ creatures being said to be ‘of God,’ as not existing of themselves without cause, but having an origin of their production; but the Son being peculiarly of the substance of the Father…Again, on the Bishops asking the few advocates of Arianism present, whether they allowed the Son to be, not a creature, but the sole Power, Wisdom, and Image, eternal and in all respects, of the Father, and very God, the followers of Eusebius were detected making signs to each other, to express that this also could be applied to ourselves. ‘For we too,’ they said, ‘are called in Scripture the image and glory of God; we are said to live always…There are many powers; the locust is called in Scripture “a great power.” Nay, that we are God’s own sons, is proved expressly from the text, in which the Son calls us brethren. Nor does their assertion, that He is very (true) God, distress us; He is very God, because He was made such.’ This was the unprincipled meaning of the Arians. But here too the Bishops, seeing through their deceit, brought together from Scripture, the radiance, source and stream, express Image of Person, ‘In Thy Light we shall see light,’ ‘I and the Father are one,’ and last of all, expressed themselves more clearly and concisely, in the phrase ‘consubstantial with the Father’; for all that was beforesaid has this meaning. As to their complaint about non-scriptural phrases, they themselves are evidence of its futility. It was they who began with their impious expressions; for, after their ‘Out of nothing,’ and ‘Once was not,’ going beyond Scripture in order to be impious, now they make it a grievance, that, in condemning them, we go beyond Scripture, in order to be pious.” The last remark is important; even those traditional statements of the Catholic doctrine, which were more explicit than Scripture, had not as yet, when the controversy began, taken the shape of formulæ. It was the Arian defined propositions of the “out of nothing,” and the like, which called for the imposition of the “consubstantial.”
It has sometimes been said, that the Catholics anxiously searched for some offensive test, which might operate to the exclusion of the Arians. This is not correct, inasmuch as they have no need to search; the “from God’s substance” having been openly denied by the Arians, five years before the Council, and no practical distinction between it and the consubstantial existing, till the era of Basil and his Semi-Arians. Yet, had it been necessary, doubtless it would have been their duty to seek for a test of this nature; nay, to urge upon the heretical teachers the plain consequences of their doctrine, and to drive them into the adoption of them. These consequences are certain of being elicited in the long-run; and it is but equitable to anticipate them in the persons of the heresiarchs, rather than to suffer them gradually to unfold and spread far and wide after their day, sapping the faith of their deluded and less guilty followers. Many a man would be deterred from outstepping the truth, could he see the end of his course from the beginning. The Arians felt this, and therefore resisted a detection, which would at once expose them to the condemnation of all serious men. In this lies the difference between the treatment due to an individual in heresy, and to one who is confident enough to publish the innovations which he has originated. The former claims from us the most affectionate sympathy, and the most considerate attention. The latter should meet with no mercy; he assumes the office of the Tempter, and, so far forth as his error goes, must be dealt with by the competent authority, as if he were embodied Evil. To spare him is a false and dangerous pity. It is to endanger the souls of thousands, and it is uncharitable towards himself.