John Henry Newman

The Arians of the Fourth Century

Chapter IV
Section 2

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John Henry Newman (1801-1890)

The Arians of the Fourth Century

Chapter IV: Councils in the Reign of Constantius

Section 2: The Semi-Arians

The events recorded in the last Section were attended by important consequences in the history of Arianism. The Council of Sardica led to a separation between the Eastern and Western Churches; which seemed to be there represented respectively by the rival Synods of Sardica and Philippopolis, and which had before this time hidden their differences from each other, and communicated together from a fear of increasing the existing evil. Not that really there was any discordance of doctrine between them. The historian, from whom this statement is taken, gives it at the same time as his own opinion, that the majority of the Asiatics were Homoüsians, though tyrannized over by the court influence, the sophistry, the importunity, and the daring, of the Eusebian party. This mere handful of divines, unscrupulously pressing forward into the highest ecclesiastical stations, set about them to change the condition of the Churches thus put into their power; and, as has been remarked in the case of Leontius of Antioch, filled the inferior offices with their own creatures, and sowed the seeds of future discords and disorders, which they could not hope to have themselves the satisfaction of beholding. The orthodox majority of Bishops and divines, on the other hand, timorously or indolently, kept in the background; and allowed themselves to be represented at Sardica by men, whose tenets they knew to be unchristian, and professed to abominate. And in such circumstances, the blame of the open dissensions, which ensued between the Eastern and Western divisions of Christendom, was certain to be attributed to those who urged the summoning of the Council, not to those who neglected their duty by staying away. In qualification of this censure, however, the intriguing spirit of the Eusebians must be borne in mind; who might have means, of which we are not told, of keeping away their orthodox brethren from Sardica. Certainly the expense of the journey was considerable, whatever might be the imperial or the ecclesiastical allowances for it, and their absence from their flocks, especially in an age fertile in Councils, was an evil. Still there is enough in the history of the times, to evidence a culpable negligence on the part of the orthodox of Asia.

However, this rupture between the East and West has here been noticed, not to censure the Asiatic Churches, but for the sake of its influence on the fortunes of Arianism. It had the effect of pushing forward the Semi-Arians, as they are called, into a party distinct from the Eusebian or Court party, among whom they had hitherto been concealed. This party, as its name implies, professed a doctrine approximating to the orthodox; and thus served as a means of deceiving the Western Churches, which were unskilled in the evasions, by which the Eusebians extricated themselves from even the most explicit confessions of the Catholic doctrine. Accordingly, the six heretical confessions hitherto recounted were all Semi-Arian in character, as being intended more or less to justify the heretical party in the eyes of the Latins. But when this object ceased to be feasible, by the event of the Sardican Council, the Semi-Arians ceased to be of service to the Eusebians, and a separation between the parties gradually took place.


The Semi-Arians, whose history shall here be introduced, originated, as far as their doctrine is concerned, in the change of profession which the Nicene anathema was the occasion of imposing upon the Eusebians; and had for their founders Eusebius of Cæsarea, and the Sophist Asterius. But viewed as a party, they are of a later date. The genuine Eusebians were never in earnest in the modified creeds, which they so ostentatiously put forward for the approbation of the West. However, while they clamoured in defence of the inconsistent doctrine contained in them, which, resembling the orthodox in word, might in fact subvert it, and at once confessed and denied our Lord, it so happened, that they actually recommended that doctrine to the judgment of some of their followers, and succeeded in creating a direct belief in an hypothesis, which in their own case was but the cloke for their own indifference to the truth. This at least seems the true explanation of an intricate subject in the history. There are always men of sensitive and subtle minds, the natural victims of the bold disputant; men, who, unable to take a broad and common-sense view of an important subject, try to satisfy their intellect and conscience by refined distinctions and perverse reservations. Men of this stamp were especially to be found among a people possessed of the language and acuteness of the Greeks. Accordingly, the Eusebians at length perceived, doubtless to their surprise and disgust, that a party had arisen from among themselves, with all the positiveness (as they would consider it), and nothing of the straightforward simplicity of the Catholic controversialists, more willing to dogmatize than to argue, and binding down their associates to the real import of the words, which they had themselves chosen as mere evasions of orthodoxy; and to their dismay they discovered, that in this party the new Emperor himself was to be numbered. Constantius, indeed, may be taken as a type of a genuine Semi-Arian; resisting, as he did, the orthodox doctrine from over-subtlety, timidity, pride, restlessness, or other weakness of mind, yet paradoxical enough to combat at the same time and condemn all, who ventured to teach anything short of that orthodoxy. Balanced on this imperceptible centre between truth and error, he alternately banished every party in the controversy, not even sparing his own; and had recourse in turn to every creed for relief, except that in which the truth was actually to be found.

The symbol of the Semi-Arians was the Homœüsion, “like in substance,” which they substituted for the orthodox Homoüsion, “one in substance,” or “consubstantial.” Their objections to the latter formula took the following form. If the word usia, “substance,” denoted the “first substance,” or an individual being, then Homoüsios seemed to bear a Sabellian meaning, and to involve a denial of the separate personality of the Son. On the other hand, if the word was understood as including two distinct Persons (or Hypostases), this was to use it, as it is used of created things; as if by substance were meant some common nature, either divided in fact, or one merely by abstraction. They were strengthened in this view by the decree of the Council, held at Antioch between the years 260 and 270, in condemnation of Paulus, in which the word Homoüsion was proscribed. They preferred, accordingly, to name the Son “like in substance,” or Homœüsios, with the Father, that is, of a substance like in all things, except in not being the Father’s substance; maintaining at the same time, that, though the Son and Spirit were separate in substance from the Father, still they were so included in His glory that there was but one God.

Instead of admitting the evasion of the Arians, that the word Son had but a secondary sense, and that our Lord was in reality a creature, though “not like other creatures,” they plainly declared that He was not a creature, but truly the Son, born of the substance (usia) of the Father, as if an Emanation from Him at His will; yet they would not allow Him simply to be God, as the Father was; but, asserting that there were various energies in the Divine Being, they considered creation to be one, and the gennesis or generation to be another, so that the Son, though distinct in substance from God, was at the same time essentially distinct from every created nature. Or they suggested that He was the offspring of the Person (hypostasis), not of the substance or usia of the Father; or, so to say, of the Divine Will, as if the force of the word “Son” consisted in this point. Further, instead of the “once He was not,” they adopted the “generated time-apart,” for which even Arius had changed it. That is, as holding that the question of the beginning of the Son’s existence was beyond our comprehension, they only asserted that there was such a beginning, but that it was before time and independent of it; as if it were possible to draw a distinction between the Catholic doctrine of the derivation or order of succession in the Holy Trinity (the “unoriginately generated”) and this notion of a beginning simplified of the condition of time.

Such was the Semi-Arian Creed, really involving contradictions in terms, parallel to those of which the orthodox were accused;—that the Son was born before all times, yet not eternal; not a creature, yet not God; of His substance, yet not the same in substance; and His exact and perfect resemblance in all things, yet not a second Deity.


Yet the men were better than their creed; and it is satisfactory to be able to detect amid the impiety and worldliness of the heretical party any elements of a purer spirit, which gradually exerted itself and worked out from the corrupt mass, in which it was embedded. Even thus viewed as distinct from their political associates, the Semi-Arians are a motley party at best; yet they may be considered as Saints and Martyrs, when compared with the Eusebians, and in fact some of them have actually been acknowledged as such by the Catholics of subsequent times. Their zeal in detecting the humanitarianism of Marcellus and Photinus, and their good service in withstanding the Anomœans, who arrived at the same humanitarianism by a bolder course of thought, will presently be mentioned. On the whole they were men of correct and exemplary life, and earnest according to their views; and they even made pretensions to sanctity in their outward deportment, in which they differed from the true Eusebians, who, as far as the times allowed it, affected the manners and principles of the world. It may be added, that both Athanasius and Hilary, two of the most uncompromising supporters of the Catholic doctrine, speak favourably of them. Athanasius does not hesitate to call them brothers; considering that, however necessary it was for the edification of the Church at large, that the Homoüsion should be enforced on the clergy, yet that the privileges of private Christian fellowship were not to be denied to those, who from one cause or other stumbled at the use of it. It is remarkable, that the Semi-Arians, on the contrary, in their most celebrated Synod (at Ancyra, A.D. 358) anathematized the holders of the Homoüsion, as if crypto-Sabellians.

Basil, the successor of Marcellus, in the see of Ancyra, united in his person the most varied learning with the most blameless life, of all the Semi-Arians. This praise of rectitude in conduct was shared with him by Eustathius of Sebaste, and Eleusius of Cyzicus. These three Bishops especially attracted the regard of Hilary, on his banishment to Phrygia by the intrigues of the Arians (A.D. 356). The zealous confessor feelingly laments the condition, in which he found the Churches in those parts. “I do not speak of things strange to me”: he says, “I write not without knowledge; I have heard and seen in my own person the faults, not of laics merely, but of bishops. For, excepting Eleusius and a few with him, the ten provinces of Asia, in which I am, are for the most part truly ignorant of God.” His testimony in favour of the Semi-Arians of Asia Minor, must in fairness be considered as delivered with the same force of assertion, which marks his protest against all but them; and he elsewhere addresses Basil, Eustathius, and Eleusius, by the title of “Sanctissimi viri.”

Mark, Bishop of Arethusa, in Syria, has obtained from the Greek Church the honours of a Saint and Martyr. He indulged, indeed, a violence of spirit, which assimilates him to the pure Arians, who were the first among Christians to employ force in the cause of religion. But violence, which endures as freely as it assails, obtains our respect, if it is denied our praise. His exertions in the cause of Christianity were attended with considerable success. In the reign of Constantius, availing himself of his power as a Christian Bishop, he demolished a heathen temple, and built a church on its site. When Julian succeeded, it was Mark’s turn to suffer. The Emperor had been saved by him, when a child, on the massacre of the other princes of his house; but on this occasion he considered that the claims at once of justice and of paganism outweighed the recollection of ancient services. Mark was condemned to rebuild the temple, or to pay the price of it; and, on his flight from his bishoprick, many of his flock were arrested as his hostages. Upon this, he surrendered himself to his persecutors, who immediately subjected him to the most revolting, as well as the most cruel indignities. “They apprehended the aged prelate,” says Gibbon, selecting some out of the number, “they inhumanly scourged him; they tore his beard; and his naked body, anointed with honey, was suspended, in a net, between heaven and earth, and exposed to the stings of insects and the rays of a Syrian sun.” The payment of one piece of gold towards the rebuilding of the temple, would have rescued him from these torments; but, resolute in his refusal to contribute to the service of idolatry, he allowed himself, with a generous insensibility, even to jest at his own sufferings, till he wore out the fury, or even, it is said, effected the conversion of his persecutors. Gregory Nazianzen, and Theodoret, besides celebrating his activity in making converts, make mention of his wisdom and piety, his cultivated understanding, his love of virtue, and the honourable consistency of his life.

Cyril of Jerusalem, and Eusebius of Samosata, are both Saints in the Roman Calendar, though connected in history with the Semi-Arian party. Eusebius was the friend of St. Basil, surnamed the Great; and Cyril is still known to us in his perspicuous and eloquent discourses addressed to the Catechumens.

Others might be named of a like respectability, though deficient, with those above-mentioned, either in moral or in intellectual judgment. With these were mingled a few of a darker character. George of Laodicea, one of the genuine Eusebians, joined them for a time, and took a chief share together with Basil in the management of the Council of Ancyra. Macedonius, who was originally an Anomœan, passed through Semi-Arianism to the heresy of the Pneumatomachists, that is, the denial of the Divinity of the Holy Ghost, of which he is theologically the founder.


The Semi-Arians, being such as above described, were at first both in faith and conduct an ornament and recommendation of the Eusebians. But, when once the latter stood at variance with the Latin Church by the event of the Sardican Council, they ceased to be of service to them as a blind, which was no longer available, or rather were an incumbrance to them, and formidable rivals in the favour of Constantius. The separation between the two parties was probably retarded for a while by the forced submission and recantation of the Eusebian Valens and Ursacius; but an event soon happened, which altogether released those two Bishops and the rest of the Eusebians from the embarrassments, in which the influence of the West and the timidity of Constantius had for the moment involved them. This was the assassination of the Catholic Constans which took place A.D. 350; in consequence of which (Constantine, the eldest of the brothers, being already dead) Constantius succeeded to the undivided empire. Thus the Eusebians had the whole of the West opened to their ambition; and were bound by no impediment, except such as the ill-instructed Semi-Arianism of the Emperor might impose upon them. Their proceedings under these fortunate circumstances will come before us presently; here I will confine myself to the mention of the artifice, by which they succeeded in recommending themselves to Constantius, while they opposed and triumphed over the Semi-Arian Creed.

This artifice, which, obvious as it is, is curious, from the place which it holds in the history of Arianism, was that of affecting on principle to limit confessions of faith to Scripture terms; and was adopted by Acacius, Bishop of Cæsarea, in Palestine, the successor of the learned Eusebius, one of the very men, who had advocated the Semi-Arian non-scriptural formularies of the Dedication and of Philippopolis. From the earliest date, the Arians had taken refuge from the difficulties of their own unscriptural dogmas in the letter of the sacred writers; but they had scarcely ventured on the inconsistency of objecting to the terms of theology, as such. But here Eusebius of Cæsarea anticipated the proceedings of his party and, as he opened upon his contemporaries the evasion of Semi-Arianism, so did he also anticipate his pupil Acacius, in the more specious artifice now under consideration. It is suggested in the apology which he put forth for signing the Nicene anathema of the Arian formulæ; which anathema he defends on the principle, that these formulæ were not conceived in the language of Scripture. Allusion is made to the same principle from time to time in the subsequent Arian Councils, as if even then the laxer Eusebians were struggling against the dogmatism of the Semi-Arians. Though the Creed of Lucian introduces the “usia,” the three other Creeds of the Dedication omit it; and this hypothesis of differences of opinion in the heretical body at these Councils partly accounts for that hesitation and ambiguity in declaring their faith, which has been noticed in its place. Again, the Macrostich omits the “usia,” professes generally that the Son is “like in all things to the Father,” and enforces the propriety of keeping to the language of Scripture.

About the time which is at present more particularly before us, that is, after the death of Constans, this modification of Arianism becomes distinct, and collects around it the Eastern Eusebians, under the skilful management of Acacius. It is not easy to fix the date of his openly adopting it; the immediate cause of which was his quarrel with the Semi-Arian Cyril, which lies between A.D. 349-357. The distinguishing principle of his new doctrine was adherence to the Scripture phraseology, in opposition to the inconvenient precision of the Semi-Arians; its distinguishing tenet is the vague confession that the Son is generally “like,” or at most “in all things like” the Father,—“like” as opposed to the “one in substance,” “like in substance,” and “unlike,”—that is, the vague confession that the Son is generally like, or altogether like, the Father. Of these two expressions, the “in all things like” was allowed by the Semi-Arians, who included “in substance” under it; whereas the Acacians (for so they may now be called), or Homœans (as holding the Homœon or like), covertly intended to exclude the “in substance” by that very expression, mere similarity always implying difference, and “substance” being, as they would argue, necessarily excluded from the “in all things,” if the “like” were intended to stand for any thing short of identity. It is plain then that, in the meaning of its authors, and in the practical effect of it, this new hypothesis was neither more nor less than the pure Arian, or, as it was afterwards called, Anomœan, though the phrase, in which it was conveyed, bore in its letter the reverse sense.

Such was the state of the heresy about the year 350; before reviewing its history, as carried on between the two rival parties into which its advocates, the Eusebians, were dividing, the Semi-Arian and Homœan, I shall turn to the sufferings of the Catholic Church at that period.

Chapter IV
Section 1

Chapter IV
Section 3