Arianism:

This heresy named for Arius (c. 250-336) although teachings like his do not seem to have originated with him. The so called Arian controversy lasted well into the fourth century and vestiges of it continue to this day.  Arianism shook the whole of the church but was especially strong in the East.  The story also shows the strength of the Imperial court in matters of the church even before Christianity became the official religion of the empire in 380.

Fundamentally the Arian heresy teaches that the Father alone is God. The Logos or Son is a created being - formed out of nothing by the Father before the universe was made.  According to Arius, the Son was the first and greatest of all that God had created; He was closer to God than all others, and the rest of creation related to God through the Son (for instance, God had created everything else through Christ).

Some say, Arius thought he was defending monotheism the fundamental truth that there is only one God. A belief in the full deity of Christ, he supposed, would mean the Father and Son were two separate Gods, which contradicted the many statements of the Bible about God’s oneness.

Arius was also unhappy with Origen’s idea that there could be ‘degrees’ or ‘grades’ of divinity, with the Son being slightly less divine than the Father (this became known after the Nicene Council as semi-Arianism). Arius argued that since the Father is clearly God, it follows that the Son could not be God - so He must be a created being.

In contrast to trinitarianism, Arianism denies that Jesus is part of the Godhead it states that Christ is not of one substance with the Father, but a creature raised by the Father to the dignity of Son of God. This teaching was pronounced heretical at the Council of Nicaea in 325.  In the Nicene creed we see statements like "begotten of the father before all worlds."  "Begotten not made, being of ones substance."  In honor of Arianism. This Christological issue has the distinction of being the first such issue to be decided by an ecumenical council.

The Conflict of 340-380

As so often happens things that are settled by a committee are not necessarily settled once the committee adjourns. The period of 340-380 marked a period of turmoil in the Empire. There was a great struggle between Orthodoxy and Arianism. In 356 Constantius II condemned Athanasius, who had defended the Orthodox position at Nicaea, and he was forced to flee to the desert. Constantius II favored Arianism to such an extent that the victory of the Arians seemed secure, especially in the East. However, the battle was not over yet. Soon Julian came to the throne. He was the last of the pagan monarchs. He favored religious toleration and restored many of the Orthodox bishops. Under his rule, Arianism did not solidify and Orthodoxy gained strong ground. In 362, there was a Synod in Alexandria which stressed the deity of the Son and Holy Spirit. It would become the forerunner for Constantinople where the final form of the Nicene Creed was ratified. In 363 there was more turmoil, but it was short lived. Around 370 Valens came to the throne. He was the last of the pro-Arian emperors. In 378 he died and this left the East with a lack of Arian political support.

Gratian eventually became co-emperor with Theodosius (379-95 – coemperor, 394-95 – sole emperor). Shortly after his inauguration, he became baptized and issued an edict promoting Trinitarian Orthodoxy. He then summoned the Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople. Theodosius took all the bishoprics from the Arians and gave them to the Orthodox.

Despite the best efforts of the Orthodox Church to stamp out Arianism, there are groups that hold similar beliefs to this present day.

Jehovah’s Witnesses: The Modern Day Arians

The Jehovah’s Witnesses were founded in the mid to late nineteenth century by Charles Taze Russell. Like the ancient Arians, the Witnesses believe that Jesus is a created being who is therefore not eternal and not God. They specifically argue that Jesus was Michael the Archangel.

 

http://www.tecmalta.org/tft340.htm 5/18/07

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Arianism 9/5/11

http://carm.org/arianism-and-its-influence-today 9/5/11