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Arianism was a 4th-century Christian heresy named for Arius (c.250-c.336), a priest in Alexandria. Arius denied the full deity of the preexistent Son of God who became incarnate in Jesus Christ. He held that the Son, while divine and like God ("of like substance"), was created by God as the agent through whom he created the universe. Arius said of the Son, "there was a time when he was not." Arianism became so widespread in the Christian church and resulted in such disunity that the emperor Constantine convoked a church council at Nicaea in 325 (see Councils of Nicaea). Led by Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, the council condemned Arianism and stated that the Son was consubstantial (of one and the same substance or being) and coeternal with the Father, a belief formulated as homoousios ("of one substance") against the Arian position of homoiousios ("of like substance"). Nonetheless, the conflict continued, aided by the conflicting politics of the empire after the death of Constantine (337). Three types of Arianism emerged: radical Arianism, which asserted that the Son was "dissimilar" to the Father; homoeanism, which held that the Son was similar to the Father; and semi-Arianism, which shaded off into orthodoxy and held that the Son was similar yet distinct from the Father.
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After an initial victory of the homoean party in 357, the semi-Arians joined the ranks of orthodoxy, which finally triumphed except in Teutonic Christianity, where Arianism survived until after the conversion (496) of the Franks. Although much of the dispute about Arianism seems a battle over words (Edward Gibbon scornfully observed that Christianity was split over a single iota, the difference between homoousios and homoiousios), a fundamental issue involving the integrity of the Gospel was at stake: whether God was really in Christ reconciling the world to himself. Reginald H. Fuller Bibliography Gregg, R. C., ed., Arianism: Historical and Theological Reassessments (1987); Gwatkin, H. M., Studies of Arianism, 2d ed. (1900); Newman, John Henry, The Arians of the Fourth Century (1833; repr. 1968).
Arianism Advanced Information
The birth date for Arius, the North African priest who gave his name to one of Christianity's most troublesome schisms, is uncertain. He seems to have been born in Libya. He was in all probability a pupil of Lucien of Antioch. During the bishopric of Peter of Alexandria (300-311) Arius was made a deacon in that city and began the stormy pastoral career which is known to history. He was in rapid succession excommunicated for his association with the Melitians, restored by Achillas, Bishop of Alexandria (31112), and given priestly orders and the church of Baucalis. Sometime between 318 and 323 Arius came into conflict with Bishop Alexander over the nature of Christ. In a confusing series of synods a truce was attempted between adherents of Alexander and followers of Arius; in March of 324 Alexander convened a provincial synod which acknowledged the truce but anathematized Arius. Arius responded with his publication of Thalia (which exists only as it is quoted in refutation by Athanasius) and by repudiating the truce. In February, 325, Arius was then condemned at a synod in Antioch. The Emperor Constantine was
intervening by this time, and it was he who called the first ecumenical council, the Council of Nicaea. This council met on May 20, 325, and subsequently condemned Arius and his teaching. Present in the entourage of Alexander at this council was Athanasius. He took little part in the affairs of the Council of Nicaea, but when he became Bishop of Alexandria in 328, he was to become the unremitting foe of Arius and Arianism and the unflagging champion of the Nicene formula. Following his condemnation Arius was banished to to Illyricum. There he continued to write, teach, and appeal to an ever broadening circle of political and ecclesiastical adherents of Arianism. Around 332 or 333 Constantine opened direct contact with Arius, and in 335 the two met at Nicomedia. There Arius presented a confession which Constantine considered sufficiently orthodox to allow for the reconsideration of Arius's case. Therefore, following the dedication of the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem the Synod of Jerusalem declared for the readmittance of Arius to communion even as he lay dying in Constantiople. Since Arian views were being advanced by many active bishops and members of the court, and Arius himself had ceased to play a vital role in the controversy, his death in 335 or 336 did nothing to diminish the furor in the church. Instead of resolving the issues, the Council of Nicaea had launched an empire-wide Christological debate by its condemnation of Arius. Arius was a thoroughgoing Greek rationalist. He inherited the almost universally held Logos Christology of the East. He labored in Alexandria, the center for Origenist teachings on the subordination of the Son to the Father. He blended this heritage into a rationalist Christology that lost the balance Origen had maintained in his subordinationist theology by his insistence on the eternal generation of the Son. The guard against the error of Arius and the Arianism erected by the symbol and anathemas adopted by the Council of Nicaea serve as an outline of Arius's fundamental position. Nicaea's "in one Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God, begotten of the Father, only-begotten, that is from the substance of the Father" was to offset Arius's central assertion that God was immutable, unique, unknowable, only one. Therefore Arians felt no substance of God could in any way be communicated or shared with any other being. The council's "true God from true God, begotten not made" set aside Arius's contention that, since God was immutable and unknowable, Christ had to be a created being, made out of nothing by God, first in the created order certainly, but of it. This limited the concept of the preexistence of Christ even while adapting the dominant Logos Christology to Arianism. The Logos, first born, created of God, was incarnate in the Christ but, asserted Arius, "there was when he was not." Nicaea's "of one substance with the Father" made the Greek term homoousios the catchword of the orthodox. Arianism developed two parties, one of which felt Christ was of a substance like the Father (homoiousios). A more extreme wing insisted that as a created being Christ was unlike the Father in substance (anomoios). Arius himself would have belonged to the first or more moderate party. The council's anathemas were extended to all those who claimed "there was once when he was not"; "before his generation he was not"; "he was made out of nothing"; "the Son of God is of another subsistence or substance"; and "the Son of God [is] created or alterable or mutable." The last anathema attacked another Arian teaching. Arius and subsequent Arians had taught that Christ grew, changed, matured in his understanding of the divine plan according to the Scriptures, and therefore could not be part of the unchanging God. He was not God the Son; rather, He was simply given the title Son of God as an honor. An observer in that day might well have thought Arianism was going to triumph in the church. Beginning with Constantius the court was often Arian. Five times Athanasius of Alexandria was driven into exile, interrupting his long episcopate. A series of synods repudiated the Nicene symbol in various ways, Antioch in 341, Arles in 353; and in 355 Liberius of Rome and Ossius of Cordoba were exiled and a year later Hilary of Poitier was sent to Phrygia. In 360 in Constantinople all earlier creeds were disavowed and the term substance (ousia) was outlawed. The Son was simply declared to be "like the Father who begot him." The orthodox counterattack on Arianism pointed out that the Arian theology reduced Christ to a demigod and in effect reintroduced polytheism into Christianity, since Christ was worshiped among Arians as among the orthodox. But in the long run the most telling argument against Arianism was Athanasius's constant soteriological battle cry that only God, very God, truly God Incarnate could reconcile and redeem fallen man to holy God. It was the thorough work of the Cappadocian Fathers, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, which brought the final resolution that proved theologically acceptable to the church. They divided the concept of substance (ousia) from the concept of person (hypostasis) and thus allowed the orthodox defenders of the original Nicene formula and the later moderate or semi-Arian party to unite in an understanding of God as one substance and three persons. Christ therefore was of one substance with the Father (homoousion) but a distinct person. With this understanding the Council of
Constantinople in 381 was able to reaffirm the Nicene Creed. The able Emperor Theodosius I threw himself on the side of orthodoxy and Arianism began to wane in the empire. The long struggle with Arianism was not over yet, however, for Ulfilas, famous missionary to the Germanic tribes, had accepted the Homoean statement of Constantinople of 360. Ulfilas taught the similarity of the Son to the Father and the total subordination of the Holy Spirit. He taught the Visigoths north of the Danube, and they in turn carried this semi-Arianism back into Italy. The Vandals were taught by Visigoth priests and in 409 carried the same semi-Arianism across the Pyrenees into Spain. It was not until the end of the seventh century that orthodoxy was to finally absorb Arianism. Yet Arianism has been reborn in the modern era in the form of extreme Unitarianism, and the Jehovah's Witnesses regard Arius as a forerunner of C. T. Russell. V L Walter (Elwell Evangelical Dictionary) Bibliography J. Danielou and H. Marrou, The Christian Centuries, I, chs. 18-19; J. H. Newman, The Arians of the Fourth Century; R. C. Gregg and D. E. Groh, Early Arianism; T. A. Kopecek, A History of Neo-Arianism, 2 vols.; H. M. Gwatkin, Studies in Arianism; E. Boularand, l'Heresie d'Arius et la foi de Nicee, 2 vols.
Semi-Arianism Advanced Information
Semi-Arianism was the doctrine of Christ's sonship as held by fourth century theologians who were reluctant to accept either the strict Nicene definition or the extreme Arian position. After the Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325) a single term came to identify each position.
Orthodox theologians, led by Athanasius, used the term homoousios to express the doctrine that Christ, the Logos, was "of one substance" with the eternal Father. The Arian party held that Christ was a created being, in substance unlike the Father. The term for this view was anomoios. Semi-Arians, the third group, avoided either extreme and adopted the term homoiusios, which defined Christ as "of like substance" with the Father, but left vague the extent to which Christ differed from other created beings.
Semi-Arians called Christ "Divine," but in effect denied that he is truly God, that he is "equal to the Father as touching his Godhead." Some students of the controversy have argued that the term "Semi-Arianism" is an unfair term, associating the movement too closely with Arianism, and that "Semi-Nicene" might better represent the movement's tendency toward orthodoxy. The term "Ante-Nicene" has been used as often, however, because SemiArians did, in fact, deny that Christ was fully one with the Father. The Semi-Arian position arose at the Council of Nicaea, called by Emperor Constantine to deal with the Arian question, which had raised enough controversy to threaten the unity of the church. All but two of the bishops present at the council signed the orthodox statement, though many did so with reservations. SemiArians also came to be called "Eusebians" after Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia and later patriarch of Constantinople. As a young man Eusebius had studied with Arius. Though he signed the creed at the Council of Nicaea, he later became a key leader in the reaction against it. The most prominent leader of the Semi-Arians at the Council, however, was Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, the early church historian. Following the council the Semi-Arian position remained prominent, but a resugence of the Old Arians, seeking to reinstate the original heresy, led to the disintegration of Semi-Arian support. In August 357, a small but important synod met at Sirmium in Illyricum. The creed that emerged from the synod condemned the term ousia in any form and clearly subordinated the Son to the Father. This creed split the opponents of Nicaea so decisively that it turned sentiment in favor of the orthodox view. Many bishops renounced their errors and subscribed to the Nicene Creed. After this point Semi-Arians never existed in significant numbers. Some became Arian and many reaffirmed orthodoxy at the Council of Constantinople in 381.
B L Shelley (Elwell Evangelical Dictionary) Bibliography E. R. Hardy, ed., Christology of the Later Fathers; J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines; G. L. Prestige, Fathers and Heretics.
Arianism Catholic Information
A heresy which arose in the fourth century, and denied the Divinity of Jesus Christ. DOCTRINE First among the doctrinal disputes which troubled Christians after Constantine had recognized the Church in A.D. 313, and the parent of many more during some three centuries, Arianism occupies a large place in ecclesiastical history. It is not a modern form of unbelief, and therefore will appear strange in modern eyes. But we shall better grasp its meaning if we term it an Eastern attempt to rationalize the creed by stripping it of mystery so far as the relation of Christ to God was concerned. In the New Testament and in Church teaching Jesus of Nazareth appears as the Son of God. This name He took to Himself (Matthew 11:27; John 10:36), while the Fourth Gospel declares Him to be the Word (Logos), Who in the beginning was with God and was God, by Whom all things were made. A similar doctrine is laid down by St. Paul, in his undoubtedly genuine Epistles to the Ephesians, Colossians, and Philippians. It is reiterated in the Letters of Ignatius, and accounts for Pliny's observation that Christians in their assemblies chanted a hymn to Christ as God. But the question how the Son was related to the Father (Himself acknowledged on all hands to be the one Supreme Deity), gave rise, between the years A.D. 60 and 200, to a number of Theosophic systems, called generally Gnosticism, and having for their authors Basilides, Valentinus, Tatian, and other Greek speculators. Though all of these visited Rome, they had no following in the West, which remained free from controversies of an abstract nature, and was faithful to the creed of its baptism. Intellectual centres were chiefly Alexandria and Antioch, Egyptian or Syrian, and speculation was carried on in Greek. The Roman Church held steadfastly by tradition. Under these circumstances, when Gnostic schools had passed away with their "conjugations" of Divine powers, and "emanations" from the Supreme unknowable God (the "Deep" and the "Silence") all speculation was thrown into the form of an inquiry touching the "likeness" of the Son to His Father and "sameness" of His Essence. Catholics had always maintained that Christ was truly the Son, and truly God. They worshipped Him with divine honours; they would never consent to separate Him, in idea or reality, from the Father, Whose Word, Reason, Mind, He was, and in Whose Heart He abode from eternity. But the technical terms of doctrine were not fully defined; and even in Greek words like essence (ousia), substance (hypostasis), nature (physis), person (hyposopon) bore a variety of meanings drawn from the pre-Christian sects of philosophers, which could not but entail misunderstandings until they were cleared up. The adaptation of a vocabulary employed by Plato and Aristotle to Christian truth was a matter of time; it could not be done in a day; and when accomplished for the Greek it had to be undertaken for the Latin, which did not lend itself readily to necessary yet subtle distinctions. That disputes should spring up even among the orthodox who all held one faith, was inevitable. And of these wranglings the rationalist would take advantage in order to substitute for the ancient creed his own inventions. The drift of all he advanced was this: to deny that in any true sense God could have a Son; as Mohammed tersely said afterwards, "God neither begets, nor is He begotten" (Koran, 112). We have learned to call that denial Unitarianism. It was the ultimate scope of Arian opposition to what Christians had always believed. But the Arian, though he did not come straight down from the Gnostic, pursued a line of argument and taught a view which the speculations of the Gnostic had made familiar. He described the Son as a second, or inferior God, standing midway between the First Cause and creatures; as Himself made out of nothing, yet as making all things else; as existing before the worlds of the ages; and as arrayed in all divine perfections except the one which was their stay and foundation. God alone was without beginning, unoriginate; the Son was originated, and once had not existed. For all that has origin must begin to be. Such is the genuine doctrine of Arius. Using Greek terms, it denies that the Son is of one essence, nature, or substance with God; He is not consubstantial (homoousios) with the Father, and therefore not like Him, or equal in dignity, or co-eternal, or within the real sphere of Deity. The Logos which St. John exalts is an attribute, Reason, belonging to the Divine nature, not a person distinct from another, and therefore is a Son
merely in figure of speech. These consequences follow upon the principle which Arius maintains in his letter to Eusebius of Nicomedia, that the Son "is no part of the Ingenerate." Hence the Arian sectaries who reasoned logically were styled Anomoeans: they said that the Son was "unlike" the Father. And they defined God as simply the Unoriginate. They are also termed the Exucontians (ex ouk onton), because they held the creation of the Son to be out of nothing. But a view so unlike tradition found little favour; it required softening or palliation, even at the cost of logic; and the school which supplanted Arianism from an early date affirmed the likeness, either without adjunct, or in all things, or in substance, of the Son to the Father, while denying His co-equal dignity and co-eternal existence. These men of the Via Media were named Semi-Arians. They approached, in strict argument, to the heretical extreme; but many of them held the orthodox faith, however inconsistently; their difficulties turned upon language or local prejudice, and no small number submitted at length to Catholic teaching. The Semi-Arians attempted for years to invent a compromise between irreconcilable views, and their shifting creeds, tumultuous councils, and worldly devices tell us how mixed and motley a crowd was collected under their banner. The point to be kept in remembrance is that, while they affirmed the Word of God to be everlasting, they imagined Him as having become the Son to create the worlds and redeem mankind. Among the ante-Nicene writers, a certain ambiguity of expression may be detected, outside the school of Alexandria, touching this last head of doctrine. While Catholic teachers held the Monarchia, viz. that there was only one God; and the Trinity, that this Absolute One existed in three distinct subsistences; and the Circuminession, that Father, Word, and Spirit could not be separated, in fact or in thought, from one another; yet an opening was left for discussion as regarded the term "Son," and the period of His "generation" (gennesis). Five ante-Nicene Fathers are especially quoted: Athenagoras, Tatian, Theophilus of Antioch, Hippolytus, and Novatian, whose language appears to involve a peculiar notion of Sonship, as though It did not come into being or were not perfect until the dawn of creation. To these may be added Tertullian and Methodius. Cardinal Newman held that their view, which is found clearly in Tertullian, of the Son existing after the Word, is connected as an antecedent with Arianism. Petavius construed the same expressions in a reprehensible sense; but the Anglican Bishop Bull defended them as orthodox, not without difficulty. Even if metaphorical, such language might give shelter to unfair disputants; but we are not answerable for the slips of teachers who failed to perceive all the consequences of doctrinal truths really held by them. From these doubtful theorizings Rome and Alexandria kept aloof. Origen himself, whose unadvised speculations were charged with the guilt of Arianism, and who employed terms like "the second God," concerning the Logos, which were never adopted by the Church -- this very Origen taught the eternal Sonship of the Word, and was not a Semi-Arian. To him the Logos, the Son, and Jesus of Nazareth were one ever-subsisting Divine Person, begotten of the Father, and, in this way, "subordinate" to the source of His being. He comes forth from God as the creative Word, and so is a ministering Agent, or, from a different point of view, is the First-born of creation. Dionysius of Alexandria (260) was even denounced at Rome for calling the Son a work or creature of God; but he explained himself to the pope on orthodox principles, and confessed the Homoousian Creed. HISTORY Paul of Samosata, who was contemporary with Dionysius, and Bishop of Antioch, may be judged the true ancestor of those heresies which relegated Christ beyond the Divine sphere, whatever epithets of deity they allowed Him. The man Jesus, said Paul, was distinct from the Logos, and, in Milton's later language, by merit was made the Son of God. The Supreme is one in Person as in Essence. Three councils held at Antioch (264-268, or 269) condemned and excommunicated the Samosatene. But these Fathers would not accept the Homoousian formula, dreading lest it be taken to signify one material or abstract substance, according to the usage of the heathen philosophies. Associated with Paul, and for years cut off from the Catholic communion, we find the well-known Lucian, who edited the Septuagint and became at last a martyr. From this learned man the school of Antioch drew its inspiration. Eusebius the historian, Eusebius of Nicomedia, and Arius himself, all came under Lucian's influence. Not, therefore, to Egypt and its mystical teaching, but to Syria, where Aristotle flourished with his logic and its tendency to Rationalism, should we look for the home of an aberration which had it finally triumphed, would have anticipated Islam, reducing the Eternal Son to the rank of a prophet, and thus undoing the Christian revelation. Arius, a Libyan by descent, brought up at Antioch and a school-fellow of Eusebius, afterwards Bishop of Nicomedia, took part (306) in the obscure Meletian schism, was made presbyter of the church called "Baucalis," at Alexandria, and opposed the Sabellians, themselves committed to a view of the Trinity which denied all real distinctions in the Supreme. Epiphanius describes the heresiarch as tall, grave, and winning; no aspersion on his moral character has been sustained; but there is some possibility of personal differences having led to his quarrel with the patriarch Alexander whom, in public synod, he accused of teaching that the Son was identical with the Father (319). The actual circumstances of this dispute are obscure; but
Alexander condemned Arius in a great assembly, and the latter found a refuge with Eusebius, the Church historian, at Caesarea. Political or party motives embittered the strife. Many bishops of Asia Minor and Syria took up the defence of their "fellow-Lucianist," as Arius did not hesitate to call himself. Synods in Palestine and Bithynia were opposed to synods in Egypt. During several years the argument raged; but when, by his defeat of Licinius (324), Constantine became master of the Roman world, he determined on restoring ecclesiastical order in the East, as already in the West he had undertaken to put down the Donatists at the Council of Arles. Arius, in a letter to the Nicomedian prelate, had boldly rejected the Catholic faith. But Constantine, tutored by this worldly-minded man, sent from Nicomedia to Alexander a famous letter, in which he treated the controversy as an idle dispute about words and enlarged on the blessings of peace. The emperor, we should call to mind, was only a catechumen, imperfectly acquainted with Greek, much more incompetent in theology, and yet ambitious to exercise over the Catholic Church a dominion resembling that which, as Pontifex Maximus, he wielded over the pagan worship. From this Byzantine conception (labelled in modern terms Erastianism) we must derive the calamities which during many hundreds of years set their mark on the development of Christian dogma. Alexander could not give way in a matter so vitally important. Arius and his supporters would not yield. A council was, therefore, assembled in Nicaea, in Bithynia, which has ever been counted the first ecumenical, and which held its sittings from the middle of June, 325. (See FIRST COUNCIL OF NICAEA). It is commonly said that Hosius of Cordova presided. The Pope, St. Silvester, was represented by his legates, and 318 Fathers attended, almost all from the East. Unfortunately, the acts of the Council are not preserved. The emperor, who was present, paid religious deference to a gathering which displayed the authority of Christian teaching in a manner so remarkable. From the first it was evident that Arius could not reckon upon a large number of patrons among the bishops. Alexander was accompanied by his youthful deacon, the evermemorable Athanasius who engaged in discussion with the heresiarch himself, and from that moment became the leader of the Catholics during well-nigh fifty years. The Fathers appealed to tradition against the innovators, and were passionately orthodox; while a letter was received from Eusebius of Nicomedia, declaring openly that he would never allow Christ to be of one substance with God. This avowal suggested a means of discriminating between true believers and all those who, under that pretext, did not hold the Faith handed down. A creed was drawn up on behalf of the Arian party by Eusebius of Caesarea in which every term of honour and dignity, except the oneness of substance, was attributed to Our Lord. Clearly, then, no other test save the Homoousion would prove a match for the subtle ambiguities of language that, then as always, were eagerly adopted by dissidents from the mind of the Church. A formula had been discovered which would serve as a test, though not simply to be found in Scripture, yet summing up the doctrine of St. John, St. Paul, and Christ Himself, "I and the Father are one". Heresy, as St. Ambrose remarks, had furnished from its own scabbard a weapon to cut off its head. The "consubstantial" was accepted, only thirteen bishops dissenting, and these were speedily reduced to seven. Hosius drew out the conciliar statements, to which anathemas were subjoined against those who should affirm that the Son once did not exist, or that before He was begotten He was not, or that He was made out of nothing, or that He was of a different substance or essence from the Father, or was created or changeable. Every bishop made this declaration except six, of whom four at length gave way. Eusebius of Nicomedia withdrew his opposition to the Nicene term, but would not sign the condemnation of Arius. By the emperor, who considered heresy as rebellion, the alternative proposed was subscription or banishment; and, on political grounds, the Bishop of Nicomedia was exiled not long after the council, involving Arius in his ruin. The heresiarch and his followers underwent their sentence in Illyria. But these incidents, which might seem to close the chapter, proved a beginning of strife, and led on to the most complicated proceedings of which we read in the fourth century. While the plain Arian creed was defended by few, those political prelates who sided with Eusebius carried on a double warfare against the term "consubstantial", and its champion, Athanasius. This greatest of the Eastern Fathers had succeeded Alexander in the Egyptian patriarchate (326). He was not more than thirty years of age; but his published writings, antecedent to the Council, display, in thought and precision, a mastery of the issues involved which no Catholic teacher could surpass. His unblemished life, considerate temper, and loyalty to his friends made him by no means easy to attack. But the wiles of Eusebius, who in 328 recovered Constantine's favour, were seconded by Asiatic intrigues, and a period of Arian reaction set in. Eustathius of Antioch was deposed on a charge of Sabellianism (331), and the Emperor sent his command that Athanasius should receive Arius back into communion. The saint firmly declined. In 325 the heresiarch was absolved by two councils, at Tyre and Jerusalem, the former of which deposed Athanasius on false and shameful grounds of personal misconduct. He was banished to Trier, and his sojourn of eighteen months in those parts cemented Alexandria more closely to Rome and the Catholic West. Meanwhile, Constantia, the Emperor's sister, had recommended Arius, whom she thought an injured man, to Constantine's leniency. Her dying words affected him, and he recalled the Lybian, extracted from him a solemn adhesion to the Nicene faith, and ordered Alexander, Bishop of the Imperial City, to give him Communion in his own church (336). Arius openly triumphed; but as he went about in parade, the
evening before this event was to take place, he expired from a sudden disorder, which Catholics could not help regarding as a judgment of heaven, due to the bishop's prayers. His death, however, did not stay the plague. Constantine now favoured none but Arians; he was baptized in his last moments by the shifty prelate of Nicomedia; and he bequeathed to his three sons (337) an empire torn by dissensions which his ignorance and weakness had aggravated. Constantius, who nominally governed the East, was himself the puppet of his empress and the palaceministers. He obeyed the Eusebian faction; his spiritual director, Valens, Bishop of Mursa, did what in him lay to infect Italy and the West with Arian dogmas. The term "like in substance", Homoiousion, which had been employed merely to get rid of the Nicene formula, became a watchword. But as many as fourteen councils, held between 341 and 360, in which every shade of heretical subterfuge found expression, bore decisive witness to the need and efficacy of the Catholic touchstone which they all rejected. About 340, an Alexandrian gathering had defended its archbishop in an epistle to Pope Julius. On the death of Constantine, and by the influence of that emperor's son and namesake, he had been restored to his people. But the young prince passed away, and in 341 the celebrated Antiochene Council of the Dedication a second time degraded Athanasius, who now took refuge in Rome. There he spent three years. Gibbon quotes and adopts "a judicious observation" of Wetstein which deserves to be kept always in mind. From the fourth century onwards, remarks the German scholar, when the Eastern Churches were almost equally divided in eloquence and ability between contending sections, that party which sought to overcome made its appearance in the Vatican, cultivated the Papal majesty, conquered and established the orthodox creed by the help of the Latin bishops. Therefore it was that Athanasius repaired to Rome. A stranger, Gregory, usurped his place. The Roman Council proclaimed his innocence. In 343, Constans, who ruled over the West from Illyria to Britain, summoned the bishops to meet at Sardica in Pannonia. Ninety-four Latin, seventy Greek or Eastern, prelates began the debates; but they could not come to terms, and the Asiatics withdrew, holding a separate and hostile session at Philippopolis in Thrace. It has been justly said that the Council of Sardica reveals the first symptoms of discord which, later on, produced the unhappy schism of East and West. But to the Latins this meeting, which allowed of appeals to Pope Julius, or the Roman Church, seemed an epilogue which completed the Nicene legislation, and to this effect it was quoted by Innocent I in his correspondence with the bishops of Africa. Having won over Constans, who warmly took up his cause, the invincible Athanasius received from his Oriental and Semi-Arian sovereign three letters commanding, and at length entreating his return to Alexandria (349). The factious bishops, Ursacius and Valens, retracted their charges against him in the hands of Pope Julius; and as he travelled home, by way of Thrace, Asia Minor, and Syria, the crowd of court-prelates did him abject homage. These men veered with every wind. Some, like Eusebius of Caesarea, held a Platonizing doctrine which they would not give up, though they declined the Arian blasphemies. But many were time-servers, indifferent to dogma. And a new party had arisen, the strict and pious Homoiousians, not friends of Athanasius, nor willing to subscribe to the Nicene terms, yet slowly drawing nearer to the true creed and finally accepting it. In the councils which now follow these good men play their part. However, when Constans died (350), and his Semi-Arian brother was left supreme, the persecution of Athanasius redoubled in violence. By a series of intrigues the Western bishops were persuaded to cast him off at Arles, Milan, Ariminum. It was concerning this last council (359) that St. Jerome wrote, "the whole world groaned and marvelled to find itself Arian". For the Latin bishops were driven by threats and chicanery to sign concessions which at no time represented their genuine views. Councils were so frequent that their dates are still matter of controversy. Personal issues disguised the dogmatic importance of a struggle which had gone on for thirty years. The Pope of the day, Liberius, brave at first, undoubtedly orthodox, but torn from his see and banished to the dreary solitude of Thrace, signed a creed, in tone Semi-Arian (compiled chiefly from one of Sirmium), renounced Athanasius, but made a stand against the so-called "Homoean" formulae of Ariminum. This new party was led by Acacius of Caesarea, an aspiring churchman who maintained that he, and not St. Cyril of Jerusalem, was metropolitan over Palestine. The Homoeans, a sort of Protestants, would have no terms employed which were not found in Scripture, and thus evaded signing the "Consubstantial". A more extreme set, the "Anomoeans", followed Aëtius, were directed by Eunomius, held meetings at Antioch and Sirmium, declared the Son to be "unlike" the Father, and made themselves powerful in the last years of Constantius within the palace. George of Cappadocia persecuted the Alexandrian Catholics. Athanasius retired into the desert among the solitaries. Hosius had been compelled by torture to subscribe a fashionable creed. When the vacillating Emperor died (361), Julian, known as the Apostate, suffered all alike to return home who had been exiled on account of religion. A momentous gathering, over which Athanasius presided, in 362, at Alexandria, united the orthodox Semi-Arians with himself and the West. Four years afterwards fifty-nine Macedonian, i.e., hitherto anti-Nicene, prelates gave in their submission to Pope Liberius. But the Emperor Valens, a fierce heretic, still laid the Church waste.
However, the long battle was now turning decidedly in favour of Catholic tradition. Western bishops, like Hilary of Poitiers and Eusebius of Vercellae banished to Asia for holding the Nicene faith, were acting in unison with St. Basil, the two St. Gregories [of Nyssa and Nazianzus --Ed.], and the reconciled SemiArians. As an intellectual movement the heresy had spent its force. Theodosius, a Spaniards and a Catholic, governed the whole Empire. Athanasius died in 373; but his cause triumphed at Constantinople, long an Arian city, first by the preaching of St. Gregory Nazianzen, then in the Second General Council (381), at the opening of which Meletius of Antioch presided. This saintly man had been estranged from the Nicene champions during a long schism; but he made peace with Athanasius, and now, in company of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, represented a moderate influence which won the day. No deputies appeared from the West. Meletius died almost immediately. St. Gregory Nazianzen, who took his place, very soon resigned. A creed embodying the Nicene was drawn up by St. Gregory of Nyssa, but it is not the one that is chanted at Mass, the latter being due, it is said, to St. Epiphanius and the Church of Jerusalem. The Council became ecumenical by acceptance of the Pope and the ever-orthodox Westerns. From this moment Arianism in all its forms lost its place within the Empire. Its developments among the barbarians were political rather than doctrinal. Ulphilas (311-388), who translated the Scriptures into Maeso-Gothic, taught the Goths across the Danube an Homoean theology; Arian kingdoms arose in Spain, Africa, Italy. The Gepidae, Heruli, Vandals, Alans, and Lombards received a system which they were as little capable of understanding as they were of defending, and the Catholic bishops, the monks, the sword of Clovis, the action of the Papacy, made an end of it before the eighth century. In the form which it took under Arius, Eusebius of Caesarea, and Eunomius, it has never been revived. Individuals, among them are Milton and Sir Isasc Newton, were perhaps tainted with it. But the Socinian tendency out of which Unitarian doctrines have grown owes nothing to the school of Antioch or the councils which opposed Nicaea. Neither has any Arian leader stood forth in history with a character of heroic proportions. In the whole story there is but one single hero -- the undaunted Athanasius -- whose mind was equal to the problems, as his great spirit to the vicissitudes, a question on which the future of Christianity depended. Publication information Written by William Barry. Transcribed by Anthony A. Killeen. A.M.D.G. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I. Published 1907. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York Also, see: Athanasius Council of Nicaea The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.
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Athanasius, b. c.295, d. 373, was bishop of Alexandria and a defender of the Christian faith during the 4thcentury crisis of Arianism. He received a classical and theological education in Alexandria, where he was also ordained deacon and appointed secretary to Bishop Alexander. As a theological expert at the Council of Nicaea, which gathered in 325 to condemn the Arian rejection of Christ's divinity, Athanasius defended the unity of Christ as both God and man (see Councils of Nicaea). In 328 he succeeded Alexander as bishop of the see over which he was to preside for 45 years. Seventeen of them were spent in exile, imposed on
him on five separate occasions between 335 and 366, largely through the maneuverings of the Arianizing party. Athanasius vigorously opposed the views of his Arian opponents in his writings in defense of Nicene orthodoxy. These were written for the most part between 336 and 359 and include three Discourses Against the Arians (c.358). An earlier work, On the Incarnation of the Word (c.318), brought to its fullest expression the orthodox doctrine of redemption. His Life of St. Antony (c.356) is an important source for early Monasticism. After his final restoration to office, Athanasius spent his last years in peace and died in 373. His feast day is May 2.
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In reaction to those who denied both the full humanity and full divinity of Jesus Christ, Athanasius explained how the Logos, the Word of God, was united with human nature and how his death and resurrection overcame death and sin. He worked out the implications of biblical passages on the Incarnation and asserted the unity of the Logos and the human nature in Christ. He held that if Christ were not one in being (homoousios, "having the same being") with God the Father, then Salvation could not be possible; and if Christ were not fully man, then human nature could not be saved. Ross Mackenzie Bibliography Cross, F. L., The Study of St. Athanasius (1945).
Saint Athanasius Advanced Information
(ca. 296-373) Bishop of Alexandria from 328 to 373. An uncompromising foe of Arianism, Athanasius was particularly instrumental in bringing about its condemnation at the Council of Nicaea. He is regarded as the greatest theologian of his time. Athanasius grew up within the order of the imperial church, an institution to which he held fast throughout his life. Of his early years little is known. It is said that he was the son of well-to-do parents, but in later years he made it clear that he was a poor man. As a youth he attracted the notice of Alexander, who presided over the see of Alexandria. At an early age Athanasius was taken into the household of the bishop and was provided the best training that the times could afford. His education was essentially Greek; he was a "classicist" and never seems to have acquired any knowledge of Hebrew. He demonstrated, of course, the influence both of his patron, Alexander, and of the earlier Alexandrian thinker, Origen. He numbered among his earlier acquaintances and tutors some who had suffered in the great persecutions, and he no doubt drew some of the intensity of his belief from the fervency engendered in those crucial years. Not long after he turned twenty, Athanasius plunged into writing and produced theological works of lasting importance. One was the Contra Gentiles, a defense of Christianity against paganism; another was the De incarnatione, an attempt to explain the doctrine of redemption. During this period of writing Athanasius was acting as the secretary and confidant of his bishop, by whom he was personally made deacon. It was in this capacity that he attended the first general council held in Nicaea in 325. At the council the anti-Arian party led by Bishop Alexander won a resounding victory over Arian subordinationism. The council affirmed that the Son of God was "of one substance with the Father," which means that both share alike in the fundamental nature of deity. After the council concluded, Athanasius returned with his bishop to Alexandria and continued to work with him in establishing the faith that had been defined at Nicaea. In 328 Alexander died and Athanasius succeeded him in the see.
The tenure of Athanasius as Bishop of Alexandria was marked by five periods of exile. His vigorous defense of the Nicene formula caused him to be a target for the supporters of Arius, who rallied after the council. However, during his forty-six years as bishop there were enough years of relative peace in the empire and the church for Athanasius to accomplish much as a theologian. Admittedly he was a churchman and a pastor rather than a systematic or speculative theologian. However, this does not mean that his thought is not cogent, but that his work developed in response to the needs of each moment rather than on the basis of the requirements of a system. His works are pastoral, exegetical, polemical, and even biographical; there is no single treatise that attempts to present the totality of his theology. Nevertheless, for Athanasius the truth or falsity of a doctrine is to be judged on the basis of the degree in which it expresses two basic principles of the Christian faith: monotheism and the doctrine of salvation. These are the foci for his theological reflection. In Contra Gentiles, Athanasius discusses the means by which God can be known. These are principally two: the soul and nature. God may be known through the human soul, for "although God Himself is above all, the road which leads to Him is not far, nor even outside ourselves, but is within us, and it is possible to find it by ourselves" (30.1). That is to say, by studying the soul we may infer something about the nature of God. The soul is invisible and immortal; therefore, the true God must be invisible and immortal. To be sure, sin prevents the soul from perfectly attaining the vision of God, but the soul was made according to the divine image and it was intended to be like a mirror in which that image, which is the Word of God, would shine. This is a Platonic theme that had become part of the Alexandrian tradition since Origen. It is also possible to know God through his creation, which, "as though in written characters, declares in a loud voice, by its order and harmony, its own Lord and Creator" (Contra Gentiles, 34.4). But the order of the universe shows not only that there is a God but also that he is one. If there were more than one God, the unity of purpose that can be perceived throughout the cosmos would be impossible. Moreover, the order and reason within nature show that God has created it and rules it through his Word. For Athanasius, the Word of God who rules the world is the living Logos of God, that is, the Word who is God himself. This view of God indicates that Athanasius, even before becoming involved in the Arian conflict, had developed an understanding of the Word that was different, not only from the Arians, but also from that view held by many earlier theologians. Before Athanasius there was a tendency to establish the distinction between the Father and the Word on the basis of the contrast between the absolute God and a subordinate deity. This was, Athanasius insisted, incompatible with Christian monotheism. The other pillar of Athanasius's theology was soteriology. The salvation of which humanity stands in need is continuous with creation, for it is in fact a re-creation of fallen humanity. In sin, man abandoned the image of God; an element of disintegration was introduced within creation through sin. It can be expelled only through a new work of creation. Consequently, the core of Athanasius's doctrine of redemption is that only God himself can save mankind. If the salvation that we need is really a new creation, only the Creator can bring it. This requires the Savior to be God, for only God can grant an existence similar to his. The principles of monotheism and the doctrine of redemption influenced Athanasius in his formulation of arguments against the Arians. Whereas they usually appealed to logical analysis and subtle distinctions, Athanasius constantly referred to the two great pillars of his faith. In this sense, the importance of Athanasius lies not so much in his writings themselves as in the things he defended and preserved in a life full of tension and disturbance. In a critical moment in the church's history he maintained the essential character of Christianity in his struggles with Arians and emperors. But for him, Harnack has said (History of Dogma, II), the church would probably have fallen into the hands of the Arians. J F Johnson Elwell Evangelical Dictionary Bibliography H. von Campenhausen, The Fathers of the Greek Church; J. W. C. Wand, Doctors and Councils; F. L. Cross, The Study of Athanasius.
St. Athanasius Catholic Information
Bishop of Alexandria; Confessor and Doctor of the Church; born c. 296; died 2 May, 373. Athanasius was the greatest champion of Catholic belief on the subject of the Incarnation that the Church has ever known and in his lifetime earned the characteristic title of "Father of Orthodoxy", by which he has been
distinguished every since. While the chronology of his career still remains for the most part a hopelessly involved problem, the fullest material for an account of the main achievements of his life will be found in his collected writings and in the contemporary records of his time. He was born, it would seem, in Alexandria, most probably between the years 296 and 298. An earlier date, 293, is sometimes assigned as the more certain year of his birth; and it is supported apparently by the authority of the "Coptic Fragment" (published by Dr. O. von Lemm among the Mémoires de l'académie impériale des sciences de S. Péterbourg, 1888) and corroborated by the undoubted maturity of judgement revealed in the two treatises "Contra Gentes" and "De Incarnatione", which were admittedly written about the year 318 before Arianism as a movement had begun to make itself felt. It must be remembered, however, that in two distinct passages of his writings (Hist. Ar., lxiv, and De Syn., xviii) Athanasius shrinks from speaking as a witness at first hand of the persecution which had broken out under Maximian in 303; for in referring to the events of this period he makes no direct appeal to his own personal recollections, but falls back, rather, on tradition. Such reserve would scarcely be intelligible, if, on the hypothesis of the earlier date, the Saint had been then a boy fully ten years old. Besides, there must have been some semblance of a foundation in fact for the charge brought against him by his accusers in after-life (Index to the Festal Letters) that at the times of his consecration to the episcopate in 328 he had not yet attained the canonical age of thirty years. These considerations, therefore, even if they are found to be not entirely convincing, would seem to make it likely that he was born not earlier than 296 nor later than 298. It is impossible to speak more than conjecturally of his family. Of the claim that it was both prominent and well-to-do, we can only observe that the tradition to the effect is not contradicted by such scanty details as can be gleaned from the saint's writings. Those writings undoubtedly betray evidences of the sort of education that was given, for the most part, only to children and youths of a better class. It began with grammar, went on to rhetoric, and received its final touches under some one of the more fashionable lecturers in the philosophic schools. It is possible, of course, that he owed his remarkable training in letters to his saintly predecessor's favour, if not to his personal care. But Athanasius was one of those rare personalities that derive incomparably more from their own native gifts of intellect and character than from the fortuitousness of descent or environment. His career almost personifies a crisis in the history of Christianity; and he may be said rather to have shaped the events in which he took part than to have been shaped by them. Yet it would be misleading to urge that he was in no notable sense a debtor to the time and place of his birth. The Alexandria of his boyhood was an epitome, intellectually, morally, and politically, of that ethnically many-coloured Graeco-Roman world, over which the Church of the fourth and fifth centuries was beginning at last, with undismayed consciousness, after nearly three hundred years of unwearying propagandism, to realize its supremacy. It was, moreover, the most important centre of trade in the whole empire; and its primacy as an emporium of ideas was more commanding than that of Rome or Constantinople, Antioch or Marseilles. Already, in obedience to an instinct of which one can scarcely determine the full significance without studying the subsequent development of Catholicism, its famous "Catechetical School", while sacrificing no jot or tittle or that passion for orthodoxy which it had imbibed from Pantænus, Clement, and Origen, had begun to take on an almost secular character in the comprehensiveness of its interests, and had counted pagans of influence among its serious auditors (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., VI, xix). To have been born and brought up in such an atmosphere of philosophizing Christianity was, in spite of the dangers it involved, the timeliest and most liberal of educations; and there is, as we have intimated, abundant evidence in the saint's writings to testify to the ready response which all the better influences of the place must have found in the heart and mind of the growing boy. Athanasius seems to have been brought early in life under the immediate supervision of the ecclesiastical authorities of his native city. Whether his long intimacy with Bishop Alexander began in childhood, we have no means of judging; but a story which pretends to describe the circumstances of his first introduction to that prelate has been preserved for us by Rufinus (Hist. Eccl., I, xiv). The bishop, so the tale runs, had invited a number of brother prelates to meet him at breakfast after a great religious function on the anniversary of the martyrdom of St. Peter, a recent predecessor in the See of Alexandria. While Alexander was waiting for his guests to arrive, he stood by a window, watching a group of boys at play on the seashore below the house. He had not observed them long before he discovered that they were imitating, evidently with no thought of irreverence, the elaborate ritual of Christian baptism. (Cf. Bunsen's "Christianity and Mankind", London, 1854, VI, 465; Denzinger, "Ritus Orientalium" in verb.; Butler's "Ancient Coptic Churches", II, 268 et sqq.; "Bapteme chez les Coptes", "Dict. Theol. Cath.", Col. 244, 245). He therefore sent for the children and had them brought into his presence. In the investigation that followed it was discovered that one of the boys, who was no other than the future Primate of Alexandria, had acted the part of the bishop, and in that character had actually baptized several of his companions in the course of their play. Alexander, who seems to have been unaccountably puzzled over the answers he received to his inquiries, determined to recognize
the make-believe baptisms as genuine; and decided that Athanasius and his playfellows should go into training in order to fit themselves for a clerical career. The Bollandists deal gravely with this story; and writers as difficult to satisfy as Archdeacon Farrar and the late Dean Stanley are ready to accept it as bearing on its face "every indication of truth" (Farrar, "Lives of the Fathers", I, 337; Stanley, "East. Ch." 264). But whether in its present form, or in the modified version to be found in Socrates (I, xv), who omits all reference to the baptism and says that the game was "an imitation of the priesthood and the order of consecrated persons", the tale raises a number of chronological difficulties and suggests even graver questions. Perhaps a not impossible explanation of its origin may be found in the theory that it was one of the many floating myths set in movement by popular imagination to account for the marked bias towards an ecclesiastical career which seems to have characterized the early boyhood of the future champion of the Faith. Sozomen speaks of his "fitness for the priesthood", and calls attention to the significant circumstance that he was "from his tenderest years practically self-taught". "Not long after this," adds the same authority, the Bishop Alexander "invited Athanasius to be his commensal and secretary. He had been well educated, and was versed in grammar and rhetoric, and had already, while still a young man, and before reaching the episcopate, given proof to those who dwelt with him of his wisdom and acumen" (Soz., II, xvii). That "wisdom and acumen" manifested themselves in a various environment. While still a levite under Alexander's care, he seems to have been brought for a while into close relations with some of the solitaries of the Egyptian desert, and in particular with the great St. Anthony, whose life he is said to have written. The evidence both of the intimacy and for the authorship of the life in question has been challenged, chiefly by non-Catholic writers, on the ground that the famous "Vita" shows signs of interpolation. Whatever we may think of the arguments on the subject, it is impossible to deny that the monastic idea appealed powerfully to the young cleric's temperament, and that he himself in after years was not only at home when duty or accident threw him among the solitaries, but was so monastically self-disciplined in his habits as to be spoken of as an "ascetic" (Apol. c. Arian., vi). In fourth-century usage the word would have a definiteness of connotation not easily determinable today. (See ASCETICISM). It is not surprising that one who was called to fill so large a place in the history of his time should have impressed the very form and feature of his personality, so to say, upon the imagination of his contemporaries. St. Gregory Nazianzen is not the only writer who has described him for us (Orat. xxi, 8). A contemptuous phrase of the Emperor Julian's (Epist., li) serves unintentionally to corroborate the picture drawn by kindlier observers. He was slightly below the middle height, spare in build, but well-knit, and intensely energetic. He had a finely shaped head, set off with a thin growth of auburn hair, a small but sensitively mobile mouth, an aquiline nose, and eyes of intense but kindly brilliancy. He had a ready wit, was quick in intuition, easy and affable in manner, pleasant in conversation, keen, and, perhaps, somewhat too unsparing in debate. (Besides the references already cited, see the detailed description given in the January Menaion quotes in the Bollandist life. Julian the Apostate, in the letter alluded to above sneers at the diminutiveness of his person -- mede aner, all anthropiokos euteles, he writes.) In addition to these qualities, he was conspicuous for two others to which even his enemies bore unwilling testimony. He was endowed with a sense of humour that could be as mordant -- we had almost said as sardonic -- as it seems to have been spontaneous and unfailing; and his courage was of the sort that never falters, even in the most disheartening hour of defeat. There is one other note in this highly gifted and many-sided personality to which everything else in his nature literally ministered, and which must be kept steadily in view, if we would possess the key to his character and writing and understand the extraordinary significance of his career in the history of the Christian Church. He was by instinct neither a liberal nor a conservative in theology. Indeed the terms have a singular inappropriateness as applied to a temperament like his. From first to last he cared greatly for one thing and one thing only; the integrity of his Catholic creed. The religion it engendered in him was obviously -- considering the traits by which we have tried to depict him -of a passionate and consuming sort. It began and ended in devotion to the Divinity of Jesus Christ. He was scarcely out of his teens, and certainly not in more than deacon's orders, when he published two treatises, in which his mind seemed to strike the keynote of all its riper after-utterances on the subject of the Catholic Faith. The "Contra Gentes" and the "Oratio de Incarnatione" -- to give them the Latin appellations by which they are more commonly cited -- were written some time between the years 318 and 323. St. Jerome (De Viris Illust.) refers to them under a common title, as "Adversum Gentes Duo Libri", thus leaving his readers to gather the impression which an analysis of the contents of both books certainly seems to justify, that the two treatises are in reality one. As a plea for the Christian position, addressed chiefly to both Gentiles and Jews, the young deacon's apology, while undoubtedly reminiscential in methods and ideas of Origen and the earlier Alexandrians, is, nevertheless, strongly individual and almost pietistic in tone. Though it deals with the Incarnation, it is
silent on most of those ulterior problems in defence of which Athanasius was soon to be summoned by the force of events and the fervour of his own faith to devote the best energies of his life. The work contains no explicit discussion of the nature of the Word's Sonship, for instance; no attempt to draw out the character of Our Lord's relation to the Father; nothing, in short, of those Christological questions upon which he was to speak with such splendid and courageous clearness in time of shifting formularies and undetermined views. Yet those ideas must have been in the air (Soz., I, xv) for, some time between the years 318 and 320, Arius, a native of Libya (Epiph., Haer., lxix) and priest of the Alexandrian Church, who had already fallen under censure for his part in the Meletian troubles which broke out during the episcopate of St. Peter, and whose teachings had succeeded in making dangerous headway, even among "the consecrated virgins" of St. Mark's see (Epiph. Haer., lxix; Soc., Hist. Eccl., I, vi), accused Bishop Alexander of Sabellianism. Arius, who seems to have presumed on the charitable tolerance of the primate, was at length deposed (Apol. c. Ar., vi) in a synod consisting of more than one hundred bishops of Egypt and Libya (Depositio Ar., 3). The condemned heresiarch withdrew first to Palestine and afterwards to Bithynia, where, under the protection of Eusebius of Nicomedia and his other "Collucianists", he was able to increase his already remarkable influence, while his friends were endeavouring to prepare a way for his forcible reinstatement as priest of the Alexandrian Church. Athanasius, though only in deacon's order, must have taken no subordinate part in these events. He was the trusted secretary and advisor of Alexander, and his name appears in the list of those who signed the encyclical letter subsequently issued by the primate and his colleagues to offset the growing prestige of the new teaching, and the momentum it was beginning to acquire from the ostentatious patronage extended to the deposed Arius by the Eusebian faction. Indeed, it is to this party and to the leverage it was able to exercise at the emperor's court that the subsequent importance of Arianism as a political, rather than a religious, movement seems primarily to be due. The heresy, of course, had its supposedly philosophic basis, which has been ascribed by authors, ancient and modern, to the most opposite sources. St. Epiphanius characterizes it as a king of revived Aristoteleanism (Haer., lxvii and lxxvi); and the same view is practically held by Socrates (Hist. Eccl., II, xxxv), Theodoret (Haer. Fab., IV, iii), and St. Basil (Adv. Eunom., I, ix). On the other hand, a theologian as broadly read as Petavius (De Trin., I, viii, 2) has no hesitation in deriving it from Platonism; Newman in turn (Arians of the Fourth Cent., 4 ed., 109) sees in it the influence of Jewish prejudices rationalized by the aid of Aristotelean ideas; while Robertson (Sel. Writ. and Let. of Ath. Proleg., 27) observes that the "common theology", which was invariably opposed to it, "borrowed its philosophical principles and method from the Platonists." These apparently conflicting statements could, no doubt, be easily adjusted; but the truth is that the prestige of Arianism never lay in its ideas. From whatever school it may have been logically derived, the sect, as a sect, was cradled and nurtured in intrigue. Save in some few instances, which can be accounted for on quite other grounds, its prophets relied more upon curial influence than upon piety, or Scriptural knowledge, or dialectics. That must be borne constantly in mind, if we would not move distractedly through the bewildering maze of events that make up the life of Athanasius for the next half-century to come. It is his peculiar merit that he not only saw the drift of things from the very beginning, but was confident of the issue down to the last (Apol. c. Ar., c.). His insight and courage proved almost as efficient a bulwark to the Christian Church in the world as did his singularly lucid grasp of traditional Catholic belief. His opportunity came in the year 325, when the Emperor Constantine, in the hope of putting an end to the scandalous debates that were disturbing the peace of the Church, met the prelates of the entire Catholic world in council at Nicaea. The great council convoked at this juncture was something more than a pivotal event in the history of Christianity. Its sudden, and, in one sense, almost unpremeditated adoption of a quasi-philosophic and nonScriptural term -- homoousion -- to express the character of orthodox belief in the Person of the historic Christ, by defining Him to be identical in substance, or co-essential, with the Father, together with its confident appeal to the emperor to lend the sanction of his authority to the decrees and pronouncements by which it hoped to safeguard this more explicit profession of the ancient Faith, had consequences of the gravest import, not only to the world of ideas, but to the world of politics as well. By the official promulgation to the term homoöusion, theological speculation received a fresh but subtle impetus which made itself felt long after Athanasius and his supporters had passed away; while the appeal to the secular arm inaugurated a policy which endured practically without change of scope down to the publication of the Vatican decrees in our own time. In one sense, and that a very deep and vital one, both the definition and the policy were inevitable. It was inevitable in the order of religious ideas that any break in logical continuity should be met by inquiry and protest. It was just as inevitable that the protest, to be effective, should receive some countenance from a power which up to that moment had affected to regulate all the graver circumstances of life (cf. Harnack, Hist. Dog., III, 146, note; Buchanan's tr.). As Newman has remarked: "The Church could not meet together in one, without entering into a sort of negotiation with the power that be; who jealousy it is the duty of Christians, both as individuals and as a body, if possible, to
dispel" (Arians of the Fourth Cent., 4 ed., 241). Athanasius, though not yet in priest's orders, accompanied Alexander to the council in the character of secretary and theological adviser. He was not, of course, the originator of the famous homoösion. The term had been proposed in a non-obvious and illegitimate sense by Paul of Samosata to the Father at Antioch, and had been rejected by them as savouring of materialistic conceptions of the Godhead (cf. Athan., "De Syn.," xliii; Newman, "Arians of the Fourth Cent.," 4 ed., 184196; Petav. "De Trin.," IV, v, sect. 3; Robertson, "Sel. Writ. and Let. Athan. Proleg.", 30 sqq.). It may even be questioned whether, if left to his own logical instincts, Athanasius would have suggested an orthodox revival of the term at all ("De Decretis", 19; "Orat. c. Ar.", ii, 32; "Ad Monachos", 2). His writings, composed during the forty-six critical years of his episcopate, show a very sparing use of the word; and though, as Newman (Arians of the Fourth Cent., 4 ed., 236) reminds us, "the authentic account of the proceedings" that took place is not extant, there is nevertheless abundant evidence in support of the common view that it had been unexpectedly forced upon the notice of the bishops, Arian and orthodox, in the great synod by Constantine's proposal to account the creed submitted by Eusebius of Caesarea, with the addition of the homoösion, as a safeguard against possible vagueness. The suggestion had in all probability come from Hosius (cf. "Epist. Eusebii.", in the appendix to the "De Decretis", sect. 4; Soc., "Hist. Eccl.", I, viii; III, vii; Theod. "Hist. Eccl.", I, Athan.; "Arians of the Fourth Cent.", 6, n. 42; outos ten en Nikaia pistin exetheto, says the saint, quoting his opponents); but Athanasius, in common with the leaders of the orthodox party, loyally accepted the term as expressive of the traditional sense in which the Church had always held Jesus Christ to be the Son of God. The conspicuous abilities displayed in the Nicaean debates and the character for courage and sincerity he won on all sides made the youthful cleric henceforth a marked man (St. Greg. Naz., Orat., 21). His life could not be lived in a corner. Five months after the close of the council the Primate of Alexandria died; and Athanasius, quite as much in recognition of his talent, it would appear, as in deference to the deathbed wishes of the deceased prelate, was chosen to succeed him. His election, in spite of his extreme youth and the opposition of a remnant of the Arian and Meletian factions in the Alexandrian Church, was welcomed by all classes among the laity ("Apol. c. Arian", vi; Soz., "Hist. Eccl.", II, xvii, xxi, xxii). The opening years of the saint's rule were occupied with the wonted episcopal routine of a fourth-century Egyptian bishop. Episcopal visitations, synods, pastoral correspondence, preaching and the yearly round of church functions consumed the bulk of his time. The only noteworthy events of which antiquity furnishes at least probable data are connected with the successful efforts which he made to provide a hierarchy for the newly planted church in Ethiopia (Abyssinia) in the person of St. Frumentius (Rufinus I, ix; Soc. I, xix; Soz., II, xxiv), and the friendship which appears to have begun about this time between himself and the monks of St. Pachomius. But the seeds of disaster which the saint's piety had unflinchingly planted at Nicaea were beginning to bear a disquieting crop at last. Already events were happening at Constantinople which were soon to make him the most important figure of his time. Eusebius of Nicomedia, who had fallen into disgrace and been banished by the Emperor Constantine for his part in the earlier Arian controversies, had been recalled from exile. After an adroit campaign of intrigue, carried on chiefly through the instrumentality of the ladies of the imperial household, this smooth-mannered prelate so far prevailed over Constantine as to induce him to order the recall of Arius likewise from exile. He himself sent a characteristic letter to the youthful Primate of Alexandria, in which he bespoke his favour for the condemned heresiarch, who was described as a man whose opinions had been misrepresented. These events must have happened some time about the close of the year 330. Finally the emperor himself was persuaded to write to Athanasius, urging that all those who were ready to submit to the definitions of Nicaea should be re-admitted to ecclesiastical communion. This Athanasius stoutly refused to do, alleging that there could be no fellowship between the Church and the one who denied the Divinity of Christ. The Bishop of Nicomedia thereupon brought various ecclesiastical and political charges against Athanasius, which, though unmistakably refuted at their first hearing, were afterwards refurbished and made to do service at nearly every stage of his subsequent trials. Four of these were very definite, to wit: that he had not reached the canonical age at the time of his consecration; that he had imposed a linen tax upon the provinces; that his officers had, with his connivance and authority, profaned the Sacred Mysteries in the case of an alleged priest names Ischyras; and lastly that he had put one Arenius to death and afterwards dismembered the body for purposes of magic. The nature of the charges and the method of supporting them were vividly characteristic of the age. The curious student will find them set forth in picturesque detail in the second part of the Saint's "Apologia", or "Defense against the Arians", written long after the events themselves, about the year 350, when the retractation of Ursacius and Valens made their publication triumphantly opportune. The whole unhappy story at this distance of time reads in parts more like a specimen of late Greek romance than the account of an inquisition gravely conducted by a synod of Christian prelates with the idea of getting at the truth of a series of odious accusations brought against one
of their number. Summoned by the emperor's order after protracted delays extended over a period of thirty months (Soz., II, xxv), Athanasius finally consented to meet the charges brought against him by appearing before a synod of prelates at Tyre in the year 335. Fifty of his suffragans went with him to vindicate his good name; but the complexion of the ruling party in the synod made it evident that justice to the accused was the last thing that was thought of. It can hardly be wondered at, that Athanasius should have refused to be tried by such a court. He, therefore, suddenly withdrew from Tyre, escaping in a boat with some faithful friends who accompanied him to Byzantium, where he had made up his mind to present himself to the emperor. The circumstances in which the saint and the great catechumen met were dramatic enough. Constantine was returning from a hunt, when Athanasius unexpectedly stepped into the middle of the road and demanded a hearing. The astonished emperor could hardly believe his eyes, and it needed the assurance of one of the attendants to convince him that the petitioner was not an impostor, but none other than the great Bishop of Alexandria himself. "Give me", said the prelate, "a just tribunal, or allow me to meet my accusers face to face in your presence." His request was granted. An order was peremptorily sent to the bishops, who had tried Athanasius and, of course, condemned him in his absence, to repair at once to the imperial city. The command reached them while they were on their way to the great feast of the dedication of Constantine's new church at Jerusalem. It naturally caused some consternation; but the more influential members of the Eusebian faction never lacked either courage or resourcefulness. The saint was taken at his word; and the old charges were renewed in the hearing of the emperor himself. Athanasius was condemned to go into exile at Treves, where he was received with the utmost kindness by the saintly Bishop Maximinus and the emperor's eldest son, Constantine. He began his journey probably in the month of February, 336, and arrived on the banks of the Moselle in the late autumn of the same year. His exile lasted nearly two years and a half. Public opinion in his own diocese remained loyal to him during all that time. It was not the least eloquent testimony to the essential worth of his character that he could inspire such faith. Constantine's treatment of Athanasius at this crisis in his fortunes has always been difficult to understand. Affecting, on the one hand, a show of indignation, as if he really believed in the political charge brought against the saint, he, on the other hand, refused to appoint a successor to the Alexandrian See, a thing which he might in consistency have been obliged to do had he taken seriously the condemnation proceedings carried through by the Eusebians at Tyre. Meanwhile events of the greatest importance had taken place. Arius had died amid startlingly dramatic circumstances at Constantinople in 336; and the death of Constantine himself had followed, on the 22nd of May the year after. Some three weeks later the younger Constantine invited the exiled primate to return to his see; and by the end of November of the same year Athanasius was once more established in his episcopal city. His return was the occasion of great rejoicing. The people, as he himself tells us, ran in crowds to see his face; the churches were given over to a kind of jubilee; thanksgivings were offered up everywhere; and clergy and laity accounted the day the happiest in their lives. But already trouble was brewing in a quarter from which the saint might reasonably have expected it. The Eusebian faction, who from this time forth loom large as the disturbers of his peace, managed to win over to their side the weakminded Emperor Constantius to whom the East had been assigned in the division of the empire that followed on the death of Constantine. The old charges were refurbished with a graver ecclesiastical accusation added by way of rider. Athanasius had ignored the decision of a duly authorized synod. He had returned to his see without the summons of ecclesiastical authority (Apol. c. Ar., loc. cit.). In the year 340, after the failure of the Eusebian malcontents to secure the appointment of an Arian candidate of dubious reputation names Pistus, the notorious Gregory of Cappadocia was forcibly intruded into the Alexandrian See, and Athanasius was obliged to go into hiding. Within a very few weeks he set out for Rome to lay his case before the Church at large. He had made his appeal to Pope Julius, who took up his cause with a whole-heartedness that never wavered down to the day of that holy pontiff's death. The pope summoned a synod of bishops to meet in Rome. After a careful and detailed examination of the entire case, the primate's innocence was proclaimed to the Christian world. Meanwhile the Eusebian party had met at Antioch and passed a series of decrees framed for the sole purpose of preventing the saint's return to his see. Three years were passed at Rome, during which time the idea of the cenobitical life, as Athanasius had seen it practised in the deserts of Egypt, was preached to the clerics of the West (St. Jerome, Epistle cxxvii, 5). Two years after the Roman synod had published its decision, Athanasius was summoned to Milan by the Emperor Constans, who laid before him the plan which Constantius had formed for a great reunion of both the Eastern and Western Churches. Now began a time of extraordinary activity for the Saint. Early in the year 343 we find the undaunted exile in Gaul, whither he had gone to consult the saintly Hosius, the great champion of orthodoxy in the West. The two together set out for the Council of Sardica which had been summoned in deference to the Roman pontiff's
wishes. At this great gathering of prelates the case of Athanasius was taken up once more; and once more was his innocence reaffirmed. Two conciliar letters were prepared, one to the clergy and faithful of Alexandria, and the other to the bishops of Egypt and Libya, in which the will of the Council was made known. Meanwhile the Eusebian party had gone to Philippopolis, where they issued an anathema against Athanasius and his supporters. The persecution against the orthodox party broke out with renewed vigour, and Constantius was induced to prepare drastic measures against Athanasius and the priests who were devoted to him. Orders were given that if the Saint attempted to re-enter his see, he should be put to death. Athanasius, accordingly, withdrew from Sardica to Naissus in Mysia, where he celebrated the Easter festival of the year 344. After that he set out for Aquileia in obedience to a friendly summons from Constans, to whom Italy had fallen in the division of the empire that followed on the death of Constantine. Meanwhile an unexpected event had taken place which made the return of Athanasius to his see less difficult than it had seemed for many months. Gregory of Cappadocia had died (probably of violence) in June, 345. The embassy which had been sent by the bishops of Sardica to the Emperor Constantius, and which had at first met with the most insulting treatment, now received a favourable hearing. Constantius was induced to reconsider his decision, owing to a threatening letter from his brother Constans and the uncertain condition of affairs of the Persian border, and he accordingly made up his mind to yield. But three separate letters were needed to overcome the natural hesitation of Athanasius. He passed rapidly from Aquileia to Treves, from Treves to Rome, and from Rome by the northern route to Adrianople and Antioch, where he met Constantius. He was accorded a gracious interview by the vacillating Emperor, and sent back to his see in triumph, where he began his memorable ten years' reign, which lasted down to the third exile, that of 356. These were full years in the life of the Bishop; but the intrigues of the Eusebian, or Court, party were soon renewed. Pope Julius had died in the month of April, 352, and Liberius had succeeded him as Sovereign Pontiff. For two years Liberius had been favourable to the cause of Athanasius; but driven at last into exile, he was induced to sign an ambiguous formula, from which the great Nicene test, the homoöusion, had been studiously omitted. In 355 a council was held at Milan, where in spite of the vigorous opposition of a handful of loyal prelates among the Western bishops, a fourth condemnation of Athanasius was announced to the world. With his friends scattered, the saintly Hosius in exile, the Pope Liberius denounced as acquiescing in Arian formularies, Athanasius could hardly hope to escape. On the night of 8 February, 356, while engaged in services in the Church of St. Thomas, a band of armed men burst in to secure his arrest (Apol. de Fuga, 24). It was the beginning of his third exile. Through the influence of the Eusebian faction at Constantinople, an Arian bishop, George of Cappadocia, was now appointed to rule the see of Alexandria. Athanasius, after remaining some days in the neighbourhood of the city, finally withdrew into the deserts of upper Egypt, where he remained for a period of six years, living the life of the monks and devoting himself in his enforced leisure to the composition of that group of writings of which we have the rest in the "Apology to Constantius", the "Apology for his Flight", the "Letter to the Monks", and the "History of the Arians". Legend has naturally been busy with this period of the Saint's career; and we may find in the "Life of Pachomius" a collection of tales brimful of incidents, and enlivened by the recital of "deathless 'scapes in the breach." But by the close of the year 360 a change was apparent in the complexion of the anti-Nicene party. The Arians no longer presented an unbroken front to their orthodox opponents. The Emperor Constantius, who had been the cause of so much trouble, died 4 November, 361, and was succeeded by Julian. The proclamation of the new prince's accession was the signal for a pagan outbreak against the still dominant Arian faction in Alexandria. George, the usurping Bishop, was flung into prison and murdered amid circumstances of great cruelty, 24 December (Hist. Aceph., VI). An obscure presbyter of the name of Pistus was immediately chosen by the Arians to succeed him, when fresh news arrived that filled the orthodox party with hope. An edict had been put forth by Julian (Hist. Aceph., VIII) permitting the exiled bishops of the "Galileans" to return to their "towns and provinces". Athanasius received a summons from his own flock, and he accordingly re-entered his episcopal capital 22 February, 362. With characteristic energy he set to work to re-establish the somewhat shattered fortunes of the orthodox party and to purge the theological atmosphere of uncertainty. To clear up the misunderstandings that had arisen in the course of the previous years, an attempt was made to determine still further the significance of the Nicene formularies. In the meanwhile, Julian, who seems to have become suddenly jealous of the influence that Athanasius was exercising at Alexandria, addressed an order to Ecdicius, the Prefect of Egypt, peremptorily commanding the expulsion of the restored primate, on the ground that he had never been included in the imperial act of clemency. The edict was communicated to the bishop by Pythicodorus Trico, who, though described in the "Chronicon Athanasianum" (xxxv) as a "philosopher", seems to have behaved with brutal insolence. On 23 October the people gathered about the proscribed bishop to protest against the emperor's decree; but the saint urged them to submit, consoling them with the promise that his absence would be of short duration. The prophecy was curiously fulfilled. Julian terminated his brief career 26 June, 363; and Athanasius returned in secret to Alexandria, where he soon received a document from the new emperor, Jovian, reinstating him once more in his episcopal
functions. His first act was to convene a council which reaffirmed the terms of the Nicene Creed. Early in September he set out for Antioch, bearing a synodal letter, in which the pronouncements of this council had been embodied. At Antioch he had an interview with the new emperor, who received him graciously and even asked him to prepare an exposition of the orthodox faith. But in the following February Jovian died; and in October, 364, Athanasius was once more an exile. With the turn of circumstances that handed over to Valens the control of the East this article has nothing to do; but the accession of the emperor gave a fresh lease of life to the Arian party. He issued a decree banishing the bishops who has been deposed by Constantius, but who had been permitted by Jovian to return to their sees. The news created the greatest consternation in the city of Alexandria itself, and the prefect, in order to prevent a serious outbreak, gave public assurance that the very special case of Athanasius would be laid before the emperor. But the saint seems to have divined what was preparing in secret against him. He quietly withdrew from Alexandria, 5 October, and took up his abode in a country house outside the city. It was during this period that he is said to have spent four months in hiding in his father's tomb (Soz., "Hist. Eccl.", VI, xii; Doc., "Hist. Eccl.", IV, xii). Valens, who seems to have sincerely dreaded the possible consequences of a popular outbreak, gave order within a very few weeks for the return of Athanasius to his see. And now began that last period of comparative repose which unexpectedly terminated his strenuous and extraordinary career. He spent his remaining days, characteristically enough, in re-emphasizing the view of the Incarnation which had been defined at Nicaea and which has been substantially the faith of the Christian Church from its earliest pronouncement in Scripture down to its last utterance through the lips of Pius X in our own times. "Let what was confessed by the Fathers of Nicaea prevail", he wrote to a philosopher-friend and correspondent in the closing years of his life (Epist. lxxi, ad Max.). That that confession did at last prevail in the various Trinitarian formularies that followed upon that of Nicaea was due, humanly speaking, more to his laborious witness than to that of any other champion in the long teachers' roll of Catholicism. By one of those inexplicable ironies that meet us everywhere in human history, this man, who had endured exile so often, and risked life itself in defence of what he believed to be the first and most essential truth of the Catholic creed, died not by violence or in hiding, but peacefully in his own bed, surrounded by his clergy and mourned by the faithful of the see he had served so well. His feast in the Roman Calendar is kept on the anniversary of his death. [Note on his depiction in art: No accepted emblem has been assigned to him in the history of western art; and his career, in spite of its picturesque diversity and extraordinary wealth of detail, seems to have furnished little, if any, material for distinctive illustration. Mrs. Jameson tells us that according to the Greek formula, "he ought to be represented old, bald-headed, and with a long white beard" (Sacred and Legendary Art, I, 339).] Publication information Written by Cornelius Clifford. Transcribed by David Joyce. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume II. Published 1907. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York Bibliography All the essential materials for the Saint's biography are to be found in his writings, especially in those written after the year 350, when the Apologia contra Arianos was composed. Supplementary information will be found in ST. EPIPHANIUS, Hoer., loc. cit.; in ST. GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS, Orat., xxi; also RUFINUS, SOCRATES, SOZMEN, and THEODORET. The Historia Acephala, or Maffeian Fragment (discovered by Maffei in 1738, and inserted by GALLANDI in Bibliotheca Patrum, 1769), and the Chronicon Athanasianum, or Index to the Festal Letters, give us data for the chronological problem. All the foregoing sources are included in MIGNE, P. G. and P. L. The great PAPEBROCH'S Life is in the Acta SS., May, I. The most important authorities in English are: NEWMAN, Arians of the Fourth Century, and Saint Athanasius; BRIGHT, Dictionary of Christian Biography; ROBERTSON, Life, in the Prolegomena to the Select Writings and Letters of Saint Athanasius (re-edited in Library of the Nicene and post-Nicene Fathers, New York, 1903); GWATKIN, Studies of Arianism (2d ed., Cambridge, 1900); MOHLER, Athanasius der Grosse; HERGENROTHER and HEFELE. Also, see: Athanasian Creed The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.
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