Monday, November 10, 2008

What did Arius actually teach?

In the recent John Calvin thread, we touched upon an anomaly—the accusation of tri-theism leveled at Calvin by an Eastern Orthodox professor. I pointed out that the predominate charge from Eastern Christians against their Western/Latin ‘brothers’ is that of modalism; while the latter accuse the former of tri-theism. Both accusations are vehemently denied by each respective tradition, though the end result precipitates little change in the overall polemical landscape.

Many have seen such controversies as an indication that something ‘went wrong’ with the Trinitarian speculations of Christendom. Certainly with the advent of Islam, via Muhammad and the Qur’an, we witness a significant challenge to all forms of Trinitarianism; and in the Reformation period of the 16th and 17th centuries, another strong challenge was raised by the Socinians (and to a lesser extant, the British Arians). However, I believe that perhaps the greatest challenge to Catholic Trinitarianism came in the 4th century via Arius and the subsequent schools of thought associated with his name (e.g. Ahomoians, Homoians, Homoiousians, et al.).

Now, given some of my past discussions with Trinitarian Christians from various disciplines and/or denominations, I am left pondering over the question of how many individuals actually know what Arius himself taught. With this in mind, I shall now let the pen of Arius elucidate his theology for us—from his letter to Alexander, bishop of Alexandria (which has a solid consensus of patristic scholars agreeing that it is genuine) we read:


To Our Blessed Pope and Bishop, Alexander, the Presbyters and Deacons send health in the Lord.

Our faith from our forefathers, which also we have learned from thee, Blessed Pope, is this: — We acknowledge One God, alone Ingenerate, alone Everlasting, alone Unbegun, alone True, alone having Immortality, alone Wise, alone Good, alone Sovereign; Judge, Governor, and Providence of all, unalterable and unchangeable, just and good, God of Law and Prophets and New Testament; who begat an Only-begotten Son before eternal times, through whom He has made both the ages and the universe; and begat Him, not in semblance, but in truth; and that He made Him subsist at His own will, unalterable and unchangeable; perfect creature of God, but not as one of the creatures; offspring, but not as one of things begotten; nor as Valentinus pronounced that the offspring of the Father was an issue; nor as Manichæus taught that the offspring was a portion of the Father, one in essence; or as Sabellius, dividing the Monad, speaks of a Son-and-Father; nor as Hieracas, of one torch from another, or as a lamp divided into two; nor that He who was before, was afterwards generated or new-created into a Son, as thou too thyself, Blessed Pope, in the midst of the Church and in session hast often condemned; but, as we say, at the will of God, created before times and before ages, and gaining life and being from the Father, who gave subsistence to His glories together with Him. For the Father did not, in giving to Him the inheritance of all things, deprive Himself of what He has ingenerately in Himself; for He is the Fountain of all things. Thus there are Three Subsistences. And God, being the cause of all things, is Unbegun and altogether Sole, but the Son being begotten apart from time by the Father, and being created and founded before ages, was not before His generation, but being begotten apart from time before all things, alone was made to subsist by the Father. For He is not eternal or co-eternal or co-unoriginate with the Father, nor has He His being together with the Father, as some speak of relations, introducing two ingenerate beginnings, but God is before all things as being Monad and Beginning of all. Wherefore also He is before the Son; as we have learned also from thy preaching in the midst of the Church. So far then as from God He has being, and glories, and life, and all things are delivered unto Him, in such sense is God His origin. For He is above Him, as being His God and before Him. But if the terms ‘from Him,’ and ‘from the womb,’ and ‘I came forth from the Father, and I am come’ (Romans 11:36;Psalm 110:3; John 16:28), be understood by some to mean as if a part of Him, one in essence or as an issue, then the Father is according to them compounded and divisible and alterable and material, and, as far as their belief goes, has the circumstances of a body, Who is the Incorporeal God
. (Preserved by Athanasius in, Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia, 16 – NPNF II.4.458.)

With the above, we have a rigorous defense of God the Father as the sole, beginningless “Monad”. God is “before” everything, including the Son. In essence, Arius argues that it is illogical to postulate more than one, true/ultimate archē (beginning)—with this I concur.


Grace and peace,

David

6 comments:

Chris said...

Hey David,

For all Arius' insistence on the Monad's "before"-ness, he still affirms that the Son was begotten prior to time. Thus I can't help but get the impression that this is more a logical priority than a temporal one. The Son is a derived being; this seems to be the main thrust of Arius' argument. And in that regard, would orthodoxy disagree? the doctrine that the Father is fount of divinity is, after all, an orthodox one. Was the difference between Arius and the orthodox a mere semantic quibble and a difference in emphasis?

David Waltz said...

Hi Chris,

You posted:

>>For all Arius' insistence on the Monad's "before"-ness, he still affirms that the Son was begotten prior to time. Thus I can't help but get the impression that this is more a logical priority than a temporal one.>>

Me: IMHO, the key issue between Arius and all of his opponents concerns his efforts to eliminate a huge paradox: the Father is before the Son, and begets the Son, yet the Son is ETERNAL. Now, Arius believed that God created EVERYTHING through the Son, including time, yet maintained that if the Father was truly “before” the Son, then one must postulate that the Son was non-existent before He was begotten.

>>The Son is a derived being; this seems to be the main thrust of Arius' argument. And in that regard, would orthodoxy disagree? the doctrine that the Father is fount of divinity is, after all, an orthodox one. Was the difference between Arius and the orthodox a mere semantic quibble and a difference in emphasis?>>

Me: Aruis believed that the Son was begotten/created ex nihilo, and in this he clearly departed from all previous Church Fathers. Prior to Arius, the CFs taught that the Son (and the Spirit) was a ‘portion’ from the ousia of the Father (a Ray from the Sun, a Stream from the Lake, etc.), but Arius believed that such a teaching divided the “Monad”, and instead, maintained that God duplicated Himself by divine fiat (i.e. exh nihilo).

So, it seems to me that both sides agree with a doctrine of “derived being”, but differ over the nature/how of the derivation.


Grace and peace,

David

Lucian said...

Yes, indeed ... as I found out with disgust and sadness quite a while back, on the Triablogue, the Calvinists believe that the Son is self-god or auto-theos. When I read an article of theirs about improving on Niceea my mind stood still. -- yet they're true to the Fathers, of course. :-| Then there are other people who speak of an `eternal sonship' ... as if truth were in need of such a concocted name.

David Waltz said...

Hi Lucian,

A couple of quick questions before I comment: first, is this your first time here at AF; and second, are you the same "Lucian" who posts at Kepha's blog?

Now, you posted:

>>Then there are other people who speak of an `eternal sonship' ... as if truth were in need of such a concocted name.>>

Me: How do you understand "eternal sonship"? Do you see it as concrete event before time, or as an eternal begetting?


Grace and peace,

David

Lucian said...

Eternal sonship means the opposite of the aseity of the Son, and the opposite of Him being autotheos: that He was always in a filial relationship to His God and Father, Who begat Him before all ages (Calvin said sonship was just economical, bearing no eternal, everlasting, and pre-existing significance or connotation, i.e. prior to the Incarnation that is).

The Son and Spirit have their Being from the Father before all ages: they are from Him, though they are not after Him, as Gregory the Great said (if memory serves me right). Just like the heart is and was never devoid of thoughts and life, being the very seat or root of all thinking and life, so the Father is constantly pouring forth His Logos and Spirit, of Whom He was never devoid, and Who timelessly spring forth from "Him Who Is" Their eternal Cause, and the very Font of all divinity.

Elihú said...

Excuse my englis

Long Time ago I was wondering by the same think.

A Saw in the history that Aryanism, were tolerated, and no just that, but promoted into the church.

The anti-Catholic, but most the anti-trinity, they say that Constantine was the father of the trinity-God doctrina

It’s a song that I listen day Bay day for years

So, I investigate that affirmation, and what I found, surprise me a lot.

Constantine Was an Arrianist and one of your tree sons were to.

When Constantine Dies, The Kingdom were divided in Tree parts, one for each son

The both Trinity Believers sons of Constantine Dies early and the complete Kingdome were all complete for the Aryanism soon.

Then, The Aryanism Soon had the power to impost your thinks to the Church, but wondering me that in this time the Church close the door of the ambiguity.

You got it?

In the first times of the church, there’s no enough power to proclamation a faith truth at front , so the church hide the truth in the ambiguity.
Why?
I don Know, but it’s true that this way of actuation, preserved the dogma and infallibility of the Pope

¿Do you understand?

The thing you fell contradiction its really providential perseveration of the dogma infallibility.

Excuse me

If you Speaks Spanish, or if some friend of you can help us I¨LL writhe you the same letter in Spanish, and your friend can translate to you in English.

Note.
In The apocalypses Book, there is a prophesy of that historical period that you have studs, ant that prophesy were completed perfectly.

Tree part of the stars fall to the sky

If the stars are the Church

1/3 of stars it’s the 1/3 off the church

Do you remember the 3 sons of Constantine?

And Just One Arriano

Then if you counts the 1260 days profhesy, beguinig in the fall of the ostrogodos kingdome, you will got the year wen the prophesi speaks abauth the both olives, in the 15 of februari of 1798