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,