Christianity / Orientations / Heresy /
Direction of Christianity proposed in the 4th century by Arius, an Alexandrine priest of Libyan descent (see heresy). Arianism dealt mainly with the nature of Jesus, proclaiming that he was not divine but a created being, breaking the divine link of Father and Son.
According to Arianism the Father, God, was unbegotten and without beginning. The Son, Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, was begotten and could not be God in like the Father was. Jesus had a different substance from God, he did not exist from all eternity, but was created and existed by the will of the Father.
Arianism was therefore dealing mainly with the question of the oneness of God as well as to immutability of God; Jesus went through the cycles of a human being, including both a normal birth and death, and he was also of a different matter than God. Hence it could be derived that Jesus was a mere human being.
Some see in this the indirect influence of Gnosticism. But below is a passage in the New Testament that corresponds with Arianism, not Nicene Christianity. It was therefore used by Arianists in their argumentation:
This verse clearly states that God and Jesus have two different qualities and positions.
8:6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.
There were more than one form of Arianism, aiming at better ways of defining the true nature of Jesus. The orientation labelled Semi-Arianism, led by Acacius, claimed that Jesus was “like the Father who begot him,” which both involve that Jesus was created, not eternal, but also that he was of the same nature as God, hence not just a human being. This creed was declared as the sole creed of Christianity in 359, but it never worked as a compromise between the Nicene creed (of 325) and Arianism.
The opponents of Arianism claimed that it brought upon Christianity polytheism, since Jesus was still to be revered but no longer considered a part of God. Also they claimed that Arianism stripped Christianity from a central concept, the redemption of man.
Arianism is often referred to as a 'heresy'. This is a term that should be avoided in the sense that their understanding of Christianity is an interpretation, just like other Christian groups' understanding of Christianity is an interpretation.
Despite its ban in 381, Arianism would survive for a few centuries more. The Gothic peoples had been converted to Christianity by the Arian Bishop Ulfilas. The Ostrogoths, who conquered Italy, were Arians. The Vandals who founded a kingdom in North Africa in the 5th and 6th centuries, were also Arians.
318: Arius comes into disagreement with the Bishop of Alexandria, Alexander, concerning the nature of Jesus. He claimed that Jesus was God's creation, actually God's first, but that Jesus had the same substance as God.
320 or 321: Arius and his followers are banned and forced to leave Alexandria, and settles in Palestine. Two other important Christian leaders, Eusebius of Caesarea and Eusebius of Nicomedia declares their agreement with the creed of Arius.
323: Arius writes Thalia, wherein he declares that the oneness of God did not include Jesus, and that Jesus was not of a divine nature. The core content of Thalia becomes widespread through songs written for sailors, millers and travellers.
325 May: At the Council of Nicaea, Arius was condemned for his teaching. The council declares that Jesus was "of one substance with the Father" and of a completely divine nature. Arian priests are exiled.
335: Following the Synod of Tyre, the Bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius, is banished from the church.
337: With the death of Constantine, many of the Arian priests return to their churches. This happens with the permission of his successor, Emperor Constantius 2 of the Eastern Roman Empire, who is very sympathetic to the Arians.
341: A council in Antioch declares the faith of Christianity without including the statement issued at Nicaea.
350: Constantius 2 becomes emperor of all of the empire, and with his consent a campaign to crush the Nicene party is launched. The Arians could officially declare that Jesus was different from God.
359: Arianism has been established as the universal creed of the lands of the Roman Empire.
360: Arianists disagree over their creed, and divides into two branches. A new creed, in the middle between Arianism and the Nicene orientation, generally labelled Semi-Arianism, is approved at Constantinople, claiming that Jesus was "like the Father who begot him." What differed the Semi-Arianists from the Nicene was that they were less clear about Jesus and God being of the same substance.
361: Constantius 2 dies, and the empire is once again divided in two parts. In the west, Arianism is crushed, while Arians in the east sees to that supporters of other views than theirs are persecuted.
364: Valens, who is an Arian believer, becomes emperor in the east. He starts a campaign against the Nicene Christians.
381: The second Ecumenical Council is set at Constantinople. Arianism is banned, and the Nicene creed (of 325) is reinstated as the universal creed of Christianity.