views updated May 14 2018


Alexandrian priest and heresiarch; b. Libya, c. 250; d. 336. Arius probably studied under lucian of antioch and joined the Alexandrian clergy. While still a minor cleric, he took part in the meletian schism against Bp. Peter of Alexandria, but afterward he made his peace and was promoted to deacon and priest. Bishop Alexander held him in high repute and gave him charge of the important parish of Baucalis. His learning, grave manners, and ascetical life gained him a large following, but his unorthodox views on the divinity of Christ came under attack; c. 318or 323, according to othersthe conflict with Alexander broke into the open.

Arius was first rebuked at a local synod, and when he refused to submit he was excommunicated by a provincial council of all Egypt. He went to Palestine and Bithynia, where he received support from eusebius of caesarea and eusebius of nicomedia, who sent out numerous letters to fellow bishops and convened synods in his defense. Macarius of Jerusalem and Marcellus of Ancyra opposed his doctrine and, as a result, the Church in the East was divided on his account. This caused the intervention of constantine i, who conquered the East in 324. He sent Hosius of Córdoba with a letter to Alexander and Arius, urging them to cease fighting over what he called "a trifling and foolish verbal difference." Hosius' efforts to restore peace failed and, upon his recommendation, Constantine summoned a general council of the Church.

Hosius presided at a council of Antioch (324) that condemned Arius's doctrine. At the Council of nicaea i (325), some of his writings were read and rejected as blasphemous by a vast majority of the fathers. The nicene creed, with the homoousios and the anathemas, was drawn up to exclude his errors.

After the council Arius was banished to Illyricum. When and how he was recalled and rehabilitated is a matter of dispute. Some historians connect this with an alleged second session of the Nicene Council in 327; others, with the Council of Tyre and Jerusalem in 335. It is certain that the assembly of Jerusalem (335) decided to readmit him into the Church. Constantine ordered a solemn reinstatement in Constantinople, but Arius died suddenly on the eve of the appointed day, early in 336. Of his writings there exist only three letters and fragments of the Thalia, or versified condensation of his teaching chanted by his followers in the church and streets.

See Also: arianism.

Bibliography: h. g. opitz, ed., Athanasius' Werke, v.3.1 (Berlin 1934) 13, 1213, 64, letters. g. bardy, Recherches sur St. Lucien d'Antioche et son école (Paris 1936) 246274, Thalia. h. gwatkin, Studies of Arianism (2d ed. Cambridge, Eng. 1900). x. le bachelet, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique. ed. a. vacant et al., (Paris 190350) 1.2:17791806. e. schwartz, Zur Geschichte des Athanasius (Gesammelte Schriften 3; Berlin 1959); Kaiser Constantin und die christliche Kirche (2d ed. Leipzig 1936). n. h. baynes, Constantine the Great and the Christian Church (London 1930). g. bardy in j. r. palanque et al., The Church in the Christian Roman Empire, tr. e. c. messenger, 2 v. in 1 (New York 1953) 1:73132. j. quasten, Patrology (Westminster, Maryland 1950) 3:713. e. boularand, "Les Débuts d'Arius," Bulletin de littérature ecclésiastique 75 (1964) 175203.

[v. c. de clercq]


views updated May 17 2018


The Libyan theologian Arius (died ca. 336) was presbyter of the Christian Church in Alexandria and the first of the great heresiarchs.

Nothing is known of the early life of Arius except that he may have been born in Libya and may have studied under Lucian, the revered teacher and martyr of Antioch. It is certain that he was pastor of the Baucalis church on the Alexandrian waterfront, where he won many supporters by his preaching. He may have aspired to the episcopacy in Alexandria, which went instead to his fellow presbyter, Alexander.

Not until 318, however, did Arius become prominent and then only as a heretic. He began by criticizing the Trinitarian views of Bishop Alexander, accusing him of Sabellianism (an early heresy which did not distinguish clearly between the "Persons" of the Trinity). But when Arius explained his position, he caused greater alarm with his own views, and soon he was condemned and exiled from his diocese.

Arius sought refuge in the East, soliciting the support of his friend Eusebius of Nicomedia. Arius contended that the doctrinal error of which he was accused was his belief that the "Son had a beginning but God [alone] is without beginning." And this view, Arius felt, deserved commendation, not persecution. Arius's doctrine of the Son was radically subordinationist; that is, he claimed the Son to be a "creature" of the Father and that "there was [a time when] he was not." Prior to Arius, some religious thinkers had denied the humanity of Christ and some His divinity, but Arius was the first to deny both.

The Arian controversy grew to surprising proportions, soon involving most of the Church in the East and, later, the Church in the West as well. The recently converted Roman emperor Constantine was anxious to utilize the Church in the interests of political unity within the empire. He sent Bishop Ossius of Cordova, his ecclesiastical adviser, to Alexandria to determine the "facts" of the case and try to resolve the dispute. Constantine was not aware of the true nature of the controversy, as is shown by a letter he sent with Ossius, in which he referred to the Arian affair as an "unprofitable question" resulting from a "contentious spirit." But Ossius soon discovered that settling the dispute would be no simple matter. After his investigation he went to Antioch and presided over a council that provisionally condemned Arius and his followers.

The real debate, however, took place a few months later at the first great ecumenical council of the Church at Nicaea in 325. There, with the Emperor presiding and some 220 bishops attending, Arius was condemned—an action that Constantine equated with "the judgment of God." The council also promulgated a credal statement which declared the Son to be "consubstantial" with the Father. This belief could never be accepted by anyone holding Arian views.

After the council the Arian controversy did not die out but intensified. Arius, in exile in Illyricum, was no longer an active participant. In fact, he sought restoration and even wrote a "confession" which he believed to be acceptable to the terms of Nicaea. Not only was he refused admittance to Alexandria, where the great Nicene champion Anthanasius was now bishop, but in addition Constantine ordered Arius's books burned. Apparently, if Athanasius's account is trustworthy, Arius failed to obtain rehabilitation during his life. Technically it had been granted, but on the eve of the day Arius was to receive communion he died suddenly (ca. 336). It was several decades before Arianism itself was defeated and orthodoxy defined.

Further Reading

As with most heretics, Arius is known primarily through the eyes of his opponents; only a few letters of Arius himself survive. Modern studies of Arius and Arianism are scarce: Henry Melvill Gwatkin, Studies of Arianism: Chiefly Referring to the Character and Chronology of the Reaction Which Followed the Council of Nicaea (1882; 2d ed. 1900), and John Henry Newman, The Arians of the Fourth Century (1833; 4th rev. ed. 1876), are helpful but prejudiced and outdated. Of general surveys, G.L. Prestige, Fathers and Heretics (1940); Jean Daniélou and Henri Marrou, The Christian Centuries, vol. 1: The First Six Hundred Years (1963; trans. 1964); and Henry Chadwick, The Early Church (trans. 1967), can be consulted with profit.

Additional Sources

Williams, Rowan, Arius: heresy and tradition, London: Darton, Longman, and Todd, 1987.

Kannengiesser, Charles., Arius and Athanasius: two Alexandrian theologians, Aldershot, Hampshire, Great Britain: Variorum; Brookfield, Vermont, USA: Gower Pub. Co., 1991. □


views updated May 11 2018

Arius (c.250–c.336). Christian theologian who gave his name to the Arian heresy, eventually condemned at the Council of Nicaea in 325. The Arian controversy was renewed in later centuries and has been a recurrent interpretation of the person of Jesus by those who fear that otherwise they will compromise the transcendence and unity of God.

About this article


All Sources -
Updated Aug 13 2018 About content Print Topic