I blame the 4th century for my interest in it. It was a time of great change, some forced, some compromised, in greater Christiandom. I have started, rather unfortunately, with a letter from Constantine to both Alexander and Arius dated 324, long after the controversy had started – so now, I’ll return to the year 318 for a look at Arius himself.
Arius was a lackluster writers, a mild-mannered theologian of second rate abilities, which thought it impossible to maintain the strict monotheism of the Church if Christ was involved. He approached the Godhead with a calculator, perhaps, and not through the Scriptures.
In the letter below, he is writing to Eusebius of Nicomedia, one of the leaders of the Eusebian Party of post-Nicaea and in fact, the one who baptized the Emperor Constantine on his deathbed. Eusebius was exiled by the Emperor for his refusal to condemn Arius, but this spoke to a friendship of the two men that transcended threats of imperial force.
Remember, Arius believe that Christ was created, a creature above all others, but a creature nonetheless.
(1.) To that most beloved man of God, the faithful and orthodox Eusebius, from Arius, unjustly persecuted by the *Pope Alexander because of the all-conquering truth which you, Eusebius, also are defending!
(*The Bishop of Alexander was first called ‘Pope’ under the rule of Heraclas in 248)
The controvery started by a poor reading (or perhaps translation) of Proverbs 8 from the LXX – it is my opinion that such a theological opinion which Arius maintained would not have been so fixed had the Hebrew been consulted. Arius, upon the publication of the disagreement with Alexander began to publically speak out against his bishop, conculting allies and building a network of like-minded congregations.
(2.) Since my father Ammonius is going to Nicomedia, it seemed reasonable and proper to greet you through him, remembering at the same time the innate love and affection which you have for the brothers on account of God and his Christ, because the bishop is severely ravaging and persecuting us and moving against us with every evil. Thus he drives us out of every city like godless men, since we will not agree with his public statements: that there was “always a God, always a Son;” “as soon as the Father, so soon the Son ;” “with the Father co-exists the Son unbegotten, ever-begotten, begotten without begetting;” “God neither precedes the Son in aspect or in a moment of time;” “always a God, always a Son, the Son being from God himself.”
Arius counts this a new theology among the Church, yet Igantius writings 200 years before easily called Christ God – the begotten and the unbegotten. We must remember that Arius further sought to say that to each in the Godhead was afforded a hypostasis – a reality – which according to the Bishop of Rome in the middle of the 3rd century, amounted to three deities. Alexander and his protege, Athanasius, refuse this doctrine for what it was – tritheism. Of course, the doctrine of three hypostaseis, or better, three Persons, was started by Origen in the same city under discussion.
(3.) Since Eusebius, your brother in Caesarea, and Theodotus, and Paulinus, and Athanasius, and Gregory, and Aetius and all those in the East say that God pre-exists the Son without a beginning, they have been condemned, except for Philogonius and Hellenicus and Macarius, unlearned heretics some of whom say that the Son was “spewed out”, others that he was an “emanation”, still others that he was “jointly unbegotten.”
It is doubtful that the Athanasius mentioned here was the Athanasius which would later become Bishop of Alexander and withstood both the Imperial Court and the Semi-Arians against naming a pluraity in the Godhead.
The word ’emanation’ is directly related to Hebrew 1.3 and Wisdom 7.26, where the Son in the former, Wisdom, in the later, is seen as an emanation from God. During the time of Irenaeus, the Gnostics began to use this word, and it quickly became their theological word, abandoned by the Church.
(4.) We are not able to listen to these kinds of impieties, even if the heretics threaten us with ten thousand deaths. But what do we say and think and what have we previously taught and do we presently teach? — that the Son is not unbegotten, nor a part of an unbegotten entity in any way, nor from anything in existence, but that he is subsisting in will and intention before time and before the ages, full of grace and truth, God, the only-begotten, unchangeable.
Arius brought his teaching from Lucian of Antioch who taught a theology similar to that of the heretic. Both men taught two distinct deities, one unbegotten and one begotten. They, which Origen beleived as well, were united in the symphonia of wills.
(5.) Before he was begotten, or created, or defined, or established, he did not exist. For he was not unbegotten. But we are persecuted because we have said the Son has a beginning but God has no beginning. We are persecuted because of that and for saying he came from non-being. But we said this since he is not a portion of God nor of anything in existence. That is why we are persecuted; you know the rest.
Thus, we arrive at the moment of separation for Arius – Christ did not always exist. He then would be a foriegn object to God, and not of Him.
I pray that you fare well in the Lord, remembering our tribulations, fellow-Lucianist, truly-called Eusebius .
Translation by GLT
Other translations in New Eusebius, no. 283; NPNF2 vol. 3, p. 41; ¶ 2.6-8 in Hanson, p. 139; ¶ 4-5 in Hanson, p. 6