Letter of Arius and his Followers to Alexander

I am continuing my discussion on the Arian documents of the 4th century – this time returnging to the pen of Arius himself. I note:

The creed given in this document is quoted by Eusebius of Caesarea in his letter to Alexander of Alexandria (Urk. 7). Lewis Ayres points out the difficultly with this document: “The question here turns on whether or not one reads this letter as conciliatory! (Nicaea and its Legacy , p. 17 note 16).

Williams notes that the similarity of the creed to the creed of the council of Antioch (Urk. 18) gives credence to Arius claim that he is drawing on a faith learned from the forefathers. (Williams, p. 96)

Now, the letter:

(1.) The Priests and Deacons to Our Blessed Father and Bishop, Alexander; greetings in the Lord.

(2.) Our faith from our forefathers, which also we learned from you, Blessed Father, is this: We acknowledge One God, alone unbegotten, alone everlasting, alone without beginning, alone true, alone having immortality, alone wise, alone good, alone sovereign, judge, governor, and provider of all, unalterable and unchangeable, just and good, God of the Law and the Prophets and the New Testament; who begat an only-begotten Son before time and the ages, through whom he made both the ages and all that was made; who begot Him not in appearance, but in reality; and that he made him subsist at his own will, unalterable and unchangeable, the perfect creature (ktisma) of God, but not as one of the creatures; offspring, but not as one of the other things begotten;

The only place that I have found this doctirne among the ‘forefathers’ is in the history of Paul of Samosata and Lucian of Antioch. Ignatius in his Ephesians 7 writes that Christ was both begotten and unbegotten, having learned this directly from the Apostles – yet Arius would deny this tradtion.

(3.) nor as Valentinus pronounced that the offspring of the Father was an emanation (probolē); nor as the Manicheans taught that the offspring was a one-in-essence-portion (meros homoousion) of the Father; nor as Sabellius, dividing the Monad, speaks of a Son-Father; nor as Hieracas speaks of one torch from another, or as a lamp divided into two; nor that he who existed before was later generated or created anew into a Son, as you yourself, O blessed father, have often condemned both in church services and in council meetings; but, as we say, he was created at the will of God, before time and before the ages, and came to life and being from the Father, and the glories which coexist in him are from the Father.

Remember, Marcellus would later accuse of the semi-Arians of carrying on the heresies of Valentius, namely that of three hyostaseis. I find it odd that Arius would accuse Sabellius of dividing the Monad, when Sabellius was so often accused of irrationally holding to a complete unity of the Monad.

Still yet, for Arius, Christ is little more than a creature, instead, a divine creature.

(4.) For when giving to him the inheritance of all things , the Father did not deprive himself of what he has without beginning in himself; for he is the source of all things. Thus there are three subsisting realities (hypostaseis). And God, being the cause of all that happens, is absolutely alone without beginning; but the Son, begotten apart from time by the Father, and created (ktistheis) and founded before the ages, was not in existence before his generation, but was begotten apart from time before all things, and he alone came into existence (hypestē) from the Father. For he is neither eternal nor co-eternal nor co-unbegotten with the Father, nor does he have his being together with the Father, as some speak of relations, introducing two unbegotten beginnings. But God is before all things as monad and beginning of all. Therefore he is also before the Son, as we have learned also from your public preaching in the church.

What Arius has done by destroying the unity of the Godhead is to deny the deity of Christ – setting a beginning (some would hold that a beginning necessarily meanty an ending) for the Son.

It is rather interesting that Arius accuses Alexander of teaching these things, while in a private letter to Eusebius of Nicomedia, he declares himself a follower of Lucian.

(5.) Therefore he thus has his being from God; and glories, and life, and all things have been given over to him; in this way God is his beginning. For he is over him, as his God and being before him. But if the expressions from him and from the womb and I came from the Father, and I have come , are understood by some to mean that he is part of him , one in essence or as an emanation, then the Father is, according to them, compounded and divisible and alterable and material, and, as far as their belief goes, the incorporeal God endures a body.

Arius is being remarkably conservative, literal, and, of course, wrong. God easily sent forth His Word without it destroying the unity, and without making a division of the Monad. While Arius sees only through the lense of separation, we can read that Christ is the image of God, God in the flesh, and the bodily form of God. While Arius is holding to certain terms, he doesn’t allow for the interpretation of those terms by the rest of Scripture.

(6.) I pray that you fare well in the Lord, blessed father. Arius; the priests of Arius — Aethales, Achilles, Carpones, and Sarmatas; the deacons Euzoios, Lucius, Julius, Menas, Helladius, and Gaius; the bishops Secundas of the Pentapolis, Theonas of Libya, and Pistus whom the Arians set up at Alexandria.

Section 1-5: Translation from Athanasius (NPNF2 vol. 4, p. 458), adapted by GLT

Section 6: Translation by GLT

Other translation in New Eusebius, no. 284

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