Historical Church Series – Early Church Herestics: Arius of Alexandria

Today, dear ones, we’re going to discuss an early 4th-century heretic that held the greatest following of all the heresies we’ve reviewed thus far. His name was Arius, and he developed this idolatrous religion around 320 a.d. It’s now known as Arianism, and parts of it are very much alive and well today. Arius seems to have borrowed from a few of the previous heretics while adding some errant views of his own. Another important name we’re going to get to know today is Athanasius, the man who opposed Arius and his followers the most vocally and vehemently. I would also like to correct some misunderstandings regarding the counsel of Nicaea where Arius was voted a heretic and exiled to Illyria in 325 a.d. Lastly, as we’ve been doing, I want to connect Arianism to the cults we see very much active today.

First, let’s talk about what Arianism was. As I mentioned, Arius seemingly borrowed some a few others before him. Namely, the Gnostic view that God is good and thus could not have entered flesh. Spirit good, physical universe evil, which we covered here. This led Arius to teach that Christ was the first, greatest, creation of God the Father (denying the Hypostatic Union we addressed here). Thus, once created, Jesus would create the universe. Some of his followers would go on to teach that the Holy Spirit was the first, and greatest, creation of the Son. In this way, much like the Ebionites, we covered here, Arius essentially denies the doctrine of the Trinity. He also recycled a 2nd-century heresy called Adoptionism. This is the idea that the relationship between the Father and the Son is adoptive, rather than one of nature. Lastly, Arius denied the Biblical incarnation of Christ, suggesting that the divinity of the Son replaced His humanity and spirituality. This idea of shifting divinity led him to encourage his followers to worship the Son, although they believed Him to be a created being. Worship of anything else besides the eternal God is, of course, idolatry. You can see why there were only two dissenting voices when the Council of Nicaea voted.

One of the men at that very counsel would spend the rest of his life fighting this heresy, his name was Athanasius. Born at the end of the 3rd century, Athanasius would replace Alexander as Bishop over Alexandria. From there, he would be exiled, and restored, five times over a 45 year period. This was always as a result of his refusal to accept Arianism or to readmit Arius into the church. His first exile would be issued by Constantine, the very man who convened the Council of Nicaea that decidedly rebuked, and exiled Arius himself. Although the fight would continue on decades past his death in 373 a.d., he never wavered or compromised on his views on the Trinity, Christ’s eternality, or the need for redemption. To fully understand Athanasius, and his rocky life in and out of Alexandria, you need to understand the Council of Nicaea.

If you’ve spent any amount of time sharing your faith with the lost, you’ve probably had Nicaea used as an excuse not to believe the Bible. The cults, in particular, will often use this argument, although I’ve heard it from many atheists and agnostics as well. What the Council of Nicaea was not, was a council presided over by Constantine. Nor was it a discussion on the cannon of Scripture. The council did not gather to write any new doctrine or to add to God’s Word trinitarian language that had never before been discussed or addressed. The deity of Christ had always been orthodox, found in the writing of the earliest church fathers who sat at the feet of Apostles. What the Council of Nicaea was, was a group of Bishops, mostly from the east, but also some from the west, convened by Emperor Constantine to stop further disunity within his empire. Constantine was not in charge of the council, nor did he actually care about the outcome. That can be clearly seen in his willingness to later issue a decree for the readmittance of Arius, the refusal of which Athanasius was exiled for, the first time. The council was gathered to discuss the literal matter of Christ, was He similar to God, as God, or made of the same essence of God? There were three groups; Arius and his two supporters, Alexander and those opposed to Arius, and the middle who were equally opposed to Arius but concerned about the language being used. Their concern was derived from the conflict with modalism, their heartfelt desire being the rebuke of Arianism without aiding Sabellianism by suggesting the Father and the Son are the same people. It was an important balance to maintain, and when Athanasius was brought back to Alexandria for the last time, he would spend many years building unity between these two groups that both opposed Arius.

The JW’s will often use the Council of Nicaea to suggest trinitarianism was not Biblical truth, but a fabrication of Constantine. Mormons, and atheists alike, often claim the cannon was pulled together at the council, leaving some books out, which makes the Bible untrustworthy. Neither of these is true, as you’ve already read. Mormons likewise believe that Jesus Christ was the first, and greatest, creation of God. The JW’s, Christadelphians, Christian Science, Islam, The Way International, and Scientologists all will suggest that Jesus was created, or even merely a man. Adoptionism, modalism, and the denial of the eternality of Christ is far spread not only in the cults but in many mainstream liberal churches. I know this has been a long post, but I hope you can see the importance of the information we’re discussing here. I pray that this will be a blessing to you all, beloved, as always be good Berean’s and study to show yourselves approved.


Author: lnhereford

I am a Christian, wife, mother, podcaster and homeschooler currently traveling the United States with my loving husband and darling daughter!

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