Arius, Alexander, and Eusebius of Nicomedia
Before we move on talking about Arius, Alexander, and Eusebius of Nicomedia, let us recap Arius’ teaching.
1.) Arius taught that God the Father and the Son (Jesus) are not of the same substance (being); that they are not “one in being”. “Thus, there is the Triad, but not in equal glories. Not intermingling with each other are their substances.”
2.) He also taught there was a “once” when the Son did not exist; that the Son is a created being.
3. ) In the Thalia he also says that God is not visible even to the Son!
4.) Arius also said that God is so above Jesus, so exalted, that God was not knowable to Jesus. “God is incomprehensible to His Son. He is what He is to Himself: Unspeakable.”
5.) Finally, he explained that if we were to refer to the Son as God that we could not think of him as being God in the same way that the Father is God. “One equal to the Son, the Superior, is able to beget, but one more excellent of superior or greater, He is not able.”
Arius “Accidentally” Promoted Polytheism
So, after all is said and done, in an effort to explain the Trinity, Arius wallows into a kind of Gnostic view of the deity, and seems comfortable with polytheism. It is true that many of that era who were gentile converts to Christianity could have been comfortable with a polytheism in Christianity, since that is what many were accustomed to religiously anyway. But polytheism was never a Christian concept of God, and that was the problem. Any explanation of the Christian concept of God could not be polytheistic, and the view of Arius was.
The struggle that ensued between Arius and his bishop, Alexander, amounted to an effort to articulate the “faith”, that is, what was already believed by the Church. In fact, many other theologians also articulated theories about the nature of Jesus and the Trinity, but the exact teaching had not been completely developed at that time.
This environment of uncertainty opened the door for unorthodox interpretations to appear…and they did. Thus, Arius promoted his view, convinced he was teaching the faith of the Church. He was not doing so. Problems arose when Arius was challenged and corrected. Like a true heretic, Arius would not admit his teaching was a faulty representation of what the Church believed. The Church responded.
Bishop Alexander of Alexandria heard about Arius and his preaching and called him to a public discussion about his beliefs, to which Arius agreed. The controversy accelerated from there.
The Issue Became Emotional
It was not simply a matter of an intellectual disagreement between good men. The issue became very emotional and divisive. Bishop Alexander understood that the view of Arius amounted to a form of “subordinationism”, which made Jesus out to be a lesser god than the Father. That was an unacceptable position for Alexander, and for the entire Church, really.
In return, Arius accused Alexander of promoting Modalism, a teaching that said God was just one person appearing in three different modes. ( For example, in the Old Testament He appeared as the Father, in the New Testament He appeared as the Son, and now he shows himself as the Holy Spirit… one person… three different “modes”.) Modalism was not only condemned as a heresy by the theologian Tertullian but also by Pope Callixtus I in 220 a.d., who excommunicated Sabellius, the presbyter who taught it. Arius’ accusation against Bishop Alexander (that his thinking reflected Modalism) ended up getting Arius excommunicated by Alexander. But, excommunication was not enough to give Arius pause about his teachings.
Rather than submit to his bishop, Arius left Alexandria and traveled to Nicomedia where he received support from the Bishop of Nicomedia, Eusebius, who had studied under and been influenced by the same theologian as Arius, Lucian of Antioch. Lucian, though influenced by the heretic Paul of Samosata, died a courageous and unbending martyr in good standing with the Church. Bishop Eusebius gave Arius shelter basically because he was in agreement with the view of Arius. So, the matter developed into a struggle between two important bishops and two important dioceses, Nicomedia and Alexandria, Eusebius and Alexander.
To add to the situation, Bishop Eusebius was a family friend and pastor of the Emperor Constantine, whose family had a summer residence in Nicomedia.
In the meantime, after hearing about Arius’ journey to Nicomedia, Bishop Alexander of Alexandria called a Synod that condemned Arius and all the bishops and priests in Egypt who agreed with him.
Eusebius of Nicomedia responded with a letter of his own which he circulated through the Eastern Empire calling for the complete restoration of Arius and all of his followers.
Hosius of Cordova
Luckily, Constantine’s theological adviser was not Eusebius of Nicomedia but a theologian from the West named Hosius of Cordova (Spain). He was not only respected as a theologian but also because he was known as a “confessor”, one who suffered the tortures of Diocletian’s persecution and survived.
The Emperor, who wanted to use Christianity as his anchor in unifying his Empire, discovered strong, emotional theological disagreement among Christian groups instead. First in the Donatist Controversy , and now with Arius, Alexander, and Eusebius. His strong desire was to settle the disputes and bring unity to these groups.
After attempts to settle the dispute proved futile, Hosius advised Constantine to call a Church council, which he did. It will be the first open Church Council is almost three centuries, and the very first Church Ecumenical, world-wide Council. That is where we will go in the next post.