Interesting But Twisted
Sometimes a person promotes a twist on Christian teaching that at first sounds interesting but then makes one pause and call a “time out”. This is what happened with the teaching of Arius regarding the Son of God.
Arius, who had previously been excommunicated by the Bishop of Alexandria, Peter, for his views on Jesus, was ordained a priest by the renegade rigorist bishop Meletius of Lycopolis. After Bishop Peter’s martyrdom, the new bishop, Achillas, normalized all the ordinations Meletius performed in order to start off with no division in the diocese of Alexandria. That included the ordination of Arius.
Arius then became the pastor of the very prestigious Church at Baucalis, where tradition holds that St. Mark was martyred on Easter Sunday in 68 a.d. So, he not only had an important pulpit from which to preach Arius was also promoting his heretical teaching from it. He promoted it very well.
Historians say that Arius was cultured, intelligent, and an ascetic, that is, one who engages in severe self-discipline, avoiding self-indulgence, employing strict self-discipline all for religious spiritual reasons. Arius had a reputation for being holy.
He was also a very charismatic teacher, using not only the pulpit but also musical lyrics to promote his teaching, writing the Thalia, (The Banquet, or Festivities). In the Thalia he illustrated in song how the members of the Trinity related to one another. It became a popular tune among the dock workers and many women of influence in Alexandria. Arius had appeal.
Tertullian and the Trinity
Side note: Trinity was a word first used in the third century in Latin by the great theologian Tertullian. He used it to explain that the Christian concept of God, Father, the Son, and the Spirit, should be thought of as a unity of being, one in “essence” (substance), but not one in person. In other words, Christianity’s believed concept of God, the Trinity, is three persons, one God, one in being, one in essence, one in substance. This still remains the Christian concept of God, and all religions that are Christian believe it.
Well, Arius agreed that they were not the same person, which the Church also believes, but he said they were not unified in being or substance either. So, in his mind there was not three persons in one God, rather his version of the Trinity amounted to three persons and three gods, and definitely not equal. Thus, he taught that the Son was the first being ever created by the Father, that he was the greatest, the best, and the closest being to God. And even though he was created before everything and everyone, there was indeed a “once” when the Son did not exist. He did not use the word “time”. He argued that since the Father is clearly God, it follows that the Son could not be “one” with God – so He must be a created being. If a created being, then he was not co-eternal, nor one in being, or one in substance with the Father.
Thinking he was defending the fundamental truth that there is only one God – monotheism – Arius promoted a different kind of trinity, a rather polytheistic one, in which at best three different “divinities” existed with the Son being subordinated to the Father but being superior to the third, the Spirit. It created a “subordinationism” in the Trinity. The Son is a subordinate being to the Father, and the Spirit is a subordinate being to both the Father and the Son.
These were concepts that, when it was understood what he was really teaching, the Church could never accept, even though many people of the culture could. Remember, this is only a few years after the persecutions, after a dominant polytheistic world, and a world in which Christian teaching would not have always been crystal clear.
So, a lot of people, liking the tune of the Thalia, and being swayed by the eloquence of Arius, bought into his teaching. Many began to make it a “cherished belief”, that is, something which people form an emotional attachment to and like to believe whether it is true or not.
Because Arius had generated quite a following, his bishop, Alexander, hearing about this dynamic priest with some different ideas about the Trinity, called Arius to a public hearing… and so the story heats up!
Next, the conflict between Alexander and Arius and its escalation into a major problem for the Church.