The Threatened Series - 2
The Krafty Doctor (Doctor Astutus) has reminded us that there were many
important Christian controversies long before Nicæa; and this is true.
It would no doubt be instructive and interesting to look at some of
the earlier controversies; perhaps someone would like to contribute a
posting on Paul of Samosata, for example? If I leave gaps, it is in
the hope that someone abler than I/me [delete offending pronoun] will
However, my starting-point was a query about Article xix of the Church
of England: "As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have
erred . . ." To which supposed errors does the Article refer? And I
think they are mostly dealt with in the early ecumenical councils.
I mentioned in an earlier posting that Antioch and Alexandria were the
two great intellectual centres of the early Church, and that in its
Christological thinking Antioch tended to emphasise the humanity of
Christ, sometimes to the neglect of his divinity; whereas Alexandria
tended to emphasise the divinity, sometimes to the neglect of his
humanity. Someone immediately objected that Arius, the Alexandrian,
who denied the full divinity of Christ, is an exception to this rule.
The exception, however, proves the rule. I quote from the Oxford
Dictionary of the Christian Church (henceforth ODCC; if you haven't
got one, Christmas is coming . . .):
"Arius appears to have held that the Son of God was not eternal but
created before the ages by the Father from nothing as an instrument for
the creation of the world; He was therefore not God by nature, but a
creature, and so susceptible of change, even though different from all
other creatures in being the one direct creation of God; His dignity
as Son of God was bestowed on Him by the Father on account of his
forseen abiding righteousness."
We see immediately that the opinions of Arius do not spring from any
particular desire to safeguard the humanity of Christ, but appear to
arise from exactly the kind of philosophical speculation for which
Alexandria was famous. Or perhaps not. ODCC again:
"Earlier scholars tended to see this teaching as the adulteration of
Christian faith by essentially pagan philosophical concerns. More
recent writers have argued that a major objective of the Arians was to
distinguish the Divinity of the Father from that of the Son in order to
express the Incarnation of Christ in a way which did not ascribe the
limitations of the Incarnate Son to the full Divinity which they
attributed uniquely to the Father."
We should notice that Arianism is really a Trinitarian, rather than a
Christological, heresy. That is to say, it is not concerned with the
person of the man/God Jesus, but with the make-up of God in Himself.
The Son of God, considered by orthodox Christians to be co-equal and
co-eternal with God the Father, is for Arius a creature, with a
beginning - admittedly an earlier beginning than the rest of the
created universe, but not co-eternal with the Father. With this in
mind let us look again at the ananthemas of the Creed of Nicæa:
And those that say, 'There was when he was not,'
and 'Before he was begotten he was not,'
and that 'He came into being from what-is-not,'
or those that allege, that the son of God is
'Of another substance or essence'
these the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes.
1. 'There [a time] was when he was not' - i.e. there was a time when
the Son of God did not exist.
2. 'Before he was begotten he was not' - i.e. that the Son of God came
into existence at a moment in time, when he was 'begotten' by the
Father; rather than through the 'eternal begetting' of orthodox
3. 'He came into being from what-is-not' - i.e. the Son of God was
created ex nihilo, like the rest of creation.
4. or those that allege, that the son of God is 'Of another substance
or essence' - i.e. not of the same nature, being, substance or essence
as God the Father.
5. or 'created' - i.e. created; the word speaks for itself.
6. or 'changeable,' or 'alterable' - i.e. not sharing in the eternal
changelessness of the Father.
These the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes!
To be continued.
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