How Did Arianism Begin And Spread?

How did Arianism begin and spread?

The early Christian church struggles against many heresies, and the chief of these was that of Arianism. The Arians believed that Christ was a created being and that he was not fully God. This attitude had the effect of reducing Christ to a status similar to that of a Greek or Germanic hero.

So the Arians were trying to transform Christianity into a polytheistic religion with the Father and Jesus as separate entities. This required them to reject the Trinity and all that arises from its acceptance.

Arianism began when Arius, a presbyter in Alexandria, taught that Jesus was a created being who had been produced by the Father. So he denied the Trinity. Arius was removed from his office, he founded his own church, and his followers spread his views to the pagans around the Mediterranean world.

This is the account given by the early Christian scholars who provide us with the most comprehensive accounts of the Arian crisis. Of these writers the most important was Sozomen, and what follows is his work and commentaries on the rise and spread of Arianism.

How Did Arianism Begin And Spread?

Ecclesiastical History (Sozomen) – Book II – (How did Arianism begin and spread?)

Sozomen was a historian of the early Christian church. He lived during a time when Christianity was surging in power throughout the Eastern Roman Empire. By the time of his life, the Arian heresy had mostly disappeared. S he was able to review the strife Arius had brought from a distance.

Chapter 15. The Arian Heresy, its Origin, its Progress, and the Contention which it occasioned among the Bishops.

Here, Sozomen recounts the circumstances which lead to the rise of Arianism. He tells us that Arius began as a trusted member of the church and came to adopt some novel doctrines. He persisted in error and left the church when his views had become too pronounced and intolerable. After leaving, he and his followers tried to rapidly spread their teachings. They found great success among the pagan peoples, and many bishops were sympathetic to his views.

The Church was doing well, then dissensions arose within it.

Although, as we have shown, religion was in a flourishing condition at this period, yet the churches were disturbed by sore contentions; for under the pretext of piety and of seeking the more perfect discovery of God, certain questions were agitated, which had not, till then, been examined. Arius was the originator of these disputations.

Many people have a need for conflict and drama. They find these two diversions amusing. And the boredom which would exist without them is often more hated than the struggles which break it.

Now, most people have their need for conflict satiated by the presence of outside forces. They can claim these outsiders are a threat which must be contended with. This then leads to conflict which keeps them entertained.

However, when the threat is dealt with, then the conflict subsides, and the boredom returns. A calm arises, and it remains for sometime before the boredom becomes unbearable once more. At this point, malcontents within the ingroup begin to cause trouble.

Arius was one such malcontent.

And the manner in which these people cause trouble is usually the same. They begin asking questions which seem innocent in order to create dissension within the group. The new questions produce strange answers. These strange answers create parties among the people to whom the question is posed.

So conflict arises once more when the malcontents begin asking questions better left unasked. Arisu was one such malcontent

The Paragon Always Rebels

He was a presbyter of the church at Alexandria in Egypt, and was at first a zealous thinker about doctrine, and upheld the innovations of Melitius.

An enemy to the faith may arise within the faith itself. When it does, it always comes form the upper tiers where the most competent people are found. This is because the people at the bottom are either too powerless or too incompetent to be enemies.

The effect this has is that internal strife arises from the top and then make sits way downward. Yet the way people reach the top of an organization is to show continual fidelity to it. So trusted people are the sources of internal strife.

The Rebel Found His Supporters

Eventually, however, he abandoned this latter opinion, and was ordained deacon by Peter, bishop of Alexandria, who afterwards cast him out of the church, because when Peter anathematized the zealots of Melitius and rejected their baptism, Arius assailed him for these acts and could not be restrained in quietness.

A malcontent may wants to create a faction supporting his views. If he does, then he is always best served by finding the other malcontents. He does this by observing the behaviors of the leaders of the group. Then, the looks to those whom the leader has admonished as potential allies. In this way, the leaders of an organization pick the allies of their enemies.

To Exploit Sympathy

After the martyrdom of Peter, Arius asked forgiveness of Achillas, and was restored to his office as deacon, and afterwards elevated to the presbytery.

When a trusted leader begins to create divisions within the church, he still retains his credibility for some time. He may use this to earn favors from the others at the organization’s top. These people then mark themselves as the malcontent’s allies.

Now, when the strife-maker begins to stir up trouble later on, those who had allied with him are faced with a choice. They may choose to remain on his side. Or they may recognize the error of allying with him and making the problems he causes worse.

These same people usually choose to remain on the malcontent’s side. This is because they fear having to admit their error and the foul treatment they will receive if they admit their error. It is for this reason that people who have erred should not be treated harshly when they admit their error.

Logic and Truth

Afterwards Alexander, also, held him in high repute, since he was a most expert logician; for it was said that he was not lacking in such knowledge.

Logic is one thing. Knowledge is another. Truth is a third. Virtue is a fourth.

Most people do not understand this, although they pretend to. This is because of something called the Halo Effect; people tend to lump good qualities together and to assume that a person who possesses one will possess the others. This is a great mistake. And smart people with wicked designs are often able to manipulate others who commit this error.

A Review of Arius’ Teachings

He fell into absurd discourses, so that he had the audacity to preach in the church what no one before him had ever suggested; namely, that the Son of God was made out of that which had no prior existence, that there was a period of time in which he existed not; that, as possessing free will, he was capable of vice and virtue, and that he was created and made: to these, many other similar assertions were added as he went forward into the arguments and the details of inquiry.

The gist of Arius’ view was that God the Father had created Jesus. The problem with this view is that it destroys the divinity of Christ. If Jesus is god, then He must be eternal; and if He is eternal, then he was never created. To believe otherwise, as Arius did, is to reduce Christ’s relationship with the Father to the sort which existed between Hercules and Zeus. This pagan understanding of Christ’s divinity is the reason why Arianism spread so rapidly throughout the pagan world – and why it could not be right.

Doubtful Things

Those who heard these doctrines advanced, blamed Alexander for not opposing the innovations at variance with doctrine. But this bishop deemed it more advisable to leave each party to the free discussion of doubtful topics, so that by persuasion rather than by force, they might cease from contention; hence he sat down as a judge with some of his clergy, and led both sides into a discussion.

One of the easiest ways to create division within an organization is to bring up questions pertaining to doubtful things. Sometimes the answer to a question is not immediately obvious. So the existence of that question creates many different camps of answerers. These camps then enter into discussions which can turn quite heated when the parties involved lack the humility to admit when they’re wrong, which is usually the case.

So the notion that open discussion of ideas will somehow lead to truth almost always backfires.

“I’m a winner, and the people I don’t like are losers.”

But it happened on this occasion, as is generally the case in a strife of words, that each party claimed the victory. Arius defended his assertions, but the others contended that the Son is consubstantial and co-eternal with the Father.

Everyone has their own standards for determining truth. This doesn’t need to be the case, but it often is. These standards are typically chosen with one goal in mind: self-validation. People believe the things which tell them what they want to hear, and they reject those things which make them feel like they’re wrong.

This attitude is a pathway to many things, but continued existence and truth are not among them.

Debate Is Stupid – Moderators

The council was convened a second time, and the same points contested, but they came to no agreement among themselves. During the debate, Alexander seemed to incline first to one party and then to the other.

The fact that the parties within a debate are not really concerned with the truth leads some people to believe that moderators can alleviate this problem. This, itself, is a problem because most moderators are untrustworthy themselves.

The moderators of debates are of two sorts: those who care about the topic at hand and those who do not. Those who care about the topic will always show preferential treatment to the side that advances their own point. Meanwhile, those who do not care about the topic won’t become moderators of such a debate in the first place. And even when they do, they themselves are often persuaded to one side by the conduct of the debaters and begin to treat them preferentially anyway.

Of course, no moderator will ever admit their bias. this would make them look bad, and most people place “looking good” as one of their highest values.

Moderator: “I’m not a biased! I would look bad if I was. Therefore, I’m not.”

The Ultimatum

Finally, however, he declared himself in favor of those who affirmed that the Son was consubstantial and co-eternal with the Father, and he commanded Arius to receive this doctrine, and to reject his former opinions.

An ultimatum is given from a position of power. So the people to whom it is presented must acknowledge their own lower position if they are to give the one who issue dit what they want. Yet most people lack the humility required to do this. So most ultimatums result in a “do this or else” decision to which the responder says, “I choose, ‘Or else!'”

“Screw you guys! I’m going home!”

Arius, however, would not be persuaded to compliance, and many of the bishops and clergy considered his statement of doctrine to be correct. Alexander, therefore, ejected him and the clergy who concurred with him in sentiment from the church.

Sure enough, the ultimatum backfired.

The Leaders

Those of the parish of Alexandria, who had embraced his opinions, were the presbyters Aithalas, Achillas, Carpones, Sarmates, and Arius, and the deacons Euzoïus, Macarius, Julius, Menas, and Helladius.

Whenever a person with terrible ideas manages to infect a large number of people with their heresy, some of those infected will be important people.

Then, advocates of the lie will point to the support given to them by the important people and pretend that their support is proof that the lie is actually true.

This, of course, is a fallacy called argumentum ab auctoritate, and no Christian may argue tat a thing is true because important people say it is. No man is infallible, although the Catholics would like to deny this.

Oftentimes, you can recognize that an idea is false by looking at the things which its possessors treat as proof. People who know that they’re wrong are often desperate for proof of their views, and they’ll take anything they can get which supports their views. The result of this attitude is that they pick weak pieces of data and exalt those as irrefutable proofs of their ideology.

Consider the following statement which Muslims often give as proof of Islam’s truth:

“The Quran was delivered in Arabic. Arabic has 12 million words. No other language has this many words! Therefore, the Quran is the perfect word of Allah.”

Read that sentence aloud. It’s so wrong that most people struggle to say it while keeping a straight face, yet many Muslims cling to it as proof of Islam’s rightness.

The People

Many of the people, likewise, sided with them: some, because they imagined their doctrines to be of God; others, as frequently happens in similar cases, because they believed them to have been ill-treated and unjustly excommunicated.

People make dumb decisions for all kinds of silly reasons. Oftentimes, they allow their sympathy to bring them into error.

You see, when a liar produces a terrible idea and advances it against people who have the truth, then the latter group will reject him. Then the liar will claim that he is being treated unfairly, and many people will feel sympathy for him. So they’ll go along with the lie out of pity.

These people are hedonists. They are controlled by their feelings, and the feeling which directs this particular behavior is sympathy. No Christian may be among these people; the notion that sympathy/empathy/compassion may serve as the source of morality is a rejection of the First Commandment.

And Christians must accept that morality comes from God, and it does not come from sympathy or any other feeling, because none of these are God.

Arius’ followers tried to convert as many bishops as possible.

Such being the state of affairs at Alexandria, the partisans of Arius, deeming it prudent to seek the favor of the bishops of other cities, sent legations to them; they sent a written statement of their doctrines to them, requesting them that, if they considered such sentiments to be of God, they would signify to Alexander that he ought not to molest them; but that if they disapproved of the doctrines, they should teach them what opinions were necessary to be held.

People who know that they’re wrong rarely admit that they’re wrong. Instead, they try to conceal what they know from themselves. One of the ways that they do this is by acquiring social proof. They try to convert as many people as possible to their lies so that they may then have a crowd of followers which they can point to and say, “Aha! Look at all the people who believe I’m right! That proves that I’m right!”

Now, nobody who is thinking clearly will be suckered into this, but most people are not thinking clearly, so they often are.

The followers accidentally revealed Arius’ teachings to the world, and he was widely rejected for them.

This precaution was of no little advantage to them; for their tenets became thus universally disseminated, and the questions they had started became matters of debate among all the bishops.

Many groups have members who are overzealous for what that group stands for. They then take it upon themselves to spread their views to as many people as possible. Yet these same people are often incompetent, and they deliver their message poorly. So they bungle their missionary activities, and this causes the tenets for which they advocate to be rejected as widely as they have been spread.

In other words, passionate evangels tend to shoot themselves in the foot. They are willing to spread the message but unable to do so.

The Mixed Response

Some wrote to Alexander, entreating him not to receive the partisans of Arius into communion unless they repudiated their opinions, while others wrote to urge a contrary line of conduct.

Are heretics Christians?

Some say they are. Others say they aren’t.

This question has been a part of Christianity ever since its earliest years. But the faith still has not produced a resolute answer to the question.

And the fact that we do not have a clear dividing line between heresy and Christianity allows many heresies to enter the church and pervert its doctrines.

Will Christianity endure this forever?

The Irrational Decisions of Man

When Alexander perceived that many who were revered by the appearance of good conduct, and weighty by the persuasiveness of eloquence, held with the party of Arius, and particularly Eusebius, president of the church of Nicomedia, a man of considerable learning and held in high repute at the palace; he wrote to the bishops of every church desiring them not to hold communion with them.

Alexander decided that the associates of Arius were eloquent and polite enough to be deserving of communion, and he desired that the bishops of other churches would adopt the same view.

How silly!

“That person is polite. Therefore, he is Christian.”
“That person is well-spoken. Therefore, he is Christian.”

Neither one of these traits is a predictor of the Christian faith, and I cite the existence of every polite and well-spoken Hindu as proof of this.

Perhaps Alexander had been helping himself to the communion wine? After all, most of the people throughout history were at least somewhat tipsy most of the time. This is because they were drinking alcohol on account of the fact that their water was unfit for consumption.

Debate Is Stupid #2

This measure kindled the zeal of each party the more, and as might have been expected, the contest was increasingly agitated.

Without a clear authority to provide the final word on religious matters, factions arise, quarrel, and, by their quarreling, nourish hostilities.

Protestant Faith

Eusebius and his partisans had often petitioned Alexander, but could not persuade him; so that considering themselves insulted, they became indignant and came to a stronger determination to support the doctrine of Arius.

The essence of Protestantism is to find a religious ruling which you don’t like and then to follow the opposite of that while retaining the parts which you found agreeable. This is how the Lutherans and the Anglicans developed their theologies; the Lutherans disliked the sale of indulgences, and the Anglicans disliked that the King was subject to the Pope.

Even in the time of the ancient church, the Arians were using this tendency to build their following.

The Evil of Good Intentions – Compromise

A synod having been convened in Bithynia, they wrote to all the bishops, desiring them to hold communion with the Arians, as with those making a true confession, and to require Alexander to hold communion with them likewise.

Many people believe that to compromise is good. They are mistaken.

To compromise is to produce a conclusion which two or more parties find favorable. People believe that this will leave each faction content, but the opposite is true. Each faction involved in the compromise will receive something that it wants, and then it will ignore what it has received and look at what the other was given. Then, each faction will resent the other and pretend that the thing the other received was really stolen from themselves.

This happens because most people are controlled by their feelings, and the two feelings being set against one another here are gratitude and desire for more. Of these two, the desire to acquire is the far more powerful force.

So compromise really just provokes resentment.

Now, does this need to be the case?

No, but it certainly is the case 99% of the time; so compromise backfires 99% of the time.

Arius’ church was founded by the middlemen of other churches.

As compliance could not be extorted from Alexander, Arius sent messengers to Paulinas, bishop of Tyre, to Eusebius Pamphilus, who presided over the church of Cæsarea in Palestine, and to Patrophilus, bishop of Scythopolis, soliciting permission for himself and for his adherents, as they had previously attained the rank of presbyters, to form the people who were with them into a church.

When a new faction arises, it is often founded by the mid-level members of other factions. This is because those middlemen are often exposed to people above them, they see the power which they do not have, and they desire to obtain it. The creation of a new church offers them the opportunity to obtain that power.

Meanwhile, the people at the top are unlikely to join a new church because they would have nothing to gain; and the people at the bottom are just as likely to be at the bottom of one church as they are ot be at the bottom of another.

The Middlemen as Weak Spots

For it was the custom in Alexandria, as it still is in the present day, that all the churches should be under one bishop, but that each presbyter should have his own church, in which to assemble the people.

As stated above, dissension is more likely to arise within the ranks of the middlemen than it is to come from the top or from the bottom.

The Evil of Appeasement

These three bishops, in concurrence with others who were assembled in Palestine, granted the petition of Arius, and permitted him to assemble the people as before; but enjoined submission to Alexander, and commanded Arius to strive incessantly to be restored to peace and communion with him.

To appease is to give a malcontent something they want. This is done with the hope that the appeasement will cause them to calm down.

Nothing good has ever arisen from this behavior, and nobody anywhere thinks that it has. People merely pretend that appeasement can be a good thing when they are too cowardly or sentimental to confront wickedness.

And not only does appeasement not solve the problem of the dissident, but it make shim worse. This is because the choice to appease signals to the dissident that those against whom he rails lack the power to contend with him. If they could stop him, then they would, wouldn’t they?

Moreover, when a person misbehaves and receives what they want on account of their misbehavior, then they learn that they can get what they want by misbehaving. So they cause more problems because they have been incentivized to do so.

And when those malcontents begin causing more problems, problems which they have been encouraged to cause, they do so with whatever strength was given to them by the initial appeasement.

So not only does appeasement not solve problems, but it ensures that they will return and be even worse.

This sit eh reason why people who try to appease wicked factions are not to be respected. They turn themselves into an insurance policy for evil behaviors, and they pretend that to do so is upright.

Gene Botkin

Gene is the director of the Theosis Christian Project. He studied physics and military science before founding the Project. Gene is currently pursuing his doctorate in systems engineering at an engineering college in the Ozarks. The Theosis Christian Project is his attempt to expand Holy Orthodoxy in America.

Recent Posts