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  Wikipedia: Arianism

Wikipedia: Arianism
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Arianism was a viewpoint held within the early Christian Church, denying that Christ and God the Father were one, seeing them as different divine entities. Church authorities declared this position heretical; similar views, and in some cases revival of the name, have recurred.

Fourth Century

The letter of Auxentius, a
4th-century (C.E.) Arian bishop of Milan, regarding the missionary Ulfilas, gives the clearest picture of Arian beliefs on the nature of the Trinity: God the Father ("unbegotten"), always existing, was separate from the lesser God the Christ ("only-begotten"), born before time began and creator of the world. The Father, working through the Son, created the Holy Spirit, which was subservient to the Son as the Son was to the Father.

The conflict between Arianism and the trinitarianism that has since become dominant was the first important doctrinal difficulty in the Church after the legalization of Christianity at the instigation of Emperor Constantine I. At one point in the conflict, the majority of Christianity followed the Arianistic belief system, and because Ulfilas was the apostle to the Goths, the Ostrogoths and the Visigoths arrived in western Europe already Christians, but Arians.

Arius was a Christian priest in Alexandria, Egypt. In 321 he was denounced by a synod at Alexandria for teaching a heterodox view of the relationship of Jesus Christ to God the Father. Arius and his followers agreed that Jesus was the son of God, but denied that they were one substance (Greek: homo-ousios). Instead, they viewed God and the Son as having distinct but similar substances (Greek: homoi-ousios). The difference in Greek was literally one iota (reflected in the English letter I) of difference. Jesus is, for Arianism, inferior or subordinate to God the Father. A specific summary statement that came to be at issue was that "there was a time when Jesus Christ was not"; this statement implied Jesus to be a created being, rather than one coeternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and thereby denied the doctrine of the Trinity as it is generally understood today.

Because Arius and his followers had great influence in the schools of Alexandria - counterparts to modern universities or seminaries - their theological views spread, especially in the eastern Mediterranean. By 325 the controversy had become significant enough that Emperor Constantine I called an assembly of bishops, the First Council of Nicaea (modern Iznik, Turkey), which condemned Arius's doctrine. (The trinitarian arguments that prevailed at Nicaea were formulated in the Nicene Creed, which is still recited in Catholic, Orthodox, and some Protestant services.) Constantine ordered all Arian books burned and Arius exiled. Arius died in 336 without having recanteded.

Despite the decision of the Council of Nicaea, Arianism not only survived but flourished for some time. The patronage of members of the imperial family allowed Arian bishops to rule in many centers. Having never converted any sizeable group of the laity, Arianism had died out inside the Empire by the 380s; it was debated and rejected again by the Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in 381.

Survival and Eventual Disappearance

However, during the time of Arianism's flowering in Constantinople, the Goth convert Ulfilas (later the subject of the letter of Auxentius cited above) was sent as a missionary to the Gothic barbarians across the Danube. His initial success in converting this Germanic people to an Arian form of Christianity was strengthened by later events. When the Germanic peoples entered the Roman Empire and founded successor-kingdoms, many of them used their Arian religion to differentiate their people from the local inhabitants and maintain their group identity against the Catholic population. See: Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Vandals, Burgundians, Lombards. By the 8th century assimilation had ended any surviving Arian churches. Only the Franks among the Germanic peoples entered the empire as pagans and converted to Catholic Christianity directly.

Reformation and Enlightenment

The name, Arians, was widely applied in Poland to the unitarian Christian sect, the Polish brethren.

"Arianism" also refered to a Protestant group in Poland during the Reformation, also called the Frater Polonorum. They invented radical social theories and were precursors of The Enlightenment.

Modern Parallels

"Arianism" has been commonly applied since, to other Nontrinitarian groups. For example, the modern Jehovah's Witnesses have similar beliefs. However, there are closer analogies from Socinianism to the Jehovah's Witnesses, than from Arianism - because Socinians, like the Jehovah's Witnesses and unlike Arians, denied that Christ ought to be worshipped. Also like the Socinians, they deny belief in a disembodied soul after death, and eternal punishment of the unrepentantly wicked, and reject episcopacy: doctrines to which the Arians did not obviously object.

The doctrine of the Godhead, according to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is similar to Arianism. The LDS doctrine of the unity of the Godhead is reminiscent of the Arian explanation of the unity of the Son with the Father: Jesus is seen as subordinate to God the Father, in that Jesus acts only according to his Father's will. They are "one" in the sense that there is no possibility of a disagreement between them, and they are both perfected and sinless. The LDS also believe, similar to the Arians, that Christ is a separate being, but "co-eternal" with God the Father, and yet that there is only one (capital "G") God. However, the LDS is unique in believing that there are many exalted beings, or gods; and in their belief that three distinct beings comprise the Godhead. This agreement and close intimacy of three distinct beings according to LDS doctrine, is properly labelled tritheism compared to Trinitarian definitions of monotheism, which the LDS disputes.

See also Christology.

Arianism, of course, is not to be confused with Aryanism, the belief that the European "race" is descended from the ancient Aryans who invaded India in the second millennium BCE.


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