Arianism was a heresy of a Christian Faith first proposed
early in the 4th century by the Alexandrian presbyter Arius.
It affirmed that Christ is not truly divine but a created being.
Arius' basic premise was the uniqueness of God, who is alone self-existent
and immutable; the Son, who is not self-existent, cannot be God.
Because the Godhead is unique, it cannot be shared or communicated,
so the Son cannot be God. Because the Godhead is immutable, the
Son, who is mutable, being represented in the Gospels as subject
to growth and change, cannot be God. The Son must, therefore, be
deemed a creature who has been called into existence out of nothing
and has had a beginning. Moreover, the Son can have no direct knowledge
of the Father since the Son is finite and of a different order of
According to its opponents, especially the bishop Athanasius
(¨Αγιος Αθανάσιος) , Arius' teaching reduced the Son to a demigod,
reintroduced polytheism (since worship of the Son was not abandoned),
and undermined the Christian concept of redemption since only he
who was truly God could be deemed to have reconciled man to the
History of the teaching
The controversy seemed to have been brought to an end by the Council
of Nicaea (AD 325), which condemned Arius and his teaching and
issued a creed to safeguard orthodox Christian belief. This creed
states that the Son is homoousion to Patri ("of one substance
with the Father"), thus declaring him to be all that the Father
is: he is completely divine. In fact, however, this was only the
beginning of a long-protracted dispute.
From 325 to 337, when the emperor
Constantine died, the Arian leaders, exiled after the Council
of Nicaea, tried by intrigue to return to their churches and sees
and to banish their enemies. They were partly successful.
From 337 to 350 Constans,
sympathetic to the Orthodox Christians,
was emperor in the West, and Constantius
II, sympathetic to the Arians, was emperor in the East. At a
church council held at Antioch (341), an affirmation of faith that
omitted the homoousion clause was issued. Another church council
was held at Sardica (modern Sofia) in 342, but little was
achieved by either council.
In 350 Constantius became sole ruler of the empire, and under his
leadership the Nicene party (orthodox Christians) was largely
crushed. The extreme Arians then declared that the Son was "unlike"
(anomoios) the Father. These anomoeans succeeded in having their
views endorsed at Sirmium in 357, but their extremism stimulated
the moderates, who asserted that the Son was "of similar substance"
(homoiousios) with the Father. Constantius at first supported these
homoiousians but soon transferred his support to the homoeans, led
by Acacius, who affirmed that the Son was "like" (homoios)
the Father. Their views were approved in 360 at Constantinople,
where all previous creeds were rejected, the term ousia ("substance,"
or "stuff") was repudiated, and a statement of faith was
issued stating that the Son was "like the Father who begot
After Constantius' death (361), the orthodox Christian majority
in the West consolidated its position. The persecution of orthodox
Christians conducted by the (Arian) emperor Valens
(364-378) in the East and the success of the teaching of Basil the
Great of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus led
the homoiousian majority in the East to realize its fundamental
agreement with the Nicene party. When the emperors Gratian
(367-383) and Theodosius
I (379-395) took up the defense of orthodoxy, Arianism collapsed.
In 381 the second ecumenical council met at Constantinople. Arianism
was proscribed, and a statement of faith, the Nicene Creed, was
Although this ended the heresy in the empire, Arianism continued
among some of the Germanic tribes to the end of the 7th century.
In modern times some Unitarians are virtually Arians in that they
are unwilling either to reduce Christ to a mere human being or to
attribute to him a divine nature identical with that of the Father.
The Christology of Jehovah's Witnesses, also, is a form
of Arianism; they regard Arius as a forerunner of Charles Taze Russell,
the founder of their movement.