Are you a Christian?
PREVIOUS SECTION - NEXT SECTION - HELP
§3 (2). The situation after the Council of Nicæa.
The council (a) had testified, by its horrified and spontaneous rejection of it, that Arianism was a novelty subversive of the Christian faith as they had received it from their fathers. They had (b) banished it from the Church by an inexorable test, which even the leading supporters of Arius had been induced to subscribe. In the years immediately following, we find (c) a large majority of the Eastern bishops, especially of Syria and Asia Minor, the very regions whence the numerical strength of the council was drawn, in full reaction against the council; first against the leaders of the victorious party, eventually and for nearly a whole generation against the symbol itself; the final victory of the latter in the East being the result of the slow growth of conviction, a growth independent of the authority of the council which it eventually was led to recognise. To understand this paradox of history, which determines the whole story of the life of Athanasius as bishop, it is necessary to estimate at some length the theological and ecclesiastical situation at the close of the council: this will best be done by examining each point in turn (a) the novelty of Arianism, (b) the ὁμοούσιον as a theological formula, (c) the materials for reaction.
(a) ‘Arianism was a new doctrine in the Church’ (Harnack, p. 218); but it claimed to be no novelty. And it was successful for a long time in gaining ‘conservative’ patronage. Its novelty, as observed above, is sufficiently shewn by its reception at the Council of Nicæa. But no novelty springs into existence without antecedents. What were the antecedents of Arianism? How does it stand related to the history within the Church of the momentous question, ‘What think ye of Christ?’
In examining such a question, two methods are possible. We may take as our point of departure the formulated dogma say of Nicæa, and examine in the light of it variations in theological statements in preceding periods, to shew that they do not warrant us in regarding the dogma as an innovation. That is the dogmatic method. Or we may take our start from the beginning, and trace the history of doctrine in the order of cause and effect, so as to detect the divergence and convergence of streams of influence, and arrive at an answer to the question, How came men to think and speak as they did? That is the historical method. Both methods have their recommendations, and either has been ably applied to the problem before us. In electing the latter I choose the more difficult road; but I do so with the conviction, firstly, that the former has tended (and especially in the ablest hands) to obscure our perception of the actual facts, secondly, that the saving faith of Christ has everything to gain from a method which appeals directly to our sense of historical truth, and satisfies, not merely overawes, the mind.
Let us then go back to ‘the beginning of
the Gospel.’ Taking the synoptic gospels as our primary evidence,
we ask, what did Christ our Lord teach about Himself? We do not find
formal definitions of doctrine concerning His Person. Doubtless it may
seem that such a definition on His part would have saved infinite
dispute and searchings of heart in the history of the Church. But
recognising in Him the unique and supreme Revealer of the Father, it is
not for us to say what He should have taught; we must accept His method
of teaching as that which Divine Wisdom chose as the best, and its
sequel in history as the way in which God willed man to learn. We find
then in the materials which we possess for the history of His Life and
Teaching fully enough to explain the belief of His disciples (see
below) in His Divinity. Firstly, there is no serious doubt as to
His claim to be the Messiah. (The confession of Peter in all four
We now turn to the Apostles. Here a few brief
remarks must suffice. (A suggestive summary in Sanday, ‘What the
first Christians thought about Christ,’ Oxford House Papers,
First Series.) That S. Paul’s summary of the Gospel (1 Cor. xv. 3 sqq.) is given by him as common
ground between himself and the older Apostles follows strictly from the
fact that the verb used (παρέλαβον)
links the facts of Redemption (v. 3, 4) with the personal experiences of the
original disciples (5
sqq.). In fact it is not in dispute that the original Jewish
nucleus of the Apostolic Church preached Jesus as the Messiah, and His
death as the ground of forgiveness of sins (Pfleiderer,
Urchrist. p. 20;
The apostles of the circumcision, however, stood between S. Paul and the zealot mass of Jewish Christians (Acts xxi. 20), many of whom were far from acquiescing in the recognition of S. Paul’s Gospel. On the same principle that we have used to determine the belief of the Στῦλοι with regard to Christ, we must needs recognise that where the gospel of the uncircumcision was still assailed or disparaged, the Divinity of Christ was apprehended faintly, or not at all.
The name of the ‘Ebionite’ sect testifies to its continuity with a section of the Jerusalem Church (see Lightfoot’s Galatians, S. Paul and the Three). It should be observed, however, firstly that between the clear-sighted Apostle of the Gentiles and the straitest of the zealots, there lay every conceivable gradation of intermediate positions (Loofs, Leitf. §11. 2, 3); secondly, that while emancipation from legalism in the Apostolic Church implied what has been said above, a belief in the divinity of Jesus was in itself compatible with strict Jewish observance.
The divinity of Christ then was firmly held by S.
Paul (the most remarkable passage is
But taking this as proved, we do not find an
equally clear answer to the question In what sense is Christ
God? The synoptic record makes no explicit reference to the
pre-existence of Christ: but the witness of John and descent of the
Spirit (Mark i.
7–11) at His baptism,
coupled with the Virginal Birth (Mt.; Lk.), and with the traits of the synoptic
portrait of Christ as collected above, if they do not compel us to
assert, yet forbid us to deny the presence of this doctrine to the
minds of the Evangelists. In the Pauline (including Hebrews) and
Johannine writings the doctrine is strongly marked, and in the latter
Jesus Christ was God, was one with the Father and with the Spirit: that was enough for the faith, the love, the conduct of the primitive Church. The Church was nothing so little as a society of theologians; monotheists and worshippers of Christ by the same instinct, to analyse their faith as an intellectual problem was far from their thoughts: God Himself (and there is but one God) had suffered for them (Ign. Rom. vi.; Tat. Gr. 13; Melito Fr. 7), God’s sufferings were before their eyes (Clem. R. I. ii. 1), they desired the drink of God, even His blood (Ign. Rom. vii., cf. Acts xx. 28); if enthusiastic devotion gave way for a moment to reflexion ‘we must think of Jesus Christ as of God’ (‘Clem. R.’ II. 1).
The ‘Apostolic fathers’ are not
theological in their aim or method. The earliest seat of theological
reflexion in the primitive Church appears to have been Asia Minor, or
rather Western Asia from Antioch to the Ægean. From this region
proceed the Ignatian letters, which stand alone among the literature of
their day in theological depth and reflexion. Their theology ‘is
wonderfully mature in spite of its immaturity, full of reflexions, and
yet at the same time full of
intuitive originality’ (Loofs, p. 61). The central idea is that
of the renovation of man (Eph. 20), now under the power of Satan
and Death (ib. 3, 19), which are undone (κατάλυσις) in
Christ, the risen Saviour (Smyrn. 3), who is ‘our true
Life,’ and endows us with immortality (Smyrn. 4,
Magn. 6, Eph. 17). This is by virtue of His Divinity
(Eph. 19, Smyrn. 4) in union with His perfect Manhood. He
is the only utterance of God (λόγος ἀπὸ
8), the ‘unlying mouth by which the Father spake’
(Rom. 8.) ‘God come (γενόμενος) in
the flesh,’ ‘our God’ (Eph. 7, 18). His flesh
partaken mystically in the Eucharist unites our nature to His, is the
‘medicine of incorruption’ (Eph. 20, Smyrn.
7, cf. Trall. 1). Ignatius does not distinguish the relation of
the divine to the human in Christ: he is content to insist on both:
‘one Physician, of flesh and of spirit, begotten and
unbegotten’ (Eph. 7). Nor does he clearly conceive the
relation of the Eternal Son to the Father. He is unbegotten (as God)
and begotten (as man): from eternity with the Father (Magn. 6):
through Him the One God manifested himself. The theological depth of
Ignatius was perhaps in part called forth by the danger to the churches
from the Docetic heretics, representative of a Judaic (Philad.
5, Magn. 8–10) syncretism which had long had a hold in
Asia Minor (
It was in fact the controversies of the second
century that produced a theology in the Catholic Church,—that in
a sense produced the Catholic Church itself. The idea of the Church as
distinct from and embracing the Churches is a New Testament idea (Eph. v. 25; cf. 1 Cor. xv. 9, &c.), and the name
‘Catholic’ occurs at the beginning of the second century
(Lightfoot’s note on Ign. Smyrn. 8); but the Gnostic and
Montanist controversies compelled the Churches which held fast to the
the Apostles to close their ranks (episcopal federation) and to reflect
upon their creed. The Baptismal Creed (
Another influence which during the same period
led to a gradual formation of theology was the necessity of defending
the Church against heathenism. If the Gnostics were ‘the first
Christian theologians’ (Harnack), the Apologists (120–200) are more directly important for
our present enquiry. The usual title of Justin ‘Philosopher and
Martyr’ is significant of his position and typical of the class
of writers to which he belongs. On the one hand the Apologists are
philosophers rather than theologians. Christianity is ‘the only
true philosophy’ (Justin); its doctrines are found piecemeal
among the philosophers (λόγος
who are so far Christians, just as the Christians are the true
philosophers (Justin and Minuc. Felix). But the Logos, who is imparted
fragmentarily to the philosophers, is revealed in His entire divine
Personality in Christ (so Justin beyond the others, Apol. ii. 8,
10). In the doctrine of God, their thought is coloured by the eclectic
Platonism of the age before Plotinus. God, the Father of all things, is
Creator, Lord, Master, and as such known to man, but in Himself
Unoriginate (ἀγένητος), ineffable,
mysterious (ἄρρητος), without a name, One
and alone, incapable of Incarnation (for references to Justin and to
Plato, D.C.B. iii. 572). His ‘goodness’ is metaphysical
perfection, or beneficence to man, His ‘righteousness’ that
of Moral Governor of the Universe (contrast the deeper sense of St.
Paul, Rom. iii. 21, &c.). But the abstractness of the
conception of God gives way to personal vividness in the doctrine of
the ‘visible God’ (Tert. Prax. 15 sq.), the Logos
(the subject of the O.T. ‘theophanies’ according to the
Apologists) who was ‘with’ the Father before all things
(Just. Dial. 62), but was ‘begotten’ or projected
by the will of the Father (ib. 128) as God from God, as a flame from
fire. He is, like the Father, ineffable (Χριστός, Just.
Apol. ii. 6), yet is the ἄγγελος,
ὑπηρέτης of the
Father. In particular He is the Father’s minister in
Creation: to create He proceeded from the Father, a doctrine
expressly deduced from Prov.
viii. 22 (Dial. 61,
129). Before this He was the λόγος
after it the λόγος
the Word uttered (Ps. xlv.
1 LXX; this distinction is
not in Justin, but is found Theophil. ad Autol. ii. 10, 22: it
is the most marked trace of philosophic [Stoic] influence on the
Apologists). The Apologists, then, conceive of Christian theology as
philosophers. Especially the Person of the Saviour is regarded by
them from the cosmological, not the soteriological view-point. From the
latter, as we have seen, St. Paul starts; and his view gradually
embraces the distant horizon of the former (1 Cor. viii. 6; Coloss. i. 15); from the soteriological side also
(directly) he reaches the divinity of Christ (
We must now glance at the important period of developed Catholicism marked especially by the names of Irenæus, Tertullian, and Clement, the period of a consolidated organisation, a (relatively) fixed Canon of the New Testament, and a catholic rule of faith (see above, and Lumby, Creeds, ch. i.; Heurtley, Harmonia Symbolica, i.–viii.). The problem of the period which now begins (180–250) was that of Monarchianism; the Divinity of Christ must be reconciled with the Unity of God. Monarchianism is in itself the expression of the truth common to all monotheism, that the ἄρχη or Originative Principle is strictly and Personally One and one only (in contrast to the plurality of ἀρχικαὶ ὑποστάσεις, see Newman, Arians4, p. 112 note). No Christian deliberately maintains the contrary. The Apologists, as we have seen, tended to emphasise the distinction of Father and Son; but this tendency makes of necessity in the direction of ‘subordination;’ and any distinction of ‘Persons’ or Hypostases in the Godhead involves to a Monotheist some subordination, in order to save the principle of the Divine Monarchia.’ The Monarchian denied any subordination or distinction of hypostases within the Godhead. This tendency we have now to follow up. We do not meet with it as a problem in Irenæus. (He ‘is said to have written against it,’ Newman, Ar.4, p. 117, citing Dodw. in Iren.) This scholar of pupils of Apostles stands in the lines of the Asiatic theology. He is the successor of Ignatius and Polycarp. We find him, in sharp contrast to the Apologists, giving full expression to the revelation of God in Jesus (the ‘Son is the Measure of the Father, for He contains Him’), and the union of man with God in the Saviour, as the carrying out of the original destiny of man, by the destruction of sin, which had for the time frustrated it (III. xviii. p. 211, Deus antiquam hominis plasmationem in se recapitulans). Hence the ‘deification’ of man’s nature by union with Christ (a remarkable point of contact with Athanasius, see note on de Incar. 54. 3); incorruption is attained to by the knowledge of God (cf. John xvii. 3) through faith (IV. xx.); we cannot comprehend God, but we learn to know Him by His Love (ib.). At the same time we trace the influence of the Apologists here and there in his Christology (III. 6, 19, and the explanation of the ‘Theophanies,’ iv. 20). But in his younger contemporary Tertullian, the reaction of Monarchianism makes itself felt. He is himself one of the Apologists, and at the same time under Asiatic influences. The two trains of influence converge in the name Trinitas, which he is the first to use (τρίας first in the Asiatic Apologist Theophilus). In combating the Monarchian Praxeas (see below) he carries subordinationism very far (cf. Hermog. 3. ‘fuit tempus cum Ei filius non fuit’), he distinguishes the Word as ‘rationalis deus’ from eternity, and ‘sermonalis’ not from eternity (cf. again, Theophilus, supra). The Generation of the Son is a προβολή (also ‘eructare’ from Ps. xlv. 1), but the divine ‘Substance’ remains the same (river and fountain, sun and ray, Prax. 8, 9). He aims at reconciling ‘subordination’ with the ‘Monarchia,’ (ib. 4). In the Incarnate Christ he distinguishes the divine and human as accurately as Leo the Great (ib. 27, 29). In spite of inconsistencies such as were inevitable in his strange individuality (Stoic, philosopher, lawyer, Apologist, ‘Asiatic’ theologian, Catholic, Montanist) we see in Tertullian the starting-point of Latin Theology (but see also Harnack ii. 287 note).
We must now examine more closely the history of Monarchian tendencies, and firstly in Rome. The sub-Apostolic Church, simply holding the Divinity of Christ and the Unity of God, used language (see above) which may be called ‘naively Monarchian.’ This holds good even of Asiatic theology, as we find it in its earlier stage. The baptismal creed (as we find it in the primitive basis of the Apostles’ Creed) does not solve the problem thus presented to Christian reflexion. Monarchianism attempted the solution in two ways. Either the One God was simply identified with the Christ of the Gospels and the Creeds, the Incarnation being a mode of the Divine manifestation (Father as Creator, Son as Redeemer, Spirit as Sanctifier, or the like): ‘Modalism’ or Modalistic Monarchianism (including Patripassianism, Sabellianism, and later on the theology of Marcellus); or (this being felt incompatible with the constant personal distinction of Christ from the Father) a special effluence, influence, or power of the one God was conceived of as residing in the man Jesus Christ, who was accordingly Son of God by adoption, God by assimilation: ‘dynamic’ Monarchianism or Adoptionism (‘Son’ and ‘Spirit’ not so much modes of the Divine self-realisation as of the Divine Action). This letter, the echo but not the direct survival of Ebionism, was later on the doctrine of Photinus; we shall find it exemplified in Paul of Samosata; but our present concern is with its introduction at Rome by the two Theodoti, the elder of whom (a tanner from Byzantium) was excommunicated by Bishop Victor, while the younger, a student of the Peripatetic philosophy and grammatical interpreter of Scripture, taught there in the time of Zephyrinus. A later representative of this school, Artemon, claimed that its opinions were those of the Roman bishops down to Victor (Eus. H. E. v. 28). This statement cannot be accepted seriously; but it appears to be founded on a real reminiscence of an epoch in the action and teachings of the Roman bishops at the time. It must be remembered that the two forms of Monarchianism—modalism and adoptionism—are, while very subtly distinguished in their essential principle, violently opposed in their appearance to the popular apprehension. Their doctrine of God is one, at least in its strict unitarianism; but while to the Modalist Christ is the one God, to the Adoptionist He is essentially and exclusively man.14
The third great name associated with the end of the second century, that of Clement, is important to us chiefly as that of the teacher of Origen, whose influence we must now attempt to estimate. Origen (185–254) was the first theologian in the full sense of the term; the first, that is, to erect upon the basis of the rule of faith (Preface to de Princ.) a complete theological system, synthesising revealed religion with a theory of the Universe, of God, of man, which should take into account the entire range of truth and knowledge, of faith and philosophy. And in this sense for the Eastern Church he was the last theologian as well. In the case of Origen the Vincentian epigram, absolvuntur magistri condemnantur discipuli (too often applicable in the history of doctrine) is reversed. In a modified form his theology from the first took possession of the Eastern Church; in the Cappadocian fathers it took out a new lease of power, in spite of many vicissitudes it conquered opposing forces (the sixth general council crushed the party who had prevailed at the fifth); John of Damascus, in whom the Eastern Church says its last word, depends upon the Origenist theology of Basil and the Gregories. But this theology was Origenism with a difference. What was the Origenism of Origen? To condense into the compass of our present purpose the many-sidedness of Origen is a hopeless task. The reader will turn to the fifth and sixth of Bigg’s Bampton Lectures for the best recent presentation; to Newman’s Arians (I. §3), especially the ‘apology’ at the end); to Harnack (ed. 1, pp. 510–556) and Loofs (§28); Shedd (vol. i. 288–305, should be read before Bigg and corrected by him) and Dorner; to the sections in Bull (Defens. ii. 9, iii. 3) and Petavius (who in Trin. I. iv. pursues with fluent malignity ‘omnigenis errorum portentis infamem scriptorem’); to the Origeniana of Huet and the dissertations of the standard editors; to the article Origenist Controversies, and to the comprehensive, exact, and sympathetic article Origen in the Dictionary of Christian Biography. The fundamental works of Origen for our purpose are the de Principiis, the contra Celsum, and the de Oratione; but the exegetical works are necessary to fill out and correct first impressions.
The general position of Origen with regard to the Person of Christ is akin to that of Hippolytus and Tertullian. It is to some extent determined by opposition to Gnosticism and to Monarchianism. His visit to Rome (Eus. H. E., vi. 14) coincided with the battle of Hippolytus against Zephyrinus and his destined successor: on practical as well as on doctrinal points he was at one with Hippolytus. His doctrine of God is reached by the soteriological rather than the cosmological method. God is known to us in the Incarnate Word; ‘his point of view is moral, not…pseudo-metaphysical.’ The impassibility of the abstract philosophical idea of God is broken into by ‘the passion of Love’ (Bigg, p. 158). In opposition to the perfection of God lies the material world, conditioned by evil, the result of the exercise of will. This cause of evil is antecedent to the genesis of the material universe, the καταβολὴ κόσμου; materiality is the penalty and measure of evil. (This part of Origen’s doctrine is markedly Platonic. Plotinus, we read, refused to observe his own birthday; in like manner Origen quaintly notes that only wicked men are recorded in Scripture to have kept their birthdays; Bigg, 203, note; cf. Harnack, p. 523, note.) The soul (ψυχή as if from ψύχεσθαι) has in a previous state ‘waxed cold,’ i.e. lost its original integrity, and in this condition enters the body, i.e. ‘is subjected to vanity’ in common with the rest of the creature, and needs redemption (qualify this by Bigg, pp. 202 sqq., on Origen’s belief in Original Sin). To meet this need the Word takes a Soul (but one that has never swerved from Him in its pre-existent state: on this antinomy Bigg, 190, note, 199) and mediante Anima, or rather mediante hac substantia animæ (Prin. II. vi.) unites the nature of God and of Man in One. (On the union of the two natures in the θεάνθρωπος, in Ezek. iii. 3, he is as precise as Tertullian: we find the Hypostatic Union and Communicatio Idiomatum formally explicit; Bigg, 190.) The Word ‘deifies’ Human Nature, first His Own, then in others as well (Cels. iii. 28, ἵνα γένητυι θεία: he does not use θεοποιεῖσθαι; the thought is subtly but really different from that which we found in Irenæus: see Harnack, p. 551), by that perfect apprehension of Him ὅπερ ἦν πρὶν γένηται σάρξ, of which faith in the Incarnate is the earliest but not the final stage (applying 2 Cor. v. 16; cf. the Commentary on the Song of Songs).
What account then does Origen give of the beginning and the end of the great Drama of existence? He starts from the end, which is the more clearly revealed; ‘God shall be all in all.’ But ‘the end must be like the beginning;’ One is the end of all, One is the beginning. From 1 Cor. xv. he works back to Romans viii.: the one is his key to the eternity after, the other, to the eternity before (Bigg pp. 193 sq.). Into this scheme he brings creation, evil, the history of Revelation, the Church and its life, the final consummation of all things. The Universe is eternal: God is prior to it in conception, yet He was never other than Creator. But in the history of the Universe the material world which we know is but a small episode. It began, and will end. It began with the estrangement of Will from God, will end with its reconciliation: God, from Whom is the beginning of all, ‘will be all in all.’ (For Origen’s eschatology see Bigg, 228–234.) From this point of view we must approach the two-sided Christology of Origen. To him the two sides were aspects of the same thing: but if the subtle presupposition as to God and the Universe is withdrawn, they become alternative and inconsistent Christologies, as we shall see to have actually happened. As God is eternally Creator, so He is eternally Father (Bigg, 160, note). The Son proceeds from Him not as a part of His Essence, but as the Ray from the Light; it cannot be rightly or piously said that He had a beginning, ἦν ὅτε οὐκ ἦν (cf. De Princ. i. 2, iv. 28, and infr. p. 168); He is begotten from the Essence of the Father, He is of the same essence (ὁμοούσιος) (Fragm. 3 in Heb., but see Bigg, p. 179), there is no unlikeness whatever between the Son and the Father (Princ. i. 2, 12). He was begotten ἐκ τοῦ θελήματος τοῦ Πατρός (but to Origen the θέλημα was inherent in the Divine Nature, cf. Bigg. 161, Harnack, p. 534 against Shedd, p. 301, note) not by προβολή or emanation (Princ. iv. 28, i. 2. 4), as though the Son’s generation were something that took place once for all, instead of existing continuously. The Father is in the Son, the Son in the Father: there is ‘coinherence.’ On the other hand, the Word is God derivatively not absolutely, ῾Ο λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν Θεόν, καὶ Θεὸς ἦν ὁ Λόγος. The Son is Θεός, the Father alone ὁ Θεός. He is of one οὐσία with the Father as compared with the creatures; but as contrasted with the Father, Who may be regarded as ἐπ™κεινα οὐσίας18
The above slender sketch of the leading thoughts of Origen will suffice to show how intimately his doctrine of the Person of Christ hangs together with his philosophy of Religion and Nature. That philosophy is the philosophy of his age, and must be judged relatively. His deeply religious, candid, piercing spirit embodies the highest effort of the Christian intellect conditioned by the categories of the best thought of his age. Everywhere, while evading no difficulty, his strenuous speculative search is steadied by ethical and religious instinct. As against Valentinian and the Platonists, with both of whom he is in close affinity, he inexorably insists on the self-consciousness and moral nature of God, on human freewill. As against all contemporary non-Christian thought his system is pure monism. Yet the problem of evil, in which he merges the antithesis of matter and spirit, brings with it a necessary dualism, a dualism, however, which belongs but to a moment in the limitless eternity of God’s all-in-allness before and after. Is he then a pantheist? No, for to him God is Love (in Ezek. vi. 6), and the rational creature is to be made divine and united to God by the reconciliation of Will and by conscious apprehension of Him. The idea of Will is the pivot of Origen’s system, the centripetal force which forbids it to follow the pantheistic line which it yet undoubtedly touches. The ‘moral’ unity of the Father and the Son (see above, ταὐτότης βουλήματος and ἐκ τοῦ θελήματος) is Unity in that very respect in which the Creator stands over against the self-determining rational creature. Yet the immutability, the Oneness of God, must be reconciled with the plurality, the mutability of the creature; here the Logos mediates; διὰ τὰ πολλὰ γίνεται πολλά: but this must be from eternity:—accordingly creation is eternal too. Here we see that the cosmological idea has prevailed over the religious, the Logos of Origen is still in important particulars the Logos of the Apologists, of Philo and the philosophers. The difference lies in His co-eternity, upon which Origen insists without wavering. The resemblance lies in the intermediate20
Now it is evident that the mere intellectual apprehension of a system which combines so many opposite tendencies, which touches every variety of the theological thought of the age (even modalism, for to Origen the Father is the Μονάς, the αὐτόθεος, while yet He is no abstraction but a God who exists in moral activity, supra) and subtly harmonises them all, must have involved no ordinary philosophical power. When we add to this fact the further consideration that precisely the fundamental ideas of Origen were those which called forth the liveliest opposition and were gradually dropped by his followers, we can easily understand that in the next generation Origenism was no longer either the system of Origen, or a single system at all.
In one direction it could lend itself to no compromise; in spite of the justice done by Origen to the fundamental ideas both of modalism and of emanative adoptionism (cf. Harnack, pp. 548, note, and 586), to Monarchianism in either form he is diametrically opposed. The hypostatic distinctness of Son and Spirit is once for all made good for the theology of Eastern Christendom. We see his disciples exterminate Monarchianism in the East. On the left wing Dionysius refutes the Sabellians of Libya, on the right Gregory Thaumaturgus, Firmilian, and their brethren, after a long struggle, oust the adoptionist Paul from the See of Antioch. But its influence on the existing Catholic theology, however great (and in the East it was very great), inevitably made its way in the face of opposition, and at the cost of its original subtle consistency. The principal opposition came from Asia Minor, where the traditions of theological thought (see above, on Ignatius and Irenæus, below on Marcellus) were not in sympathy21
On the other hand, very many of Origen’s pupils, especially among the bishops, started from the other side of Origen’s teaching, and held tenaciously to the coeternity of the Son, while they abandoned the Origenist ‘paradoxes’ with regard to the Universe, matter, pre-existence, and restitution. Typical of this class is Gregory Thaumaturgus, also Peter the martyr bishop of Alexandria, who expressly opposed many of Origen’s positions (though hardly with the violence ascribed to him in certain supposed fragments in Routh, Rell. iv. 81) and Alexander himself. It was this ‘wing’ of the Origenist following that, in combination with the opposition represented by Methodius, bequeathed to the generation contemporary with Nicæa its average theological tone. The coeternity of the Son with the Father was not (as a rule) questioned, but the essential relation of the Logos to the Creation involved a strong subordination of the Son to the Father, and by consequence of the Spirit to the Son. Monarchianism was the heresy most dreaded, the theology of the Church was based on the philosophical categories of Plato applied to the explanation and systematisation of the rule of faith. This was very far from Arianism. It lacked the logical definiteness of that system on the one hand, it rested on the other hand on a different conception of God; the hypostatic subordination of the Son was insisted upon, but His true Sonship as of one Nature with the Father, was held fast. In the slow process of time this neo-Asiatic theology found its way partly to the Nicene formula, partly to the illogical acceptance of it with regard to the Son, with refusal to apply it to the Spirit (Macedonius). To the men who thought thus, the blunt assertion that the Son was a creature, not coeternal, alien to the Essence of the Father, was a novelty, and wholly abhorrent. Arius drew a sharper line than they had been accustomed to draw between God and the creature; so did Athanasius. But Arius drew his line without flinching between the Father and the Son. This to the instinct of any Origenist was as revolting as it would have been to the clear mind and Biblical sympathy of Origen himself. In theological and philosophical principles alike Arius was opposed even to the tempered Origenism of the Nicene age. The latter was at the furthest remove from Monarchianism, Arianism was in its essential core Monarchian; the common theology borrowed its philosophical principles and method from the Platonists, Arius from Aristotle. To anticipate, Arianism and (so-called) semi-Arianism have in reality very little in common except the historical fact of common action for a time. Arianism guarded the transcendence of the divine nature (at the expense of revelation and redemption) in a way that ‘semi-Arianism,’ admitting as it did inherent inequality in the Godhead, did not. They therefore tended in opposite directions; Arianism to Anomœanism, ‘semi-Arianism’ to the Nicene faith; their source was different. ‘Aristotle made men Arians,’ says Newman with truth, ‘Plato, semi-Arians’ (Arians4, p. 335, note): but to say this is to allow that if Arianism goes back to Lucian and so to Paul of Samosata, semi-Arianism is a fragment from the wreck of Origen.
The Origenist bishops of Syria and Asia Minor had in the years 269–272, after several efforts, succeeded in deposing Paul of Samosata from the See of Antioch. This remarkable man was the ablest pre-Nicene representative of Adoptionist Monarchianism. The Man Jesus was inhabited by the ‘Word,’ i.e. by an impersonal power of God, distinct from the Λόγος or reason (wisdom) inherent in God as an attribute, which descended upon him at His Baptism. His union with God, a union of Will, was unswerving, and by virtue of it He overcame the sin of mankind, worked miracles, and entered on a condition of Deification. He is God ἐκ προκοπῆς (cf. Luke ii. 52) by virtue of progress in perfection. That is in brief the system of Paul, and we cannot wonder at his deposition. For the striking points of contact with Arianism (two ‘Wisdoms,’ two ‘Words,’ προκοπή: cf. Orat. c. Ar. i. 5, &c.) we have to account23
The above account of Lucian is based on that of Harnack, Dogmg. ii. 184, sqq. It is at once in harmony with all our somewhat scanty data (Alexander, Epiphanius, Philostorgius, and the fragment of his last confession of faith preserved by Rufin. in Eus. H. E. ix. 9, Routh, Rell. iv. pp. 5–7, from which Harnack rightly starts) and is the only one which accounts for the phenomena of the rise of Arianism. We find a number of leading Churchmen in agreement with Arius, but in no way dependent on him. They are Eusebius of Nicomedia, Maris, Theognis, Athanasius of Anazarba, Menophantus; all Lucianists. The first Arian writer, Asterius (see below), is a Lucianist. (The Egyptian bishops Secundus and Theonas cannot be put down to any school; we do not know their history; but they are distinguished from the Lucianists by Philost. ii. 3.) It has been urged that, although Arius brought away heresy from the school of Lucian, yet he was not the only one that did so. True; but then the heresy was all of the same kind (list of pupils of Lucian in Philost. ii. 14, iii. 15). Aetius, the founder of logical ultra-Arianism and teacher of Eunomius, was taught the exegesis of the New Testament by the Lucianists Athanasius of Anazarba and Antony of Tarsus, of the Old by the Lucianist Leontius. This fairly covers the area of Arianism proper. But it may be noted that some Origenists of the ‘left wing,’ whose theology emphasized the subordination, and vacillated as to the eternity of the Son, would find little to shock them in Arianism (Eusebius of Cæsarea, Paulinus of Tyre), while on the other hand there are traces of a Lucianist ‘right wing,’ men like Asterius, who while essentially Arian, made concessions to the ‘conservative’ position chiefly by emphasising the cosmic mediation of the Word and His ‘exact likeness’ to the Father27
Arian Literature. Beside the above-mentioned letters and fragments of Arius, our early Arian documents are scanty. Very important is the letter of Eus. Nic. to Paulinus, referred to above, §3 (1), pp. xvi., xviii., other fragments of letters, p. 458 sq. The writings29
Arianism was a novelty. Yet it combines in an inconsistent whole elements of almost every previous attempt to formulate the doctrine of the Person of Christ. Its sharpest antithesis was Modalism: yet with the modalist Arius maintained the strict personal unity of the Godhead. With dynamic monarchianism it held the adoptionist principle in addition; but it personified the Word and sacrificed the entire humanity of Christ. In this latter respect it sided with the Docetæ, most Gnostics, and Manichæans, to all of whom it yet opposes a sharply-cut doctrine of creation and of the transcendence of God. With Origen and the Apologists before him it made much of the cosmic mediation of the Word in contrast to the redemptive work of Jesus; with the Apologists, though not with Origen, it enthroned in the highest place the God of the Philosophers: but against both alike it drew a sharp broad line between the Creator and the Universe, and drew it between the Father and the Son. Least of all is Arianism in sympathy with the theology of Asia,—that of Ignatius, Irenæus, Methodius, founded upon the Joannine tradition. The profound Ignatian idea of Christ as the Λόγος ἀπὸ σιγῆς προελθών is in impressive contrast with the shallow challenge of the Thalia, ‘Many words hath God spoken, which of these was manifested in the flesh?’
Throughout the controversies of the pre-Nicene age the question felt rather than seen in the background is that of the Idea of God. The question of Monotheism and Polytheism which separated Christians from heathen was not so much a question of abstract theology as of religion, not one of speculative belief, but of worship. The Gentile was prepared to recognise in the background of his pantheon the shadowy form of one supreme God, Father of gods and men, from whom all the rest derived their being. But his religion required the pantheon as well; he could not worship a philosophic supreme abstraction. The Christian on the other hand was prepared in many cases to recognise the existence of beings corresponding to the gods of the heathen (whether 1 Cor. viii. 5 can be quoted here is open to question). But such beings he would not worship. To him, as an object of religion, there was one God. The one God of the heathen was no object of practical personal religion; the One God of the Christian was. He was the God of the Old Testament, the God who was known to His people not under philosophical categories, but in His dealings with them as a Father, Deliverer, He who would accomplish all things for them that waited on Him, the God of the Covenant. He was the God of the New Testament, God in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, manifesting His Righteousness in the Gospel of Christ to whosoever believed. In Christ the Christian learned that God is Love. Now this knowledge of God is essentially religious; it lies in a different plane from the speculative ἀπορίαι as to God’s transcendence or immanence, while yet it steadies the religious mind in the face of speculations tending either way. A God who is Love, if immanent, must yet be personal, if transcendent, must yet manifest His Love in such a way that we can know it and not merely guess it. Now as Christian instinct began to be forced to reflexion, in other words, as faith began to strive for expression in a theology31
Arianism stepped in with a summary answer. God is one, numerically and absolutely. He is beyond the ken of any created intelligence. Even creation is too close a relation for Him to enter into with the world. In order to create, he must create an instrument (pp. 360 sqq.), intermediate between Himself and all else. This instrument is called Son of God, i.e. He is not coeternal (for what son was ever as old as his parent?), but the result of an act of creative will. How then is He different from other creatures? This is the weak point of the system; He is not really different, but a difference is created by investing Him with every possible attribute of glory and divinity except the possession of the incommunicable nature of deity. He is merely ‘anointed above His fellows.’ His ‘divinity’ is acquired, not original; relative, not absolute; in His character, not in His Person. Accordingly He is, as a creature, immeasurably far from the Creator; He does not know God, cannot declare God to us. The One God remains in His inaccessible remoteness from the creature. But yet Arians worshipped Christ; although not very God, He is God to us. Here we have the exact difficulty with which the Church started in her conflict with heathenism presented again unsolved. The desperate struggle, the hardly earned triumph of the Christians, had been for the sake of the essential principle of heathenism! The One God was, after all, the God of the philosophers; the idea of pagan polytheism was realised and justified in Christ32
If Arianism failed to assist the thought of the
Church to a solution of the great problem of God, its failure was not
less conspicuous with regard to revelation and redemption. The
revelation of the Gospel stopped short in the person of Christ, did not
go back to the Father. God was not in Christ reconciling the
world to Himself, we have access in Christ to a created intelligence,
not to the love of God to usward, not to the everlasting Arms, but to a
being neither divine nor human. Sinners against heaven and before God,
we must accept an assurance of reconciliation from one who does not
know Him whom we have offended; the kiss of the Father has never been
given to the prodigal. Men have asked how we are justified in ascribing
to the infinite God the attributes which we men call good: mercy,
justice, love. If Christ is God, the answer lies near; if He is the
Christ of Arius, we are left in moral agnosticism. Apart from Christ,
the philosophical arguments for a God have their force; they proffer to
us an ennobling belief, a grand ‘perhaps’; but the
historical inability of Monotheism to retain a lasting hold among men
apart from revelation is an impressive commentary on their compelling
power. In Christ alone does God lay hold upon the soul with the
assurance of His love (
The illogicality of Arianism has often been pointed out (Gwatkin, pp. 21 sqq. esp. p. 28); how, starting from the Sonship of Christ, it came round to a denial of His Sonship; how it started with an interest for Monotheism and landed in a vindication of polytheism; how it began from the incomprehensibility of God even to His Son, and ended (in its most pronounced form) with the assertion that the divine Nature is no mystery at all, even to us. It is an insult to the memory of Aristotle to call such shallow hasty syllogising from ill-selected and unsifted first principles by his name. Aristotle himself teaches a higher logic than this. But at this date Aristotelianism proper was extinct. It only survived in the form of ‘pure’ logic, adopted by the Platonists, but also studied for its own sake in connection with rhetoric and the art of arguing (cf. Socr. ii. 35). Such an instrument might well be a cause of confusion in the hands of men who used it without regard to the conditions of the subject-matter. An illogical compromise between the theology of Paul of Samosata and of Origen, the marvel is that Arianism satisfied any one even in the age of its birth. What has been said above with regard to the conception of God in the early Church may help to explain it; the germ of ethical insight which is latent in adoptionism, and which when neglected by the Church has always made itself felt by reaction, must also receive justice; once again, its inherent intellectualism was in harmony with the dominant theology of the Eastern Church, that is with one side of Origenism. Where analogous conditions have prevailed, as for example in the England of the early eighteenth century, Arianism has tended to reappear with no one of its attendant incongruities missing.
But for all that, the doom of Arianism was uttered at Nicæa and verified in the six decades which followed. Every possible alternative formula of belief as to the Person of Christ was forced upon the mind of the early Church, was fully tried, and was found wanting. Arianism above all was fully tried and above all found lacking. The Nicene formula alone has been found to render possible the life, to satisfy the instincts of the Church of Christ. The choice lies—nothing is clearer—between that and the doctrine of Paul of Samosata. The latter, it has been said, was misunderstood, was never fairly tried. As a claimant to represent the true sense of Christianity it was I think once for all rejected when the first Apostles gave the right hand of fellowship to S. Paul (see above, p. xxii.); its future trial must be in the form of naturalism, as a rival to Christianity, on the basis of a denial of the claim of Christ to be the One Saviour of the World, and of His Gospel to be the Absolute Religion. But Arianism, adding to all the difficulties of a supernatural Christology the spirit of the shallowest rationalism and the fundamental postulate of agnosticism, can surely count for nothing in the Armageddon of the latter days,
The distinction, which in the foregoing discussion we have frequently had under our notice, between the πίστις and γνῶσις of the early Church, the πίστις common to all, and formulated in the tessera or rule of faith, the γνῶσις the property of apologists and theologians aiming at the expression of faith in terms of the thought of their age, and at times, though for long only slightly, reacting upon the rule of faith itself (Aquileia, Cæsarea, Gregory Thaumaturgus), makes itself felt in the account of the Nicene Council. That the legacy of the first world-wide gathering of the Church’s rulers is a Rule of Faith moulded by theological reflexion, one in which the γνῶσις of the Church supplements her πίστις, is a momentous fact; a fact for which we have to thank not Athanasius but Arius. The πίστις of the Fathers repudiated Arianism as a novelty; but to exclude it from the Church some test was indispensable; and to find a test was the task of theology, of γνῶσις. The Nicene Confession is the Rule of Faith explained as against Arianism. Arianism started with the Christian profession of belief in our Lord’s Sonship. If the result was incompatible with such belief, it was inevitable that an explanation should be given, not indeed of the full meaning of divine Sonship, but of that element in the idea which was ignored or assailed by the misconception of Arius. Such an explanation is attempted in the words ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας τοῦ πατρός, ὁμοούσιαν τῷ Πατρί, and again in the condemnation of the formula ἐξ ἑτέρας ὑποστάσεως ἢ οὐσίας. This explanation was not adopted without hesitation, nor would it have been adopted had any other barrier against the heresy, which all but very few wished to exclude, appeared effective. We now have to examine firstly the grounds of this hesitation, secondly the justification of the formula itself.
The objections felt to the word ὁμοούσιον at the council were (1) philosophical, based on the identification of οὐσία with either εἶδος (i.e. as implying a ‘formal essence’ prior to Father and Son alike) or ὕλη; (2) dogmatic, based on the identification of οὐσία with τόδε τι, and on the consequent Sabellian sense of the ὁμοούσιον; (3) Scriptural, based on the non-occurrence of the word in the Bible; (4) Ecclesiastical, based on the condemnation of the word by the Synod which deposed Paul at Antioch in 269.
All these objections were made and felt bona fide, although Arians would of course make the most of them. The subsequent history will show that their force was outweighed only for the moment with many of the fathers, and that to reconcile the ‘conservatism’ of the Asiatic bishops to the new formula must be a matter of time. The third or Scriptural objection need not now be discussed at length. Precedent could be pleaded for the introduction into creeds of words not expressly found in Scripture (e.g. the word ‘catholic’ applied to the Church in many ancient creeds, the creed of Gregory Thaumaturgus with τρίας τελεία, &c. &c.); the only question was, were the non-scriptural words expressive of a Scriptural idea? This was the pith of the question debated between Athanasius and his opponents for a generation after the council; the ‘conservative’ majority eventually came round to the conviction that Athanasius was right. But the question depends upon the meaning of the word itself.
The word means sharing in a joint or common essence, οὐσία (cf. ὁμώνυμος, sharing the same name, &c. &c.). What then is οὐσία? The word was introduced into philosophical use, so far as we know, by Plato, and its technical value was fixed for future ages by his pupil Aristotle. Setting aside its use to express ‘existence’ in the abstract, we take the more general use of the word as indicating that which exists in the concrete. In this sense it takes its place at the centre of his system of ‘categories,’ as the something to which all determinations of quality, quantity, relation and the rest attach, and which itself attaches to nothing; in Aristotle’s words it alone is self-existent, χωριστόν, whereas all that comes under any of the other categories is ἀχώριστον, non-existent except as a property of some οὐσία. But here the difficulty begins. We may look at a concrete term as denoting either this or that individual simply (τόδε τι), or as expressing its nature, and so as common to more individuals than one. Now properly (πρώτως) οὐσία is only appropriate to the former purpose. But it may be employed in a secondary sense to designate the latter; in this sense species and genera are δεύτεραι οὐσίαι, the wider class being less truly οὐσίαι than the narrower. In fact we here detect the transition of the idea of οὐσία from the category of οὐσία proper to that of ποιόν (cf. Athan. p. 478 sq.; he uses οὐσία freely in the secondary sense for non-theological purposes in contra Gentes, where it is often best rendered ‘nature’). Aristotle accordingly uses οὐσία freely to designate what we call substances, whether simple or compound, such as iron, gold, earth, the heavens, τὸ ἀκίνητον, &c., &c. Corresponding again, to the logical distinction of γένος and εἶδος is the metaphysical distinction (not exactly of matter and form, but) of matter simply, regarded as τὸ ὑποκειμένον, and matter regarded as existing in this or that form, τὸ ποιὸν τὸ ἐν τῇ οὐσί& 139·, τὸ τί ἦν εἶναι, the meeting-point of logic and metaphysics in Aristotle’s system. Agreeably to this distinction, οὐσία is used sometimes of the latter—the concrete thing regarded in its essential nature, sometimes of the former ἡ ὑποκειμένη οὐσία ὡς ὕλη, ὕλη being in fact the summum genus of the material world.
Now the use of the word in Christian theology had exemplified nearly every one of the above senses. In the quasi-material sense ὁμοούσιον had been used in the school of Valentinian to express the homogeneity of the two factors in the fundamental dualism of the Universe of intelligent beings. In a somewhat similar sense it is used in the Clementine Homilies xx. 7. The Platonic phrase for the Divine Nature, ἐπέκεινα πάσης οὐσίας, adopted by Origen and by Athanasius contra Gentes, appears to retain something of the idea of οὐσία as implying material existence; and this train of associations had to be expressly disclaimed in defending the Nicene formula. In the sense of homogeneity the word ὀμοούσιον is expressly applied by Origen, as we have seen, to the Father and the Son: on the other hand, taking οὐσία in the ‘primary’ Aristotelian sense, he has ἕτερος κατ᾽ οὐσίαν καὶ ὑποκειμένον In the West (see above on Tertullian and Novatian) the Latin substantia (Cicero had in vain attempted to give currency to the less euphonious but more suitable essentia) had taken its place in the phrase unius substantiæ orcommunio substantiæ, intended to denote not only the homogeneity but the Unity of Father and Son. Accordingly we find Dionysius of Rome pressing the test upon his namesake of Alexandria and the latter not declining it (below, p. 183). But a few years later we find the Origenist bishops, who with the concurrence of Dionysius of Rome deposed Paul of Samosata, expressly repudiating the term. This fact, which is as certain as any fact in Church history (see Routh Rell. iii. 364 &c., Caspari Alte u. Neue. Q., pp. 161 sqq.), was a powerful support to the Arians in their subsequent endeavours to unite the conservative East in reaction against the council. Scholars are fairly equally divided as to the explanation of the fact. Some hold, following Athanasius and Basil, that Paul imputed the ὀμοούσιον (in a materialising sense) to his opponents, as a consequence of the doctrine they opposed to his own, and that ‘the 80’ in repudiating the word, repudiated the idea that the divine nature could be divided by the emanation of a portion of it in the Logos. Hilary, on the other hand, tells us that the word was used by Paul himself (‘male ὀμοούσιον Paulus confessus est, sed numquid melius Arii negaverunt?’) If so, it must have been meant to deny the existence of the Logos as an οὐσία (i.e. Hypostasis) distinct from the Father. Unfortunately we have not the original documents to refer to. But in either case the word was repudiated at Antioch in one sense, enacted at Nicæa in another. The fact however remains that the term does not exclude ambiguity. Athanasius is therefore going beyond strict accuracy when he claims (p. 164) that no one who is not an Arian can fail to be in agreement with the Synod. Marcellus and Photinus alone prove the contrary. But he is right in regarding the word as rigidly excluding the heresy of Arius.
This brings us to the question in what sense
οὐσία is used in the
Nicene definition. We must remember the strong Western and
anti-Origenist influence which prevailed in the council (above, p.
xvii.), and the use of ὑπόστασις and οὐσία as convertible terms
in the anathematism (see Excursus A, pp. 77, sqq. below). Now
going back for a moment to the correspondence of the two Dionysii, we
see that Dionysius of Rome had contended not so much against the
subordination of the Son to the Father as against their undue
In other words he had pressed the ὁμοούσιον upon
his namesake in the interest rather of the unity than of the
equality of the Persons in the Holy Trinity. At Nicæa, the
problem was (as shewn above) to explain (at least negatively) how the
Church understood the Generation of the Son. Accordingly we find
Athanasius in later years explaining that the Council meant to place
beyond doubt the Essential Relation of the Divine Persons to one
another (τὸ ἴδιον
ταὐτότης, see de
Decr. pp. 161, 163 sq., 165, 168, 319; of course including
identity of Nature, pp. 396, 413, 232), and maintaining to the end
(where he expresses his own view, p. 490, &c.) the convertibility
of οὐσία and ὑπόστασις for this
purpose. By the word ὁ θεός or θεός he understands οὐδὲν
ἕτερον ἢ τὴν
ὄντος (de Decr. 22). The
conclusion is that in their original sense the definitions of
Nicæa assert not merely the specific identity of the Son
with the Father (as Peter qua man is of one οὐσία with Paul, or the
Emperor’s statue of one form with the Emperor himself, p. 396),
but the full unbroken continuation of the Being of the Father in the
Son, the inseparable unity of the Son with the Father in the Oneness of
the Godhead. Here the phrase is ‘balanced’ by the ἐκ
ἢ] οὐσίας τοῦ
Πατρὸς, not as though merely one
οὐσία had given
existence to another, but in the sense that with such origination the
οὐσία remained the
same. This is a ‘first approximation to the mysterious doctrine
of the περιχώρησις’
coinherence, or ‘circuminsessio,’ which is necessary to
guard the doctrine of the Trinity against tritheism, but which, it must
be observed, lifts it out of the reach of the categories of any system
of thought in which the workings of human intelligence have ever been
able to organise themselves. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity
vindicated by the Nicene formula on the one hand remains, after the
exclusion of others, as the one direction in which the Christian
intellect can travel without frustrating and limiting the movement of
faith, without bringing to a halt the instinct of faith in Christ as
Saviour, implanted in the Church by the teaching of S. Paul and of S.
John, of the Lord Himself: on the other hand it is not a full solution
of the intellectual difficulties with which the analysis of that faith
and those instincts brings us face to face. That God is One, and that
the Son is God, are truths of revelation which the category of
‘substance’ fails to synthesise. The Nicene Definition
furnishes a basis of agreement for the purpose of Christian devotion,
worship, and life, but leaves two theologies face to face, with mutual
recognition as the condition of the healthy life of either. The
theology of Athanasius and of the West is that of the Nicene formula in
its original sense. The inseparable Unity of the God of Revelation is
its pivot. The conception of personality in the Godhead is its
difficulty. The distinctness of the Father, Son, and Spirit is felt
ὁ Πατήρ ἄλλος
ὁ υἱ& 231·ς), but cannot be
formulated so as to satisfy our full idea of personality. For this
Athanasius had no word; πρόσωπον meant too
little (implying as it did no more than an aspect possibly worn but for
a special period or purpose), ὑπόστασις (implying
such personality as separates Peter from Paul) too much. But he
recognised the admissibility of the sense in which the Nicene formula
eventually, in the theology of the Cappadocian fathers, won its way to
supremacy in the East. To them ὑπόστασις was
an appropriate term to express the distinction of Persons in the
Godhead, while οὐσία
expressed the divine Nature which they possessed in common (see
Excursus A. p. 77 sqq.). This sense of οὐσία approximated to
that of species, or εἶδος (Aristotle’s
‘secondary’ οὐσία), while that of ὑπόστασις
gravitated toward that of personality in the empirical sense. But in
neither case did the approximation amount to complete identity. The
idea of trine personality was limited by the consideration of the
Unity; the περιχώρησις
was recognised, although in a somewhat different form, the prominent
idea in Athanasius being that of coinherence or immanence,
whereas the Cappadocians, while using, of course, the language of
The Nicene definition in this sense emphasized the Unity of the Godhead in Three Persons, against the Arian division of the Son from the Father. How then did it escape the danger of lending countenance to Monarchianism? Athanasius feels the difficulty without solving it, for the distinction given by him, p. 84, between ὁμοούσιος and μονοούσιος is without real meaning (we say with Tertullian ‘of one substance’). On the whole in mature years he held that the title ‘Son’ was sufficient to secure the Trinity of Persons. ‘By the name Father we confute Arius, by the name of Son we overthrow Sabellius’ (p. 434; cf. p. 413); and we find that the council in its revision of the Cæsarean creed shifted υἱ& 231·ς to the principal position where it took the place of λόγος. Beyond this the Creed imposed no additional test in that direction (the ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας is important but not decisive in this respect). This was felt as an objection to the Creed, and the objection was pointed by the influence of Marcellus at the council. The historical position of Marcellus is in fact, as we shall see, the principal key to the ‘conservative’ reaction which followed. The insertion into the conservative creeds of a clause asserting the endlessness of Christ’s Kingdom, which eventually received ecumenical authority, was an expression of this feeling. But a final explanation between the Nicene doctrine and Monarchianism could not come about until the idea of Personality had been tested in the light of the appearance of the Son in the Flesh. The solution, or rather definition, of the problem is to be sought in the history of the Christological questions which began with Apollinarius of Laodicea.
The above account of the anti-Arian test formulated at Nicæa will suffice to explain the motives for its adoption, the difficulties which made that adoption reluctant, and the fact of the reaction which followed. One thing is clear, namely that given the actual conditions, nothing short of the test adopted would have availed to exclude the Arian doctrine. It is also I think clear, that not only was the current theology of the Eastern Church unable to cope with Arianism, but that it was itself a danger to the Church and in need of the corrective check of the Nicene definition. Hellenic as was the system of Origen, it was in its spirit Christian, and saturated with the influence of Scripture. It could never have taken its place as the expression of the whole mind of the Church; but it remains as the noblest monument of a Christian intellect resolutely in love with truth for its own sake, and bent upon claiming for Christ the whole range of the legitimate activity of the human spirit. But the age had inherited only the wreck of Origenism, and its partial victory in the Church had brought confusion in its train, the leaders of the Church were characterised by secular knowledge rather than grasp of first principles, by dogmatic intellectualism rather than central apprehension of God in Christ. Eusebius of Cæsarea is their typical representative. The Nicene definition and the work of Athanasius which followed were a summons back to the simple first principles of the Gospel and the Rule of Faith. What then is their value to ourselves? Above all, this, that they have preserved to us what Arianism would have destroyed, that assurance of Knowledge of, and Reconciliation to, God in Christ of which the divinity of the Saviour is the indispensable condition; if we are now Christians in the sense of S. Paul we owe it under God to the work of the great synod. Not that the synod explained all; or did more than effectually ‘block off false forms of thought or avenues of unbalanced inference’ which ‘challenged the acceptance of Christian people.’ The decisions of councils are ‘primarily not the Church saying “yes” to fresh truths or developments or forms of consciousness; but rather saying “no” to untrue and misleading modes of shaping and stating her truth,’ (Lux Mundi, ed. i. p. 240, cf. p. 334). It is objected that the Nicene Formula, especially as understood by Athanasius, is itself a ‘false form of thought,’ a flat contradiction in terms. That the latter is true we do not dispute (see Newman’s notes infra, p. 336, note 1, &c.). But before pronouncing the form of thought for that reason a false one, we must consider what the ‘terms’ are, and to what they are applied. To myself it appears that a religion which brought the divine existence into the compass of the categories of any philosophy would by that very fact forfeit its claim to the character of revelation. The categories of human thought are the outcome of organised experience of a sensible world, and beyond the limits of that world they fail us. This is true quite apart from revelation. The ideas of essence and substance, personality and will, separateness and continuity, cause and effect, unity and plurality, are all in different degrees helps which the mind uses in order to arrange its knowledge, and valid within the range of experience, but which become a danger when invested with absolute validity as things in themselves. Even the mathematician reaches real results by operating with terms which contain a perfect contradiction (e.g. ·, and to some extent the ‘calculus of operations’). The idea of Will in man, of Personality in God, present difficulties which reason cannot reconcile.
The revelation of Christ is addressed primarily to the will not to the intellect, its appeal is to Faith not to Theology. Theology is the endeavour of the Christian intellect to frame for itself conceptions of matters belonging to the immediate consequences of our faith, matters about which we must believe something, but as to which the Lord and His Apostles have delivered nothing formally explicit. Theology has no doubt its certainties beyond the express teaching of our Lord and the New Testament writers; but its work is subject to more than the usual limitations of human thought: we deal with things outside the range of experience, with celestial things; but ‘we have no celestial language.’ To abandon all theology would be to acquiesce in a dumb faith: we are to teach, to explain, to defend; the λόγος σοφίας and λόγος γνώσεως have from the first been gifts of the Spirit for the building up of the Body. But we know in part and prophesy in part, and our terms begin to fail us just in the region where the problem of guarding the faith of the simple ends and the inevitable metaphysic, into which all pure reflexion merges, begins. Εἴτε οὖν φιλοσοφητέον εἴτε μὴ φιλοσοφητέον, φιλοσοφητέον, ‘man is metaphysical nolens volens:’ only let us recollect that when we find ourselves in the region of antinomies we are crossing the frontier line between revelation and speculation, between the domain of theology and that of ontology. That this line is approached in the definition of the great council no one will deny. But it was reached by the council and by the subsequent consent of the Church reluctantly and under compulsion. The bold assumption that we can argue from the revelation of God in Christ to mysteries beyond our experience was made by the Gnostics, by Arius: the Church met them by a denial of what struck at the root of her belief, not by the claim to erect formulæ applied merely for the lack of better into a revealed ontology. In the terms Person, Hypostasis, Will, Essence, Nature, Generation, Procession, we have the embodiment of ideas extracted from experience, and, as applied to God, representing merely the best attempt we can make to explain what we mean when we speak of God as Father and of Christ as His Son. Even these last sacred names convey their full meaning to us only in view of the historical person of Christ and of our relation to God through Him. That this meaning is based upon an absolute relation of Christ to the Father is the rock of our faith. That relation is mirrored in the name Son of God: but what it is in itself, when the empirical connotations of Sonship are stripped away, we cannot possibly know. ‘Ομοούσιος τῷ Πατρί, ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας τοῦ Πατρός’ these words assert at once our faith that such relation exists and our ignorance of its nature. To the simplicity of faith it is enough to know (and this knowledge is what our formula secures) that in Christ we have not only the perfect Example of Human Love to God, but the direct expression and assurance of the Father’s Love to us.
‘The victory of Nicæa was rather a surprise than a solid conquest. As it was not the spontaneous and deliberate purpose of the bishops present, but a revolution which a minority had forced through by sheer strength of clearer Christian thought, a reaction was inevitable as soon as the half-convinced conservatives returned home’ (Gwatkin). The reaction, however, was not for a long time overtly doctrinal. The defeat, the moral humiliation of Arianism at the council was too signal, the prestige of the council itself too overpowering, the Emperor too resolute in supporting its definition, to permit of this. Not till after the death of Constantine in 337 does the policy become manifest of raising alternative symbols to a coordinate rank with that of Nicæa; not till six years after the establishment of Constantius as sole Emperor,—i.e. not till 357,—did Arianism once again set its mouth to the trumpet. During the reign of Constantine the reaction, though doctrinal in its motive, was personal in its ostensible grounds. The leaders of the victorious minority at Nicæa are one by one attacked on this or that pretence and removed from their Sees, till at the time of Constantine’s death the East is in the hands of their opponents. What were the forces at work which made this possible?
(1) Persecuted Arians. Foremost of all,
the harsh measures adopted by Constantine with at least the tacit
approval of the Nicene leaders furnished material for reaction. Arius
and his principal friends were sent into exile, and as we have seen
they went in bitterness of spirit. Arius himself was banished to
Illyricum, and would seem to have remained there five or six years.
(The chronology of his recall is obscure, but see D.C.B. ii. 364, and
Gwatkin, p. 86, note 2). It would be antecedently very unlikely that a
religious exile would spare exertions to gain sympathy for himself and
converts to his opinions. As a matter of fact, Arianism had no more
active supporters during the next half-century than two bishops of the
neighbouring province of Pannonia, Valens of
Mursa (Mitrowitz), and Ursacius35
(2) The Eusebians and the Court. Until the council of Sardica (i.e. a short time after the death of Eusebius of Nicomedia), the motive power of the reaction proceeded from the environment of Eusebius, οἱ περὶ Εὐσέβιον. It should be observed once for all that the term ‘Eusebians’ is the later and inexact equivalent of the last named Greek phrase, which (excepting perhaps p. 436) has reference to Eusebius of Nicomedia only, and not to his namesake of Cæsarea. The latter, no doubt, lent his support to the action of the party, but ought not to suffer in our estimation from the misfortune of his name. Again, the ‘Eusebians’ are not a heresy, nor a theological party or school; they are the ‘ring,’ or personal entourage, of one man, a master of intrigue, who succeeded in combining a very large number of men of very different opinions in more or less close association for common ecclesiastical action. The ‘Eusebians’ sensu latiori are the majority of Asiatic bishops who were in reaction against the council and its leaders; in the stricter sense the term denotes the pure Arians like Eusebius, Theognis, and the rest, and those ‘political Arians’ who without settled adherence to Arian principles, were, for all practical purposes, hand in glove with Eusebius and his fellows. To the former class emphatically belong Valens and Ursacius, whose recantation in 347 is the solitary and insufficient foundation for the sweeping generalisation of Socrates (ii. 37), that they ‘always inclined to the party in power,’ and George, the presbyter of Alexandria, afterwards bishop of the Syrian Laodicea, who, although he went through a phase of ‘conservatism,’ 357–359, began and ended (Gwatkin, pp. 181–183) as an Arian, pure and simple. Among ‘political Arians’ of this period Eusebius of Cæsarea is the chief. He was not, as we have said above, an Arian theologically, yet whatever allowances may be made for his conduct during this period (D.C.B., ii. 315, 316) it tended all in one direction. But on the whole, political Arianism is more abundantly exemplified in the Homœans of the next generation, whose activity begins about the time of the death of Constans. The Eusebians proper were political indeed εἴ τινες καὶ ἄλλοι, but their essential Arianism is the one element of principle about them36
The atmosphere of a court is seldom favourable to a high standard of moral or religious principle; and the place-hunters and hangers-on of the imperial courts of these days were an exceptionally worthless crew (see Gwatkin, p. 60, 100, 234). It is a tribute to the Nicene cause that their influence was steadily on the other side, and to the character of Constantine that he was able throughout the greater part of the period to resist it, at any rate as far as Athanasius was concerned. But on the whole the court was the centre whence the webs of Eusebian intrigue extended to Egypt, Antioch, and many other obscurer centres of attack.
The influences outside the Church were less directly operative in the campaign, but such as they were they served the Eusebian plans. The expulsion of a powerful bishop from the midst of a loyal flock was greatly assisted by the co-operation of a friendly mob; and Jews (pp. 94, 296), and heathen alike were willing to aid the Arian cause. The army, the civil service, education, the life of society were still largely heathen; the inevitable influx of heathen into the Church, now that the empire had become Christian, brought with it multitudes to whom Arianism was a more intelligible creed than that of Nicæa; the influence of the philosophers was a serious factor, they might well welcome Arianism as a ‘Selbstersetzung des Christentums.’ This is not inconsistent with the instances of persecution of heathenism by Arian bishops, and of savage heathen reprisals, associated with the names of George of Alexandria, Patrophilus, Mark of Arethusa, and others. (For a fuller discussion, with references, see Gwatkin, pp. 53–59.)
(3.) The Ecclesiastical Conservatives. Something has already been said in more than one connection to explain how it came to pass that the very provinces whose bishops made up the large numerical majority at Nicæa, also furnished the numbers which swelled the ranks of the Eusebians at Tyre, Antioch, and Philippopolis. The actual men were, of course, in many cases37
It follows from what has been said of the influence of Origen in moulding the current theology of the Eastern Church, that the one theological principle which was most vividly and generally grasped was the horror of Monarchian and especially of ‘Sabellian’ teaching. Now in replying to Asterius the spokesman of early Arianism, no less a person than Marcellus, bishop of Ancyra (Angora) in Galatia, and one of the principal leaders of Nicæa, had laid himself open to this charge. It was brought with zeal and learning (in 336) in two successive works by Eusebius of Cæsarea, which, with Ath., Orat. iv. are our principal source of information as to the tenets of Marcellus (see D.C.B. ii. 341, sq., Zahn Marcellus 99 sqq., fragments collected by Rettberg Marcelliana). On the other hand he was uniformly supported by the Nicene party, and especially by Athanasius and the Roman Church. His book was examined at Sardica, and on somewhat ex parte grounds (p. 125) pronounced innocent: a personal estrangement from Athanasius shortly after (Hilar. Fragm. ii. 21, 23) on account of certain ‘ambiguæ prædicationes eius, in quam Photinus erupit, doctrinæ,’ did not amount to a formal breach of communion (he is mentioned 14 years later as an exiled Nicene bishop, pp. 256, 271), nor did the anxious questioning of Epiphanius (see Hær. 72. 4.) succeed in extracting from the then aged Athanasius more than a significant smile. He refuses to condemn him, and in arguing against opinions which appear to be his, he refrains from mentioning the name even of Photinus40
What strikes one throughout the scheme is the intense difficulty caused to Marcellus by the unsolved problem which underlies the whole theology of the Nicene leaders, the problem of personality. The Manhood of Christ was to Marcellus per se non-personal. The seat of its personality was the indwelling Logos. But in what sense was the Logos itself personal? Here Marcellus loses his footing: in what sense can any idea of personality attach to a merely potential existence? Again, if it was only in the ἐνέργεια δραστικὴ that the personality of the Word was realised, and this only reached its fulness in the Incarnation of Christ, was the transition difficult to the plain assertion that the personality of the Son, or of the Word, originated with the Incarnation? But if this were not so, and if the Person of the Word was to recede at the consummation of all things into the Unity of the Godhead, what was to become of the Nature He had assumed? That it too could merge into a potential existence within the Godhead was of course impossible; what then was its destiny? The answer of Marcellus was simple: he did not know (Zahn, 179); for Scripture taught nothing beyond 1 Cor. xv. 28.
We now perceive the subtle difference between Marcellus and Athanasius. Neither of them could formulate the idea of Personality in the Holy Trinity. But Athanasius, apparently on the basis of a more thorough intelligence of Scripture (for Marcellus, though a devout, was a partial and somewhat ignorant biblical theologian), felt what Marcellus did not, the steady inherent personal distinctness of the Father and the Son. Accordingly, while Athanasius laid down and adhered to the doctrine of eternal γέννησις, Marcellus involved himself in the mystical and confused idea of a divine πλατυσμὸς and συστολή. Moreover, while Athanasius was clearsighted in his apprehension of the problem of the day, Marcellus was after all merely conservative: he went behind the conservatism of the Origenists,—behind even that of the West, where Tertullian had left a sharper sense of personal distinction in the Godhead,—to an archaic conservatism akin to the ‘naive modalism’ of the early Church; upon this he engrafted reflexion, in part that of the old Asiatic theology, in part his own. As the result, his faith was such as Athanasius could not but recognise as sincere; but in his attempt to give it theological expression he split upon the rocks of Personality, of Eschatology, of the divine immutability. His theology was an honest and interesting but mistaken attempt to grapple with a problem before he understood another which lay at its base. In doing so he exposed himself justly to attack; but we may with Athanasius, while acknowledging this, retain a kindly sympathy for this veteran ally of many confessors and sturdy opponent of the alliance between science and theology.
The feeling against Marcellus might have been less strong, at any rate it would have had less show of reason, but for the fact that he was the teacher of Photinus. This person became bishop of Sirmium between 330 and 340, gave great offence by his teaching, and was deposed by the Arian party ineffectually in 347, finally in 351. After his expulsion he occupied himself with writing books in Greek and in Latin, including a work ‘against all heresies,’ in which he expounded his own (Socr. ii. 30). None of his works have survived, and our information is very scanty (Zahn, Marc. 189–196 is the best account), but he seems to have solved the central difficulty of Marcellus by placing the seat of the Personality of Christ in His Human Soul. How much of the system of his master he retained is uncertain, but the result was in substance pure Unitarianism. It is instructive to observe that even Photinus was passively supported for a time by the Nicenes. He was apparently (Hil. Fr. ii. 19, sqq.) condemned at a council at Milan in 345, but not at Rome till 380. Athanasius (pp. 444–447) abstains from mentioning his name although he refutes his opinions; once only he mentions him as a heretic, and with apparent reluctance (c. Apoll. ii. 19, τοῦ λεγομένου φωτεινοῦ). The first41