Analysis and History of Arianism

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Analysis and History of Arianism

First among the doctrinal disputes which troubled Christians after Constantine

had recognized the Church in A.D. 313, and the parent of many more during some

three centuries, Arianism occupies a large place in ecclesiastical history. It

is not a modern form of unbelief, and therefore will appear strange in modern

eyes. But we shall better grasp its meaning if we term it an Eastern attempt to

rationalize the creed by stripping it of mystery so far as the relation of

Christ to God was concerned. In the New Testament and in Church teaching Jesus

of Nazareth appears as the Son of God. This name He took to Himself (Matt., xi,

27; John, x, 36), while the Fourth Gospel declares Him to be the Word (Logos),

Who in the beginning was with God and was God, by Whom all things were made. A

similar doctrine is laid down by St. Paul, in his undoubtedly genuine Epistles

to the Ephesians, Colossians, and Philippians. It is reiterated in the Letters

of Ignatius, and accounts for Pliny's observation that Christians in their

assemblies chanted a hymn to Christ as God. But the question how the Son was

related to the Father (Himself acknowledged on all hands to be the one Supreme

Deity), gave rise, between the years A. D. 60 and 200, to number of Theosophic

systems, called generally Gnosticism, and having for their authors Basilides,

Valentinus, Tatian, and other Greek speculators. Though all of these visited

Rome, they had no following in the West, which remained free from controversies

of an abstract nature, and was faithful to the creed of its baptism.

Intellectual centers were chiefly Alexandria and Antioch, Egyptian or Syrian,

and speculation was carried on in Greek. The Roman Church held steadfastly by

tradition. Under these circumstances, when Gnostic schools had passed away with

their "conjugations" of Divine powers, and "emanations" from the Supreme

unknowable God (the "Deep" and the "Silence") all speculation was thrown into

the form of an inquiry touching the "likeness" of the Son to His Father and

"sameness" of His Essence. Catholics had always maintained that Christ was truly

the Son, and truly God. They worshipped Him with divine honors; they would never

consent to separate Him, in idea or reality, from the Father, Whose Word, Reason,

Mind, He was, and in Whose Heart He abode from eternity. But the technical terms

of doctrine were not fully defined; and even in Greek words like essence (ousia),

substance (hypostasis), nature (physics), person (hyposopon) bore a variety of

meanings drawn from the pre-Christian sects of philosophers, which could not but

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