Academic Papers,  Catholic Theology,  History

Arianism and the Trinitarian Doctrine

Arius is known for the heresy called Arianism. He taught a belief that was contradictory to the Church teachings and beliefs, which ultimately led to Emperor Constantine calling the first ecumenical council, the Council of Nicaea, and a creed being formed to put an end to the controversy.


Arius was born in 250. Arias had different views than the Church on the divinity of Christ, which brought him into discord with the Church. The first time he came in discord with the Church was in 311 when he supported Meletius. Meletius did not agree with allowing those who denied the faith under the fear of Roman torture back into the Church and Arius agreed with him.1 After many disputes with Arius the Bishop of Alexandria, Peter tried to reconcile with Arius, and when that failed, he excommunicated Arius from the Church.2 After two years, in 313, Peter’s successor Archillas brought him back into the Church and made him a Presbyter. By becoming a Presbyter, he had permission to expound on the scriptures and to preach.
It is around this time that Arius started to teach that Christ was not divine but actually human, and had been called into existence from nothing; therefore, having a beginning Jesus could not be part of the Godhead. In addition, if Jesus did not exist before his birth then he could not be of the same substance as the Father.3 In addition, if Jesus did not exist before his birth, then he could not know the Father, as the Father knew him. In a letter to Eusebius of Nicomedia, Arius states, “that the Son is no part of the Ingenerate”4. He also believed that the Son was unlike the Father, because the Father was unoriginated, and the Son had an origin.5 Arius also teached that all men were sons of God, and that God having foreseen that Jesus would not rebel against him, chose him to be the savior of humanity. That even Paul and Peter would not be different from Jesus should they had chosen to be careful of their manners and their practice, by which could not be turned to evil.6 This by itself is contradictory to the teachings of the Church, for in John’s Gospel, it states “The only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father.”(John 1:18). Also in the beginning of the John’s Gospel does John clearly state that Jesus, who was the Word, was there at the beginning of creation, for “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God [and] all things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made.”(John 1:1-3). So to say, that the Father made the Son or that he had a beginning was wrong.


Arius was able to bring many people over to his way of belief, due to his ability to put his doctrine into poems and songs that were easy to remember. In 318, a quarrel broke out between Arias and the Bishop of Alexandria, Alexander, over the fundamental truth of Jesus Christ divinity and substance.7 Nevertheless, by this time, Arius’ teachings had spread beyond Alexander’s See. Moreover, in 321, Arius was condemned and excommunicated in Alexandria by a synod of almost one hundred Egyptian and Libyan bishops. Arius then fled to Palestine where he stayed with Eusebius of Nicomedia. While he was there, he wrote a defense of his beliefs called “Thalia”, and many songs for sailors, millers, and travelers in which was his doctrine was a part of it.8


However, Arius’ exile to Palestine did nothing to tamper the spread of his doctrine, nor the fights and arguments that went with it. While the debates over the divinity of Christ stayed mainly in the Eastern part of Rome, Constantine wanted to restore ecclesiastical order to the Church, and so, in 325, Constantine called a council comprised of Bishops from all over the Empire. The Council of about 318 Fathers of the Church met in Nicaea to determine whether Arius’ teachings were true or were they wrong, and if so, how to go about putting down the Heresy. At the Council, many bishops originally supported Arius, but after hearing some of Arius’ writings, many changed their minds and sided with Alexander’s group. At the council, Arius had a creed drawn up that showed every form of honor and respect to Jesus, except for the acknowledgement of his divinity. St. Ambrose was quoted as saying “Heresy had furnished from its own scabbard a weapon to cut off its head”9. The council denied the creed offered by Arius and his group, but needing something that would sum up what the Bible taught about Jesus and his divinity, and his relationship to the Father, used the formula that Arius used in his creed to make one of their own. This creed summed up the basics of the Catholic Faith. The creed was largely accepted at the council, except for thirteen, who at first refused to accept that Jesus was consubstantial with the Father, but over time, all but two gave way.10 All that refused to accept the creed were exiled to Illyria.11


However, having an established creed and exiling many of Arius followers did not stop the disputes that were happening in the Eastern portion of Rome, at the worst if may even may have made it worse by the Emperor forcing the creed to be followed at the risk of exile if one did not support it, and followed it. It was during this time that Arianism entered into the political power, and influenced many people in high positions of power, even possibly the Emperor’s Sister, Constantia. Constantia as she laid dying, asked Constantine to show leniency to Arius, who she believed to be an injured man. At one point, the Emperor commanded the Bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius, to receive Arius back into the fold, but Athanasius refused, because Arius had not repented of the heresy that he preached. However, in 325 Arius was absolved by two different councils, the Council of Tyre, and the Council of Jerusalem, and at the Council of Jerusalem, it decided to exile Athanasius for charges of false and shameful misconduct. Although, after Constantine died, his son Constantine II wrote it was for the protection of Athanasius and that Constantine had planned to return him to his See.12 Now that Arius was free to teach and had been received back into the Church in name, returned to Alexandria and sought to receive Holy Communion, however, he was not able to. Therefore, Arius traveled to the Capital of Rome and sought an audience with Constantine. There he made the profession of Faith that had been established at the Council of Nicaea;13 and, in 336, Constantine ordered Alexander of the Imperial City to give Arius Holy Communion. However, on the eve before he was to receive Holy Communion, Arius died from a sudden disorder.14


The heresy Arianism did not die with Arius. The Constantine now favored Arians, and when he was finally baptized a follower of Arius baptized him.15 Emperor Constantine died about one year after Arius16 leaving an empire that was torn by dissension to his sons. On June 17 337, Constantine II wrote to the members of the Alexandria community that Athanasius would be returning to his See.17 However, for the rest of his life, Athanasius would be exiled five different times, of which equaled to about twenty years spent in exile. Athanasius continued to defend the Trinitarian Faith, and was even given the motto: “Athanasius contra mundum” meaning “Athanasius against the world.” Moreover, it was very fitting of a motto, because there were times where he was the only one that defended the Divinity of Christ.
It took about an hundred years to defeat Arianism, yet without Arius false teachings on the divinity of Our Lord, we may not have the Nicaea Creed, that is used as a Profession of Faith every day at Mass, and without this Profession of Faith, many today may not know the basics of the Faith that the Church teaches. In addition, with Athanasius help, the Trinitarian Doctrine was developed and Arianism crushed.


Arius (B. Ca. 250 A.D – D. 336 A.D.). n.d. (accessed July 1, 2015).

Britannica, The Editors of Encycopaedia. Arianism. n.d. (accessed July 1, 2015).

Constantinople, Alexander of. Epistles on the Arian Heresy and the Deposition of Arius. Kessinger Publishing, 2010.
Knight, Kevin. Arianism. 2012. (accessed July 1, 2015).

—. Arius. 2012. (accessed July 1, 2015).

The Council of Tyre and the First Exile of Athanasius 335-337. n.d. (accessed July 1, 2015).

Vasilief, Al. A History of the Byantine Empire. n.d.

Frances Lejeune is a student at Catholic Distance University and is a Theology Major. She is expected to receive her Associates June of 2019. She also writes about day to day life about living with depression, anxiety and loss.

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