The defeat or the Arians

The seeming victory of Arianism, due as it had been to the Emperor Constantius, was illusory. However, the reversal of the tide did not come quickly. In 361 death removed Constantius. As we have seen, his successor, Julian, sought to restore paganism and was, accordingly, not averse to the weakening discord in the Church. Athanasius was able to return to Alexandria, but within the year Julian ordered him again into exile, his fourth, for his success in winning pagans to the Christian faith. On Julian's early death (363), Jovian, a Christian, was elevated to the purple, but was little interested in ecclesiastical disputes. Athanasius once more returned to Alexandria. Jovian was followed by Valentinian I, who soon made his brother Valens his colleague and put him in charge of the East. Valens was under the influence of the Arian clergy, for they were strongly intrenched in Constantinople, and Athanasius for the fifth time was exiled. Yet Valens was not as vigorous a supporter of the Arians as Constantius had been.

The Arians were weakened by internal divisions. Some took an extreme position. They would not say that the Son is like (homois) the Father, but frankly declared that he was unlike (anomoios) the Father, that he was fallible and might sin. They were known as the anomoians. In the middle were those who used the term homois and could be called the homoians. On the other extreme were those who approached the Nicene views and who eventually made common cause with the Nicene party. They have been called semi-Arians, but this probably is not accurate. They were reluctant to say that the Son is homoousion with the Father, apparently because they felt that this term meant Sabellianism, with the loss of individuality of the Son and, therefore, the unreality of the incarnation and, accordingly, the failure to realize the wonder of the Gospel in making it possible for men to share in the nature of God without themselves being absorbed into God and losing their individual identity. They were, however, prepared to say that the Son was ho-moiousion, namely, of similar "substance" with the Father. These differences among the Arians had begun to appear before the death of Constantius. As we have seen, it was the middle of the road group, the homoians, who won out under him and who in synods controlled by them anathematized both the anomoians and the homoiousians. These differences continued and deepened.

In their views the adherents of the Nicene formula began to approach the "semi-Arians," or, better, homoiousians. At a council or synod held by Athanasius in Alexandria in 362, in an effort to win over the Meletians, who were numerous in Egypt and who were apparently homoiousians, a way to reciprocal understanding was sought, so we gather from a synodical letter which grew out of the gathering, by declaring that it is correct to hold that in God there is only one ousia, but that there the three hypostases. Hypostasis (urcooTaoi^) was a term found in both Platonic and Stoic philosophy and could be used as an alternative word for ousia. The Synod of Alexandria, indeed, seems to have regarded the two as interchangeable. However, in the development of the thought of the Nicene party, ousia came to be regarded as the equivalent of the Latin substantia ("substance") and hypostasis as translatable into Latin by persona ("person"). At Alexandria, it will be noted, the question of the Holy Spirit became more prominent than at Nicsa. At Alexandria it was made clear that the approved belief was that the Holy Spirit is not a creature, but is inseparable from the Father and the Son.

The formulation of the position that clearly distinguished between ousia and hypostasis and said that in God there is only one ousia, in which Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share, but that there are three hypostases, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, was largely the work of what are often called the three great Cappadocians, Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil of Cssarea, and Gregory of Nyssa. It was they who led the way in so interpreting the Nicene Symbol that it won the support of the large majority of the Eastern bishops, including many of those who had been classed with the Arians. They represented what might be called right-wing Origenism, that stream of thought which had been reinforced by Origen and which held that the Logos has always been equal with the Father.

All three men were natives of Cappadocia, in what later was known as Asia Minor, immediately to the west of Armenia. All three have continued to be held in the highest esteem by those Eastern churches which bear the name Orthodox. Their dates of birth are somewhat uncertain, but all appear to have been born soon after the Council of Nicsa. They were younger contemporaries of Athanasius.

Gregory of Nazianzus was the son of a bishop. He studied in several centres, among them Alexandria and Athens, and so was familiar with Greek philosophy and the thought of Origen. The latter made a profound impression upon him. He was also much attracted by the monastic movement which, as we are to see in a subsequent chapter, was then in the first flush of its devotion and was making a strong appeal to the more earnest among the Christian youth. Late youth and early middle life were spent in comparative obscurity, but when he was not far from fifty he became a preacher in Constantinople and there by his conviction and eloquence did much to bring about the discomfiture of the Arians. Made Bishop of Constantinople not long thereafter, he held the post only a short time. Distressed by the criticism aroused by his promotion, he resigned and retired to the land of his birth.

Basil of Cssarea, sometimes called the Great, and Gregory of Nyssa were brothers, the latter somewhat the younger. They were scions of a prominent family. A younger brother was also a bishop, an older brother a distinguished Christian jurist, and a sister was noted for her saintly life. Basil had an eager mind and was a fellow student in Athens with Gregory of Nazianzus. Like the latter, he was deeply influenced by Origen. The two joined in compiling a selection from Origen's writings. He was also strongly drawn to monasticism, for a time lived as a monk, and the rules for that life which are ascribed to him still constitute the basic guide for the monastic communities of the (Eastern) Ortho dox Church. Not until middle life, however, was he ordained a priest. Naturally a leader and an eloquent preacher, he was made bishop of the important see of Cssarea in Cappa-docia and as such, imperious and vigorous, he did much to rout the Arians. He wrote extensively and improved the liturgy of his church.

Gregory, who was ordained by Basil as Bishop of Nyssa, a small town near Cssarea, was not as able an administrator as his brother nor as eloquent a preacher as Gregory of Nazianzus, but he was a prolific writer and, like them stimulated by Origen, was a greater theologian than either.

Through long friendship and discussion the three Cappadocians worked out an interpretation of the Nicene formula which removed the doubts of many who had thus far questioned it. They were loyal to the wording of that formula, including ousia and homo-ousion, the words which were such a stumbling block to the Arians and which were regarded by the latter as smacking of Sabellianism, that is, as we may remind ourselves again, making Father, Son, and Holy Spirit modes or aspects of God. As we have suggested, they overcame this difficulty by saying that in God there is only one ousia, but that there are three hypostases. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They held that there are not three Gods, but only one, and that the one is to be found equally and identically in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For these three the Cappadocians preferred the term hypostasis, although they also gave as an alternative term prosopon (npooronov).

The difficulty with the Cappadocian effort was that it tended to make God a somewhat vague, colourless abstraction. To one trained in the Platonic philosophy this might not seem alien or untenable, for Platonism held that ideas or forms are real. The generalized term "man," to use an example given by Gregory of Nyssa, has reality. Peter, James, and John seem to be three separate men, but they partake of a common humanity, a single ousia, "man." For one not schooled in Platonism, this conception of God might place an obstacle to that love of God which is both the primary obligation and high privilege of men. The Cappadocians did not entirely overcome the difficulty of finding words to compass the facts of Christian experience.

Although the Cappadocians did not fully succeed in making clear in language what Christians believed to be basic to their faith, they prepared the way for the final defeat of the Arians and the triumph in the Catholic Church of what was associated with the name of Nicsa. In the year 380 the Emperor Theodosius issued an edict on ecclesiastical affairs. Born in Spain and reared by parents who were attached to the orthodoxy of the West, he was anti-Arian by heredity and conviction. He ordered that all his subjects follow the faith which "Peter delivered to the Romans," "the deity of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit of equal majesty in a Holy Trinity." Congregations of those who varied from this faith were not to be recognized as churches and were to be prohibited. The following year, at his call, a council convened at Constantinople which confirmed the Ni-cene formula and anathematized those who would not accept it, naming specifically, among others, the anomoians, the Arians, and the semi-Arians.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Enneagram Essentials

Enneagram Essentials

Tap into your inner power today. Discover The Untold Secrets Used By Experts To Tap Into The Power Of Your Inner Personality Help You Unleash Your Full Potential. Finally You Can Fully Equip Yourself With These “Must Have” Personality Finding Tools For Creating Your Ideal Lifestyle.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment