Nicaea 325

One of the earliest well-known theologians in our period was Arius (256-336), born in Libya, educated in Antioch under the martyr Lucian and adjudged an archheretic at Nicaea. He had been a deacon, then a priest serving at the Baucalis Church in Alexandria. In Alexandria, priests had the unusual distinction of selecting the bishop of the city (elsewhere, this role was reserved for other bishops), so Arius was in a very prominent position. As an interesting theologian, an influential preacher and a composer of songs he caused quite a stir. Philostorgius, a church historian sympathetic to Arius, said that the lyrics were written 'for the sea, for the mill, for the road and then set to music'.6 Some of this poetry is partly included in his Thalia. He not only argued biblically and philosophically for his cause but also brilliantly contextualised his theology for the masses.

His view that the Son of God was a secondary divinity, not of the same nature as the Father, was persuasive to some. According to him, the Son did not exist before time. That left the monotheism of his Christianity intact; only the one high God, the Father, ruled. He developed an earlier theological tendency of subordinating the Son to the Father. While his project may have seemed new in the fourth-century philosophical setting, it appealed to some skilled rationalists as well as some simpler folk. Whatever salvation was, for these people it did not demand that Jesus Christ's divinity be of the same essence as that of the Father. Arianism grew in Alexandria among a number of Christians. Priests elsewhere in the empire agreed with Arius.7

After Alexander (d. 328), bishop of Alexandria when Arius'teaching emerged, had held a synod in the city during 318 in which one hundred Egyptian bishops condemned those views and withdrew Arius' ordination and that of his ordained followers in Egypt, Arius paid little attention to the decision; he appealed to friends in the eastern Mediterranean who had been students of Lucian in Antioch. Eusebius of Nicomedia (d. 342), one of those friends, supported Arius fully. The problems that arose from Arius' teachings were such that Constantine decided to intervene. He did so by calling for an assembly at Nicaea in 325 to resolve the disputes. With Nicaea, Constantine enlarged the conception of church councils to represent unifying decisions for all Christians in the empire. He supplied postal wagons to transport bishops to Nicaea, as well as food and lodging during their trips. While they were in the city he took care of their needs and provided a large building for their sessions.

6 A. Martin, Athanase d'Alexandrie, 189-91; Philostorgius, H. E. 2.2.

7 R. Williams, Arius: Heresy and tradition, esp. 95-178.

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