Heresy: The Western Church Battles Arius Over the Dualism of Christ

ArianHereticB

Christology is a field of study which has produced many opinions, rationales, and debates regarding how the Christian should interpret and view the very person and nature of Jesus Christ regarding the human and divine nature present within Him at the same time.[1] It has not always been the case that followers of Christ have viewed Jesus in a dualistic sense, such as Arius, who suggested that Christ is less than God instead of being equal in nature.[2] Aside from this, there was clearly a theology beginning to take shape involving a Trinity consisting of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Western Church would hold councils and develop creeds to combat what they viewed as “heresy” stemming from Arius and his followers as well as provide proper doctrine for the church and Christians in the West. In this blog, I will show that the dualistic nature of Jesus Christ prompted a conflict between Arians and the Western Church that played out in the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople leading to the development of creeds and rebuke of heresies which is important because the Western Church needed proper definitions regarding dualism as they led into developing theology regarding the Trinity.

“There was a time when he was not,” Arius boasted in regards to Christ. According to Arius and followers of a growing movement in the 4th century CE, Jesus Christ was both created and subordinate to the Father[3] going as far as to take the stance that Christ could not fully know the Father and was potentially subject to sin like the rest of humanity.[4] What this means in the simplest of terms is that despite Christ being both human and divine, He is not equal to the Father and is a “demigod” (neither fully god or fully human). In all of this, it can be seen clearly that there is no room for Christ to be equal to God in any way. God became the only one capable of being uncreated and eternal in nature[5] in the theology of Arianism and there was no way possible for Christ to be both fully human and fully God.

For the Western Church (in all of its infancy), this “heresy” could not stand. Emperor Constantine (intending to unify the Roman Empire) convened the first ecumenical council in the history of the Western Church in 325 CE in Nicea.[6] With only six bishops out of the 318 present at the Council of Nicea being from the West, the council took place in an effort to rebuke, correct, and speak against Arianism in such a way that would affirm the dualistic nature of Jesus Christ.[7] In this, unity seemingly became a dualistic term in itself. That is, while Constantine sought unity in his empire, the Church sought unity within itself making two full and clear goals of equal importance between Constantine and the Church itself.

The Council of Nicea led to the development of what is known as the Nicean Creed on June 19, 325.[8] This creed was a rebuke of Arianism through phrases such as Christ being “begotten, not made.” and “of one essence with the father.” as well as the vague reference to the Holy Spirit.[9] The original full text went as far as to quote the popular statements of Arianism and then made clear that the Church itself anathematized (condemned) them.[10] The creed seemed to be the final word and the final judgment against Arianism. Surely if an ecumenical council can come together and make a decision on an issue, everyone would be in agreement with their creed.

That would be in an ideal world of course as the truth is something far different. Arianism was still the dominant theology until 381 with some councils held since the time of Nicea going as far as to adopt Arian creeds. In 381, Emperor Theodosius oversaw the Council of Constantinople[11] which lacked representatives from the West[12], but had an effect on Arianism and the Western Church as well. It was in this council that the Nicean Creed was confirmed as the Eucharistic creed of the western Church while it became the sole baptismal confession in the East while it elaborated on the Son and expounded upon the Spirit. The creed from Constantinople used the same language in regards to the Spirit as it did regarding the Son by saying the Spirit “from the Father”.[13]  In this instance, the Western Church and the Eastern Church both took a stand against “heresy” and it allowed the Western Church to take a more firm and solid adoption of the Nicean Creed. The Arian controversy had been dealt a large blow, but Arius should be thanked. It bears recognizing that because of Arius, the dualistic nature of Christ within His “hypostatic union”[14] was both clearly defined and developed in greater detail as a result of his opposing beliefs.

These two councils are both important for the Western Church in its infancy. For one, they developed a better grasp of unity within their Church and their doctrinal beliefs. The other important factor is that they both allowed a foundation for an understanding of the Holy Trinity. In retrospect, historians may look from this side of history and see Trinitarian language present in both creeds presented, but I take the stand that these were merely the beginnings in that development. These beginnings were both welcomed and necessary for the Western Church’s growth and teaching of scripture as well as their understanding of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I will go as far as to argue that the Trinity is the most important teaching in the history of the Western Church and that makes this initial development essential to the doctrine it would become.

Understanding the dualism of Christ was no easy feat. There were abundant theories and theologies that revolved around how the human and divine natures of Christ coexisted and His relationship to the Father. When Arius challenged the orthodox understanding of the Western Church, he opened the gateway to discussion, decision, and better understanding as to who Christ was and is. This provided the foundation for the development of the doctrine of the Trinity which would continue to be contested through the centuries that followed. Both dualism and the Trinity are essential to the Christian faith and were equally necessary in the infancy of the Western Church albeit in the very early stages of development. It is no surprise that the Nicean Creed is still in circulation in our churches today and serves as a bedrock of Christian belief.

[1] Margaret R. Miles, The Word Made Flesh: A History of Christian Thought, (Wiley-Blackwell, 2004): p. 44.

[2] Ibid. p. 71.

[3] Margaret R. Miles, The Word Made Flesh: A History of Christian Thought: p. 71.

[4] Mark A. Noll,  “Realities of Empire”. p. 45

[5] Ibid.

[6] Margaret R. Miles, The Word Made Flesh: A History of Christian Thought, (Wiley-Blackwell, 2004): p. 71.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid. pp. 71-72.

[10] Ibid. 72.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Margaret R. Miles, The Word Made Flesh: A History of Christian Thought, (Wiley-Blackwell, 2004): p. 106.

[13] Margaret R. Miles, The Word Made Flesh: A History of Christian Thought: p. 107.

[14] Ibid.

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charlestinsley

My name is Charlie Tinsley and I blog about The Bible. In particular, I post my thoughts, commentaries, and Bible Study teachings I have done. I hold a Bachelors Degree in Science in Religion Summa Cum Laude with a Biblical Studies Minor. I am currently studying for a Masters In Divinity at Eastern Mennonite Seminary with PhD ambitions in the study of Theology. I am married and have been for several years and I currently reside in Virginia.

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