English/Theology

The Theology of Arius as Presented by Athanasius

At the Council of Nicea conference in Cairo we are presently discussing two texts by Athanasius in which he presents Arius’ theology/christology and quotes from Arius’ work Thalia. The first is from Athanasius, Against the Arians 1.5–6:

Now the commencement of Arius’s Thalia and flippancy, effeminate in tune and nature, runs thus:—

‘According to faith of God’s elect, God’s prudent ones,
Holy children, rightly dividing, God’s Holy Spirit receiving,
Have I learned this from the partakers of wisdom,
Accomplished, divinely taught, and wise in all things.
Along their track, have I been walking, with like opinions.
I the very famous, the much suffering for God’s glory;
And taught of God, I have acquired wisdom and knowledge.’

And the mockeries which he utters in it, repulsive and most irreligious, are such as these :— ‘God was not always a Father.’ but ‘once Godwas alone, and not yet a Father, but afterwards He became a Father.’ ‘The Son was not always;’ for, whereas all things were made out of nothing, and all existing creatures and works were made, so the Word of God Himself was ‘made out of nothing,’ and ‘once He was not,’ and ‘He was not before His origination,’ but He as others ‘had an origin of creation.’ ‘For God,’ he says, ‘was alone, and the Word as yet was not, nor the Wisdom. Then, wishing to form us, thereupon He made a certain one, and named Him Word and Wisdom and Son, that He might form us by means of Him.’ Accordingly, he says that there are two wisdoms, first, the attribute co-existent with God, and next, that in this wisdom the Son was originated, and was only named Wisdom and Word as partaking of it. ‘For Wisdom,’ says he, ‘by the will of the wise God, had its existence in Wisdom.’ In like manner, he says, that there is another Word in God besides the Son, and that the Son again, as partaking of it, is named Word and Son according to grace. And this too is an idea proper to their heresy, as shown in other works of theirs, that there are many powers; one of which is God’s own by nature and eternal; but that Christ, on the other hand, is not the true power of God; but, as others, one of the so-called powers, one of which, namely, the locust and the caterpillar , is called inScripture, not merely the power, but the ‘great power.’ The others are many and are like the Son, and of them David speaks in thePsalms, when he says, ‘The Lord of hosts’ or ‘powers. ‘ And by nature, as all others, so the Word Himself is alterable, and remains good by His own free will, while He chooses; when, however, He wills, He can alter as we can, as being of an alterable nature. For ‘therefore,’ says he, ‘as foreknowing that He would be good, did God by anticipation bestow on Him this glory, which afterwards, as man, He attained fromvirtue. Thus in consequence of His works fore-known , did God bring it to pass that He being such, should come to be.’

6. Moreover he has dared to say, that ‘the Word is not the very God;’ ‘though He is called God, yet He is not very God,’ but ‘by participation of grace, He, as others, is God only in name.’ And, whereas all beings are foreign and different from God in essence, so too is ‘the Word alien and unlike in all things to the Father’s essence and propriety,’ but belongs to things originated and created, and is one of these. Afterwards, as though he had succeeded to the devil’s recklessness, he has stated in his Thalia, that ‘even to the Son the Father is invisible,’ and ‘the Word cannot perfectly and exactly either see or know His own Father.’ but even what He knows and what He sees, He knows and sees ‘in proportion to His own measure,’ as we also know according to our own power. For the Son, too, he says, not onlyknows not the Father exactly, for He fails in comprehension , but ‘He knows not even His own essence;’— and that ‘the essences of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, are separate in nature, and estranged, and disconnected, and alien , and without participation of each other ;’ and, in his own words, ‘utterly unlike from each other in essence and glory, unto infinity.’ Thus as to ‘likeness of glory andessence,’ he says that the Word is entirely diverse from both the Father and the Holy Ghost. With such words has the irreligious spoken; maintaining that the Son is distinct by Himself, and in no respect partaker of the Father. These are portions of Arius’s fables as they occur in that jocose composition.

The second text is from Athanasius, De synodis 15–16:

15. Arius and those with him thought and professed thus: ‘God made the Son out of nothing, and called Him His Son.’ ‘The Word of God is one of the creatures;’ and ‘Once He was not;’ and ‘He is alterable; capable, when it is His Will, of altering.’ Accordingly they were expelled from the Church by the blessed Alexander. However, after his expulsion, when he was with Eusebius and his fellows, he drew up hisheresy upon paper, and imitating in the Thalia no grave writer, but the Egyptian Sotades, in the dissolute tone of his metre , he writes at great length, for instance as follows:—

Blasphemies of Arius.

God Himself then, in His own nature, is ineffable by all men. Equal or like Himself He alone has none, or one in glory. And Ingenerate we call Him, because of Him who is generate by nature. We praise Him as without beginning because of Him who has a beginning. And adoreHim as everlasting, because of Him who in time has come to be. The Unbegun made the Son a beginning of things originated; and advanced Him as a Son to Himself by adoption. He has nothing proper to God in proper subsistence. For He is not equal, no, nor one inessence with Him. Wise is God, for He is the teacher of Wisdom. There is full proof that God is invisible to all beings; both to things which are through the Son, and to the Son He is invisible. I will say it expressly, how by the Son is seen the Invisible; by that power by whichGod sees, and in His own measure, the Son endures to see the Father, as is lawful. Thus there is a Triad, not in equal glories. Not intermingling with each other are their subsistences. One more glorious than the other in their glories unto immensity. Foreign from the Son in essence is the Father, for He is without beginning. Understand that the Monad was; but the Dyad was not, before it was inexistence. It follows at once that, though the Son was not, the Father was God. Hence the Son, not being (for He existed at the will of the Father), is God Only-begotten , and He is alien from either. Wisdom existed as Wisdom by the will of the Wise God. Hence He is conceived in numberless conceptions : Spirit, Power, Wisdom, God’s glory, Truth, Image, and Word. Understand that He is conceived to be Radiance and Light. One equal to the Son, the Superior is able to beget; but one more excellent, or superior, or greater, He is not able. At God’s will the Son is what and whatsoever He is. And when and since He was, from that time He has subsisted from God. He, being a strong God, praises in His degree the Superior. To speak in brief, God is ineffable to His Son. For He is to Himself what He is, that is, unspeakable. So that nothing which is called comprehensible does the Son know to speak about; for it is impossible for Him to investigate the Father, who is by Himself. For the Son does not know His own essence, For, being Son, He really existed, at the will of the Father. What argument then allows, that He who is from the Father should know His own parent by comprehension? For it is plain that for that which has a beginning to conceive how the Unbegun is, or to grasp the idea, is not possible.

16. And what they wrote by letter to the blessed Alexander, the Bishop, runs as follows:—

[Words of Arius:] To Our Blessed Pope and Bishop, Alexander, the Presbyters and Deacons send health in the Lord.

Our faith from our forefathers, which also we have learned from you, Blessed Pope, is this:— We acknowledge One God, alone Ingenerate, alone Everlasting, alone Unbegun, alone True, alone having Immortality, alone Wise, alone Good, alone Sovereign; Judge, Governor, andProvidence of all, unalterable and unchangeable, just and good, God of Law and Prophets and New Testament; who begot an Only-begotten Son before eternal times, through whom He has made both the ages and the universe; and begot Him, not in semblance, but intruth; and that He made Him subsist at His own will, unalterable and unchangeable; perfect creature of God, but not as one of the creatures; offspring, but not as one of things begotten; nor as Valentinus pronounced that the offspring of the Father was an issue ; nor as Manichæus taught that the offspring was a portion of the Father, one in essence ; or as Sabellius, dividing the Monad, speaks of a Son-and-Father ; nor as Hieracas, of one torch from another, or as a lamp divided into two ; nor that He who was before, was afterwards generated or new-created into a Son , as thou too yourself, Blessed Pope, in the midst of the Church and in session hast often condemned; but, as we say, at the will of God, created before times and before ages, and gaining life and being from the Father, who gave subsistence to His glories together with Him. For the Father did not, in giving to Him the inheritance of all things, deprive Himself of what He has ingenerately in Himself; for He is the Fountain of all things. Thus there are Three Subsistences. And God, being the cause of all things, is Unbegun and altogether Sole, but the Son being begotten apart from time by the Father, and being created and founded before ages, was not before His generation, but being begotten apart from time before all things, alone was made to subsist by the Father. For He is not eternal or co-eternal or co-unoriginate with the Father, nor has He His being together with the Father, as some speak of relations , introducing two ingenerate beginnings, but God is before all things as being Monad and Beginning of all. Wherefore also He is before the Son; as we have learned also from your preaching in the midst of the Church. So far then as from God He has being, andglories, and life, and all things are delivered unto Him, in such sense is God His origin. For He is above Him, as being His God and before Him. But if the terms ‘from Him,’ and ‘from the womb,’ and ‘I came forth from the Father, and I have come ‘ Romans 11:36; Psalm 110:3; John 16:28, be understood by some to mean as if a part of Him, one in essence or as an issue, then the Father is according to them compounded and divisible and alterable and material, and, as far as their belief goes, has the circumstances of a body, Who is theIncorporeal God.

This is a part of what Arius and his fellows vomited from their heretical hearts.

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