The Arian Controversy
The Problem of the Trinity
A.After nearly three centuries of suffering varying degrees of persecution, the Emperor Constantine became a Christian. Thus, he issued the Edict of Milan which permitted Christians to worship publicly.
B.The fourth century produced the great fathers of the Church; Athanasius, the Cappadocians, Jerome, Ambrose, and Augustine.
C.It also was a period in which Christians faced for the first time the problem of what to do with political power.
A. It would be inaccurate to say that the Arians did not believe in the trinity. They believed that there was a Father, a Son, and a Holy Spirit. The question was what the relationship was between these three. The central question was whether the pre-existing Son is a creature created by God, or a co-eternal member of the Godhead. It is the Arian position that the Son was the greatest of all God’s creatures, but nevertheless not one in substance with God the Father.
The Council of Nicea
A.Constantine had hoped that Christianity would be the cement of the empire. Since the controversy over Arianism was tearing the Church apart, Constantine got the Church to convene the Council of Nicea, in which they would attempt to resolve the dispute.
B.The Arians put their position at the council in a very strong and unadulterated form, and it was condemned. The Son was defined as being “One in substance with the Father.” The Son is God just as the Father is God. They wrote a statement of faith affirming this, called the Nicene Creed. By Imperial decree Arius was banished, and his books were burned.
The controversy persists
A.The churches did not completely accept the Nicene formula, and even the bishops who adopted it weren’t sure it was the best thing.
B.Constantine’s successors, especially his son Constantius, were Arian supporters.
C.But the Nicene position was championed by a stalwart defender, St. Athanasius.
A.Monotheism. The worship practice of the Christian Church gave full and complete worship to Jesus Christ. Thus, if Christ was created by God and is not God, then if Christians worship God the Father and Christ, they worship more than one God, and if you add in the Holy Spirit, that’s three gods.
B.The doctrine of salvation. If Christ isn’t God, and Christ is our savior, the God is not our savior. This is a problem.