), or AREIUS, the celebrated heretic, is said to have been a native of Libya, and must have been born shortly after the middle of the third century after Christ. His father's name appears to have been Ammonius.
In the religious disputes which broke out at Alexandria in A. D. 306, Arius at first took the part of Meletius, but afterwards became reconciled to Peter, bishop of Alexandria, and the opponent of Meletius, who made Arius deacon. (Sozom. H. E.
After this Arius again opposed Peter for his treatment of Mcletius and his followers, and was in consequence excommunicated by Peter.
After the death of the latter, Achillas, his successor in the see of Alexandria, not only forgave Arius his offence and admitted him deacon again, but ordained him presbyter, A. D. 313, and gave him the charge of the church called Baucalis at Alexandria. (Epiphan. Haeres.
The opinion that, after the death of Achillas, Arius himself wanted to become bishop of Alexandria, and that for this reason he was hostile to Alexander, who became the successor of Achillas, is a mere conjecture, based upon the fact, that Theodoret H. E.
1.2) accuses Arius of envy against Alexander.
The official position of Arius at Alexandria, by virtue of which he interpreted the Scriptures, had andoubtedly gained for him already a considerable number of followers, when in A. D. 318, the celebrated dispute with bishop Alexander broke out.
This dispute had a greater and more lasting influence upon the development of the Christian religion than any other controversy.
The accounts respecting the immediate occasion of the dispute differ (Epiphan. Haeres.
69. 3; Socrat. H. E.
1.5; Sozom. H. E.
1.15; Philostorg. 1.4), but all agree in stating that Alexander after having heard some reports respecting Arius's novel views about the Trinity, attcked them in a public assembly of presbyters. Hereupon Arius charged the bishop with being guilty of the errors of Sabellius, and endeavoured tdefend his own opinions.
He maintained that the Son of God had been created by God, previous to the existence of the world and of time, by an act of God's own free will and out of nothing; that therefore the Son had not existed from all eternity; and that consequently in this respect the Son was not perfectly equal to the Father, although he was raised far above all men.
This first dispute was followed by a circular letter from Alexander to his clergy, and by a second conference, but all had no effect.
As in the meantime the number of Arius's followers was rapidly increasing, and as both the clergy and laity of Egypt, as well as several bishops of Syria and Asia Minor, were favourably disposed towards Arius, partly because his doctrines resembled those of Lucian, who had died a martyr about ten years before, and partly because they were captivated by Arius's insinuating letters addressed to them, Alexander, in A. D. 321, convened at Alexandria a synod of nearly one hundred Egyptian and Libyan bishops.
The influence of Alexander, of course, prevailed at this synod: Arius was deposed, and he and his followers were excommunicated.
In order to insure the proper effect of this verdict, Alexander addressed numerous letters to foreign bishops, in which he announced to them the judgment passed upon Arius, endeavoured to refute his doctrines, and urged them to adopt his own views of the case, and not to afford any protection to the heretic. Two of these letters are still extant. [ALEXANDER, p. 111b.]
It was owing to these letters and to the extensive exertions of Arius to defend his doctrines and to win more followers, that the possibility of an amicable settlement of the question diminished more and more every day. At Alexandria the Arians regularly withdrew from the church, and had their separate places of worship; and in Palestine, whither Arius had fled from Egypt, he found a favourable reception. Here he addressed a letter, still extant (Epiphan. Hacres.
69. 6 ; Theodoret. H. E.
1.5), to his friend, Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedeia, the most influential bishop of the time, and who himself bore a grudge against Alexander of Alexandria. Eusebius in his answer, as well as in a letter he addressed to Paulinus, bishop of Tyre, expressed his perfect agreement with the views of Arius (Athanas. de Synod.
§ 17; Theodoret. H. E.
1.6), and even received Arius into his own house. During his stay at Nicomedeia, Arius wrote a theological work called Thaleia (Θάλεια
), which is said to have been composed in the effeminate style of Sotades, and to have been written in part in the so-called Sotadic metre. [SOTADES.] He also addressed a letter to bishop Alexander, in which he entered into an explanation of his doctrines, and which was signed by the clergy who had been excommunicated with him. Of his Thaleia we possess only some abstracts made by his enemy Athanasius, which are written in a philosophical and earnest tone; but they contain statements, which could not but be offensive to a believer in the divinity of Christ.
These things, when compared with the spirit of Arius's letters, might lead to the belief that Athanasius in his epitome exaggerated the statements of Arius; but we must remember that Arius in his letters was always prudent and moderate, to avoid giving offence, by not shewing how far his theory might be carried. On the whole, the controversy between Arius and Alexander presents no features of noble generosity or impartiality; each is ambitious and obstinate. Arius was as zealous in endeavouring to acquire new followers as Alexander was fierce and stubborn in his persecution.
At last, in A. D. 323, Eusebius and the other bishops who were in favour of Arianism, assembled in council in Bithynia, and issued a circular to all the bishops, requesting them to continue their ecclesiastical communion with Arius. and to use their influence with Alexander on his behalf.
But neither this step nor the permission granted by several bishops to Arius to resume his functions, as presbyter, so far as it could be done without encroachment upon the rights of Alexander, was calculated to restore peace; on the contrary, the disputes for and against Arianism spread so much both among the laity and clergy of Egypt, Syria, and Asia Minor, that in A. D. 324, the emperor Constantine thought it necessary to write a letter to Arius and Alexander in common, in which he declared the controverted point of little importance, exhorted the disputants to a speedy reconciliation, and left it to each to hold his own opinions, provided he did not disturb the outward union of the church. (Euseb. De Vit. Const. M.
This letter was carried to Alexandria, whither Arius had returned in the meantime, by Hosius, bishop of Corduba, who was also to act as mediator. But Hosius soon adopted the views of Alexander, and his mission had no effect.
The disputes became more vehement from day to day, and Constantine at last saw himself obliged to convoke a general council at Nicaea, A. D. 325, at which upwards of 300 bishops were present, principally from the eastern part of the empire, and among them Arius, Alexander, and his friend Athanasius. Each defended his own opinions; but Arius being the accused party was in a disadvantageous position, and a confession of faith, which he presented to the council, was torn to pieces in his presence. Athanasius was the most vehement opponent of Arius, and after long debates the council came to the resolution, that the Son of God was begotten, not made, of the same substance with the Father, and of the same essence with him (ὁμοούσιος
). Arius was condemned with his writings and followers.
This verdict was signed by nearly all the bishops present. Eusebius and three others, who refused to sign, were compelled by the threats of the emperor to follow the example of the rest: only two bishops, Theonas of Marmarica and Secundus of Ptolemais, had courage enough to share the fate of Arius and accompanied him to Illyricum whither he was exiled.
At the same time an edict was issued, commanding every one, under the penalty of death, to surrender the books of Arius, which were to be burnt, and stigmatizing the Arians with the name of Porphyrians -- (from Porphyrius, a heathen opponent of Christianity, who had nothing to do with the Arian question). The Arians at Alexandria, however, remained in a state of insurrection, and began to make common cause with the Meletians, a sect which had likewise been condemned by the council of Nicaea, for both had to regard Alexander, and his successor Athanasius, as their common enemies.
Arius remained in Illyricum till A. D. 328, when Eusebius of Nicomedeia and his friends used their influence at the court of Constantine, to persuade the emperor that the creed of Arius did not in reality differ from that established by the council of Nicaea.
In consequence of this Arius was recalled from his exile by very gracious letters from the emperor, and in A. D. 330, had an audience with Constantine, to whom he presented a confession of faith, which consisted almost entirely of passages of the scriptures, and apparently confirmed the representation which Eusebius had given of his opinions.
The emperor thus deceived, granted to Arius the permission to return to Alexandria. (Socrat. H. E.
1.25; Rufin. H. E.
1.5.) On the arrival of Arius in Alexandria, A. D. 331, Athanasius, notwithstanding the threats of Eusebius and the strict orders of the emperor, refused to receive him into the communion of the church; for new outbreaks took place at Alexandria, and the Meletians openly joined the Arians. (Athanas. Apolog.
§ 59.) Eusebius, who was still the main supporter of the Arian party, had secured its ascendancy in Syria, and caused the synod of Tyre, in A. D. 335, to depose Athanasius, and another synod held in the same year at Jerusalem, to revoke the sentence of excommunication against Arius and his friends.
The attempt of Arius to re-establish himself at Alexandria failed notwithstanding, and in A. D. 336, he travelled to Constantinople to have a second interview with the emperor. he again presented his confession of faith, which was apparently orthodox. Hereupon Alexander, bishop of Constantinople, who had hitherto refused recognising Arius as a member of the orthodox church, received orders from the emperor to administer to Arius, on the Sunday following, the holy communion. When the day came, Arius accompanied by Eusebius and other friends, went in a sort of triumph through the streets of Constantinople to the church. On his way thither he went aside for a moment to relieve a physical want, but he never returned: he was seized by a fainting fit and suddenly died, and his corpse was found by his friends and buried. (Socrat. H. E.
1.38; Epiphan. Haeres.
69. 10; Rufin. H. E.
1.13.) His sudden death in such a place and at such a moment, naturally gave rise to a number of strange suspicions and surmises; the orthodox regarded it as a direct judgment from heaven, while his friends supposed that he had been poisoned by his enemies.
Arius must have been at a very advanced age when he died, since he is called the old Arius at the time when he began his disputes with Alexander, and he was undoubtedly worn out and exhausted by the continued struggles to which his life had been exposed.
He is said to have been unusually tall, pale, and thin, of a severe and gloomy appearance, though of captivating and modest manners.
The excellence of his moral character seems to be sufficiently attested by the silence of his enemies to the contrary.
That he was of a covetous and sensual disposition, is an opinion unsupported by any historical evidence. Besides the works already referred to in this article, Arius is said to have written songs for sailors, millers, and travellers; but no specimen or fragment of them is now extant. (Q. M. Travasa, Storia critica della Vita di Ario,
Venice, 1746 ; Fabric. Bibl. Graec.
ix. p. 214, &c.; Walch, Historie der Ketzercien ;
and the church histories of Mosheim, Neander, and Gieseler.)