Theology & Worldview

The Church: Arius the Heretic

Arius entered this world circa 250 in Libya, North Africa. He grew into a tall, skinny man who was known to carry himself with a tinge of superiority. Arius earned the reputation of being very polite and eloquent; his theological arguments were anything but sloppy.He became a deacon but had disagreements with the local bishop, and after Arius defied his superior’s instruction, he was excommunicated. Before long, Arius manipulated his way into the position of priest, this time in another region. Almost immediately, he began to teach his Christological heresies. He believed that if Jesus was fully God, then Christians believed in two gods (God the Father and God the Son). The Church, only recently freed from the bondage of institutional persecution, was in no position to battle such heresy. Arius understood this weakness, and he devised a brilliant plan: publish prose and verse to carry his heresy. He wrote his heretical songs and poems in a book called Thalia (‘banquet’) and passed it along to travelers and workmen. The heresy spread like fire. The Arian heresy leached into the life of the Church, plagued the political system, and found a home in the theology of many Christians. After years of religious turmoil, Emperor Constantine called the First Ecumenical Council.

By no means was Arius without support at the council. He had multiple bishops who strongly supported him, the famed historian Eusebius (who found favor with Constantine), and many others. There were also many at the council who were simply undecided on the issue. Despite this, Arius’s support quickly crumbled, and all but two of his supporters abandoned him. After this, he and his two loyal henchmen were exiled. His “confession” was torn to pieces in the company of the council, and his books were burnt. If that wasn’t enough, the creed which the council produced was spread throughout the entire Catholic Christian world, and its use in the Liturgy began not long after.

Arius, of course, returned from exile–and proceeded to die. According to the writings which have survived, Arius was allowed to return from exile by manipulation. He strutted back into Constantinople, and, if sources are to be trusted, did so with no small amount of arrogance. It is unclear whether he was actually re-communicated to the Church, or if he was about to be re-communicated, but one thing is clear: Arius died suddenly and painfully. The Bishop Athanasius, a strict Nicene Christian, recorded the event as such:

Praying about these things, the bishop (Alexander) withdrew, very concerned; but a wondrous and unexpected thing took place. As those with Eusebius threatened, the bishop prayed, and Arius, overconfident in those who were with Eusebius, foolishly went into the ‘throne’ because of the necessity of his gut. Immediately, according to what is written, ‘falling face first, he burst in the middle’. Upon falling, he immediately expired, deprived of both communion and his life at the same time.

Because of embellishment, it is hard to tell exactly what happened here, but most sources agree that Arius died because of bowel problems. Most sources claim his bowels exploded very violently due to taking communion unworthily, a blasphemy against Christ not only in word but also in action (1st Corinthians 11:29). Arius was a man of impressive brain power who could diplomatically work his will and knew how to gain a large following. The effects of Arianism were catastrophic for the Christian Church. Arianism, even after Arius, continued to grow. At certain times the heresy boasted many millions of followers.

 

 

Works Cited:

Forsyth-Vail, Gail. “Arius the Heretic.” UUA.org, 8 Jan. 2016, www.uua.org/re/tapestry/adults/river/workshop2/arius.

Muehlberger, Ellen. “The Legend of Arius’ Death: Imagination, Space and Filth in Late Ancient Historiography * | Past & Present | Oxford Academic.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 6 May 2015, academic.oup.com/past/article/227/1/3/1461647/The-Legend-of-Arius-Death-Imagination-Space-and.

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Arius.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 9 Apr. 2014, www.britannica.com/biography/Arius.

One Comment

  1. Good job giving an overview of the life of Arius, Brady. I didn’t know that Arius died so suddenly. Can’t wait to read next month’s article!