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A comparison of the point of view of arius and athansius

And in fact, things weren't going well at all as far as the Orthodox party was concerned. The Alexandrians confronted the Arians with the traditional scriptural phrases which appeared to leave no doubt as to the eternal divinity of the Son.

But, to their surprise, they were met with total acquiescence on the part of the Arians! Only as each scriptural test was propounded, it was observed that the Arians whispered and gesticulated to one another, evidently hinting that each scriptural phrase could be safely accepted, since it admitted of evasion.

If the Arians were asked to assent to the phrase that the Son is "like the Father in all things," they would agree, with the reservation that all men, as such, are "in the image and likeness of God.

  • The new Christian wine had to be poured, out of necessity, into the old Greek wine-skins, and although the wine skins did not burst at once, as we noted, they did finally explode at Nicea;
  • In his article, Saint Athanasius' Concept of Creation, Father Georges Florovsky presents an excellent explanation of the philosophical and theological problems surrounding the Arian controversy;
  • The glory of God and the welfare of the Church absorbed him fully at all times.

The "eternity" of the Son was countered - completely out of context - by the text, "We who live always. They were not yet familiar with the tactics of the Arians.

Paganism was rarely as bad as advertised, and the church never as good as it thought.

The test of the word homoousios - "of one essence" - was being forced upon the majority by the evasions and deceits of the Arian party. When the day for the decisive meeting arrived, it became apparent that the choice lay between the adoption of the word homoousios or the admission of Arianism to a position of toleration and influence in the Church.

But then, was Arianism all that Saint Alexander and the other Orthodox made it out to be? Was Arianism so terrible and so very intolerable, so that this test must be imposed on the Church? The answer came from Eusebius of Nicomedia. Upon the assembling of the bishops for their momentous debate, Eusebius who sympathized with the Arians presented the Fathers with a statement of his belief.

This statement was an unambiguous assertion of the Arian formulas, and it cleared the situation at once. An angry clamor silenced the innovator, and his document was publicly en opsei panton torn to shreds.

Even the majority of the Arians were cowed, and their numbers immediately shrank to a total of five clergymen. It was now agreed on all hands that a stringent formula was needed to stop this blasphemy. Eusebius of Caesaria came forward and produced a formula, not of his own devising; indeed, it was actually an ancient creed of his own church with an addition intended to guard against Sabellianism. The creed he recited was unassailable on the basis of Holy Scripture and Tradition.

No one had a word to say against it, and the Emperor, Saint Constantine the Great, perhaps at the prompting of Saint Hosius, expressed his personal concern that it should be adopted, with the single improvement of the word homoousios - "of one essence".

The suggestion thus quietly made was momentous in its result. The friends and allies of Saint Alexander had patiently waited their time, and now their time had come. But how and where was the necessary word to be inserted? And if some change must be made in the formula of Caesarea, would it not be in order to explain one or two other details as well?

In fact, the creed proposed by Eusebius was carefully considered clause by clause, and eventually took a form materially different from that in which it was first presented, and with affinities to the creeds of Antioch and Jerusalem as well as Caesarea.

The adoption of the word homoousios was a momentous decision.

  • Be of good cheer, he replied, it is only a little cloud, and will soon pass away;
  • This is not acceptable, they said.

The word was not scriptural. We are told "the Council paused". But the Council Fathers brought to mind all the previous discussions with the Arians, and they were reminded of the futility of the scriptural tests alone, of the locusts and the caterpillars, of the whisperings, the nods, the winks, and the evasions.

Whereupon, the Council closed its ranks and resolutely marched to its conclusion. The word homoousios was adopted, and Arius' blasphemy was condemned forever. How did all this come to pass? The actual origins of Arianism itself are obscure, but if we were to "round up the usual suspects", to quote the French provincial governor in the film "Casablanca", we would, of course, find the pagan Greeks.

  • Pinnes, the presbyter of the community, got wind of the discovery, and smuggled Arsenius away down the Nile; then he was spirited away to the city of Tyre;
  • Every false accusation, outright slander and intrigue that could suit their purpose was employed without the slightest hesitation;
  • Some wondered if the Holy Spirit was another God.

In his article, Saint Athanasius' Concept of Creation, Father Georges Florovsky presents an excellent explanation of the philosophical and theological problems surrounding the Arian controversy.

George points out, there were two biblical premises that the Christians had to establish in their dealings with the Greek pagan world. The first scriptural premise was that there was an absolute distinction between God, Who is uncreated, and the world, which is created.

Creaturehood meant an essential, total, and absolute dissimilarity with God. The second scriptural premise was that there is a distinction between God's inner being, His inner life, and His dealings with the world. Except for the few things that are revealed in the Holy Scriptures, we know nothing about what God is in His essence, or even about the generation of the Son and the procession of the Holy Spirit.

We do not know how and in what way the Son's being begotten of the Father differs from the Holy Spirit's procession from the Father. On the other hand, we do know God through His grace, His power, His providence, His energies and actions in the created world.

However, these two distinctions - that is, between God and a comparison of the point of view of arius and athansius, and between God's unknowable essence and His knowable power - were basically unknown and alien to the pagan Greeks and their philosophy.

But it was to this pagan world that the Christians had to convey their message. If we keep these distinctions in mind, we will be able to tread our way more easily through the Arian controversy.

For the Greeks the world, the cosmos, was eternal, permanent and immutable in its essential structure and composition. It simply existed, and its eternal existence was "necessary".

For the Christians, on the other hand, the world was created. It owes its existence and maintenance to God's will and action, to the power of His uncreated energy. Without this, creation would vanish into nothingness in an instant. It is completely dependent and contingent. This was a hard message for the Greeks.

# 53, Athanasius vs. Arius

In order to promote and defend their faith within the Greek-thinking and Greek-speaking world, however, the Christian apologists had to speak in Greek, of course, and use Greek terminology. Due to the Greek philosophical baggage he carried, Origen failed to make the two scriptural distinctions we mentioned earlier. That is to say, for Origen, the "idea" of the world, or the "pre-vision" of the world, as he would say, existed from all eternity.

In this, he could never escape from the thinking of the Platonists of his time. Origen was wrong because God, in His essence and power, is uncreated and eternal. In His essence, He is not subject to change or instability. The created world is completely alien to His essence. Creation came to be through God's will and is by essence subject to constant mutability; it is by nature unstable and alien to God's nature.

It is, to put it briefly, essentially and totally dissimilar to God. It hangs by a string over the abyss of nothingness, of non-existence. And the string that sustains it is God's power. As Saint Athanasius argued, although God could indeed, if He so willed, have created the world from all eternity, yet created things themselves, of their own nature, could not have existed eternally, since they are created "out of nothing", and consequently did not exist before they were brought into existence.

He asks, "How can things which did not exist before they originated be co-eternal with God? In addition, however, for Origen, the existence of the Son, the Word of God, was the result of God's will. On this point, the Arians were in full agreement with Origen. Both Origen and the Arians could never say that the Son was homoousios, "of one nature", or "consubstantial" with the Father.

The Son's existence had to depend upon the deliberation and will of the Father, said the Arians, because otherwise it would appear that God had a Son "by nature", that is, "by necessity" and, as it were "unwillingly".

Here the Arians were thinking in Greek philosophical categories. For them, as for the pagan Greeks, "by nature" meant "by necessity". For example, the Arians would say, we are humans by nature, and as such, we breathe. Since breathing is part of our nature as living humans, we have to breath, by constraint, whether we like it or not. We must breathe because it is an essential and necessary part of our humanity.

But this also limits our freedom. For instance, we are unable - without some sort of artificial apparatus - to breathe if we are found twelve miles above the surface of the earth, or in outer space. Nor can we breathe, without outside help, if we are four or five miles down within the depths of the sea. This means that we are not free to go wherever we like. Our freedom is curtailed because of nature's constraints upon us. Therefore, said the Arians, by saying that the Son is of the essence, of the nature, of the Father, this means that you Orthodox are thereby limiting God's freedom, because you are saying that God begat the Son by nature, which means He had to beget the Son, whether He wanted to or not.

This is not acceptable, they said. This kind of reasoning, retorted Saint Athanasius, only shows the inability of the Arians to grasp the basic difference between the inner life of God and His actions in relation to the created world. God does not deliberate within Himself about His own being and existence. Indeed, it would be absurd to contend that God's goodness and mercy are just His voluntary habit, and not a part of His nature. But does it mean that God is good and merciful unwillingly?

Now, continues Saint Athanasius, what is "by nature", or "by essence", is higher than what is only "by deliberation" or "by will" hyperkeitai kai pro? Since the Son is the offspring of the Father's own substance, the Father does not "deliberate" about Him, since it would mean "deliberation" about His own being. God is the Father of His Son "by nature" and not "by will".

Whatever was "created", was indeed created by the good will and deliberation of God. But the Son is not a deed of will, like creatures, but by nature He is an offspring of God's own substance. It is an insane and extravagant idea to interject "will" and "counsel" between the Father and the Son.

Unlike the Greek gods, who, according to Plato's speculations, hung from "the spindle of necessity", the God of the Christians had nothing to do with these philosophical categories of "nature equals necessity". The inadequacy of the Greek, or any other language, to convey the truths that pertain to God's a comparison of the point of view of arius and athansius life can place no limitations to or definition of God's essence.

If the word ousia - essence - is a problem for you, said the Church Fathers, then you should consider that God is actually hyperousios - "above nature", that is, above every concept or definition we might have of the word "nature". The Church Fathers, in fact, loved to throw these little mental monkey-wrenches into the gears of our earth-bound and corpulent brains, just to wreak havoc with our rationalistic and mechanical approach to the things that pertain to God and also to deflate our self-inflated egos.

When you have dissected and analyzed that one to your satisfaction, we'll bring in the little men in white coats to carry you away. To sum up this section, then, we have seen that, for the Church Fathers, temporal creatures cannot "co-exist" eternally with the Eternal God. They have two disparate modes of existence. Creatures have their own mode of existence: The Son alone, as one uncreated, is an offspring of the Father's substance, and has the intrinsic power to "co-exist" eternally with the Father.