Nicaea I 325: Arius

Reading Through Western Eyes by Robert Letham and he begins a survey of the councils. Beginning with one famously known as the first ecumenical council it was called by the Emperor Constantine as a result of the disruption of harmony in the empire. The prebyter Arius (Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 223-51) had been claiming that Christ, the Son of God was created. Arius’ teachings are still around today in the form of Jehova’s Witnesses therefore this isn’t a claim that has disappeared.

Arius argues that the Son had an origin and therefore was created ex nihilo (out of nothing). It was the will of God that created the Son and therefore he did not always exists. The logic is: “since everything created came into being out of non-existence, and the Word of God is a creature, so the Word of God also came into being out of non-existence.” This means there was also a point when the Father was not the Father because he was alone.

Arius also claimed that the other differences were ousiai (substances or beings) of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are not the same. They differ from one another and the Father is considered the origin of the Son.

Arius is often quickly dismissed because the idea of the Son of God being created is unthinkable. However, scholars (Gregg and Groh) according to Letham have argued that Arius had a concern of salvation more than a concern on his doctrine of God. The question was that the Son of God had to be created to save humanity because humanity was created. Arius was different from Jehova’s Witnesses in this way. Because Jehova’s Witnesses first of all aren’t usually this thoughtful and second of all attribute the archangel Michael as the pre-existing Jesus. The challengers to Arius was that in his attempt to identify the Son of God with humanity he had severed his connection with God.

Constantine set up this council with a format similar to that of the Roman Senate. The Emperor had no vote in either. This is another point to remember with in dialoging with JWs because they often argue that Constantine influenced the council but this isn’t true. One of the unfortunate facts is the lack of minutes so we have rely of testimonies of the council the primary being from Athanasius. The Council eventually concluded that Arius was wrong and used a Syro-Palestinian creed to resolve the problem. The phrase “from the substance of the Father” was “asserted that the Son is not a creature or an intermediary but was generated from the Father’s very being”. (Letham, 26)