Tag Archives: Arianism

Debunking the Protestant “T” word part IV: How sausage was made


It's not pretty, folks!

This article is continued from “Debunking the Protestant ‘T’ word: An edifying tale, part I,“ Debunking the Protestant ‘T’ Word part II: How to spot a heresy, and “Debunking the Protestant ‘T’ Word part III: What was the beef at Nicea?

This was the sort of problem that was on the minds of bishops all over the empire when Constantine stepped in and invited them to his summer palace in Nicea for this major meeting. At least 200 bishops attended, mostly from the Eastern part of the empire, but some from Italy, North Africa, and other Western places. Counting all the bishops’ fellow presbyters and deacons, scholars believe there were close to a thousand people at that meeting. The sheer size of this assembly had no precedent in church history.

If you think about it, this must have been just an awe-inspiring gathering for those simple pastors. Most stunning was that just over a dozen years before the council, the largest persecution in the history of the early church had been raging. In fact, some of the bishops at Nicea had been tortured during that persecution. Some bore horrible scars; some were even missing eyes. And here they were, summoned by the emperor, with all their expenses paid, laden with the traditional gifts that followed an invitation to the imperial court. Some, legend has it, received the kiss of peace from Constantine himself. It must have been just a breathtaking moment for those who had remained faithful through the recent persecution and now saw God working in this amazing way. Continue reading

Debunking the Protestant “T” Word part III: What was the beef at Nicea?


The emperor Constantine and the council of Nic...

The Emperor Constantine and the Council of Nicaea, with Arius's books being burned, below. (Drawing on vellum. From MS CLXV, Biblioteca Capitolare, Vercelli, a compendium of canon law produced in northern Italy ca. 825.)

This article is continued from “Debunking the Protestant ‘T’ word: An edifying tale, part I“ and Debunking the Protestant ‘T’ Word part II: How to spot a heresy.“

Now, before Nicea, there had been many councils. But they had been regional affairs, to deal with this or that issue—sometimes a heresy, sometimes a question of church order, and so forth. But the church had not yet seen something as widespread and threatening as the Arian heresy of the late 200s and early 300s. So let’s look now at how that started, and how it was resolved at the Council of Nicea.

To understand the significance of the Council of Nicaea, we need to enter into the minds of those involved and ask why so much bitterness and confusion had been caused by one apparently simple question: “In what way is Jesus divine?” Continue reading

Tangling with wolves: why we still need heresy trials


I suspect this post will make some readers mad. Good! Respond to the post, and let’s talk about it! My own parents disagree with it too. But today’s world of gentle, neighborly, non-doctrinal churchmanship (sorry, churchpersonship), in which you can believe almost anything and still be considered a member in good standing of most churches, has missed a very important point:

In matters of belief, souls are at stake.

If we don’t believe that, then we may as well pack it in. Because as Paul said, if the resurrection (to take one important example) hasn’t happened, then we Christians are of all people most to be pitied. We’re just fooling ourselves. There’s no logical reason we shouldn’t stay home every Sunday, crack open a cold one (or a case of cold ones) and enjoy ourselves in front of the TV set:

Tangling with Wolves
Why we still need heresy trials
Chris Armstrong

Originally published in Christianity Today, summer 2003.

United methodist bishop Joseph Sprague publicly denies that Jesus rose bodily, that he is eternally divine, and that he is the only way to salvation. He has been charged four times with teaching heresies, and four times denominational representatives have acquitted him.

This is not a lone incident. Continue reading

Three Wise Men from the East: The intrepid trio who saved the early church from idolatry


It’s tough for us to appreciate what a threat the Arian heresy was to the church in the 4th century. Basically, it had people worshiping Jesus even though they were convinced he was a fellow creature and not God–nothing short of idolatry according to the God of the Old (and New) Testament!

The Council of Nicea in 325 was supposed to slap down this mis-reading of Scripture, but for decades all it seemed to have done was stir up a hornet’s nest of controversy. For example Bishop Athanasius, the staunchest defender of orthodoxy at Nicea, was exiled by various Arian emperors no fewer than five separate times after the council was over.

Into this boiling pot of theological and spiritual confusion came three men of holy habits and clear thought: the Eastern trio now referred to as the “Cappadocian Fathers.” My friend Edwin and I engraved a cameo of each for Christian History a few years back:

Three Wise Men from the East
The Cappadocian Fathers brought the best gift of all: a powerful scriptural defense of the Trinity and Christ’s divinity against the Arian heretics.
Edwin Woodruff Tait and Chris Armstrong

Basil of Caesarea (“the Great”)
Pugnacious saint and theologian of the Spirit

Mention the “church fathers” to a Western Christian, and Basil the Great is not usually the first name to come to mind. Yet even for the Roman Catholic Church, Basil ranks with his friend Gregory of Nazianzus and John Chrysostom as one of the great propounders and defenders of the faith.

Born around 330, Basil grew up in a world where Christianity was recognized by the Roman government but divided between those who believed in the full divinity of Christ and the Arians who did not. For much of the fourth century, the Arians would enjoy the support of the emperors. The struggle between Christianity and the empire had not ended with Constantine. Continue reading