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  • Print publication year: 2021
  • Online publication date: December 2020

3 - Arius and Arianism

from Part I - Contexts


The bitter division in Alexandria that led to the Council of Nicaea began as a theological dispute between Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria, and a significant number of his clergy, including a presbyter Arius, and quickly overflowed into a feud among eastern bishops. “Arianism” was assumed by scholars and theologians to be a coherent set of heretical teachings embraced by a succession of followers. Historians have now identified sets of alliances rather than genealogies as well as the polemical construction of “Arianism” by Athanasius and Marcellus. This separation of Arius from later “Arianism,” together with the continuing lack of consensus with regard to theological or philosophical genealogies as the source of his thought, encourages another look at the particular social and religious context of the initial local controversy. The central issues of monotheism, apophatic theology, incarnation, and changeability in fact map over traditional Christian apologetic theology and the literary and ecclesiastical legacies of the Great Persecution. Arius’s insistence on divine monotheism and transcendence together with his defense of a “living image” may echo the contemporary arguments with Celsus and Porphyry in Eusebius and Athanasius as well as a refutation of polytheism.

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