Posted by: ken98 | January 12, 2010

Plato’s Secrets, Arius, and The Mother of All Heresies

Day 123 – Ken here (T)(1-12-2010)
(DEF v.2, ch.21, pp.770-780)

We are deep in chapter 21 and about to embark on Gibbon’s Theory of Heresy (a dark tale of secret knowledge, stolen thoeries, abrupt revelations, and inappropriate enthusiasm – the misplaced enthusiasm being the most grievous sin in Gibbon’s book). We also see the faintest, innocent beginnings of a “heresy” that would absolutely divide the Roman world in two – the Libyan priest Arius and Arianism.

The Story
Gibbon’s History of Heresy – Plato and Christ
A Platonic origin of the Trinity

  • Gibbon: Both Orthodoxy and Heresy spring from the same source – Plato – one can “deduce reason and faith, error and passion” from the School of Plato
  • Gibbon: Platonic School had 3 initial gods in one (this was a secret only revealed to initiates after 30 years of lectures) – 1) the First Cause of the Universe, The Reason (Logos) (structure, rules, form) of the Universe, The Soul or Spirit of the Universe
  • Gibbon: Logos = Son of Father (most accessible of 3), First Cause = Creator, Soul or Spirit = Governor
  • Gibbon: Taught in Alexandria before 300 BCE, found in parts in Wisdom Of Solomon (written circa 100 BCE? – Gibbon says strangely the Jews “stole” this Neo-Platonic text), and the works of Philo
  • Gibbon: The gospel of John makes full use of this Platonic vocabulary – Logos = God, who made all things, for whom all things are made, incarnate in Jesus Christ
    The Heresies – usually involving precise definitions of the Trinity

  • 2 Extremes = Jesus IS NOT, or IS the Logos of Universe
  • Ebionites, or Nazarenes: Jesus IS NOT the Logos. Jesus is a prophet, but NOT the Logos (Reason, Rules of the Universe Itself)
  • Gnostics or Docetes – Jesus IS the Logos, all his suffering and pain were a sham, an illusion (the Logos of the Universe could not suffer by definition in an earthly body)
  • In the First 2 centuries, the Trinity confounded experts – Athanasius wrote “the more he thought, the less he comprehended” (speaking of how the Logos and a man are united)
    Zeal of Christians – more than Theory Make a Heresy

  • Gibbon discusses for a couple of pages (Inappropriate Enthusiasms) how absolutely impossible it is to speak knowledgeably of infinity within the finite -however, this did not stop vast multitudes of people from having unalterable opinions on the Trinity
  • First Great Faction in Church: Sabellians (N.Africa, Egypt, Alexandria) – believed in the distinction between the Father and Son more than their equality – labelled Heresy
  • A priest, Arius, speaks for the majority and Heterodoxy(Orthodoxy) when he argues for the ETERNAL nature of the Logos and the Son – but inadvertently moves the argument into the terms “created/uncreated” – he believes them more equal but believes Father created Son, so Father is more equal than the Son
  • Alexander, a later Bishop for a Bishopric Arius refused, pronounces on Arius’ created/uncreated argument – Arius is now wrong
  • Arius is stripped of his priesthood by one section of the Church, but great parts of Africa, Middle East, Asia, rally around him as heterodox/Orthodox
  • Newly-converted Emperor Constantine calls the Council of Nicaea, Bithynia (Turkey) (output=Nicene Creed) to fix up what he thought was a very minor quarrel among the attendees of his new religion
  • Image of Arius from a manuscript.  Arius was a priest from Roman Libya who originally was praised by the church for dealing with another kind of trinitarian doctrine, but who had the Church turn on him for his ideas about whether Jesus was created/uncreated by the Father (Arius thought Jesus was created)

    Image of Arius from a manuscript. Arius was a priest from Roman Libya who originally was praised by the church for stomping out a heresy (Sabellians), but who had the Church turn on him for his own ideas - and prompted an emotional division in the Church that lasted for centuries

    The Mother of all “Heresies” – More On Arianism

    Arianism focusses on an extremely subtle point in defining the relationship between the 3 persons in the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Was Jesus created or uncreated, was Jesus the same or of a similar substance? Arians emphasized the eternal nature of the Father, and emphasized the Son as being created after the Father, of a similar substance. “Modern” theology emphasizes a Father who begat the Son, both are co-eternal, and both are of the same substance (Father and Son) (the Arians seem more logical – what can begetting mean in a co-eternal sense? begotten out of time? it just gets stranger and stranger).

    Not only do we as people, our societies, and our cultures have memories – our churches do also (and they have LONG memories). Fossilized in an ancient council (318-325), almost all churches today believe fanatically in the begat/co-eternal/One Substance theory of the Father-Son relationship of the Trinity. And the adjective Arian has a powerful demonic, heretical slant to it to this day (used often very innappropriately as a synonym for “evil”).


    All of this derives from the first great Creed – the Nicene Creed. A synod held at Nicaea (318-325 CE) which was called by the newly-converted (but unbaptized) Christian emperor Constantine to settle-down his raucous African provinces which were in an uproar about a very obscure doctrine of his new Christian faith. He thought it would be easy, but no, it just got messier and messier.

    Modern image of Ulfilas - the man who converted the Germans and the Slavs (originator of the Slavic alphabet), AND an ARIAN (considered heretical by the Roman Church).  Ulfilas immense Christian success in Eastern/Northern Europe caused Rome great pain in the coming centuries - as they considered his mentor, Arius, heretical

    Modern image of Ulfilas - the man who converted the Germans and the Slavs in the 4th century. who was the originator of the Slavic alphabet, AND who was a fervent ARIAN (follower of Arius - considered heretical by the Roman Church). Ulfilas' immense Christian success in Eastern/Northern Europe caused Rome great pain in the coming centuries - because the barbarians he converted, who eventually took the West from Rome, considered the Roman Church as being the heretic, not themselves

    During Arius’ lifetime, the Christian Church happened to find a great proselytizer Ulfilas, who was convinced of Arius’ correctness, he (unfortunately for Rome) was greatly successful with the barbarian German tribes, and managed to convert them to Christianity -but as adherents of Arius. So, not only did the barbarians invade the empire, they also plundered, robbed with great conviction, knowing the imperial citizens they were ransacking were heretics (to them as Arians). Worse and worse.

    In fact a second Synod (at Constantinople in 381) was still grappling with it (unsuccessfully), and Arianism hung around as a permanent fixture until Muslim conquests in the 7th century onwards (the conquering of the Middle East, Africa and Spain) pretty much wiped out the zealous eastern Arian Christian Churches in a wave of conversions to Islam.

    (We’ll talk about the famous phrase “not an iota” tomorrow – it all comes from the fabulously long memory the Christian church has.)

    This from Wiki (here)

    Arianism is the theological teaching of Arius (ca. AD 250–336), a Church priest, who was deemed a heretic at the First Council of Nicaea (Turkey) of 325, later exonerated in 335 at the First Synod of Tyre[1], and then pronounced a heretic again after his death at the First Council of Constantinople of 381[2]. The Roman Emperors Constantius II (337-361) and Valens (364-378) were Arians or Semi-Arians.

    Arianism is defined as those teachings attributed to Arius which are in contrast to the current mainstream Trinitarian Christological dogma, as currently maintained by the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches and most Protestant Churches.

    The term “Arianism” is also used to refer to other nontrinitarian theological systems of the 4th century, which regarded the Christ, Son of God, the Logos, as a created being (as in Arianism proper and Anomoeanism) or as neither uncreated nor created in the sense other beings are created (as in “Semi-Arianism”).

    Remnants of Arianism in the West

    However, much of southeastern Europe and central Europe, including many of the Goths and Vandals respectively, had embraced Arianism (the Visigoths converted to Arian Christianity in 376), which led to Arianism being a religious factor in various wars in the Roman Empire. In the west, organized Arianism survived in North Africa, in Hispania, and parts of Italy until it was finally suppressed in the 6th and 7th centuries (in part due to the advance of Islam). Later, during the Protestant reformation, a religious sect in Poland known as the Polish Brethren were commonly referred to as Arians due to their rejection of the Trinity.

    “Arian” as a polemical epithet

    In many ways, the conflict around Arian beliefs in the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries helped firmly define the centrality of the Trinity in Nicene Christian theology. As the first major intra-Christian conflict after Christianity’s legalization, the struggle between Nicenes and Arians left a deep impression on the institutional memory of Nicene churches.

    Thus, over the past 1,500 years, some Christians have used the term Arian to refer to those groups that see themselves as worshiping Jesus Christ or respecting his teachings, but do not hold to the Nicene creed. Despite the frequency with which this name is used as a polemical label, there has been no historically continuous survival of Arianism into the modern era.

    As a note: “Arianism” (with an “I”) is not to be confused with Aryanism (with a “Y”) from Wiki (here)

    (Aryanism and the Aryan Race)
    The Aryan race is a concept historically influential in European culture in the period of the late 19th century and early 20th century. It derives from the idea that the original speakers of the Indo-European languages and their descendants up to the present day constitute a distinctive race or subrace of the larger Caucasian race.
    While originally meant simply as a neutral ethnic classification, it was later used for political racism in Nazi and neo-Nazi ideological form, it became a concept of scientific racism, and hence also in other currents such as occultism and white supremacism.

    And Finally – The Original Nicene Creed
    (brackets: [] indicate parts dropped later in 381 in the Synod at Constantinople)

    From Wiki (here)

    We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.

    And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made [both in heaven and on earth];

    Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man;

    He suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven
    and sitteth on the right hand of the Father;

    From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

    And in the Holy Ghost.

    [But those who say: ‘There was a time when he was not;’ and ‘He was not before he was made;’ and ‘He was made out of nothing,’ or ‘He is of another substance’ or ‘essence,’ or ‘The Son of God is created,’ or ‘changeable,’ or ‘alterable’—they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.]

    Note the very strong, single-purpose, anti-Arian bent in the Creed, especially in the last “negative” phrases stating emphatically what is NOT believed.

    The crumbling walls of Nicaea - in the northwestern corner of Turkey, near Istanbul on the opposite side of the Sea of Marmara (near Nicomedia) - site of the famous Council of Nicaea (318-325) conveniently located near Constantine's home

    The crumbling walls of Nicaea - in the northwestern corner of Turkey, near Istanbul on the opposite side of the Sea of Marmara (near Nicomedia) - site of the famous Council of Nicaea, Bithynia (Turkey) (318-325) conveniently located near Constantine's home


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