Lesson One
Lesson Two
Lesson Three
Lesson Four
Lesson Five
Lesson Six
Lesson Seven
Lesson Eight
Lesson Nine
Lesson Ten
Lesson Eleven
Lesson Twelve
Lesson Thirteen
Lesson Fourteen
Lesson Fifteen
Lesson Sixteen
Lesson Seventeen
Lesson Eighteen
Lesson Nineteen
Lesson Twenty
Lesson Twenty-One
Lesson Twenty-Two
Lesson Twenty-Three
Lesson Twenty-Four
Course Wrap-Up
Course Completion
1 Activity | 1 Assessment


In our last lecture we began to look at another person on the playing field, Eusebius of Caesarea, and we’ll be talking some more about some of the other contributions that Eusebius makes to church history, but right now we are investigating his theology. What have we learned about Eusebius? We’ve learned that God is a monad, and we’ve learned that given that presupposition to his thoughts certain things necessarily must follow. This Logos who is the power of God, the wisdom of God, second to the Father, who is the only begotten Son of the Father is nevertheless in a second place to the Father. He’s consubstantial with the Father; now we begin to look at some new material, but what does consubstantial mean for Eusebius?

Consubstantial with the Father means “of the Father.” In carrying the image of the Godhead, He is of the Father and, therefore, may be called God, but consubstantial for Eusebius does not mean part of the nature of the Father nor really of His substance. So how are they unified if He’s consubstantial? That unity of the Father and the Son consists in sharing of glory. So the doctrine of the Logos for Eusebius is what we would call an advanced subordinationism. The Son is not of the essence of the Father, but of His free will.

And finally, and this might seem hard to believe, but this is what Eusebius thought, the Holy Spirit becomes a creation of the Son. And a concluding remark that I want to make concerning Eusebius and it relates directly to that first presupposition, for Eusebius to recognize the true divinity of the Son means to sacrifice the oneness of the Godhead and that sacrifice cannot be done, because the oneness of the Godhead, that monad idea, is the first presupposition.

We’ll later on analyze Eusebius and critique Eusebius, but I think from the way I’ve presented his theology, you can immediately see places where all of us as orthodox Christians would disagree, but the practical point that I would like to emphasize for us is that if we make one presupposition, the controlling one, and don’t let the other parts of Scripture influence our theologizing, we will have a skewed theology. If we maintain that God is monad, which is true, but have that as the exclusive first principle and not recognize the distinctions within the Godhead, then we’ll have a theology like Eusebius, and that’s not good.

We’ve talked about Arius in terms of his background. We’ve talked about Alexander of Alexandria and his theology; we’ve talked about Eusebius of Caesarea and his theology. Let’s talk now about the theology of Arius himself. Most of the points that we’ll make, and we’ll say less about his theology in that all of his teachings have been seen in the various fields: for example, many of things that you see in Arius are first found in Eusebius. Many things that we see in Athanasius are in direct contrast to Arius, but we need to outline the theology of Arius in not a great amount of detail, but still so that we can understand the issues.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, we’re not in possession of Arius’s own writings, and that’s never stopped church historians from trying to recreate what the fellow thought and taught, but there is, in all seriousness, little question concerning the main outlines of his thought. Perhaps the most important part of Arius’s theological construction is that God is absolutely transcendent. Remember, we’ve just talked about Eusebius, and there was one main thought for him—that God was primarily monad. This is very similar to Arius. In conjunction with the absolute transcendence of God is the idea that the unit of God prohibits any distinctions within the divine nature. That’s very similar to Eusebius in the idea of monad. The unity and transcendence of God prohibit distinctions within the divine nature. If there’s anything that we need to hold on to as we try to understand Arius, this is it.

Therefore, this transcendent God who is complete unity and absolute transcendence can have no real contact with the world, and then because He can have no real contact with the world, must ultimately be unknowable. His being is hidden to all (remember this is Arius who’s a heretic), His being is hidden to all, even to the Son! He’s so far beyond even the Son that the Son of God doesn’t know the being of the Father.

Now this Son plays an important role in this Godhead. He’s the instrument of creation. He’s the one who gets His hands dirty in creating the world, because God as the supreme being can have no contact with the world, and as God is the source of all things and cannot by Arius’s definition give His essence to another, so, therefore, the Son must also exist by an act of creation by God, similar to Eusebius. But Arius goes into great detail. He says that “the Son is created ex nihilo.” That Latin phrase ex nihilo is a phrase perhaps known to all of us. The earth is created ex nihilo, out of nothing. So he says that the Son is created out of nothing. But created, certainly not eternally generated.

The Son, and listen well, the Son then is a creature. The Son is a creature. He is created out of nothing. He has a definite beginning, and there is a phrase which Arius uses, which is a very helpful phrase to hang our hats on in terms of understanding Arius, that there was a time when the Son was not. Let me say the phrase again. There was a time when the Son was not. So, the Son who is created, the Son who is not eternal, the Son who has a beginning, has also then no real knowledge of the Father and certainly, because He is a creation, because He is not eternal, He does not share in the essence of the Father. Contrast this with Athanasius and what we know. What word does Athanasius use to describe the relationship between the Father and the Son? Remember from your notes, homoioi. He says that they are alike. Arius says that they are not alike. Because the Son does not partake of the essence of God, He must then be liable to sin and change; only God does not sin. Only God is immutable, that is, being without change. Therefore, the Son as a creature, as coming into being at a certain time by the creative activity of God, is liable to sin.

Did Arius teach that Jesus Christ was a sinner? Here there’s a lot of dispute. Our textbook by Kelly gives the impression that Arius would have admitted that in fact Jesus probably sinned, but there is no textual evidence to demonstrate that Arius taught that the Son actually did sin. It seems to other scholars that it would be very difficult for Arius to say that Jesus was a sinner in that the Scriptures are so clear concerning His lack of sin, and had Arius said that Jesus was a sinner, probably his heresy would have been more easy to detect and that the common person would have known that this was wrong. Whether he said it or not is not the issue. The issue is that certainly within Arius’s system, it was possible for the Son to commit sin.

So concluding our analysis of Arius’s doctrine of the Son of God, we should note that this title “Son of God” itself was in a sense a courtesy title given to the adopted Son of God. Now there’s a new word that is familiar with us, and the understanding of that word is the same in the fourth century as it is in our own. All of us know of people who have adopted children; perhaps you or I are adopted, or perhaps we have adopted children. What does that mean? Does that mean that an adopted child is not your child? Not at all. An adopted child is just as much a child, and yet an adopted child comes from different physical parents. This word adopted Son of God means that Jesus as a creation gets adopted by the Father, gets taken into the family in a sense as a loving act by the Father. Later on this will be called adoptionism. So “the Son of God” is a courtesy title that’s given sort of as an honor to this man Jesus. The Son was actually not truly God or truly man because He refuses to have a human soul in Arius’s theology; that is, this Son of God cannot have a human soul because of who He is.

Thus, we have a Son of God who is not truly divine, a Son of God who is not truly human, and because of that, and this is what Athanasius saw, this Son of God cannot truly be a mediator between God and man. This is the issue. This is the bottom line in terms of the fight, in terms of the discussion. If you don’t have true God and true man, then the system that the Bible talks about from Genesis through the last of the Old Testament of the needing of the shedding of blood, this system that it finds its fulfillment in Christ falls apart. Unless that Mediator is truly God and truly man, then on both counts, the mediatorial activity of Christ is of no effect. Athanasius with his keen intellect, with his good insight was able to see this fault in Arius’s system.

What about the Holy Spirit? Arius doesn’t have a lot to say about the Holy Spirit. He maintains that the Holy Spirit is in a relationship to the Son that is like the relationship between the Son and the Father. This reminds us of Origen, as I’ve mentioned. “This Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all persons,” says Arius, “but nonetheless they are completely different since they share no nature among them.” This “Trinity”, and we should probably put that word in quotes, is comparable to a descending series of honor. It’s been described by scholars as a descending series separated by infinite degrees of honor and glory, resembling more a philosophical triad of orders of spiritual existence, extending outwards in concentric circles. That’s not what the Bible teaches concerning the intimate relationship between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. You see the contrast now between Athanasius and Arius? Do you see the subtle hideousness of Arius’s theology? Do you see the imminent practical danger in his Christology? If you can see these things, then you are able to understand the tremendous struggle the church is about to go through.

Before looking at the Nicene Creed itself and going into further analysis of the theology of the age, let me mention a few more practical details that are interesting and important. What about this Alexander of Alexandria? So far we’ve only seen him as a theologian, but how do we see him as a human being as well, and what role did he play in the Council of Nicea? He was, as you can imagine, one of the key figures at the Nicene Council. Alexander was bishop of the city of Alexandria in the year, about the year 312, and he was the first to fight against Arianism.

Arius was a presbyter in his district, and Alexander as an older, mature theologian addressed Arius kindly and admonished him to rethink some of his ideas, but Arius in his arrogance refused. And so a synod was called in the year 318 to discuss the theology of Arius. Now “synod” should be understood as a geographically local gathering of pastors who struggle with issues that are confined to that geographic locality, and it’s a technical term that all scholars use to describe these meetings. A synod is called for the year 318 where about one hundred different pastors meet, and they decide that Arius, after hearing the issues, has a theology that is not acceptable to the Christian church, and at that point Arius is excommunicated from the church because he refused to submit to the ruling of these one hundred pastors. Had he submitted, that would have been the end of the controversy; however, obviously this step of excommunication was ineffective, and the crisis continues as Arius goes throughout churches and on the street corners and proclaims his understanding of the gospel. And that threat was the immediate catalyst for calling the Council of Nicea in 325. And by the way, Alexander dies a few years later in 328.

We don’t have too much from the pen of Alexander, a couple letters—one written in 319 that is preserved by a Socrates, not the philosopher Socrates. The same name, but a Christian church historian—a letter written in 319 which summarizes Arius’s doctrine at least as Alexander saw it, and is helpful in helping us recreate Arius’s doctrine, and a second letter written about 325, coming after the first condemnation of Arius, in that synod that was meeting beforehand. Now what Alexander tries to do in that second letter is trace the roots of Arius’s teaching, and he does that to two people—one is Lucian of Antioch and Paul of Samosata, I’ve mentioned his name one other time briefly—and that letter is also preserved in a church history written by a fellow named Theodoret. And we only have one sermon left from Alexander that’s left in Syriac, which is a translation, as well Coptic, and in that sermon we see Alexander dealing with the relationship between the human body and the human soul and the necessity of the crucifixion of Christ. And once again as we see the various fields of discussion in the church, anthropology is just beginning to be developed, the doctrine of human nature, and you are reminded that Arius maintained that a human soul could not be in this Jesus of Nazareth.

I’ve also mentioned Eusebius of Caesarea as a theologian, and I’ve mentioned his name a number of times through the earlier lectures as being a preserver of some of the earliest information relative to the history of the church. This Eusebius of Caesarea should be known as the father of ecclesiastical history and was bishop of Caesarea in Palestine. He was born around 263, and it was to this area that Origen was exiled. Origen’s great personal library was held in that area and was the foundation for a later library that’s going to be established in Caesarea, and so Caesarea also becomes an important area of Christian learning.

A fellow named Pamphilus, who’s not very important, had been a friend of Origen, and he tried to help train Eusebius, so Eusebius came under in a sense a second-generation teacher of Origen, and Eusebius was deeply indebted to Origen and deeply admired Origen and much of Origen’s teaching is found in Eusebius. So obviously, at least by a second degree, Origen helped to influence the theology of Arius as well. And let’s take a look also at the life of Athanasius as a further introduction to the Nicene Creed and what is happening at the Nicene Council.

There is a Latin phrase that’s very helpful to understanding Athanasius; it’s a phrase that is oftentimes memorized in Latin, but I certainly won’t ask you to do that. It goes like Athanasius contra mundum et mundum contra Athanasius. How is that understood or translated? And this is a good one to put in the memory banks—Athanasius against the world and the world against Athanasius. If you want to understand the biography of Athanasius, this phrase summarizes it well. That’s a heavy phrase. Can you imagine your name being put in there instead of Athanasius? Was Athanasius really against the world and the whole world against Athanasius? Listen to the tale of woe as we look at the life of Athanasius.

We’ve mentioned Alexander of Alexandria; he was the bishop and a good and insightful pastor. He was the trainer of Athanasius. He was his theological tutor. Athanasius goes to the Council of Nicea in 325 as a helper to Alexander, and at the death of Alexander in 328, Athanasius is made bishop of Alexandria. This bishopric, this being the head pastor of the city of Alexandria, is a very prominent position in the church. Alexandria is probably the most important city in the eastern part of the empire and was generally seen as the main pastorate of all of Egypt and the area of North Africa that we call Libya. But poor old Athanasius was five times during his life deposed of his bishopric and thrown out of the empire, banished from the whole civilized world, the Roman world. He spent twenty years in exile, living in the desert and in the wilderness. During his third exile, remember there are five, while he’s living in the desert in Egypt, the wicked ruler Julian known as Julian the Apostate, he’s known as a lot of things, but Julian who was against Christianity (this is after the time of Constantine, and we’ll talk more about Constantine and the Roman emperors in just a few moments). Julian had all exiles of the Christian church brought back with the one hope that the Christian church would demolish itself; that is, Julian thought, “Ah ha, I’ll bring all the Christians together, those who are banished and exiled, let them fight among themselves, let the world see the hideousness of Christianity, let the world see that love certainly does not rule in this church, and the church will eventually extinguish itself.” So Julian in thinking that he was going to destroy Christianity helps Christianity in bringing poor old Athanasius back from exile.

Athanasius in God’s providence still lived to be relatively old. He died in AD 373. But Athanasius had one passion in life. His passion was to vindicate the deity of Christ. His passion was to vindicate the deity of Christ. We have a number of Athanasius’s writings, and those writings are divided into four different subject headings—apologetic, controversial, his own personal defense, and his exegetical and ascetic works. Taking a look at his apologetic works, we have two, both written before AD 325. One is a discourse against the Greeks, following a very familiar theme of the ancient church against Greek culture, and one is on the incarnation of the divine Word, an important theological theme for the Greek church, but also for the Christian church showing that it is not impossible for God to become incarnate, to take on flesh.

His controversial works are against Arianism. He has one written, we’re not sure of the date, around 350, on the decrees of Nicea, and he has a controversial work called Four Orations Against the Arians, showing why Arianism is a heresy. Then concerning his own personal defense, you can imagine, although at this point all the details aren’t clear, that this poor fellow who is deposed from the church and banished five times needs to defend himself, and he does that in a number of letters. He does it in an apology against the Arians, an appeal to the emperor Constantius, who is a follower of Constantine, and an apology concerning his flight into the desert.

And lastly we look at his exegetical and practical or ascetic works. He has a commentary on the Psalms and interesting as we want to always understand exegetical methodology, he does use allegory as he exegetes the Psalms. He also has . . . the last work is his life of a monk named Anthony who was an ascetic, an ascetic monk in the Egyptian desert. That was his last work written around 365. That work is important for us to remember as we move briefly away from theology to see that there is this rising movement in the church toward asceticism; that is, that especially with the radical change with the rise of the emperor Constantine, as Christianity comes from the catechumens into the cathedrals, there is going to be a movement in Christianity toward asceticism. Obviously that movement is not very apparent during the time of persecution. The Christians were ascetic enough, but that lifestyle of asceticism becomes greatly disrupted in the post-Constantinian era, that means, the time after the emperor Constantine, and there is a cry from certain portions of the church to go back and once again become ascetic, to deny the flesh, and this will be an important discussion as we talk about lifestyle of the Christian church after 312, or especially after 325.

And so our last introduction to the time period of the Nicene Creed is a concluding one. Alexander of Alexandria and the church in Alexandria probably had things right. The Christ of Arius was a creature or a work of God, the Creator, who has been promoted to the rank of a divine Son and Redeemer. And the Arians turned the very human characteristics of their Savior that we see in the Gospels and the Epistles, they bring that out and develop a doctrine of God that has as its starting point this immutable monad God. And for the Arians, then, this cardinal principle that all creatures, which would then include the Son, were ultimately and radically dependent upon a Creator whose sole method of relating to His creation was by His will and pleasure. There really is not a better attested principle to the teaching of Arius, and we find it in his followers as well. As we compare and contrast Arianism with what we should call orthodoxy, that is, proper teaching, salvation for the orthodox church is affected by the Son’s essential identity with the Father. That which links God and Christ to creation is the divine nature’s assumption of flesh. On the other hand, salvation for Arianism is affected by the Son’s identity with the creatures. That which links Christ and creatures to God is conformity of will.

Arius says concerning Christ, “That like all the other creatures, this Christ is cast into the role of an obedient servant living by faith in His Father.” We’re going to notice that the bottom-line distinction between orthodoxy and Arianism is the manner in which men and women become saved. How do we make our way to heaven? Orthodox Christianity is going to have one answer, and Arianism is going to have a competing and different answer to that fundamental question.

Let’s take a look now at the Nicene Creed, moving to a new part in our lecture outline. Now that we’re familiar with the various players on the field of controversy, it would be well if we were to investigate the creed itself. That creed is known to many of us, some of us even have it memorized, and you can find it in a number of hymn books of churches, and I would suggest that you obtain a copy of that Nicene Creed and look at it with me from a textbook as we go over some of the phrases.

The first specifically anti-Arian clause in the Nicene Creed reads: “That Jesus is from the substance of the Father.” That was intended to give a precise interpretation of the phrase that comes earlier, “begotten from the Father.” “Begotten from the Father of the substance of the Father,” and that is a major blow to one of the most important tenets of Arianism. Remember that Arius taught that the Son had been created out of nothing and had no community of being with the Father. Not so the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed makes clear that Jesus is begotten from the Father of His substance. Not a creation. It excluded the possibility that the Son was produced like the creatures out of nothing and infers that the Son is generated out of the Father’s substance. Of course, this is the teaching of Athanasius. This expression is later made very clear when the Nicene Creed says, “Jesus is of the same substance as the Father.” And this phrase concerning of the substance of the Father was not very new. It had been seen in Athanasius, but it had been articulated way before Athanasius in some other less important theologians. And you know, Arius would sometimes even use this phrase—he was so intelligent and subtle—he would sometimes use this phrase “of the substance of the Father,” but as he implemented that phrase, he totally redefined all the words so that he could be seen as orthodox while having a different meaning from the meaning that we’ve seen from that phrase.

Another phrase which is extremely important is “very God of very God,” or better translated “true God of true God.” That is telling us that the Son is God in whatever the sense the Father is God. If you talk about God the Father as God, you must understand that Jesus is truly God as well. Now interestingly this phrase could be used by the Arians as well. He would say, “Yes, Jesus is true God,” but He’s true God because He was adopted by the Father. He was made a God. This man, this creation out of nothing becomes the Son of God and in becoming the Son of God is truly God. And if he had enough time to talk he would say, “In the same way that Rick Gamble or you is truly God as we come into heaven.” Now wait a minute, that’s not what we mean by true God, is it? No, it’s not. That’s not what the Nicene Creed meant either, but that’s how Arius would understand that term in his attempting to be orthodox, in his attempting to keep his views and yet cover them in a cloak of similar wording.

And perhaps a most important phrase against the Arians was “of one substance with the Father.” Again, the full weight of the attack against Arius is seen in that phrase. The Arians could not at all reply to that phrase, and there was no way they could get around, there was no way they could weasel words to make their teaching fall into orthodox teaching at this point. And this phase dealt the death blow to Arianism, so to speak, in that the full deity of the Son is asserted. Important to note here, as well as in terms of the development of creeds themselves in the churches, is that the expression “of the substance of the Father” is nowhere to be found in the Scriptures, and this is a first in creed development because in the earlier creeds, we think of the Apostles’ Creed, which is perhaps more familiar to us, we find the words of the Apostles’ Creed and the words of the other creeds before that to always contain the words of Scripture, but this words “of the same substance,” which is the Greek word homoousion, is not found in the Scriptures. Here the church is boldly and courageously taking the teaching of the Scripture and yet going beyond the words of the Scripture to define the nature of God Himself. And so there is a change that from using only inspired language; now they use what we would call normal human language to express a fundamental truth of Christianity. That doesn’t seem very radical to us. We use the word Trinity, which is also not found in the Scripture, and none of us would have any hedging in using the word homoousios or “of the same substance of the Father,” but that is a development that is a first in the history of the church.

There’s one other phrase that we want to talk about in the Nicene Creed itself, and that phrase is “of another hypostasis or substance.” These are significant phrases to see that the word hypostasis, that Greek word, and ousia, another Greek word, are employed in the Nicene Creed as equivalent terms. Later on, perhaps after around the year 362, the meaning of the word ousia and hypostasis will become more clearly defined. These words will be not just equivalent terms, but as the church continues to develop and continues to struggle, so the church will get a closer grasp to the Scripture’s teaching, but at this point the church is not advanced that far.

That’s the creed written in Nicea. I should mention very briefly, and I’ll talk about this more, if you belong to a church that will sometimes recite the Nicene Creed, it’s interesting to note and it’s helpful to pastors to know that the Nicene Creed which we recite or maybe even have memorized isn’t the Nicene Creed. Wait a minute, you also told us the Apostles’ Creed wasn’t written by the apostles. Now you’re going to tell us that the Nicene Creed wasn’t written by the Council of Nicea? That’s the case. The Nicene Creed which we have today is a compilation of the Creed of Nicea and a creed in 381 in Constantinople. So what we really have is the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, but we just call it the Nicene Creed for ease. But if you want to impress your parishioners sometimes, tell them we’re not about to recite the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed and see if you impress anyone with that information. So the Apostles’ Creed wasn’t written by the apostles, and the Nicene Creed isn’t really from Nicea. Interesting information.

The Council of Nicea did more than write a creed. They met as a council to resolve many important issues. Remember I’ve used the word synod prior to this time, but now I’m using the word council, and we should understand the technical differences between a council and a synod. Obviously you can see the differences already—a synod is a local geographical meeting; the Council of Nicea was a huge, worldwide what we would call ecumenical gathering. There were representatives meeting in Nicea from every part of the church. From far and wide there was not a geographic area not being represented in the Council of Nicea. How was this pulled off? In our next lecture we’ll talk about some of the sociological and political happenings that are concomitant with the Nicene Creed, but this huge expenditure of funds was paid for by the Roman government, the government, the emperor paid to have all these many pastors come to this one area and to work together to resolve the controversies in the church.

And so as they created a creed, they also dealt with some other interesting and very perplexing matters. There were particular problems in the church in Egypt, and a schism was developing there surrounding a fellow called Meletius. This Meletius was a moderate semi-Arian; that is, he held to some of the teachings that were more like Origen and more like Arius than the teachings of orthodoxy, and Meletius was as a bishop ordaining people to the office of bishop in Egypt. And as Meletius was in a sense building his own career, building his own church, the church in Egypt began to have rival factions, and what do we do with the clergy that had been ordained by the bishop Meletius? Do they need to be reordained? And that was one of the questions that the Council of Nicea had to struggle with.

We’ll see in our next lecture some more struggles, some more answers as the church of Christianity begins to deal with very practical problems, and you’ll see with me that some of the problems that we face today are not new, but they’ve been wrestled through in the history of the church. Hopefully we’ll find some answers in the Council of Nicea that will provide bridgeworks for providing answers for us today in the twentieth-century church.

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Lesson Materials

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