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Arianism, the polemical term used to describe a wide spectrum of 4th-cent. Christian theological beliefs that subordinated God the Son to God the Father. The name derives from the presbyter Arius, whose teachings were condemned at the council of Nicaea (1) (325), where the Son was affirmed as homoousios (‘of the same substance’) as the Father. Arius himself exerted little influence on subsequent debates, and no contemporary Christians referred to themselves as ‘Arian’. However, the Nicene formula was regarded with suspicion by many eastern bishops for failing to distinguish the individual identities of Father and Son within the Trinity (a heresy known as Monarchianism or Sabellianism). This distrust was expressed strongly at the council of Antioch (1) (341), and during the mid-4th cent. a number of alternative doctrines emerged, including those who taught that the Son was anomoios (‘unlike’), homoios (‘like’), or homoiousios (‘of like substance’) to the Father. It was the defenders of the Nicene Creed, particularly Athanasius of Alexandria, who branded all these varied doctrines together under the label ‘Arianism’.

The ‘Homoian’ doctrine received imperial patronage during the sole rule of Constantius II 350–61 and under Valens, but gained little support in the west and remained controversial in the east. Under Theodosius I, the council of Constantinople (381) reaffirmed the Nicene Creed, and all the doctrines that could be described as ‘Arian’ were condemned as heretical. Nevertheless, ‘Anomoian’ teachings still retained a small eastern following into the 5th cent., as recorded by the ‘Anomoian’ ecclesiastical historian Philostorgius. More significantly, Ulfila, missionary to the Goths, brought Christianity to them in a ‘Homoian’ form that was also embraced by the Vandals and Burgundians. In the Germanic kingdoms in the post-Roman west, those who held such doctrines continued to be regarded by the Roman Christian population as ‘Arian’.


R. P. C. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy 318–381 (1988).Find this resource:

    M. Wiles, Archetypal Heresy: Arianism through the Centuries (1996).Find this resource:

      L. Ayres, Nicaea and its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology (2004).Find this resource:

        D. M. Gwynn, The Eusebians: the Polemic of Athanasius of Alexandria and the Construction of the Arian Controversy (2007).Find this resource:

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