theophiletos (theophiletos) wrote,
theophiletos
theophiletos

Arianism

(N.B. This post has nothing to do with Aryan anything, Hitler, white supremacy, or other such topics, but rather with the fourth-century heresy.)


At a barbecue yesterday I met a seminary student, and we got talking about theology. After I explained my research interests (which he said interested him), and he asked me to remind him of the definition of Nestorianism, he asked what I think of Arianism. Not knowing why he was asking, I paused, and then answered matter-of-factly. As it turns out, he is really intrigued by what he sees as the possibility that Arianism may be the truth but that the church might have chosen to go with what we now call orthodoxy for political reasons. In particular (because he's a protestant), he said that, if we leave aside the Gospel of John as uninformative, he could almost prove Arianism from the Synoptic Gospels. I objected to this, of course, and argued for a traditional Trinitarian understanding based on the beginning and the end of the Gospel of Matthew, and in particular we discussed whether "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" might be a later gloss in the text of Matt 28:19. He was prepared to say that Matthew might also not be so reliable for Jesus' self-understanding, and he really thinks Mark is the most accurate, so I presented an argument on the basis of Mark 2:1-8 (Jesus forgiving the paralytic) that Jesus understood Himself to be God, in a sense understood by those most monotheistic partisans, the Pharisees.

But afterwards, as I thought more about the issue, it occurred to me just how different the entire history of Christianity would look from an Arian perspective. I mean, at the time, of course, many people were tempted by Arianism, and it took some very careful theological investigation to demonstrate the falsity of that view. But on the Arian perspective, Jesus is a creature, although the first and greatest creature and honored with the title God (by grace, not by nature). So from that perspective, to say Jesus is in fact of the same divine nature as the Father is blasphemy and idolatry, worshiping the creature instead of the Creator. And thus, to postulate an Arian understanding of Jesus is to say that God cared so little for His Church that He allowed them all for the last millennium and a half to be idolaters, and the true relationship with Christ to perish from the earth (until re-invented at the end of the 19th century). This really makes nonsense out of God's grace, God's providence, and God's guidance of His people, as revealed in the history of Christ's Church. I mean, I suppose if you accept no Gospel except Mark, and read Mark (as many scholars now do) to imply that Jesus never intended to found a church, then you won't necessarily think the Church was ever in God's plan, in which case this argument will carry no weight but you also have no reason to join any Christian community today, or even call yourself Christian. But if you accept that Christ did in fact found a Church and intended to guide it and protect it in all ages, then Arianism seems not only incompatible with the Bible (my first argument), but also inconceivable with Church History. It was just an interesting thought.
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