Thursday, February 09, 2017

Arius of Alexandria (Maurice Wiles' Book)

I like to suggest book titles when I run across them while doing research. One study that you may wish to consult is Maurice Wiles' Archetypal Heresy: Arianism through the Centuries (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996). Despite the title, Wiles provides a very sympathetic treatment of the "arch-heresy" that earned the vilification of churchmen like Athanasius and those of his ilk. Wiles' work is especially important since he has spent most of his academic career studying the history Arianism and how it developed through the centuries.

On page 12 of this publication, Wiles observes that
Arius (in his letter to Eusebius of Nicomedia) called
the pre-existent Son, PLHRHS QEOS MONOGENHS ('full god
only-begotten'). He evidently derived this title from
the Prologue of John's Gospel wherein the writer
employs MONOGENHS and PLHRHS (Jn 1:14) as well as QEOS
coupled with MONOGENHS in Jn 1:18. Wiles also notes
the textual variants for 1:18 (MONOGENHS QEOS or
MONOGENHS hUIOS) but points out Arius' ostensible
preference for the reading MONOGENHS QEOS. The
patristic scholar then writes:

"The text of St John's gospel left Arius in no doubt
that the Word or Son was a divine entity; he was QEOS.
But the same passage equally clearly implied that
there was a differentiation between the application of
that term to the Father and to the Word; the latter
was MONOGENHS QEOS" (Wiles 12).

Arius further appealed to Jn 17:3, which makes a
marked distinction between 'the only true God' and
'Jesus Christ'. Arius thus concluded that while Christ
is QEOS--the Father is ALHQINOS QEOS (a point earlier
observed by Novatian in De Trinitate 31). Moreover,
Arius wisely observed that Jn 17:3 did not simply
apply to the humanity of Christ since one would
apparently be "wrenching" the saying "from its context
in the gospel" by exegeting the passage that way
(13). Arius therefore concluded that the Son is a
creature: he is the divine Wisdom spoken about in Prov
8:22-31, who was created (KTIZW) and formed (QEMELIW)
as well as born (GENNAW).

Arius' reasoning is interesting here since he
believes, as did Eusebius of Nicomedia, that in this
case, begetting and creating refer to the same
phenomenon. Eusebius of Nicomedia pointed to such
texts as Deut 32:18 where we read that God brought
forth (begot) Israel and He is even said to have
begotten the "drops of dew" in a poetic sense (Job
38:28). Ergo, the language of procreation can be
employed to delineate a created being, one brought
forth NON EX DEO, SED NIHILO. Consequently it is not
hard to see how Arius reasoned that the Son is a
creature although the Son was "begotten timelessly
before God created the worlds."

Ironically, though affirming the creaturely status of
the LOGOS, Arius still believed that the Son should be
worshiped as God. As Wiles recounts the theological
reasoning of Athanasius, Arius' arch-rival, we read:
"If the Son is not essentially God, then the only
alternative is that he is a creature. And that both
precludes him from fulfilling any saving role
[according to Athanasius], and also means that the
worship which Arians offer to him is a form of
blasphemous idolatry" (7-8).

Athanasius seems to be partly correct at this point, if
by 'worship', Arians were rendering LATREIA or
PROSKUNEW in a manner that belonged to only Almighty
God. Supposedly the Arians vigorously sang songs of
praise (hymns) to the Lamb of God and worshiped Him as
if he were God, since he 'participated' in God. If
this depiction of the ancient believers of Jesus
Christ is accurate, then we can confidently contend
that the Arians markedly differentiated themselves
from Jehovah's modern-day Witnesses who only render
LATREIA to the one identified as Jehovah (YHWH) in
Holy Writ. But I hope this information will give you an
idea of the gems that are contained in Wiles' study.
Now tolle, lege! :-)


Duncan said...

Sounds very interesting will add to my wants list. Just after "destroyer of gods" ;)

Keefa said...

Arius quote of John 1:18 "MONOGENHS QEOS" is intriguing as it discloses early attestation of the reading in the Alexandrian corpus. This reading would deny the eternal generation of the son.

R.P.C. Hanson observes in his book" the Arians favorite title for the son was "unigenitus"( only-begotten)( Jn 1.14;1,3:16). His production implies no division or diminution of the Father. -The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy, 318-381 by R. P. C. Hanson, pg. 102

Indeed Wiles is wise to note that John 1:18 has textual variants, but Arius preferred the reading with "MONOGENHS QEOS"( Metzger gives this reading a "B" grade)

Trinitarians far too often seem to think that just because the Christian Greek Scriptures called Jesus "QEOS" that it automatically equates him with JHVH. The Hebrews Scriptures and LXX demonstrate that ALOHYM and QEOS were used of other figures in the Bible without it absorbing them in with a community of beings sharing one OUSIA.

If one accepts the "MONOGENHS QEOS reading as more primitive it would define what kind of QEOS John signified in Jn 1:1 c. The import would be HO LOGOS as a subordinate "QEOS". Thereby acknowledging that the Logos-ktisma-formula is the best christological reading of several notable Johannine passages.

Regarding John 17:3, R.P.C Hanson notes( pg. 836) that this text was a favorite of Arius and it was strongly exploited by the Arians. "Arius concluded that while Christ was "QEOS" he was not "ALHQINOS QEOS"

John 17:3 does two things:
1. Differentiates the Father from the Son( contra Sabellianism)
2. Gives exclusivity to JHVH that prevents any other figures from being in his unique class of true-god-ness( contra Trinitarianism)

Arius opponents resulted to faulty exegesis by implying that only in his incarnate state (i.e humanity) could he utter those words. Moses, Jeremiah uttered them before Jesus human career and Paul subsequent his human career. It is no wonder that Frances Young( From Nicaea to Chalcedon) reports that "Arius preaching attracted a large following" including gaining support from Eusebius of Nicomedia. Arius JW style had his own territory card and went publishings the good news!

Dr. Foster, I wanted to get your thoughts on this point. Arius interprets 1 Timothy 6:16 as referring to the Father. ( See Arius: Heresy and Tradition Rowan Williams pg. 270) while some modern day exegetes apply this text to the Son. Your thoughts?

This is an excellent article that you have written and I enjoyed it very much. Please continue to share your theological reflections.

Philip Fletcher said...

Well that is educational, I like that. thank you.

Edgar Foster said...

Dear Keefa: Always enjoy your insightful comments, my friend. Regarding your question about 1 Tim. 6:16, please see

I like your remarks on Jn 1:18 as well, and here's some research that might give a slightly different perspective to what you've already perused:

Edgar Foster said...

You're welcome, Philip. Glad the blog entry provided some beneficial information.