Chapter XV.—The Arian Heresy, its Origin, its Progress, and the Contention which it occasioned among the Bishops.
Although, as we have shown, religion was in a flourishing condition at this period, yet the churches were disturbed by sore contentions; for under the pretext of piety and of seeking the more perfect discovery of God, certain questions were agitated, which had not, till then, been examined. Arius 1108 was the originator of these disputations. He was a presbyter of the church at Alexandria in Egypt, and was at first a zealous thinker about doctrine, and upheld the innovations of Melitius. Eventually, however, he abandoned this latter opinion, 1109 and was ordained deacon by Peter, bishop of Alexandria, who afterwards cast him out of the church, because when Peter anathematized the zealots of Melitius and rejected their baptism, Arius assailed him for these acts and could not be restrained in quietness. After the martyrdom of Peter, Arius asked forgiveness of Achillas, and was restored to his office as deacon, and afterwards elevated to the presbytery. Afterwards Alexander, also, held him in high repute, since he was a most expert logician; for it was said that he was not lacking in such knowledge. He fell into absurd discourses, so that he had the audacity to preach in the church what no one before him had ever suggested; namely, that the Son of God was made out of that which had no prior existence, that there was a period of time in which he existed not; that, as possessing free will, he was capable of vice and virtue, and that he was created and made: to these, many other similar assertions were added as he went forward into the arguments and the details of inquiry. Those who heard these doctrines advanced, blamed Alexander for not opposing the innovations at variance with doctrine. But this bishop deemed it more advisable to leave each party to the free discussion of doubtful topics, so that by persuasion rather than by force, they might cease from contention; hence he sat down as a judge with some of his clergy, and led both sides into a discussion. But it happened on this occasion, as is generally the case in a strife of words, that each party claimed the victory. Arius defended his assertions, but the others contended that the Son is consubstantial and co-eternal with the Father. The council was convened a second time, and the same points contested, but they came to no agreement amongst themselves. During the debate, Alexander seemed to incline first to one party and then to the other 1110 ; finally, however, he declared himself in favor of those who affirmed that the Son was consubstantial and co-eternal with the Father, and he commanded Arius to receive this doctrine, and to reject his former opinions. Arius, however, would not be persuaded to compliance, and many of the bishops and clergy considered his statement of doctrine to be correct. Alexander, therefore, ejected him and the clergy who concurred with him in sentiment from the church. Those of the parish of Alexandria, who had embraced his opinions, were the presbyters Aithalas, Achillas, Carpones, Sarmates, and Arius, 1111 and the deacons Euzoïus, Macarius, Julius, Menas, and Helladius. Many of the people, likewise, sided with them: some, because they imagined their doctrines to be of God; others, as frequently happens in similar cases, because they believed them to have p. 252 been ill-treated and unjustly excommunicated. Such being the state of affairs at Alexandria, the partisans of Arius, deeming it prudent to seek the favor of the bishops of other cities, sent legations to them; they sent a written statement of their doctrines to them, requesting them that, if they considered such sentiments to be of God, they would signify to Alexander that he ought not to molest them; but that if they disapproved of the doctrines, they should teach them what opinions were necessary to be held. This precaution was of no little advantage to them; for their tenets became thus universally disseminated, and the questions they had started became matters of debate among all the bishops. Some wrote to Alexander, entreating him not to receive the partisans of Arius into communion unless they repudiated their opinions, while others wrote to urge a contrary line of conduct. When Alexander perceived that many who were revered by the appearance of good conduct, and weighty by the persuasiveness of eloquence, held with the party of Arius, and particularly Eusebius, president of the church of Nicomedia, a man of considerable learning and held in high repute at the palace; he wrote to the bishops of every church desiring them not to hold communion with them. This measure kindled the zeal of each party the more, and as might have been expected, the contest was increasingly agitated. Eusebius and his partisans had often petitioned Alexander, but could not persuade him; so that considering themselves insulted, they became indignant and came to a stronger determination to support the doctrine of Arius. A synod having been convened in Bithynia, they wrote to all the bishops, desiring them to hold communion with the Arians, as with those making a true confession, and to require Alexander to hold communion with them likewise. As compliance could not be extorted from Alexander, Arius sent messengers to Paulinas, bishop of Tyre, to Eusebius Pamphilus, who presided over the church of Cæsarea in Palestine, and to Patrophilus, bishop of Scythopolis, soliciting permission for himself and for his adherents, as they had previously attained the rank of presbyters, to form the people who were with them into a church. For it was the custom in Alexandria, as it still is in the present day, that all the churches should be under one bishop, but that each presbyter should have his own church, in which to assemble the people. These three bishops, in concurrence with others who were assembled in Palestine, granted the petition of Arius, and permitted him to assemble the people as before; but enjoined submission to Alexander, and commanded Arius to strive incessantly to be restored to peace and communion with him.
Eus. V. C. parts of ii. & iii.; Ruf. H. E. i. 1–6; Soc. i. 5–13; Philost. H. E. i. 3–9.251:1109
No one else suggests an early connection of Arius with the Melitians.251:1110
A doubtful and unsupported assertion. All other testimony makes Alexander steadfast and exact in his definition.251:1111
There are variations in names, offices, numbers in attendance, and course of debate in the early as well as later accounts of the controversy.