Arianism is one of several heresies the Church has battled against over the centuries concerning the Person of Jesus Christ.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
5 September 2017
In our gospel for today (Lk 4:31-37), we hear about how Jesus encountered a man in the synagogue who was possessed by a demon.
The demon cried out in a loud voice: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
Although most of Jesus’ contemporaries either did not recognize his divinity or rejected it, the demons were well aware of the fact that he was God. Today, we find a similar situation: there’s no shortage of people who are either ignorant of who Jesus is, or reject his divinity outright; and we can be sure the demons know well, today as in the past, that Jesus is the incarnate Son of God, perfectly divine and human, true God and true man, as Christians profess in the Nicene Creed.
But such a profession of faith was not easily won. Down through the centuries, the Catholic Church battled against a number of heresies concerning the divine and human Person of Jesus Christ. One of these, begun by the heresiarch Arius of Alexandria in the 4th century, was the most serious subordinationist heresy encountered by the Church. As such, it denied the full divinity of Jesus. Arius taught that, although Jesus was perhaps favored by God as a kind of demigod, he was a creature created in time—he was not truly God. Interestingly but not surprisingly, the arrogant, stubborn and convincingly adept Arius used Scripture to defend his position: “…the Father is greater than I” (Jn 14:28). Arianism led a large number of bishops, especially in the East, into heresy.
At the first Ecumenical Council of Nicea in A.D. 325, the Church condemned Arius and formally decreed that the Second Person of the Trinity (the Son of God/Jesus Christ) is generated from all eternity, not created at some distant point in time. He is “one in being” (homoousios, “of same/nature”) with God the Father. Christ is perfectly God, co-equal to the Father, fully possessing the divine nature.
Although Nicea condemned Arianism, heresies often never really die out, but raise their heads periodically throughout history. This is the case with Arianism. Strands of Arianism are found alive today in the beliefs of Islam, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormonism. Islam views Jesus as a prophet, a mere man, as do Jehovah’s Witnesses. Mormonism teaches that Jesus is a secondary divinity. The view of Mormonism, by extension of logic, means Christ is not perfectly God and therefore not God at all. This is a problem because if Jesus is not God, he could not have redeemed humankind as the incarnate Son of God who offered his life on the Roman cross to put eternal damnation to death. Further, if Jesus is only a man, he cannot grant to men a share in the divine nature by infusing his Spirit into the hearts of Christians. These are but a few examples of the seriously problematic elements of a faulty Christology.
What’s the take-home point? Recognize the essential importance of aligning yourself with the Spirit-guided and Spirit-fortified belief of the Church, the “pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15), formed by the blood and water which flowed from the side of Christ on the cross. Failure to do so is likely to result in a number of Christological and/or theological errors.
Truth matters. Live the truth: it’s the key to happiness.
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.