The Career of Arius


Known for the controversy that would carry his name and that rocked the early Church, Arius’ career was one of almost constant conflict. His ideas led to his twice being excommunicated, only to be, thanks to his influential friend Eusebius, integrated into the Church by Constantine.

His Early Career

Not much is known of his early life, all that may be attested is that he began his career in 306 under the tutelage of Lucian, presbyter of Antioch, from whom he learnt his theology. When a conflict arose between Meletius, an Egyptinan and the bishop of Alexandria Peter, Arius chose the side of the Egyptian. The conflict did not last long and a reconciliation between Peter and Arius was agreed. Peter ordained Arius as deacon, in 311, as after the death of Peter, his successor, Achillas, ordained him presbyter in 313. He was given a small Christian community called Baucalis. It wasn’t long before another conflict between he and the bishop broke out. In 318 the two quarreled over the divine nature of the Son and Substance. To bring order, a synod was called at Alexandria in 321 where nearly 100 hundred Egyptian and Lybian bishops attended. Arius was condemned and excommunicated. He fled to Palestine where he met the eminent Eusebius of Nicomedia, who undertook a defence of Arius’ position entitled Thalis, of which a few fragments survive.

Towards the First Council of Nicaea and its Aftermath

Under the tutelage and protection of Eusebius, Arius was convinced by the latter to write a compromise creed of faith without his most belligerent clause, the ex nihilo creation of the Son; however, he maintained the superiority of the Father to the Son. This work was deemed acceptable by those gathered at the Council of Nicomedia and the excommunication placed on him at Alexandria was lifted. Conflicts, however, persisted. The Bishop of Alexandria and Arius were unable to come to terms over doctrine, leading to more anathemae and excommunications by the bishop, only to be revoked by others. The situation seemed to be a mess. The on-going conflicts resolved Constantine to call a general council to clear the situation. When the Council of Nicaea was convoqued in 325, it was attended by more or less than 400 prelates, including a very old Arius. This council read aloud the creeds of Arius, then preceded to tear them in pieces. He, his writings and his followers were hit with anathemae by more than 300 bishops. Lastly, Arius was banished to Illyrium with two of his prelates, Tehonas of Marmarica and Secundus of Ptolemais.

The End of His Life

The conflict did not end with his excommunication and banishment. The ideas that he preached had won many supporters, most notably his friend Eusebius. Trouble once again brewed in Alexandria when the Meletians joined their Arian friends in support against the harsh treatment of Arius. In addition, Eusebius wrote a letter to the emperor requesting the return of Arius from exile. The emperor conceded to the request in 331 only if he could be reconciled to the Church by Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, a staunch supporter of the Nicene Creed and harsh opponent of Arius. As expected, the bishop declined and more disturbances ensued. It was until the synod of Tyre in 335 and the deposition of Athanasius that Arius was permitted to freely enter Alexandria. Shortly afterwards, Arius was granted an interview with the Emperor in which he submitted his new creed. The emperor deemed it to be orthodox and granted Arius a rescript to be given communion by Alexander of Constantinople. Everything seemed to be turning to fortune for Arius until suddenly, he died without warning. His enemies claimed it as vengeance from God while his supporters claimed him to be poisoned.