Christian History Project. This site contains the text of 12 volumes on the history of mankind over the last 2,000 years written from a 'collectively-denominational' Christian perspective.

Arianism |
Does Arianism really matter?

Arianism is drawn from Chapter Eight, beginning on page 226, of Volume Three, By This Sign of the twelve-volume historical series The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years. If you would like to order this book please visit

A materialistic age dismisses such questions as absurd, but for believing Christians the issue is as important now as it was then

Arianism - Does Arianism really matter?

Arianism - Does Arianism really matter?

Two aspects of the Arian controversy puzzle the twenty-first-century reader. One is the fact that a mere doctrinal dispute could have caused such a rupture in the church. The second, arising out of the first, was the fury and bitterness engendered between committed Christians. It may seem trivial now, with the contest long-ago concluded, the issues so thoroughly hammered out.

But the Arian altercation was crucially important: Since such doctrinal conflicts within the early church led Christians to an understanding of their God and Creator, helping to define what they believe and worship today, they consider the struggle worth it.

“This was a frenzied battle within the Christian soul itself,” writes the mid-twentieth-century historian Henri Daniel-Rops. “Men were to hate one another in duels in which no mercy was shown by either side.”

That becomes particularly evident in the conduct of Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, who enters the controversy as a man most intent upon resolving conflict, but within a few years is issuing encyclical letters vehemently opposing Arianism.

Arius, on the other hand, was a controversialist from the start, says Daniel-Rops. He was a man who “possessed that inextricable mixture of virtues and defects blended together in the melting pot of pride.”

In the course of the next several centuries, as Christians grappled with the doctrinal problems that Christ’s words as recorded in the Scriptures had raised, passions and personal animosities would grow worse, often involving physical violence and vicious personal abuse. For example, in 350, Paul, patriarch of Constantinople, was strangled to death as a result of his conflicts with Arius.

All of this would amaze most Christians at the end of the second millennium, because they could not understand people of faith becoming so intimately involved in matters that, to the twenty-first-century mind anyway, could not be resolved.

“If it seems very remote from our understanding today,” asks Daniel-Rops, “is not this perhaps because of weaker faith and blunter emotions?” But such “weaker faith” has an explanation, says the twentieth-century Christian apologist Charles Gore in his The Reconstruction of Belief. In Gore’s view, a number of influences have combined to destroy religious belief. In particular, he cites the impact of Darwinism, of literary and historical criticism applied to the Bible, and of the reduction of religion to “a branch of abnormal psychology.” These have combined to create a widespread disbelief in traditional religious tenets.

Gore’s analysis helps identify the reason why the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is perceived by many people as absurd conjecture, and the disputes it provoked as occasioned by sheer pride. That many aspects of Darwinism, criticism, and psychologism have themselves come under scientific attack seems to have had little impact on the general trend away from religious inquiry.

Protestants, too, may dismiss the questions raised by the Arian dispute as having nothing to do with them, says the Canadian church historian David Priestley (a consultant on this series). But “Baptists and Evangelicals, given our concentration on the Bible, need to be told that we depend on the instruction of the Spirit in and through our catholic ancestors for two key dogmas: the Trinity and the Two Natures of Christ. The very apostolic writings they venerate provide the triadic terminology for God, the exalted descriptions of the Son, and the distinction made between Father, Son and Spirit with their unity. The dogma of the Trinity, and later of the Two Natures, are staples of Baptist and Evangelical conviction.”

While many today are unfamiliar with their “classical statement” in human terms, Priestley continues, “we naively extract the tri-unity and ‘true God and true man’ as self-evident in Scripture and never contested by true believers.” But what is “self-evident” now became so only after hard-fought contests between believers centuries ago.

This is the end of the Arianism category article drawn from Chapter Eight, beginning on page 226, of Volume Three, By This Sign. To continue reading more about Arianism from The Christians, Their First Two Thousand Years we suggest experiencing the rest of the book, complete with hundreds of magnificent illustrations, by ordering it at