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Philosophical Prerequisites of Arianism
|University of Sofia “St Kliment of Ochrid”||DOI|
|Fuculty of Theology||20 June 2020|
Abstract: Arianism is a Christian teaching, which appeared at the beginning of the 4th c. In addition to the purely theological dimensios off this Christian heresy, a number of scholas has found that specific philosophical prerequisites are considered as a foundation to the particular logic of Arian thinkers of that era. Aristotle’s legacy and his Neoplatonic interpretation had a significant influence on the formation of Arianism.
Key Words: Arianism, Patristics, ancient Christianity, ancient philosophy
In 318 AD, Arius, who was already an old man, began to preach that the Son of God has been created, and therefore there was a time in which He did not exist. For this reason, He is not ungenerated. (ὁ Υἱός οὐκ ἔστιν ἀγένητος) (Epiphanius, Adv. haereses 69, 6: Epistola Arii ad Eusebium). However the principal characteristic of God is that He is ungenerated (ἀγέν[ν]ητος) (Epiphanius, Adv. haer. 69, 6: Ep. Arii ad Alexandrum). In two of his letters – to Eusebius of Nicomedia and to Alexander of Alexandria – the Alexandrian presbyter Arius explains that while God is without beginning and not begotten, the Son has a beginning in his existence (ἀρχὴν ἔχει ὁ Υἱὸς, ὁ δὲ Θεὸς ἄναρχός ἐστιν) (Epiphanius, Adv. haer. 69, 6: Ep. Arii ad Eusebium).
In his letter to his bishop Alexander, Arius emphasizes the oneness of God and avoids, very carefully, calling God the “Father”. When he refers to the generation of the Son, he refers not to the “Father” but to “God” (see Epiphanius,Adv. haer. 69, 6: Ep. Arii ad Alexandrum.
The only time that he calls God the “Father” is when he quotes the words of Alexander of Alexandria (see Epiphanius, Adv. haer. 69, 6: Ep. Arii ad Eusebium). In his later works, including the poem “Thalia,” and the “Letter of Arius and Eusonius to Constantine,” the word “Father” is used not according to a Trinitarian but according to a cosmological context – God as a father, i.e., as a creator of all that exists.
At the beginning of the second letter to Bishop Alexander Arius tries to confront, as he claims, the materialistic notions on the Father-Son relationship. Apparently, he was referring to the Gnostic influences in Alexandria during the 3rd and at the beginning of the 4th c. AD. In this context, he rejects the concept of “consubstantial” (τὸ ὁμοούσιον) as a potential term of defining the relationship between the Father and the Son. The signatories of the letter (a group of five presbyters, six deacons and five bishops – followers of Arius) reject the claim that the Son is a projection (προβολήν), a notion similar to that of the Gnostic Valentinus or that is a consubstantial part of the Father (μέρος ὁμοούσιον), as the Manichaeans professed. Moreover the signatories refuse to agree with Savelius that God is the same Son and Father simultaneously (υἱοπάτορα), they also reject the Gnostic Ierax, whose opinion was hat the Son is light from light; thus they accept a pre-existing, before the creation of the world, Logos, who after being born, he became the Son of God.
In order to understand properly Arius’s problem about the concept of “consubstantial” (τὸ ὁμοούσιον) firstly is important to consider the meaning of the term “essence” (οὐσία) according to the philosophical context of that era. Initially, this term was systematically used by Aristotle in the 5th Chapter of his “Categories” (see Aristotle, Categoriae, V, 2a 11-4b 19). He perceives the existence of two kinds of “essences” (οὐσίαι) – primary and secondary. The primary “essences” (οὐσία) are “the primary substances most of all merit the name” (μάλιστα οὐσίαι λέγονται) (Aristotle, Categoriae, 2c 15-17) and “Substance, again, strictly speaking applies to first substances only” (αἱ πρῶται οὐσίαι…,κυριώτατα οὐσίαι) (Aristotle, Categoriae, 2c 37-38), „because they not only underlie but provide all things else with their subjects” (διὰ τὸ τοῖς ἄλλοις ἅπασιν ὑποκεῖσθαι καὶ πάντα τὰ ἄλλα κατὰ τούτων κατηγορεῖσθαι ἢ ἐν ταύταις εἶναι) (see Aristotle, Categoriae, V, 2с 15-19; 2с 37-3а 4). In other words they are indivisible – they represent only one single being whose inherent individuality is somehow expressed by them: „All substance appears individual. And this is indisputably true in the case of the primary substances. What each denotes is a unit.” (Aristotle, Categoriae, 3b 10-12).
As for the secondary οὐσίαι, they are divisible, i.e. they are peculiar to all beings among whom they are distributed. For example, the concepts of man, horse, animal, etc. represent secondary οὐσίαι. Actually, they can be predicated and thus belong to all beings who participate in the species of human, horse and animal respectively. On the contrary, one particular person in his capacity as an individual is defined as a primary οὐσία, since there is no other reality/entity that is identical to his own. In this way, secondary essences are rediscovered in the primary οὐσίαι and they are not “essences” in the true sense of the word. Thus, secondary essences remain as “constituent” (σύνθετοι), formed by multiple primary or substantive essences or multiple elements.
In his “Metaphysics” Aristotle examines extensively the theory of essence but there, as in his other works, he does not particularly and explicitly dwells on the reality of the being of God’s essence as such (see Aristotle, Metaphysica, VII, VIII, IX, ХІІ, 1-5, 1028a 10-1041b 34; 1042a 1-1045b 26; 1045b 27-1025a 13; 1069a 18-1071b 2. Specifically: VІ, 1, 1025b 1-1026a 34 и ХІІ, 6, 1071b 3-1072a 19, where he deals with the immutable and invisible divine being but without probing deeply into the matter). Therefore, the peripatetic tradition had to interpret and above all clarify the difference between primary essences (οὐσίαι πρῶται or οὐσίαι μερικαί) and secondary essences (οὐσίαι δεύτεραι or οὐσίαι καθόλου), and specifically consider them in the light of the neoplatonic interpretation placing them in the context of the speculation of the divine. This is something that was reflected in the discussions of Christian context, as the two teachings were in close contact, sometimes even in the person of their prominent representatives in particular settlements and schools. In the peripatetic tradition, except for Aristotle, secondary essences are called “universals” (οὐσίαι καθόλου), and the term κατὰ μέρος designates the primary, which are called οὐσίαι μερικαί or partial essences.
The neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry of Tyre (233–305) was actively engaged in the Aristotelian philosophical heritage and published at the end of the 3rd c. AD his Introduction to the Categories of Aristotle (Porphyrii Isagoge et in Aristotelis Categorias commentarium (CAG IV, 1)). In these treatises we find the fundamental definitions of the peripatetic philosophy. Regarding the essences Porphyry distinguishes the primary from the secondary. In revealing the content of individuals, he seemed to be clearer than Aristotle, favoring the structure of genus and form. In the “Introduction and Commentary on Aristotle’s Categories” (VІІ, 21-23) the primary essences are necessarily individual, indivisible and isolated; generally speaking, Porphyry always calls the essences “particular-partial essences” (οὐσίαι μερικαί) (Porphyrii Isagoge et in Aristotelis Categorias commentarium (CAG IV, 1, 88-100)). Regarding the secondary essences; they are common, divisible and open (transmissible, shareable, participatory). Of course, as Aristotle determines, they are distributed among the primary essences. The peripatetic thesis has been clarified and refined in Porphyry and undoubtedly, because of him had a great influence on the further philosophical and theological thought. Moreover, it also had some influence on the thought of the Cappadocian fathers, but without being repeatedly used by them – something that will be discussed below.
(In regard with the problematic term of “consubstantial” (ὁμοούσιος) or “consubstantiality” (τὸ ὁμοούσιον), it is introduced in the philosophical tradition probably by the neoplatonic philosopher Plotinus in his Enneads (Enn. IV.7.10 (65)). Following Plotinus, neoplatonic writers such as Porphyry and Iamblichus interpret Aristotle’s primary essences (οὐσίαι) as individual and closed realities, which cannot be “consubstantial” (ὁμοούσιοι) as such. Thus, it turns out that no one is ὁμοούσιος in his own individuality. Therefore, the adjective ὁμοούσιος can only be used for beings that share the same secondary essence. Their accidents (συμβεβηκότα) mark their individuality and can be distinguished from each other, however they share a “consubstantial part” (μέρος ὁμοούσιον).
In regard with that, it is important to note the neoplatonic interpretation of the essences in the work of Iamblichus’s “On the mysteries”. He asserts that the transcendental realities cannot be part of the constituent essences of the sensory world. He observes that in the realm of the sensory world various elements are combined into a single reality, which he defines it with the terms of “consubstantial” (ὁμοούδιον), “uniform” (ὁμοειδές) or “homogeneous” (ὁμοφυές). The transcendental is invariable and therefore, immiscible, it cannot have parts or be mixed. In the hierarchy of essences, the lower essence can only indirectly be involved with the higher one (De mysteriis III, 21).
According to this logic, it seems that for the neoplatonists, God could only be a primary essence (“substance” in the Western philosophical tradition), because if He were a secondary and if the Son were a “consubstantial part” (μέρος ὁμοούσιον) of the Father, such a composition would render God changeable and would lead to the existence of another, primordial third being, which in a particular way would precede Him.
We must not forget another very important element of Aristotle’s neoplatonic interpretation. The neoplatonic commentators of Aristotle like Ammonius (In Aristostelis Categorias commentarius (CAG IV, 5, 92, 6-17)), Olympiodorus (In Categorias comm. (CAG XII, 1, 54, 4-26)) and Simplicius (In Aristotelis Categorias comm. (CAG VIII, p. 295, 4-296, 1)) make a clear distinction between Aristotle’s first four categories – „essence,“ „quality,“ „quantity,“ „relatives“ (οὐσία, τὸ ποιόν, τὸ ποσόν, πρός τι), and the other six categories – „somewhere,“ „sometime,“ „being in a position,“ „having,“ „acting,“ „being acted upon“ (ποῦ, ποτέ, κεῖσθαι, ἔχειν, ποιεῖν, πάσχειν), by assuming that the second group of categories is formed by combinations of the categories of the first group, which are originally primary. In doing so, these commentators place Aristotle’s categories in a hierarchical system that is typically neoplatonic and it seems to seek the creation of an artificial “harmony” between Aristotle’s and Plato’s philosophical systems. Such an attempt to place categories in the neoplatonic hierarchy leads to the conclusion that not all the categories can be applied to transcendental realities. Hence, it appears that in Neoplatonism it is impossible to apply any of the Aristotelian categories to the divine, insofar as they cannot express its reality with credibility.
By the way, we should not overlook the fact that the logic of the Peripatetic School and the teaching about essences (substances) is observed by the six bishops, who condemned Paul of Samosata in 268/9 AD in Antioch. They understand οὑσία as an individual reality in order to denounce the Sabellian teaching of Paul and to refute his understanding on ὁμοούσιον—a term that Paul commonly uses in order to present the unity and the inseparability of the deity, in which the three persons are its manifestations in time, but they do not have an independent-individual character like the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Thus, the so-called Paul’s “monarchianism” is in accord with the Sabbelian heresy. An important detail during the discussions of that era is that the peripatetic thought is the subject of an active reinterpretation by the pioneer thinkers of the emerging Neoplatonism. Neoplatonic thought probably became the mediator that assisted the Alexandrian presbyter Arius to become acquainted with the Aristotelian thought, which was very influential in his theological teachings. It can be assumed that Arius met in person with Iamblichus in 300 AD at Antioch and Apamea in Syria, where the latter taught. Apparently, Arius too was studying at the same time in Syria, Antioch under the martyr Lucian. While it is not clear whether Arius was born in Syria, we certainly know that he spent his youth there.
According to St. Epiphanius of Cyprus, the bishops who condemned Paul of Samosata at Antioch in the councils of 268/9 attributed the individual or primary essence to the Son and it seems, at least according to Epiphanius that they understood the word οὑσία in the sense of ὑπίστασις for a single divine essence in itself (οὐσία) (Epiphanius, Adv. haer. 73, 12). This brief note from St. Epiphanius makes us think that it is about a theological reflection, which plays an important role in Aristotle’s thought and presbyter Arius adhered to it. In this perspective, Arius seems to have been a sincere follower of the Council’s decision taken by the six bishops of Antioch (268/9) and because of this he attributed to each of the persons of the Holy Trinity an individual “essence” (οὐσία), i.e., “primary essence” according Aristotle. It seems that Arius believed that the concept of “consubstantiality” (τὸ ὁμοούσιον) rendered the divine essence secondary, i.e. a constituent, complex and changeable essence and according to the logic of the neoplatonic interpretation of the Aristotelian categories this essence lies within the realm of the sensory reality. He may also have thought that if one assumes that “essence” is secondary, one follows the example of Porphyry’s thought, in which the divine essence is unfolded in three hypostases – the Good (One), the Creator (Nous-Intellect)) and the World-Soul (psyche), each of which is distinguished by its specific characteristic. Arius does not accept the existence of a single essence for the three persons of the Holy Trinity, because according to Aristotle’s logic it would no longer be a true essence, but rather a secondary one. According to Aristotle the essential “essence” (οὐσία) is the primary one. (Aristoteles, Categoriae, V. 2a 11-15; 2b 6-25). According to the Neoplatonic perspective, this would mean a complex, constitutive essence that could only be observed in the realm of the senses. It would be another essence, different from the Father and the Son, but made up of them both.
Apparently, Arius accuses his bishop St. Alexander of Alexandria of preaching that the Son is a “consubstantial part” of the Father, because the expression “consubstantial part” (μέρος ὁμοούσιον) is exactly the phrase that we find in the text of Arius’s letter to the bishop Alexander of Alexandria (Athanasius, Ep. de synodis 16; Epiphanius, Adv. haer. 69, 7). The interesting thing is that in this letter the phrase μέρος ὁμοούσιον is attributed to the gnostic teaching of Manichaeism, which either connects the platonic tradition with the gnostic one, or simply reinforces the accusation against the Bishop; since we know that Mani was the only Gnostic who tried to establish a network of congregations imitating the Christian church and thus being its only “serious competitor”. Undoubtedly, the same accusation was made by the six bishops who questioned Paul of Samosata in 268/9 at Antioch, because he merged all the persons of the Trinity in one. St. Basil the Great testifies that Paul’s opponents perceived τὸ ὁμοούσιον as a term that leads to a division of the divine essence; however he does not accept this thesis, insofar such a meaning can be valid for copper coins but not regarding the relationship between Father and Son. With regard to them there is no essence, which can be older than them or placed above them (ἐπὶ δὲ Θεοῦ Πατρὸς καὶ Θεοῦ Υἱοῦ οὐκ οὐσία πρεσβυτέρα, οὐδ’ ὑπερκειμένη ἀμφοῖν θεωρεῖται) (Basilius Caesar. Ep. LII). According to A. Tuilier this testifies that the Bishops judged Paul according to Aristotle’s logic. Hence they are not innovative enough in clarifying a comprehensive and logical allegation against the heretical Paul. Therefore, St. Basil the Great is aware of this and does not accept this speculation as applicable to the divine reality.
What we could assume is that for the heresiarch Arius, Father and Son are individual indivisible essences, which in Aristotle and Porphyry are presented as primary essences. However in the context of a strict monotheism this would lead to a complete nonsense; since it would suggest the existence of two parallel deities. (see Athanasius, Oratio I adv. Arianos 14). Exactly, because of this Arius rejects such a teaching and emphasizes that it dismantles the divine unity (μοναρχία), revealed as divine truth. According to Arius if the Father and the Son exist together as two elements in relation to each other; there are two root causes, two divine principles. The reason is that the Father and the Son, according to Aristotle’s logic, must be necessarily two principles, in order to be reciprocal (ἀντιστρέφοντα) (Categoriae, VII, 6b 28 sq.). This seems to be the reason for Arius to assert that “God is before the Son, Who did not exist before being created” (οὐκ ἦν πρὶν γένηται) (Athanasius, Ep. de sententia Dionysii 4).
In his letter to Eusebius of Nicomedia Arius is completely direct in his assertion that the son is “constituted”, “born”, “created” and that he did not exist before being created by the will of God from nothingness and not from God’s essence. (Epiphanius, Adv. haer. 69, 6: Epistola Arii ad Eusebium). Therefore, Arius suggests that God not only can, but must also be considered as God in Himself, before Son’s existence came into being and before the revelation of God as Father. (cf. Alexandrus, Ep. de ariana haer.). In the following letter to bishop Alexander of Alexandria we find the following passage:
And God, being the cause of all things, is Unbegun and altogether Sole, but the Son being begotten apart from time by the Father, and being created and founded before ages, was not before His generation, but being begotten apart from time before all things, alone was made to subsist by the Father. For He is not eternal or co-eternal or co-unoriginate (συναγένητος): with the Father, nor has He His being together with the Father, as some speak of relations, introducing two ingenerate beginnings (οὐδὲ ἅμα τῷ Πατρὶ τὸ εἶναι ἔχει, ὥς τινες λέγουσι τὰ πρός τι, δύο ἀγεννήτους ἀρχὰς εἰσηγούμενοι)., but God is before all things as being Monad and Beginning of all (Athanasius, Ep. de synodis 16).
We see that the Son has its own beginning and there is also some period before the creation of time, when He did not exist. According to Arius, He is simply a creation (κτίσμα, ποίημα) similar to all the other creations and creatures of this world, but he holds a particular place of primal importance. (see Athanasius, Oratio I adv. Arianos 6; col 21AB).
It should be noted that this text gives contains an important hint of philosophical terminology from that era. According to this letter and Theodoret of Cyrus from the mid-5th c. AD; Arius considered that the three divine persons are incompatible individuals to each other, i.e., primal essences (see Theodoretus Cyrensis, Eranistes, Dial. І; cf. Athanasius, Ep. de synodis 16; Epiphanius, Adv. haer. 69). The fact that Arius mentions thee essences in their “relations” is not accidental. In the late 3rd and early 4th c. the category of “relatives” (Aristotle’s technical term is προς τι) became probably the conventional way of expressing the simultaneous existence of the Father and the Son. It seems that already at the beginning of the triadological disputes some Christian thinkers had already resorted to Aristotle’s help by using this category in order to express how the Father and the Son exist simultaneously (as given together, ἅμα τῷ Πατρὶ τὸ εἶναι ἔχει, ὥς τινες λέγουσιν) and eternally (see Athanasius, Ep. de synodis 16).
It seems that the Alexandrian presbyter Arius criticized the use of the Aristotelian category of “relatives” as it is presented in the 7th chapter of the “Categories” and applied to transcendental realities (cf. Aristoteles, Categoriae, VII, 6a 36 sq.). It is probable that the foundational text of Aristotle, which was used then to justify this expression follows Aristotle’s words: “It seems by its very nature that the parts in a relationship are given together” (δοκεῖ δὲ τὰ πρός τι ἅμα τῇ φύσει εἶναι) (Aristoteles, Categoriae, VII, 7b, 15 sq.).
In fact, this category is not very important for Aristotle, because according to him the simultaneous existence of two realities is not an absolutely universal principle; he sees some obstacles considering its application in some special cases (see Aristoteles, Categoriae, VII, 7b, 20-30 et sq.). In his later writings, “relatives” simply loses its meaning as an independent category. However, in the Neoplatonic interpretation of categories, as was already noted, the category of “relatives” is very important, because it ends up in the group of the four primary categories in the specific hierarchical order used by Aristotle’s Neoplatonic interpreters. The combinations of these four categories form the other six secondary categories. Nevertheless, according to the neoplatonic tradition, all of them together are absolutely inapplicable to transcendental realities. Apparently, Arius by following the same logic, assumes that the con-relativity between two objects in relation would be applicable only in the context of the material-sensory but not beyond of it.
As we have already seen, we have discovered a similar situation in the case of the concept of “consubstantial” (τὸ ὁμοούσιον). Following the same logic in their theological speculations, the bishops being skeptical of the Nicene Creed in 357 AD in the Council of Sirmium accept the so-called Sirmium Decree, which refuses to use the category “essence” (οὐσία) considering it completely unacceptable in referring it to God. According to the bishops: “But since many persons are disturbed by questions concerning what is called in Latin “Substantia,” but in Greek “Ousia-Essence,” that is, to make it understood more exactly, as to “Cosunbstantial,” or what is called, “of similar essence,” there ought to be no mention of any of these at all, nor exposition of them in the Church, for this reason and for this consideration, that in divine Scripture nothing is written about them, and that they are above men’s knowledge and above men’s understanding; and because no one can declare the Son’s generation, as it is written“ (Ep. de synodis 28).
This kind of caution or even ambiguity concerning the use of term “essence” (οὐσία) for God will remain intuitional in the theology of the Eastern Fathers and after that council. We even see it in the Dionysian Corpus, one of the most authoritative texts of the Byzantine spiritual tradition. However, the Fathers do not give up decisively the use of this term and the Syrmium Decree will remain in the history of the Church tradition and consciousness as an empty dogmatic attempt.
Thus, it turns out that in the mid-4th c. AD, the Nicene Decree is considered completely unacceptable by a significant number of the bishops of the Eastern Church; precisely because of its logical, philosophical obscurity and ambiguity. It turns out that for church thinkers the factor of logical acceptability and philosophical caution concerning the clarification of the Gospel message or in general of the mystical experience of the worshipers - prophets, apostles and fathers of the Church - is very important. However, it is to simplified and far from historical truth to claim that all of those, who denied Nicea were Arians or Semi-Arians. On the contrary, most of them were quite legitimate bishops of the Church, who simply did not accept the ambiguity of the Nicene Decree. We must not forget that no records have been preserved of this Council; except for the testimonies of St. Athanasius the Great and several other authors of that era we have no official Church records describing the debate and giving explicit explanations of what the Fathers meant by accepting the Nicene Creed.
The same letter is also preserved in Athanasius – Ep. de synodis.
 Fragments from the poem Θάλεια see in Athanasius, De synodis 15; see also the attempt to collect and recover a significant part of the poem by Bardy (1927), 211–233.
 The text is preserved in Socrates, Hist. eccl. I, 26, както и у Sozomenus, Hist. eccl. II, 27.
 Sabellius (c. 215) is a figured covered from the sands of time. He probably descends from North Africa (Libya) but he became a teacher in Rome. He was probably a presbyter. According to Church history we know the following about him. He was teaching that God is invisible, but revealed Himselm to man successively as Father in creation, as a Son in redemption and as Holy Spirit in sanctification and regeneration. Presumably, in this way Savelius was implying a modification in the deity by presenting the Father, Son and only Spirit as different “modes” of existence, different “aspects” or external “persons”, with which God presents Himself in the world. The only God in the true sense of the word is God the Father. For this reason the Christian authors considered that Sabellius by accepting a modification in God’s essence and that the Son was only an outward manifestation of the Father, he also that Father was subject to passion i.e., that he suffers.
 Trnsl. Harold B. Cook, Aristotle, The Categories, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1938) LOEB, 22-31. Only in Bulgaria I use as a substitute the word “substance” (substantia), accepted in the Western philosophical tradition as designating in this case oὐσία, the word “essence” is more appropriate in the present text for grasping the connection in its Christian interpretation with Aristotle.
 Христов (1997), 32.
 Translation in Bulgarian by Ц. Бояджиев (2005), 474. On the use of this term in Plotin see.: Narbonne, (2008), 693–698. There is no doubt that it was used earlier in the Gnostic tradition. Also: Ortiz de Urbina (1942), 194–209; Prestige (1952), 197–218; Gerlitz (1963), 193–221.
 Сf. Брюн (2002), 22 sq.
 See Тодорова&Тодоров (2009), 7–32.
 At that time, the bishop of Antioch (Paul) was an ally of queen Zenobia, who was independent from Rome.
 Probably at the time of the condemnation of Paul of Samosata or little later Arius studies in Antioch at the school of Lucian of Samosata, a close associate of Paul. See details of the chronology and sources regarding the circle of students of the martyr Lucian in: Ribolov (2008), 162–209.
 In this way, Arius is, in fact, a fierce opponent of Paul of Samosata and not as he is described in the historical-dogmatic studies of Adolf von Harnack his follower.
 Сf. Тардио (2001), 36–46.
 Tuilier (1961), 424–425.
 St. Epiphanius of Cyprus cites the same text (Adv. haer. 69, 7-8), but repeating it verbatim, he changed συναγέννητος with συναγένητος.
 See Arnou (1933), 269.
 The text of the decree was originally written in Latin, but it is preserved in Greek by Athanasius of Alexandria (Ep. de synodis 28).
 Коев (2011), 56 sq.
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