Arianism is a system of beliefs about the nature of God developed by Arius, a 4th Century Egyptian presbyter and theologian. Arianism caused significant controversy in the early Christian church, eventually prompting the calling of the first ecumenical council, the First Council of Nicea. During the council, Christian bishops drafted the Nicene Creed to refute the teachings of Arius and establish the basics of orthodox Christian theology.
Nature of God
At the core of Arianism is the belief that God the Father is completely unique. According to Arius, only God the Father is eternally existent, with neither beginning nor ending. In Arius' view, elevating the Son of God (Jesus Christ), the Holy Spirit, or anything else to the level of God the Father amounts to polytheism. Arius further taught that God the Father was not technically "the Father" until the conception of Jesus Christ.
Arius taught that, contrary to the teaching of the majority of the church, Jesus was not eternally existent, but had a definite beginning. According to Arius, Jesus was the first of all creation, created before time and the most perfect of all God's creation. In the Arius' view, Jesus Christ became the Son of God when God "adopted" Him in honor of his perfection and integrity. Arianism reverences Jesus Christ, but teaches that He is subservient to God the Father and of a separate substance and essence.
Arianism teaches that the Holy Spirit was created by God the Father with the help of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Holy Spirit is of separate substance and entity from God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son and is subservient to both.
Little more is known of Arius' teachings about the Holy Spirit. This is largely because most of our existing information about Arianism comes from those who refuted it and their refutations focused more on their disagreements about the nature of Jesus Christ.
At first, the teachings of Arius had fairly widespread influence. The First Council of Nicea was called in 325 A.D., largely to discuss Arius' teachings and to establish common doctrine for the church. Arius' teachings had already been labeled heretical by the local church council, but this didn't stop his ideas from spreading.
At the Council, Arianism was formally rejected in favor of the doctrine of the Trinity, which has since been recognized as the standard by the vast majority of Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians. The Nicene Creed was established, in large part to confirm the Church's teaching that God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are three in "person," but one in essence, eternally co-existent and equal.
Arianism continued to have some influence in churches in the Eastern Roman Empire for about a century after Arius' death in 333 A.D.. Christianity was spread to the northern Teutonic Kingdoms by followers of Arius' teaching. Arianism continued to hold influence over the churches among the Goths, Visigoths, and other Teutons until the mid 700s.
A few minor groups embraced Arianism during the Reformation, but none of them remains. Today, some vestiges of Arianism can be found among Jehovah's Witnesses and Universalism. A new organization, called the Holy Arian Catholic and Apostolic Church, was founded in 2005 in England, canonizing Arius and claiming that the restoration of the true church is based on his teachings.
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