Jehovah`s Witness/Why don't you ever talk about Arius?
I have talked with dozens of Jehovah's Witnesses over the years. Not once have I ever encountered a JW who was familiar with the man named Arius. Arius was a presbyter in the Church who, around 320 A.D., stood up and began teaching that the Son of God was not equal to God the Father, and was, in fact, the first creation of the Father. The famous rallying cry of the Arians was, "There once was when he was not" -- meaning, there was once a time when the Son of God did not exist. Arius' teaching created a huge controversy in the Church which continued for several generations, with more than one Roman Emperor taking his side and persecuting orthodox Christians who insisted that the Only-begotten Son was co-eternal with His Father.
Arius is truly the spiritual forefather of today's Jehovah's Witnesses! Yet, most JWs are completely ignorant of his life, and from what I can see Watchtower publications never speak about him. (Though those same publications do occasionally speak about other historical figures from, for example, the Reformation period.) My question is twofold.
(1) Why does the WTS never, ever, ever speak about Aris, when his views are so strikingly similar to your own? (My own theory: if JWs knew about Arius, they would realize that WTS teachings did not originate with Christ, but three centuries later with the man Arius.)
(2) How can JWs claim to have made a thorough and unbiased study of Christianity, and yet be completely ignorant of one of the greatest controversies in all of Church history -- a controversy which has direct bearing on everything JWs teach? (There is no argument used by the WTS to supposedly "prove" that the Son of God is not God, which has not been simply rehashed from Arius.)
Thank you for your thoughts on this matter.
Thank you for your question.
If JWs you have spoken to do not have much knowledge of Arius that is not surprising. Very few people in generally have any knowledge of him.
The simple and quick answer to your questions are , why should JWs talk about Arius when we are not Arians?
Why is there a need for us to have a knowledge of a man for whom we do not fully agree with?
Our literature does mention Arius and the controversy. (there are some examples at the end if you want to read them)
It is not unusual for trinitarians to that that JW as Arians. Arian did not believe that Jesus was of the same substance as God and that Jesus was created. With that we agree. But JWs are not Arians.
You might be interested to know that Arius was NOT the first theologian to teach that Jesus was created and that Jesus was inferior to God (the Father).This subject had been discussed for decades before his became outspoken on it. Arius merely intensified the controversy and carried it to a Church-wide audience, where other such as Eusebius of Nicomedia were much more influential in the long run in advocating this view.
For example Tertullian
who lived between 155 – c. 240 AD taught in his writings that Jesus was created and that he was inferior to God. Now many people credit him with first coining the word trinity but he did not apply it in the way that it is applied today.
Here is some of what he said
“The Father is different from the Son (another), as he is greater; as he who begets is different from him who is begotten; he who sends, different from him who is sent.” He also said: “There was a time when the Son was not. . . . Before all things, God was alone.” - Sounds similar to What Arius was saying doesn't it
What about some other pre Arius theologians, what did some of these say..
, who died about 165 C.E., called the prehuman Jesus a created angel who is “other than the God who made all things.” He said that Jesus was inferior to God and “never did anything except what the Creator . . . willed him to do and say.”
, who died about 200 C.E., said that the prehuman Jesus had a separate existence from God and was inferior to him. He showed that Jesus is not equal to the “One true and only God,” who is “supreme over all, besides whom there is no other.”
, who died about 235 C.E., said that God is “the one God, the first and the only One, the Maker and Lord of all,” who “had nothing co-eval [of equal age] with him . . . But he was One, alone by himself; who, willing it, called into being what had no being before,” such as the created prehuman Jesus.
, who died about 250 C.E., said that “the Father and Son are two substances . . . two things as to their essence,” and that “compared with the Father, [the Son] is a very small light.”
Some of the above people have a very confused idea as to the identity of Jesus and his Father. At times they actually did write things in different ways. That is because they were did not comprehend the scriptures and people like Justin Martyr found a fascination with Greek philosophy and started to include these into his writings
During this period of time, that debate over the identity of Jesus and his relation ship with God was basically a dualality not a trinity. The full idea of the trinity as it is taught today did not develop until the fourth century. It was suggested at the council of Nicea in 325 but was not fully explained until Council of Constantinople in 381 C.E when the Athanasian Creed was formulated.
So why are JWs not considered to be Arians?
We disagree with Arius’ views in many respects. For example, Arius denied that the Son could really know the Father. The Bible teaches that the Son ‘fully knows’ the Father and that the Son is “the one that has explained him.” (Matthew 11:27; John 1:14, 18) Arius claimed that the Word became God’s Son “by adoption” because of his virtue or moral integrity. The Bible says that he was created by Jehovah as his “only-begotten son.” (John 1:14; 3:16; Hebrews 1:2; Revelation 3:14) Arius taught that Christians could hope to become equal to Christ, whereas the Bible states that God gave him “the name that is above every other name.” (Philippians 2:9-11) Far from being modern-day Arians, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe what the Bible says. No Bible writer considered Jesus to be God are equal to God.
Just thought you might like to see some of what our literature has printed on Arius and the Arian controversy etc. These are cut and pasts from the Watchtowers of the years 2002; 1998; 1884. I them miss several years and go down to 1959.
*** w 2002 3/1 pp. 27-28 The Baptism of Clovis—1,500 Years of Catholicism in France ***
The Arian Controversy
About 320 C.E., Arius
, a priest in Alexandria, Egypt, began to spread radical ideas concerning the Trinity. Arius
denied that the Son was of the same essence, or substance, as the Father. The Son could not be God or equal to the Father, since he had a beginning. (Colossians 1:15) As for the holy spirit, Arius
believed that it was a person but that it was inferior to both the Father and the Son. This teaching, which gained wide popularity, roused fierce opposition within the church. In 325 C.E., at the Council of Nicea, Arius
was exiled and his teachings were condemned.
However, this did not end the controversy. The doctrinal crisis went on for some 60 years, with successive emperors siding with one party or the other. Finally, in 392 C.E., Emperor Theodosius I made orthodox Catholicism with its Trinity doctrine the State religion of the Roman Empire. In the meantime the Goths had been converted to Arianism by Ulfilas, a Germanic bishop. Other Germanic tribes were quick to adopt this form of “Christianity.”
By the time of Clovis, the Catholic Church in Gaul was in crisis. The Arian Visigoths had been trying to suppress Catholicism by refusing to allow bishops who died to be replaced. Furthermore, the church was in the throes of two papal schisms, with priests from opposing factions killing one another in Rome. Adding to this confusion, some Catholic writers had put forward the idea that the year 500 C.E. would mark the end of the world. Thus, the conversion of the Frankish conqueror to Catholicism was seen as an auspicious event, heralding “the new millennium of the saints.”
But what were Clovis’ motives? While religious motivations cannot be ruled out, he certainly had political goals in mind. By choosing Catholicism, Clovis gained favor with the predominantly Catholic Gallo-Roman population and the support of the influential church hierarchy. This gave him a decided advantage over his political rivals. The New Encyclopædia Britannica notes that “his conquest of Gaul became a war of liberation from the yoke of the hated Arian heretics.”
*** w 1998 3/15 pp. 27-28 Constantine the Great—A Champion of Christianity? ***
Religion in Constantine’s Strategy
With reference to the general attitude that Roman emperors of the third and fourth centuries had toward religion, the book Istoria tou Ellinikou Ethnous (History of the Greek Nation) says: “Even when those who occupied the imperial throne did not have such profoundly religious dispositions, surrendering to the mood of the era, they found it necessary to give religion precedence within the framework of their political schemes, to lend at least a religious flavor to their actions.”
Certainly, Constantine was a man of his era. At the beginning of his career, he needed some “divine” patronage, and this could not be provided by the fading Roman gods. The empire, including its religion and other institutions, was in decline, and something new and invigorating was needed to reconsolidate it. The encyclopedia Hidria says: “Constantine was especially interested in Christianity because it backed up not only his victory but also the reorganization of his empire. The Christian churches that existed everywhere became his political support. . . . He surrounded himself with the great prelates of the times . . . , and he requested that they keep their unity intact.”
Constantine sensed that the “Christian” religion—albeit apostate and deeply corrupted by then—could be effectively utilized as a revitalizing and uniting force to serve his grand scheme for imperial domination. Adopting the foundations of apostate Christianity to gain support in furthering his own political ends, he decided to unify the people under one “catholic,” or universal, religion. Pagan customs and celebrations were given “Christian” names. And “Christian” clergymen were given the status, salary, and influential clout of pagan priests.
Seeking religious harmony for political reasons, Constantine quickly crushed any dissenting voices, not on the grounds of doctrinal truth, but on the basis of majority acceptance. The profound dogmatic differences within the badly divided “Christian” church gave him the opportunity to intervene as a “God-sent” mediator. Through his dealings with the Donatists in North Africa and the followers of Arius
in the eastern portion of the empire, he quickly discovered that persuasion was not enough to forge a solid, unified faith. It was in an attempt to resolve the Arian controversy that he convened the first ecumenical council in the history of the church.—See box “Constantine and the Council of Nicaea.”
Concerning Constantine, historian Paul Johnson states: “One of his main reasons for tolerating Christianity may have been that it gave himself and the State the opportunity to control the Church’s policy on orthodoxy and the treatment of heterodoxy.”
Donatism was a “Christian” sect of the fourth and fifth centuries C.E. Its adherents claimed that the validity of the sacraments depends on the moral character of the minister and that the church must exclude from its membership people guilty of serious sin. Arianism was a “Christian” movement of the fourth century that denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. Arius
taught that God is unbegotten and without a beginning. The Son, because he is begotten, cannot be God in the same sense that the Father is. The Son did not exist from all eternity but was created and exists by the will of the Father.
[Box] Constantine and the Council of Nicaea
What role did the unbaptized Emperor Constantine play at the Council of Nicaea? The Encyclopædia Britannica states: “Constantine himself presided, actively guiding the discussions . . . Overawed by the emperor, the bishops, with two exceptions only, signed the creed, many of them much against their inclination.”
After two months of furious religious debate, this pagan politician intervened and decided in favor of those who said that Jesus was God. But why? “Constantine had basically no understanding whatsoever of the questions that were being asked in Greek theology,” says A Short History of Christian Doctrine. What he did understand was that religious division was a threat to his empire, and he was determined to solidify his empire.
Regarding the final document that was drafted in Nicaea under Constantine’s auspices, Istoria tou Ellinikou Ethnous (History of the Greek Nation) observes: “It shows [Constantine’s] indifference to doctrinal matters, . . . his stubborn insistence in trying to restore unity within the church at any cost, and finally his conviction that as ‘bishop of those outside the church’ he had the final say about any religious matter.” Could God’s spirit possibly have been behind the decisions made at that council?—Compare Acts 15:28, 29.
*** w 1984 8/1 pp. 23-24 How Christendom Came to Worship an Unknown God ***
The Trinity Controversy
In the early centuries of our Common Era there was “an astonishing plurality of views and formulations” regarding the Trinity. Historian J. N. D. Kelly, himself a Trinitarian, admits that the earliest church fathers were all firm monotheists. He writes: “The evidence to be collected from the Apostolic Fathers is meagre, and tantalizingly inconclusive. . . . Of a doctrine of the Trinity in the strict sense there is of course no sign.”—Early Christian Doctrines.
True, such second-century “fathers” as Ignatius of Antioch and Irenaeus of Lyons expressed ideas that could be interpreted, at the most, as belief in a two-in-one God made up of the Father and the Son. But Kelly states: “What the Apologists had to say about the Holy Spirit was much more meagre . . . [They] appear to have been extremely vague as to the exact status and role of the Spirit. . . . There can be no doubt that the Apologists’ thought was highly confused; they were very far from having worked the threefold pattern of the Church’s faith into a coherent scheme.”
Those who held that there is only one God, the Father, of whom Jesus is the Son, came to be called Unitarians. We read: “The Trinitarians and the Unitarians continued to confront each other, the latter at the beginning of the 3rd century still forming the large majority.” (Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th edition) But as time went by and church fathers became increasingly influenced by a new form of Plato’s philosophy (Neoplatonism), the Trinitarians gained ground. Third-century Neoplatonic philosophy, with its complicated theories of substance or essence, seemingly enabled them to reconcile the irreconcilable—to make a threefold God appear like one God. By philosophical reasoning they claimed that three persons could be one while retaining their individuality!
The Arian Controversy
The Trinity controversy came to a head at the beginning of the fourth century C.E. The main protagonists were three philosopher-theologians from Alexandria, Egypt. On the one side was Arius
, with Alexander and Athanasius on the other. Arius
denied that the Son was of the same essence, or substance, as the Father. He held the Son to be really a son, who therefore had a beginning. Arius
believed the Holy Spirit was a person, but not of the same substance as the Father or the Son and in fact inferior to both. He did speak of a “Triad,” or “Trinity,” but considered it to be composed of unequal persons, of whom only the Father was uncreated.
Alexander and Athanasius, on the other hand, maintained that the three persons of the Godhead were of the same substance and, therefore, were not three Gods but one. Athanasius accused Arius
of reintroducing polytheism by separating the three persons.
The head of the Roman Empire at that time was Constantine, who was anxious to use apostate Christianity as “cement” to consolidate his shaky empire. For him, this theological controversy was counterproductive. He called the Trinity quarrel a “fight over trifling and foolish verbal differences.” Having failed to reconcile the two opposing parties by a special letter sent to Alexandria in 324 C.E., Constantine summoned a general church council to settle the matter either way. At this First Ecumenical Council held at Nicaea, Asia Minor, in 325 C.E., the assembled bishops eventually came out in favor of Alexander and Athanasius. They adopted the Trinitarian Nicene Creed, which, with alterations believed to have been made in 381 C.E., is subscribed to up to the present day by the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church and most Protestant churches. Thus it was that Christendom came to worship a mysterious, incomprehensible, three-in-one “unknown God.”
*** w 1959 10/1 pp. 605-607 Eusebius Pamphili—Compromising Bishop of Caesarea ***
EUSEBIUS AND THE TRINITARIAN ISSUE
What interests us most, however, is the position Eusebius took in the trinitarian dispute that so rocked the church during the first quarter of the fourth century. At the Council of Nicea he occupied the place at the right hand of Emperor Constantine, who presided over the Council, and he made the opening oration on behalf of the 318 bishops assembled and in praise of the emperor who had convened the assembly. Eusebius was fully in sympathy with Constantine’s purpose: to restore among professed Christians the unity that they manifested while being persecuted but that was now so sadly deteriorating under the sunny climate of Constantine’s protection. Eusebius proposed his own creed, which actually ignored all the issues involved. While the majority were in favor of it, they not seriously caring one way or the other, the extremists would not yield and in the end the trinitarians won out.
Toward which faction did Eusebius lean? Very obviously toward the Arians; his very compromise creed was a slap in the face of the trinitarians. In fact, he had taken the side of Arius
years before on that very issue. Besides, the bone of contention was the Greek term homoousios, meaning “that the Son of God is of the same essence or substance with the Father,” a term which Eusebius studiously avoided. How he felt about the subject can be seen from the following quotations as recorded by his biographer Valesius:
“As not inquiring into truths which admit of investigation is indolence, so prying into others, where the scrutiny is inexpedient, is audacity. Into what truths ought we then to search? Those which we find recorded in the Scriptures. But what we do not find recorded there, let us not search after. For had knowledge of them been incumbent upon us, the Holy Spirit would doubtless have placed them there . . . Let not anything that is written be blotted out . . . Speak what is written and the strife will be abandoned.” Other quotations could be given of similar import.
Yet in spite of such convictions, what did Eusebius do at the Council of Nicea? He eventually subscribed to the Nicene Creed that featured the very homoousios to which he was so opposed. Did he do so because Athanasius had convinced him? or to please Constantine? or to escape the banishment and persecution that came upon Arius
and the two bishops that refused to compromise?
While only God can read the heart, the subsequent facts all indicate that Eusebius subscribed to the Nicene Creed because of policy, not principle. As Valesius well observes, Eusebius remained the ardent friend of Arius
and the bitter foe of Athanasius. Signing that creed obviously changed neither his heart nor his course of action—an act of expediency seldom, if ever, does.
Revealing also is the fact that Eusebius, in his Life of Constantine, while taking note of the Council of Nicea, entirely ignores the trinitarian controversy that raged in it. Why did he ignore the very heart and soul of that event? Why did he not even record any of his own speeches at the assembly regarding the nature of Christ? He pronounced it a success on the basis of its having agreed on when Easter should be celebrated! Was he thereby resorting to irony to show his contempt for the entire trinitarian business?
Perhaps, but it appears that more was involved, for in his Ecclesiastical History he entirely ignores that Council; which he could only do by stopping his history with the year A.D. 324. Why stop a history of the (professed) Christian religion just prior to the most important event of the history’s last two hundred years? Only one reason can be adduced: he was not proud of the part he played at that Council. So he left it to other historians to record its proceedings, including his own speeches and lengthy explanation as to why he subscribed to the Nicene Creed. While because of that fact trinitarians like to claim Eusebius Pamphili as their own, at heart he had not changed; Jerome was right in terming him an avowed champion of Arianism.
Eusebius was so highly esteemed by Constantine that he declared that Eusebius could be bishop of well-nigh the whole world. And the one who at last baptized Constantine, just before his death, was an intimate friend of Eusebius Pamphili, namely, Eusebius of Nicomedia, who had even stronger Arian sympathies and who only at the very end subscribed to the Nicene Creed. It is not inconceivable therefore that had Eusebius Pamphili been as ardent a champion for the Scriptural position as was Arius
, had he had the courage of his convictions, the Council of Nicea might have decided against instead of for the trinity, especially since so many of the bishops present did not feel strongly on the subject.
But Eusebius Pamphili was more concerned with policy than with principle, with gaining the approval of Constantine than with gaining the approval of Jehovah God. He sacrificed truth for the sake of expediency. He must therefore take his place among such as Nicodemus, who dared to come to Jesus only under the cover of night, and with Joseph of Arimathea, “who was a disciple of Jesus but a secret one out of his fear of the Jews.”—John 3:1, 2; 19:38.
Truly the facts regarding Eusebius underscore the Scriptural and logical weakness of the Nicene Creed. And they leave no doubt that Eusebius secretly often regretted his compromise at the Council of Nicea, in which he serves as a warning to all Christians: The punishment of having to live with a guilty conscience should make us ever sensitive and alert to the danger of compromising.
Eusebius was also the name of some forty contemporaries; in fact, during the first eight centuries 137 men in the church bore the name. It comes from a Greek root meaning “piety.”
According to Eusebius himself there were only upward of 250 bishops present, out of the two thousand that were invited. Uncertain also is the exact date the assembly convened.