Role of Sacred Tradition versus Arianism?


I am looking for major scriptural issues which were resolved through the use of sacred tradition. It appears to me that the resolution of the Arian heresy was resolved in large measure through the use of sacred tradition.
Am I completely off base?

Your perspectives would be appreciated.

God Bless


The canon itself was resolved through sacred tradition late in the forth century. The Arian heresy which was alive and well in the 2nd century was finally stifled at the council of Nicaea in 325. I’m sure there were plenty of scripture use in defending both sides of this argument as there are in Christian debates today.



I don’t think it’s completely accurate to say that the Arian heresy was “finally stifled” at that Council. It was condemned with infallible authority, yes, but Arian monarchs continued to persecute the Catholic Church and build up the Arian church for centuries after that, including the Roman emperors Constantius and Valens, the African king Genseric, and the Spanish king Leovigild. And Catholics continued to battle Arianism as a belief system throughout this time, including by appealing to Sacred Tradition. I’ve heard that St. Athanasius is a great example of this because he lived during the reign of Constantius and frequently refers back to the Council of Nicea in his attempt to convince Arians that the doctrine of the Trinity enjoys the protection of infallibility. I haven’t read his writing on the subject yet, but that is what I expect to find when I do, and if it’s true that would indicate that the appeal to Tradition was used very strongly to defend the doctrine of the Trinity.

Oh, and I think you’ve traced the history of the heresy back a little too far. The 2nd century is the 100s A.D. The histories of the Arian controversy typically place the blame for first teaching that the Son is a creature on Paul of Samosata, who was not born until after the 2nd century and who didn’t start teaching until well into the 200s – the third century.

Some people in the early Church argued that Paul of Samosata got his ideas from Origen. If you agreed with them, that would allow you to trace the history of Arianism back to the 2nd century, when Origen lived, but I would want to side with the early defenders of Origen who said that he was orthodox on the point.


Is it correct to say that without the tireless protection of the Catholic Church and the Holy Spirit against Arius, Christianity as we know it would not exist today?


I certainly think so. Just the life of Athanasius was a miracle. The conversion of Clovis was also a miracle, and that saved the Church from Arian persecution in France. (Well, that’s debatable. Very. He definitely saved his sister from abuse though.) So, in my opinion, yes.


Thanks for the corrections! :thumbsup:


Dmar answers your question below:

I don’t think it’s completely accurate to say that the Arian heresy was “finally stifled” at that Council. It was condemned with infallible authority, yes,

The church did not use Scripture…but the authority of the Church in saying the Arianism was a heresy, and it still is.


pablope, was then the authority of the Church invoked to deny Arianism based on the Spirit guided knowledge of the teachings, practices and history of the early Church. And would that be a description of Sacred Tradition in this case?


Hi, Elementary…I would say, Sacred Tradition…that was handed down from the Christ through the Apostles, and safeguarded by the proper succession in the Church…was used to arrive at the decision that Arianism is against Tradition…but to make that determination, with force, the authority of the Church to declare it a heresy was availed of.


Thank you everyone, that is just what I was looking for i.e. a specific example of where Sacred Tradition in conjunction with the authority of the Church was used to defeat a heresy or resolve a doctrinal issue.
Can anyone identify others?

Thank you all again


purely as a point of discussion (not contention):

tradition refers to a process of handing on what one has received, as St. Paul says. But, it is common usage to refer to tradition as the thing itself that is handed on.

At one time in the Catholic Church, as is supposed even today, a tradition is meant to imply what everyone everyplace believed but which is finally being formalized, as when the Pope defined the dogma of Mary’s assumption into heaven. Traditions are sometimes referred to as the development of doctrine, to imply that there is some innovation being introduced.

IOW, when I say tradition you’d have to say “which tradition” to specify exactly what I was talking about.

I purchased The Orthodox Study Bible a few months ago(amazon), and I was surprised to see the Orthodox Church has never defined which books belong in the Bible, inasmuch as they recognize only the first six or seven ecumenical councils. The council which defined the books in the Bible for the RCC the Orthodox do not consider to have been an ecumenical council and so not binding on them – even though the actual schism did not occur until centuries later. They seem to imply that they had doubts for centuries about the canonicity of the Catholic bible.

As far as Orthodox Tradition goes, at least in this bible, the English text is the revised King James Bible, except where the Greek Septuagint varied (from the Masoretic text). And, in this edition, they do not highlight the Septuagint text in any way. So, to find it, you have to have some other edition, like the revised KJ and read them side by side.

conceptually, I think every organized church, including all the Protestant denominations in the US, down to the local gospel tabernacle, have 1) scripture, 2) tradition, and 3) magisterium – just as the Catholic Church elaborated about itself during Vatican II, in Dei Verbum.

You could add a fourth 0) church doctrine, where “church” refers to whichever you choose.
(computer science people like myself like to start numbering with 0, which is a perfectly good number - and didn’t the Arabs invent zero, by the way?)

So, on any issue of ecumenical discussion, you have to define, as a minimum,


Another qualifier might be “history” or some timeline that qualifies the whole doctrine.


I think you make a great point about the post Nicene continuation of the “Arian Controversy”, but I think i disagree with some of the other things you said. First, Athanasius referred to his theological opponents pejoratively as “Arians”, but many of them explicitly denied that they were followers of Arius. Alternative nomenclature has sometimes been suggested (in the last century scholars often distinguished between “Arians” “semi-Arians” (sometimes called “conservatives”)–modern scholars sometimes use “miahypostatic” (Athanasians) and “dyohypostatic” (Eusebians)). My point is that the post Nicene “Arian controversy” has a lot less to do with the actual teachings of Arius than these labels suggest.

I have never heard the suggestion that Paul of Samosata was a forerunner of Arius (except among church fathers, and in the extremely vague sense that every heretic is a forerunner of every other heretic). Its hard to say exactly what Paul believed, but he seems to have been a monarchist with respect to his doctrine of God (which would make him the opposite of Arius), and to have spoken of the Son as a mere human adopted by the Holy Spirit. But both Arius and Athanasius would have rejected Paul on the same basis…because they both believed that the preexistent Logos (Christ) became man. The issue of contention was the nature of Christ’s divinity. I don’t know that Paul spoke of Christ as a “creature”–but if he did he would presumably have been referring to Christ’s humanity, and even orthodox Catholics think of Jesus as a “creature” in this sense. But when Arius speaks of Christ as a creature, he is speaking of the preexistent Logos. Also, Arius spoke out against the use of the term homoousios, whereas Paul used the term homoousios and its use, and Paul’s teachings, were condemned by a council in Antioch in the mid 3rd century (this is part of the reason why the term was so controversial). As to Origen, I do not think of Origen as being an important influence on Paul either, but he certainly was an influence on Arius, and he often speaks of the subordination of the Son, although to label him as “orthodox” or “heretical” is, I think, anachronistic (although he was condemned in the canons of 2nd Constantinople).

I think that Arius and the “Arians”, as well as Athanasius and the “Nicenes”, both referred to scripture and tradition equally in their arguments, and that the controversy illustrates the necessity of an authoritative interpreter of Scripture and Tradition to resolve these kind of disputes, and the development of theology is the result of this process.


This statement seems to imply that there was an ecumenical council recognized by the RCC which defined the canon of scripture prior to the 11th century (the tradition dating of the Great schism in 1054). But the council which defined the books in the Bible for the RCC is Basil/Florence (15th century). The suggestion that “the actual schism did not occur until centuries later” doesn’t seem to make sense. Unless I have misunderstood your meaning. Maybe you are thinking of earlier synods like Hippo (393)? But the Orthodox do not consider Hippo ecumenical because it isn’t.


Thank you for your comments and criticism. I was partly basing my statements about Paul of Samosata on a passage from Philip Hughes’ History of the Church Volume 1. Now I see that I hadn’t remembered what it said correctly, and in two ways it goes against the point I was making. This is the passage in question:

[quote=History of the Church Volume 1 Chapter 4 Section 2 by Philip Hughes]There came to Rome towards the end of the pontificate of Eleutherius (175-189) a wealthy citizen of Byzantium, one Theodotus, by trade a dealer in leather. He had apostatised in a recent persecution, and now sought to hide his shame in the great city.

He was less successful, however, than he had hoped; and taxed with his record he retorted that after all, in denying Jesus Christ he had not denied God, for Jesus was but a man, the holiest of men admittedly, upon whom the Christ had descended in the form of a dove when he was baptized in the Jordan by John but, for all that, no more than a man. To support the theory Theodotus produced a catena of texts from Holy Scripture.

The pope, St. Victor I, in 190 excommunicated him, but Theodotus remained obdurate. He gathered round him a number of adherents, and soon was the leader of a sect taken from the most erudite circle of the Roman Church. Logicians, mathematicians, scientists, they used the comparative method and along with their Bibles studied Euclid and Galen and Aristotle.

The Church tradition occupied a very small place in their critical labours, where indeed grammar and logic extracted from the Scriptures all they craved to know. How long the sect continued as a sect we do not know. But through one of its members of the second generation, Artemus (fl. 235), its teaching passed to the notorious bishop of Antioch, Paul of Samosata, the friend of that Lucian who was the teacher of Arius and the real father of Arianism.

First, I thought I remembered it saying that Paul of Samosata was “the teacher of Arius and the real father of Arianism,” but in fact it gives this distinction to Lucian. I think he is the man I was thinking of in my original post, not Paul of Samosata.

Second, this paragraph actually supports the original statement I was trying to disprove. I was trying to disprove the idea that Arianism started in the second century, but this paragraph seems to cite this person named Theodotus as a forerunner of Arius and places his excommunication in the second century.

There is one point in your post that I do disagree with, and this is really just a disagreement over words, not over anything I think is substantial. But you seem to say that Paul of Samosata was not a forerunner of Arius except “in the extremely vague sense that every heretic is a forerunner of every other heretic.” I disagree. To my mind, anyone before Arius who said that Jesus was not God is a forerunner of Arius.

Of course, I don’t think everyone must agree with me on this, and in the final analysis, I don’t think it matters much how you or I define what counts as a precursor to Arianism. But I do have reasons for thinking the way I do. I count those who said Jesus was just a man as precursors to Arius because their heresy is identical to the central problem with Arianism: the heresy that Jesus isn’t God.

From my perspective, Arius simply took Theodotus’ doctrine and back-peddled a bit: “Okay, the Church has condemned the idea that Jesus is just a man? Fine, Jesus isn’t just a man, but he still isn’t God, he’s, um, a superior spirit creature who took on a human form.” Right now I am calling that a modification of an existing heresy. You might prefer to call it a new heresy. To-may-to to-mah-to in my opinion. But thank you for the opportunity to clarify.


Thank you for your response dmar. I am sympathetic with the intent of your original post, to “disprove” that Arianism started in the second century. I think its better to say…that the Arian Controversy began in 318, and leave it at that. If you want to investigate the “forerunners” of Arianism (a very important question), then you can go back and trace the origins of his thought…but a choice as to where you stop in this kind of investigation is arbitrary (why stop in the 2nd century, you might as well go back to Plato, long before Christ). So I think that the statement that you objected to, that Arianism “was alive and well in the 2nd century” is anachronistic and misleading (even flat out incorrect); you were right to object to it, and I don’t think your objection is at all undermined by anything that is in the Hughe’s quote that you posted.

The main point of my response to you was that Arius thought of the Logos as less than God, and that the forerunners of this way of speaking of the Logos can be traced back through Lucian, Origen, Dionysius of Alexandria, and others who spoke of the subordination of the Logos to the Father. Paul of Samasota seems to have spoken of the “Son” as the man adopted by the Holy Spirit (God)–but his doctrine of God (though this is difficult to say for sure) seems to be more similar to the orthodox position of the Nicenes (speaking of the Logos as homoousios with the Father). So for both Arius and Paul, the “Son” is less than the Father–but this does not indicate agreement, because they are not using the term “Son” in the same way in this context. I think you understood my point, and I apologize for being repeating it again…but just to be sure.

As to your “disagreement” with me, and your insistence that Paul is a “forerunner” of Arius in the sense of denying that Jesus was God…I agree with you that this disagreement is semantic, not substantial. But since the divinity of Christ is, obviously, such a central aspect of the Catholic faith, I think your insistence that “anyone before Arius who said Jesus was not God is a forerunner to Arius” is an understandable and perfectly legitimate way of speaking. I’ll just go ahead and retract any suggestions I made that Paul was a forerunner of Arius only in the vague sense…etc.

Thank you for your thoughtful response.


No, I am not implying that there was such an ecumenical council. Without my re-researching the subject, I thought that the Western churches had defined a list of canonical books in the fourth or fifth century, which was affirmed by later councils (synods).

Based on the statement in the Orthodox Study Bible, it seems that what was later to become and be called the Orthodox Church did not recognize that earlier “council” or “synod,” ( if you prefer). So, the OC distances itself from the list of canonical books accepted in Rome. The circumstances of all these things are beyond the scope of my readings on the subject.

I agree that the date of 1075 has been cited as the date of the schism - east vs west.

My previous post is not really a good post for this thread, I have to admit. I don’t know what I was reaching for when I posted it.


This is my third post. In reviewing the initial question, I don’t understand what the OP is driving at.

I would be tempted to interpret the phrase “major scriptural issues” as “heresies in their day.”

A heresy is most likely based on scripture according to its authors and defenders, just as the anti-heresy or orthodox position based on scripture as well.

The resolution of a heresy (i.e. a challenge to the interpretation of scripture) is itself an interpretation of scripture, as it must be. This is not or never was considered to be a matter for flipping a coin,

In II Co, St. Paul is putting forth the credentials of his apostleship against those of the “super apostles.” So, this is a scriptural issue of where authority resides in the Church. In all likelihood, there wasn’t enough scripture around, to appeal to, so the conflicts in Corinth he submitted to the authority of his apostleship, which included selection by Jesus Christ in a vision.

And, he gives the definition of tradition, what he received he passed on to others. So, this is like the “big bang” of tradition in the early church, underscored by his selection by Christ and his inspired thoughts of salvation.

So, the appeal to apostleship, before the writings of the New Testament existed, was the way that challenges (heresies) were handled. “Apostleship” is another way of stating “tradition,” in the early church.

Jaroslav Pelikan has a five-volume work on just this range of topics – the development of doctrine. Volume 1 of which work is entitled " The Emergency of the Catholic Tradition (100 to 600 [A.D.])".

This approximately 1800 pages of examples cannot be condensed into a posted comment.

I believe the writings of Justin Martyr and Irenaeus are relevant here. One of these two had a compilation that was entitled “Against Heresies” if memory serves me.

In his 1800+ pages, Pelikan does not have the luxury of telling us that all issues (heresies) were ultimately settled, but he tells us what the various factions settled on.


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