The Arian Heresy can be a difficult thing to understand by individuals who have not been raised reciting the Nicene Creed, or in a Christian-based religion. Among other things it demonstrates the long battles, discourse, or wrangling that has surrounded the attempt to discern the nature of Christ. The debate, and expression of the Arian Heresy, came to a head during the Council of Nicea in the 4th century.
Founders of the early Christian church, with the aid of Constantine, who was at the time not a practicing Christian, thought it essential that the nature of God, and the belief in God, be clarified. Most important was identifying and defining the divinity of Christ. While many believed that Jesus was son of God and shared his essence, a concept called homoousion, some felt that giving Jesus equal standing with God was not monotheistic.
Principal among these demurrers were Arius and Eusubius. Arius, whose followers were called Arians, felt that God created Christ, not of his own matter. This meant, in his opinion, that Christ was not God and was not equal to Him. Worshiping Christ would be tantamount to worshiping another God, and this specifically went against God’s teaching that he alone should be worshiped.
Arius’ teachings were called the Arian Heresy because most of the members of the Council of Nicea believed in the equal divinity of Christ and the concept of Jesus as of one essence with God. Since Arius taught a different idea of the nature of Jesus, he was labeled a heretic, and his work was called heresy according to the Church. Diminishing Christ’s divinity was thought an evil, and Arius’ promotion of the Arian Heresy quickly resulted in his exile.
Arian’s exile did not completely cement doctrine of the Roman Church and end the debate. The Council of Nicea did adopt the Nicene Creed, a statement of beliefs that expressly supports the idea of homoousion, that Christ is “one in being with the Father,” and “begotten not made.” Still, some small sects of Christianity continued to support the Arian Heresy, and would later become the non-Trinitarians.
Today, the Arian Heresy is considered only heretical by Trinitarians. There are many churches that refute the divinity of Christ and do not believe in the combined Trinity. The term heresy has also come to have much less weight in mainstream Catholic thought. At the height of Catholic dominance and power, being considered a heretic could result in excommunication, torture, and execution.