What were Arius's motivations?

I don’t know how much historical data there is to go off of this, but what do you suppose Arius’s (and those like him that came after him) motivations were for claiming that Jesus was not divine?

To compare: when I see people disagree with the Church about something like abortion or divorce, it’s clear to me what their motivations might be. These are subjects that are directly related to our passions. Prohibiting such things has a very immediate effect on what our responsibilities and lifestyles are to be like. But, let’s say, for a person that denies the divinity of Christ, and yet otherwise holds all of the ‘moral theology’ aspects of the Catholic Church: what would drive them to do such a thing? Does the idea of God being incarnate as man offend them somehow? Do they find it beneath Him?

I suppose inequity can be a great mystery, but I’m wondering how much material we have that explains what drove men to pursue these heresies. Do we know what their personal criticisms were from a first hand account?

Not all dissent from Church teaching stems from a desire to cling to a particular sin.

Some teachings are just too hard to wrap one’s head around; they require faith, which is not given to everybody.

In your example of the divinity of Christ, it requires a leap of faith that a human being, with a human soma, could be divine; whereas the Church’s moral laws just make sense.


I agree with GEddie. Some denials of faith and morality (especially the latter) are related to the desire to perpetuate sinful behavior, or at least have the future option to do so, if one so chooses. Others, especially the more intellectual objections, are often related to an inability to faithfully grasp certain truths. There were many medieval theologians who did not originally believe in the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady, but I doubt that any of them despised her, her virginity, or the Christological aspects of what later would become the dogma. They simply did not believe there was sufficient evidence to declare it to be true. (Most did, however, believe that Our Lady was sinless, in the same way that the Orthodox do, but without defining the nature of the Immaculate Conception.) But when the theological aspects were settled and the feast inserted into the kalendar by Pope Sixtus, they accepted it, even centuries before the definition in 1854.

For many people in the Greco-Roman world, the idea of the Incarnation was impossible to reconcile with their philosophical conception of a non-material God, so Arianism was one attempt to make both work.

It might be they were searching for truth. I suppose you might also look to the biblical support of their position.

Jesus said: “The Father is greater than I”.

Which contrasts with Thomas’ declaration “My Lord and My God” at the feet of Jesus.

The Church had to find a way to reconcile both statements. That is where the magisterium, who has the authority to interpret scripture and tradition, through the Holy Spirit, finds the truth.

Yes, it’s quite probable that the divinity issue had simply never reared its head in the early centuries to any great degree-so it was relatively easy for believers at that time to still be neutral on the matter-not giving it much thought either way-until it became a controversy.

We can presume that Arius’ intentions were benign or innocent but the fact is that Fr. Arius, according to the record, seems to have been quite full of himself.

By all accounts he was an attractive young priest, a very eloquent speaker and preacher, and apparently even an accomplished biblical scholar to a certain degree. He had developed a following in Alexandria and word got around to the Bishop that he was teaching that Jesus was not divine.

The Bishop told him to stop. That should have been that. But Fr. Arius kept preaching his heterodoxy and had his faculties removed and he was sent packing from Alexandria.

The second problem was the Bishop of Nicomedia, Eusebius. After Arius was expelled he invited Arius to Nicomedia and gave him full use of his office including his scriptorium.

So Arius began a letter writing campaign to demand his reinstatement and explain his teaching.

So what began at first to be a small disagreement turned into a regional problem that also involved Constantine.

Arius was prideful, not just a little vain, and refused correction.

Actually, Arius had been an attractive young priest. By the time he came out with Arianism, he was over the hill, although still considered attractive by women. (Unusual in Greco-Roman times.) I picture him as sort of a Baby Boomer type, especially since he was a singer-songwriter.

Athanasius, OTOH, was a precocious young deacon guy, fresh out of the desert monk training, when he started fighting Arius’ ideas.

And yes, that horrible Doctor Who audio drama on the Council of Nicaea got this exactly wrong, and portrays Arius as a young thing and Athanasius as some mean old guy. This isn’t the only thing the audio drama got wrong; it was embarrassingly bad on facts before we even get to its badness as Doctor Who or audio drama.

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