Athanasius And His Defense Of The Nicene Creed From Arius

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Athanasius and his defense of the Nicene Creed from Arius

Athanasius and his defense of the Nicene Creed from Arius


Athanasius was probably born at Alexandria. By his early 20s he was both a deacon in the Church and secretary to Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria. The controversy concerned the compatibility of belief in the oneness and transcendence of God with the belief in the full deity of Jesus Christ. Arius, influenced by certain strands of Neo-platonic philosophical thought, taught that the Son of God, incarnate in Jesus Christ, could not possibly be "God" in the full and proper sense but was rather the most exalted of all God's creatures.

The major work in this section is constituted by his three Discourses against the Arians; they contain a summary of the Arian doctrine, a defense of the Nicene definition, and a comprehensive discussion of scriptural arguments. Since this work contains no reference to Arianism or to Nicaea, the date of composition is commonly assigned to c. 318. A third work On the Incarnation and against the Arians deals with the divinity of Christ and of the Holy Spirit. It dates probably from a later period of his life; but its authenticity has been challenged. His Letter concerning the Decrees of the Nicene Council (c. 350 or 351) presents a defense from Scripture and the Fathers of the nonscriptural expressions in the Nicene Creed. The Letter on the Teaching of Dionysius the Alexandrian is probably a later addition to the letter on the decrees of Nicaea. Among the dogmatic writings attributed to Athanasius but definitely spurious, the following should be mentioned: On the Incarnation against Apollinaris; the Sermo Maior de Fide; the Expositio Fidei; and the Athanasian Creed called the Quicumque, the date and authorship of which is still debated.


The basic tenet of Arianism was a negation of the divinity of Christ and, subsequently, of the Holy Spirit. Arius reduced the Christian Trinity to a descending triad, of whom the Father alone is true God. The key to the theology of Arius is the doctrine of agennèsia (the unbegotten) as the essential attribute of the Godhead: God is by necessity not only uncreated, but unbegotten and unoriginate. Hence God is quite incommunicable and unique. As a result the Logos, whom the Scriptures designate clearly as begotten from the Father, cannot be true God. Even though He is adored by all Christians, He is God and Son of God only by participation in grace or by adoption.

Since Arius did not accept the opinion of ORIGEN, which postulated an eternal creation, he asserted that the Son had a beginning: "There was when He was not." Since He was not true God, the Logos had but an imperfect knowledge of the Father; He was also subject to change and peccable by nature, if not in fact. The main arguments used by the Arians were scriptural texts such as "The Lord created me a beginning of his ways" (Prv 8:22); "The Father is greater than I" (Jn ...