Alexander and Arius: The Trinity Controversy

Published on: Author: kbuckle4@uoregon.edu Leave a comment

Despite the Church’s doctrine holding that the Trinity was three equal entities making one fully divine being, Arius took an alternative view of the subject. Arius asserted that God was the almighty, and therefore his son Jesus was “subordinate to or less than the Father” (Lynch 164). After much theological study and reflection, Arius concluded that “(God) alone has neither equal nor like, none comparable in glory,” and hence, “God exists ineffable to the Son” (Ehrman 36-37). Though Arius still believed that Jesus was to be fully revered and even should be called God, he nonetheless held firm that the Son could be considered equal to his creator father. Further, Arius contended that “the Son was a created being who was neither eternal nor equal to the divine” (Lynch 164).

Arius’ subordination of Jesus to God caused much controversy in Alexandria, and Bishop Alexander issued a harsh rebuttal to Arius’ dissenting opinions. Initially, he and a council of bishops decided to ban Arius and his followers from receiving communion as punishment for their lack of obedience (Lynch 164). Then, in a letter, Bishop Alexander further articulated the doctrine of the Trinity, reemphasizing the position that it was three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, in one God. What is perhaps most striking about his letter is his portrayal of any dissenters, including Arius, as being “devious and deranged; they are divisive, mischievous, deceitful…and embedded in a chain of heretical predecessors” (Ehrman 38). Alexander restates Arius’ position that “they (he and his followers) deny the divinity of our Savior and proclaim that he is equal to all humans” (38). He then accuses them of distorting the tradition by only focusing on select verses in order to allow the scripture to fit their own agenda. Many dissenting theologians have been accused in a similar manner, as orthodox followers believed heretics did not embrace the whole tradition. By virtue of this, Alexander is essentially attacking the person rather than the issue at hand.

Additionally, Alexander slanders Arius’ notion that “we can become Sons of God just like he did” (39). Alexander insists that this passage from Isaiah is taken out of context and must not be interpreted apart from the rest of the scriptures. Alexander says that his position Jesus is both fully human and fully divine is inarguably defended by the scriptures. Arius’ belief that Jesus was human and therefore mutable is challenged by Alexander, as while he acknowledges Jesus’ humanity, he nonetheless asserts that he is immutable and unchangeable. Due to the fact that he is “the accurate and precise image of the Father,” he therefore must be fully divine (43). Alexander holds all orthodox belief to be ultimate and uncompromising truth, and in order to assert his position, he chooses to both slander his opposition and use scriptural interpretation to defend his views on the Trinity.

 

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