A reader has a question about Arius

A reader has a question about Arius September 24, 2018

He writes:

Mr. Shea, I have a question for you if you’re willing to oblige. In Thomas More’s “Dialogue Concerning Heresies” 1.24, he speaks of how the faith of the church is needed to properly understand Scripture, and offers the example of what could happen if a child was not first instructed in the faith but just given a Bible to read — how easily the kid could come to the conclusion of Arius if not given pre-instruction in Christ’s divinity.

My question is this – what was the state of such pre-instruction in the case of Arius? I assume that he didn’t just come to read the Scriptures out of thin air, but was given some instruction in the faith beforehand – if so, how/why did he not read the Scriptures in the correct sense thereafter? Was it that the catechesis he would’ve received in Christology would not have been as refined/defined as it later would be following Nicaea? Or was it that he received sufficient instruction but simply ended up tossing it aside in favor of his own interpretation?

This is one thing I’ve been trying to sharpen my thinking on when we talk about the faith of the church being passed down, particularly among the clergy – how someone like Athanasius could have apparently been formed so concretely in the belief in Christ’s divinity whereas a priest like Arius . . . wasn’t? Or didn’t heed it and instead ended up favoring his own opinion? Any response you might offer on this, however brief or ill-formed, would be welcome. Thanks!

This is a question for a historian and scholar of the life of Arius, not me.  I don’t know who Arius’ formative influences were, but my guess is that he undoubtedly is a sectarian, not an individualist like a modern Protestant American crank would be.  That is, I’m sure he saw his theories about Jesus as being in line with some school of theology and biblical interpretation and himself as a devoted disciple of some master.  It was the habit of ancient Christians to see themselves that way, not to see themselves as bold individuals against The System. My advice would be to go here and check out the discussion of his life.  http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01718a.htm which seems to me to comport with that analysis.  There is in Arius, of course, the willfulness of the heretic in refusing to listen to the judgment of the rest of the Church.  But there is also the reality that precisely the  excuse the heretic can offer is that the Church has not defined the matter until the heretic is condemned.

We something like this happening in the present hour as the Greatest Catholics of All Time shriek and howl at the Pope for clarifying the already quite clear teaching of the Church regarding the death penalty.  The major development on this score came with JPII, not Francis.  He *virtually* abolished it (and in fact began the work of calling for its abolition in law that his successors have carried on).  But he left a tiny loophole that death penalty zealots have tried to ram ridiculous arguments through with the claim that they are the *real* traditionalists.  Arius likewise used a synodal condemnation of “homoousious” to claim that he was the real champion of orthodoxy.  It never would have occurred to him to boast that he was overturning ages of ridiculous tradition in favor of the New and Cool.  Everybody in that age sought to justify their ideas with the claim they were old and rooted, not the New Hotness.  Arius’ problem was that he was blind to the fact that he really was departing from the Tradition and was doing so by the time-honored method of the heretic, by suppressing something in the tradition that irked him and emphasizing the parts of the Tradition he liked and understood.

Hope that helps!

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