ARIANISM, MACEDONIANISM , APOLLINARIANISM AND THE CAPPADOCIAN FATHERS
As seen in article on Church and State, Arianism was a problem for the Church for some fifty or so years after the Council of Nicaea in 325 until the articles of this Council were reconfirmed by the Council of Constantinople in 381.
To refresh our minds: Arian, a priest, teaching in Alexandria declared that the Logos is no more than a power or quality of the Father. Before time began the Father had created the Son by the power of the Word to be His agent in creation. The Son was not therefore to be identified with the Godhead, He was only God in a derivative sense, and there was once when he did not exist. Hence the ditty sung by Arius' supporters in Alexandria, "there was a time when he was not." Thus the Logos was not eternal, and therefore Arianism denied also the doctrine of the Trinity as personal distinctions were not eternally present within the nature of God. (Wand 1955, p. 41).
The young deacon from Alexandria, Athanasius, who accompanied his aged bishop, Alexander, to Nicaea, vehemently opposed Arius' teaching and was responsible for drafting the statement on the Trinity and Incarnation, which was signed by all bishops present, except two. This statement is the first part of the Nicaean Creed which we still recite to-day.
During those troublesome doctrinal years between Nicaea in 325 and Constaninople in 381 as Arianism gained ascendancy Athanasius, the champion of Orthodoxy, fled to the desert where the monks protected him from his enemies. From here he continued to write treatises on the Orthodox teaching of the Trinity and Incarnation. His teaching was supported by those theologians who have become known as the Cappadocian Fathers: Basil, his younger brother, Gregory of Nyssa and his very good friend, Gregory of Nanzianus.
After Nicaea two other heresies arose, which were also on the agenda at the Council of Constantinople. These were Macedonianism and Apollinarianism. The former was named after Macedon, bishop of Constantinople. It would seem that this bishop never taught what became known as "Macedonianism", that is, that the Holy Spirit was a separate creation, similar to the Arian view of the Logos. The Spirit is thus not of the same substance with the supreme Godhead (homoousios). Apollinarianism was named after Apollinarius who reacted against Arianism by emphasising the divinity of the Logos at the expense of the humanity. Working from the Platonic view of human nature: body, soul and spirit, he was prepared to recognise that Christ had a human body and soul, but not spirit, that is, rational intelligence. But this does not make Christ fully human, and He could redeem only what He is. The lives and writings and sermons of the Cappadocian Fathers were directed against these three heresies, which would be also condemned at the Council of Constantinople.
Basil was raised in a great Christian family and was given the best education possible. Thus he studied at Athens where also was his friend Gregory Nanzianen (and also Julian the apostate Emperor). When he returned home he was content to have the best life possible. His sister, the holy Macrina, perceived how worldly he had become and suggested that he travel to Egypt to sample the monastic life. That trip changed his attitude towards living the Christian Gospel. When he returned he founded a monastery, and although he stayed there for only five years, it influenced the rest of his life greatly. It also gave the Orthodox Church a rule for cenobitic living, on which Benedict drew heavily.
He was consecrated bishop of Caesarea in 370 whilst the Arian Valens was still emperor. When the emperor passed through Caesarea in 371, he demanded that Basil submit to Arianism, but of course Basil flatly refused. For his defiance, Valens divided the province of Cappadocia into two provinces and appointed an Arian as bishop of Tyana that became the metropolitan see. Basil responded to this by having his brother, Gregory and his friend, Gregory of Nanzianus, appointed to sees, positions that they never wanted, in order to outnumber the Arians. Basil died in 379, shortly after the death in battle of Valens, that removed the chief threat to the Nicene faith to which Basil had devoted his life. As well as his writings against the predominant heresies of the time, such as Contra Eunomius, he also wrote The Hexaemeron, a series of lectures on the six days of creation. His other major writing was De Spiritu Sancto.
Gregory Nanzianen as the name suggests lived in Nanzianus. He and Basil were good friends, but his commitment to his elderly father put restrictions on this friendship. Still he had no desire for an active life as Basil lived. He was content with his monastic kind of existence and his writings and studies. When Basil founded his monastery Gregory joined him for awhile, and here they compiled The Philokalia (meaning "Love of the Beautiful") an anthology of Origen's writings.
He had no wish to be a priest let alone a bishop. Much against his will, Basil appointed him as bishop of Sasima, a little village. This he resented and soon returned to Nanzianus. After the death of his parents and siblings he fled to Seleucia to live the hermit life. Whilst here Basil died and he deeply regretted that he had never really mended the rift with this dear friend over the bishopric.
Seven years later in 379 he appeared in the centre of the Empire, Constantinople, invigorated to pursue the Orthodox cause against Arianism. This he did mainly though his eloquent preaching that attracted great number of people. Here he preached the sermons that would earn him the distinctive title, "the Theologian." Theologically they were important as it drew the attention of the new Emperor, Theodosius, who as an Orthodox Christians had forced the Arian patriarch, Demophilus into exile as well as expelling Arians from the churches. Looking for a new patriarch, Theodosius took an imperial guard and escorted Gregory to the Hagia Sophia, where the people shouted "Gregory for Bishop! Gregory for Bishop!" Theodosius turned to Gregory and asked if he would accept the position as Patriarch of Constantinople. Gregory hesitatingly accepted this most important position, Patriarch of Constantinople. Yet he held this important position for a short time only. At the Council of Constantinople, he was accused of pluralism as he was still bishop of Sasima. So he retired both as president of the Council and from the see. The rest of his life he spent quietly and ascetically but continued to write theologically and corresponded with many for the next eight years. He died in 389 at the age of sixty.
Gregory of Nyssa was the younger brother of Basil. It is from Gregory that we learn of their remarkable family. It was Gregory who delivered the funeral orations for his father, Gregory, his brother Caesarius, and his sisters, Gorgionia and the holy Macrina. Indeed he wrote two works in which Macrina is the central person. For his brother, St. Peter of Sebaste, he wrote his mystical commentaries. From Gregory we also learn that another sibling, Naucratius, drowned as a youth. Although Basil had a better education than Gregory it is the latter who was the deeper and more mystical thinker. Gregory became bishop of Nyssa in 371,when he was shanghaied into episcopal ordination by his brother. Four years later he was deposed by the Arian emperor Valens, but after the emperor's death in 379 returned to his see. With Gregory of Nanzianus he attended the Council of Constantinople in 381.
The last years of his life seem to have been dedicated to his most sublime mystical works, including the Life of Moses, in which he relies on Origen's approach to drawing out the mystical meaning of scriptural texts where they might not be obvious at first glance. It is here that he gives us his vision of eternal life as forever stretching towards God (epektasis) Some of his other exegetico-mystical works included his homilies on the Song of Songs, On Ecclesiastes, On the inscriptions of the Psalms, On the Beatitudes and On the Lord's Prayer. Like the other two Cappadocian Fathers he contributed to the defence of the Orthodox faith against the new Arians (Eunomians).
After those brief accounts of their lives let us now turn to their theology. They all worked hard to unite the semi-Arians to the Orthodox cause. The semi-Arians taught that the Son is of like substance with the Father (homoiousios) as against the outright Arians who taught that the Son was like the Father (homoean). In their writings they made extensive use of the formula "three persons (hypostases) in one substance (ousia)," and thus explicitly acknowledged a distinction between the Father and the Son (a distinction that the Nicene party had been accused of blurring), but at the same time insisting on their essential unity. Thus Basil wrote:
in a brief statement, I shall say that substance (ousia) is related to subsistence (hypostasis) as the general to the particular. Each one of us partakes of existence because he shares in ousia while because of his individual properties he is A or B. so, in case in question, ousia refers to the genral conception, like goodness, god head, or such notions' while hypostasis is observed in the special properties of fatherhood, sonship, and sanctifying power. If then they speak of persons without hypostasis they are talking nonsense, ex hypothesi; but if they admit that the person exist in real hypostasis, as they do acknowledge, let them so number them as to preserve the principles of the homoousion in the unity of the godhead, and proclaim their reverent acknowledgement of Father, son, and Holy spirit, in the complete and perfect hypostasis of each person so named. Ep.214.4.
In his great doctrinal work Contra Eunomius he argued against the extreme Arians who would not even accept that the Son is like the Father. He insisted that the Son is co-eternal with the Father, and therefore could not be created. Thus the Logos is of same essential substance of the Father (homoousia).
Following on from what Athanasius had taught about the Holy Spirit and upheld at the Council of Alexandria in 362, Basil argued in his treatise De Spiritu Sancto that the Holy Spirit relation with the Supreme Godhead is the same of the Son.
The Spirit is a living ousia, having the power to sanctify. Thus his close relationship to God is revealed, while the manner of his being is preserved as an ineffable secret. As Paraclete he expressed in himself the goodness of the Paraclete who sent him, and in his own dignity he displays the majesty of him from whom he proceeded. De Sp. Sancto. 46.
Gregory of Nanzianus sermons and writings also defended the Orthodox beliefs against heresies and contributed greatly to a better understanding of the Trinity, especially in relation to the three Persons, to the two natures of Christ in one person, and also to the role of Mary as Theotokos (Council of Ephesus, 431).
Having in mind the semi- Arians, in his teaching on the Persons within the Trinity he insisted that the quarrel should not be over names, as long as the term used leads to the right conception.
God is three in regard to distinctive properties, or subsistences (hypostases) or, if you like, persons (prosôpa); for we shall not quarrel about the names, as long as the terms lead to the same conception. He is one in respect of the category of substance, that is, of godhead. The Godhead is distinguished, so to say, without distinctions, and is joined in one without abolishing the distinctions. The Godhead is one in three, and the three are one. The Godhead has its being in the three; or, to speak more accurately, the God head is the three. We must avoid any notion of superiority ort inferiority between the Persons; nor must we turn the union into a confusion, or the distinction into a difference of natures. We must keep equally aloof from the Sabellian identification [one substance but three activities in the Godhead] and the Arian differentiation errors diametrically opposed, but equally irreverent. Or. 39.11.
In this oration Gregory continued to teach that there is only one God, the Trinitarian God with each Person having its personal distinctions.
'For us there is one God the Father, from whom are all things; and one God the Son, through whom are all things'; and one Holy Spirit, 'in whom are all things'. The phrases 'from whom', 'through whom', 'in whom', do not make a severance in the natures but they mark the personal distinctions within the one unconfused nature. The Father is father, and without beginning, for he is underived. The Son is son, and not without beginning, in that he derives from the Father. But if one thinks of a temporal beginning, then the Son is without beginning; for the author of time is not subject to time. The Spirit is truly holy spirit, as proceeding from the Father, not in the manner of the Son, since not by generation, but by the procession (if one must coin new terms for the sake of clarity). Or. 39.12.
Gregory also helped the early Church to understand that Christ is indeed one Person consubstantial with the Father, but in His Person there are two natures the divine and human.
Notice how Paul says, 'The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory.' Though both compose a single whole, it is not by unity of nature but by coalescence of those two natures. What could be more intelligible? He was, and he becomes. He was above time, he became subject to time: he was invisible; he becomes visible. 'He was in the beginning, and he was with God, and he was God.' What he was, he laid aside: what he was not, he assumed. He did not become two; but he allowed himself to become a unity composed of two elements. For that which assumed and that which was assumed combine into a divine being. The two natures coalesce into a unity; and there are not two sons, for we must make no mistake about the commixture of the natures. Or. 37.2.
In his teaching on the two natures of Christ, Gregory incorporated the role of Mary.
Anyone who does not admit that holy Mary is the Mother of God is out of touch with the godhead. Equally remote from God is anyone who says that Christ passed through the Virgin as through a channel, without being formed in her a manner at once divine and human. Ep. 101.4
Gregory of Nyssa also made an outstanding contribution to the understanding of Trinitarian and Christological doctrines. In regard to the godhead, Gregory stated that this should conjure "activity" rather than "nature".
The word 'godhead' signifies activity rather than nature.
We are not told that the Father does anything by himself in which the Son does not co-operate; or that the Son has any isolated activity, apart from the Holy Spirit. All activities which extends from God to creation are described by different names, in accordance with the different ways in which they are presented to our thought: but every activity originates from the Father, proceeds through the Son, and is brought to fulfilment in the Holy Spirit. Quod non sunt tres die.
Writing against the Eunomians, Gregory revealed also that although the three persons are of the same substance they each have their respective property.
The Father is acknowledged to be uncreated and also ingenerate; he is neither generated nor created. This uncreatedness is a property he holds in common with the Son and the Holy Spirit: but his ingeneracy, like fatherhood, is his special and incommunicable property, not found in the other Persons. The Son is linked to the Father and the Holy Spirit in his uncreatedness: in his status and name of Only-begotten he has a unique character which does not belong either to the Supreme Deity or to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is joined to the Father and the Son by the common property of uncreatdness, but he is distinguished from them by his own particular characteristics. He simply is, without being ingenerate or only-begotten, and this is what constitutes his special character and distinction for the other persons. Contra Eunom.1.22
Having shown that the three Persons have distinctive properties, Gregory stated that all the activities are shared. Thus "The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit alike sanctify, enliven, illuminate, comfort and the rest." Basil, ep. 189.7 but attributed to Greg. of Nyssa.
In his writings against Apollinarus who denied the complete humanity of Christ, "and underwent the experience of death, as the necessary consequence of assuming human nature." Gregory wrote:
He wants the flesh itself, which was born, to be divinity, and to make out that God has not been displayed in flesh. How can this be a man which is said to be not of the earth? What then may this 'God endued with flesh' be if he is neither man, as having no real connexion with the human race; nor God, as not being incorporeal? Antirr.25.
Like Gregory of Nanzianus, Gregory of Nyssa also stressed the importance of the Mary's role from whom Christ takes His human nature.
Human nature takes its subsistence from the conjunction of an intellectual soul with a body. In the case of the Virgin Birth the power of the Highest was implanted immaterially in the undefiled body and took the Virgin's purity as the material for the flesh, employing it as the contribution of the virgin body towards the formation of one who was in truth a New Man. Antirr. 54.
In defending the two natures of Christ in the one Person, Gregory also emphasised the kenosis.
The godhead 'empties itself' in order that it may come with the capacity of the human nature; the humanity is renewed by becoming divine through commixture with the divine. Thus he made it to be what he himself was, making the form of the servant to be Lord, the human son of Mary to be Christ, him who was crucified through weakness to be life and power, and making all that is reverently conceived as belonging to God the Word to be also in that which the Word assumed; so that those properties no longer seem to be in either nature by way of distinction and division. Contra Eunom. 5.5.
When Theodosius became Emperor in 379 the days of Arian domination were over in Constantinople. The Arian bishop, Demophilus, was exiled and all churches were to be in the hands of the Orthodox clergy. Not long afterwards Theodosius summoned the Council of Constantinople in 381. At this Council the articles of Nicaea were confirmed and added the article on the Holy Spirit to the Creed. The Holy Spirit is worshipped and glorified together with the Father and the Son. The difference between the Son and the Spirit is that the Son is "begotten of the Father" whilst the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father". The doctrinal decisions at Constaninople ended the Arian attempt to capture the Empire. However Arianism lived on through the Goths who had been converted by Arian missionaries.