Arius and Alexander of Alexandria

By Sean Finnegan

Bishop Alexander of Alexandria (bishop from 313-326)

• Authoritarian bishop (in the steps of Demetrius 80 years prior)
• Called together a meeting of clergy wherein “with perhaps too philosophical minuteness”1, he explained the unity of the Father and the Son.

Arius of Libya (260-336)

• Presbyter of ancient Baucalis Church in Alexandria
• Austere, ascetic, older man
• Highly intelligent and an expert logician
• Objected to Alexander’s teaching about the unity of the Father and the Son, thinking it sounded like Sabellianism


• Alexander held two rounds of debates among clergy in which Arius participated.
• Alexander found both sides convincing but ended up siding with the eternal Son position.
• Alexander held a council of bishops and requested Arius to sign a confession of faith.
• Arius denied; Alexander excommunicated him
• 89 others left with Arius.

Letter Wars

• Alexander wrote letters to other bishops against Arius.
• Alexander wrote an encyclical against Arius.
• Arius wrote letters looking for support.
• Eusebius of Nicomedia and Eusebius of Caesarea had Arius write a conciliatory letter to Alexander.
• Constantine wrote Alexander a letter which requested him to make peace with Arius.

Arius’ Theology

• Word/Son is first created being (before the ages)
• He is superior to all other created beings and objects.
• “There was when he was not.”
• God begat/created Christ out of nothing.
• Arius’ Thalia2

“According to the faith of the chosen ones of God, the knowledgeable children of God, the holy orthodox ones who have received the Spirit of the holy God, I have learnt these things from those who share wisdom, smart people, taught of God and wise in every way; in the steps of these I have come, I going along with them, I, the well-known, who have suffered much for the glory of God, who have learnt wisdom from God, and I know knowledge.”3

“God then himself is in essence ineffable to all. He alone has neither equal nor like, none comparable in glory; We call him Unbegotten because of the one in nature begotten; We raise hymns to him as Unbegun because of him who has a beginning. We adore him as eternal because of the one born in time.
The Unbegun appointed the Son to be Beginning of things begotten, and bore him as his own Son, in this case giving birth. He has nothing proper to God in his essential property, for neither is he equal nor yet consubstantial with him.”4


• 321 - Council in Bythinia (Eusebius of Nicomedia)
• 322 - Council in Alexandria (Alexander)
• 324 - Council in Alexandria (Hosius)
• 325 - Council in Antioch (Hosius)
• 325 - Council in Nicea (Constantine)


• Bishop Alexander of Alexandria began teaching that the Son of God was eternal.
• Presbyter Arius objected, teaching instead that because the Son of God was begotten, there was a time when he was not.
• After multiple debates, Alexander held a council and insisted Arius sign his confession or face excommunication. Arius refused.
• When Alexander ejected Arius from the churches in Alexandria, 89 others left with him, including clergy.
• Eusebius of Nicomedia and Eusebius of Caesarea tried to convince Alexander to reinstate Arius.
• Alexander wrote letters to bishops around the world, warning them not to accept Arius or those who believed like him.
• Although both Alexander and Arius were subordinationists, Alexander believed God was only greater than his Son in that he was unbegun, though both were eternal.
• Arius believed God's begetting of the Son was a creative act, though the Son was still supreme over every other creature.
• Arius did not invent the idea that the Son had a beginning, but his distinctive insistence that the Son was made from nothing (instead of from God) was new.
• Alexander's heavy-handed tactics polarized churches on this issue, resulting in emperor Constantine's involvement.

1 Socrates, Ecclesiastical History 1.5-6.
2 Thalia means abundance in Greek.
3 Beginning paragraph of Thalia cited from Athanasius, Orationes contra Arianos 1.5-6 in R. P. C. Hanson, The Search for a Christian Doctrine of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 12.
4 Athanasius, On the Synods of Arminium and Seleucia 15, trans. Stuart Hall in A New Eusebius, ed. J. Stevenson, rev. ed. (London: SPCK, 2013), 374-5.

LHIM Weekly Bible Teachings
LHIM Weekly Bible Teachings
Arius and Alexander of Alexandria

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