This article is essentially a compilation of quotes from the following two books:
- Bishop Rowan Williams, Arius, Heresy & Tradition, 2001 and
- Bishop RPC Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God - The Arian Controversy 318-381, 1981.
In this article, I refer to Rowan Williams as RW and to Richard Hanson as RH.
For a summary of this article, see - Was Origen the ultimate source of Arius' heresy?
Origen was a third-century theologian and probably the most influential theologian of the first three centuries. "From very early on, there were those who saw Origen as the ultimate source of Arius' heresy" (RW, 131). RPC Hanson wrote:
“Marcellus of Ancyra, in attacking Asterius and Narcissus of Neronias,
Eusebius of Caesarea and Paulinus of Tyre (certain leading Arians),
had accused them of being under the baleful influence of Origen” (RH,
“Epiphanius directly connects Origen with Arianism. He … declares that
the Arians and Anhomoians learnt from Origen” (RH, p61).
“Many scholars have regarded Arian ideas in a vague and wholesale way
as an inheritance from Origen's doctrine” (RH, 62).
Arius agreed with Origen on the following:
The Son is a separate hypostasis.
“One of the features of Origen's theology that puts him decisively and pretty consistently over against Clement is that insistence on the fact that the Word or Son is an hupothesis” (RW, 131-132), meaning "‘real individual subsistence', as opposed to existence as a mental construct only" (RW, 132). He argued that “Father and Son are two … in subsistence (hupostasis), but are one in likemindedness, harmony … and … will” (RW, 132). “He deplores those … who confuse the … Father and Son and make them out to be one in hupostasis, as if the distinction between Father and Son (is) … a purely mental distinction which we make” (RW, 132).
The background to this is that “both (Arius and Origen) … see Sabellianism and Valentinianism as the great enemies of orthodoxy” (RW, 143) “The Arians always accuse the pro-Nicenes of confounding the Persons of the Trinity” (RH, 102). In the time of both Origen and Arius, (as in our time) statements were often made that sound as if the Father and Son are a single reality.
The Son is NOT homoousios with the Father.
The Nicene Creed interprets “begotten” as that the Son came from the substance of the Father. For that reason, the Creed concludes, He is of the same substance as (homoousios) the Father. Similar to Arius, Origen would reject the statement that the Son is 'out of’ the Father's substance:
“Origen is concerned to avoid all suggestion of anthropomorphic or
corporeal ideas in connection with the generation of the Son, as is
Arius" (RH, 65).
“Origen never says that the Son comes from the substance of the
Father” (RH, 67).
Arius "probably has Origen on his side in repudiating Homoousios,
the idea that the Son is 'out of’ the Father's substance” (RW, 143).
Therefore, Origen would have rejected the idea that the Son is consubstantial with (homoousios) the Father:
“The likelihood of Origen having described the Son as consubstantial
with the Father is very slim” (RH, 68).
“It is almost certainly right to conclude that Origen could not have
spoken of the Son as homoousios with the Father” (RW, 132).
The word “consubstantial … would have suggested to him that the Father
and the Son were of the same material, an idea which he was anxious to
avoid” (RH, 68).
Hanson does state that Origen described the Son’s generation as “an imparting of the nature of the Father” (RH, 65-66) but, for the reasons above, “nature” here should not be interpreted as equivalent to “substance.”
Only one first principle
“Arius stands in the tradition of Origen in so far as he holds to … the impossibility of … two … self-sufficient first principles” (RW, 143).
Three divine hupostaseis
"Arius stands in the tradition of Origen in so far as he holds to ... the substantive and distinct reality of three divine hupostaseis or ousiai” (RW, 143). (“Hupostasis and ousia are … more or less synonymous here, and mean ‘real individual subsistence', as opposed to existence as a mental construct only" (RW, 132).)
The Son is subordinate to the Father.
“Origen, with Arius, can be said to have subordinated the Son to the Father” (RH, 64). Arius’ “main debt to Origen is a subordinationist doctrine of the Son, which he greatly intensifies” (RH, 95).
“But he (Arius) is indebted to Origen's critics … for the doctrine of the Father's priority … (namely that) God the Father existed before all things and created all things out of nothing by his unprompted act of will” (RH, 96).
Hanson goes on to say that all theologians in the Eastern or the Western Church before the outbreak of the Arian Controversy regarded the Son as subordinate to the Father. For example, Bishop Methodius of Olympia (died c. 311) regards the Son as the first of all created things and wholly dependent on the Father (RH, 83).
Hanson also explains that, for Origen, the Son was less subordinate than for Arius (RH, 64). Nevertheless, “subordinationism might indeed, until the denouement (end) of the controversy, have been described as accepted orthodoxy” (RH, XIX).
The Son is not an issue from the Father.
“The favourite Gnostic concept (was) … the 'issue' … of beings, from God” (RH, 60). In other words, that beings came out of the being of God. Adolf von Harnack stated that the Gnostics were the first people to use the term homoousios. [Dogmengeschichte, 1:284–85]
Both Origen and Arius rejected the view that the Son is produced by the Father as an 'issue'” (RH, 63).
The Son has an origin.
Bishop Methodius of Olympia (died c. 311) wrote, "God the Father alone is ingenerate [meaning, to exist without cause]; the 'unoriginated origin’,” [meaning, to be without beginning] (RH, 83).
Origen, similar to Methodius, described the Son as “the originated God” (RH 62), meaning that He is divine but that He has a beginning, in contrast to the Father who has no beginning. Arius also described the Son as having a beginning:
The Son is “not eternal nor co-eternal nor co-unoriginated with the
Father” (RH, 8).
The Son is God.
The previous section shows that Origen described the Son as “the originated God.” Arius also described Him as “God:”
“He is only-begotten God and he is different from any others” (RH,
However, remember that the word translated as "God" in the Bible and in the church fathers (theos, deus) is really equivalent to the modern word "god." It is translated as "God" only when the translator thinks a particular theos refers to the Ultimate Reality. See - How should theos be translated? Therefore, since Origen and Arius both think of the Son as subordinate to the Father, when they refer to Jesus as theos, should it be translated as "God" or as "god?"
The Son is a creature.
Similar to Arius, Origen described the Son as a 'creature' (RH, 63):
“Origen did … describe the Son both as 'having come into existence'
and as a 'creature'. … But at the same time, he declares his belief in
the eternity of the Son as a distinct entity from the Father” (RH,
Arius described the Son as a creature but as "a perfect creature of God ... not like one of the creatures” (RH, 7). In Arius' theology, since the Son created all other creatures, He is the Creator and God of all creatures. It was Arius’ enemies who emphasized that he said that the Son is a creature.
Arianism developed over time and later Arians said: “The Son was begotten, that is made, by God. These Arians ... are not happy with the use of the term 'created', because this suggests that the Son is to be classified with other created things.” (RH, 102)
The Son does not know the Father fully.
Arius taught that the Son does not fully know the Father. For example:
"The Logos does not know the Father fully and exactly, 'nor can he
fully see him” (RH, 16).
“That which has a beginning could not possibly comprehend or grasp the
nature of him who is without a beginning” (RH, 15).
Origen said much the same thing:
“'It will appear that the text "the Father who sent me is greater than
I" (John 14:28) is true in all respects so that in the matter of
knowing the Father is known by himself more fully and more clearly and
more perfectly than (he is known) by the Son'” (RH, 69).
The Son has been generated by the Father’s will.
In Nicene theology, God never made a decision to generate the Son; the Son simply always exists. In contrast:
“The Arians ... reckoned that unless the Son was produced by the
Father's will then he came either by necessity or against God's will.
Athanasius called this Valentinian emanationism. But, say Gregg and
Groh, it is not; it is good Biblical doctrine, reproduced by Ignatius,
Justin, Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria and Origen.” (RH, 90)
Aspects in which Arius deviated from Origen include the following:
Did the Son always exist?
Hanson refers several times to Origen’s teaching that the Son always existed, for example, “Origen's doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son by the Father” (RH, 65).
To contrast this with what Arius taught, Hanson states that Arius taught that ’there was a time when he did not exist’ (RH, 65, 86). But I do not think that this adequately explains what Arius taught. That is how Athanasius, Arius’ fierce opponent, paraphrased Arius' words (RH, 13). As stated in the Nicene Creed, Arius said, ’there was when he was not’, without the word “time.”
The significance is that Arius taught that the Son was begotten before time even existed ("before times and before aeons" (RH, 7)). So, in his view, there was no ‘time’ before the Son was begotten; the Son existed during ‘all time’. It is only in a metaphysical sense, in the incomprehensible infinity beyond our physical universe, that ‘there was when He was not’.
I am not saying that Origen and Arius taught the same in this regard, but I do not support the sharp distinction which Hanson attempts to draw between them.
However, Williams sides with Hanson on this point when he says: “It is just as plain that Arius and Origen are fundamentally at odds over the eternity of the Son and the quasi-necessity of the Son to the Father” (RW, 143).
Was the Son begotten for the purpose of creation?
“Origen … anticipates developed fourth-century orthodoxy in this at least, that he … has some notion of this relation as existing for its own sake, not as a means for connecting the One [God] and the Many [the created beings]” (RW, 143-4).
“Arius … remained firmly within the tradition which saw the distinct subsistence of the Second Hypostasis as connected to God's purpose as creator - a tradition with reputable ancestry in the Apologists, and probably … in Clement” (RW, 144).
Does the Son worship the Father as God?
“Arius in the Thalia sees the Son as praising the Father in heaven; Origen generally avoids language suggesting that the Son worships the Father as God” (RH, 144).
Should we pray to the Son?
“Yet … while Origen notoriously discouraged prayer to the Son (Christian prayer should be made in the Son to the Father), Arius and his followers apparently allowed it” (RH, 144). Hanson explains:
“Origen, for all his stress on the Son as an independent ousia, does
not for a moment allow that the Son might be an 'object’ to us in
isolation from his relation to the Father. … But this also implies
that he (the Son) cannot 'pray’ to the Father in any sense resembling that in
which we pray, as all our praise and worship is in and through him.
Arius' insistence on the Son as an individual existing at God's will
and receiving grace ironically makes it easier for him to treat the
Son as both object and subject of worship.” (RH, 144)
“Origen … anticipates developed fourth-century orthodoxy in this at
least, that he comes close to saying that the Father-Son relationship
it intrinsic to the divine life as such” (RW, 143-4).
Does the Son have a human soul?
A striking difference between Origen and the Arians is that, for Origen, Jesus had a human soul “whereas Arius' contemporaries and successors … denied that the incarnate Word had any human soul at all” (RH, 65):
“The Son assumed … a body without a human mind or soul. This is one of
the salient doctrines of Arianism” (RH, 97-98).
The Lucians were known for this teaching. Epiphanius explained why this was important for the Arians:
“Lucian and all the Lucianists deny that the Son of God took a soul
[i.e. a human soul), 'in order that … they may attach human
experiences directly to the Logos.” (RH, 80)
To explain: In Nicene theology, at His incarnation, the Logos took on a human soul. That soul acted as a buffer between the Son of God and His human experiences. In other words, the Son of God did not suffer the pain of His body and He did not die.
In contrast, the Arians argued that, for people to be saved, God had to suffer. However, God cannot suffer. But He produced a reduced God who is able to suffer and even die. Nevertheless, to ensure that He experiences the pain of His suffering and death, He had to assume “a body without a human mind or soul.” For example, the Arians said:
"The Gentiles and the peoples crucified the God of the four comers of
the earth" (RH, 109).
“Is the Son the immortal God? … No, he is not (i.e. he is the God who
can do the dying whereas the Father cannot)” (RH, 109).
Consequently, the Arians criticized the pro-Nicenes for having a Christology which does not comply with the principles of soteriology (how people are saved).
In the few pages that have survived of his writings, Arius wrote nothing about soteriology (RH, 96). However, more recently, "Gregg and Groh maintain emphatically that ... that the Arian Christ was specifically designed to be a Saviour” (RH, 96).
Is Arius an Origenist?
“Arius probably inherited some terms and even some ideas from Origen,
… he certainly did not adopt any large or significant part of Origen's
theology” (RH, 70).
“He was not without influence from Origen, but cannot seriously be
called an Origenist” (RH, 98).
“But in other respects, the confident ancient and modern judgment that
Arius represents a development within an 'Origenist' theological
school cannot be sustained in any but a radically qualified sense.