The Mysterious Death of Arius


You have perhaps heard of Arianism. It’s probably most famous today because of its association with Hitler and Nazi Germany. But who exactly was Arius? Knowing a little background of his life and his time period really makes his death much more interesting — maybe moreso than you have ever thought, if you know any of the details at all.

Arius was one of the biggest of the early church heretics. He was born around 250 A.D. and was a heavily influential theologian. He was a master of propaganda; he set his theology to catchy tunes, making it easy to be remembered and sung and, therefore, spread. He had half of Alexandria singing “There was a time when the Son was not.” [1]


As modern Christians, we take certain aspects of our theology for granted — the Holy Trinity, for example. Our God is simple and complex, both one and three. We take this for granted as we read the Bible, understanding this fundamental aspect of the relationship between God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds from both. They are three persons, but one God. It is a testament to the historical Church’s reliance on creeds that such a complex idea has been handed down over time and so easily absorbed by modern Christians. (This is an aspect of Point 5 of the Biblical Covenant, Succession/Inheritance/Continuity.)

This was a difficult idea for the early Church. The Bible does not use the word “trinity.” Therefore, the early Church debated the relationship of Jesus the Son to God the Father. Was Jesus also God? Was He the same as God? Or was He a different, second God?

Arius believed that Jesus was a second God, a creature rather than a creator. He believed that Jesus was created by God the Father within history instead of begotten in eternity and equal to God the Father. He said “He is neither like the Father as it regards his essence, nor is by nature either the Father’s true Word, or true Wisdom, but indeed one of his works and creatures.” [2]

This is obviously heretical to the ears of Christians today, but in the early 4th century there was much room for debate, it seemed. Arius offered an attractive theology: if Christ was but a mere creature, then that leaves room for other creatures to also reach the level of Christ. Essentially, he left room for other men to become gods, too.


This split the early church, and Constantine called the Council of Nicaea together in 350 A.D. which consisted of 300 bishops from the church. There, they debated the “substance” of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The Apostles’ Creed had come together by the end of first century as the fundamental Church’s confession of faith. To be a Christian, you must confess the basic faith of orthodox Christianity. If you don’t believe the Church’s creed, then you are not an orthodox Christian.

The Apostles’ Creed begins as follows:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord

The Council of Nicaea was largely a debate between orthodox Christianity and Arius’ heretical religion. While an issue that had been previously raised but not necessarily settled, it came into clear focus in the face of Arius’ distortion of Christianity.[3] Arius redefined the meaning of the words in the Apostles’ Creed to construct a kind of religious philosophy from them that chiefly aims to glorify man and demote God. It was an insidious subterfuge that masqueraded as a slightly altered version of orthodox Christianity that ultimately sought to destroy Christianity completely. [4]

Arius’ heresy was popular (as is modern humanism), and it was threatening to destroy the Church. If it had been left unchecked, Christianity would have devolved into nothing more than creation worship, which is merely dressed-up paganism and Baalism.

The doctrine of the “Trinity” came forth from the fruits of the Nicene Council, as did the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed modified the Apostles’ Creed to make it more specific. Whereas the Apostles’ Creed simply stated “and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,” the Nicene Creed expanded it to read as follows:

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, only-begotten of the Father, that is, of the substance of the Father, GOD of GOD, begotten, not made, being of the same substance with the Father, by whom all things were made in heaven and in earth [5]

Notice the emphasis on “substance.” Arius refused to adhere to the creed, and as a result he was excommunicated from the Church and exiled to Illyria.


Despite this, Arius regained much of his power and influence over the next decade. Emperor Constantine, who grew more conciliatory towards those exiled by the Council, later demanded that the church receive him. This made Bishop Alexander of Alexandria unhappy, and he prayed to God that either he or Arius be removed from this world lest he bear witness to a heretic entering triumphantly into the Church:

On his recall, Alexander, Primate of Alexandria, in tears prostrated himself in the sacrarium, poraying, “If Arius comes tomorrow to the church, take me away, and let me not perish with the guilty. But if Thou pittiest Thy Church, as Thou dost pity it, take Arius away, lest when he enters heresy enter with him.” [6]

The Church historian Socrates Scholasticus documented what happened next:

It was then Saturday, and Arius was expecting to assemble with the church on the day following: but divine retribution overtook his daring criminalities. For going out of the imperial palace, attended by a crowd of Eusebian partisans like guards, he paraded proudly through the midst of the city, attracting the notice of all the people. As he 35approached the place called Constantine’s Forum, where the column of porphyry is erected, a terror arising from the remorse of conscience seized Arius, and with the terror a violent relaxation of the bowels: he therefore enquired whether there was a convenient place near, and being directed to the back of Constantine’s Forum, he hastened thither. Soon after a faintness came over him, and together with the evacuations his bowels protruded, followed by a copious hemorrhage, and the descent of the smaller intestines: moreover portions of his spleen and liver were brought off in the effusion of blood, so that he almost immediately died.

This event was an inspiration to the saints and a warning to heretics. In conclusion, Rushdoony described it best:

The heretics preferred to forget it, and modern heretics have eliminated this and like events from history books as “irrelevant.” It was, however, a providential conclusion to the great intellectual and spiritual battle of Nicea. [7]


[1] William C. Placher, A History of Christian Theology (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1983), p. 73.

[2] Ibid. p. 73

[3] Ibid. p. 73

[4] Rousas John Rushdoony, The Foundations of Social Order (Vallecito, California: Ross House Books, [1968] 1998), ch. 2.

[5] Ibid. p. 14.

[6] Ibid. p. 15.

[7] Ibid. p. 15.


One response to “The Mysterious Death of Arius

  1. Pingback: The effect of Christian creeds on civilization | Rebuild Your Biblical Worldview

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