The Arian Controversy, Part 1
By the early third century, most Christians had come to believe that Christ was both human and divine. While these doctrines were held from the earliest years, they were not always held easily. Then, as now, the assertion that a poor Jewish carpenter, who died upon a cross was, in fact, God, seemed absurd to many. Christianity's background contributed to this uneasiness about such a claim. The monotheism inherited from Judaism made Christians nervous about the profession that Jesus was divine, yet not identical with the Father. Such a notion sounded polytheistic. Some Jewish Christians (Ebionites) taught that Jesus was not divine; he was only human: certainly a prophet, at best an angel.
While, on the one side, there was difficulty in accepting Christ's divinity, Gnostic Christians had concluded that Christ could not be human, since divinity could have no contact with the material world without being corrupted. Therefore, it was reasoned, that Jesus only seemed to be human . This became known as Docetism (from the Greek word, dokeo, which is translated "seem," or "appear").
The general consensus among Christians was to assert that Jesus was both human and divine. Such a position was not a compromise to the extremes. It was the only position the church could take and keep the integrity of the work of Christ intact. This "orthodox position" was not accepted by all. We must be careful not to be too harsh on those Christians who questioned the church's (up to this point) "unofficial" position. They, like their contemporaries, were trying to understand what it meant to claim that Jesus was both Lord and Savior.
It stands to reason that when a claim is made like "the Son is both human and divine," at some point those making the claim will be asked to explain it. Arius, a presbyter in Alexandria, was not the first to raise the question, but he did so in a way that the church had to address it publicly.
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)