The Arian Controversy: Part 3
The theologian who would become the champion of the orthodox position was Athanasius. Athanasius argued that since the Word was divine and God could not be part of creation, the Word could not be created. Judaism had rightly drawn a sharp line between God and creation. Arius, according to Athansius, had put the Word on the wrong side of the line. Athanasius insisted that the Word was begotten eternally.
The conflict centered around the words "creating" and "begetting," and between "in time" and "eternally." What is the difference between creating and begetting? Athanasius stated that anything that is created is made out of separate material. A bench has nothing in common with the carpenter. Begotten, or "born from," implies that the Son comes out of the Father's substance like a child comes out of his/her parents' substance. Therefore, calling Christ begotten makes him divine and not a creature. Athanasius said that the Father and the Son were of the "same substance" (Greek: homoousios). This became the crucial point in the debate. Arius argued that the Father and the Son were of "like substance" (Greek: homoiousion).
Athanasius realized that his analogy went only so far. He warned that the begetting of the Son was not exactly like the begetting of a human child. After human children are born, they are dependent upon their parents. The nature of the Son is infinite and eternal, just like the Father. This is where the question of time comes into focus. According to Athanasius, there was never a time when the Son was not. If the Son had come into existence in time, then he would have had to undergo change. If the nature of the Son was like ours, being liable to change, then eventually he might turn to evil ways. How much confidence could we have in our salvation if the Savior might change? Notice that the question of salvation is raised. In the Old Testament, God's changelessness is directly related to his faithfulness as the covenant God of Israel.
By the end of the first quarter of the fourth century, it was clear that the church was going to have to gather to settle the dispute. The Emperor Constantine would call such an assembly.
Previous Posts in the Series:
The Question of Christ in the Earliest Centuries #1
The Question of Christ in the Earliest Centuries #2
The Question of Christ in the Earliest Centuries #3
The Question of Christ in the Earliest Centuries #4
The Question of Christ in the Earliest Centuries #5
The Question of Christ in the Earliest Centuries #6
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