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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. IV:
Deposition of Arius. (Depositio Arii.): Introduction.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

p. 68 Depositio Arii.


Introduction to the ‘Deposition of Arius’ and Encyclical Letter of Alexander.

The following documents form the fittest opening to the series of Anti-Arian writings of Athanasius. They are included in the Benedictine edition of his works, and in the Oxford Collection of Historical Tracts, of which the present translation is a revision. The possibility that the Encyclical Letter was drawn up by Athanasius himself, now deacon and Secretary to Bishop Alexander (Prolegg. ch. ii. §2), is a further reason for its inclusion. The Athanasian authorship is maintained by Newman on the following grounds, which his notes will be found to bear out. (1) Total dissimilarity of style as compared with Alexander’s letter to his namesake of Byzantium (given by Theodoret, H. E. i. 4). That piece is in an elaborate and involved style, full of compound words, with nothing of the Athanasian simplicity and vigour. (2) Remarkable identity of style with that of Athanasius, extending to his most characteristic expressions. (3) Distinctness of the ‘theological view’ and terminology of Alexander as compared with Athanasius; the Encyclical coinciding with the latter against the former. (4) Athanasian use of certain texts. These arguments are of great weight, and make out at least a prima facie case for Newman’s view. The latter has the weight of Böhringer’s opinion on its side, while the counter-arguments of Kölling (vol. 1. p. 105) are trivial. Gwatkin, Studies, 29, note 4, misses the points (Nos. 1 and 3) of Newman’s argument, which may fairly be said to hold the field. The deposition of Arius at Alexandria took place (Prolegg, ubi supra) in 320 or 321; more likely the latter. Whether the Encyclical was drawn up at the Synod which deposed Arius, as is generally supposed, or some two years later, as has been inferred from the references to Eusebius of Nicomedia (D. C. B. i. 80, cf. Prolegg. ubi supra, note 1), is a question that may for our present purpose be left open. In any case it is one of the earliest documents of the Arian controversy. It should be noted that the ὁμοούσιον does not occur in this document, a fact of importance in the history of the adoption of the word as a test at Nicæa, cf. Prolegg. ch. ii. §3 (1) and (2) b. At this stage the Alexandrians were content with the formulæ μοιος κατ᾽ οὐσίαν (Athan.), παραλλακτος εἰκών, ἀπηκριβωμένη ἐμφέρεια (Alex. in Thdt.), which were afterwards found inadequate.

The letter, after stating the circumstances which call it forth, and recording the doctrine propounded by Arius, and his deposition, points out some of the leading texts which condemn the doctrine (§§3, 4). The Arians are then (§5) compared to other heretics, and the bishops of the Church generally warned (§6) against the intrigues of Eusebius of Nicomedia. The letter is signed by the sixteen presbyters of Alexandria, and the twenty-four deacons (Athanasius signs fourth), as well as by eighteen presbyters and twenty deacons of the Mareotis. The scriptural argument of the Epistle is the germ of the polemic developed in the successive Anti-Arian treatises which form the bulk of the present volume.

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