NICAEA: Duane W.H. Arnold

You may also like...

34 Responses

  1. Linn says:

    I really enjoyed this. Many thanks!

    I’ve always believed that one of the great oversights of evangelicalism has been neglecting the history of the early church. We owe so much to those who wrote down events, codified doctrines, and described how certain decisions were made. Not to forget the faithful copying of the Scriptures, too!

  2. Michael says:


    This is sort of a trial balloon to see if folks are interested in real scholarly articles.

    My apologies for the formatting issues…

  3. Linn says:

    If there were formatting issues, I didn’t notice.
    I came to faith because I read a lot. The church I grew up in did not believe in a literal resurrection, and I found that fascinating, because, from what i understood, the resurrection of Christ made Christianity different from all other religions. So, I went to the library and read extensively and also read through my Bible. I arrived at the conclusion (I know because God was guiding me through all that reading) that the resurrection was true. Much of my reading was in church history, pre and post Reformation. I’ve never lost my love of reading about church history. I hope others will catch the bug, too!

  4. Duane Arnold says:

    “Much of my reading was in church history, pre and post Reformation. I’ve never lost my love of reading about church history. I hope others will catch the bug, too!”


    A big “Amen” from this corner!

  5. EricL says:

    Thank you for sharing, Duane. I wonder how much the decisions of the Nicene Council was even noticed by the average Christian of that day. Did it bring any immediate changes in what was preached or taught? It probably took weeks for most of those bishops to travel back to their locales and then weeks more to even disseminate whatever information they wanted shared.

  6. Eric says:

    I have sometimes wondered what would have happened if modern-day church controversies had been discussed at these councils. Would super-rich prosperity preachers been declared not just in error, but outside orthodoxy? Would traditional sexual ethics or an episcopal system have been included in the historic creeds? It is interesting that After the reformation and the subsequent development of many varieties of protestantism, the creeds survived to be used as statements of faith by churches that would look very foreign to churches of the early centuries.

  7. Shawn says:

    I am very interested but time constraints only allow me to read it in fragments. Hopefully I will finish it by Wednesday.

  8. Duane Arnold says:


    Actually, it took years to disseminate the decisions that were made at the council. It is probable, however, that many of the bishops did what Eusebius is reported to have done, which was to write a pastoral letter to their diocese. This of course meant that the decrees would’ve been known by the larger cities before those in the hinterlands.

  9. Duane Arnold says:


    An astute observation. I think the limitation of big issues being involved in the creeds constitutes their strength. For instance, at the council even though decisions were made concerning other disciplinary and moral issues, these were not included in the creeds. There seems to have been a recognition that the creeds were for major issues, that is the cardinal doctrines of the church. Perhaps that helps to explain how wide varieties of church bodies could adopt statements of faith of an ancient church to which they bore little resemblance…

  10. Duane Arnold says:


    I’ll be interested to hear your reaction after you have finished reading…

  11. Josh says:

    I don’t really have anything to add, but wanted to say I enjoyed the read. Sparked some curiosity to read up on other connected issues.

    Thanks Duane!

  12. pstrmike says:

    Thanks for this article Duane. It is amazing to me how people can be at the same event and have different although not conflicting observations. I would be more suspect of these two had their account be the same, but not everyone recognizes that differences can occur and are based on the focus and perceptions of our own hearts and minds before, during, and after the event. Having read some of both Eusebius and Athanasius, I see how their different teleological purposes may have come into play; Eusebius a bit more conciliatory in comparison to Athanasius’ emphasis on doctrine, particularly Christology.

    There are some good things to consider here, not only theologically or historically, but in how we read and discourse with others. I often wonder of the veracity of the maxim that history is written by the victors, an argument that a friend once appealed to in his defense of what could be called a semi-arian Christology. I suggested that his observation was actually a defense from silence. Thank you for this careful engagement with these two important historical figures.

  13. Duane Arnold says:


    That’s the intent!

  14. Duane Arnold says:


    Yes, our view of history and of historical events often has much to do with perception as with fact. By digging below the surface a little bit what appears to be contradictory may be seen as complementary. I think this can be true of contemporary theology as much as in the exploration of historical theology…

  15. pstrmike says:

    Eric wrote last night:

    “I have sometimes wondered what would have happened if modern-day church controversies had been discussed at these councils.”

    I wonder what it would take to have a council that represented all of the church today? I doubt it could happen as all of us are so entrenched in our own dogmas. We really see ourselves as separate churches, separate bodies.

    What this underscores to me is the danger when any group takes on the doctrinal and practical construct of one person, rather than going through the process of working out a system of belief in a community setting.

  16. Josh says:

    pstrmike, I thought about that too. Like who would be the Southern Baptist Bishop? If he agreed to stuff we don’t, we’d just ignore him. We are truly all our own bishop, making this type of ecumenical unity impossible.

  17. pstrmike says:

    “By digging below the surface a little bit what appears to be contradictory may be seen as complementary. I think this can be true of contemporary theology . . .”

    My wife and I went on a short trip with another couple a few years ago. As we were walking around the city, we passed a bakery name Macrina’s. I mentioned that was the name of the sister of two of the Cappadocian fathers. The woman that was with us stopped and asked me, “what are we?” Orthodox, Baptist, Calvary Chapel, Quaker, Anglican??? Who are we??? I responded, “we’re Christians.”

  18. pstrmike says:

    ” We are truly all our own bishop. . .”

    Yes we are. I find that truth both comforting and disturbing.

  19. Duane Arnold says:


    You have hit on the question of the age! The essential polity of the Christian churches of Europe and America is congregationalism. Each congregation is defined in terms of its own promoted identity. This is true even of the supposed monolith of the Roman Catholic Church. In most cities you can find liberal Catholic churches, family oriented Catholic churches and traditional Catholic churches, etc.. The same could be said of Presbyterians, Methodist and even independent Evangelical churches. The danger is, as you say, when one person is responsible for the theological undertakings of that local church. It is usually then that you encounter the “hobbyhorses” of a particular individual. Theology is meant to be done in community. I would suggest, however, that that community is inclusive of the historic church, that is the Church triumphant, as well as the Church militant…

  20. pstrmike says:

    ” I would suggest, however, that that community is inclusive of the historic church, that is the Church triumphant as well as the Church militant…”

    It was rare in any church that I was a part of that I ever heard anything about the historic church, particularly pre-reformation.

    I am working through the gospel of John and am spending time with the church fathers, some of the desert fathers and mothers, and celtic writers to inform what I am teaching.

  21. Duane Arnold says:


    Almost 50 years ago as a Calvary Chapel pastor I stumbled onto the letters of Clement of Rome. To say it changed my life would be an understatement!

  22. chris says:

    does anyone know a good podcast on church history? I remember listening to Frank James’ sessions on iTunesU but that no longer exists and I think you have to buy them now.

  23. Duane Arnold says:

    You can check out Diarmaid MacCulloch’s podcasts from the University of Oxford… eleven episodes thus far…

  24. Nathan Priddis says:

    It feels as though there is an intense aversion to Church History. I can’t recall ever hearing a sermon condemning said interest, but it just works out that way

    The closest I can remember is perhaps Mark Driscoll, who appeared to have frowned on the use of a concordance.
    The Fundamentalist also looked down on higher learning. It was a slippery slope of Intellectualism.

    Yesterday’s thread made me think again of this after the Innerency topic.

  25. The New Victor says:

    Great article! Keep ’em coming.

    What pstmike said was my experience in Lutheran school from grades 4.5-6th. I learned Lutheran theology, of course, but with no prior context other than RCC=salvation by works or purchased by indulgences. With 1 period of religion per day for two school years, one would think that they would have had time. I would have gone in 7th and 8th, but we moved.

  26. bob1 says:

    Mark Driscoll, who appeared to have frowned on the use of a concordance.

    Wow…if that’s true…how do you spell cult?

  27. Duane Arnold says:

    As I’ve said elsewhere, scholarship is not a god to be worshiped, it is merely a tool to be used. Scholarship helps us to guard against the merely subjective by bringing, as much as possible, that which is objective and verifiable. This is not to say the personal opinions do not matter, but the opinions should have a basis in fact. There are, of course, matters which cannot be known with certainty. This is to be expected. When however we decide to comment on such matters it is worthwhile to preface our remarks with the disclaimer that this is merely our opinion based on very incomplete evidence.

    It is also worthwhile to take in and consider carefully opposing points of view. As I mentioned in another thread, even though Reinhold Niebuhr was a critic, Billy Graham read nearly everything that he had written. This is also part of the scholarly enterprise. It should also be said that contrary opinions should not, and need not, lead to the questioning of another’s faith. J.I. Packer and Michael Ramsey had significant theological differences. They never however questioned the others Christian faith or commitment to the church. Simply stated, even though they differed from each other, they choose to learn from each other. That is also part of the task of scholarship.

  28. Nathan Priddis says:

    It was reported on two blogs at least, with quotes, circa 2013. There can still be founds a couple of links, but they’re broken.

    I believe I heard the actual sermon. (paraphrasing) He was upset regarding rebellious Christians looking up Greek roots. I took it to mean their study was a way to bypass the pulpit, rather then submit. I always felt he was an intellectual powder puff, and could see him feeling threatened by the text. I believe it was Ephesians 5 and the role of women that sparked it.

    Beyond the above example, I can’t think of a specific example condemning Christian study, outside the Cannons of Dort.
    The Cannons referred, in a general sense, of looking into deep, or hidden things of God. I don’t recall specific prohibitions like Driscoll’s concordance thing.

  29. Duane Arnold says:

    Some resources for further reading and research:

    Anatolios, Khaled, Athanasius: The Coherence of His Thought (New York: Routledge, 1998).

    Arnold, Duane W.-H., The Early Episcopal Career of Athanasius of Alexandria (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame, 1991)

    Barnes, Timothy D., Constantine and Eusebius (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1981)

    Hanson, R.P.C., The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy, 318–381 (T.&T. Clark, 1988).

    Williams, Rowan, Arius: Heresy and Tradition (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1987)

  30. Charles Martel says:


    Maybe Athanasius missed some of the minutes of the council meeting since he was in the slammer for a time for punching Arias… 😀

  31. Duane Arnold says:

    A good story… But it didn’t happen! (I think it was supposed to be Nicholas of Myra.)

    In icons of the council, however, Arius is often shown humiliated and on the floor. Maybe that was the source of the story…

  32. SHAWN says:

    My abridged (lol), scattered, and incomplete thoughts on the article.

    First let me say that I found this article interesting. I should also add that it provoked me, in a good way, to read some of the few remaining documents written by Arian. It is too bad that from I could gather that supposedly the Emperor has much of it destroyed.

    I read the letter to Eusebius of Nicomedia, a fragment of some sort, the reinstatement by the Palestinian council, and a letter to Constantine. I purposely did not read any contained in the writings of Athanasius. The reason for this is I wanted to read what was written, as best as we can tell, by the man himself free of probable commentary. I suspect commentary would be peppered throughout Athanasius’ account. I will have to read one day to verify or deny my suspicion.

    It may seem strange but I commend Arius for his seemingly “high” view of God the Father. When it comes to the Father, it appears in my estimation, it was a subject that “lights up” Arius’s countenance. In other words, I can imagine him glowing or beaming with deep admiration as he speaks of Him. In some ways I find his reverence for God the Father refreshing. At the same time, it is something that can be sorely missing in today’s Christianity.

    Please forgive my next statement, which could be viewed as heretical, I suppose. Generally speaking, most Christians overemphasize Jesus. Some Christians, namely Pentecostals, overemphasize the Holy Spirit. Generally speaking, God the Father seems to play a subordinate roll (maybe not in official theological statements or beliefs but in general praxis). If the Trinitarian formula is true, which I am not arguing against it, then what happened to equality within the Godhead?

    Arius, in my estimation, sets himself up for trouble in two ways. Before I mention those two ways let me say that I think these problems were not unique to Arius but to all the Church Fathers. As a matter fact, I think the problem has continued without ceasing throughout church history right into our present state of enlightenment. Without further ado the two problems are: reliance on “secular” philosophy to interpret the Bible and speculation where the Bible is either silent or sparse.

    “Secular” (Greek and Latin) Philosophy

    In reading the scant testimony of Arius I could not help but to be reminded of Plato’s Unmoved Mover or The Cave analogies. Now there is a good chance that I may be missing something due to my limited exposure to the actual philosophical texts of the Greek philosophers. I also cannot recall of an official school(s) of Latin philosophy but more or less added it as note for myself to read up on it, if anything exists on the subject. It just may be the Roman thinkers were heavily influenced by Greek philosophy that it is indistinguishable.

    Speculation from Silence and Sparsity

    I would venture to say that trying to unravel the preexistence of God is an argument from near silence or scarcity. The Biblical data is scant especially with details. Furthermore, it is a short step to walk over the fine line between heresy and orthodoxy. It seems that Arius may taken his own speculations on matters sparsely covered in the Bible too seriously. I offer another unqualified question for further study: Did the Victors of Nicea ever do the same thing, that is speculate from sparsity, just on different subjects? I suspect that it is highly probable but even that statement is an unqualified pseudo-opinion.

  33. Duane Arnold says:


    You might be interested in a 1981 book by my good friends, ROBERT C. GREGG and DENNIS E. GROH, “Early Arianism – A View of Salvation”. It covers many of the issues you raise in your comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from Phoenix Preacher

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading