4. The Explicit Tradition of the dogma, leaving three openings to an heretical perversion

{164} I am proposing to answer the question how it was that the heresy of Arius could obtain, as it did, an ascendancy in Christendom so sudden, so triumphant, in the face of a universal tradition of doctrine so fatal to the very elements of its teaching; and, in doing so, I must first make an explanation, which will take from the problem a good deal of its difficulty. It was not then Arianism proper, such as I have described it, which had such successes, but that special form of the heresy which was called Semi-Arianism. It was Semi-Arianism which the Eusebian party professed, which their Councils put forth, which the Imperial Court patronised, and into which Liberius and so many bishops of East and West were dragooned or betrayed; a form of error not less un-Christian, but far less revolting than the original heresy. On the other hand, the tradition of East and West, which, as I have shown, was so strong against Arianism, had not the same force, it must be candidly admitted, when directed against the Semi-Arian tenets, being comparatively deficient in its enunciation of those particular points of the Catholic dogma which the Semi-Arians denied. This correction in the description to be given of the antagonist facts, which constitute the phenomenon to be accounted for, is of great importance,—in truth, going far to destroy its paradoxical character. {165}

What Arius professed has been stated above; as to the Semi-Arians, they, with Arius, denied that the Son was the Supreme God, and that He had been from eternity; but they considered Him born of the Divine Substance before all time, and not a creature; and, though not equal to God in nature, as being a Son, and a distinct Being from Him, still ineffably near to Him—the transcendent mirror of His perfections, and the God of the mediatorial kingdom, nay, of the created Universe, as the Vice-gerent of His Father. This is what they maintained;—the more tangible points of their divergence from the Catholic dogma lying in their denial of our Lord's co-equality and co-eternity with the Father. Now it was in these very two points, that the Catholic tradition, as stated above, was weakest, especially as regards the co-eternity.

I do not say that those two points of doctrine, which are necessary to the Catholic dogma of the Holy Trinity, are not also explicitly stated by this or that Ante-Nicene Father. For instance, Origen declares distinctly the Son's co-eternity, when he says: "He who dares to say 'Once the Son existed not,' is saying 'Once Wisdom was not;'" and when Tertullian says that "the Father is God, the Son God, and the Holy Ghost God," he implies the co-equality. Doubtless; but still I think I shall be able to show, that not only by simple omissions, but by positive statements, certain Ante-Nicene writers did accidentally give occasion, or at least a shelter, to the Semi-Arianism of the fourth century, and, while showing this, I shall at the same time be able either to exculpate or to excuse {166} those writers, in their involuntary co-operation in a great calamity.

I have to show, then, how this calamity came about; and I shall assign three reasons for it, drawn from the writings of the Fathers of the Ante-Nicene period. The first will be their true doctrine of the Principatus of the Father; the second the true doctrine of the Syncatabasis or Condescensio of the Son; and the third that of the Temporal Gennesis.

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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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