Georges Florovsky, Origen’s System and Arianism


Thus, the problems of Arian theology can be understood only in terms of the premises of Origen’s system. Origen’s fear of Modalism can also be discerned among Arian theologians. Since the Arian movement was possible only on the foundation of Origenist theology, the struggle against Arianism was actually a struggle against Origenism. However, the teacher’s name was rarely mentioned in this controversy because the opponents of Arianism, especially Alexander, were Origenists themselves. Origen was not an Arian but it is easy to see how the Arians reached their conclusions not merely from misunderstandings of his teachings but from his actual premises. Historically, therefore, the defeat of Arianism proved at the same time to be a defeat of Origenism, at least in trinitarian theology.
At that time the system of Origen as a whole had not yet been subjected to debate and the general question of its validity was raised only at the very end of the century. Origen’s trinitarian doctrine was silently renounced, and even such a consistent Origenist as Didymus was com-pletely free from Origen’s influence in his dogma of the Trinity. He was even further from Origen than Athanasius. Thus, Origenism was not only rejected but overcome, and this is the posi-tive contribution which the Arian controversy made to theology.
Arius bases his theology on the conception of God as a perfect unity and a self-enclosed monad. For him this Divine monad is God the Father, and everything else in existence is alien to God in its essence. The absolute nature of the Divine Being makes it impossible for God to give or endow His essence to anyone else. Therefore, the Word, the Logos, the Son of God, as an hypostasis and as one who has actual existence, is unconditionally and completely alien and unlike the Father. He receives His Being from the Father and by the will of the Father, just as all other creatures do, and He comes into being as a mediator for the sake of the creation of the world. Thus there exists a certain “interval” between the Father and the Son, and the Son is not coeter-nal with the Father. If He were, there would be two “eternals” or two ultimate principles, and the truth of monotheism would be abrogated.
In other words, “there was a then, when the Son did not exist.” He did not exist, but He came into being and had an origin. This means that the Son comes into being “out of things that do not exist,” εξ ουκ οντων. He is a creature, something which is generated and therefore like all generated things He has a “mutable” nature. He is endowed with Divine Glory in advance, from outside, “by grace” and by God’s foreknowledge of the future.
Such are the general features of the teaching of Arius, as much as we are able to judge by the fragments of his compositions which have survived and by the evidence of his contemporaries. His doctrine is basically a rejection of the Divine Trinity. For Arius the Trinity is something derived and generated. It has an origin and its members are separated by “temporal intervals,” διαστημα. Its hypostases are not coeternal and are not similar but alien to each other. “They are eternally dissimilar.” It is a type of diminishing Trinity, a union or, in the words of St. Gregory the Theologian, an “association” of three essences which are not alike. It is a union of three hypostases which are united by essence. It is three essences and three coexisting wills which are distinguished by essence.
In his theology Arius is a strict monotheist, almost a Judaizer, and for him a Trinity cannot be a single God. There is a one and only God, and that is the Father. The Son and the Spirit are the highest and first-born creatures who are mediators in the creation of the world. In this doc-trine Arius approaches Paul of Samosata and the Dynamic Monarchians, but he is even closer to Philo. It is not difficult to understand why his arguments found supporters among the Alexandrians and Origenists.
The connection between Arius’ dogma and the problems of time and the creation of the world are immediately evident. Creation implies origination. That which is created is that which has a beginning, which exists not from itself or through itself, but from another. It is that which does not exist before it comes into being. In Arius’ system “creation” is indistinguishable from “generation” because for him both entail origination, which in his understanding can only take place in time.
This difficulty arises because of the ambiguity of the conception of “origination.” That which is generated has an origin, a reason for its being outside of and before itself. But “origin” can have two meanings: it can be the cause or source of being, or else it can be a moment in time. For Arius both meanings coincide. For him “eternity” or timelessness means ontological primacy, and therefore he refuses to grant that the existence of the Son is “without beginning” or eternal. This would be a denial of His “generation” and the fact that He is begotten, and, if this were not true, then the Logos or Word would be a second and independent God. If the Word is from the Father, then He must have been begotten. Otherwise, He is not from the Father. From tradition Arius knows that the Word is the God of revelation and the most immediate cause of creation. But a creature is subject to change, since it is temporal, and this gives him another reason to connect the existence of the Word with time.
It thus seems that Arius was in sharp disagreement with Origen. In Origen’s doctrine the generation of the Word is eternal and this proves that the Divine Being is immutable. However, Origen inferred too much from this. Because he believed that origination is incompatible with the immutability of God, he posited that the creation of the world is also eternal. In his system the generation of the Son and the creation of the world are united by the concept of origination, and to protect the immutability of God Origen essentially denied that any origination ever takes place. There is nothing in existence about which he was willing to say “there was a then, when it did not exist.”
In this way Origen concluded that all existence is eternal and that everything coexists with God, a dogma which is similar to Aristotle’s doctrine of the eternity of the world. For Origen the world was not a created thing. This conclusion was unacceptable to his followers who, although they rejected his conclusions, did not deny his premises. Arius also reasoned in this way. He de-nied that the world is eternal, and the entire emphasis of his system is in affirming the temporal character of everything which is generated or which has the “origin” of its being in another. However, from this he concluded that the Son also is generated in time. Arius differed from Origen in his conclusions but agreed with him in his premises. Within the bounds of Origen’s system there was an inescapable dilemma: it was necessary to either admit the eternity of the world or to reject the eternal generation of the Son. This dilemma could be avoided only by denying Origen’s premises. For this reason Arius’ system attracted those disciples of Origen who did not accept his idea of an eternal world.

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