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Monday, June 6, 2011

The Poisonous Songs of Arius

Many wonder today how it was possible for Arianism to spread so widely and become so popular in the fourth century, even after its condemnation by the First Ecumenical Synod. There are a few factors that may explain this, and one of these likely has to do with the wide-spread distribution of easily memorized songs composed by Arius, the compilation of which is known as Thalia (or Banquet). Philostorgius writes in his Epitome (Bk. 2, Ch. 2) the following concerning the songs of Arius:

"Arius, after his secession from the church, composed several songs to be sung by sailors, and by millers, and by travellers along the high road, and others of the same kind, which he adapted to certain tunes, as he thought suitable in each separate case, and thus by degrees seduced the minds of the unlearned by the attractiveness of his songs to the adoption of his own impiety."

It is not without reason that St. Athanasius begins his Orations Against the Arians (Oration 1, Chapter 1) with a critique of the songs of Arius. St. Athanasius writes that "Arius imitated the dissolute and effeminate tone, in writing Thalia", of the ancient Greek poet Sotades, known for his lewdness. Further he writes that Arius in his Thalia, like the daughter of Herodias, "rivaled in her dance, reeling and frolicking in his blasphemies against the Savior". He also said that by singing the songs of Arius, Christians are "announcing a new heresy". Athanasius further writes of the character of those who sang such songs:

"... those only who sing such strains over their cups, amid cheers and jokes, when men are merry, that the rest may laugh; till this marvelous Arius, taking no grave pattern, and ignorant even of what is respectable, while he stole largely from other heresies, would be original in the ludicrous, with none but Sotades for his rival. For what beseemed him more, when he would dance forth against the Savior, than to throw his wretched words of irreligion into dissolute and loose metres? That, while 'a man', as Wisdom says, 'is known from the utterance of his word', so from those numbers should be seen the writer's effeminate soul and corruption of thought."

At one point Athanasius asks: "And shall not all human kind at Arius's blasphemies be struck speechless, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, to escape hearing them or seeing their author?" Interestingly it is said that when these songs were quoted at the First Ecumenical Synod, the fathers clapped their hands over their ears, and shut their eyes.

Below are a sample of the songs of Arius, which have been extracted from the writings of St. Athanasius:

"And so God Himself, as he really is, is inexpressible to all. He alone has no equal, no one similar ('homoios'), and no one of the same glory. We call Him unbegotten, in contrast to him who by nature is begotten. We praise Him as without beginning, in contrast to him who has a beginning. We worship Him as timeless, in contrast to him who in time has come to exist. He who is without beginning made the Son a beginning of created things. He produced him as a son for Himself, by begetting him. He [the Son] has none of the distinct characteristics of God's own being ('kat' hypostasis') For he is not equal to, nor is he of the same being ('homoousios') as Him."

Also from the Thalia:

"At God’s will the Son has the greatness and qualities that he has. His existence from when and from whom and from then—are all from God. He, though strong God, praises in part ('ek merous') his superior."

Thus, said Arius, God's first thought was the creation of Jesus Christ, therefore time started with the creation of the Logos or Word in Heaven.

In this portion of the Thalia, Arius endeavors to explain the ultimate incomprehensibility of the Father to the Son:

"In brief, God is inexpressible to the Son. For He is in himself what He is, that is, indescribable, So that the Son does not comprehend any of these things or have the understanding to explain them. For it is impossible for him to fathom the Father, who is by Himself. For the Son himself does not even know his own essence ('ousia'). For being Son, his existence is most certainly at the will of the Father. What reasoning allows, that he who is from the Father should comprehend and know his own parent? For clearly that which has a beginning is not able to conceive of or grasp the existence of that which has no beginning."

Here, Arius explains how the Son could still be God, even if he did not exist eternally:

"Understand that the Monad [eternally] was; but the Dyad was not before it came into existence. It immediately follows that, although the Son did not exist, the Father was still God. Hence the Son, not being [eternal] came into existence by the Father’s will, He [the Son] is the Only-begotten God, and this one is alien from [all] others."
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