Semi-Arianism was a position regarding the relationship between God the Father and the Son of God, adopted by some 4th century Christians. Though the doctrine modified the teachings of Arianism, it still rejected the doctrine that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are of the same substance, or con-substantial, and was therefore considered to be heretical by many contemporary Christians.[1] Semi-Arianism is a name frequently given to the Trinitarian position of the conservative majority of the Eastern Christian Church in the 4th century, to distinguish it from strict Arianism.

Arius held that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were three separate essences or substances (ousiai or hypostases) and that the Son and Spirit derived their divinity from the Father, were created, and were inferior to the Godhead of the Father. Semi-Arians, however, admitted that the Son was “of a similar substance” (homoiousios) as the Father but not "of the same substance" (homoousios) as him.[2] This doctrinal controversy revolved around two words that in writing differed only by a single letter but whose difference in meaning gave rise to furious contests.[3]


Arianism was the view of Arius and his followers, the Arians, that Jesus was subordinate to, and of a different being (ousia) to God the Father. Arians opposed the catholic and orthodox view that the three persons of the Trinity were of one being or substance. Arianism spread among the Church of Alexandria and the Eastern Mediterranean. After the First Council of Nicaea condemned Arianism as heresy, many Christians adopted compromise views in which they remained in communion with Arians without adopting Arianism itself. Various formulae, such as the homoiousian and the homoean, were proposed to compromise between Arian teachings (heteroousios) and the doctrine of one substance (homoousios) asserted in the Nicene Creed.

After the 325 Council of Nicea defeated Arianism, the greater number of the Eastern bishops, who agreed to the deposition of St. Athanasius at Tyre in 335 and received the Arians to communion at Jerusalem on their repentance, were not Arians. The dedication Council of Antioch in 341 put forth a creed which was unexceptionable but for its omission of the Nicene formula "of One Substance." Even disciples of Arius such as George, Bishop of Laodicea (335-47) and Eustathius of Sebaste (c. 356-80)[4] joined the moderate party, and after the death of Eusebius of Nicomedia, the leaders of the court faction, Ursacius, Valens and Germinius, were not tied to any formula, for Emperor Constantius II himself hated Arianism, though he disliked Athanasius yet more. When Marcellus of Ancyra was deposed in 336, he was succeeded by Basil. Marcellus was reinstated by the Council of Sardica and Pope Julius I in 343, but Basil was restored in 350 by Constantius, over whom he gained considerable influence. He was the leader of a council at Sirmium in 351, held against Photinus who had been a deacon at Ancyra, and the canons of this synod begin by condemning Arianism, though they do not quite come up to the Nicene standard. Basil had afterwards a disputation with the Anomoean Aëtius.

After the defeat of Magnentius at Mursa in 351, Valens, bishop of that city, became the spiritual director of Constantius. In 355 Valens and Ursacius obtained the exile of the Western confessors Eusebius, St. Lucifer of Cagliari, St. Hilary of Poitiers, and Liberius followed. In 357 they issued the second Creed of Sirmium, or "formula of Hosius", in which homoousios and homoiousios were both rejected. Eudoxius, a violent Arian,[5] seized the See of Antioch, and supported Aëtius and his disciple Eunomius.

It has been noted also that the Greek term "homoousian", which Athanasius of Alexandria favored, was actually a term that was reported to be put forth and favored also by Sabellius, and was a term that many followers of Athanasius took issue with and were uneasy about. The Semi-Arians also objected to the term. Their objection to the term "homoousian" was that it was considered to be "un-Scriptural, suspicious, and of a Sabellian tendency."[6] This was because Sabellius also considered the Father and the Son to be "one substance", meaning that, to Sabellius, the Father and Son were "one essential Person" interacting with creation as necessary.

Basil of Ancyra

In the Lent of 358, Basil, along with many bishops, was holding the dedicatory feast of a new church he had built at Ancyra when he received a letter from George of Laodicea, relating how Eudoxius had approved of Aëtius, and begging Macedonius of Constantinople, Basil, and the rest of the assembled bishops to decree the expulsion of Eudoxius and his followers from Antioch, else that great see were lost. In consequence, the Synod of Ancyra published a long reply addressed to George and the other bishops of Phoenicia in which they recite the Creed of Antioch (341), adding explanations against the "unlikeness" of the Son to the Father taught by the Arians and Anomoeans, (from anomoios), and showing that the very name of father implies a son of like substance (homoiousios, or homoios kat ousian) Anathematisms are appended in which Anomoeanism is explicitly condemned and the teaching of "likeness of substance" enforced. The nineteenth of these canons forbids the use also of homoousios and tautoousios; this may be an afterthought due to the instance of Macedonius, as Basil does not seem to have insisted on it later. Legates were dispatched to the Council at Sirmium: Basil, Eustathius of Sebaste, an ascetic of no dogmatic principles, Eleusius of Cyzicus, a follower of Macedonius, and the priest Leontius, one of the emperor's chaplains. They arrived just in time, for the emperor had been lending his ear to a Eudoxian, but he now veered round, issuing a letter (Sozomen, IV, xiv) declaring the Son to be "like in substance" to the Father, and condemning the Arians of Antioch.

Epiphanius of Salamis

In the mid-4th century Epiphanius stated, "Semi-Arians... hold the view of the Son, that he was forever with the Father... but has been begotten without beginning and not in time... But all of these negate, or it has been said, blaspheme the Holy Spirit, and do not count him in the Godhead with the Father and the Son."[7]

According to Sozomen, at this point Pope Liberius was released from exile upon signing three formulæ combined by Basil. Basil persuaded Constantius to summon a general council, Ancyra being proposed, then Nicomedia (both in Asia Minor), but as the latter city was destroyed by an earthquake, Basil was again at Sirmium in 359 where the Arianizers had meanwhile regained their footing; with Germinius of Sirmium, George of Alexandria, Ursacius and Valens, and bishop (later saint) Marcus of Arethusa, he held a conference which lasted until night. A confession of faith, ridiculed under the name of the "dated creed", was drawn up by Marcus on 22 May (Hilary, "Fragment. xv"). Arianism was of course rejected, but the homoios kata ten ousian was not admitted, and the expression kata panta homoios, "like in all things", was substituted. Basil was disappointed, and added to his signature the explanation that the words "in all things" meant not only in will, but in existence and being (kata ten hyparxin kai kata to einai). Not content with this, Basil, George of Laodicea and others published a joint explanation (Epiph., lxxiii, 12-22) that "in all things" must include "substance".

At Seleucia, 359

The court party arranged that two councils should be held, one at Rimini (Italy) and the other at Seleucia. At Seleucia, in 359, the Semiarians were in a majority, being supported by such men as St. Cyril of Jerusalem, his friend Silvanus of Tarsus and even Hilary of Poitiers, but they were unable to obtain their ends. Basil, Silvanus and Eleusius, therefore, went as envoys to Constantinople, where a council was held in 360, which followed Rimini in condemning homoiousios together with homoousios and allowed homoios alone, without addition. This new phrase was the invention of Acacius of Cæsarea, who now deserted the more extreme Arians and became leader of the new "Homoean" party. He procured the exile of Macedonius, Eleusius, Basil, Eustathius, Silvanus, Cyril and others.

Constantius II died in 361. Under Julian the exiles returned. Basil was probably dead. Macedonius organized a party which confessed the Son to be kata panta homoios, while it declared the Holy Ghost to be the minister and servant of the Father and a creature. Eleusius joined him, and so did Eustathius for a time. This remnant of the Semi-Arian party held synods at Zele and elsewhere. The accession of Jovian, who was orthodox, induced the versatile Acacius, with Meletius of Antioch and twenty-five bishops, to accept the Nicene formula, adding an explanation that the Nicene Fathers meant by homoousios merely homoios kat ousian – thus Acacius had taken up the original formula of the Semi-Arians. In 365 the Macedonians assembled at Lampsacus under the presidency of Eleusius and condemned the Councils of Ariminum and Antioch (in 360), asserting again the likeness in substance. But the threats of the Arian emperor Valens caused Eleusius to sign an Arian creed at Nicomedia in 366. He returned to his diocese full of remorse, and begged for the election of another bishop, but his diocesans refused to let him resign.

The West was at peace under Valentinian I, so the Semi-Arians sent envoys to that emperor and to the pope to get help. Pope Liberius refused to see them until they presented him with a confession of faith which included the Nicene formula. He seems to have been unaware that the party now rejected the divinity of the Holy Ghost; but this was perhaps not true of the envoys Eustathius and Silvanus. On the return of the legates, the documents they brought were received with great joy by a synod at Tyana, which embraced the Nicene faith. But another synod in Caria still refused the homoousion.

Council of Constantinople and after

In 381 the First Council of Constantinople was also called in order to attempt to deal with the binitarians who were mainly Semi-Arians then. However, as the Trinity was officially finalized at this time, the offended binitarians walked out.

For the rest of the history of the Semi-Arians, they were also called Macedonians, see Pneumatomachi.[8]

Also, in more modern times, groups such as the Jehovah's Witnesses,[9][10] and Creation Seventh Day Adventists have sometimes been called "Semi-Arians".[11]

See also


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Semiarians and Semiarianism". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton. 

  1. "semi-Arianism." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2012.
  2. "semi-Arianism." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2012.
  3. Gary Holloway, Randall J. Harris, Mark Cothran Black (editors), Theology Matters (College Press 1998 ISBN 978-0-89900813-4), pp. 24–25
  4. John Chapman, "Semiarians and Semiarianism" in The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York 1912)
  5. Chapter XXIII.—Of what befell the orthodox bishops at Constantinople. - Sacred Texts - Retrieved 14 June 2014.
  6. Select Treatises of St. Athanasius - In Controversy With the Arians - Freely Translated by John Henry Cardinal Newmann - Longmans, Green, and Co., 1911, footnote, page 124
  7. Epiphanius. The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Books II and III (Sects 47-80), De Fide). Section VI, Verses 1,1 and 1,3. Translated by Frank Williams. EJ Brill, New York, 1994, pp.471-472.
  8. John McClintock, James Strong Cyclopædia of Biblical, theological, and ecclesiastical literature: Vol 8 - 1894 - "The first canon anathematizes the "Semi- Arians or Pneumatomachi;" the seventh canon uses the name "Macedonians," and orders the admission of converts from this heresy to be by unction"
  9. Institute for Metaphysical Studies - The Arian Christian Bible - Metaphysical Institute, 2010. Page 209. Retrieved 10 June 2014.
  10. Adam Bourque - Ten Things You Didn’t Know about Jehovah’s Witnesses. - Michigen Skeptics Association. Retrieved 10 June 2014.
  11. THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY AMONG ADVENTISTS - Biblical Research Institute - 14 June 2014.
This article includes substantial content based on the article by Dom John Chapman, OSB, prior of St. Thomas' Abbey, Erdington, Birmingham, "Semiarians and Semiarianism." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912.


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