Was the Council of Ariminum Arian?

Jerome famously quipped that upon the churches of world accepting the decision of the joint-councils of Ariminum & Seleucia (the real second ecumenical council), “the whole world groaned to find itself Arian”.

Yet ironically, it is in the very writings of Jerome, that slanderer of the brethren, that we find a very clear testimony to the fact that the council and its decision were not truly Arian. The following is from Jerome’s ‘Dialogue with the Luciferians‘:

“17. O. When Constantius was on the throne and Eusebius and Hypatius were Consuls, there was composed, under the pretext of unity and faith, an unfaithful creed, as it is now acknowledged to have been [he refers to the Homoian Creed, not without his characteristic slander of what is good]. For at that time, nothing seemed so characteristic of piety, nothing so befitting a servant of God, as to follow after unity, and to shun separation from communion with the rest of the world. And all the more because the current profession of faith no longer exhibited on the face of it anything profane. We believe, said they, in one true God, the Father Almighty. This we also confess: We believe in the only begotten Son of God, who, before all worlds, and before all their origins, was born of God. The only-begotten Son, moreover, we believe to be born alone of the Father alone, God of God, like to his Father who begot Him, according to the Scriptures; whose birth no one knows, but the Father alone who begot Him. Do we find any such words inserted here as There was a time, when he was not? Or, The Son of God is a creature though not made of things which exist. No. This is surely the perfection of faith to say we believe Him to be God of God. Moreover, they called Him the only begotten, born alone of the Father. What is the meaning of born? Surely, not made. His birth removed all suspicion of His being a creature. They added further, Who came down from heaven, was conceived of the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified by Pontius Pilate, rose again the third day from the dead, ascended into heaven, sits at the right hand of the Father, who will come to judge the quick and the dead. There was the ring of piety in the words, and no one thought that poison was mingled with the honey of such a proclamation.

18. As regards the term ‘ousia’, it was not rejected without a show of reason for so doing. Because it is not found in the Scriptures, they said, and its novelty is a stumbling-block to many, we have thought it best to dispense with it. The bishops were not anxious about the name, so long as that which it implied was secured. Lastly, at the very time when rumour was rife that there had been some insincerity in the statement of the faith, Valens, bishop of Mursa, who had drawn it up, in the presence of Taurus the pretorian prefect who attended the Synod by imperial command, declared that he was not an Arian, and that he utterly abhorred their blasphemies. However, the thing had been done in secret, and it had not extinguished the general feeling. So on another day, when crowds of bishops and laymen came together in the Church at Ariminum, Muzonius, bishop of the province of Byzacena, to whom by reason of seniority the first rank was assigned by all, spoke as follows: One of our number has been authorized to read to you, reverend fathers, what reports are being spread and have reached us, so that the evil opinions which ought to grate upon our ears and be banished from our hearts may be condemned with one voice by us all. The whole body of bishops replied, Agreed. And so when Claudius, bishop of the province of Picenum, at the request of all present, began to read the blasphemies attributed to Valens, Valens denied they were his and cried aloud, “If anyone denies Christ our Lord, the Son of God, begotten of the Father before the worlds, let him be anathema”. There was a general chorus of approval, “Let him be anathema”. “If anyone denies that the Son is like the Father according to the Scriptures, let him be anathema.” All replied, “Let him be anathema”. “If anyone does not say that the Son of God is co-everlasting with the Father, let him be anathema”. There was again a chorus of approval, “Let him be anathema”. “If anyone says that the Son of God is a creature, like other creatures, let him be anathema”. The answer was the same, “Let him be anathema”. “If anyone says that the Son was of non-existing things, and not of God the Father, let him be anathema”. All shouted together, “Let him be anathema. If anyone says, There was a time when the Son was not, let him be anathema”. At this point all the bishops and the whole Church together received the words of Valens with clapping of hands and stamping of feet. And if anyone thinks we have invented the story let him examine the public records. At all events the muniment-boxes of the Churches are full of it, and the circumstance is fresh in men’s memory. Some of those who took part in the Synod are still alive, and the Arians themselves (a fact which may put the truth beyond dispute) do not deny the accuracy of our account. When, therefore, all extolled Valens to the sky and penitently condemned themselves for having suspected him, the same Claudius who before had begun to read, said There are still a few points which have escaped the notice of my lord and brother Valens; if it seem good to you, let us, in order to remove all scruples, pass a general vote of censure upon them. “If anyone says that the Son of God was indeed before all worlds but was by no means before all time, so that he puts some thing before Him, let him be anathema.” And many other things which had a suspicious look were condemned by Valens when Claudius recited them. If anyone wishes to learn more about them he will find the account in the acts of the Synod of Ariminum, the source from which I have myself drawn them.

19. After these proceedings the Council was dissolved. All returned in gladness to their own provinces. For the Emperor and all good men had one and the same aim, that the East and West should be knit together by the bond of fellowship. But wickedness does not long lie hidden, and the sore that is healed superficially before the bad humour has been worked off breaks out again. Valens and Ursacius and others associated with them in their wickedness, eminent Christian bishops of course, began to wave their palms, and to say they had not denied that He was a creature, but that He was like other creatures. At that moment the term ousia was abolished: the Nicene Faith stood condemned by acclamation. The whole world groaned, and was astonished to find itself Arian.”

Here, amid the slander of Jerome, we find an extremely strong testimony to the fact that the council of Ariminum, its creed, and its supporters, the Homoians, were not Arians, as they have so been slandered, but wholly rejected Arianism. He himself testifies to the fact that a homoousian like himself could assent to the faith set forth at Ariminum in good conscience; even he is forced to admit that the creed he slanders as Arian has “a ring of piety”. And then, he sets forth at length a great many anathemas agreed to by the council, which are so thorough in their rejection of Arianism, that no fair-minded observer can for a minute believe that the council and its creed were Arian. These anathemas reject and proscribe Arius’s errors as strongly as Nicea, without insisting on going beyond the language of scripture into philosophical speculation on the matter of substance.

Lest someone claim, in an attempt to falsely paint the ancient Homoians as Arians, that the Homoians, following this council, simply ignored these anathemas, let us note that several decades later, in his debate with Augustine, Maximinus the Homoian cites one of the anathemas of the council as descriptive of his own belief (and by extension, that of the Homoians generally):

“Do you want to know how great is the wisdom of the Father? Look at the Son, and you will see the wisdom of the Father. For this reason Christ himself said, One who has seen me has also seen the Father (Jn 14:9). That is, in me he sees his wisdom; he praises his might; he glorifies the Father who, one and alone, has begotten me, one and alone, so great and so good before all ages. He did not look for material out of which to make him, nor did he take someone as an assistant. Rather, in the way he knew, he begot the Son by his power and his wisdom.†127 We do not profess, as you say when you falsely accuse us, that, just as the rest of creation was made from nothing, so the Son was made from nothing like a creature. Listen to the authority of statement of the Synod; for our fathers in Ariminum said this among other things, ‘If anyone says that the Son is from nothing and not from God the Father, let him be anathema.’

Here we have it then, from Jerome himself, certainly an opponent of the Homoians, and one who falsely slandered them as Arians, a strong testimony to the fact that they utterly rejected Arianism. And Jerome claimed that these anathemas against Arianism were readily available, and could be verified, by the acts of the councils, by the memory of pro-nicene bishops who had taken part in them, and even by the Homoians themselves; altogether a very strong claim to their authenticity. And then it has also been shown, by the testimony of Maximinus, that the Homoians continued to see these anathemas as binding, even long after the churches of the Roman Empire had abandoned the decision of Ariminum and Seleucia in 381. The Homoians, then, cannot reasonably be regarded as Arians.