Arianism before the Council of Nicæa
Arius was born in Libya but was educated at Antioch in the Roman province of Syria, where he belonged to the famous theological school of the Antiochene priest and scholar St Lucian. Eusebius, who would afterward become bishop of Nicomedia, was a fellow student of his.
Lucian, who would die a martyr and a saint, earlier held a view typical of Antiochene theology and taught it in his school, a tendency to view God the Son as somehow less divine than God the Father. Paul of Samosata, the patriarch of Antioch deposed for heresy in 268, probably not long before Arius arrived in Antioch, espoused a more explicit and more obviously heretical version of this tendency. It was in the course of this dispute that Paul of Samosata managed to create the unfortunate impression that the term ὁμοούσιος, ‘of the same essence,’ implied Sabellianism, the heresy that God the Father and God the Son are one Person. Quite possibly, Arius acquired his leaning toward a subordinationist christology, his dislike of Sabellianism and his taste for dialectical debate in Antioch.
He returned to Egypt and was associated with the schismatic Melitians for a time but was reconciled to the Church and ordained deacon by St Peter of Alexandria, then ordained priest by Achillas during his brief patriarchate. He became head of the Baucalis church in Alexandria.
At this period Arius was probably in his 50s. He was intelligent, well educated, skilled in the dialectic taught at Antioch. He was a tall and impressive figure, affecting monastic garments although he was not a monk, and going about with downcast eyes. He was admired for his preaching and revered for his asceticism. At the same time, he was proud, envious and quarrlesome, jealous of Patriarch Alexander, whose position he thought he should have had. He was a troubling presence in the Church of Egypt, just waiting for a chance to attack St Alexander.
He was at the height of his influence in Alexandria with a large personal following when his opportunity came in 318.
St Alexander was teaching an assembly of the Alexandrian clergy and cited a passage of scripture for discussion, Proverbs 8:22: Κύριος ἔκτισέ με ἀρχὴν ὁδῶν αὐτοῦ εἰς ἔργα αὐτοῦ … ‘The Lord created me as the beginning of his ways, for the sake of his works,’ (NETS ©2007). In his exegesis, he made the remark concerning the Holy Trinity that, ‘in the Triad is a monad.’ [… περὶ τῆς ἁγίας Τριάδος, ἐν Τριάδι μονάδα εἶναι …]
Arius objected, claiming that his patriarch was teaching Sabellianism. He now eagerly put forward his distinctive teaching: If God the Father begot the Son, the one who was begotten must have a beginning of existence. Hence, it is obvious that there was when the Son was not [ἦν ὄτε οὐκ ἦν ὁ υἱός] and he must necessarily have drawn his subsistent reality from the void [ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων ἔχειν αὐτὸν τὴν ὑπόστασιν]. (Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, I, v, 1. Sources chrétiennes, No 477, p. 60.)
Arius did not wish to say that ‘there was a time when he was not,’ because he taught the orthodox doctrine that the Logos is the creator of all, including time, hence, although he had an origin, it was before time existed. What Arius wished to deny was that God the Father and God the Son are coeternal. The Son and Logos are in some sense a creature, although not a creature as we are creatures.
Arius’s teaching excited lively debate in Alexandria, and St Alexander encouraged the debate, hoping that it would lead the disputants to agreement. Arius promoted his views aggressively, enlisting the aid of his followers, going door to door, and even composing songs that his supporters could sing in the street to propagate his views with refrains like ‘God has not always been a Father.’ The dispute spread rapidly through Egypt. At the beginning of the fourth century the christological terminology was not yet precise enough to lead to a resolution. In particular, the words οὐσία and hence its derivative ὁμοούσιος, πρόσωπον and ὑπόστασις (essence, of the same essence, person or mask, and subsistence) were ambiguous in this context.
Eusebius of Cæsarea said that it was like a small spark giving rise to a great conflagration (Vita Constantini, II, 61; trans. E.C. Richardson, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, from the New Advent website, ed. Kevin Knight). St Alexander called a synod of the Egyptian and Libyan bishops in 319 to put an end to the dispute. The synod condemned Arius’s views and deposed Arius and the other priests and deacons who supported him.
Arius did not accept this judgement, however. He now began to write to the bishops of the East, complaining of Alexander’s ‘persecution’ and putting his views forward as orthodox. Among others, he wrote to his former fellow student, Eusebius, now become bishop of Nicomedia (and not to be confused with Eusebius of Cæsarea). Eusebius was in an influential position because Nicomedia was the eastern capital and residence of the Emperor Licinius, and Eusebius had become a spiritual counsellor to Licinius’s wife Constantia. Eusebius adopted Arius’s cause as his own and drew a number of the eastern bishops to his side, thanks to his influence at court.
Arius stated his doctrine clearly in his letter to Eusebius of Nicomedia:
‘But we say and believe, and have taught, and do teach, that the Son is not unbegotten, nor in any way part of the unbegotten; and that He does not derive His subsistence from any matter [οὐδὲ ἐξ ὑποκειμένου τινός]; but that by His own will and counsel He has subsisted before time, and before ages, as perfect God, only begotten and unchangeable, and that before He was begotten, or created, or purposed, or established, He was not. For He was not unbegotten. We are persecuted, because we say that the Son has a beginning, but that God is without beginning. This is the cause of our persecution, and likewise, because we say that He is of the non-existent [ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων ἐστίν]. And this we say, because He is neither part of God, nor of any essential being.’
(Theodoret, Ecclesiastical History, I. iv. Henry Wace and Philip Schaff, eds., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd series, III, 1892, trans. Blomfield Jackson, p. 41; Migne PG 82, col. 912.)
Eusebius wrote to St Alexander asking him to reinstate Arius but St Alexander refused. Becoming aware of Arius’s letter-writing campaign, St Alexander now wrote to the bishops himself, warning them against Arius’s doctrine. At this point, the proponents and opponents of Arius’s views began sending letters in all directions. They soon began publishing collections of letters supporting one or the other position, collections that would prove useful to the historians of the fifth century. Note, however, that the dispute was being carried on in Greek in the East and was little noticed in the Latin-speaking West at this time.
By this point also, Arius began to lose control of his own doctrine as his followers began to elaborate it in ways that he did not necessarily agree with. One of the things that would make Arianism difficult to combat was this Hydra-headed character.
The questions at issue at this stage are set out in St Alexander’s letter to his fellow bishops, as quoted in Socrates Scholasticus, op. cit., I. vi. 9–21.
Arius’s key assertion was that ‘God was not always father, but there was when God was not father,’ (Οὐκ ἀεὶ ὁ Θεὸς πατὴρ ἦν, ἀλλ’ ἦν ὅτε ὁ Θεὸς πατὴρ οὐκ ἦν), because ‘The Word of God was not always, but it became out of what was not’ (Οὐκ ἀεὶ ἦν ὁ τοῦ Θεοῦ λόγος, ἀλλ’ ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων γέγονεν), ‘For the one who is God has made the one which was not out of the void’ (Ὁ γὰρ ὢν Θεὸς τὸν μὴ ὄντα ἐκ τοῦ μὴ ὄντος πεποίηκεν).
God’s reason for this was to have an instrument by which to create man: ‘… in order for God to create us as by an instrument, and he would not have existed if God did not wish to make us’ (ἵνα ἡμᾶς δι’ ὀργάνου κτίσῃ ὁ Θεός· καὶ οὐκ ἂν ὑπέστη, εἰ μὴ ἡμᾶς ὁ Θεὸς ἠθέλησεν ποιῆσαι).
Arius’s followers made the point sharper by the formulation, which came to be the signature claim of Arianism, διὸ καὶ ἦν ποτε ὅτε οὐκ ἦν, ‘therefore there was a ‘then’ when he [the Son] was not.’
Of course the proof text for these contentions was the text that began the controversy, Proverbs 8:22: ‘The Lord created me as the beginning of his ways, for the sake of his works,’ (NETS ©2007), echoed in John 1:1-3: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.’
St Alexander replied with these words of the Gospel of John: on there being a ‘then’ when he was not, ‘In the beginning was the Word’ (John 1:1). Against the contention that he is a creature: ‘the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father’ (John 1:18)—in other words there is nothing else that is begotten, hence he is unlike any creature. And ‘All things were made by him’ (John 1:3)—in other words, he was not one of the things that were made. Against the contention that he was drawn from the void, St Alexander cited ‘My heart [not the void] has proferred a good word’ (Psalm 44:2 LXX) and ‘From the breast before the dawn I have begotten thee’ (Psalm 109:3 LXX), traditional verses affirming the generation of the Son.
Against the contention that God would not have created the Word if he did not intend to create man, St Alexander cited St Paul in Hebrews 2:10: ‘for whom are all things, and by whom are all things.’ Origen, by affirming the eternal generation of the Son seventy-five years earlier, had already detached him from creation.
The Arians made further claims that were a logical consequence of their key belief:
1. ‘He [the Son] is called the Word and Wisdom improperly, having come into existence himself by the proper word of God and the wisdom which is in God, by which God has thus made all things’ (καταχρηστικῶς δὲ λόγος καὶ σοφία λέγεται, γενόμενος καὶ αὐτὸς τῷ ἰδίῳ τοῦ Θεοῦ λόγῳ καὶ τῇ ἐν τῷ Θεῷ σοφίᾳ, ἐν ᾗ καὶ τὰ πάντα καὶ αὐτὸν πεποίηκεν ὁ Θεός).
2. ‘He is neither similar to God in essence, nor the true Word of God by nature, nor his true wisdom, but he is one of the realities made and created’ (Οὔτε δὲ ὅμοιος κατ’ οὐσίαν τῷ πατρί ἐστιν οὔτε ἀληθινὸς καὶ φύσει τοῦ πατρὸς λόγος ἐστὶν οὔτε ἀληθινὴ σοφία αὐτοῦ ἐστίν, ἀλλ’ εἷς μὲν τῶν ποιημάτων καὶ γενητῶν ἐστιν). The Arians interpreted the New Testament references to Christ as the Image of God as meaning only that he was the image of the wisdom and power of God, not of the deity.
Against these contentions, St Alexander quoted ‘[Christ] who is the image of the invisible God’ (ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου) (Colossians 1:15); ‘the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person’ (ἀπαύγασμα τῆς δόξης καὶ χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ) (Hebrews 1:3); ‘he that hath seen me hath seen the Father’ (John 14:9); ‘Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God’ (1 Corinthians 1:24), as if there was a ‘then’ when God did not have his power or wisdom.
3. ‘The Father cannot be expressed by the Son: the Word does not know the Father perfectly and exactly, nor can he see him perfectly’ (Καὶ ἄρρητός ἐστιν ὁ πατὴρ τῷ υἱῷ· οὔτε γὰρ τελείως καὶ ἀκριβῶς γινώσκει ὁ λόγος τὸν πατέρα οὔτε τελείως ὁρᾶν αὐτὸν δύναται).
To this, St Alexander answered by quoting, ‘As the Father knows me, so I also know the Father’ (John 10:15).
4. Arius taught that the Word was immutable, since he wished to distinguish him sharply from the changeable universe he created, but his followers, more logical, asserted that, as a creature, he must be mutable: ‘It is why he is changeable and mutable by nature, like all rational beings, and the Word is a stranger to the essence of God, he is other than it, distinct from it’ (διὸ καὶ τρεπτός ἐστι καὶ ἀλλοιωτὸς τὴν φύσιν ὡς καὶ πάντα τὰ λογικά, ξένος τε καὶ ἀλλότριος καὶ ἀπεσχοινισμένος ἐστὶν ὁ λόγος τῆς τοῦ Θεοῦ οὐσίας).
To this, St Alexander responded with the quotations, ‘The Father is in me and I in the Father’ (John 14:10); ‘The Father and I are one’ John 10:30); and from the prophets, ‘For I am the Lord, I change not’ (Malachi 3:6). ‘For if that which is said can be related to the Father himself, one should be able to say it more suitably of the Word, for even become man he did not change, as the Apostle said, Jesus Christ the same yesterday and today and for the ages’ (Hebrews 13:8).
At the end of his rebuttal, St Alexander complains, ‘In saying that and opening the divine Scriptures, we refuted them on several occasions. And once again, like chameleons, they transformed themselves.’ (Socrates Scholasticus, op. cit., I. vi. 22)
The controversy became worse, with St Alexander defending orthodoxy and Eusebius of Nicomedia putting himself at the head of the Arian party. Arius’s supporters convened a synod in Bithynia in 320, calling for the reinstatement of Arius and his followers, and another small synod was held in Palestine for the same purpose. Eusebius of Cæsarea, the father of church history, wrote to St Alexander complaining of his treatment of Arius. Eusebius, perhaps because of their shared education in Antioch and hatred of Sabellianism, always viewed Arius with indulgence; however, although his own views were similar to Arius’s, he was too loyal to the Church to teach Arius’s heretical opinions when the Church condemned them.
A letter written by Eusebius of Nicomedia to Paulinus of Tyre, quoted by Theodoret (Ecclesiastical History, I. v; Wace and Schaff, p. 42), illustrates the confusions that dogged the controversy. In it Eusebius criticised Paulinus for not writing in support of Arius when his brother bishop of Palestine, Eusebius of Cæsarea, had done so, and went on to criticise St Alexander of Alexandria, claiming that he taught ‘two unbegotten beings [δύο ἀγέννητα],’ since he, Eusebius, considered it mere logic that, if the Father and Son are coeternal as Alexander claimed, one could not have begotten the other. And he asserted that the Son ‘was not made out of his [the Father’s] essence [οὐκ ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας αὐτοῦ γεγονὸς],’ since he took it for granted that that must entail a diminution of the Father’s essence. He supported the contention that the Son is a kind of creature with the usual quotation from Proverbs 8:22–26. In response to this letter, Paulinus did write to Alexander.
The consequences of all this were described by Socrates Scholasticus (op. cit., I. vi. 35):
‘Everywhere was discord. One could see not only the leaders of the churches marshalling arguments but even the crowd divided, some favouring one side, some the other. The affair reached such a pitch of extravagance that Christianity became an object of ridicule in public and even in the theatres.’
At the same time that these dramatic events were unfolding in the Church in the years 319–325, equally significant events were occurring in the state. The uneasy truce concluded by Constantine and Licinius in 313, sealed by the marriage of Constantine’s half-sister Constantia to Licinius, broke down. The two emperors jockeyed for position in the Balkans, with Constantine gaining control of Licinius’s territories there. Constantine was then engaged in wars with the barbarian tribes threatening the Danube frontier, with the Goths and Sarmatians in 322 and the Goths in 323. Then in 324 the long-simmering civil war came to a head. By this time, so low had the fortunes of the empire fallen that both sides depended on barbarian mercenaries, Constantine on the Franks, Licinius on the Goths. Constantine defeated Licinius at the Battle of Adrianople, then at the Battle of the Hellespont, drawing ever closer to Nicomedia. The final defeat was inflicted on 18 September 324 at the Battle of Chrysopolis on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus (now Üsküdar, formerly Scutari, in Turkey). Licinius was sent into exile and Constantine arrived in Nicomedia, now sole ruler of the Roman world.
Now came the fateful moment when, for better or worse, Church and State forged an alliance. Constantine supported Christianity not only out of personal conviction but also for reasons of statecraft, because he hoped it would be a unifying influence in the increasingly fragmented Roman world. His dismay can be imagined when he discovered on arriving in Asia the Church there tearing herself to pieces over the doctrines of Arius. Constantine had little interest in or knowledge of the theological issues involved, all he wanted was that the controversy should cease. He reacted immediately, sending a trusted adviser, Hosius, bishop of Cordova in Spain, to Alexandria with instructions to reconcile the opposing sides.
A council was held in Alexandria at the end of 324 at which Hosius presented Constantine’s letter to St Alexander and Arius.
‘I understand, then, that the origin of the present controversy is this. When you, Alexander, demanded of the presbyters what opinion they severally maintained respecting a certain passage in the Divine law, or rather, I should say, that you asked them something connected with an unprofitable question, then you, Arius, inconsiderately insisted on what ought never to have been conceived at all, or if conceived, should have been buried in profound silence. Hence it was that a dissension arose between you, fellowship was withdrawn and the holy people, rent into diverse parties, no longer preserved the unity of the one body …
‘But let us still more thoughtfully and with closer attention examine what I have said and see whether it be right that, on the ground of some trifling and foolish verbal difference between ourselves, brethren should assume towards each other the attitude of enemies and the august meeting of the Synod be rent by profane disunion, because of you who wrangle together on points so trivial and altogether unessential? …
‘Permit me, who am His servant, to bring my task to a successful issue, under the direction of His Providence, that I may be enabled, through my exhortations and diligence and earnest admonition, to recall his people to communion and fellowship. For since you have, as I said, but one faith and one sentiment respecting our religion and since the Divine commandment in all its parts enjoins on us all the duty of maintaining a spirit of concord, let not the circumstance which has led to a slight difference between you, since it does not affect the validity of the whole, cause any division or schism among you. And this I say without in any way desiring to force you to entire unity of judgement in regard to this truly idle question, whatever its real nature may be … For we are not all of us like-minded on every subject, nor is there such a thing as one disposition and judgement common to all alike.’
(Eusebius of Cæsarea, Vita Constantini, II, 69, 71)
Theodoret quotes a letter written by St Alexander to his fellow bishops at about the time that Hosius was undertaking this mission. It shows us the state of the controvery as it must have been debated in the council in Alexandria, and the position that St Alexander would have defended. (Ecclesiastical History, I, iii; Wace and Schaff, pp. 35–41; Migne, PG 82, col. 888–909)
St Alexander accuses the Arians of ‘[fighting] against Christ, denying His divinity, and declaring Him to be on a level with other men. They pick out every passage which refers to the dispensation of salvation, and to his Humiliation for our sake; … while they evade all those which declare His eternal divinity, and the unceasing glory which He possesses with the Father.
‘Thus concealing their destructive doctrine by persuasive and meanly truckling language, they catch the unwary, and lose no opportunity of calumniating our religion. Hence it arises that several have been led to sign their letter, and to receive them into communion, a proceeding on the part of our fellow-ministers which I consider highly reprehensible …’
He goes on to refute the Arian teachings one by one from Scripture as he did in his earlier letter. Against the teaching that the Son was ‘created out of the non-existent’ and ‘there was a time when he was not,’ Alexander cites John 1:18, ‘the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father’ and 1:3 ‘all things were made by Him.’
‘Is it not impious to say that there was a time when the wisdom of God was not? Who saith, ‘I was by Him as one brought up with Him: I was daily His delight’? [Prov. 8:30] Or that once the power of God was not, or His Word, or anything else by which the Son is known, or the Father designated, defective? To assert that the brightness of the Father’s glory ‘once did not exist,’ destroys also the original light of which it is the brightness; [Heb. 1:3] and if there ever was a time in which the image of God was not, it is plain that He Whose image He is, is not always: [Εἰ δὲ καὶ ἡ εἰκὼν τοῦ Θεοῦ οὐκ ἦν ἀεὶ, δῆλον ὅτι οὐδὲ οὗ ἐστὶν εἰκὼν ἔστιν ἀεί] nay, by the non-existence of the express image of God’s Person [τὸν τῆς ὑποστάσεως τοῦ Θεοῦ χαρακτῆρα], He also is taken away of whom this is ever the express image [συναναιρεῖται κἀκεῖνος ὁ πάντως παρ’ αὐτοῦ χαρακτηριζόμενος]. Hence it may be seen, that the Sonship of our Saviour has not even anything in common with the sonship of men. For just as it has been shown that the nature of his existence cannot be expressed by language, and infinitely surpasses in excellence all things to which he has given being, so his Sonship, naturally partaking in his paternal Divinity, is unspeakably different from the sonship of those who, by his appointment, have been adopted as sons.’
‘ ‘That which is [τὸ ὄν]’ must be of the opposite nature to, and essentially different from, things created out of the non-existent.’
‘Consistently with this doctrine they, as a necessary consequence, affirm that He is by nature liable to change [τρεπτῆς εἶναι φύσεως], and capable both of virtue and of vice [ἀρετῆς τε καὶ κακίας] … [against the Divine Scriptures] which declare the immutability of the Word and the Divinity of the Wisdom of the Word, which Word and Wisdom is Christ [τὸ ἄτρεπτον τοῦ Λόγου, καὶ τὴν θεότητα τῆς σοφίας, τοῦ Λόγου, σημαίνουσιν, ἅ ἐστιν ὁ Χριστός].’
The Arians say, ‘We are also able to become like him, the sons of God; for it is written,—I have nourished and brought up children’ [Isaiah 1:2 LXX: Υἱοὺς ἐγέννησα καὶ ὕψωσα]. ‘When the continuation of this text is brought before them, which is, ‘and they have rebelled against Me,’ and it is objected that these words are inconsistent with the Saviour’s nature, which is immutable, they throw aside all reverence, and affirm that God foreknew and foresaw that His Son would not rebel against Him, and that He therefore chose Him in preference to all others.’
St Alexander refuses to accept the Arian notion of a ‘then’ before time when the Word was created; a ‘then’ is just another sort of time and must itself have been created. But if the Word created all things out of nothing, he must have also created the ‘then’ when he was himself supposedly created, a patent absurdity. The Son and the Father must be coeternal.
They accuse Alexander of teaching that there are two unbegotten beings. ‘For these ill-instructed men contend that one of these alternatives must hold; either He must be believed to have come out of the non-existent, or there are two unbegotten Beings [Φασὶ γὰρ ἡμᾶς οἱ φληνάφων ἐφευρεταὶ μύθων, ἀποστρεφομένους τὴν ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων ἀσεβῆ καὶ ἄγραφον κατὰ Χριστοῦ βλασφημίαν, ἀγέννητα διδάσκειν δύο, δυοῖν θάτερον λέγοντες δεῖν εἶναι οἱ ἀπαίδευτοι, ἢ ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων αὐτὸν εἶναι φρονεῖν, ἢ πάντως ἀγέννητα λέγειν δύο]. In their ignorance and want of practice in theology they do not realize how vast must be the distance between the Father who is uncreate, and the creatures, whether rational or irrational, which He created out of the non-existent; and that the only-begotten nature of Him Who is the Word of God, by Whom the Father created the universe out of the non-existent, standing, as it were, in the middle between the two, was begotten of the self-existent Father, as the Lord Himself testified when he said, ‘Every one that loveth the Father, loveth also the Son that is begotten of Him’.’ [1 Jn. 5:1]
St Alexander concludes the letter with the statement of faith that he must have confessed at the council before Hosius:
‘We believe, as is taught by the apostolical Church, in an only unbegotten Father, who of his being hath no cause, immutable and invariable, and who subsists always in one state of being, admitting neither of progression nor of diminution; who gave the law, and the prophets, and the gospel; of patriarchs and apostles, and of all saints, Lord:
‘And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten not out of that which is not, but of the Father, who is; yet not after the manner of material bodies, by severance or emanation … but in an inexpressible and inexplicable manner … We have learnt that the Son is immutable and unchangeable, all-sufficient and perfect, like the Father, lacking only his ‘unbegotten.’ He is the exact and precisely similar image of his Father [Εἰκὼν γάρ ἐστιν ἀπηκριβωμένη καὶ ἀπαράλλακτος τοῦ Πατρός] …
‘And in addition to this pious belief respecting the Father and the Son, we confess, as the Holy Scriptures teach us, one Holy Ghost, who moved the saints of the Old Testament, and the divine teachers of that which is called the New.
‘We believe in one only catholic Church, the apostolical, which cannot be destroyed even though all the world were to take council to fight against it …
‘After this, we receive the doctrine of the resurrection from the dead, of which Jesus Christ our Lord became the first-fruits; who bore a body, in truth, not in semblance, derived from Mary the mother of God [ἐκ τῆς Θεοτόκου Μαρίας]; in the fulness of time sojourning among the race, for the remission of sins: who was crucified and died, yet for all this suffered no diminution of his Godhead. He rose from the dead, was taken into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of Majesty on high.
‘These things we teach, these things we preach; these are the dogmas of the apostolical Church, for which we are ready to die, caring little for those who would force us to foreswear them …’
It is clear that the debates at the council in Alexandria convinced Hosius that the Arian controversy was not the ‘trifling and foolish verbal difference’ that Constantine thought it was but a serious threat to orthodoxy. He doubtless wrote to Constantine from Alexandria warning him against Arius and probably recommending a larger council to address the issue, quite possibly recommending the venue, then set off on the journey back to Nicomedia.
Constantine meanwhile had become aware that the Arian controversy was not the only problem in the Eastern church. There was also the long-standing practice of different communities celebrating Easter on different days, due to the absence of a common rule for calculating the date of Easter. This was not a source of dissension in the Church, not being a doctrinal difference, but it was an absence of public uniformity, and therefore objectionable to Constantine. There was also the continuing Melitian schism in the Egyptian church.
Constantine now determined to clear up the problems in the Church once and for all. Previously the Church had held regional councils of bishops to address divergences of doctrine and practice. Now, however, the imperial authority provided the means to hold a council of the whole world—an œcumenical council. And with it, the age of the Conciliar Church begins.