For modern Christians the concept of the Trinity distinguishes their faith from other monotheistic religions like Judaism and Islam, and sets out a blueprint for the way that God has made Himself known to the world. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are perceived as co-eternal and equal, separate but undivided, making it quite clear that there is no hierarchy between the three so-called “persons” of the Trinity. This definitive position is not negotiable in modern Christianity, and effectively dismisses the any notion that the Son is subordinate to the Father and people often forget that it was reached by long negotiation in the fourth and fifth centuries. It is nevertheless important to understand the issues surrounding this controversy, partly to ensure that modern theologians guard against similar errors in their teachings, and partly to help us understand how the Christian faith acquired its definitive beliefs and rules so that we can continue this long tradition faithfully into the future.
In order to understand where the views of Arius came from, and why they originated, it is necessary to look back to the very beginnings of Christianity. As soon as the early Christian Church began to go about its business preaching the gospel and teaching its message across the known world, it ran into problems expressing some of the main tenets of the faith, not least because a number of languages were involved, and the meanings of the key words being used could change from place to place. The good news of the incarnation was on one level a very simple and clear call to accept salvation through faith in Christ, but on another level it was quite a difficult message to explain. Modern theologians have a whole collection of creeds and commentaries to help clarify difficult points, but in the beginning there was only a small collection of texts, gradually becoming fixed into the canon of scripture, and the apostolic succession from the original disciples down to each generation of bishops and priests. Scholars tried to clarify these difficult points in well-intentioned explanations and theories, designed to help believers grasp the fundamental content of the faith. It was clear that the incarnation changed everything once and for all, and that the new faith in Jesus Christ necessarily changed the way that human beings related to God from that moment onwards. The New Testament, with its language of Father, Son and Holy Spirit provided the groundwork for an entirely new conception of God: three in one, combined and yet also separate, a mystery that was almost beyond human understanding. An early issue was how to find a way of describing this holy Trinity: “... the early Christian community struggled with the question of reconciling the oneness of God which they professed with the threefold nature of their religious experience. In the first two centuries different answers stood in juxtaposition, conditioned by the experience and person of Jesus Christ, by the formulation of the gospels, and by the influence of Neoplatonic philosophy.”1 This is an extremely important point which must always be remembered in discussions about Arius: he was not a deliberate heretic challenging the established authority of the Church, but in fact he was just one of many educated Christians trying to understand the mystery of God, and searching for ways to express some difficult theological concepts. Arius was contributing to the process of consolidation of the faith by firming up some of the vague notions that were circulating in his region at the time. In this task he was very successful, and his ideas were positively received in wide areas of the