- Religious heresy associated with the Alexandrian presbyter Arius (c. 260-336). Arianism offered a concept of the relationship between God the Father and God the Son different from that of the Catholic tradition in the late Roman and early medieval period. It was popular throughout the fourth century with several Roman emperors, including Valens (d. 378), as well as with much of the Eastern Roman aristocracy. Although eventually outlawed by the devout Catholic Christian and emperor Theodosius the Great who declared the Catholic faith the official religion of the empire, Arianism had great influence among the barbarian peoples who migrated into the empire. In fact, Arianism had adherents among the Franks, Goths, Lombards, and others into the late seventh century, and was often part of the political and military policies of these peoples. An attractive and in some ways simpler doctrine than Catholic Christianity, Arianism nonetheless was eventually abandoned by its Germanic adherents in favor of the predominant faith of the church of Rome.Arianism took shape in the early fourth century, after Christianity was legalized in the Roman Empire and supported by the emperor Constantine. It formed in opposition to the Catholic faith, and as a result a great controversy erupted in the empire between supporters of each teaching. Unlike the Catholic faith, which stressed the essential unity of the godhead, the faith of Arius emphasized the superiority of God the Father. Arius taught that God the Son was subordinate and posterior to the Father. According to Arius, the Son, rather than existing from before the beginning of time, was created in time; he argued further that God the Father created the Son as a mediator between himself and fallen humankind. He was divine by grace of the Father, and since he had become like God the Father, others had hope to become like the Father.The teachings of Arius divided the church in the fourth century. To resolve this controversy Constantine held the first ecumenical council at Nicaea in 325, which was attended by 318 bishops and presided over by the emperor himself. The council upheld the Catholic view of the essential unity of the godhead, embodying it in the summary of the faith that formed the basis of what is traditionally called the Nicene Creed, but the controversy continued for the next several decades. Even Constantine, in the 330s, became more inclined to the Arian view. His successors often adopted Arianism as the preferred expression of Christianity.During the reign of Constantius (337-361), the emperor adopted an Arian creed, which became the foundation for the Arianism of the Germanic peoples in the generations to come. The faith of Arius continued to have supporters among the emperors for the next few decades, but it faced a terrible setback under the Arian emperor Valens. His defeat by the Visigoths at the Battle of Hadrianople in 378 was understood as the judgment of God against a heretical ruler. His successor, Theodosius, was a staunch advocate of the Nicene Creed and promoted Catholic Christianity to the rank of state religion at the expense of Arian Christianity, as well as traditional paganism.The triumph of Catholic Christianity in the empire did not spell the end of Arian Christianity, however. The missionary activities of the Arian Goth Ulfilas from the early 340s until his death in 382/383 and his translation of the Bible into the Gothic language contributed to the acceptance of Arian Christianity by large numbers of Goths. In the 370s, the Gothic leader Fritigern, possibly an ally of Ulfilas, converted to the Arian faith as part of his pro-Roman policy and his rivalry with Athanaric. Of course Fritigern's Arianism did not prevent him from defeating his fellow Arian, the emperor Valens, at the Battle of Hadrianople in 378. It did, however, complicate things for the Visigoths who settled in Spain and other parts of the old Roman Empire where the Roman population was predominantly Catholic. The Arian Visigoths also faced an established Catholic infrastructure of churches, monasteries, and most importantly, bishops, who wielded great power and influence. Ultimately, the Spanish Visigoths converted to Catholic Christianity in 587 when their great king, Reccared I, converted.Not all Arian Goths had difficulty with their Catholic subjects, however. The Ostrogothic king of Italy, Theodoric the Great, ruled effectively despite religious differences with the majority of his subject population. He benefited from the resistance of the church in Italy to domination by the Eastern church centered in Constantinople, a resistance that made Catholics in Italy more willing to accept local control even if by an Arian. Moreover, Theodoric was a tolerant ruler and took few steps aimed at restricting the rights of Catholics. He was most respectful of the pope during a visit to Rome in 500 and, according to one contemporary, honored the pope just as any Catholic Christian would. As king, Theodoric also presided over a great cultural flourishing. His capital at Ravenna was the beneficiary of a building program that created great monuments of Arian architecture in a baptistery, palace church, and other churches throughout the city. Theodoric also built beautiful Arian churches in other Italian cities. Only late in his reign, when Theodoric had brutally crushed an alleged conspiracy, did he lose favor among the Italian population, so that his Arianism became a problem.Other peoples, including the Burgundians and Vandals, accepted Arian Christianity, and the Lombards in particular used it as part of a grander political scheme. Invading Italy in 568, the Lombards attempted to unify the entire peninsula under their king. This policy met the opposition of various popes, who presided over significant territories in central Italy. Consequently, the Arianism of the Lombards took on political, especially antipapal, and to a lesser extent, anti-imperial connotations. Although the Lombards converted to Catholic Christianity in the late seventh century, their political agenda remained unchanged, although some kings did take a softer stance in relation to the popes.Arianism had a very different career among the Merovingian Franks under their greatest leader, Clovis (r. 481-511). According to the sixth-century historian Gregory of Tours, Clovis favored Catholic Christianity long before his conversion. His wife, Clotilda, was a Catholic Christian who repeatedly sought to convert her husband to her faith. When Clovis did convert, according to Gregory, he chose Catholic Christianity, and was described as a new Constantine. Indeed, his conversion during a great battle recalls Constantine's conversion prior to the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. Gregory also describes Clovis's wars against the Visigoths as a sort of crusade, launched because the great Merovingian king could not tolerate Arian heretics living in Gaul. Of course, the situation is not so clear-cut as Gregory presents it. Clovis did ultimately convert to Catholic Christianity, but there is evidence that his conversion may not have been directly from paganism to Catholic faith. Clovis, at the very least, had sympathies with the Arian tradition and may have been an Arian Christian for a time before his final conversion to the Catholic faith.See alsoAthanaric; Clotilda, St.; Clovis; Constantine; Fritigern; Gregory of Tours; Hadrianople, Battle of; Lombards; Merovingian Dynasty; Ostrogoths; Reccared I; Theodoric the Great; Ulfilas; VisigothsBibliography♦ Geary, Patrick. Before France and Germany: The Creation and Transformation of the Merovingian World. Oxford: 1988.♦ Gregory of Tours. History of the Franks. Trans. Lewis Thorpe. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1974.♦ Hanson, Richard P. C. The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy, 318-381. Edinburgh: 1988.♦ Herrin, Judith. The Formation of Christendom. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987.♦ Pelikan, Jaroslav. The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition. Vol. 2 of The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978.♦ Randers-Pehrson, Justine Davis. Barbarians and Romans: The Birth Struggle of Europe, a.d. 400-700. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993.♦ Wolfram, Herwig. The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples. Trans. Thomas Dunlap. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.
Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.
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