Phoebadius (d. @ 392): Knowing, therefore, this unity of substance in the Father and in the Son, on the authority, not only of the prophets, but also of the gospels, how canst thou say that the Homoüsion is not found in scripture? Latin text: Cum ergo hanc unitatem substantiae in Patre et Filio non solum prophetica, sed et evangelica auctoritate cognoscas; quomodo dicis in Scripturis divinis ὁμοιούσιον non inveniri? S. Phoebadius, De Fide Orthodoxa, Contra Arianos, Alias De Filii Divinitate et Consubstantialitate, Tractatus, Caput V, PL 20:41.

Sometimes the opponents of sola scriptura end up taking their position to absurd lengths. Consider the following statement from Roman Catholic Bryan Cross:

The term ‘refute’ means “shown an argument to be unsound”. The bishops did not ‘refute’ Arianism; they condemned it, by defining the Faith by way of an extra-biblical term: homoousious. They were unable, by Scripture alone, to refute Arianism. The Arians could affirm every single verse of Scripture. That’s precisely why the bishops had to require affirmation of the term homoousious. So if the bishops had no authority by way of apostolic succession, then their requirement of affirming homoousious would have had no more authority than its denial by the Arians. Scripture alone was insufficient to resolve the dispute, precisely because both sides could affirm every verse in Scripture. And since sola scriptura denies the transfer of authority by way of apostolic succession, therefore the Council of Nicea and the Creed, given sola scriptura, only have authority if you agree with its interpretation of Scripture.

Mr. Cross’ zeal for his church has placed him out of touch with history, as can be seen both from the initial quotation above, as well as from the discussion that follows.

The fathers themselves believed (and rightly so) that they refuted Arianism from Scripture:

If then, as you say, ‘the Son is from nothing,’ and ‘was not before His generation,’ He, of course, as well as others, must be called Son andGod and Wisdom only by participation; for thus all other creatures consist, and by sanctification are glorified. You have to tell us then, of what He is partaker. All other things partake of the Spirit, but He, according to you, of what is He partaker? Of the Spirit? Nay, rather the Spirit Himself takes from the Son, as He Himself says; and it is not reasonable to say that the latter is sanctified by the former. Therefore it is the Father that He partakes; for this only remains to say. But this, which is participated, what is it or whence? If it be something external provided by the Father, He will not now be partaker of the Father, but of what is external to Him; and no longer will He be even second after the Father, since He has before Him this other; nor can He be called Son of the Father, but of that, as partaking which He has been called Son and God. And if this be unseemly and irreligious, when the Father says, ‘This is My Beloved Son Matthew 3:17,’ and when the Son says that God is His own Father, it follows that what is partaken is not external, but from the essence of the Father. And as to this again, if it be other than the essence of the Son, an equal extravagance will meet us; there being in that case something between this that is from the Father and the essence of the Son, whatever that be.

This is of itself a sufficient refutation of the Arian heresy; however, its heterodoxy will appear also from the following:— If God be Maker and Creator, and create His works through the Son, and we cannot regard things which come to be, except as being through the Word, is it not blasphemous, God being Maker, to say, that His Framing Word and His Wisdom once was not? It is the same as saying, that God is not Maker, if He had not His proper Framing Word which is from Him, but that that by which He frames, accrues to Him from without , and is alien from Him, and unlike in essence.

– Athanasius, Discourse 1 Against the Arians, Sections 15 and 17

And again:

24. But He had not been thus worshipped, nor been thus spoken of, were He a creature merely. But now since He is not a creature, but the proper offspring of the Essence of that God who is worshipped, and His Son by nature, therefore He is worshipped and is believed to be God, and is Lord of armies, and in authority, and Almighty, as the Father is; for He has said Himself, ‘All things that the Father has, are Mine [John 16:15].’ For it is proper to the Son, to have the things of the Father, and to be such that the Father is seen in Him, and that through Him all things were made, and that the salvation of all comes to pass and consists in Him. And here it were well to ask them also this question , for a still clearer refutation of their heresy—Wherefore, when all things are creatures, and all are brought into consistence from nothing, and the Son Himself, according to you, is creature and work, and once was not, wherefore has He made ‘all things through Him’ alone, ‘and without Him was made not one thing [John 1:3]?’ or why is it, when ‘all things’ are spoken of, that no one thinks the Son is signified in the number, but only things originate; whereas when Scripture speaks of the Word, it does not understand Him as being in the number of ‘all,’ but places Him with the Father, as Him in whom Providence and salvation for ‘all’ are wrought and effected by the Father, though all things surely might at the same command have come to be, at which He was brought into being by God alone? For God is not wearied by commanding, nor is His strength unequal to the making of all things, that He should alone create the only Son, and need His ministry and aid for the framing of the rest. For He lets nothing stand over, which He wills to be done; but He willed only, and all things subsisted, and no one ‘has resisted His will [Romans 9:19].’ Why then were not all things brought into being by God alone at that same command, at which the Son came into being? Or let them tell us, why did all things through Him come to be, who was Himself but originate? How void of reason! However, they say concerning Him, that ‘God willing to create originate nature, when He saw that it could not endure the untempered hand of the Father, and to be created by Him, makes and creates first and alone one only, and calls Him Son and Word, that, through Him as a medium, all things might thereupon be brought to be.’ This they not only have said, but they have dared to put it into writing, namely, Eusebius, Arius, and Asterius who sacrificed.

25. Is not this a full proof of that irreligion, with which they have drugged themselves with much madness, till they blush not to be intoxicate against the truth? For if they shall assign the toil of making all things as the reason why God made the Son only, the whole creation will cry out against them as saying unworthy things of God; and Isaiah too who has said in Scripture, ‘The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, faints not, neither is weary: there is no searching of His understanding [Isaiah 40:28].’ And if God made the Son alone, as not deigning to make the rest, but committed them to the Son as an assistant, this on the other hand is unworthy of God, for in Him there is no pride. Nay the Lord reproves the thought, when He says, ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?’ and ‘one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father which is in heaven.’ And again, ‘Take no thought for your life, what you shall eat, nor yet for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet yourheavenly Father feeds them; are you not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought, can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore if God so clothe the grass of the field which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?’ If then it be not unworthy of God to exercise His Providence, even down to things so small, a hair of the head, and a sparrow, and the grass of the field, also it was not unworthy of Him to make them. For what things are the subjects of HisProvidence, of those He is Maker through His proper Word. Nay a worse absurdity lies before the men who thus speak; for they distinguish between the creatures and the framing; and consider the latter the work of the Father, the creatures the work of the Son; whereas either all things must be brought to be by the Father with the Son, or if all that is originate comes to be through the Son, we must not call Him one of the originated things.

– Athanasius, Discourse 2 Against the Arians, Sections 24 and 25

Another father wrote of the Arians:

The religious perspicuity of the ancient Scriptures caused them no shame, nor did the consentient doctrine of our colleagues concerning Christ keep in check their audacity against Him.

– Alexander of Alexandria, Epistle 1 (to Alexander of Constantinople), Section 10

And again:

4. Now concerning their blasphemous assertion who say that the Son does not perfectly know the Father, we need not wonder: for having once purposed in their mind to wage war against Christ, they impugn also these words of His, “As the Father knows Me, even so know I the Father.” [John 10:15] Wherefore, if the Father only in part knows the Son, then it is evident that the Son does not perfectly know the Father. But if it be wicked thus to speak, and if the Father perfectly knows the Son, it is plain that, even as the Father knows His own Word, so also the Word knows His own Father, of whom He is the Word.

5. By saying these things, and by unfolding the divine Scriptures, we have often refuted them. But they, chameleon-like, changing their sentiments, endeavour to claim for themselves that saying: “When the wicked comes, then comes contempt.” Proverbs 18:3 Before them, indeed, many heresies existed, which, having dared more than was right, have fallen into madness. But these by all their words have attempted to do away with the Godhead of Christ, have made those seem righteous, since they have come nearer to Antichrist. Wherefore they have been excommunicated and anathematized by the Church. And indeed, although we grieve at the destruction of these men, especially that after having once learned the doctrine of the Church, they have now gone back; yet we do not wonder at it; for this very thing Hymenaeus and Philetus suffered,[2 Timothy 2:17] and before them Judas, who, though he followed the Saviour, afterwards became a traitor and an apostate. Moreover, concerning these very men, warnings are not wanting to us, for the Lord foretold: “Take heed that you be not deceived: for many shall come in My name, saying, I am Christ; and the tithe draws near: go not therefore after them.” [Luke 21:8] Paul, too, having learned these things from the Saviour, wrote, “In the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils which turn away from the truth.” [1 Timothy 4:1]

– Alexander of Alexandria, Epistle 2 (General Epistle), Section 4

Of course Alexander was Athanasius’ predecessor in Alexandria, and one of the bishops at the Nicaean council – the one that brought Athanasius to that council. He was the bishop who was also the bishop over Arius (or would have been: Arius was a priest in Alexandria, and Alexander was the bishop – however Arius had been excommunicated by a predecessor bishop of Alexander). So perhaps, even though this should be the best evidence on the subject, I should mention some more remote bishop, such as Augustine:

Wherefore—to being now to answer the adversaries of our faith, respecting those things also, which are neither said as they are thought, nor thought as they really are:— among the many things which the Arians are wont to dispute against the Catholic faith, they seem chiefly to set forth this, as their most crafty device, namely, that whatsoever is said or understood of God, is said not according to accident, but according to substance, and therefore, to be unbegotten belongs to the Father according to substance, and to be begotten belongs to the Son according to substance; but to be unbegotten and to be begotten are different; therefore the substance of the Father and that of the Son are different. To whom we reply, If whatever is spoken of God is spoken according to substance, then that which is said, “I and the Father are one,” is spoken according to substance. Therefore there is one substance of the Father and the Son. Or if this is not said according to substance, then something is said of God not according to substance, and therefore we are no longer compelled to understand unbegotten and begotten according to substance. It is also said of the Son, “He thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” We ask, equal according to what? For if He is not said to be equal according to substance, then they admit that something may be said of God not according to substance. Let them admit, then, that unbegotten and begotten are not spoken according to substance. And if they do not admit this, on the ground that they will have all things to be spoken of God according to substance, then the Son is equal to the Father according to substance.

– Augustine, On the Trinity, Book 5, Chapter 3/Section 4

In fact, it is absurd to suggest that the Arian bishops and priests lacked apostolic succession in the sense of a chain of ordination back to the apostles. In fact, the primary sense in which they lacked apostolic succession was in the succession of doctrine: they did not follow the apostolic teachings handed down in Scripture.

But here’s a challenge to Mr. Cross: find even one Christian (non-Arian, if Roman Catholics are calling Arians Christians these days) from Arius’ birth until 100 years after Nicaea that says that the Arians “could affirm every single verse of Scripture” or couldn’t be refuted from Scripture alone. More positively, the challenge is to find some writer in that time period who appealed to apostolic succession, as such, to refute the Arians: who said that the orthodox clergy had apostolic succession but the Arian clergy did not. I think Mr. Cross will be hard pressed to meet such a challenge.

Ultimately, Mr. Cross’ claim is absurd. There is abundant refutation of Arianism in Scripture. While the theological terms we use serve a valuable purpose, we affirm the use of the term ὁμοούσιος because it is being used in a Scriptural sense (not in the prior Gnostic sense). We accept the Nicaean council because it agrees with the Word of God, not because its bishops were any more or less in a chain of ordination with the apostles than the bishops at the Arian councils. The Scriptures are our rule of faith, as was the case in the time of the early church.

Orth.— Do not, I beg you, bring in human reason. I shall yield to scripture alone.

Eran.— You shall receive no argument unconfirmed by Holy Scripture, and if you bring me any solution of the question deduced from Holy Scripture I will receive it, and will in no wise gainsay it.

– Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Dialogue 1

Addendum 1: I neglected to link to the source for the quotation above (here’s the link). One of the folks commenting there demonstrated that the Arians are wrong from Scripture, and Bryan responded (among other things): “The Arians were able to affirm all the verses that you cite. In addition, Scripture itself does not specify which verses are the hermeneutical standard for interpreting other verses.” (link)

Addendum 2: (Thanks to Pastor David King)

Alexander of Alexandria (d. 328), the spiritual mentor of Athanasius, testified of the Arian heretics in a letter to Alexander of Constantinople: They are not ashamed to oppose the godly clearness of the ancient scriptures. NPNF2: Vol. III, Theodoret’s Ecclesiastical History, Book 1, Chapter 3, or the translation of this phrase as the letter is preserved in ANF: Vol. VI, Epistle to Alexander, Bishop of the City of Constantinople, §10, “The religious perspicuity of the ancient Scriptures caused them no shame . . .” Greek text: Οὐ κατήδεσεν αὐτοὺς ἡ τῶν ἀρχαίων Γραφῶν φιλόθεος σαφήνεια . . . Theodoreti Ecclesiasticae Historiae, Liber I, Caput III, PG 82:904.

Dionysius of Alexandria (c. 200-265): “Even if I did not find this expression (i.e., ὁμοούσιον) in the Scriptures, yet collecting from the actual Scriptures their general sense, I knew that, being Son and Word, He could not be outside the Essence of the Father.” Athanasius quoting him in NPNF2: Vol. IV, De sententia Dionysii (Defence of Dionysius), §20. Greek text: Eἰ καὶ μὴ τὴν λέξιν ταύτην εὗρον ἐν ταῖς γραφαῖς, ἀλλ’ ἐξ αὐτῶν τῶν γραφῶν τὸν νοῦν συναγαγών, ἔγνων ὅτι υἱὸς ὢν καὶ λόγος οὐ ξένος ἂν εἴη τῆς οὐσίας τοῦ πατρός. Cf. De sententia Dionysii, §20, PG 25:509.

Athanasius (297-373): But here too the Bishops, beholding their craftiness, collected from the Scriptures the figures of brightness, of the river and the well, and of the relation of the express Image to the Subsistence, and the texts, ‘in thy light shall we see light,’ and ‘I and the Father are one.’ And lastly they wrote more plainly, and concisely, that the Son was coessential with the Father; for all the above passages signify this. NPNF2: Vol. IV, Synodal Letter to the Bishops of Africa, §6. Greek text: Ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐνταῦθα οἱ ἐπίσκοποι, θεωρήσαντες ἐκείνων τὸ δόλιον συνήγαγον ἐκ τῶν γραφῶν τὸ ἀπαύγασμα τήν τε πηγὴν καὶ τὸν ποταμὸν καὶ τὸν χαρακτῆρα πρὸς τὴν ὑπόστασιν καὶ τὸ »ἐν τῷ φωτί σου ὀψόμεθα φῶς« καὶ τὸ »ἐγὼ καὶ ὁ πατὴρ ἕν ἐσμεν.« Καὶ λευκότερον λοιπὸν καὶ συντόμως ἔγραψαν ὁμοούσιον τῷ πατρὶ τὸν υἱόν· τὰ γὰρ προειρημένα πάντα ταύτην ἔχει τὴν σημασίαν. In Epistolam Ad Afros Episcopos Monitum, §6, PG 26:1040.

Phoebadius (d. @ 392): Knowing, therefore, this unity of substance in the Father and in the Son, on the authority, not only of the prophets, but also of the gospels, how canst thou say that the Homoüsion is not found in scripture? Latin text: Cum ergo hanc unitatem substantiae in Patre et Filio non solum prophetica, sed et evangelica auctoritate cognoscas; quomodo dicis in Scripturis divinis ὁμοιούσιον non inveniri? S. Phoebadius, De Fide Orthodoxa, Contra Arianos, Alias De Filii Divinitate et Consubstantialitate, Tractatus, Caput V, PL 20:41.

Augustine (354-430): In opposition also to the impiety of Arian heretics, they coined the new term, Patris Homousios; but there was nothing new signified by such a name; for what is called Homousios is just this: “I and my Father are one,” to wit, of one and the same substance. NPNF1: Vol. VII, Tractates on John, Tractate 97, §4.

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67): I do not know the word ὁμοιούσιον, or understand it, unless it confesses a similarity of essence. I call the God of heaven and earth to witness, that when I had heard neither word, my belief was always such that I should have interpreted ὁμοιούσιον by ὁμοούσιον. That is, I believed that nothing could be similar according to nature unless it was of the same nature. Though long ago regenerate in baptism, and for some time a bishop, I never heard of the Nicene creed until I was going into exile, but the Gospels and Epistles suggested to me the meaning of ὁμοούσιον and ὁμοιούσιον. Our desire is sacred. Let us not condemn the fathers, let us not encourage heretics, lest while we drive one heresy away, we nurture another. After the Council of Nicaea our fathers interpreted the due meaning of ὁμοούσιον with scrupulous care; the books are extant, the facts are fresh in men’s minds: if anything has to be added to the interpretation, let us consult together. Between us we can thoroughly establish the faith, so that what has been well settled need not be disturbed, and what has been misunderstood may be removed. NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Councils or the Faith of the Easterns, §91.

Epiphanius of Salamis (310/320-403): Even though the expression is not in the sacred scriptures—indeed, it is plainly implicit in the Law, the Apostles and the Prophets, for ‘By two or three witnesses shall every word be established’—all the same, it is permissible for us to employ a useful expression for piety’s sake, to safeguard the holy faith. Frank Williams, trans., The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: Book II and III (Sects 47-80, De Fide), Against the Arian Nuts, 69.72,5 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994), p. 391.

Epiphanius of Salamis (310/320-403): It is plain that the term, “being,” does not appear in the Old and the New Testaments, but the sense of it is to be found everywhere. Frank Williams, trans., The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: Book II and III (Sects 47-80, De Fide), Against the Arian Nuts, 73.12,1 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994), p. 447.

Gregory of Nazianzus (329/330-389): Again, where do you get your Unbegotten and Unoriginate, those two citadels of your position, or we our Immortal? Show me these in so many words, or we shall either set them aside, or erase them as not contained in Scripture; and you are slain by your own principle, the names you rely on being overthrown, and therewith the wall of refuge in which you trusted. Is it not evident that they are due to passages which imply them, though the words do not actually occur? NPNF2: Vol. VII, Oration V, On the Holy Spirit, §22.

Athanasius (297-373): Since, therefore, such an attempt is futile madness, nay, more than madness!, let no one ask such questions any more, or else let him learn only that which is in the Scriptures. For the illustrations they contain which bear upon this subject are sufficient and suitable. C. R. B. Shapland, trans., The Letters of Athanasius Concerning the Holy Spirit, Ad Serapion 1.19 (New York: The Philosophical Library, 1951), p. 108. Greek text: Περιττῆς τοιγαροῦν καὶ πλέον μανίας οὔσης τῆς τοιαύτης ἐπιχειρήσεως, μηκέτι τοιαῦτά τις ἐρω τάτω, ἢ μόνον τὰ ἐν ταῖς Γραφαῖς μανθανέτω. Αὐτάρκη γὰρ καὶ ἱκανὰ τὰ ἐν ταύταις κείμενα περὶ τούτου παραδείγματα. Ad Serapionem 1.19, PG 26:573.

Augustine (354-430): In opposition also to the impiety of Arian heretics, they coined the new term, Patris Homousios; but there was nothing new signified by such a name; for what is called Homousios is just this: “I and my Father are one,” to wit, of one and the same substance. NPNF1: Vol. VII, Tractates on John, Tractate 97, §4.

Augustine (354-430): What does “homoousios” mean, I ask, but The Father and I are one (Jn. 10:30)? I should not, however, introduce the Council of Nicea to prejudice the case in my favor, nor should you introduce the Council of Ariminum that way. I am not bound by the authority of Ariminum, and you are not bound by that of Nicea. By the authority of the scriptures that are not the property of anyone, but the common witness for both of us, let position do battle with position, case with case, reason with reason. See WSA, Answer to Maximinus, Part I, Vol. 18, ed. John Rotelle, O.S.A., trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J. (New York: New City Press, 1995), p. 282.

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