Analytic Theology

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Update on the Arian Heresy

September 5th, 2006 by David Kronemyer · No Comments

DAVID KRONEMYER: Arianism was invented by Arius, who was a Catholic priest in Alexandria, Egypt, circa 300 C.E. Yes, the same Alexandria later reconceptualized by Lawrence Durrell in his immortal Alexandria Quartet, about which, more later — like, way later.

At the risk of paraphrase, the big problem was: is Christ more human; or, more divine? Arius believed that Christ was the “son” of God. In other words, while he was “divine,” in many respects, he was an inferior being to God, himself/herself/itself, and thus, fundamentally, of a different substance. Hard to believe that everybody would get so worked up back then over points of theology, but that’s what happened. It wasn’t until the Council of Nicaea, called by Constantine in 325 C.E., that this got resolved. Evidently, all but two of the several hundred attendees voted against Arius. Later, he died suddenly – either as a result of poison, or divine intervention, hard to tell in these cases.

I want to argue that, from the standpoint of existential philosophy, there can be no question but that Arius was right. In framing this argument, I will not have recourse to the argument that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is so mind-bendingly complex, that most would be justified in throwing up their hands in despair, and ending up somewhere close to a quasi-Arian view.

Rather, I cite as primary evidence the last words of Christ on the cross, which were, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani,” which in the King James version of the Bible is translated as, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34. [Though I should note that Luke 23:44 says his last words were, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,” which certainly is different.]

According to Martin Heidegger, one of Dasein’s modes of being is being-towards-death. In fact, one of the primary differentiating qualities of Dasein (if not the differentiating quality) is Dasein’s awareness of mortality; the knowledge of Dasein’s inevitably forthcoming demise. For each of us, death will be a unique experience, unshareable with any other Dasein; possibly, it is the only example of such an experience. And, no matter how much we observe other people dying – for example, a soldier in battle, or an emergency room physician – that cannot prepare us for the experience of our own death. The authentic Dasein is one that doesn’t ignore this fact, or set it aside; rather, it propels Dasein towards a state of ever-sharper individuation from others. In this condition, Dasein becomes consciously aware of finitude, experiences angst, and becomes a less “concealed” person. Death, understood as a kind of progression towards the negation of one’s own self, thus gives meaning to the actions and projects of the authentic Dasein, during life.

There can be nothing more human than these last words of Christ on the cross. First off, they explicitly identify God as Christ’s “father.” That notwithstanding, they also convey a full range of pathos, that only a terrestrial mortal could conceive. Christ is petitioning God – he says, “My God, my God.” Then, he expresses doubt, perhaps the essential human emotion – “Why hast thou forsaken me?” His attitude, or orientation, or outlook, is one of questioning, one of feeling as though he has been abandoned, and the one doing the abandoning is his divine father. It would be hard to imagine words, or a phrase, that better express what Heidegger is talking about.

And this is why I think that Arius was right.