Aëtius of Antioch

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This article is about Aetius of Antioch the 4th-century AD theologian; for Aetius of Antioch the 1st-century BC philosopher, see Aetius (philosopher).

Aëtius of Antioch (Aëtius Antiochenus, Αέτιος ο Αντιοχεύς, fl. 350), surnamed "the Atheist" by his trinitarian enemies,[1] founder of an Arian Christian movement, was a native of Coele-Syria.[2]

Life and writings[edit]

Aëtius grew up in poverty or slavery.[3][4] He later worked as a goldsmith in Antioch to support his widowed mother and studied philosophy.[3] After his mother died, Aëtius continued his trade and extended his studies into the Christian scriptures, Christian theology, and medicine.[3]

After working as a vine-dresser and then as a goldsmith, he became a traveling doctor, and displayed great skill in disputations on medical subjects; but his controversial power soon found a wider field for its exercise in the great theological question of the time. He studied successively under the Arians, Paulinus, bishop of Antioch, Athanasius, bishop of Anazarbus, and the presbyter Antonius of Tarsus. In 350 he was ordained a deacon by Leontius of Antioch, but was shortly afterwards forced by the trinitarian party to leave that town. At the first synod of Sirmium he won a dialectic victory over the homoiousian bishops, Basilius and Eustathius, who sought in consequence to stir up against him the enmity of Constantius Gallus. In 356 he went to Alexandria with Eunomius in order to advocate Arianism, but he was banished by Constantius II. Julian recalled him from exile, bestowed upon him an estate in Lesbos, and retained him for a time at his court in Constantinople. Being consecrated a bishop, he used his office in the interests of Arianism by creating other bishops of that party. At the accession of Valens (364), he retired to his estate at Lesbos, but soon returned to Constantinople, where he died in 367.

Anomoean sect[edit]

The Anomoean sect of the Arians, of whom he was the leader, are sometimes called after him Aetians. His work De Fide has been preserved in connection with a refutation written by Epiphanius (Haer. lxxvi. 10). Its main thought is that the homoousia, i.e. the doctrine that the Son (therefore the Begotten) is essentially God, is self-contradictory, since the idea of unbegottenness is just that which constitutes the nature of God.[citation needed]

In one of his treatises, Saint Basil the Great writes against the Anomoeans led by Aëtius, whom he describes an instrument in the hands of "the enemy of truth".[5] Aëtius is said to have been the first to articulate the doctrine that the Father and the Only Begotten Son do not share the same divine substance.

Aetius and Anomean Beliefs[edit]

The Anomean branch of the Arian school gives us insight into the use of the principles of ingeneracy. Aetius is one of the primary people who drew from this philosophy and was from Antioch where he was made bishop there in 362 1. Aetius was removed from his office by his brother heretics, yet he was later recalled and welcomed by the Emperor Julian 2. Antioch had become one of the focal points for Arianism, and Aetius outlined some theses in defense of the idea of the incongruity of the nature and essence of the Father and the Son. The debate over the issue of the trinity was prevalent during this time, and many different Christian groups were seeking to reconcile this belief with the trinity 3. There were forty seven of these documents that survived, however Epiphanius stated that three hundred were composed. If these documents had of survived, there would be a much more visible insight into Christian Platonism compared to what we have now 4. Aetius was not Aristotelian, and was not orthodox either, but he seemed to be much closer to an Aristotelian Neoplatonist 5. He was however much more Platonist than other Christian counterparts like Origen or even Augustine 6. Gregory of Nyssa disputes the claims of the Anomeans, and believes that they have temporalized the deity 7. Gregory was thoroughly preoccupied with time, and that is mostly what his objections to Anomean beliefs are based off. Aetius himself complains about the temporalists, whom he considers Gregory to be one, and believe that they dwell too much on the concept of time, and also their belief that time is a necessary aspect of the Anomean beliefs 8. The Nicene Creed outlines what homoousios is, and states that Jesus and God are of the same essence, which is what Aetius is essentially trying to refute. Aetius' believed that God was ingenerate, meaning that he was greater than anyone else who had existed, including Jesus 9. The term "ingeneracy" is apparently the only term useful in this regard, and it shows God's true essence. Aetius states in theses 4: “ If the Deity remains everlastingly in ingenerate nature, and the offspring is everlastinglingy offspring, then the perverse doctrine of “homousion” and the “homoiousion” will be demolished; incomparability in essence is established when each nature abides unceasingly in the proper rank of its nature 10.” Aetius also spends a lot of time in these theses’ outlining that ingeneration is not a privation. Aetius was defending himself against Neoplatonists in this regard, and perhaps he could have had a close relationship with the Emperor Julian, which would have supposedly been upsetting to the Neoplatonists as well 11. Aetius continues arguments in his theses 19, 20, 21, 24 and 25, that his negative definition of God is not evidence of privation. In thesis 24 Aetius states: “If ingeneracy is privation, and privation loss of state, and if the lost is entirely destroyed or changed into something else, how can a state which is in process of changing or being destroyed be called the Deity’s essence by the title of “The Ingenerate” 12. Aetius believes that the logic of privation does not apply to this negation, and that in order for it to be a privation, there has to have been something lost from the original characteristic, e.g.: being crippled is a privation, for being able to walk was the original state. He is also perhaps saying that we cannot think of God as being not generated, for when he became Jesus, that is a form of being generated. In thesis 24, Aetius outlines that it is within this ‘element of loss’ that makes privation inadequate in relation to the deity. Aetius goes on to outline what privation means in thesis 20 13. Aetius also goes on to describe the nature of the names of God and Jesus in thesis 17, and describes how Jesus not being referred to as “God” or the “Father”, is a clear indication of his inferiority in relation to God 14. He continues this same type of logic when in thesis 26 he states that “If "The Ingenerate" is a mere name with God, but its mere utterance elevates the substance of God over against all the generated beings…”, this is showing again that Aetius believes that the name associated with God elevates him to a position of superiority over all other beings 15. It may also seem that he is implying that those who give out names, possess some type of superiority over those to whom names are given 16. Aetius outlines this in thesis 13 by stating “If external observation ascribes ingeneracy to the Deity, the observers are superior to the observed, having furnished .him with a title superior to his nature 17”. What Aetius is trying to say is that the name of God is present, whether there are individuals who correctly observe that name or not; but that the name is not so much given to God, as much as it is discovered. It is clear in Aetius’ arguments that he does not believe the father and the son to be of the same essence. This is further outlined by his arguments about ingeneracy when he states that if the ingenerate Deity is superior to everything, then he must be superior to the ability to be ‘generated’, therefore he was never created from anything else, and he cannot re-create himself or re-generate himself into being Jesus 18. Furthering his point about the nature of Jesus and God, he states that no amount of reasoning allows one to believe that the same essence can be both generate and ingenerate 19. He seems to find it logically impossible for this to occur and continues to state that if the ingenerate was generated, then how does this prevent the generate from being ingenerate 20. Aetius also finds it troubling that if Jesus is unchangeable in nature by the reason of the one who generated him, then ingeneracy is unchangeable essence, not by the virtue of its will, but of its internal ranking or state of being ‘un generated’ 21. Aetius is ultimately outlining a long list of reasons that he finds it illogical to think that Jesus and God are of the same essence. He believes that God was before time and creation, and that he was not created by anything. If God is perfect and unchanging, and was never originated himself, he does not believe it to make sense that after the creation of Jesus; that he and the original God are of the same essence. Aetius believes that this belief that Jesus and God are the same, detracts from the unchanging nature of God.


  1. 1. Mortley, Raoul, "Chapter VIII. Arian negative theology: Aetius and Eunomius" (1986). From Word to Silence, 2. The Way of Negation,Christian and Greek. Paper 9. Pg. 128
  2. 2. Ibid pg. 128
  3. 3. Ibid pg. 129
  4. 4. Ibid pg. 128
  5. 5. Ibid pg. 128
  6. 6. Ibid pg. 128
  7. 7. Ibid pg. 129
  8. 8. Ibid pg. 129
  9. 9. Ibid pg. 128
  10. 10. Ibid pg. 130
  11. 11. Ibid pg. 132
  12. 12. Ibid pg. 132
  13. 13. Ibid pg. 133
  14. 14. Ibid pg. 133
  15. 15. Ibid pg. 134
  16. 16. Ibid pg. 134
  17. 17. Ibid pg. 134
  18. 18. Wickham, L.R. "THE SYNTAGMATION OF AETIUS THE ANOMEAN." .http://jts.oxfordjournals.org/. Web. 14 Jan. 2012. Pg. 545
  19. 19. Ibid pg. 545
  20. 20. Ibid pg. 545
  21. 21. Ibid pg. 546


  1. ^ La Grande Encyclopédie
  2. ^ Philostorgius, in Photius, Epitome of the Ecclesiastical History of Philostorgius, book 3, chapter 15.
  3. ^ a b c Philostorgius, in Photius, Epitome of the Ecclesiastical History of Philostorgius, book 3, chapter 15.
  4. ^ Basil of Caesarea, Against Eunomius, book 1, chapter 6.
  5. ^ Against Eunomius, Book I