FAU News

The Arian controversy or 'Is Jesus God?'

Handwritten manuscripts and old prints are important tools in preparing the edition. (Image: Dr. Annette von Stockhausen, CC-BY)

FAU theologists investigate a turning point in church history

In light of the fact that Christianity claims to be a monotheistic religion, how should the relationship between God the Father, the Son Jesus Christ, who became a man, and the Holy Spirit be understood and explained in a comprehensible way? In Antiquity, this was the most important question that Christianity had to answer for itself and for its critics. Approximately 1600 years ago, this question led to the so-called Arian controversy, named after the Alexandrian priest Arius, who advocated strict monotheism and considered Christ to be God but subordinate to God the Father. This dispute went on for almost 300 years and also involved Constantine and his successors.

At FAU’s Chair of Church History I, Prof. Dr. Hanns Christof Brennecke (FAU), Prof. Dr. Uta Heil (University of Vienna) and Dr. Annette von Stockhausen (FAU) are leading the research project ‘Athanasius Werke’ (Athanasius’s works), collecting, translating, editing and commenting on all documents on this controversy from Late Antiquity to the early Middle Ages.

The volume of the documents, including imperial letters, bishops’ letters, synodic letters, laws and creeds, which cover the entire period and area of the late Antiquity Roman Empire, is unique for this period. The aim of the project is to prepare these documents for research to gain a better and more comprehensive picture of the developments at that time. Since 2007, two volumes of ‘Dokumente zur Geschichte des Arianischen Streites’ (documents on the history of the Arian controversy) with editions, translations and a commentary have been published and a third volume will be published soon. A fourth volume is currently being prepared. The project will be funded for an initial period of two years by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation.

The controversy surrounding the Trinity

The dispute about what the Trinity really meant and the associated power struggles within the Church were highly politically controversial at the time as Christianity was growing fast and finally became the preferred religion of the emperors. Roman emperors spared no efforts to prevent divisions within the Christian Church because faith was to be the unifying element in the Roman Empire. Emperors such as Constantine I or Theodosius I summoned councils to resolve the dispute and exerted their own influence on the process of finding a consensus. After the First Council of Constantinople in 381, the Roman Empire shared one creed and understanding of the Christian doctrine which has prevailed until today. Different doctrines were designated as ‘Arian’ and considered to be heretical. As the Germanic peoples who had settled in the territory of the former Western Roman Empire had accepted the Christian faith in this ‘Arian’ form, the Arian controversy was not over but continued until the end of the 6th century when these Germanic churches also accepted the Catholicism defined by the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople. The sixth edition of the third volume of the Athanasius works deals with texts from the period of the Council of Constantinople and texts from the early seventh century, containing the Athanasian Creed and documenting the conversion of Reccared the Visigothic king to the Catholic faith.

Further information:

Dr. Annette von Stockhausen
Phone: +49 9131 8522141