What does Mormons, Jehovah-Witnesses, Adventists, Protestants, and even Islam have in common? They believe in a great apostasy, when the Catholic Church was created and went to killed the real « Christians… » They think that the original faith of Jesus and his disciples was eradicated by Catholics. The chosen date is the time of Constantine. They say that « Constantine made Christianity the empire’s official religion. » By forgetting that Constantine only made Christianity a legal religion equal with all other religions of the empire, they teach that he went and forced everyone to be Christians or be killed. Co-emperors Caesars Theodosius I and Gratian declared Catholicism the official religion, not Constantine, but somehow those named above cannot get the dates right.
Those apostasian-believer claim that Constantine created the papacy, the Eucharist, clergy, and saints. What is funny is that the Bible they use and accept as God’s Holy Word was created after « their great apostasy. » They reject Catholicism while accepting the Catholic Bible, where books were chosen or rejected based on Catholicism. Books like Jude were kept while books like Henoch (which is quoted by Jude as Scriptural) were declared as not divinely inspired…
Yet when history is studied, there comes something particular, something that can be called ironic, and makes the roman persecutions before Constantine look mild. The truth is there really was a great apostasy in those years, one of the biggest apostasy that happened in the church. This apostasy was so great that it almost destroyed the church, and its heresy is still taught in today’s world. Supported by roman emperors, it created antipopes, controlled hundred of bishops of the Church, killed those who remained faithful to Jesus’s teaching, made persecutions as those before Constantine’s time, and almost destroyed the infallibility of the Church. The gates of hell were active during those years, and Peter survived by sword length.
That heresy, the great apostasy, denied the everlasting divinity of Jesus. It taught that Jesus was created by God, and was not at the beginning. They taught that He could have sinned but chose good and was rewarded by being made a lower god Himself. The everlasting divinity of Jesus was rejected, and He apparently did not have a human soul, but was the first creature of God. This heresy taught that Christ is lower than the Father, and that He is not Co-Eternal with the Father. He is not Consubstantial with the Father. It is called the Arian heresy.
A modern example of this heresy is the Jehovah Witnesses.
The great apostasy started in Egypt, when Arius was a deacon. He got himself excommunicated by St. Peter, bishop and patriarch of Alexandria, for corresponding with the excommunicated Meletius, bishop of Lycopolis. After St. Peter received martyrdom, bishop Achilla, his successor, accepted Arius back into the faith and ordained him a priest. When bishop Achilla died, St. Alexander was chosen as the bishop and patriarch of Alexandria. Arius, being a not-so-humble person, expected to be elevated to that seat, and began an open war against St. Alexander by calling him a heretic.
Arius started teaching that the Word was created by the Father, and was the first creature. And that He could have followed sin, but as He accepted good, the Father rewarded Him by giving Him a part of His Divine Nature.
This was a heresy, as the Church had always taught that the Word was uncreated and could not have sinned. It was, and still is, common knowledge.
Arius started to teach his errors so much, that St. Alexander called a synod in A.D. 320, in which 100 bishops came together with « a great number » of priests. Arius publicly professed his errors to the synod, and was excommunicated. Then he ran to the protection of Eusebius of Nicomedia, a powerful and wicked bishop, by the help of Constantia, the sister of Constantine. He was ordained a bishop by some of his heretic followers who were bishops. Arius now had the sister of the emperor, and one of the most powerful bishop in the east, both supporting him.
Arius started traveling and win other bishops over to his cause. As St. Alexander saw it happening, he tried his best to stop Arius, but unfortunately, Constantine followed his friend Eusebius of Nicomedia’s advice, and ordered St. Alexander to keep quiet. The errors began to be so large, that it started to disturb the Eastern part of the Empire, and forced Osius, bishop of Cordova in Spain, to be sent to put an end to the disturbance. Osius saw immediately that the evil was great, and called a synod where Arius and his followers were excommunicated. The heretic then wrote to Constantine to have his help and support, but fortunately, Constantine had been informed of the problem and wrote him a not-so-friendly letter. Yet the disturbances grew, and led to the Emperor’s statues being pelted and disfigured. The disturbances forced Constantine and His Holiness St. Sylvester, bishop of Rome, to call an ecumenical council in Nice, in Bythinia.
The bishops of Asia, Africa, and Europe assembled together, and as St. Ambrose tells us, 318 bishops came in A.D. 325 to examine the Arian problem. Most bishops had been under persecutions and under the threats of martyrdom. St. Paphnutius’s right eye was plucked out, and his left hand burned. St. Paul, who lost both hands by red irons. St. Potamon’s right eye was torn out. There are too many who suffered likewise to enumerate.
The point is; why do Jehovah Witnesses and modern Arians reject those bishops’s faith?
St. Nicolas, aka Santa Clause, was a bishop who came to Nice, and was a true Catholic. In anger at hearing Arius claim such blasphemies in the council, he went and punched him in the face. The bishops were shocked at his violence, and sent him in prison, taking away his functions as bishop and evidently taking his episcopal vestments. During the night, Jesus and Mary came to visit him, and gave him a book of the Gospel and his episcopal vestments. The next day found St. Nicolas back in the council with God’s blessing and gratitude. God was good, for too much of the bishops were Arians or sympathizer. This had lead St. Athanasius to say:
“The floor of hell is paved with the skulls of bishops.”
The Council of Nicaea resulted in 316 of 318 bishops rejecting Arianism and stating that Jesus is God, Untreated, Coeternal, and Consubstantial. Arius and his followers were all excommunicated.
Now what happens is tough, the heresy did not end. Instead it kept spreading. Arian bishops first accepted the council, then ignored it. Some Arian bishops came together and started to depose good Catholic bishops. Local councils of bishops came together to « investigate » charges of adultery, idolatry, or anything else needed to depose bishops who resisted them. St. Eustatius of Antioch was deposed on false charges, the prostitute’s admittance of calumny not stopping the Arians from sending him into exile. Constantia, the Emperor’s sister was an Arian, and was able to influence governmental posts to people who were not-so-Catholic. An Arian council came together in Tyre, and Arius was « accepted » back into the church. They did not have the power, but they did as they liked.
St. Athanasius, the new bishop and patriarch of Alexandria was accused of rape, murder, sacrilege, and anything else they could think of. A small council was called, and Arians were careful to be the majority, and to make sure all would go according to plan, Count Flavius and his good Arian troupes guarded the council. All charges were proven wrong, but they were able to get Constantine to banish him over theft of grain. Bishop Narcellus was deposed, and a council in Constantinople was almost hijacked. Then Constantine was convinced, by his sister and good Arian friends, that Arius had accepted the true faith… And he ordered St. Alexander to accept him back into the faith.
As Arius prepared to enter Constantinople and receive Holy Communion in the Cathedral, St. Alexander prayed hard in the church, asking God for help.
« O my God, either take me out of the world, or take Arius, that he may not ruin Your Church. »
At that time, Arius was triumphantly conducted in the city, yet suddenly had a stomach problem and asked for a bathroom. He never got out alive, as God made him bust open like Judas. Intestines, liver, everything came out, he exploded. It happened in the year 336.
Then Constantine died, and Constantius arrived. Constantius was an publicly proclaimed Arian, and he decided to spread it around in a not-so-peaceful manner… Roman style. He first deposed Paul of Thessalonica, bishop and patriarch of Constantinople, and placed an Arian bishop there, Eusebius of Nicomedia, the new leader of the Arian heresy. The council of Sardis was attacked, and Arians invented formulas of faiths that they said came from that council. St. Athanasius was deposed, and papal delegates wee beaten unto signing the condemnation of St. Athanasius. The council of Milan was called, and Arians came charging along, the Emperor opening the council by ordering the bishops to sign an Arian declaration of faith. The bishops who did not sign were loaded with chains and banished. Bishop Osius, the 2nd in command of the Western Church, was exiled and tortured and his faith failed.
Pope Liberius was banished and exiled to Berea in Thrace, were he was tortured. After three years, the Arians were finally able to make him sign the first formula of faith of Sirmium. Now, there are three formulas of faith of Sirmium in existence. The third formula was not in existence at the time Pope Liberius signed the formula. The 2nd is heretical, and heretics says it it that one which was signed. But historically it is the first which was signed, which was vague and could be interpreted both ways. Pope Liberius’s formula of faith was thereby a little bit like Pope Francis’s Amoris Lætitia… The Papacy had almost been overthrown, but Pope Liberius had not been heretical, only unclear.
While Pope Liberius was imprisoned, the Emperor Constantius made Felix II as an antipope. For three years, the Arian Felix II led Rome and claimed the papal seat, the antipope working to destroy the Church. But then, while Liberius was signing the declaration of faith, yet before he came back to Rome, Felix II converted. Felix II the Arian became Felix II the Catholic, and started to fight against Arianism. Constantius found that his antipope had excommunicated him, his antipope had declared him a heretic, and his antipope suddenly was speaking with Catholic fire and truths. Felix II was beheaded, and died as a martyr by Constantius’s anger. Liberius, coming back to Rome, did not have to deal with an antipope, but now had to prove to the Catholic peoples that Felix II really was an antipope… During that time, Arianism had separated into different sects, Anomeans, Arians, Semi-Arians, and more.
The Council of Rimini came in A.D. 359, and had around 400 bishops. At first all went well, and 10 bishops were excommunicated for being Arians… Then a declaration taken by legates was sent to the Emperor about the decisions taken, but the Arians had a little trick up their sleeves. They sent their own legates, and made sure to arrive first to contaminate the Emperor… When the real legates came, the Emperor did not receive them, but sent them with some of his Arian friends. Partly by threat, and partly by deceit, the legates were made to sign an Arian declaration of faith, and then were sent back to the council. The Emperor declared that the council would not close until they all signed the Arian declaration of faith, and sent his army to make sure all would follow according to plan. It worked by deception, as the Arian declaration was also vague and could be interpreted both ways. The Arians immediately started to boast of their victory, and the world found itself in Arian hands.
Pope Liberius went into hiding, but then the beast died. Constantius died and was buried, and for a time there was calm… well kind of…
Julian the Apostate was made Caesar, and he was a very good persecutor. The only good thing about him is that he first restored the exiled Catholic bishops to their sees, but then he turned idolater. The impious Julian the Apostate began persecuting Christians in general, and it lasted for around one year and eight months. He then died in battle against the Persian, an arrow killing him. Thodoret and Sozymen says that he filled his hand with his blood and threw it towards Heaven, saying:
« O Galilean, you have conquered! »
Jovian was claimed Emperor by the army, and his reign lasted for eight months. During those short months, he worked against Arians and Semi-Arians, and Catholics found a little peace and help. On his death, the Empire was separated into two pieces, the West to the good Valentinian, and the East to the cruel Valens.
During that time, pope Liberius died, and pope St. Damasus came. Unfortunately, having an antipope a few years back made it easier for Ursicinus to declare himself pope, and the schism of Ursinus lasted for many years.
Valens only controlled the eastern part of the Empire, but he swore to persecute all Catholics in his empire. Worst than Constantius, he started by giving Arians full favour, and they started to persecute Catholics in the whole eastern empire. Valens killed eighty ecclesiastics as a beginning, and banished any ecclesiastics he could find. St. Basil was spared, as when Valens was to sign the sentence, the pen broke and his arm paralyzed. He came to Antioch and tortured and drowned those he found. The survivors were exiled. All monks were ordered to enter the army, or be killed. Three thousands soldiers were sent into the deserts of Nitria, where only 5,000 monks survived. The soldiers themselves became wearied out with killing the monks. Valens died under Divine vengeance in 378. The Goths made war, and his army was completely destroyed, himself running away from battle to die burnt in his hiding place. After Valens died, Gratian became emperor in the Eastern Roman Empire, and peace came into this branch of the church.
Arianism continued, with the Western Roman Empire falling to Germanic tribes. Africa, Iberia, Gaul, Italy, all were conquered by Arian Germans. From the middle A.D. 400s, the Western Roman Empire was mostly by name… and Arianism came with the new rulers. Vandal Africa remained Arian until A.D. 534, Spain until A.D. 587, pieces of Italy for until A.D. 526, Lombard Italy until A.D. 660, France until A.D. 515, etc.
Arianism disappeared for 900 years, until A.D. 1530, when Poland and Transylvania turned heretical, accepting Arianism and Anti-trinitarianism, mixed with Deism and Socinianism. Jehovah Witnesses now continue the tradition, and so is any sects believing that Jesus Christ is not Consubstantial with the Father.
The Great Apostasy happened, but not the way protestants and other groups represent it. Instead, the Arian heresy is an example that the Catholic Church is infallible. The Arian heresy should be known to every Catholic, and used to show protestants that their date for the Great Apostasy is the example of the Glorious time of the Church. She survived the impossible, and God’s promise happened. The gates of hell did not prevail.
Please note, while Arianism was there in the 4th century alone, there also were the Donatists, Macedonius, Apollinares, Elvidius, Acrius, Messalians, Priscillianists, Audæus, and other heresies of smaller magnitudes.
The 5th century adds Nestorians, Pelagius, Eldivius, Jovinian, Vigiliantius, Eutyches, and other heresies.
Arians were the biggest, but they were not the only heresy…
- Dr. Taylor Marshall: Saint Nicolas Punched Arius
- EWTN on Arianism – Note, EWTN calls Constantius by the name of Constantius II.
- St. Alphonsus M. Liguori: The History of Heresies, and Their Refutations; or, The Triumph of the Church. Vol. I
I recommend The History of Heresies, it was my primary source, and I used Constantius’s name as named in the book.