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Aetius of Antioch

Aëtius of Antioch, (Aëtius Antiochenus, Αέτιος ο Αντιοχεύς), was the founder of an extreme sect of Arians in mid fourth century the members of which became known as Anomoeans. Aëtius was a Syrian bishop and heretic who asserted that Jesus of Nazareth (the Son) was of a different nature and in no way like to that of God (the Father). His pupil Eunomius became the leader of the sect after Aëtius’ death.


Aëtius was born in Antioch, a native of Coele-Syria. His parents were poor and humble. His father was a soldier whose career was unsuccessful and died when Aëtius was a child. Aëtius worked initially as a vine-dresser before learning the art of gilding and became a goldsmith. Having loftier aspirations, Aëtius studied logic and then became a physician. But, his aspirations led him to the study of the Christian theological questions of the time.

Aëtius studied successively under a lineage of Arians. He first became a pupil of Paulinus who was bishop of Antioch. Then he studied under Athanasius, bishop of Anazarbius, and the priest Antonius of Tarsus. As he migrated between the Syrian schools. Aëtius developed an acute facility for dialectical argument. Combining theology with formal logic, he systematically provoked his opponents and reduced them to silence with stringent and subtle arguments.

In 350, Aëtius was ordained a deacon by Leontius of Antioch, an Arian. But, the Orthodox party soon excommunicated and forced him to leave the city because he scandalized the Christians with his preaching that the Son was totally of different substance from the Father and was created from nothing. He attended the first synod of Sirmium where he won a dialectical victory over the semi-arian bishops, Basilius and Eustathius. In 356, he traveled with Eunomius to Alexandria to preach Arianism. During the maneuvering between the Semi-arian and Aëtian parties at the Council of Seleucia, near Antioch, in 359, Aëtius was deposed as deacon and, further, was exiled by Emperor Constantius II. In 361, after Julian the Apostate assumed the throne as Augustus he recalled Aëtius from exile and gave him an estate in Lesbos, as well as retained him for a time at court in Constantinople. At this time Julian had Aëtius consecrated a bishop without being assigned a territorial jurisdiction.

Now a bishop, he used his office in the interest of Arianism by consecrating other bishops who were friendly to his cause. With the accession to the throne of Valens in 364, following the death of Julian in battle and his successor, Jovian, Aëtius retired to his estate in Lesbos where he died in 367.


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