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Arianism was a 4th century heresy named after Arius (c.250-336), a priest in Alexandria, who taught that the Son of God was not God but rather a created being with a definite origin in time. In Arius's words, "there was [a time] when he was not."

Arius denied the full deity of the preexistent Son of God who became incarnate ("the Word (Jesus Christ) became flesh" John 1:14 - NKJV). He held that the Son, while divine and like God, was created by God as the agent through whom he created the universe, and thus that there was a time when the Son was not. The First Ecumenical Council at Nicea in 325, led in its teachings by Athanasius, condemned Arianism and maintained that Christ was God from God, Light from Light, Very God from Very God, begotten not made (not created), and One in essence with the Father (homoousios/ομοούσιος "of the same essence" rather than Arius' heretical homoiousios/ομοιούσιος "of a similar essence") producing the first version of the Nicene Creed.

Arianism continued as a force after the First Ecumenical Council, almost to the end of the fourth century, aided often by the emperors, notedly Constantius, who followed Constantine the Great. During this period Arianism fragmented into a number of sects. Initially, Arius preached that Christ was not of the same essence as the Father, and at one time did not exist. After this heresy was struck down at the First Ecumenical Council with the adoption of the Nicean Creed, Arianism divided into three principal groups:

the Anomoeans continued Arius' heresy, led first by Aëtius then later by Eunomius, and preached Arius' animoios (unlike) and continued to maintain the strict position that Christ was not of the same essence as the Father.
The semi-Arians led by Eusabian took a middle ground challenging the Nicean Creed's homoousios with a middle position of homoiousios, that is of similar essence.
The Acacians led by Acacius took a variation of the semi-Arians position by preaching that Christ was homoios, similar to - not identical in essence - with the Father and thus avoided using either terms homoousios and homoiousios.

During the last decades of the fourth century the arguments of the two Gregories, of Nyssa and Nazianzus, and Hilary of Poitiers brought reconciliation of many semi-Arians to Orthodoxy and swayed the momentum to the Nicean Creed that was reaffirmed at the Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in 381.

Some forms of modern Protestantism appear to espouse a form of Arianism, referring to Jesus Christ as essentially distinct from God in terms that suggest that, as the Son, He is ontologically distinct from and inferior to the Father.

Arianism should be clearly distinguished from "Aryanism", which formed the core of Nazi racial ideology during the twentieth century, and which had nothing whatsoever to do with Arius or his teachings.

Source and further reading