Migration Period
between Odra and Vistula

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Arianism, theological doctrine taught by Arius of Alexandria (ca. 250-336), in Late Antiquity one of the main Christological controversies (concerned with the nature of Jesus Christ) aimed on defining the nature of Christ and the Holy Spirit relative to God the Creator within the monotheistic Christianity. Arius argued that the Son (Christ) was created by God, which must mean that he is not one in essence with God, that there was a time when God existed and the Son was not. These arguments had major theological consequences. Arianism was condemned as early as 319 at a local synod in Alexandria and later at the First Council of Nicaea (325), Arius himself was banished. Arianism persisted nevertheless, as it had the support of Constantius I (337-361), and of Julian the Apostate (361-363) who was interested in deepening of the dissent within Christianity. Theodosius (379-395) was committed to restoring the unity of Christianity and the general acceptance of the Nicaean creed achieving this by calling the second ecumenical council in Constantinople (381) and passing the edict De fide catholica with the only concession made in the second canon to the effect that “the Churches of God in heathen nations must be governed according to the custom which has prevailed from the times of the Fathers” (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/const1.txt), which in fact may have been synonymous with a degree of acceptance for Arianism among the barbarians (such as the →Germanic Tribes ).

Arianism gradually lost importance among the local population of the Roman Empire by the turn of the 4th and 5th century but gained a new lease of life thanks to being the form of Christianity embraced by a large part of the →Germanic Tribes  during the →Migration Period . Instrumental in bringing Arian Christianity to them was →Ulfilas . The reasons for the success of Arianism among the →Germanic Tribes  is not entirely clear, the missionary fervour of Gothic →Goths  neophytes is one possible reason, the support from cryptoArians among the Romans another, but the most likely factor would be the impact of the Bible, translated into a Germanic language. Arianism also played an important role as an element of self-identification for the Germanic peoples settled among the Catholic inhabitants of Gaul, Italy and Africa. It became the dominant religion of the →Gepids, →Goths , →Vandals  and it is possible that prior to his Catholic baptism Clovis, king of the →Franks  had not been a pagan but an Arian Christian.

The fact that →Germanic Tribes  were followers of Arianism would get in the way of their assimilation in the Mediterranean world.

The conflict between the Arian Vandal elite and the local Catholic population was most acute in Africa where, in the reign of Huneric (477-484), the latter were brutally persecuted but with time the pressure eased off. King Thrasamund (496-523) even personally led theological disputes to prove the superiority of Arianism. The intervention of the armies of Justinian I (533) put an end to the Vandal kingdom and to African Arianism. Similarly, the conquest of the kingdom of the →Ostrogoths  (552/553) meant that Arianism would disappear from Italy. Among the →Langobards, who ruled Italy starting from 568, Arianism was not a fully dominant religion. The last Arian Langobard ruler was Rothari (636-652).

In their early days, as during the reign of King Euric (466-484) the Spanish →Visigoths  had a decidedly hostile attitude to Catholicism. The weakening of their political position when they were defeated by the armies of Clovis in a battle close to Poitiers (507) forced Alaric II (484-507) do adopt a more conciliatory policy towards the Catholics who could count on support from the →Franks  (see below). King Leovigild (569-586) promoted a toned down version of Arianism (recognizing the validity of the Catholic baptism and that God and Christ were equal) seeking to convert the local Catholics to this variant of Arianism. The failure of this policy led his son, King Recared I (586-601), first to renounce Arianism in favour of Catholic Christianity (586) and next, at the Council of Toledo (587), to persuade most of the bishops do convert to Catholicism.

In this context the decision of Clovis, king of the →Franks , to have himself baptised in the Catholic rite (which event is dated traditionally to 496, alternative dates - to 498, 506, 511) was a momentous step. It accelerated integration of the Catholic Gallo-Roman aristocracy in his kingdom, gained the Merovingian dynasty the support of Constantinople in their quarrels with the →Visigoths  and other enemies, and in a longer perspective was decisive for exceptionally strong connections of medieval France with the papacy.

Among the Christians the controversy over the relationship of God the Father, Son of God and the Holy Spirit, thus, over the concept of the Holy Trinity, would not cease with the end of the Antique world. It would revive, also during the Reformation, when in 1562-65 an Antitrinitarian Protestant church was established in Poland, its followers known as Polish Brethren, and also, as Arians. The latter name was used by the opponents of this movement, the Brethren themselves preferred to be called Christians. Despite a similarity of doctrine the movement of the Polish Brethren cannot be treated as a continuation of Arianism of Late Antiquity.


Literature: J. Tazbir, Arianie i katolicy, Warszawa 1971; J. N. D. Kelly, Początki doktryny chrześcijańskiej, Warszawa 1988, p. 171-210; J. Strzelczyk, Wandalowie i ich afrykańskie państwo, Warszawa 1992; M. Wilczyński, Zagraniczna i wewnętrzna polityka państwa Wandalów, Kraków 1994; H. Wolfram, Historia Gotów, Warszawa – Gdańsk 2003; R. Collins, Hiszpania w czasach Wizygotów, 409-711, Warszawa 2007; B. Flusin, Tryumf chrześcijaństwa i określenie prawowierności, [in:] C. Morrisson (ed.), Świat Bizancjum, t. I, Cesarstwo wschodniorzymskie 330-641, Kraków 2007, p. 63-94, esp. 73-80.