[In Our Time] Arianism


15/04/2021 by BBC

Radio 4 Web player: https://podcastaddict.com/episode/121805581

Episode: http://open.live.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/6/redir/version/2.0/mediaset/audio-nondrm-download/proto/http/vpid/p09dlkd0.mp3

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the form of Christianity adopted by Ostrogoths in the 4th century AD, which they learned from Roman missionaries and from their own contact with the imperial court at Constantinople. This form spread to the Vandals and the Visigoths, who took it into Roman Spain and North Africa, and the Ostrogoths brought it deeper into Italy after the fall of the western Roman empire. Meanwhile, with the Roman empire in the east now firmly committed to the Nicene Creed not the Arian, the Goths and Vandals faced conflict or conversion, as Arianism moved from an orthodox view to being a heresy that would keep followers from heaven and delay the Second Coming for all.

The image above is the ceiling mosaic of the Arian Baptistry in Ravenna, commissioned by Theodoric, ruler of the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy, around the end of the 5th century


Judith Herrin Professor of Late Antique and Byzantine Studies, Emeritus, at King’s College London

Robin Whelan Lecturer in Mediterranean History at the University of Liverpool

And Martin Palmer Visiting Professor in Religion, History and Nature at the University of Winchester

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Listen Date: 15 May, 2021 (2021-05-15)


  • Apparently, Arius was a bit like a satsang leader. Not an ordained bishop, but super charismatic and popular. No wonder the bishops hated him.
  • I probably would have read about him in a Peter Brown book already, but those books are so vast and overarching that the particular drama about Arius would have been lost. Anyway, I learned that Arius was the non-bishop at the council of bishops at Nicaea – and he was there only for the other bishops to yell at him for being a heretic and cast him into exile.
  • Council of Nicaea: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all of one substance.
  • Arius: like this means how? The Son must have come from the father and be of lower value.
  • Council of Nicaea: OUTRAAAAAAAAAAAGE
  • According to the panel, the hierarchy within the Holy Trinity which Arius proposed was very popular to the Vandals and the Goths, who liked the idea of gods also having a pecking order, as it justified their own king / subject social system. What it meant was that they eventually all got considered heretics by Rome (or anyway, Byzantium – Rome of the East).
  • Someone else on the panel made the point that polytheistic religions just get on with accepting that some gods are superior and others are inferior. Christianity has internal contradictions on the other hand. I crievrytiem.
  • Perhaps that’s an argument by analogy against Marxism. If Christianity hasn’t collapsed in two thousand years despite its internal contradictions, why would capitalism?
  • And in the future, Arius became a popular stand in for hereticism, so all sorts of heretic behaviour, even stuff he’d never come up with, got called Arian. Plus the heresy meant that his works were destroyed, so we don’t even get a full picture of what he was actually arguing. So sad.
  • Looking at the Wikipedia page, I feel that the whole controversy could have been avoided by arguing that time is an illusion.
  • Lunchtime doubly so, of course.

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