The name given to the radical group of Arians who emerged about 356 under the leadership of Eunomius, bishop of Cyzicus (360-364), and the “godless” deacon Aetius. It is based on the Greek word anomoios (unlike), referring to the relationship between the Father and Son within the Godhead. The Son was stated to be “unlike” the Father, in contrast with those who believed He was “like” (homoeans) or of “like substance” (homoiousians), as well as the adherents of the Nicene Creed, the homoousians (“of the same substance”).
Eunomius and Aetius exemplified the relatively socially mobile population that seems to have been associated with the growing triumph of Christianity during the reign of Constantius II (337-361) and that tended to be attracted to non-Nicene interpretations of Christianity. The grandfather of Eunomius had been a slave, but by hard effort, the family had risen in the social scale to the point that Eunomius felt able to leave his father’s smallholding and emigrate from his native Cappadocia to the schools of rhetoric in Constantinople. (See Basil In Eunomium 1.2; Gregory of Nyssa In Eunomium 1.6.)
Aetius, son of a minor government official who had died bankrupt, had tried his hand at many trades, including that of goldsmith, before settling for teaching that had a strong theological bias. His targets were the Gnostics and Manichaeans, and he made his name through a celebrated debating victory over the Manichaean leader Aphthonius at Alexandria about 345 (Philostorgius Historia ecclesiastica 3.15). After a spell at Antioch coinciding with Athanasius’ return to Alexandria from his second exile in 346, he was ordained deacon, and took advantage of Athanasius’ third exile to return to Alexandria in 356.
There he established himself as a teacher and was accepted by Athanasius’ rival, Bishop George of Cappadocia, as deacon (Epiphanius Panarion 76.1.). He was joined in Alexandria by Eunomius, who became first his secretary and then the champion of the Anomoean cause (Gregory of Nyssa In Eunomium 1.6, cols. 260, 264; Socrates Scholasticus Historia ecclesiastica 3.22; Philostorgius Historia ecclesiastica 3.20).
Anomoean views, however, were too much for Constantius and his theological advisers, and especially for the homoiousians grouped around Basil, bishop of Ancyra. Aetius’s case was made worse by his association with the luckless Caesar Gallus (Philostorgius Historia ecclesiastica 3.27; Gregory of Nyssa In Eunomium 1.6, col. 257), executed at Constantius’s orders in November 354.
At a council held at Ancyra in 358, the Anomoeans were anathematized and Aetius was sent into exile. Anomoean doctrines, however, continued to spread (see letter of George, bishop of Laodicea, cited in Sozomen Historia ecclesiastica 6.13, concerning their success in Antioch), and under Emperor Julian (361-363), Aetius was recalled from exile and invited to the emperor’s court (Julian, letter 31; Sozomen Historia ecclesiastica 5.5). The high-water mark in the success of the Anomoeans was reached in 362, when a council held at Antioch by Bishop Euzoius declared that “the Son was unlike the Father in all respects [kata panta anomoios], in respect of will as well as substance.”
In the reign of Valens (364-378) the Anomoeans, now led by Eunomius, continued to flourish, attracting the polemics of BASIL THE GREAT and his brother, GREGORY OF NYSSA. Eunomius, however, gained the hostility of Eudoxius, the semi-Arian bishop of Constantinople, and was exiled. An Anomoean creed was presented to Emperor Theodosius along with other statements of Arian belief in 383, but after that time the Anomoeans found themselves singled out for special repressive attention (Codex Theodosianus 16, 5.31, 32, 34, 49, 58) by Theodosius and his successors. By the middle of the fifth century the party was practically extinct.
Anomoeanism was a logical system of belief that pushed the Arian premise of the consequences of the transcendence of God for the relations of the persons of the Trinity to their ultimate conclusion. It was a creed that might win debates but could not inspire multitudes. In Alexandria it was one of the alternatives to Nicaea that Athanasius rejected. It does not seem to have had much support outside Alexandria among Egyptian Christians as a whole, though curiously, the Anomoeans are cursed as an “evil heresy” in the “Concept of the Great Power,” a Gnostic writing preserved in the Nag Hammadi Library.
- Basil. In Eunomium. In PG 29, cols. 497-774. Paris, 1886.
- Gregory of Nyssa. In Eunomium. In PG 45, cols. 243-1122. Paris, 1863.
- Julian. The Works of the Emperor Julian, 3 vols., ed. and English trans. W. C. Wright. Loeb Classical Library. London and New York, 1913-1923.
- Le Bachelet, X. “Anoméens.” In Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, Vol. 1, cols. 1322-26. Paris, 1923.
- Philostorgius. Historia ecclesiastica, ed. J. Bidez. Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte 21. Berlin, 1913.
- Venables, E. “Aetius.” In DCB 1, pp. 51-53. Repr. New York, 1974.
- . “Eunomius.” In DCB 2, pp. 286-90. Repr. New York, 1974. Wickham, L. R. “Aetius and the Doctrine of Divine Ingeneracy.”
- Studia Patristica 11 (1972): 259-63.
W. H. C. FREND