The Real Fight Against Arianism

Many people mistakenly believe that once the Council of Nicea happened, Arianism was defeated. But one of the most exciting moments in Church History followed in a battle between Arians and Nicene Christians' decades later in the year 386.

Arianism did not go quietly into the night. In fact, there were multiple times where it looked like Arianism would end up prevailing over Nicene Christianity.

As a reminder, Nicene Christianity affirms the co-eternality of the Trinity. That God the Father is God, Jesus Christ is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and that all three are and have been together God, with none of them "created." 

However, Arianism proposed that Jesus Christ was not God. But that God the Father had created Christ. 

Now at the end of the 4th century in the Roman Empire in the city of Milan, a battle erupted. And it was wild.

You see, the bishop of the city, Ambrose, was being asked by the Emperor to give up one, just one, of his basilicas to the Arians to let them worship. There were four basilicas in the city, and it seemed unfair to not let them have just one. Shouldn't the emperor be allowed to worship God as he pleased, after all?

Ambrose was an interesting man and probably never saw himself getting into a position like this. As a young man he was destined for politics. But he became a Christian, and then later helped solve a conflict. Somehow his name got thrown into the arena for bishop, and despite literally hiding from the crowds, he was eventually found and made the city's bishop due to his great speaking ability and popularity. 

Although as a Christian, he was so young in the faith he had not yet even been baptized or ordained, and in an instant he was suddenly the Bishop of one of Rome's most important cities! 

He threw himself into the job. He wrote letters to famous theologians of the time to help guide him. He gave up his property and wealth. Once a young politician accustomed to pleasure, he now lived the quintessential monk/bishop life. This made him all the more popular and loved, as people saw the genuineness of his faith. 

Early on he went to war with the Arians, which through the Emperors' family, had made themselves at home in Milan and in positions of power. This made them mad, especially the Emperors' mother who was a true Arian believer. She waited for her moment to strike at Ambrose.

When Ambrose refused to give up the Basilica, Roman soldiers were sent to take it. They did not realize that there was a service at the time, and so the bishops and the men inside barricaded themselves in, including Ambrose.

The guards at first refused to try and enter. They saw Ambrose and the other men as too holy and did not want to be responsible for what harm coming their way. This gave the priests inside a chance to set themselves up for the siege. It lasted days. They continued holding services and food and water were snuck in and out. 

Think about the logistics of something like this. No one would have shown up to church that day with much food. Let alone imagine changes of clothes, blankets for sleeping, and so many other things you'd naturally need for a situation like this. And one mistake and the guards can catch you and toss you in jail or kill you. 

It was life or death here. 

Ambrose attributed it ALL to God. He gave a sermon, yes a sermon, in the middle of the whole ordeal. He pointed out that they had accidentally left a door open the day before in the middle of this siege. And that a beggar had actually wondered into their camp by a spot they had missed in the barricade. He showed them they were not protecting themselves well, but by God's mercy they were being kept safe. But that God could take away that mercy if He chose, so they must be ready for what came next.

He then declared if all should go poorly, let him go to be martyred. Do not fight for him. 

One of my favorite quotes of all time is by Ambrose in this moment where he says, "That if God could use a donkey to his glory, he could maybe even find a use for a fool like himself. " 

Eventually the siege lets up. Ambrose's popularity with the people saves him as the Emperor is forced to relent. Now why did the priests do all this? 

All so that not one hour of the service of God's church would be used for praising a false religion. 

What courage! What strength! 

How many of us would barricade ourselves inside our churches to protect the pulpit from heresy like Ambrose and his followers? 

How many of us have such influence and integrity that people would trust us implicitly as Ambrose's followers did? 

One man was in the city in the same years as Ambrose's siege. Although there is no record from him of having witnessed this event, it would be hard to imagine that he did not at least hear of it and know of it, having lived in the city at the time it occurred. This man had been rejecting Christianity. He had even joined one of the cults at the time that was popular for a few years. 

Arriving at Milan and speaking with Ambrose over the course of years changed his life. Ambrose brought this man to Christ. But you have to imagine it wasn't just his words, but his actions; his boldness in the face of adversity that also impressed that man. Too often we hear that bold actions frighten the lost. It is hard to be bolder than Ambrose. 

Yet this man, who would go into the history books as St. Augustine, was impressed by Ambrose and was led to Christ by him. 

Let this be a reminder to be bold when the day calls for it.

If you would like to hear the sermon that Ambrose preached on that day during the siege, listen to our episode of Revived Thoughts featuring it here: