Alexander of Alexandria, Arius, and Theological Method

Adam C. English, PhD
Campbell University
Buies Creek, North Carolina

Abstract: In a critically important but sometimes overlooked Letter to Alexander dating to about the year 321, Alexander of Alexandria addresses the arguments of Arius and related Christological questions in a way that reveals much about pre-Nicene theological methodology. From the time of the fifth century church historians Socrates and Sozomen down to the present, Alexander’s intellectual competency has been severely underrated. The Letter to Alexander shows a bishop fully capable of dealing with Arius and the controversy at hand. As a testament to this, the present article focuses on the theological methodology displayed in the letter. Alexander’s letter illustrates three guiding principles or implicit guidelines of early patristic methodology. First, Alexander’s Letter to Alexander shows a fundamental concern for Scripture and its holy authority. Alexander took it as a matter of course that theological propositions must be supported by Scripture. Secondly, the letter emphasizes apophatic humility before the mystery of divine transcendence. Reverence, prudence, and holy fear should accompany all theological investigations. Thirdly, the authority of the apostolic tradition is reaffirmed throughout. Alexander distinguishes those teachings handed down by generations past from recent innovations. This article hopes to rehabilitate the legacy of Alexander and provide insight into the ante-Nicene theological method.