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How many are Arians (don't believe Jesus is God) How many are Binitarian (believe Jesus is God) How many are Trinitarian (believe that God is, father, son and holy spirit?) How many are Gnostics? How many are ....

Are there estimates?

Basically I am wondering why only 2-22 bishops in Nicea support Arianism. I wonder if Arians are indeed few.

I am well aware that it's not going to be accurate. But we sort of know how many people are in Rome empire, and we sort of guess how many are Christians. I am sure we'll come up with something. Very rough estimates are fine.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by choster, Mark C. Wallace, Kobunite, Steven Drennon Jan 14 at 18:34

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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Estimating historical membership in various religions and sects can be performed with some pretence at accuracy and precision; but looking into the souls of long dead men and women to determine their beliefs - completely impossible. –  Pieter Geerkens Jan 9 at 18:28
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You could edit you question to only ask about estimates of the number of bishops following those religions at the council of Nicaea in 325. There might even be exact numbers for that. –  Jeroen K Jan 9 at 19:29
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@Michael: Yes, that is the likely intent of the question, but it is not what the questions actually asks; the question asks for beliefs, not theology. But to answer that inferred question one most know in more detail how finely to break up the answer, or we are left guessing. Both ways the question needs to be refined by OP. –  Pieter Geerkens Jan 9 at 19:52
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@PieterGeerkens Indeed. It's also funny how the early germanic invaders where actually christianized with the old testament, because it's a lot less peacefull. I'm afraid we're overstretching this comment section though. –  Jeroen K Jan 9 at 20:11
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@BruceAlderman: excellent point, +1. It's possible that the difference between 300 and 325 is sociologically more interesting than each of the numbers. However, given the illegal status of Christianity before 312, it's unlikely that one could get even ballpark figures on the number of Christians before that, let alone their denominations. –  Michael Jan 9 at 22:03

1 Answer 1

One of the important things to realize about schisms is that they can be very convenient things for peoples or rulers who have a need for a good excuse to distance themselves from a nearby power structure they don't want to be tied to. Thus you can find a pattern where people of a different social or ethnic background than the rulers at the seat of a religion's power will enthusiastically pick up a local heresy and promote it.

The situation in the 4th century was one where Rome was the overwhelming power in the Empire, and had a great deal of respect. The Greek cultural area was big and was in fact the source of the initially persecuted cult of Christ, but that battle had mostly already been won. The only other real cultural outlier of any power was Egypt. This was an old powerful, non Indo-European civilization that had been conquered by first Greeks, then Romans, and was essentially being plundered every year for its produce. If there's a place where you'd expect a desire for a cultural split, this was it. So it should be no surprise that in fact Arius and the two bishops who voted with him at Nicaea were from Egypt.

In the middle ages, the German invaders who conquered Italy and nearby territories hardly wanted to take orders from some guy in Rome. So they picked Arianism for this same purpose. At the same time the Eastern Romans (Greeks) used a set of squabbles that evolved into Eastern Orthodoxy.

So Arianism wasn't actually a very significant movement until the 5th century, which is when many German tribes overran the west, and took that schism up as a convenient way to make themselves independent of the Pope in Rome.

So by the 6th century, Catholicism was at a very low ebb. The pope was really only acknowledged in parts of Greece, most of modern-day France, and about half of the British Isles.

The east was under the control of the Eastern Roman emperor and his pet patriarch in Constantinople. Most of the rest of North Africa, all of Italy, and almost all of Illyria and Spain and Mediterranean France were controlled by Arians (iow: Germans). This included all the major cities of the West at the time (Carthage, Rome, Ravenna, and Milan). The rest of the British Isles and Europe were "officially" pagan.

Since the Franks were powerful enough and far enough away from the Popes, they never much bothered with Arianism. All the other German invader Arian rulers lost their territory to conquest (first to the Byzantines under Justinian, then mostly to the Arabs).

So basically you need to look at "heresies" as an ethnic culture war carried out by (mostly) non-military means.

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