Arius was African of Berber descent, educated in Antioch (Rome’s third most important city, located in central Turkey) by Greek scholar Lucian. He moved home to Africa, to settle in Alexandria, the center of the emerging Christian movement as many scribes were recording theology in Greek there. Greek was considered the most educated language at the time. Arius wrote a famous and influential epic poem titled The Banquet of which no copies survive, just some small excerpts quoted in other works.
Since the time of Jesus, thousands of Christians had been forced to denounce Jesus and swear allegiance to Ceasar in order to save themselves. Afterwards many returned to the church to request forgiveness and receive communion, and were generally forgiven and accepted back into the faith.
Meletius was an influential Bishop in Egypt who denounced this practice and insisted these people should never be forgiven as many of his relatives had been victims of Roman persecution. Arius was inducted into the priesthood by Meletius and both were excommunicated over this issue, but Arius was soon readmitted and made a deacon.
Early in life Arius had a reputation as a lady killer, incredibly handsome and verbally gifted. He set Christendom into a tizzy when he wrote:
“If the Father begat the Son, he that was begotten had a beginning of existence: and from this it is evident, that there was a time when the Son was not. It therefore necessarily follows, that the Son had his substance from nothing.”
Following this logic, Arius deduced the Father outranked the Son, a concept introduced to him by Origen, the foremost Christian theologian in Alexandria and a prolific writer. Origen also taught the preexistence of souls.
During the first few centuries of Christianity, there was little consensus on the divinity of Jesus. Many did not believe the virgin birth and felt this detail had been added after-the-fact. Some believed all men were sons of god. Some believed anyone who was anointed with the oil became Christ. Many believed Jesus only became divine after his baptism by John. Some believed Jesus always existed.
Constantine called the Council on Nicaea in 325 to settle these matters and Arius and many of his supporters were invited to attend, and were considered the front-runners, but when Arius read his prepared statement, the council became so disturbed with some of his views many switched sides to Eusebius of Nicomedia and began supporting his concept of an equal trinity.