The question of economy in receiving the non-Orthodox has been a much discussed question. These are a few remarks upon the situation of the historical Arians and how the Church has dealt with them. It should be noted, however, that the historically Arian groups no longer exist. Modern Arian groups, such as the Jehoveh’s Witnesses, while sharing the Arian notion of the Son of God and the Holy Ghost, are much removed from the ancient Arians on most other features; for example, the Visigothic, Vandal, Lombard, Syrian, and Greek Arians, while heretical on the Trinity and the Incarnation, did accept the belief in Sacraments, Apostolic Succession, veneration of martyrs, saints, prayer for the dead, etc (though, one can find the occasional Arian grouping such as the Aetians in the East who rejected prayer for the dead, because they, like the modern psychothanatists, reject the immortality of the soul). Of course, modern Arian groups have often gone further than even older heretical Arians, thus showing the inevitable degenerative power of such terrible heresies; for example, the older Arians, while denying the Holy Ghost as being Consubstantial with the Father, did not deny He was a Person while most modern Arians do not even accept His Personality, or the issue of prayer directly to Christ.
In this sense, the Arians bodies the the Church encountered were little more than strict Arian copies of the Church in all features except for the absolutely essential doctrines of the Trinity. This is what often made the integration of such groups, once they renounced Arianism, into the Church much easier than people coming from groups like these today (for example, Arianism basically disintegrated for all intents and purposes in the East, and the Arian populations seemingly accepted Orthodoxy and melded into the Church; the Germanic Arians in the West, however, hung on for a few more centuries because of the attachment of the Arian cause to the Germanic identity and how this fit in with rulers).
Let us look at a few sources on some of these questions.
St. Athanasius says of the Arians:
“For the Arians do not baptize into Father and Son, but into Creator and creature, and into Maker and work. And as a creature is other than the Son, so the Baptism, which is supposed to be given by them, is other than the truth, THOUGHT THEY PRETEND TO NAME THE NAME OF THE FATHER AND SON, because of the words of Scripture. For not he who simply says, ‘O Lord,’ gives Baptism, but he who with the Name has also the right faith.” (Discourse Two, of the Four Discourse Against the Arians)
St. Athanasius, of course, states that the Arians do not baptize truly, even though they name the Father and Son, this is because they believe the Father and Son to be Creator and creature, and Maker and work. So, in this case, St. Athanasius attacks the ‘intent’, you might say, of the Arians (i.e. the Arians don’t have the Faith of the Church, and therefore how can they intend to do what the Church does, in those terms?).
However, note that the Church still allowed Arian Baptism to be accepted if done like the Church baptism, for example, the Canons of the Ecumenical Councils speak about this. So, we can either conclude that St. Athanasius and others were ‘over-ruled’ (in which case, a Council ultimately can determine, dependent upon wide reception, the authority of different opinions, while maintaining the sanctity of those whose views may have been laid aside), or, that they view this as a matter of good management, economy, dispensation in terms of what were the conditions, or, possibly, there really was no theory behind it, but multiple theories which fit under the umbrella of the Canons.
We should also note that Pope St. Innocent I (+417 AD) said in the matter of dealing with Arians and their Baptisms and Ordinations, that he regarded receiving their baptisms as far different than their orders. For example, St. Innocent says:
“As for the Arians and other similar plagues, the fact that we adopt their lay people, when they turn to the Lord, under the symbol of penitence and sanctification of the Holy Ghost, through the imposition of the hand does not indicate that their clergy ought to be adopted with the dignity of the priesthood or of any ministerial rank. We only allow their Baptism to be valid, on the ground of its being performed in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, nor do we deem that they have the Holy Ghost from that Baptism and those Mysteries. When their founders departed from the Catholic Faith, they lost the perfection of the Spirit, which they had received; nor can they give His fullness (which has its chief operation in giving Orders), which by the faithlessness of their impiety—I cannot call it faith–they have lost. How is it possible for us to consider their profane priests worthy of the honours of Christ, when their laymen are received, as I said, as incomplete, to gain the grace of the Holy Ghost with the symbol of penitence?” (Ep. 24, to Bishop Alexander of Antioch)
Just because people were, of course, making some argument for the acceptance of certain non-Orthodox baptisms, did not mean 1) that these were considered salvific to begin with, 2) that they could impart the Holy Ghost and had His Grace in them, 3) that this implied that they were bound to accept the other Sacraments of the heretics, since, as St. Innocent says, the heretics lost the power of Orders when ‘their founders departed from the Catholic Faith’.
If St. Innocent of Rome had accepted the Scholastic notion of the Holy Orders, or even admitted the thought of St. Augustine on this, for example, he would have had no reason to require ‘re’Chrismation / Confirmation for those leaving Arianism, let alone would the ideal have prevailed of requiring that Arian ordinations are to be treated as nothing. St. Innocent in his admits their Baptism may be received, provided they were done like the Church’s Baptism, but, nothing more. Thus do we see him essentially agreeing with Canon 7 of the Second Ecumenical Council that Arians should be received by Chrismation (provided the form of Baptism was in proper order; the Eunomians were discounted).
The Second Synod of Saragossa [592AD] said in its First Canon concerning Arian clergy:
“It has pleased the Holy and Venerable Synod that presbyters, who have been converted to the Holy Catholic Church from the Arian heresy, who hold an Holy and Pure Faith and a most chaste life, receive a new benediction to the holy priesthood and ought to minister in purity.”
The Synod in its Third Canon likewise state that any Arian bishops who left Arianism and accept the Orthodox Faith, must be elected and approved, and consecrated by the Church to be bishops.
The 506 Synod of Arles in its Twelfth Canon states:
“Concerning heretical clergy who come to the Catholic Faith with full faith and voluntarily….receive the imposition of hands of benediction, and the churches likewise of theirs it hath pleased us to consecrate anew.”
The Scholastic notion would say that any valid baptism must be accepted; but, also, a ‘valid chrismation’. And that a ‘valid Chrismation’ can be derived from a ‘valid Bishop’, who derives from a ‘valid Consecration’. The Arians in these cases, theoretically, fit those Scholastic cases; i.e., they originally departed from the Church, observed the same ‘essential and valid’ forms of the Church in terms of Baptism, Chrismation, Holy Orders, etc. So, why did the Church choose to ignore this, and only accept their Baptism? After all, the Church had in the East in the case of St. Meletius of Antioch (as well as an whole host of Bishops throughout that region) accepted him, though, he had been ordained by those who professed Semi-Arianism, Acacianism, etc, and thus fell under the Nicene Anathemas. True, these Bishops repudiated these heresies, but, this certainly seems like a discrepancy in practice, if not even in theory?
Certainly these two examples were probably grievous to people at the time, for different reasons, and even scandalous to some, but, it wouldn’t be proper to say “The Church didn’t know what it was doing….”
In later centuries, especially the 9th and 10th century, we see the spectacle in Rome of things like the “Cadaver Synod”, and the retroactive deposition and invalidation of ordinations carried out by Pope Formosus. However, this was later overturned a few years later, especially.
The only reasonable way to understand all this is through the principle of economy. For RC’s and others to say, “Wow! You guys aren’t consistent!” and then to ignore the history is simply wrong. So, French and Spanish Synods can basically reject the very foundation of the Scholastic RC notions, and so could Roman synods for centuries, and they are basically ignored, but, Greeks and Russians in the past 300 years get laughed at?
Ryan Freeburn notes how Hugh of Amiens makes a loosing argument against the Scholastic notion of Holy Orders. Hugh, of course, was a Post-Schism writer, but, he saw clearly how ridiculous the notion of the Scholastics could be.
“To crown his argument, he painted an even more vivid picture of the horrors that would follow if excommunicated priests could indeed consecrate, with an infinite number of bishops and popes mutually excommunicating and absolving one another. In such a world, ‘the Church would be wholly nothing.’ “
Hugh’s argument, of course, was never heeded. And things degenerated even worse in the West after the Schism. Remove St. Augustine’s right conception of the Church (i.e. the Orthodox Church is the Only True Church, and there is no salvation outside of it, and all actions performed outside of it have no salvific value if separated from the Church), and then you have the mess we are in today. People want to have St. Augustine’s view on Baptism and Holy Orders, but, they don’t want his ecclesiology that goes with it; the result is chaos and ecumenism. But, then again, they don’t even want his views on the Sacraments when they don’t line up with their own policies.