Template:Mergeto Homoousian (Template:Lang-el, from the Template:Lang-el, homós, "same" and Template:Polytonic, ousía, "essence, being") is a technical theological term used in discussion of the Christian understanding of God as Trinity. The Nicene Creed describes Jesus as being homooúsios with God the Father — that is, they are of the "same substance" and are equally God. This term, adopted by the First Council of Nicaea, was intended to add clarity to the relationship between Christ and God the Father within the Godhead.

Pre-Nicene use of the termEdit

The term Template:Polytonic had been used before its adoption by the Nicene theology. The Gnostics were the first theologians to use the word "homoousios", while before the Gnostics there is no trace at all of its existence.[1] The early church theologians were probably made aware of this concept, and thus of the doctrine of emanation, by the Gnostics.[2] In Gnostic texts the word "homoousios" is used with these meanings: (1) identity of substance between generating and generated; (2) identity of substance between things generated of the same substance; (3) identity of substance between the partners of a syzygy. For example, Basilides, the first known Gnostic thinker to use "homoousios" in the first half of the second century, speaks of a threefold sonship consubstantial with the god who is not.[3] The Valentinian Gnostic Ptolemy claims in his letter to Flora that it is the nature of the good God to beget and bring forth only beings similar to, and consubstantial with himself.[4] "Homoousios" was already in current use by the second-century Gnostics, and through their works it became known to the orthodox heresiologists, though this Gnostic use of the term had no reference to the specific relationship between Father and Son, as is the case in the Nicene Creed.

Adoption of the term in the Nicene CreedEdit

The Nicaean Creed is the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox, Anglican Church, and most mainline protestant churches with regard to the ontological status of the three persons of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Origen seems to have been the first ecclesiastical writer to use the word "homoousios" in a Trinitarian context,[5] but it is evident in his writings that he considered the Son's divinity lesser than the Father's, since he even calls the Son a creature.[6] It was by Athanasius and the Nicene Synod that the Son was taken to have exactly the same nature or essence with the Father, and at the Nicene Creed the Son was declared to be as immutable as his Father is.[7] Some theologians preferred the use of the term Template:Polytonic (homoioúsios, from ὅμοιος, hómoios, "similar" rather than ὁμός, homós, "same") in order to emphasize distinctions among the three persons in the Godhead, but the term homoousios became a consistent mark of Nicene orthodoxy in both East and West. According to this doctrine, Jesus Christ is the physical manifestation of Logos (or the divine word) and consequently possesses all of the inherent, ineffable perfections which religion and philosophy attribute to the Supreme Being. Three distinct and infinite minds or substances, three co-equal and eternal realities, participate in (or share) the same, single Divine Essence (ousia).

This doctrine was formulated in the 4th century during the extraordinary Trinitarian or Arian controversy. The several distinct branches of Arianism which sometimes conflicted with each other as well as with the pro-Nicene homoousian creed can be roughly broken down into the following classification:

  • Homoiousianism which maintained that the Son was "like in substance" but not necessarily to be identified with the essence of the Father.
  • Homoianism which declared that the Son was similar to God the father, without reference to substance or essence. Some supporters of Homoian formulae also supported one of the other descriptions. Other Homoians declared that God the father was so incomparable and ineffably transcendent that even the ideas of likeness, similarity or identity in substance or essence with the subordinate Son and the Holy Spirit were heretical and not justified by the Gospels. They held that the Father was like the Son in some sense but that even to speak of ousia was impertinent speculation.
  • Heteroousianism (including Anomoeanism) which held that God the father and the son were different in substance and/or attributes.

All of these positions and the almost innumerable variations on them which developed in the 4th century AD were strongly and tenaciously opposed by Athanasius and other pro-Nicenes who insisted on the doctrine of the homoousian (or as it is called in modern terms consubstantiality), eventually prevailing in the struggle to define the dogma of the Orthodox Church for the next two millennia when its use was confirmed by the First Council of Constantinople in 381 or 383.

It has also been noted that this Greek term "homoousian", which Athanasius of Alexandria favored, and was ratified in the Nicene Council and Creed, was actually a term reported to be used and favored also by the Sabellians, and was a term that many followers of Athanasius were uneasy about. And the "Semi-Arians", in particular, objected to the word "homoousian". Their objection to this term was that it was considered to be un-Scriptural, suspicious, and "of a Sabellian tendency."[8] This was because Sabellius also considered the Father and the Son to be "one substance." Meaning that, to Sabellius, the Father and Son were "one essential Person." This notion, however, was also rejected at the Council of Nicaea, in favor of the Athanasian formulation and creed, of the Father and Son being distinct yet also co-equal, co-eternal, and con-substantial Persons.

See also Edit


  1. Adolf von Harnack, Dogmengeschichte, 1:284-85, n. 3; 2:232-34, n. 4. Ignacio Ortiz de Urbina, "L' homoousios preniceno," Orientalia Christiana Periodica 8 (1942): 194-209; Ignacio Ortiz de Urbina, El Simbolo Niceno (Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, 1947), 183-202. Luis M. Mendizabal, "El Homoousios Preniceno Extraeclesiastico," Esthdios Eclesiasticos 30 (1956): 147-96. George Leonard Prestige, God in Patristic Thought (London: SPCK, 1936; 2d ed., 1952), 197-218. Peter Gerlitz, Aufierchristliche Einflilsse auf die Entwicklung des christlichen. Trinitatsdogmas, zugleich ein religions- und dogmengeschichtlicher Versuch zur Erklarung der Herkunft der Homousie (Leiden: Brill, 1963), 193-221. Ephrem Boularand, L'heresie d'Arius et la "foi" de Nicke, vol. 2, "La "foi" de Nicee" (Paris:Letouzey & Ane, 1972), 331-53. John Norman D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds, 3d ed. (London: Longman, 1972), 245. Frauke Dinsen, Homoousios. Die Geschichte des Begriffs bis zum Konzil von Konstantinopel (381), Diss. Kiel 1976, 4-11. Christopher Stead, Divine Substance, 190-202.
  2. Aloys Grillmeier, Christ in Christian Tradition, vol. 1, From the Apostolic Age to Chalcedon (451) (London: Mowbrays, 1975), p. 109.
  3. According to Hippolytus: "Template:Polytonic". (Refutatio omnium haeresium 7:22) See also, for the Gnostic use of the term, Miroslav Marcovich in Patristische Texte und Studien, 25 (Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 1986), 290f. V,8,10 (156); V,17,6.10 (186 f.).
  4. According to Epiphanius: "Template:Polytonic". (Panarion 33:7,8)
  5. In an exegetical comment on Heb. 1:3, cited in the first book of the Apology for Origen by Pamphilus and Eusebius, Origen explains the special relationship of Christ, the Wisdom of God (Wisd. 7:25), with the Father: "Vaporis enim nomen inducens hoc ideo de rebus corporalibus assumpsit, ut vel ex parte aliqua intelligere possimus quomodo Christus, qui est Sapientia, secundum similitudinem eius vaporis qui de substantia aliqua corporea procedit, sic etiam ipse ut quidem vapor exoritur de virtute ipsius Dei. Sic et Sapientia ex eo procedens ex ipsa substantia Dei generatur; sic nilominus, et secundum similitudinem corporalis aporrhoeae, esse dicitur aporrhoea gloriae Omnipotentis, pura et sincera. Quae utraeque similitudines manifestissime ostendunt communionem substantiae esse Filio cum Patre. Aporrhoea enim Template:Polytonic videtur, id est unius substantiae, cum illo corpore ex quo est vel aporrhoea, vel vapor." (See PG 14:1308 and PG 17:580, 581).
  6. Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Developement of Doctrine, The Chicago University Press, 1971, Vol. 1, p. 191.
  7. W. Fulton, "Trinity," Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics, T. & T. Clark, 1921, Vol. 12, p. 459.
  8. Select Treatises of St. Athanasius - In Controversy With the Arians - Freely Translated by John Henry Cardinal Newmann - Longmans, Green, and Co., 1911, footnote, page 124

References Edit


de:Wesensgleichheit fr:Consubstantialité io:Samsubstanceso pt:Consubstancialidade sv:Homoousios

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