Homoousian (// HOM-oh-OO-see-ən; Ancient Greek: ὁμοούσιος, from the Ancient Greek: ὁμός, homós, "same" and Ancient Greek: οὐσία, ousía, "essence, substance") 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. The term is rendered "consubstantialis" in Latin and in related terms in other Latin-derived languages. It is one of the cornerstones of theology in Christian churches which adhere to the Nicene Creed.
Pre-Nicene use of the term
The term ὁμοούσιος 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. The early church theologians were probably made aware of this concept, and thus of the doctrine of emanation, by the Gnostics. 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 2nd century, speaks of a threefold sonship consubstantial with the god who is not. 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. "Homoousios" was already in current use by the 2nd-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 Creed
The Nicaean Creed is the official doctrine of most Christian churches – the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Churches, Church of the East, Anglican Church, Lutheran, Reformed, Evangelical, 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 nontrinitarian context,[a] 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. 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. Some theologians preferred the use of the term ὁμοιούσιος (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. In the language that became universally accepted after the First Council of Constantinople (in the year 381), three distinct and infinite "hypostases" or Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, fully possess the very same Divine Essence (ousia).
This doctrine was formulated in the 4th century during the Christological debates between Arius and Athanasius. 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 (from ὅμοιος, hómoios, "similar" – as opposed to homós, "same") which maintained that the Son was "like in substance" but not necessarily to be identified with the essence of the Father.
- Homoeanism (also from hómoios) 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. The struggle over the definition of the nature of Christ's divinity was not solely a matter for the Church. The Emperor Theodosius had published an edict, prior to the Council of Constantinople, declaring that the Nicene Creed was the legitimate doctrine and that those opposed to it were heretics.
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 also be used and favored by the Sabellians in their Christology. And it was a term that many followers of Athanasius were actually 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." 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", though operating as different faces, roles, or modes. 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.
- 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 ὁμοούσιος videtur, id est unius substantiae, cum illo corpore ex quo est vel aporrhoea, vel vapor."
- von Harnack, Adolf, Dogmengeschichte (in German), 1:284–85, n. 3; 2:232–34, n. 4.
- Ortiz de Urbina, Ignacio (1942), "L’homoousios preniceno" [The prenicene homoousios], Orientalia Christiana Periodica 8: 194–209.
- Ortiz de Urbina, Ignacio (1947), El Simbolo Niceno [The Nicene symbol] (in Spanish), Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, pp. 183–202.
- Mendizabal, Luis M (1956), "El Homoousios Preniceno Extraeclesiastico" [Ecclesiastical studies], Estudios Eclesiasticos (in Spanish) 30: 147–96.
- Prestige, George Leonard (1952) , God in Patristic Thought (2d ed.), London: SPCK, pp. 197–218.
- Gerlitz, Peter (1963), Aufierchristliche Einflilsse auf die Entwicklung des christlichen. Trinitatsdogmas, zugleich ein religions- und dogmengeschichtlicher Versuch zur Erklarung der Herkunft der Homousie, Leiden: Brill, pp. 193–221.
- Boularand, Ephrem (1972), L'heresie d'Arius et la ‘foi’ de Nicke [The Arius’ heresy and the ‘faith’ of Nicke] (in French), 2, La "foi" de Nicee, Paris: Letouzey & Ane, pp. 331–53.
- Kelly, John Norman D (1972), Early Christian Creeds (3d ed.), London: Longman, p. 245.
- Dinsen, Frauke (1976), Homoousios. Die Geschichte des Begriffs bis zum Konzil von Konstantinopel (381) (Diss) (in German), Kiel, pp. 4–11.
- Stead, Christopher, Divine Substance, pp. 190–202.
- Grillmeier, Aloys (1975), Christ in Christian Tradition, 1, From the Apostolic Age to Chalcedon (451), London: Mowbrays, p. 109.
- of Rome, Hippolytus, Refutatio omnium haeresium [Refutation of all heresies] (in Latin), 7:22,
Υἱότης τριμερής, κατὰ πάντα τῷ οὐκ ὄντι θεῷ ὁμοούσιος.
- For the Gnostic use of the term, Marcovich, Miroslav (1986), Patristische Texte und Studien [Patristic texts & studies] (in German) 25, Berlin: W de Gruyter, pp. 290f. V,8,10 (156); V,17,6.10 (186 f.).
- of Salamis, Epiphanius, Panarion (in Greek), 33:7,8,
Τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ φύσιν ἔχοντος τὰ ὅμοια ἑαυτῷ καὶ ὁμοούσια γεννᾶν τε καὶ προφέρειν.
- PG, 14:1308; 17:580, 581.
- Pelikan, Jaroslav (1971), The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine 1, The Chicago University Press, p. 191.
- Fulton, W (1921), "Trinity", Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics 12, T&T Clark, p. 459.
- Theodosian Code 16:2, 1 Friell, G., Williams, S., Theodosius: The Empire at Bay, London, 1994.
- St. Athanasius (1911), "In Controversy With the Arians", Select Treatises, Newmann, John Henry Cardinal trans, Longmans, Green, & Co, p. 124, footn.
- Gibbon, Edward (1960), The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Harcourt, Brace & Co[page needed].
- Grillmeier, Aloys (1986), Christ in Christian Tradition: from the Council of Chalcedon (451) to Gregory the Great (590-604), Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, ISBN 0-664-22160-2
- Steenburg, MC, A World Full of Arians: A Study of the Arian Debate and the Trinitarian Controversy from AD 360–380, Monachos.net.
- "Homoousian", Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent.