The views that are condemned in the last part of the Nicene Creed may be divided as follows:
- There was a time when he was not (Wikipedia). Or probably more literally, “There was when He was not” (Earlychurchtexts).
- He was not before he was made.
- He was made out of nothing.
- He is of another substance or essence,
- The Son of God is created, or changeable, or alterable.
The first two anathemas are about WHEN He began to exist. Apart from stating that all things came to be through Him, the affirmations earlier in the creed do not say anything specific in this regard. If we assume that “all things” include time, then there was no literal “time when he was not.”
The third anathema is about OUT OF WHAT He came to exist. Rather than “out of nothing,” as in the anathemas, the affirmations say that He is “begotten of the Father … that is, of the essence (ousia) of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.”
My question relates to the fourth anathema. What is the meaning of the Greek word or phrase that is translated as “of?" Stated differently, is this condemnation:
- About OUT OF WHAT substance He came to be, or is it
- About the substance HE CONSISTS OF?
Just reading the English, the following seems to indicate that this condemnation is about OUT OF WHAT substance He came to be:
(a) Just like the first two anathemas form a pair, it seems as if the third and fourth anathemas also form a pair. (See above.)
(b) The phrase “He is of another substance” seems to be the opposite of the affirmation, He is “begotten … of the essence of the Father”
(c) Earlier in the creed, it is said that the Son is “God of God” (Wikipedia). In this phrase, "God" describes WHAT the Son is and "of" describes OUT OF WHAT He came to exist. If the word “of” has the same meaning in the fourth anathema, then that anathema may be about OUT OF WHAT He came to exist.
Alternatively, this anathema could be an elaboration of the word homoousion in the body of the creed. In that case, it would be a statement about the substance HE CONSISTS OF.
Why do I ask this question?
I ask this question because I am trying to work out what exactly the main issue of the debate was at Nicaea.
Given that 80% of the words of the creed are about Christ, they did not argue about the Father or about the Holy Spirit. The dispute was only about Christ. But what was the core issue in that dispute? I can think of at least three possible core issues:
Whether the Son always existed,
Out of what the Son was begotten, and
What the substance of the Son now is.
The anathemas state that He ALWAYS EXISTED, but that is not explicitly mentioned in the body of the creed. So, I assume that that was not the main point of dispute.
- Out of what the Son was begotten
Most of the text about Christ in the affirmations is about HOW HE CAME TO EXIST, namely:
“Begotten from the Father, only-begotten, that is, from the substance of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made.”
These words do not seem to refer to what Christ’s substance now is. It seems to describe only the substance OUT OF WHICH He was begotten. The third anathema contains a similar statement, namely that He did not come into existence out of nothing. Given the emphasis on this point in the creed, I would assume that this was the main matter of dispute.
- What the substance of the Son now is.
The affirmations say that He is homoousion with the Father. This refers to His own substance; not to the substance out of which He was begotten. But this statement seems quite isolated. Unless the fourth condemnation relates to the word homoousion, nothing else in the creed refers directly to His own substance. It is for that reason that I am trying to work out what the statement, that "He is (not) of another substance or essence," means. Does it mean:
- That He is begotten out of the substance of the Father, or
- That he has the same substance as the Father?