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The views that are condemned in the last part of the Nicene Creed may be divided as follows:

  1. There was a time when he was not (Wikipedia). Or probably more literally, “There was when He was not” (Earlychurchtexts).
  2. He was not before he was made.
  3. He was made out of nothing.
  4. He is of another substance or essence,
  5. The Son of God is created, or changeable, or alterable.

The first two anathemas are about WHEN He began to exist. The affirmations earlier in the creed do not say anything specific in this regard but do state that all things came to be through Him. If we assume time is included in “all things,” then that would affirm that there was no “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 in this phrase that is translated as “of?" Stated differently, is this condemnation also 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.

(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 relate to 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 main dispute?

Firstly, 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.

Secondly, most of the text about Christ in the affirmations are 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.”

I do not think that the text I quoted refers to Christ’s substance. It only refers to 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.

Thirdly, the affirmations contain the statement that He is homoousion with the Father. This now 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:

  • That He is begotten out of the substance of the Father, or
  • That he has the same substance as the Father.

Is this a stupid question?

Many people would regard this as a meaningless question and simply read the creed in terms of how it was later explained. But, as Hanson stated, the Nicene creed, at the time:

“Confounded the confusion because its use of the words ousia and hypostasis was so ambiguous as to suggest that the Fathers of Nicaea had fallen into Sabellianism.”

Boyd also stated that:

“The creed of Nicaea … only added increased confusion and complication to the problem it was intended to solve.”

As discussed in my answer to the question, Why ousia and hypostasis were synonymous in the Nicene Creed:

Before the Christian era, ousia and hypostasis had the same meaning. Ancient Greek philosophers used these terms for the fundamental reality that supports all else. (link)

In contrast, in the Trinity doctrine, hypostasis means person and ousia means substance or essence. This change in the meaning of hypostasis did not occur over time as a natural process of evolution. Rather, it was explicitly to counter the suspicion that the creed teaches modalism that supporters of the Nicene Creed proposed a new meaning for hypostasis. (link)

For that reason, it is appropriate for us to analyze and interpret the Nicene Creed of 325 in the context of the meanings that words had at that time.

I hope that helps.

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  • Are you wondering if he came to be out of one substance and then consisted of another substance? Dec 4, 2021 at 15:51

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That phrase was written both as a condemnation of individuals within the Church, and religious groups that maintained that Jesus Christ was "of another substance or essence". As you rightly point out, the controversy revolved around the meaning of Greek words. Although the 325 Nicene Creed tried to clarify, so as to prevent people twisting words to allow them to remain within the Church despite holding to unorthodox beliefs about Christ, it did not succeed. More problems arose later, continuing such arguments about words. Let me quote from this scholarly book dealing with this troubled time in the Church.

"While Athanasius was in exile in Trier, Arius died - one day before he was to be restored as a Christian presbyter in a special ceremony in Constantinople in 336, only months before Constantine's own death on May 22, 337. Constantine lived as a pagan and died as an Arian... > Constantine's successor was his son Constantius... who ruled until his death in 362, [and] constantly hounded the bishop [Athanasius] who seemed the last key holdout for trinitarian orthodoxy against Arianism and semi-Arianism. The emperor wanted peace, and uniformity was it> path, [wanting to] replace homoousios in the Nicene Creed with homoiousios which means, 'of a similar substance' and would be acceptable to the semi-Arians...

"In all, Athanasius endured five exiles.' Seventeen years, out of forty-six as bishop, Athanasius had spent in exile. Politics and theology had ever intermingled...' 7... His own synod in Alexandria met in 362. The bishops gathered there reaffirmed homoousios as the only proper description of the relationship of the Son of God to the Father and explicitly rejected both the semi-Arian homoiousios and Sabellianism as heresies... Athanasius died in 373 in Alexandria."

As the Council of Constantinople adjourned and the bishops departed for their home sees, the differences and resentments between Alexandria and Antioch were just beginning to boil... The Council of Constantinople had made official the use of terms and concepts like nature and person for explaining the Trinity. Alexandrians... would argue more and more vehemently that just as the Trinity is one substance, or nature, and three persons so Jesus Christ is one nature and one person... When it comes to personhood, Antiochenes averred, two can become one while remaining two. The stage was set for a theological blowout... [which] came in 428." The Story of Christian Theology, Roger E. Olson, pp 164-166, 197 & 210 (Apollos 1999)

My answer to your question is that the Nicene Creed was using words to convey the belief that just as the Father is of divine essence, so the Son of God is of the same divine essence. In other words, the Son is not another God. Whatever God consists of, the Son consists of. And as God the Father is true God, so the Son also is true God, and not a lesser god. The deity of the Son is just as total as the deity of the Father.

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  • Excellent answer. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 6, 2021 at 20:17

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