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The word homoousios is not in the Bible. It also was not a standard part of the Christian confession immediately before Nicaea. Rowan Williams described it as “the radical words of Nicaea” (RW, 236) and “conceptual innovation” (RW, 234-5). The Arians objected that these words are both “unscriptural” and “untraditional” (RW, 234-5). In contrast to these “radical words,” Williams refers to “the lost innocence of pre-Nicene trinitarian language” (RW, 234-5). [Rowan Williams - Arius, Heresy & Tradition, 2001]

In the third century, the word homoousios was associated with Sabellian Monarchianism which taught that God is one person as well as one being. The word was used by some Libyan bishops to say that Christ and the Father are one and the same God, by Sabellius to abolish the distinction of the three hypostases, and by Paul of Samosata to describe Father and Son as a primitive undifferentiated unity.

This was one of the reasons why the Arians did not like the word. But the anti-Arians did not like the word either:

  1. Eusebius of Caesarea unambiguously stated that it was Constantine, and nobody else, not even the anti-Arians, who wanted the word homoousios.

  2. After Nicaea, the word falls completely out of the controversy very shortly after the Council of Nicaea and is not heard of for over twenty years (See - Homoousios).

  3. At the Council of the Western Bishops at Sardica in the year 343, where they rephrased the Nicene Creed, the pro-Nicene theologians omitted the word.

  4. At the end of his life Ossius gave his unconditional consent to the so-called "blasphemy" of Sirmium (AD 357), which states that neither homoousios nor homoiousios are Biblical.

  5. Eustathius, archbishop of Antioch in the 4th century, whose anti-Arian polemic made him unpopular among his fellow bishops in the East, openly expressed his dissatisfaction with the formula approved at Nicaea.

So, if the word homoousios is not found in the Holy Scriptures or in the orthodox Christian confession before Nicaea, why was it included in the Nicene Creed?

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  • Just some clarifying questions ... What do you hold was the orthodox Christian immediately before Nicea (325)?
    – guest37
    Commented Feb 13, 2023 at 23:21
  • ... When you say "This was one of the reasons why the Arians did not like the word", what is "this"?
    – guest37
    Commented Feb 13, 2023 at 23:22
  • Eusebius wrote that Constantine "before anyone else" and not "and nobody else" suggested using the word ὁμοούσιον. Athanasius, however, wrote that it was "the Fathers" who decided on the word (Defense of the Nicene Definition, V.19)
    – guest37
    Commented Feb 13, 2023 at 23:44
  • Finally (I think), are you implying that because ὁμοούσιον does not appear in the Bible and because the word appeared in no other orthodox Christian creed prior to Nicaea that the Nicean creed should not be accepted? The entire creed, or just the statement including ὁμοούσιον?
    – guest37
    Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 13:22
  • @guest37 RPC Hanson states, "Orthodoxy on the subject of the Christian doctrine of God did not exist at first.” (page, 870) The Arian Controversy “was not a history of the defence of an agreed and settled orthodoxy against the assaults of open heresy. On the subject which was primarily under discussion there was not as yet any orthodox doctrine.” (RH, page xviii) “It was only' very slowly, as a result of debate and consideration and the re-thinking of earlier ideas that the doctrine which was later to be promulgated as orthodoxy arose.” (870)
    – Andries
    Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 8:00

4 Answers 4

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The Nicene Creed is the official doctrine of most Christian churches—the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Churches, Church of the East, and Anglican Communion, as well as Lutheran, Reformed, Evangelical, and most mainline Protestant churches—with regard to the ontological status of the three persons or hypostases 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, 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 of Alexandria and the Nicene Council that the Son was taken to have exactly the same essence with the Father, and in the Nicene Creed the Son was declared to be as immutable as his Father.

While it is common to find statements that Origen and other early apologist Church fathers held subordinationist views, Ilaria Ramelli discussed the "anti-subordinationism" of Origen.

Both the Nicene and Athanasian creeds affirm the Son as both begotten of, and equal to his Father. If so, many concepts of the Holy Trinity would appear to have already existed relatively early while the specific language used to affirm the doctrine continued to develop.

Some theologians preferred the use of the term ὁμοιούσιος (homoioúsios or alternative uncontracted form ὁμοιοούσιος homoiοoúsios; from ὅμοιος, hómoios, "similar", rather than ὁμός, homós, "same, common") in order to emphasize distinctions among the three persons in the Godhead, but the term homoousion 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 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 AD 381, three distinct and infinite hypostases, or divine persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, fully possess the very same divine ousia.

This doctrine was formulated in the 4th century, during the Arian controversy over Christology 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 classifications:

  • Homoiousianism (from ὅμοιος, hómoios, "similar", as opposed to ὁμός, homós, "same, common"), which maintained that the Son was "like in substance" but not necessarily to be identified with the essence of the Father.

  • Homoeanism (also from ὅμοιος), which declared that the Son was similar to God the Father, without reference to substance or essence. Some supporters of Homoean formulae also supported one of the other descriptions. Other Homoeans declared that 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 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.

Further information is also available from this same source . . . .

Homoousion - Wikipedia

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Why was homoousios used in the Nicene Creed?

The short answer is: The dogma of the Trinity was at stake!

Just because ὁμοούσιον does not appear in the Bible not in any other Creeds prior to Nicaea that the Nicean Creed should not be accepted! The entire creed has to be looked at as a whole.

In the two thousand years of church history Christians are continuously coming up with terms to express the various definitions of their faith. It is simply part of their organic development of trying to make clear their faith, in a logical well mannered way.

The word Trinity is equally not found in Sacred Scriptures either. But the vast majority of Christians are Trinitarians.

Another example is that the term "transubstantiation" was used at least by the 11th century to speak of the change in substances in the Holy Eucharist and was in widespread use by the 12th century.

Hosius of Corduba and not Constantine presided over the Council of Nicaea, as his name appears first on the list of participants.

Emperor Constantine eventually moved the convocation to the First Council of Nicaea which opened on 20 May 325. Hosius probably presided over it, as his name appears first on the list of participants. Hosius ostensibly supported Alexander of Alexandria against Arius. After the Council, Hosius returned to his diocese in Spain. - Hosius of Corduba

So why was the term homoousios used in the Nicene Creed? It quite simple: The dogma of the Trinity was at stake.

Homoousion

(Gr. homoousion - from homos, same, and ousia, essence; Latin consubstantialem, of one essence or substance), the word used by the Council of Nicaea (325) to express the Divinity of Christ. Arius had taught that the Son, being, in the language of Philo, the Intermediator between God and the world, was not eternal, and therefore not of the Divine substance, but a creature brought forth by the free will of God. Homoousion was indeed used by philosophical writers to signify "of the same or similar substance"; but as the unity of the Divine nature wasn't questioned, the word carried the fuller meaning: "of one and the same substance". However, not only is homos ambiguous; the word ousia itself was often taken as equivalent to hypostasis (person), as apparently is the case in the anathema attached to the Nicene Symbol. And therefore the affirmation of the identity of nature might be taken in the heretical sense of the Sabellians, who denied the distinction of person. It was only after many years of controversy that the two words acquired their distinct meanings, and the orthodox were able to describe the Trinity as one in ousia and three in hypostasis or persona. Previously to the Council of Nicaea, Tertullian had already used the Latin equivalent of Homoousion, conceding to Praxeas the Sabellian that the Father and the Son were unius substantiae, of one substance, but adding duarum personarum, of two persons (Adv. Prax., xiii). And Dionysius of Alexandria used the actual word in a letter to Dionysius of Rome (Athan., "De dec. Syn. Nic.", xxv, 26) and again in his letter to Paul of Samosata. On the other hand, Origen, who is, however, inconsistent in his vocabulary, expressed the anti-Sabellian sense of Dionysius of Alexandria by calling the Son "Heteroousion". The question was brought into discussion by the Council of Antioch (264-272); and the Fathers seem to have rejected Homoousion, even going so far as to propose the phrase heteras ousias, that is, Heteroousion, "of other or different ousia". Athanasius and Basil give as the reason for this rejection of Homoousion the fact that the Sabellian Paul of Samosata took it to mean "of the same of similar substance". But Hilary says that Paul himself admitted it in the Sabellian sense "of the same substance or person", and thus compelled the council to allow him the prescriptive right to the expression. Now, if we may take Hilary's explanation, it is obvious that when, half a century afterwards, Arius denied the Son to be of the Divine ousia or substance, the situation was exactly reversed. Homoousion directly contradicted the heretic. In the conflicts which ensued, the extreme Arians persisted in the Heteroousion Symbol. But the Semi-Arians were more moderate, and consequently more plausible, in their Homoiousion (of like substance). When one considers how the four creeds formulated at Antioch (341) by the Semi-Arians approached the Nicene Creed as nearly as possible without the actual word Homoousion, there may be a temptation to think that the question was one of words only; and the Councils of Rimini and Seleucia (359) may seem to have been well advised in their conciliatory formula "that the Son was like the Father in all things, according to the Holy Writ". But this very formula was forced from the Fathers by the Emperor Constantius; and the force and fraud which the Semi-Arians used throughout the greater part of the fourth century, are proof sufficient that the dispute was not merely verbal. The dogma of the Trinity was at stake, and Homoousion proved itself to be in the words of Epiphanius "the bond of faith", or, according to the expression of Marius Victorinus, "the rampart and wall of orthodoxy."

It is also true that the Council of Ephesus forbids the writing of new creeds, but it does not forbid explaining the decrees in a clearer manner. This is the reason why homoousion was eventually dropped.

Nicaea dealt primarily with the Arian controversy. And Constantine was torn between the Arian and Trinitarian beliefs. Thus he was obviously a believer, even though a catechumen at that time. Athanasius, wrote that it was "the Fathers" who decided on the word. Many of these bishops still remembered the Roman persecutions and would naturally not be overly influenced simply by Constantine. The proof of this is that the Champion of the doctrine of the Trinity, Athanasius was eventually exiled by the Emperor Constantine who was influenced by the Arians.

Bishop (or Patriarch, the highest ecclesial rank in the Centre of the Church, in Alexandria) Alexander ordained Athanasius a deacon in 319. In 325, Athanasius served as Alexander's secretary at the First Council of Nicaea. Already a recognized theologian and ascetic, he was the obvious choice to replace his ageing mentor Alexander as the Patriarch of Alexandria, despite the opposition of the followers of Arius and Meletius of Lycopolis.

At length, in the Council of Nicaea, the term "consubstantial" (homoousion) was adopted, and a formulary of faith embodying it was drawn up by Hosius of Córdoba. From this time to the end of the Arian controversies, the word "consubstantial" continued to be the test of orthodoxy. The formulary of faith drawn up by Hosius is known as the Nicene Creed. However, "he was not the originator of the famous 'homoousion' (ACC of homoousios). The term had been proposed in a non-obvious and illegitimate sense by Paul of Samosata to the Fathers at Antioch, and had been rejected by them as savouring of materialistic conceptions of the Godhead." - Athanasius

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In the year 325 C.E., the Roman Emperor Constantine convened a council of bishops in the city of Nicaea in Asia Minor. His purpose was to resolve the continuing religious disputes over the relationship of the Son of God to Almighty God. Regarding the results of that council, the Encyclopædia Britannica says:

Constantine himself presided, actively guiding the discussions, and personally proposed . . . the crucial formula expressing the relation of Christ to God in the creed issued by the council, ‘of one substance [ho·mo·ouʹsi·os] with the Father.’ . . . Overawed by the emperor, the bishops, with two exceptions only, signed the creed, many of them much against their inclination.”⁠ (Encyclopædia Britannica, 1971, Constantine, Vol. 6, p. 386)***

Did this non-Christian ruler intervene because of his Biblical convictions? No. “A Short History of Christian Doctrine” states:

“Constantine had basically no understanding whatsoever of the questions that were being asked in Greek theology.”⁠What he did understand was that religious disputes threatened the unity of his empire, and he wanted them resolved.

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    Greek was the language of commerce in Constantine's day. Not surprising that Greek philosophy was commonly known back then. To brush off Constantine as a non-Christian is misleading. Just before his death in May 337, it is claimed that Constantine was baptised into Christianity. Until this time he had been a catechumen for most of his adult life. He believed that if he waited to get baptized on his death bed he was in less danger of polluting his soul with sin and not getting to heaven. This type of spirituality is hard to understand in Christian culture, but was not unknown in antiquity.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Feb 13, 2023 at 22:37
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    The language of commerce means that Greek was used in international settings and for commerce. Greek was that popular. Constantine although not baptized at that time of the Council, was certainly a believer. Until Nicaea, all previous Church councils had been local or regional synods affecting only portions of the Church. Nicaea dealt primarily with the Arian controversy. Constantine was torn between the Arian and Trinitarian camps. He was obviously a believer. Athanasius, wrote that it was "the Fathers" who decided on the word.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 1:04
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    @User 14 Can we have the link to verify that partial quote you made, or do I have to dig it out from my library containing information from the J.W. Trinity publication?
    – Lesley
    Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 8:33
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    Hosius of Corduba and not Constantine presided over the Council of Nicaea.The formulary of faith drawn up by Hosius is known as the Nicene Creed.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 3:07
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    Constantine invited the bishops of the Roman Empire but did not compel the bishops to go. Remember some of these men suffered in the Roman persecutions so they would be cautious about the Emperor's dealings. Some of the bishops had actually been tortured prior to 313 AD. These men were giants in the faith, like St. Athanasius. Constantine did not preside over the Council, that is the duty of bishops and not emperors. If Constantine had no understanding of the subject matter being asked, why would the bishops allow him to preside?
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 12:51
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It is simple; they had to account for the failing of the flesh on the cross. God's flesh could never fail, therefore Jesus, who's flesh failed, could not be of the body of God, who is eternal.

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    Is there a particular Bible passage that leads you to say that Jesus's flesh failed? I don't think I've ever heard someone say that before.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 22:12
  • I think it's the part where he died. I'm not sure, but maybe take a look at Luke 23:26-49.
    – Shōgun8
    Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 22:14
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    Yeah it doesn't specifically say that Jesus's flesh failed. You could argue instead that his flesh succeeded, as through his death he accomplished the greatest act of love and rescue anyone has ever done!
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 22:16
  • LOL. His body died. That is the very definition of failing flesh. It's not like 'failed flesh' means that his body got an F or something. Your body fails when it stops supporting the brain. Have you have heard of heart failure? A heart fails when it cannot pass blood to the brain. Your kidneys fail when they can no longer clean your blood of poisons. When all of your organs fail, as in death, your flesh has failed. That's because flesh is the word that is used to describe your body as a whole.
    – Shōgun8
    Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 22:25
  • And yet most Christians would say Jesus wasn't forced to die (he could have got up off that cross at any time, instantly healing all his wounds), but that he willingly gave up his life. His death was both the same as ours and nothing like it. That's why I'd want to see more Biblical evidence before concluding that his flesh failed.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 23:03

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