One in Being with the Father

FR. KENNETH BAKER, S.J.

In the older translations of the Nicene Creed we used to profess of Jesus that he is "consubstantial with the Father".

Since most Catholics are not acquainted with Greek philosophy and did not really know what the word "consubstantial" meant, the decision was made to translate the Latin consubstantialis (Greek: homoousios) by the English expression "one in Being" with the Father. The hope was that this expression would more clearly convey to all the faithful the orthodox belief of the Church concerning the relationship of Jesus to his Father.

In the third and fourth centuries one of the principle theological concerns was to define the exact relationship of Jesus the Son to the Father. The Arians said that the Son or Word was the first creature that God created — the noblest of all, but still a creature. This idea is not in accord with traditional Christian belief. It conflicted also with Scripture, for Jesus had said, "I and the Father are one" (Jn 10:30; 14:9-10). So it was a question of whether or not Jesus was fully divine. Is Jesus God in the same sense in which the Father is God?

There was much discussion about the question. Some of the early Fathers said that Jesus was "of one substance" with the Father. Some of the Greek Fathers, notably St. Athanasius, said that he was "consubstantial" (homoousios) with the Father. This was one of the questions that led to the calling of the first ecumenical council at the city of Nicea, near Constantinople, in the year 325 A.D. The bishops at that council rejected the Arian contention that the Word of God (Jesus) is the first creature of the Father. They proclaimed instead that the Catholic belief holds that the Son is fully equal to the Father. They said that he is "God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made." Each of these expressions has its own particular meaning which we explained previously. The council them summarized all of these statements in the key expression, that was to become the test of orthodoxy, by adding that Jesus is "one in Being (consubstantial) with the Father".

We are dealing here with the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. In this matter it is always important to remember that there is only one God who is tri-personal — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. By saying that Jesus is "one in Being with the Father", the Church is asserting that Jesus is fully God, just as the Father is. Both share in the one divine nature or substance. Jesus proceeds from the Father but he retains the same being as the Father. Jesus is not a separate being from the Father, as is the case among creatures when a man and a woman generate a son. The son has the same specific nature as his parents, but he is a separate, independent being. Not so in the divine inner life. The Son is and exists by the same identical being as the Father does. This key idea was proclaimed by the first Council of Nicea and is now found in the Nicene Creed which has been prayed by the Church since that time. Some of the bishops at the Council of Nicea had difficulty with the expression "consubstantial" (homoousios) because it does not occur in the New Testament. The problem was resolved when they finally agreed that, even though the word itself is Greek in origin, the idea expressed by it is implied in the words of Jesus in the Gospels (see Jn 14:9-10).

The significance of the expression is that Jesus, who is one of us, is also God himself. This means that God is no longer removed from man. He has come near to us in Jesus of Nazareth. Now we know for sure that God loves us and is approachable.

See the index of chapters from Fundamentals of Catholicism which have been reprinted to CERC here.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Kenneth Baker, S.J. "One in Being with the Father." In Fundamentals of Catholicism Vol. 1 Chapter 14 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 50-51.

This article reprinted with permission from Father Kenneth Baker, S.J.

THE AUTHOR

Rev. Kenneth Baker, S.J., has served for the past thirty years as editor of the Homiletic & Pastoral Review. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1947. In 1970 he served as president of Seattle University and in 1971 became editor of the Homiletic & Pastoral Review. In 1973 he published his translation of the Philosophical Dictionary and adapted it to American usage. In 1975 he became president of Catholic Views Broadcasts, Inc., which produces a weekly 15-minute radio program that airs on 50 stations across the United States. He has built and run three community television stations. In 1983 he published a three-volume explation of the faith called Fundamentals of Catholicism Vol. 1, Creed and Commandments; Vol. 2, God, Trinity, Creation, Christ, Mary; and Vol. 3, Grace, the Church, the Sacraments, Eschatology.

Copyright 1995 Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J.


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