Homoousia and the Creed of Nicaea
(homoousion to parti)
Many think that by the time of the Council of Nicaea the Monarchian doctrine had all but vanished. What we are about to see will show that thought is far from the truth.
The Arian controversy had reached a fervor, something had to be done, or, it seemed all would be lost. The council was called to forge a document that all the bishops could sign stating an orthodoxy for the Church. Two things were apparent, the orthodox meant to forge a document that would deliver the death blow once and for all to the Arians (followers of Arius). And secondly, the Arian bishops fully intended to remain in fellowship, although they had neither the numbers nor the influence to force an Arian document, they meant to force a creed that was ambiguous enough that they, too, could sign.
According to J. N. D. Kelly, “... it is in the fourth characteristic phrase of the creed, the words “of one substance with the Father, homousion to patri, that the full weight of the Orthodox reply to Arianism was concentrated.” This word “homoousios” asserted the full deity of the Christ. This word implied that the Son shared the very being or essence of the Father. It was a strong word, to be sure; a word with which most were uncomfortable, but by it’s use “subordinationism” was defeated. The word “homoousios” caused most of the bishops concern because it had been, for generations, the watchword of the Modalist Monarchians. That this word was identified as Monarchian is seen from the account of the two Dionysii, a full sixty years before Nicaea. J. N. D. Kelly gives us the account:
“...current interpretation of “homoousios” was provided by the affair of the two Dionysii in the sixties of the third century. Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria, it will be recalled, had been put to much trouble by an outbreak of Sabellianism (Modalist Monarchianism) in the Libyan Pentapolis. When he took forceful measures to eradicate it, the leaders of the ... group made formal complaint to the Roman pontiff, alleging among other things that the bishop of Alexandria declined to say that the Son was “homoousios with God.” There is little doubt that the Sabellians stood for that ancient and, in popular circles, at any rate, widely established brand of Monarchianism which regarded Jesus Christ as the earthly manifestation of the divine Being. To them the Origenist approach, with its distinction of the three hypostases and its tendency to subordinate the Son, was anathema. When they appealed to “homoousios” as their watchword, they meant by it that the being or substance of the Son was identical with that of the Father. The way in which they invoked “homoousios” in their complaint to the Pope is thus highly significant. It suggests, first, that it was already becoming in certain circles a technical term to describe the relation of the Father and the Son, and, secondly, that they expected it would be recognized and approved at Rome.”
Kelly goes on to say that Pope Dionysius writes to condemn the views reported to him, and that his reply took a markedly Monarchian line.
Along with this event of the two Dionysii, there is Paul of Samosata. In AD 268 Paul of Samosata was condemned by the synod at Antioch on the strength of this very word. Paul invoked ‘homoousios” as his explanation of the oneness of the Father and the Son. For this very word he was condemned. Now, the word that is so identifiable with Monarchianism is being employed in the creed to protect orthodoxy from Arianism.
According to J. N. D. Kelly only a “handful” of the bishops wholeheartedly welcomed the language of the creed (mostly because it was a non-biblical word). These consisted of St. Alexander of Alexandria, St. Eustathius of Antioch, Marcellus of Ancyra, Osias of Cordova and a few others. These bishops welcomed the language of the creed because of the identity of substance between the Father and Son which it entailed. It is more than meaningful to me that these bishops mentioned were, themselves, Monarchians. This is a great testimony to the Monarchian influence upon the Creed of Nicaea.
The Monarchian stamp is visible in at least two places in the Creed of Nicaea: (1) first, in the body of the creed itself, in the word “homoousios,” of the same being or essence; secondly, in the anathema at the end of the creed which states,
“But for those who ...assert that the Son of God is of a different hypostasis or substance, or is subject to alteration or change — these the Catholic and apostolic Church anathematizes.”
By both of these “characteristic phrases” of the Creed of Nicaea the modern Trinitarian would be placed outside of orthodoxy. Since the Second Council of Constantinople (A. D. 553) (2), the catholic church has taken the position that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are, in point of fact, three different hypostases. If modern Trinintatianism is considered, the Creed of Nicaea is more a statement of Monarchianism than Trinitarianism.
1. The Creed of Nicaea Versus the Nicene Creed
In A. D. 325 there was a true ecumenical council conducted in Nicaea, Asia Minor, with 318 bishops present, both Western and Eastern. The Creed of this Council was revised in the year 381 at Constantinople. This Council of A. D. 381, with 150 Bishops, none of which were from the West, produced a Creed that was quite different from the one formulated in Nicaea, just 56 years earlier. Although the Constantinopolitan Creed was (for all intents and purposes) a different document from the Creed of Nicaea, it was injected into the life stream of the Church as The Nicene Creed. This Creed of 150 Eastern bishops (falsely called The Nicene Creed) was, first of all, not ecumenical, because it excluded the Western bishops; and second, it was not Nicene, because it introduced dogma alien to that of Nicaea:
- eternally begotten Son
- places Mary as an equal partner in the incarnation;
- places Jesus in an actual right hand position to God the Father;
- has the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father (later "and from the Son" was added, just when is in dispute: at first it was said to be at the First Council of Toledo in 400, but that is based of a forged canon; then it was commonly stated that it was added at the Third Council of Toledo, in 589; but what can be said in truth is that the first documented appearance in the Nicene Creed of the statement "from the Father and the Son" comes in the Twelfth Council of Toledo, 681.)
- places the Holy Spirit in an equal position of worship with the Father and the Son;
2. Nicene Anathema Versus Constantinople Anathema
At the end of the the Creed of Nicaea (in the year A. D. 325) 318 bishops placed the following anathema, to protect the teaching that Jesus was the same hypostasis (substance, essence, being) as the Father: “Whoso assert that he, the Son of God, is a different hypostasis or ousia, ... Or, changeable or mutable, the Catholic and apostolic Church anathematizes.” History states that many of the bishops present at Nicaea in A. D. 325 were not happy with the wording concerning the oneness of Christ with the Father. However, the Modalist element was strong enough to retain the concept of one hypostasis for the next 228 years, then enter the Second Council of Constantinople, the year was A. D. 553: “If anyone does not confess that the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three ... hypostases, or persons, let him be anathema.” In the light of the fact that the Council of Nicaea in 325 anathematizes those bishops of The Second Council of Constantinople (A. D. 553), and the bishops of the Second Council of Constantinople anathematizes those of the Council of Nicaea (A. D. 325), one cannot, in confidence, blindly accept the councils as being from God. (In 228 years this “Catholic” church totally reversed its position on the person of Christ; and anathemas were being flung across the centuries.)