Consubstantial with the Father

In a few short months, Catholic all across the English-speaking world, will welcome with eagerness the long awaited and newly translated Roman Missal.   Much of the debate, within the circles of translators and the bishops, had surrounded with the familiarity of rhetoric and language of the new missal.   One new theological terms that will require catechesis is restored to the liturgy in the Nicene Creed, prayed on Sundays and Solemnities, a term that was at the center of theological, political and cultural controversy in the 4th century, “consubstantial”.   We will now pray that “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ the Only Begotten Son of God…begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father” (New Roman Missal)  The Creed was the result of the Church’s bishops formulating a response to the heresy of Arianism at the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D.    Arianism taught that Jesus was not God, nor was to be considered equal to the Father, but rather “similar to the Father”.   The Son (the logos) was merely a creature brought into existence by the Father before he created the world.   This meant that this heresy proposed and erroneously taught that Jesus was nothing more than a sort of prophet or semi elevated being used by God in creation, but nonetheless not God himself. 

This heresy caused a great rift and instability in the Church.  The holy Bishop of Alexandria, St. Athanasius, who endured much suffering for his opposition to this heresy, proposed the formula of faith that Jesus was “consubstantial” with the Father, meaning that Jesus, the Son, is of the same substance of God the Father, thus confirming the Church’s belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ.   St. Cyril of Alexandria later developed this in his homilies and letters saying; “the only-begotten Son proceeds from the very substance of God the Father.” (Commentary on the Gospel of John)

Throughout Church history, this denial of Jesus’s divinity continues to manifest itself in various forms even to this day.   This heresy continues to undermine and threatened the Church’s belief in the Holy Trinity and our redemption.    Any denial of Jesus’ divine nature, by reducing him to a prophet (as held by Islam), or merely human being or having committed sin is a rejection of our treasured patrimony of faith.    The “Da Vinci Code” controversy a few years ago was based on a subtle challenge to the Lord’s divinity and is just one more example of the old tired heretical attempts to weaken our Christian faith. 

For this reason, the statement that the “Son of God…is consubstantial with the Father” is restored in the liturgical text that we, as Catholics, will once again reaffirm every Sunday.  It is a fundamental theological statement of our faith in the Holy Trinity.   The current translation affirms that Jesus of “one in being with the Father”, which is ambiguous and does not effectively nor faithful express our belief of the equality of the Father and the Son.   By returning to the original theological affirmation, “consubstantial”, we once again will utter the same word declared by the Council Fathers of Nicaea and subsequently taught by the Apostolic Fathers.   We will reintroduce this dogma of faith into our contemporary catechetical and liturgical lexicon, thus becoming moment to teach and against anything that would undermine the Church’s ancient and firm faith in Jesus Christ, Son of the Father, God in the flesh. 

Fr. Vasquez

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