by Father Bryan Babick, SL.L.
One word we will hear in the revised translation of the Creed this Advent is “consubstantial.” It sounds like the word, “transubstantiation,” which we use to describe the doctrine about how the bread and wine used at Mass are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ.
In the translation of the Nicene Creed we currently use we say Jesus is “one in being with the Father.” “One in being” will be replaced with the single word, “consubstantial.” The Council of Nicea chose the word, “homo-ousios,” or same-being, to describe the relationship between God the Father and God the Son.
Homoousios is not found in the Bible, but ousia is found twice in the Parable about the Prodigal Son. In Luke 15:12 the prodigal son says, “Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.” When Luke wrote his Gospel, he used the feminine version of the Greek word ousias to describe the prodigal son’s portion of the estate that he wanted from his dad. We often think of an estate as something someone owns, or leaves behind when they die. In a sense, that which belongs to us is part of our being, or existence at that moment. The early Church Fathers at the Council of Nicea chose homoousios to describe the essence of Jesus Christ because it so clearly confirmed the identity of Jesus as God.
This is the point of using “consubstantial” in the Creed. Jesus Christ is of the same estate, or existence, as God. He is not simply one with Him, as we currently express in saying “one in being with the Father.” Instead, Jesus is God. In ancient philosophical terminology, substance didn’t mean the material out of which something is made, but it described the essence of what a thing is. Our essence is to be human; our material is the body.
To say that Jesus is “consubstantial with the Father” is to say nothing other than He is of the same nature as God the Father. Scripture records that Jesus is divine. In the Gospel of John, Saint Philip asks Jesus to show him the Father and Jesus replies, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?”
This brings me to a simple, practical analogy to make sense of the word, “consubstantial.” Every analogy necessarily breaks down, of course, but consider that when you eat at a restaurant that allows you to select and fill your own drink from a soda fountain or a coffee pot, you often go for a free refill. Rarely do you put a different kind of soda or type of coffee, which is a substance, in the same cup you used for the first fill. You would fill it with the same substance.
When God came into the World, He came Himself, not some substitute of lesser stature, or different flavor. Consubstantial may not be a word we use often, but there’s no better word to describe the relationship between God the Father and God the Son.