Where does the term consubstantial in the Creed come from and what does it mean?

The wording goes back to an early Christian debate as to who Jesus is.  Some said Jesus was human but not divine; some said he was divine but not human.  We have remnants of those fights with us still today. 

Please keep in mind that the original Nicene Creed was written in Greek about the year 351.  In the prior translation of the Creed the English phrases “of one being” and “one in being” were used to translate the Latin word consubstantialis, which is a translation of the Greek word homoousios.  The term homoousios comes from Greek metaphysics and is used to clarify that while Jesus and the Father and the Holy Spirit are different persons there is only one God, and that God, regardless of the person, is a single being.  Thus, the term consubstantial means of the same substance or same essence.

As a trivial note… have you ever heard the phrase there isn’t one iota difference?  It goes back to this debate.  The competing term at that council was homoiousios meaning “similar essence”; it was favored by the moderates among the Arians, the Semi-arians. Because of how close these two words are in the Greek, it has been said that there was only “one iota” of difference between them.  (

Author: yuengerwv

Retired Catholic Priest

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