The word Homoousios originates from Egyptian Paganism.


The Nicene Creed says that the Son of God is homoousios (of the same substance as) the Father. The word homoousios does not appear in the Bible and was not part of the standard Christian language before Nicaea. So, where did it come from, and who put it in the Creed? 

The Nicene Creed was intended to bring an end to the Controversy. However, the term homoousios remained an issue of controversy for 55 years after Nicaea in 325. In this period, the Controversy was no longer about Arius’ theology.

Another article shows that, before Nicaea, the only Christians who favored the term were Sabellians. That article is required pre-reading.

So, why was the term included? This article evaluates several options but concludes that it was included because Emperor Constantine insisted on it.

The Arians objected to the word homoousios because it seems to say that God has a physical body and because of its Sabellian connotations. However, the pro-Nicenes also disliked this word. For example, after Nicaea, nobody mentions the term for over twenty years, and at the Council of the Western Bishops at Sardica in the year 343, these pro-Nicene theologians replaced homoousios with “one hypostasis.”

So, since there is no “evidence of a normal, well-established Christian use of the term homoousios in its strictly Trinitarian meaning, either before or during Constantine’s time, where did Constantine get this word?

RPC Hanson wrote that homoousios was “borrowed from the pagan philosophy” (RH, 846). This article shows that the word homoousios is an integral part of the theological terminology of Hellenistic-Roman Egypt. In both Egyptian paganism and the Nicene Creed, the word meant that the Nous-Father and the Logos-Son, who are two distinct beings, share the same perfection of the divine nature. The theological use of homoousios, therefore, should be traced back to its real pre-Christian Egyptian roots.


This article relies on the following sources:

Beatrice – A 2002 article by Pier Franco Beatrice, professor of Early Christian Literature at the University of Padua, Italy, on the origin of the word homoousios in the Nicene Creed. Unless otherwise stated, all assertions in this article are from Beatrice’s article.

RH = Bishop RPC Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God – The Arian Controversy 318-381

RW = Archbishop Rowan Williams, Arius, Heresy & Tradition, 2001


The Nicene Creed says that the Son is of the same substance (homoousios) as the Father. Since the word does not appear in the Bible, the purpose of this article is to determine the origin of this word, who added it to the Nicene Creed, and what it meant at the time. 

Cause of the Controversy

It is usually thought that the Arian Controversy was caused by Arius’ theology. That may be true for the first seven years until Nicaea in 325 but that council made a quick end to Arius’ theology. During the main part of the Controversy – after Nicaea – the Controversy was about the Creed’s use of these “radical words” to describe the Son; no longer about Arius’ theology. For example:

Williams refers to “the conservative anti-Nicene response” in “the first half of the fourth century” (RW, 236).

And he says, “Arianism,’ throughout most of the fourth century, was in fact a loose and uneasy coalition of those hostile to Nicaea in general and the homoousios in particular” (RW, 166).

The term homoousios is often regarded as the most important word in the Creed.

Pre-Nicene Uses

For a discussion of the pre-Nicene uses of Homoousios, see – The Meaning of Homoousios. It concludes that. before Nicaea, the only Christians who favored the term were Sabellians. That article is required pre-reading.

Who proposed the word?

So, if the word homoousios is not found in the Holy Scriptures or in the orthodox Christian confession before Nicaea but rather in Sabellianism, why was it included in the Nicene Creed, which is regarded by some as the most important of all Christian creeds?

Scholars do not agree on this. There remains significant disagreement about how the word was used before the year 325, why it was included in the Creed, and by whom. The following are possible explanations:

1. Emperor Constantine

Eusebius of Caesarea, who is “universally acknowledged to be the most scholarly bishop of his day” (RH, 46), has already before Nicaea denied that other beings share the same substance of God. He was the leader of the “Originist”-party at Nicaea in 325 (Erickson).

In his letter to his church in Caesarea, written immediately after the Nicene Council in 325, Eusebius attempted to justify the fact that he had subscribed to the Creed of Nicaea containing the word homoousios. One of the things he wrote is that the word homoousios was inserted into the Nicene Creed solely at the insistence of Emperor Constantine. Since Eusebius wrote this immediately after the end of the council and given his high status, it would seem impossible to deny that his report is substantially reliable.

Given the modern culture of religious freedom, the reader might find it strange that an emperor can insist on the inclusion of a key word in a church decree. However, as RPC Hanson stated:

“If we ask the question, what was considered to constitute the ultimate authority in doctrine (during the Arian Controversy), there can be only one answer. The will of the Emperor was the final authority” (RH, 849).

We also need to remember that the so-called ‘ecumenical’ church councils of the fourth century were “the very invention and creation of the Emperor” (RH, 855). “Everybody recognised the right of an Emperor to call a council, or even to veto or quash its being called” (RH, 849-50). “The Emperor was expected to dominate and control them” (RH, 855).

2. Eusebius of Caesarea

Rowan Williams has a different proposal. He argues that Eusebius of Caesarea managed to develop an understanding of homoousios that was acceptable to almost everybody and that he coached the emperor to provide that explanation. He describes that explanation in his letter to his home church (RW, 69-70).

But, if Eusebius of Caesarea fundamentally disagreed with the word homoousios, what would motivate him to develop an ‘acceptable’ understanding? Is it not better to accept the word of the highly respected Eusebius, namely that the emperor enforced the formula?

3. To Repel the Arians

“Ambrose adds that … the bishops decided to include the word in the creed, seeing how strongly the Arians disliked it.” (RW, 69) In other words, they included the word in the Creed simply to force the Arians to reject the Creed so that the emperor could exile them; not because it was regarded as an important Christian word or concept.

However, Ambrose did not attend the council at Nicaea and had no direct contact with its delegates. He only wrote in the second half of the fourth century and Beatrice states that Ambrose does not seem to be well-informed about the details of the council.

Furthermore, if it was included to force the Arians to reject the Creed, that would explain WHY the word was included, not WHO advocated for it.

4. Western Theology

Some modern German scholars have claimed that homoousios was adopted at Nicaea because it expressed the Western theology of the Spanish bishop Ossius.

Supporters of this view point out that Tertullian was the first Western theologian to use the expression “unius substantiae” (one substance) in a Trinitarian context. They then propose that the word homoousios was the Greek equivalent of the Latin unius substantiae and that its introduction into the Nicene Creed was a victory for the Western tradition.

However, for the following reasons, Beatrice concludes that this thesis is to be rejected.

Firstly, as RPC Hanson stated: “We have no satisfactory evidence that it [i.e. homoousios] was a term at home in Western theology” (RH, 201).

Secondly, at the council of the ‘Western’ bishops held at Sardica in 343, where Ossius could freely express his thoughts, the word homoousios was ignored. The Western bishops wrote: “We … teach, that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost have one hypostasis.”

Thirdly, Tertullian translated the word homoousios, which was used before his time by the Gnostics, as “consubstantialis” and not as “unius substantiae.” He, therefore, did not regard homoousios, at least as it was used by the Gnostics, to be the Greek equivalent of the Latin unius substantiate. The discussion of Tertullian’s theology elaborates on this point.

5. The Delegates

Athanasius wrote that the delegates to the council decided to include the word.

However, the Arian historian Philostorgius wrote that one of the parties at the council, under the leadership of Ossius of Cordova, formulated a draft creed before the meeting and that Ossius presented that creed at the council in his capacity as chairperson (RW, 69). In other words, it was not proposed from the floor.


By exclusion, the only remaining explanation is the one provided by Eusebius of Caesarea, namely that the word homoousios was included in the creed because Emperor Constantine insisted on it. So, where did he get it?

Response from the Delegates


The Arians opposed the word homoousios for several reasons, including that:

It gives the impression that God has a physical body, which everybody denies. Arius specifically connected the word homoousios with the “materialistic” theology of Mani.

They regarded the word to be Sabellian and, therefore, that it confounds the Persons of the Trinity. For example, Hanson noted that “the Arians always accuse the pro-Nicenes of confounding the Persons of the Trinity.” (RH, 102)


However, it is important to understand that the anti-Arians also disliked this word. Beatrice says that they were “strikingly reticent about homoousios, in a way that reminds us of Dionysius of Rome.” The following confirms this:

1. Eusebius of Caesarea unambiguously stated that it was Constantine, and nobody else, not even the anti-Arians, who wanted the word homoousios.

2. The word falls completely out of the controversy very shortly after the Council of Nicaea and is not heard of for over twenty years (See – Hanson Lecture). “Even Athanasius for about twenty years after Nicaea is strangely silent about this adjective (homoousios) which had been formally adopted into the creed of the Church in 325” (RH, 58-59). See also, Why was Homoousios not mentioned after Nicaea?

3. At the Council of the Western bishops at Sardica in the year 343, where they gave a different explanation of the relationship between the Father and the Son, the pro-Nicene theologians Ossius of Cordova and Marcellus of Ancyra omitted the word. This was, without doubt, an intentional omission.

4. At the end of his long life, spent resisting Arianism, Ossius participated in drafting the “blasphemy” of Sirmium (AD 357). That creed states that neither homoousios nor homoiousios are Biblical and that inquiries about God’s essence are beyond human understanding.1Sozomen, Hist. eccl. IV,12,6 (SC 418, 242) This seems to be decisive proof that Ossius had no responsibility at all for the introduction of homoousios in the Creed of Nicaea.

5. Eustathius, archbishop of Antioch in the 4th century, whose anti-Arian polemic against Eusebius of Nicomedia made him unpopular among his fellow bishops in the East, openly expressed his dissatisfaction with the formula approved at Nicaea, complaining that he and his anti-Arian fellows had been reduced to silence to preserve peace.

Since the anti-Arians also disliked this word, it could not have been ‘suggested’ to Constantine by his “orthodox” advisers. Homoousios was a stumbling block for all attendees to the council, without distinction; Arians and anti-Arians.

Pagan Origin

So, since there is no “evidence of a normal, well-established Christian use of the term homoousios in its strictly Trinitarian meaning” either before or during Constantine’s time, why did he insist on the inclusion of the word? Where did Constantine get this word that the Arians openly rejected and the pro-Nicenes regarded with suspicion if not with hostility? And what was the meaning of this word in Constantine’s mind, that compelled him to challenge both parties in this way?

Hanson described homoousios as a new term “borrowed from the pagan philosophy” (RH, 846) but he does not elaborate. Beatrice agrees that, since Christian tradition does not answer these questions, we turn to the pagan world.

The Poimandres

The only pagan text known so far that uses homoousios in a discussion specifically and exclusively concerned with the nature of God is the Poimandres, the first tractate of the Corpus Hermeticum. This is the mystic doctrine of the Egyptian scribe-priests. It describes the following divine beings:

      • The Nous (Mind) is the supreme God.
      • The Logos (Word) proceeds from him and is the Son of God.
      • By speaking, the Nous generated a second Nous, the Demiurge … who crafted the sensible world.

The important point is that the Poimandres states that both the Logos and the Demiurge are homoousios.

It is possible that the writer of the Poimandres borrowed the word homoousios from Christian theology. However, Beatrice argues that, although the Poimandres uses Hellenistic philosophical terminology, it reflects the genuinely pagan doctrine of the Egyptian priests. In other words, the concept of homoousios characterizes the overall Hermetic conception of the Godhead, making it likely that the word originates from the mystic doctrine of the Egyptian scribe-priests.

The Theosophia

Beatrice also quotes from the Theosophia, but this is a sixth-century document and has many similarities to the Trinity doctrine. For example:

“There was a unique Nous, more intelligent than all … 
from him the intelligent Logos, creator of the universe, eternally incorruptible Son … one with the Father. Distinct from the Father only by name … being from the glory of the Father, consubstantial (homoousios) … 
with the prime holy Pneuma and beginning of life.”

“They are three, but they are only one nature.”

“They are a pure trinity, being the one in the other.”

“The Son-Logos is God as is the Father, since his substance is derived from the substance of the Father.”

Because of these similarities to the Trinity doctrine, I believe that the Theosophia are “forgeries” fabricated to demonstrate harmony between pagan wisdom and the Christianity of that day. In support of this view, Beatrice mentions that the Theosophia at times report some blatantly bogus oracles.

Constantine and Hermeticism

So, was Constantine familiar with the Hermetic tradition? Beatrice argues that Constantine was not only familiar with it but that the Hermetic tradition had a strong influence on Constantine’s religious thought. Beatrice argues as follows:

Firstly, in his youth, Constantine certainly had contact with pagan philosophers at Diocletian’s court.

Secondly, in Constantine’s so-called Speech to the Assembly of the Saints, Constantine praises Plato for having said many true things about God, including that Plato taught:

          1. Two Gods having the same perfection;
          2. The second receives its subsistence from the first and is subordinate to the first;
          3. The first works through the second.

Beatrice argues that this statement with its two gods has no relation at all with Plato’s real doctrine but that it is similar to Hermeticism.

Thirdly, Lactantius, one of Constantine’s advisors, also claimed that “Plato spoke about the first God and the second god” but then adds, “Plato perhaps was following the teaching of Hermes Trismegistus.” Although Lactantius recognizes two distinct gods, he still thinks that the Father and the Son have in common one Mind, one Spirit, and one Substance, according to the Hermetic doctrine of “consubstantiality.” So, perhaps Lactantius influenced Constantine to interpret Plato’s theology as Hermetic.

Fourthly, just a few months after the Nicene council, Constantine wrote a disconcerting letter to the Church of Nicomedia in which he described Jesus by using concepts from Egyptian paganism. He wrote: “Christ is called Father as he eternally begets his Aion, and that he is called Son as he is the Will of the Father.” This confirms Constantine’s involvement with Egyptian paganism, for Aion is also the name of the Son of the virgin Kore, whose birth was celebrated in Egyptian rituals. And the notion of the creative will of God is found again in the Poimandres and the Asclepius. 

Fifthly, it is normally said that Constantine ascribed his victory to the Christian God but the anonymous pagan panegyrist of Trier in the year 313 identified the divine Mind (the Hermetic Nous) as the source of the emperor’s inspiration. And the inscription on the arch (315 C.E.) attributes the victory of Constantine at the battle of the Milvian Bridge to the inspiration of the Divinity and the greatness of the “divine Mind.”

Sixthly, in a document dated 326 AD, Nicagoras, torchbearer of the Eleusinian Mysteries, thanked Constantine for allowing him to visit the underground passages of the Valley of the Kings near Thebes in Upper Egypt–many centuries after the “divine” Plato visited the same places. This shows that Constantine maintained close personal contact with “pagan” intellectuals such as Nicagoras. It is also important that the word homoousios has been preserved in those underground passages, as recorded by the Theosophia.


Particularly, the Poimandres shows that the word homoousios was an integral part of the theological terminology of Hellenistic-Roman Egypt. In both Egyptian paganism and the Nicene Creed, the word meant that the Nous-Father and the Logos-Son, who are two distinct beings, share the same perfection of the divine nature. The theological use of homoousios, therefore, should be traced back to its real Egyptian, pre-Christian roots.

But what did the word mean for Constantine? Beatrice concludes that Constantine:

Fully shared the concern of the Fathers of Nicaea in sustaining the divine nature of the Logos-Son against the threat of Arian subordinationism. He imposed homoousios in order to place the Logos-Son unequivocally on the side of the transcendent Father.

Did not adopt the word with the sole “political” aim of isolating Arius.

Did not support Sabellian or Monarchian theology because, in his thought, consistent with the ancient Egyptian theology, the word homoousios did not contradict the distinction of two divine ousiai.

Other Articles

External sources:


  • 1
    Sozomen, Hist. eccl. IV,12,6 (SC 418, 242)
  • 2
    Overview of the history, from the pre-Nicene Church Fathers, through the fourth-century Arian Controversy

2 Replies to “The word Homoousios originates from Egyptian Paganism.”

  1. Hey there, I found your website while looking for a citation for where Eusebius said Constantine insisted on using homoousios. Do you have that? Great article. I just dropped out of seminary due to so much gnostic BS. I did almost the exact same study you did on ousia. (Have you read Christopher Stead?)

    Great job on the study. I’m digging down to try to prove the connection between the pre-Socratic Greeks and the Babylonian worldview. Right now, I’m working on proving Plato stood under Parmenedies idea of our imaginations having an origin in reality (the ideal) and showing how this presumption was sucked into the church to justify progressive theology.

    Anyway, I have a YouTube channel where I cover this, and I am polishing up an SBL cited version of my book on The Revelation. Reach out if you’d be open to a convo.


    1. Hi Aaron
      I have an article where I discuss Eusebius’ letter that he wrote after the Nicene Council. Eusebius I do not remember whether he said directly that Constantine insisted on the term homoousios, but the emperor’s influence is clear.
      I have not read Stead himself, but I am reading the three books by Hanson, Williams, and Ayres, and they refer to Stead from time to time.

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