Nicene Creed: The meaning of: “He is of another substance or essence”

Question

In the 325 Nicene Creed, what is the meaning of the phrase:

“He is of another substance or essence?”

The Anathemas

The views that are condemned in the last part of the Nicene Creed may be divided as follows:

      1. There was a time when he was not (Wikipedia). Or probably more literally, “There was when He was not” (Earlychurchtexts).
      2. He was not before he was made.
      3. He was made out of nothing.
      4. He is of another substance or essence,
      5. The Son of God is created, or changeable, or alterable.

The first two anathemas are about WHEN He began to exist. The affirmations earlier in the creed do not say anything specific in this regard but do state that all things came to be through Him. If we assume time is included in “all things,” then that would affirm that there was no “time when he was not.”

The third anathema is about OUT OF WHAT He came to exist. Rather than “out of nothing,” as in the anathemas, the affirmations say that He is “begotten of the Father … that is, of the essence (ousia) of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.”

My question relates to the fourth anathema. What is the meaning of the Greek word or phrase in this phrase that is translated as “of?” Stated differently, is this condemnation also about OUT OF WHAT substance He came to be, or is it about the substance HE CONSISTS OF?

Just reading the English, the following seems to indicate that this condemnation is about OUT OF WHAT substance He came to be:

(a) Just like the first two anathemas form a pair, it seems as if the third and fourth anathemas also form a pair.

(b) The phrase “He is of another substance” seems to be the opposite of the affirmation, He is “begotten … of the essence of the Father.”

(c) Earlier in the creed, it is said that the Son is “God of God” (Wikipedia). In this phrase, “God” describes WHAT the Son is and “of” describes OUT OF WHAT He came to exist. If the word “of” has the same meaning in the fourth anathema, then that anathema may be about OUT OF WHAT He came to exist.

Alternatively, this anathema could relate to the word homoousion in the body of the creed. In that case, it would be a statement about the substance HE CONSISTS OF.

Why do I ask this question?

I ask this question because I am trying to work out what exactly the main issue of the debate was at Nicaea.

Given that 80% of the words of the creed are about Christ, they did not argue about the Father or about the Holy Spirit. The dispute was only about Christ. But what was the main dispute?

Firstly, the anathemas state that He ALWAYS EXISTED, but that is not explicitly mentioned in the body of the creed. So, I assume that that was not the main point of dispute.

Secondly, most of the text about Christ in the affirmations are about HOW HE CAME TO EXIST,  namely:

“Begotten from the Father,
only-begotten,
that is, from the substance of the Father,
God from God,
light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten not made.”

I do not think that this quote refers to Christ’s substance. It only refers to the substance out of which He was begotten. The third anathema contains a similar statement, namely that He did not come into existence out of nothing. Given the emphasis on this point in the creed, I would assume that this was the main matter of dispute.

Thirdly, the affirmations contain the statement that He is homoousion with the Father. This now refers to His own substance; not to the substance out of which He was begotten. But this statement seems quite isolated. Unless the fourth condemnation relates to the word homoousion, nothing else in the creed refers directly to His own substance. It is for that reason that I am trying to work out what the statement, that “He is (not) of another substance or essence,” means:

    • That He is begotten out of the substance of the Father, or
    • That he has the same substance as the Father.

Is this a stupid question?

Many people would regard this as a meaningless question and simply read the creed in terms of how it was later explained. But, as Hanson stated, the Nicene creed, at the time:

“Confounded the confusion because its use of the words ousia and hypostasis was so ambiguous as to suggest that the Fathers of Nicaea had fallen into Sabellianism.”

Boyd also stated that:

“The creed of Nicaea … only added increased confusion and complication to the problem it was intended to solve.”

As discussed in my answer on the question, Why ousia and hypostasis were synonymous in the Nicene Creed:

Before the Christian era, ousia and hypostasis had the same meaning. Ancient Greek philosophers used these terms for the fundamental reality that supports all else. (link)

In contrast, in the Trinity doctrine, hypostasis means person and ousia means substance or essence. This change in the meaning of hypostasis did not occur over time as a natural process of evolution. Rather, it was explicitly to counter the suspicion that the creed teaches modalism that supporters of the Nicene Creed proposed a new meaning for hypostasis. (link)

For that reason, it is appropriate for us to analyze and interpret the Nicene Creed of 325 in the context of the meanings that words had at that time.

Conclusion

This is a question I posted on Stackexchange. This is really a question about the word homoousion in the Nicene Creed. It is known that that word was inserted into that creed on the insistence of Emperor Constantine. For example:

Jörg Ulrich wrote:

“Homoousious” and “from the essence of the Father” were added to the creed by Constantine himself, bearing witness to the extent of his influence at the council. (Jörg Ulrich. “Nicaea and the West.” Vigiliae Christianae 51, no. 1 (1997): 10-24. 15.)

And the pro-Trinitarian site Bible.CA Trinity: The role of Constantine in the Nicene creed admits:

Constantine did put forth the Nicene creed term “homoousios“. The emperor favored the inclusion of the word homoousios, as suggested to him by Hosius. The emperor at first gave the council a free hand, but was prepared to step in if necessary to enforce the formula that his advisor Hosius had agreed on with Alexander of Alexandria. (God in Three Persons, Millard J. Erickson, p82-85)

What I suspect is that a proper analysis of the 325 creed will show that the word homoousion does not fit in the creed. The reader may want to follow the responses to my question and even also respond on Stackexchange.

Notice that this phrase, “He is of another substance or essence” is also the phrase that uses ousia and hypostasis as synonyms.

A response to the GotQuestions article on the Trinity.

I briefly explained the historical development of the Trinity doctrine to my daughter. I began with the church fathers of the first three centuries, through the tumultuous events of the fourth century, with a brief overview of the history there-after. (A series of articles on this website explains the historical development of the Trinity doctrine. For an overview, see – Justinian.)

She then, apparently, did some reading, and sent me a reference to the GotQuestions article – What does the Bible teach about the Trinity? In the current article, I respond to that article.

The three Persons differ.

Gotquestions points out that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit differ. It states, for example:

  • The Son is begotten from the Father,
  • The Holy Ghost proceeds from both the Father,
  • But the Father is not begotten and does not proceed from another.

Many other examples of differences between them may be mentioned, such as:

The Son “is seated at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1; cf. Acts 7:56).

Jesus said, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). This means that they have different wills.

The three Persons are one Being.

In spite of such differences, the Trinity Doctrine claims that they are one and the same Being. The oneness of the members of the Trinity is a complex concept. Gotquestions describes the Trinity as follows:

The Father is God,
the Son is God, and
the Holy Spirit is God—
but there is only one God.

This is similar to the Athanasian Creed, which declares:

We are compelled … to acknowledge
every Person by himself to be God …
(but we are) forbidden by the catholic religion; to say,
There are three Gods.

It is not only the “catholic religion” that forbids us to say that there are three Gods: A foundational teaching of the Bible is that God is one!

Each Person is the entire God.

The Trinity doctrine does not teach that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three parts of God. It teaches that “every person by himself to be God.” In other words, whatever we can say about the Father, is also true about the Son, and vice versa. To quote the Athanasian Creed:

Such as the Father is;
such is the Son; and
such is the Holy Ghost.

The Father is Almighty;
the Son Almighty; and
the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet
they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty.

More than one Almighty Being is logically impossible. Therefore, according to the Athanasian Creed, they are only “one Almighty.” Thus, we can represent the Trinity with the equation:

God  =  Father  =  Son  =  Holy Spirit

The Trinity Doctrine Contradicts itself.

Therefore, the Trinity concept contradicts itself when it says that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three distinct and different Persons with different origins and roles, but one and the same Almighty Being. Claims that the Father and the Son differ but also are the same make a mockery of logic. Two things cannot be the same and not the same at the same time.

Over the centuries, many people have argued that the Trinity doctrine contradicts itself, and for that reason, cannot accurately reflect Bible revelation, for truth does not contradict itself. For example, listen to Trinities podcasts 2 and 3 for arguments for and against the logical consistency of the Trinity doctrine.

According to the Athanasian Creed, we are “forbidden … to say, There are three Gods,” but just saying that does not undo the logical contradiction of the doctrine.

Resolving the contradiction

Over the centuries, there were many attempts at resolving the contradiction:

Modalism emphasizes one-ness.

Some ancient church fathers attempted to resolve the contradiction by accepting that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are One Being, but by rejecting that they are three distinct Persons. They regarded Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three names for the same Being, and as different “modes” or “manifestations” of God. This is known as Modalism but was rejected by the church.

Three-self Trinitarians

Other Trinitarians emphasize the three-ness of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and describe them as three Person with different wills, but so much united in love and purpose that they act as One. But, if you have three wills, then you have three Gods, which is also not acceptable.

The Trinity is a Mystery.

A third approach is to claim that the Trinity is a mystery. Gotquestions follows this approach. It writes:

The most difficult thing about the Christian concept of the Trinity is that there is no way to perfectly and completely understand it. The Trinity is a concept that is impossible for any human being to fully understand, let alone explain. God is infinitely greater than we are; therefore, we should not expect to be able to fully understand Him.

Though we can understand some facts about the relationship of the different Persons of the Trinity to one another, ultimately, it is incomprehensible to the human mind. However, this does not mean the Trinity is not true or that it is not based on the teachings of the Bible.

Confusing the Trinity and the Trinity Doctrine

However, Gotquestions here confuses two things, namely:

  • The Trinity, consisting of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and
  • The Trinity Doctrine, which is one attempt at explaining the Trinity.

The Trinity we are not be able to understand but since the Trinity doctrine was developed by humans as an explanation of the Trinity, must be logically consistent. To explain this a bit further:

We cannot understand God.

Since God exists without cause, no other being is able to understand Him fully. The LORD Himself declared:

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa 55:8-9).

We will never be fully able to understand him, even in eternity. We, with all our scientists, are like a lone wanderer building a small fire at night in the desert. In the light of the fire, we can see our immediate surroundings, but we can see nothing of the expanse of the earth. Similarly, we have a little understanding of God but we understand nothing of his infinite greatness.

We are able to understand God.

God reveals Himself to His creatures to the limit of their created capacities. Perhaps the four living creatures around God’s throne (Rev 4:6) are able to understand more about God than any other of God’s created beings.

The point is that we are fully able to understand Him to the extent that He has revealed Himself to us. For example, we know that He is infinite, omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipresent (everywhere). He exists without cause; beyond time, space and matter. All else exist because He exists. God has many sons but only one begotten Son (e.g., John 3:18); the only other Being to have live in Himself (John 5:26).

We do not understand how these things are possible but we do understand that these things are true.

The Trinity Doctrine is a humanly devised theory.

Nevertheless, the little we do know of God is logically consistent: There are no contradictions in what God has been revealed about Him. It is, therefore, not valid to claim that it is impossible to understand the Trinity Doctrine because it is impossible to understand God. Rather, the Trinity doctrine is impossible to understand because it distorts the Bible message.

Remember, the Trinity doctrine is nowhere explicitly taught in the Bible:

Nowhere does the Bible say that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one Being.

The word Trinity does not appear in the Bible and there is no other word or name or concept in the Bible that refers to the Three as one Being.

A cornerstone of the Nicene Creed is the statement that the Father and Son have the same substance (homoousios). That is nowhere stated in the Bible.

And where is it revealed that the Son has both a human and divine nature?

Bible presents an extremely high view of Christ. For example:

  • God made the world “through” Him (Heb 1:2).
  • He upholds the universe by the word of God’s power (Heb 1:3).
  • He is “the first and the last” (Rev 1:17).
  • “In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col 2:9).

The Trinity doctrine is how the church over the centuries attempted to make sense of the relationship between God and this high view of Christ. The Trinity doctrine, therefore, is a humanly devised theory. Gotquestions claims that the Trinity concept is based on the Bible, but we must test the Trinity doctrine against the Bible.

The Trinity doctrine is not consistent with the Bible.

In my view, the Trinity doctrine contradicts itself; not because the Bible contradicts itself in its explanations of God, but because the Trinity doctrine is inconsistent with the Bible.

This website focuses only on one aspect of the Trinity doctrine, namely the claim that Jesus is God. This website shows that the Bible teaches that Jesus is not only distinct from the Father; He is also distinct from God, which means that He is not God. And while the Trinity doctrine claims that the Father and the Son are exactly equal in all respects. this website shows that Jesus is subordinate to the Father.

Christ’s Dual Nature

A further contradictory element of the Trinity theory is that Jesus is both FULLY GOD AND FULLY MAN. In this teaching, He has both a human and a divine nature. That makes Him two persons, comparable to the view that God is three Persons.

This was the primary focus of the Chalcedonian Creed of 451.  This creed attempted to respond to the question:

If Jesus is “very God of very God,” why did He not know the day and hour of His return? Why does only the Father know that (Matt 24:36)?

And why does the New Testament so consistently present Him as
subordinate to God, the Father? For example, why did He say, “The Father is greater than I?”

The Chalcedonian Creed explains the subordination statements in the New Testament by saying that Jesus was speaking from His human nature. Opponents of this theory point out that that then means that Jesus was not telling the truth when He said that He does not know, for in His divine nature He actually knew.

Even worse perhaps, if Jesus had both a divine and a human nature, then He did not really die, for only the human nature part of Him died while His divine nature continued to exist. Then, unfortunately, we are not saved, for we are saved by His death (e.g., I Thess 5:9-10; 1 Peter 3:18).

Religious Persecution

The Athanasian Creed starts and ends with the following words:

This is the catholic faith;
which except a man believe truly and firmly,
he cannot be saved.

Which faith unless every one do keep whole and undefiled,
without doubt,
he shall perish everlastingly.

This is a ridiculous claim:

Firstly, people are not saved by believing a doctrine. They are saved by God’s grace through faith in Him. They are saved when they love and support God’s suffering people (Matt 25:34-40). For a discussion of how people are saved, see – Works of the Law.

Secondly, this creed made a very technical and contradictory statement of believe a test of true faith.

And the view that people cannot be saved if they do not believe the Trinity doctrine, combined with the intolerant character of the church of the Middle Ages, resulted in much persecution. The Roman Empire was not known for religious tolerance, and after the emperor became the de facto head of the church, early in the fourth century, the church slowly adopted the character of its Roman bosses. For example, immediately after the Council of Nicaea of AD 325, a number of dissenting bishops were exiled. Emperor Constantine also destroyed all of Arius’ books and threatened to kill all people who kept copies of his books. Over the many years since that time, many Christians were persecuted for not accepting the prevailing theory of the nature of God. For example:

Michael Servetus

Christianity.com has an article on Michael Servetus, who was burned for heresy in the town where Calvin was the pastor. Michael was quite an astute scientist. He studied mathematics, geography, astrology, and medicine. Gaining fame as a physician, he came close to discovering the pulmonary circulation of the blood. In 1531, Servetus published a work called the Errors of the Trinity. Both Protestants and Catholics found the work blasphemous, and the emperor banned the book.

Michael continued to criticize Calvin and stated that, to believe in the Trinity, is to believe in the spirit of the dragon. Calvin wrote to a friend that if Servetus ever fell into his hands, he would not allow him to get away alive. Roman Catholic authorities arrested Michael for heresy. He escaped, however, and fled toward Naples by way of Geneva where Calvin was a pastor. He entered a church where Calvin was preaching, was recognized, and arrested on charges of blasphemy and heresy.  Calvin insisted with the rest that Servetus must die, but urged that in mercy, Servetus be executed by the sword, not by burning.  Servetus was nevertheless burned to death on October 27, 1553.

Think about the enormity of the contrast between Christ, who was willing to offer up His life for people who deserve to die, and what the church became, as reflected by the fact that it not only killed people, but killed them in the most brutal manner, including by burning them to death.

“An hour is coming for everyone who kills you
to think that he is offering service to God” (John 16:2).

The pure woman of Revelation 12 (Rev 12:1) has morphed into an adulterous harlot (Rev 17:2):

“In her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth” (Rev 18:24).

For a discussion, see – Babylon the great, the mother of harlot.

The Christianity.com article attempts to exonerate Calvin for his involvement, but his role in Servetus’s cruel death should really bother Calvinists, for Calvin did that after writing one of the most influential systems of theology the Christian faith had ever seen. What does that say of the spirit of his work?

The spirit of the Antichrist

If the Trinity doctrine was the view of some in the church or even of most, it would have been a tragedy, but add to this the persecuting spirit which entered the church in the fourth century, after it became the official church of the Roman Empire, and the violent eradication of opposing views, then you have “the spirit of the antichrist:”

“Every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God;
this is the spirit of the antichrist” (1 John 4:3).

Outside the church, other religions teach that “Jesus is not from God.” But, inside the church, Satan sets a different snare, for, by teaching that Jesus is God, the Trinity doctrine takes the deception to the other extreme. By teaching that Jesus is God, the Trinity doctrine effectively also teaching that “Jesus is not from God.”

The Mark of the Beast

Over the centuries, the Trinity doctrine has become the main doctrine of the church. Believers who do not accept the Trinity doctrine are often classified with non-Christians. It really is a battle about who God is. Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). To Him “every knee will bow,” but always “to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:10-11). To worship Him independently of God is idol worship; the worship of “the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4). (For a discussion, see the article – Worship.)

Is it possible that the Trinity doctrine is the Mark of the Beast?

This website identifies the beast of Revelation as the church of the Middle Ages. The mark of the beast, therefore, must be something for which the church of the Middle Ages was particularly known for. Was the Trinity doctrine not the main doctrine of the church?

Furthermore, the beast receives “his power and his throne and great authority” from the dragon (Rev 13:2), which has been identified as the Roman Empire. The series of articles on the origin of the Trinity doctrine shows that the church inherited this theory from the Roman Empire: This theory was forced onto the church by the Roman Emperors.

From Revelation 13, it is clear that the end-time conflict will be a war about worship. Notice how often the word “worship” appears in this context (Rev 13:4, 8, 12, 15, 14:6), and the Trinity doctrine is a theory about who we worship.

Particularly important, in the end-time, the main message of God’s people will be to worship the Creator (Rev 14:6), who Revelation identifies as God, the Father (Rev 4:11).

Summary

This series responds to the GotQuestions article – What does the Bible teach about the Trinity?

The Trinity concept may be summarised as that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God—but there is only one God.

Gotquestions argues that is not possible to understand the Christian concept of the Trinity for it is impossible to understand God. However, that argument confuses God with the concept of the Trinity. The Trinity concept is A HUMANLY DEVISED THEORY about the nature of God, and must be tested against the Bible.

This article agrees that we are unable to understand God, but claims that the Trinity doctrine contradicts itself because it claims that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are THREE DISTINCT AND DIFFERENT PERSONS with different origins, different wills, and different roles, but that each of them is the entirety of THE SAME ONE TRUE GOD; not three parts of the God-Being. If the Trinity concept contradicts itself, then it cannot accurately reflect what the Bible teaches, for TRUTH DOES NOT CONTRADICT ITSELF.

Some church fathers solved this contradiction by accepting that they are One Being, but by rejecting that they are three distinct persons. These church fathers believed that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three names for the same Being. This is known as modalism or Sabellianism, but was rejected by the church majority.

Some New Testament passages explicitly present Jesus as inferior to the Father in knowledge and authority; not only when He was on this earth, but still today and in all eternity (e.g. 1 Cor 15:28). The Trinity theory responds to these passages by teaching that Jesus is both FULLY GOD AND FULLY MAN, and only inferior to the Father in His human nature.  Opponents of this theory point out that that then means that JESUS DID NOT TELL THE TRUTH when He said that He does not know, for in His divine nature He actually knew.  It would also mean that JESUS NEVER REALLY DIED, while His death is a critical salvation concept.

The Trinity doctrine is a very technical and ambiguous theory, but still, over the centuries, the church made it a test of the true faith and it persecuted Christians, such as Michael Servetus during the reformation, for not adhering to it.

The Trinity doctrine tries to explain things that are not revealed in the Bible. Combining that with persecution is the spirit of the beast.

Gotquestions argues that we cannot understand this because we cannot understand God, but the next articles in this series will show that the Trinity concept is inonsistent with the Bible. The next article in this series discusses Hebrews 1:8, which Gotquestions uses as evidence that Jesus is God.