The Roman Missal: The Creed (Part II)

Well, we’ve gone through about half the Mass now.  We’ve covered lots of changes, from “And with your spirit” to “Only Begotten Son”.  We’ve started the Creed, and we’re skipping over some really minor changes, but now comes the bombshell: “Consubstantial with the Father.”

________ (Insert witty introduction here for yourself, since I need all the space I can get to explain what “consubstantial” means.)

As you remember, we used to say “One in Being with the Father” here.  And that’s not necessarily a bad translation.  It tells us that the Father and the Son are of the same being.  But it’s kind of vague.  I mean, what do we mean by being?  By contrast, consubstantial is an English translation for a very ancient Latin word, “consubstantialis”, which is even itself a translation of a very ancient Greek word, “homoousios”.  But even all these words were sort of made up in the early Church in order to describe exactly what we mean when we’re talking about Jesus.

“Consubstantial” is a word that tries to talk about the divinity of Jesus, namely the fact that he’s just as much God as the Father or the Holy Spirit.  In a sense, it’s also reaching out to our friends in the ancient Greek churches, who struggled to maintain the proper understanding of Jesus amidst all sorts of heresies.  In fact, one of those heresies talked about “homoiousios” instead of “homoousios”.  Same word, right?  Well actually, it means “like the Father” or “pretty much the same as the Father” instead of “one in being” with the Father.  Who Christ is in some ways hinging on even a single letter!

Consubstantial, saying that Jesus is “one in substance” with the Father is talking about some technical terms.  A “substance” is what I am at my very basic level.  I am Fr. Grosch.  That’s who I am.  I can cut my hair, and I can even shave it (not happening, kids), but who I am remains Fr. Grosch.  That’s my substance, and it’s not changing.  So what we’re saying with “consubstantial” is that who the Son is (God) is the same as who the Father is, and who the Holy Spirit is.  They all three share the fullness of what it means to be God.  All three are God, but different persons.

Crazy, right?  And we might think, “Well we don’t need to know all that technical language!  We’re not all professional theologians!”  But the truth is that everyone has a right to know that.  And in many ways, technical language that the Church had struggled with for hundreds of years has been largely lost.  So in a sense, it is an attempt to reintroduce some of that language for people to be just as much part of their Church’s history and tradition as St. Athanasius or his buddies were.

Phew!  Now go relax your brain by watching something mindless on TV, like football (just kidding, folks!).  And tune in next week when we continue with the Creed!

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