The Nicene Creed
Being of one substance with the Father
Believe it or not, this was the most contested line in the Creed at Nicaea in 325. For a little history, there was a man named Arius, a priest in the Alexandrian Church, who taught that “there was a time when the Son was not”; that is, that the Son of God was not coeternal with the Father. Such is an explicit denial of the doctrine of the Trinity understood as three distinct co-equal persons of the one Godhead. Arius was able to sway many Christians to his opinion and was actually known to be a “godly” man. Always remember, it is never only believing the right things or only doing the right things but both that make one a Christian. Many an atheist has lived a good life; many a doctrinally-correct preacher has been a hypocrite. We must live the true faith.
Besides misrepresenting God’s Triune nature, the greatest scandal of Arian theology is its complete destruction of the doctrine of salvation. The Bible teaches that we are saved through the Son’s taking our humanity upon himself and thus in-fleshing himself as the Son of Man (John 1:1-14). He must be God to save us and he must be man to take our place on the cross. Arius threw both of these into question as he made Christ out to be something in between—neither God nor man but a superman. Salvation was thus reduced to being a good person as one followed Christ’s example—hardly a recipe of encouragement for sinners.
Much of the language of the Creed could be fudged; for instance, “Son of God” could be interpreted to mean a son by adoption as the Father was pleased by Jesus’ behavior. Indeed, it was to settle this very controversy that the Council at Nicaea was called by the Emperor Constantine. The bishops wanted a term that could not be interpreted in some “Heinz 57 Varieties” sort of way. They settled on the word, ομοουσιος (homoousios), a Greek word meaning, “same substance” (or essence). They wanted it understood that the Son was of the very same nature and essence as the Father; in other words, whatever the Father is, the Son is—which is, of course, God. The bishops did not pretend to know the essence of God; they just declared that the Son shared that same essence with the Father.
In so doing, those bishops could not have chosen a better word. Homoousios was established as Christian doctrine, and we are very grateful.