The Creed of Chalcedon
…consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead
When the Bishops gathered at Nicaea some one-hundred twenty odd years before Chalcedon, they debated the relationship between the Father and the Son. A heretic named Arius said that the Son was “like” the Father, as in “similar to.” The Fathers at the Council would have none of this. They coined a term in Greek, ομοουσιος, transliterated, homoousios, in English, and meaning, “of the same essence.” (The English word “consubstantial” comes from the Latin and means the same as the Greek.) In other words, the Bishops gathered at Nicaea were clear that there was no difference between the Father and the Son as that concerned the divinity of either one: What the Father is, the Son is; and, as the Father is God, so is the Son. Granted, the word is nowhere found in Scripture, nor is the word, “Trinity,” for that matter. But homoousios serves the noble purpose of describing the unity of deity of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit in such a way that it has never been replaced—though attempted by heretics and others who always think they can improve on the ancient formulas.
Well, the Fathers at Chalcedon were not at all ashamed of the word and adopted it in their Creed as well. And so we see it here: the Son is “consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead.” Now that really wasn’t the issue at Chalcedon—that had already been decided at Nicaea. The issue at Chalcedon had to do with the relationship of the divine and human natures of the one person, Jesus Christ. But to have that discussion, some groundwork had to be retrieved from Nicaea, and that groundwork concerned our Lord’s essential unity with the Father.
Tomorrow, we shall take up the next clause concerning our Lord’s essential unity with us through his human nature. For now, we reassert and celebrate our Lord’s being of one and the same essence as the Father—which is to say that our Lord Jesus Christ is God. Only God can save us; no man can do that, and for that reason, he must be God—in this case, the Son of God. Jesus Christ was not only like God or similar to God. Christ was not merely “godly.” To be of the same essence of the Father means that there never was a time when the Son was not; that is, he is the eternal Son of the Father. That human language breaks down in explaining this teaching from Scripture is not to be blamed on God but is only a sign of the limits of human reasoning and expression when confronted with the divine. But just because a truth cannot be exhausted does not mean it cannot be understood. The believer humbly receives this truth God has revealed to His people.