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On the word Consubstantial, the Trinity and Infinity.
June 20, 2012
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On the word Consubstantial.

June 3, 2012 Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
Dt 4:32-4, 9-40
Ps :4-5, 6, 9, 18-20, 22
Rom 8:14-17
Mt 28:16-20

Well, it’s been six months since we started using the new translation of the Roman Missal. What do you think? Okay, some of these prayers are a real mouthful to try to say, but for the most part I find the new translation quite beautiful and expressive, and mostly an improvement. I especially like one word in particular, in the Creed, a word that raised howls of protest: “People don’t talk that way! No one will know what it means!” The word? – “Consubstantial” – as in, speaking of the Son, that He is “consubstantial with the Father”.

It’s true that we don’t talk this way in everyday conversation. In fact, the word was coined by the Church for this specific use in the creed. But after six months of time it’s starting to sound pretty natural. It fairly rolls off the tongue as we profess our faith together, about the Almighty Father Who created all things, and His eternally begotten Son through Whom He created and Who became incarnate to save that creation, and their Holy Spirit Who fills and sustains and moves that creation.

So it is no longer true that nobody talks that way. We all talk that way when we profess our faith in the triune God. But do we know what it means – “consubstantial” – ? “Of the same substance”. The Son is of the same substance as the Father, and likewise the Holy Spirit.

What is “substance”? That which something is, in its essential reality; the true being of a thing. So, since God is by definition infinite Being, and since there can only be one infinite Being (two or more beings could not each be everything), therefore there can only be one God, one divine being or substance. But does this mean that there can only be one divine person? Well, is “person” the same thing as “substance”? If substance is the essential reality of a thing, its true being, what is a person?

Maybe “what is a person?” is the wrong question. A person is a “who”, not a “what”. For instance, if I ask “what are you?”, you would answer something like “I’m a human being, a member of the species homo sapiens; arms, legs, heart and lungs, a mind more or less tethered to a physical brain.” But if I ask “who are you?”, you would answer differently, wouldn’t you? You would not talk about those physical characteristics of being human that you have in common with all other human beings, you would talk about what makes you … you! This would involve who you are related to, where you’ve been and what you’ve done, your likes and dislikes, your abilities and disabilities.

What am I? A human being. Who am I? A human person.

So, if “person” doesn’t mean the same thing as “being”, could the one divine being exist as three diving persons? Theoretically, sure. Why not?
And since Jesus Christ revealed it; speaking of His heavenly Father, of Himself as the Son, of the Holy Spirit, and of these three as one …
And since Jesus Christ promised that the Holy Spirit would lead the Church into the fullness of truth and understanding … I accept it, as logically possible, and as revealed truth.

… I accept the Scriptures, and the Church’s understanding of those Scriptures as spelled out in the doctrinal definitions of Ecumenical Councils such as the one that met at Nicaea in the year 325 AD. The bishops of the universal Church convened to consider the teaching of Arius, an Egyptian priest who was saying that the Son of God is not God, and that that therefore the one God is not a Trinity of Persons. The bishops consulted the Scriptures, they consulted all the evidence of what the Christian faith had been going back to the Apostles – sermons and letters of the Church Fathers and theologians, declarations of local councils, catechisms, rituals used for baptism – aand they debated with Arius and his followers who were present for the deliberations. The final decision? Arius was teaching a an erroneous novelty, not the faith of the Church. And just to be clear about what the faith of the Church was, they wrote up a statement known since as the Nicene Creed. Let’s say it now together, confident that the Holy Spirit promised by the Lord Jesus to lead us into all truth led the Fathers of Nicaea to this statement of faith.

I believe in one God,
The Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
The Only Begotten Son of God,
Born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through Him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
He came down from heaven,
(Here all bow)
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
(Here all rise)
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
He suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come againt in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and His kingdom will have no end.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
Who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
Who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
Who has spoken through the prophets.
I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come.

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