Editor’s Note: On the first Sunday of Advent 2011, Catholics will use a new translation of the Roman Missal. This column explains some of those changes.
One word we will hear in the revised translation of the creed this Advent is “consubstantial.”
It sounds like the word transubstantiation, which we use to describe the doctrine about how the bread and wine used at Mass are transformed into the body and blood of Christ.
In the translation of the Nicene Creed we currently use we say Jesus is “one in being with the Father.” “One in being” will be replaced with the single word, consubstantial.
The Council of Nicea chose the word, “homo-ousios,” or like-being, to describe the relationship between God the Father and God the Son.
Homo-ousios is not found in the Bible, but ousios is found twice in the parable about the prodigal son. In Luke 15:12 the prodigal son says, “Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.”
When Luke wrote his Gospel, he used the feminine version of the Greek word ousios to describe the prodigal son’s portion of the estate that he wanted from his dad.
We often think of an estate as something someone owns, or leaves behind when they die. In a sense, that which belongs to us is part of our being, or existence at that moment.
This is the point of using consubstantial in the creed. Jesus Christ is part of the same estate, or existence as God. He is not simply one with Him, as we currently express in saying “one in being with the Father.”
Instead, Jesus is the Father. In ancient philosophical terminology, substance didn’t mean the material out of which something is made, but it described the essence of what a thing is. Our essence is to be human; our material is the body.
To say that Jesus is “consubstantial with the Father” is to say nothing other than he is of the same nature as God. Scripture records that Jesus is divine. In the Gospel of John, St. Philip asks Jesus to show him the Father and Jesus replies, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?”
Consider this simple, practical analogy to make sense of the word, consubstantial. When you eat at a restaurant that allows you to select and fill your own drink from a soda fountain or a coffee pot, you often go for a free refill. Rarely do you put a different kind of drink, which is a substance, in the same cup you used for the first. You would fill it with the same substance.
When God the Father came into the World, He sent us Himself, not some substitute of lesser stature, or different flavor. Consubstantial may not be a word we use often, but there’s no better word to describe the supernatural relationship between God the Father and God the Son.
Father Bryan Babick, SL.L., is the vicar for Divine Worship and the Sacraments for the Diocese of Charleston.