180 on ConsubstantialFebruary 18th, 2011
It’s been a slow process, but I’ve done a 180 since my post three months ago on the word consubstantial in the Creed. As I said three months ago “I like the word consubstantial itself. However, I personally don’t think it should be in the English translation of the Creed for ecumenical reasons.” Well, I’ve become even more fond of the word consubstantial, and after exchanging e-mails with Orthodox Deacon Steven Robinson, I now know that the word consubstantial poses no threat to ecumenism with the Orthodox Churches.
Deacon Robinson told me that the word consubstantial is used in Orthodox prayers and hymnography, and sometimes in the Creed. He also said that there’s not a lot of uniformity in translations of liturgy and hymnography in the Orthodox Churches. Thus, in the Creed you might get “one in essence/substance/nature”, “of one essence”, etc. etc. and even “consubstantial.”
Now that my ecumenical fears have been resolved, let me tell you why I like the word. I like the word consubstantial because it’s both precise and mysterious at the same time; much like transubstantiation. Note that both of these words have the same root: substantia. This word can be loosely translated as being or essence, but these two words don’t do justice to it. Con can be translated as with or of one, so we have of one being, or of one essence. This is the precise part of the word.
The mysterious part is that we don’t fully comprehend what the precise part really means. When we see “one in being,” we think, “I understand this,” but we’re fooling ourselves. It’s too simple. We don’t really know what it means. However, when we see “consubstantial,” we think, “I don’t understand this,” which is the truth. We don’t understand the inner workings of the Trinity.
Here is a good quote form Fr. Neil J. Roy, who teaches liturgy at the University of Notre Dame:
‘One in being’ is vague and open to misinterpretation. The Father is the source of all being. He is the sole Being whose essence is his existence, and he gives all of us our being and existence. So, to a certain extent, we’re all ‘one in being’ with the Father. That doesn’t say anything unique about Christ.
Believe it or not, Wikipedia has a short but good article on consubstantiality and another one on the Greek word that consubstantiálem is the Latin translation for: homoousian. (Remember, the Creed was originally written in Greek before it was translated into Latin.)
I guess I jumped to the wrong conclusion about using an Anglicized Latin word in the Creed. If anything, all of the changes to the Roman Mass, including the Creed, will foster greater growth in ecumenism with the Orthodox Churches.