Monday, May 2, 2011

Consubstanial with the Father

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Athanasius, a fourth century father of the Church most known for his role in fighting the Arian heresy. While probably no one would identify himself as an Arian in the 21st century, I would dare say the gist of the heresy is still with us.

If asked what image comes into your head when someone says the word "God" I would beat that very few people immediately think of the Son, or the Holy Spirit. Most people I dare say think of the Father or something more abstract.

At the heart of Arianism was the belief that God the Father was the first, and was therefore greater than the Son. The son was thought of as created by the Father. The council of Nicea condemned this belief and affirmed that the Father and the Son were for all time, ὁμοούσιος, a term which has no simple English translation. In the new English translation of the creed, the translation is changed from "one in being" to "consubstantial."

While this is not a simple word it does convey the idea moire clearly. The Son is not less than, or lower than the Father. The Son is of the exact same substance as the Father. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were before time or space ever came into existence.

The fact that the Son became incarnate, shared our human life, suffered, died, and was buried, did not make him less than the father. His sharing our life made us more. If he was truly divine as Athanasius defended then we share that divinity, if he was merely a higher creature as the Arians believed then we remain creatures.