Homoousion (/ˌhɒmˈsiɒn, ˌhm-/ HO(H)M-oh-OO-see-on; Ancient Greek: ὁμοούσιον, lit.'same in being, same in essence', from ὁμός, homós, "same" and οὐσία, ousía, "being" or "essence")[1][2] is a Christian theological term, most notably used in the Nicene Creed for describing Jesus (God the Son) as "same in being" or "same in essence" with God the Father (ὁμοούσιον τῷ Πατρί). The same term was later also applied to the Holy Spirit in order to designate him as being "same in essence" with the Father and the Son. Those notions became cornerstones of theology in Nicene Christianity, and also represent one of the most important theological concepts within the Trinitarian doctrinal understanding of God.[3]


The term ὁμοούσιον, the accusative case form of ὁμοούσιος (homoousios, "consubstantial"),[2] was adopted at the First Council of Nicaea (325) in order to clarify the ontology of Christ. From its Greek original, the term was translated into other languages.[4] In Latin, which is lacking a present participle of the verb 'to be', two main corresponding variants occurred. Since the Aristotelian term ousia[5] was commonly translated in Latin as essentia (essence) or substantia (substance),[6] the Greek term homoousios was consequently translated into Latin as coessentialis or consubstantialis,[7] hence the English terms coessential and consubstantial. Some modern scholars say that homoousios is properly translated as coessential, while consubstantial has a much wider spectrum of meanings.[8] The Book of Common Prayer renders the term as "being of one substance with the Father."[9]

From ὁμοούσιος (coessential), the theological term ὁμοουσιότης (coessentiality) was also derived. It was used by Greek-speaking authors, like Didymus of Alexandria and other theologians.[10]

Pre-Nicene usage

The term ὁμοούσιος had been used before its adoption by the First Council of Nicaea. The Gnostics were the first to use the word ὁμοούσιος, while before the Gnostics there is no trace at all of its existence.[11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20][excessive citations] The early church theologians were probably made aware of this concept, and thus of the doctrine of emanation, taught by the Gnostics.[21] In Gnostic texts, the word ὁμοούσιος is used with the following meanings:

For example, Basilides, the first known Gnostic thinker to use ὁμοούσιος in the first half of the 2nd century AD, speaks of a threefold sonship consubstantial with the god who is not.[22][23] The Valentinian Gnostic Ptolemy says in his letter to Flora that it is the nature of the good God to beget and bring forth only beings similar to, and consubstantial with, himself.[24] The term ὁμοούσιος was already in current use by the 2nd-century Gnostics, and through their works it became known to the orthodox heresiologists, though this Gnostic use of the term had no reference to the specific relationship between Father and Son, as is the case in the Nicene Creed.[25]

Adoption in the Nicene Creed

The Nicene Creed is the official doctrine of most Christian churches—the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Churches, Church of the East, Lutheran Churches, Moravian Church, Anglican Communion, and Reformed Churches as well as other mainline Protestant and evangelical churches with regard to the ontological status of the three persons or hypostases of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Origen seems to have been the first ecclesiastical writer to use the word homoousios in a nontrinitarian context,[a] but it is evident in his writings that he considered the Son's divinity lesser than the Father's, since he even calls the Son "a creature".[27] It was by Athanasius of Alexandria and the Nicene Council that the Son was taken to have exactly the same essence with the Father, and in the Nicene Creed the Son was declared to be as immutable as his Father.[28]

While it is common to find statements that Origen and other early apologist Church fathers held subordinationist views, Ilaria Ramelli discussed the "anti-subordinationism" of Origen.[29]

Both the Nicene[30] and Athanasian[31] creeds affirm the Son as both begotten of, and equal to his Father. If so, many concepts of the Holy Trinity would appear to have already existed relatively early while the specific language used to affirm the doctrine continued to develop.[32][33][34][35]

Some theologians preferred the use of the term ὁμοιούσιος (homoioúsios or alternative uncontracted form ὁμοιοούσιος homoiοoúsios; from ὅμοιος, hómoios, "similar", rather than ὁμός, homós, "same, common")[2] in order to emphasize distinctions among the three persons in the Godhead, but the term homoousion became a consistent mark of Nicene orthodoxy in both East and West. According to this doctrine, Jesus Christ is the physical manifestation of Logos (or the Word), and consequently possesses all of the inherent, ineffable perfections which religion and philosophy attribute to the Supreme Being. In the language that became universally accepted after the First Council of Constantinople in AD 381, three distinct and infinite hypostases, or divine persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, fully possess the very same divine ousia.

This doctrine was formulated in the 4th century, during the Arian controversy over Christology between Arius and Athanasius. The several distinct branches of Arianism which sometimes conflicted with each other as well as with the pro-Nicene homoousian creed can be roughly broken down into the following classifications:

All of these positions and the almost innumerable variations on them which developed in the 4th century were strongly and tenaciously opposed by Athanasius and other pro-Nicenes, who insisted on the doctrine of homoousion or consubstantiality, eventually prevailing in the struggle to define this as a dogma of the still-united Western and Eastern churches for the next two millennia when its use was confirmed by the First Council of Constantinople (381). The struggle over the understanding of Christ's divinity was not solely a matter for the Church. The Roman Emperor Theodosius had published an edict, prior to the Council of Constantinople, declaring that the Nicene Creed was the legitimate doctrine and that those opposed to it were heretics.[36]

It has also been said that the term homoousios, which Athanasius favored and which was ratified in the Nicene Council and Creed, was actually a term reported to also be used and favored by the Sabellians in their Christology. It was a term with which many followers of Athanasius were actually uncomfortable. The so-called Semi-Arians in particular objected to it. Their objection to this term was that it was considered to be "un-Scriptural, suspicious, and of a Sabellian tendency."[37] This was because Sabellius also considered the Father and the Son to be "one substance", meaning that, to Sabellius, the Father and the Son were "one essential Person", though operating in different faces, roles, or modes. This notion, however, was also rejected at the Council of Nicaea, in favor of the Nicene Creed, which holds the Father and Son to be distinct yet also coequal, coeternal, and consubstantial divine persons.

The use of the word homoousios in the Nicene Creed was proposed by Emperor Constantine I, who convened and chaired the First Council of Nicea. By persuasion and by threats of excommunication and exile, Constantine obtained the endorsement of all but two of the attending bishops for the inclusion of the word.[38]

See also


  1. ^ In an exegetical comment on Hebrews 1:3, cited in the first book of the Apology for Origen by Pamphilus and Eusebius, Origen explains the special relationship of Christ, the Wisdom of God (Wisdom 7:25), with the Father:

    Vaporis enim nomen inducens hoc ideo de rebus corporalibus assumpsit, ut vel ex parte aliqua intelligere possimus quomodo Christus, qui est Sapientia, secundum similitudinem eius vaporis qui de substantia aliqua corporea procedit, sic etiam ipse ut quidem vapor exoritur de virtute ipsius Dei. Sic et Sapientia ex eo procedens ex ipsa substantia Dei generatur; sic nilominus, et secundum similitudinem corporalis aporrhoeae, esse dicitur aporrhoea gloriae Omnipotentis, pura et sincera. Quae utraeque similitudines manifestissime ostendunt communionem substantiae esse Filio cum Patre. Aporrhoea enim ὁμοούσιος videtur, id est unius substantiae, cum illo corpore ex quo est vel aporrhoea, vel vapor.[26]


  1. ^ οὐσία. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  2. ^ a b c ὁμοούσιος, ὁμοιούσιος, ὅμοιος, ὁμός in Liddell and Scott.
  3. ^ Bethune-Baker 2004.
  4. ^ Beatrice 2002, p. 243-272.
  5. ^ Loux 2008.
  6. ^ Weedman 2007.
  7. ^ consubstantialis. Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short. A Latin Dictionary on Perseus Project.
  8. ^ Pásztori-Kupán 2006, p. 59.
  9. ^ Baskerville, John. "The Book of Common Prayer" (PDF). Society of Archbishop Justus. Charles Wohlers. Retrieved 21 January 2018.
  10. ^ Florovsky 1987.
  11. ^ von Harnack, Adolf, Dogmengeschichte (in German), 1:284–85, n. 3; 2:232–34, n. 4.
  12. ^ Ortiz de Urbina, Ignacio (1942), "L'homoousios preniceno" [The prenicene homoousios], Orientalia Christiana Periodica, 8: 194–209.
  13. ^ Ortiz de Urbina, Ignacio (1947), El Simbolo Niceno [The Nicene symbol] (in Spanish), Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, pp. 183–202.
  14. ^ Mendizabal, Luis M (1956), "El Homoousios Preniceno Extraeclesiastico" [Ecclesiastical studies], Estudios Eclesiasticos (in Spanish), 30: 147–96.
  15. ^ Prestige, George Leonard (1952) [1936], God in Patristic Thought (2d ed.), London: SPCK, pp. 197–218.
  16. ^ Gerlitz, Peter (1963), Aufierchristliche Einflilsse auf die Entwicklung des christlichen. Trinitatsdogmas, zugleich ein religions- und dogmengeschichtlicher Versuch zur Erklarung der Herkunft der Homousie, Leiden: Brill, pp. 193–221.
  17. ^ Boularand, Ephrem (1972), L'heresie d'Arius et la 'foi' de Nicke [The Arius’ heresy and the ‘faith’ of Nicke] (in French), vol. 2, La "foi" de Nicee, Paris: Letouzey & Ane, pp. 331–53.
  18. ^ Kelly, John Norman D (1972), Early Christian Creeds (3d ed.), London: Longman, p. 245.
  19. ^ Dinsen, Frauke (1976), Homoousios. Die Geschichte des Begriffs bis zum Konzil von Konstantinopel (381) (Diss) (in German), Kiel, pp. 4–11((citation)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link).
  20. ^ Stead, Christopher, Divine Substance, pp. 190–202.
  21. ^ Grillmeier, Aloys (1975), Christ in Christian Tradition, vol. 1, From the Apostolic Age to Chalcedon (451), London: Mowbrays, p. 109.
  22. ^ of Rome, Hippolytus, Refutatio omnium haeresium [Refutation of all heresies] (in Latin), 7:22, Υἱότης τριμερής, κατὰ πάντα τῷ οὐκ ὄντι θεῷ ὁμοούσιος.
  23. ^ For the Gnostic use of the term, Marcovich, Miroslav (1986), Patristische Texte und Studien [Patristic texts & studies] (in German), vol. 25, Berlin: W de Gruyter, pp. 290f. V, 8, 10 (156), V, 17, 6.10 (186 f.).
  24. ^ of Salamis, Epiphanius, Panarion (in Greek), 33:7,8, Τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ φύσιν ἔχοντος τὰ ὅμοια ἑαυτῷ καὶ ὁμοούσια γεννᾶν τε καὶ προφέρειν.
  25. ^ Turner, Henry E. W. "The Pattern of Christian Truth: A Study in the Relations Between Orthodoxy and Heresy in the Early Church." AMS Press, 1978, p. 161
  26. ^ PG, 14:1308; 17:580, 581.
  27. ^ Pelikan, Jaroslav (1971), The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, vol. 1, The Chicago University Press, p. 191.
  28. ^ Fulton, W (1921), "Trinity", Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics, vol. 12, T&T Clark, p. 459.
  29. ^ Ramelli, Llaria (2011). "Origen's Anti-Subordinationism and Its Heritage in the Nicene and Cappadocian Line". Vigiliae Christianae. 65 (1). Brill: 21–49. doi:10.1163/157007210X508103. JSTOR 41062535.
  30. ^ Nicene, Creed. "Nicene Creed". Reformed.org. Retrieved 31 May 2017.
  31. ^ Athanasian, Creed. "Athanasian Creed". Reformed.org. Retrieved 31 May 2017.
  32. ^ Pavao, Paul. "The Trinity: Doctrine Development and Definition". Christian-History.org. Retrieved 1 June 2017.
  33. ^ Pavao, Paul. "Orthodoxy: An Ironic Side Note on Heresy, and the Trinity". Christian-History.org. Retrieved 1 June 2017.
  34. ^ P. "Holy Trinity and Modern Arians Part 2". BiblicalCatholic.com. Retrieved 1 June 2017.
  35. ^ Barnard, L.W. (1970). "The Antecedents of Arius". Vigiliae Christianae. 24 (3): 172–188. doi:10.1163/157007270X00029. JSTOR 1583070.
  36. ^ Theodosian Code 16:2, 1 Friell, G., Williams, S., Theodosius: The Empire at Bay, London, 1994.
  37. ^ St. Athanasius (1911), "In Controversy With the Arians", Select Treatises, Newman, John Henry Cardinal trans, Longmans, Green, & Co, p. 124, footn.
  38. ^ Norwich, John Julius (1988). Byzantium: The Early Centuries. London: Guild Publishing. p. 55.


Further reading