Consubstantiality (Latin: consubstantialitas), or coessentiality (Latin: coessentialitas), is a notion in Christian theology referring to the common properties of the divine persons of the Christian Trinity, and connotes that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are "of the same substance" (consubstantial), or "of the same essence" (coessential). The notion of consubstantiality or coessentiality was developed gradually, during the first centuries of Christian history, with main theological debates and controversies being held between the First Council of Nicaea (325) and the First Council of Constantinople (381).
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History of term
Latin adjective consubstantialis was coined by Tertullian in Against Hermogenes 44, as a translation of the Greek term homoousios. Since the Latin language lacks a present active participle for the verb "to be", Latin authors rendered the Greek noun "ousia" (being) as "substantia" or "essentia", and the Greek adjective "homoousios" (of the same being) as "consubstantialis" or "coessentialis". Unlike the Greek words, which are etymologically related to the Greek verb "to be" and connote one's own personal inherent character, Latin "substantia", connotes matter as much as it connotes being.
The term consubstantial is also used to describe the common humanity which is shared by all human persons. Thus, Jesus Christ is said to be consubstantial with the Father in his divinity and consubstantial with us in his humanity.
It has also been noted that this Greek term "homoousian" or "consubstantial", which Athanasius of Alexandria favored, and 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. And it was a term that many followers of Athanasius were actually uneasy about. The "Semi-Arians", in particular, objected to the word "homoousian". Their objection to this term was that it was considered to be un-Scriptural, suspicious, and "of a Sabellian tendency". This was because Sabellius also considered the Father and the Son to be "one substance". Meaning that, to Sabellius, the Father and Son were "one essential Person". This notion, however, was also rejected at the Council of Nicaea, in favor of the Athanasian formulation and creed, of the Father and Son being distinct yet also co-equal, co-eternal, and con-substantial Persons.
Some English-speaking translators and authors still prefer the words "substance" and "consubstantial" to describe the nature of God in Christianity.
Translations of the Nicene Creed into English often reflect the preference of using "of the same being" rather than "consubstantial" to describe the relationship of the Son to the Father. When the new translation of the Roman Missal was introduced in 2011, "consubstantial" was introduced as the more accurate translation of the text in Latin. It replaced the phrase "one in being" and was attacked as being archaic. The change was defended because "one in being" was considered to be too ambiguous.
"Consubstantiality", in rhetoric, is often associated with Kenneth Burke. It is defined by Burke as "a practice-related concept based on stylistic identifications and symbolic structures, which persuade and produce acceptance: an acting-together within, and defined by, a common context". To be consubstantial with something is to be identified with it, to be associated with it; yet at the same time, to be different from what it is identified with. It can be seen as an extension or in relation to the subject.
Burke explains this concept with two entities, A and B. He goes on to explain that "A is not identical with his colleague, B. But insofar as their interests are joined, A is identified with B. Or he may identify himself with B even when their interests are not joined, if he assumes they are, or is persuaded to believe so...In being identified with B, A is 'substantially one' with a person other than himself. Yet at the same time, he remains unique, an individual locus of motives. Thus he is both joined and separate, at once a distinct substance and consubstantial with another."
The definition mentions "identifications", which is intended to acknowledge a common practice of rhetoricians. This practice specifically labels something to be clear on the intended meaning of the phrase in the context in which it is being used. Identifying the subject allows the speaker to be clear and eliminates some questions the audience might have on the subject.
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- Jinkins 2001, p. 117.
- Catechism 467 Following the holy Fathers, we unanimously teach and confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, composed of rational soul and body; consubstantial with the Father as to his divinity and consubstantial with us as to his humanity; "like us in all things but sin". He was begotten from the Father before all ages as to his divinity and in these last days, for us and for our salvation, was born as to his humanity of the virgin Mary, the Mother of God.
- Select Treatises of St. Athanasius – In Controversy with the Arians – Freely Translated by John Henry Cardinal Newman – Longmans, Green, and Co., 1911, footnote, page 124
- National Post Staff (12 April 2011). "New Missal translation called 'archaic, sexist'". National Post.
- "Consubstantial": At the root of our Faith – Why it is in the Creed Diocese of Cleveland
- Dousset, Laurent (April 2005). "Structure and substance: combining 'classic' and 'modern' kinship studies in the Australian Western Desert". The Australian Journal of Anthropology: 18.
- Craig, Robert T. (2007). Theorizing Communication: Readings Across Traditions. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.
- Jinkins, Michael (2001). Invitation to Theology: A Guide to Study, Conversation & Practice. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.
- Nicholson, Hugh (2014). "Social Identity Processes in the Development of Maximally Counterintuitive Theological Concepts: Consubstantiality and No-Self". Journal of the American Academy of Religion. 82 (3): 736–770.