Are We Ready to Philosophize and Theologize Today?

What about Consubstantial?

By Marta Alves


Attending Mass last Sunday, November 27, 2011, I liked the new Roman Missal prayers. The prayers seem to call us to a deeper understanding of the mystery of our Catholic Faith.

The word, consubstantial caught my attention and I thought it would be a good theme for our reflection this week.

What about consubstantial? Are we ready to philosophize and theologize today?

Let us try to philosophize and theologize.  We will keep in mind that philosophy is the love of wisdom, while theology is faith in search of understanding.

I believe in the Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I believe that is a mystery which is beyond our human understanding. That said, let us theologize about the most Holy Trinity and what is meant by consubstantial as we pray in the new Roman Missal’s Creed.

When we say that Jesus the Son is consubstantial with God the Father, do we mean that he is the same substance; similar to water being a substance and appearing in three different states as ice water, liquid water and steam?  That is not right.

What about nature? Are Father, Son and Holy Spirit of the same nature, similar to all humans, being of human nature? That is not right.

There is no human comparison that can make sense when talking about the most Holy Trinity. Before we elaborate further we need to accept the fact that we are dealing with a mystery.

To make our job easier, let us stand in the shoulder of people before us, that have thought, philosophized and theologized longer than we have been alive, trying to understand the most Holy Trinity.

We go to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, to look at the foundation of our Catholic faith.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a tool to teach the faith in a concise and orderly fashion. We need to know where we come from to understand where we are going.

To understand the most Holy Trinity, we need the guiding loving hand of the faith we have inherited.  Let us read paragraphs 240-250, and 251-267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Click here to link to the Catechism of the Catholic Church on Line

In summary, paragraph 242 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church reads:

242 -Following this apostolic tradition, the Church confessed at the first ecumenical council at Nicaea (325) that the Son is "consubstantial" with the Father, that is, one only God with him.( The English phrases "of one being" and "one in being" translate the Greek word homoousios, which was rendered in Latin by consubstantialis.) The second ecumenical council, held at Constantinople in 381, kept this expression in its formulation of the Nicene Creed and confessed "the only-begotten Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father".

Paragraph 251-252 reads:

251 In order to articulate the dogma of the Trinity, the Church had to develop her own terminology with the help of certain notions of philosophical origin: "substance", "person" or "hypostasis", "relation" and so on. In doing this, she did not submit the faith to human wisdom, but gave a new and unprecedented meaning to these terms, which from then on would be used to signify an ineffable mystery, "infinitely beyond all that we can humanly understand".82

252 The Church uses (I) the term "substance" (rendered also at times by "essence" or "nature") to designate the divine being in its unity, (II) the term "person" or "hypostasis" to designate the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the real distinction among them, and (III) the term "relation" to designate the fact that their distinction lies in the relationship of each to the others.


Read paragraphs 240-267 and answer the following questions:


1.       What does the council at Nicaea (325 AD) confess about Jesus and God the Father? CCC# 242

2.       What does the Second Council of Constantinople (381 AD) confess about Jesus ant God the Father? CCC# 242

3.    What does the second ecumenical council at Constantinople (381) says about the Holy Spirit? CCC #245

4.       In your own words, explain CCC #251-252

5.      How do you answer to “The Trinity is One”? CCC #253

6.    Explain in the Trinity “The divine persons are really distinct from one another”. CCC #254

7.    When referring to the Trinity what does it mean “The divine persons are relative to one another”? CCC #255

8.    How does St. Gregory of Nazianzus summarizes the Trinitarian faith? CCC #256

9.    What is the “plan of his loving kindness conceived by the Father before the foundation of the world”? CCC 257

10. Explain “The whole divine economy is the common work of the three divine persons”. CCC 258

11. Explain: “Everyone who glorifies the Father does so through the Son in the Holy Spirit; everyone who follows Christ does so because the Father draws him and the Spirit moves him”. CCC #259

12. What is “the ultimate end of the whole divine economy”? CCC #260

Concluding thought from CCC #261:

"The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of the Christian faith and of Christian life.

God alone can make it known to us by revealing himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

First in a series Studying the Catechism of the Catholic Church

November 30, 2011  (c) 2011 Marta Alves

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