Vague vs. Consubstantial

The Lord proclaims to the people: “I am compassionate.”

How compassionate?

…In five weeks, we will start working the famous pew-cards with the revised translation of our Mass prayers. When we do, we will discover some different words in our beloved Nicene Creed.

The first question is: Why do we recite the Creed at Mass? Any thoughts?

Right. Because this is what we believe about God Almighty. We Catholics believe specific things.

Whenever I encounter someone who says something like “Who needs organized religion?” or “Don’t we all pray to the same god anyway?” or “I’m not religious; I’m spiritual,” I experience two simultaneous reactions.

1. Thank God, I intend first and foremost to sympathize, to extend a friendly hand, to put the best possible interpretation on the other person’s point of view. After all, God indeed does transcend all the words we use to focus our minds on Him.

2. Meanwhile, though, whenever I hear such vague shibboleths about religion, I cannot help but think to myself: “Gosh. Do you have a thought in your head? How can you be satisfied with nonsensical flim-flam about God? Shouldn’t you take yourself a little more seriously?”

Vague bromides about God and religion do not satisfy us. We affirm the Creed of the holy Fathers of the Church. We make this Creed our constant spiritual food. We meditate on it. We build everything in our lives on the foundational truths which the Creed expresses.

Now, speaking of substance…When we recite the Creed with our pew cards in Advent, we will encounter an interesting new word, “consubstantial.” We will confess the Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages, “consubstantial” with the Father.

Let’s break the word down.

The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of the word ‘substantial’ would be:

My dad, sitting on the couch late in a Redskins game–that, inevitably, they were losing. My dad says to me, “Mark, would you go to the kitchen and get me a substantial bowl of ice-cream?”

His spirits ached. He did not want a pretense of a bowl of ice-cream. He did not want a shadow and a figure of a bowl of ice-cream, a couple of unsubstantial slivers carved out of the box with a tiny spoon.

Dad wanted—he needed—a towering pyramid of scooped dollops. My job was to bring him something that anyone could identify and say, “Yes. Now there is a bowl of ice-cream!” Real. Genuine. Authentic. Substantial.

Now: God. The substance of God. What can it be, other than omnipotence, glory, total transcendence, sublime goodness, infinite knowledge, ubiquity, utterly mysterious awesomeness?

The divine substance altogether escapes our ability to conceive. Yet we know that this substance alone exists necessarily; only God necessarily exists. Everything else could not exist. The world could not exist; you and I could not exist. God has brought everything other than Himself into being. Without the divine substance holding everything else up, like a foundation…Poof! Nothing.

The rest of the new word will easy. Con-substantial. “Con” means ‘with.’ The Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son Who was born a baby of the Blessed Virgin Mary—He has the divine substance with the Father. The Son and the Father share the divine substance. Like the Father, the Son is God, Creator, infinite truth, goodness, beauty; tremendous mystery; the Wisdom that governs all.

So, how compassionate is Almighty God? The Creed answers the question.

God did not put on a show of becoming man. He really became man. God did not put on a show of dying for us. He really died. God did not put on a show of conquering death; He did not make a movie in which we could hope for eternal life—until the movie ended, and then we would walk back out onto the street, hopeless.

No. He really did descend to the realm of the dead; He really did come back; He really did enter heaven as one of us, to be our High Priest and our hope for heaven.

Here at Mass, we profess this substantial faith. We believe it, because it all happened, and the eternal mysteries which have been revealed are true. Our kind, compassionate brother, God the Creator, worked for years as a carpenter. Now He reigns on high with one goal in mind, namely that we might know the joy of the world to come, right along with Him.

Our entire religion rests on the fact that the Son shares the divine substance with the Father. Our religion rests on the mystery of the Trinity, which our ancient Fathers risked their lives to express. Forces hostile to the idea that God could be so humble and compassionate exerted great pressure at the time of the Council of Nicaea, as they do now. Professing the Catholic faith takes courage. May the good Lord sustain us, so that we might persevere in professing this faith, until we see what we now believe.

One thought on “Vague vs. Consubstantial

  1. Father Mark,

    Think, say, write: the order of increasing clarity in thought. Often, we wish we had a private sound chamber to say what we think we’re thinking, if just to refine it prior to saying it.

    Then, again, often we say things by acquired by rote learning or habit, or in an attempt to deceive which are linguistically clear, but aren’t really what we think or feel. Shibboleths can be this; and the more they’re repeated, the more they are, in essence, a lie.

    So, then, playing Advocatus diaboli, why are the words of the Mass changing? Wasn’t 2000 years enough to get it right? Or, could error have possibly crept into the older way of saying it? Surely, the World has not changed, and us with it; we have that on good account, “Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth …… What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun!” Or, could it be that the reality of God, and His Love (His Son Living with us and dying for us) surpasses all words; and we can but attempt to get the essence of the meaning as clear in our minds as possible?



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