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Commentary on the creed

Monogenes may signify either 'unique' or 'only begotten'.45 It was not perverse of Arius to take it in the former sense, for even after Nicaea unicus rather than unigenitus was the common reading of the Apostles' Creed in Latin writers. The council, however, enforced the meaning 'only begotten', adding a gloss that foreshadows and partly elucidates the word homoousios in a later clause. It appears that the older phrase 'from the hypostasis of the Father' was now deemed insufficient to exclude the 'Arian' tenet that the Son was a product of the Father's will. Origen, while asserting this, had granted a common physis or 'nature' to the two hypostases,46 but neither he nor other Greeks had chosen to characterise the Godhead as a single ousia. When used in contradistinction to hypostasis, the noun ousia denotes the stuff or substrate of a concrete individual; here it perhaps implies that the first hypostasis is not merely the cause but the source or ground of the second, propagating his attributes by an act which, while it cannot but transcend mundane analogies, resembles a corporeal emanation.

If we believe Philostorgius, it was Alexander and Ossius who conspired to introduce the word homoousios (Philost. HE 1.7). Athanasius contends that the word was Alexander's only means of forcing an open rupture, as the Arians were able to put their own construction on every other article. Though not defined, the term seems to be paraphrased obliquely by the juxtaposition of 'God from God' as well as by the gloss on monogenoes. Nevertheless, Eusebius of Caesarea, in a letter addressed to his congregation within a few weeks of the council, could assert that the homoousion merely predicates divine attributes of the Son without determining anything as to his mode of origin. This letter, our only comment on the creed by one of its signatories, is quoted by Athanasius to prove that Eusebius subscribed to it, not to convict him of deceit. Thus it appears that, while the Alexandrians knew their own meaning, they were forced to concede some latitude of interpretation in order to win the suffrage of the majority.

'God from God' is traditional, but 'light from light' rehabilitates a metaphor from Justin and Hieracas, which was impugned in Arius' letter to Alexander. 'True God from true God' vindicates the eternal deity of Christ the Son against the teaching that he became divine through adoption or by fiat. The council assumed, against Arius, that the 'one true God' who is certainly the Father at

45 See Skarsaune, 'Neglected detail'. Logan, 'Marcellus', 441-6, argues that Marcellus was a prime mover in the drafting of the Creed.

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