Sermon 7: “Consubstantial with the Father”

“The Fathers of Nicaea intended the little word homoousios to be the simple translation of the metaphor “Son” into a concept. Their word affirms something very simple, namely, that “Son” is not a mere comparison, but a literal reality” (2nd edition: p. 99 [1st edition: p. 89])

Demonstrating yet again his fundamental approach to preaching theology and the mysteries of the faith in this series of sermons, Ratzinger begins with “something near at hand and simple” (79), which in this case is precisely what the Fathers of the Church received simply from the apostles: the testimony that Jesus is the Son of God. He is Son: that is the center of the mystery of his identity; it is the answer to the question Who is he? This is who the apostles say Jesus is because this is who Jesus shows himself to be, especially in his prayer to the one he calls Father. The question for those gathered at Nicaea, as Ratzinger reads the matter, is to ask how serious Jesus was in claiming this identity and therefore how serious the apostles were in passing it on. The answer from the council is that Jesus was not playacting, not pointing to some other reality, not speaking in riddles. He is who he shows himself to be: he is the Son of God. This word homoousios that seems “great and far away” (79), especially for modern ears, is therefore approached from the humble place of what is most plain, most apparent, most essential: Jesus showed himself to be Son and the apostles testified to this. The Fathers accept the fishermen’s faith of the apostles on fishermen’s terms, and then secured its meaning with precise language against philosophical misunderstanding so as to keep the basic thing basic and answer with the voice of the Church the question Jesus himself asks his disciples: Who do you say that I am? (Mark 8:29; Matt 16:15; Luke 9:20)

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“God can be known only through God. No one other than God himself can know God” (p. 100–101 [p. 90–91])

In other words, God says: I will be who I will be (see Exod. 3:14; see also 28 and 52 of this text). “God establishes his own criterion” (43). The simple truth of the Gospel does not conform to the wisdom of the world, but is the divine wisdom that sets the world aright. This man, Jesus, truly is the Son of God (Mark 15:39; Matt 27:54; Luke 23:47).

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“The will of the Son embraces the one who voluntarily accepts to be in it; … to know that he owes his existence to God and to give himself back to God” (p. 101 [p. 91])

This speaks to the valley of humility out of which true wisdom rises: the key that unlocks the wisdom of Scripture is the willingness to lean not on your own understanding (Prov. 3:5–6) and learn to say what Jesus says: “dear Father” (82). The faith of the apostles is a simple faith and the sophistication of the Church’s doctrinal clarity in the ensuing centuries builds on the bedrock of that simplicity.

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