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Symbol of Constantinople (381). Athanasius died in 373; but his cause triumphed at Constantinople, long an Arian city First by the preaching of St. Gregory Nazianzen Then in the Second General Council (381), at the opening of which Meletius of Antioch presided.

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symbol of constantinople 381
Symbol of Constantinople (381)

Athanasius died in 373; but his cause triumphed at Constantinople, long an Arian city

First by the preaching of St. Gregory Nazianzen

Then in the Second General Council (381),

at the opening of which Meletius of Antioch presided.

  • Once a staunch Semi-Arian this saintly man had been estranged from the Nicene champions during a long schism
  • But he made peace with Athanasius
  • Now, in company of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, he represented a moderate influence which won the day.
  • No deputies appeared from the West.
  • Meletius died almost immediately.
council of constantinople i
Council of Constantinople I

St. Gregory of Nazianzen,

who took his place, very soon resigned.

A creed embodying the Nicene was drawn up by

St. Gregory of Nyssa,

But it is not the one that is chanted at Mass,

The latter being due, it is said, to

St. Epiphanius and the Church of Jerusalem

It is a revised version contained in his work Ancoratus (374).

The Council became ecumenical by acceptance of the Pope and the ever-orthodox Westerns.

From this moment Arianism in all its forms lost its place within the Empire.


St. Gregory of Nyssa

Date of birth unknown; died after 385 or 386.

  • He belongs to the group known as the "Cappadocian Fathers", a title which reveals at once his birthplace in Asia Minor and his intellectual characteristics.
  • His mother Emmelia was a martyr's daughter; two of his brothers, Basil of Cæsarea and Peter of Sebaste, became bishops like himself;
  • His eldest sister, Macrina, became a model of piety and is honoured as a saint.
  • Another brother, Naucratius, a lawyer, inclined to a life of asceticism, but died too young to realize his desires.

Gregory was born of a deeply religious family, not very rich in worldly goods, to which circumstances he probably owed the pious training of his youth.


St. Gregory of Nyssa

A letter of Gregory to his younger brother, Peter, exhibits the feelings of lively gratitude which both cherished for their elder brother Basil, whom Gregory calls "our father and our master".

  • Probably, therefore, the difference in years between them was such as to have enabled Basil to supervise the education of his younger brothers.
  • Basil's training was an antidote to the lessons of the pagan schools, wherein, as we know from a letter of St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa spent some time, very probably in his early youth, for it is certain that while still a youth Gregory exercised the ecclesiastical office of rector.

St. Gregory of Nyssa

His family, it would seem, had endeavored to turn his thoughts towards the Church, for when the young man chose a secular career and began the study of rhetoric, Basil remonstrated with him long and earnestly;

  • when he had failed he called on Gregory's friends to influence him against that objectionable secular calling.
  • It was all in vain; moreover, it would seem that the young man married.
  • There exists a letter addressed to him by Gregory of Nazianzus condoling with him on the loss of one Theosebeia, who must have been his wife, and with whom he continued to live, as with a sister, even after he became bishop.
  • This is also evident from his treatise "De virginitate".

St. Gregory of Nyssa

He was selected Bishop of Nyssa in 372 A.D. through Basil's influence in an effort to develop allies in the struggle against the Arian heresy, which denied that Christ was God.

  • According to Gregory of Nazianzus it was Basil who performed the episcopal consecration of his brother, before he himself had taken possession of the See of Sozima;
  • Was this brusque change in Gregory's career the result of a sudden vocation?

St. Basil tells us that it was necessary to overcome his brother's repugnance, before he accepted the office of bishop.

  • But this does not help us to an answer, as the episcopal charge in that day was beset with many dangers.

St. Gregory of Nyssa

Moreover in the fourth century, and even later, it was not uncommon to express dislike of the episcopal honour, and to fly from the prospect of election.

  • The fugitives, however, were usually discovered and brought back, and the consecration took place when a show of resistance had saved the candidate's humility.
  • Whether it was so in Gregory's case, or whether he really did feel his own unfitness, we do not know.

In any case, St. Basil seems to have regretted at times the constraint thus put on his brother, now removed from his influence; in his letters he complains of Gregory's naive and clumsy interference with his (Basil's) business.


St. Gregory of Nyssa

To Basil the synod called in 372 by Gregory at Ancyra seemed the ruin of his own labors.

In 375 Gregory seemed to him decidedly incapable of ruling a Church. At the same time he had but faint praise for Gregory's zeal for souls.

  • On arriving in his see Gregory had to face great difficulties.
  • His sudden elevation may have turned against him some who had hoped for the office themselves.
  • It would appear that one of the courtiers of Emperor Valens had solicited the see either for himself or one of his friends.

When Demosthenes, Governor of Pontus, convened an assembly of Eastern bishops, a certain Philocares, at one of its sessions, accused Gregory of wasting church property, and of irregularity in his election to the episcopate, whereupon Demosthenes ordered the Bishop of Nyssa to be seized and brought before him.


St. Gregory of Nyssa

Gregory at first allowed himself to be led away by his captors, then losing heart and discouraged by the cold and brutal treatment he met with, he took an opportunity of escape and reached a place of safety.

  • A Synod of Nyssa (376) deposed him, and he was reduced to wander from town to town, until the death of Valens in 378.
  • The new emperor, Gratian, published an edict of tolerance, and Gregory returned to his see, where he was received with joy.
  • A few months after this (January, 379) his brother Basil died; whereupon an era of activity began for Gregory.

After St. Basil's death in 379 A.D., Gregory became the leading theologian in the East.


St. Gregory of Nyssa

In 379 he assisted at the Council of Antioch which had been summoned because of the Meletian schism.

  • Soon after this, it is supposed, he visited Palestine.
  • There is reason for believing that he was sent officially to remedy the disorders of the Church of Arabia.

But possibly his journey did not take place till after the Council of Constantinople in 381, convened by Emperor Theodosius for the welfare of religion in that city.

  • It asserted the faith of Nicæa, and tried to put an end to Arianism and Pneumatism in the East.

St. Gregory of Nyssa

This council was not looked on as an important one at the time; even those present at it seldom refer to it in their writings.

  • Gregory himself, though he assisted at the council, mentions it only casually in his funeral oration over Meletius of Antioch, who died during the course of this assembly.
  • An edict of Theodosius (30 July, 381; Cod. Theod., LXVI, tit. I., L. 3) having appointed certain episcopal sees as centers of Catholic communion in the East, Helladius of Cæsarea, Gregory of Nyssa and Otreius of Melitene were chosen to fill them.

At Constantinople Gregory gave evidence on two occasions of his talent as an orator; he delivered the discourse at the enthronization of St. Gregory of Nazianzus, also the aforesaid oration over Meletius of Antioch.


St. Gregory of Nyssa

It is very probable that Gregory was present at another Council of Constantinople in 383; his "Oratio de deitate Filii et Spiritus Sancti" seems to confirm this.

  • In 385 or 386 he preached the funeral sermon over the imperial Princess Pulcheria, and shortly afterwards over Empress Flaccilla.
  • A little later we meet him again at Constantinople, on which occasion his counsel was sought for the repression of ecclesiastical disorders in Arabia;

He then disappears from history, and probably did not long survive this journey.


St. Gregory of Nyssa

The most important of his theological writings is his large "Catechesis", or "Oratio Catechetica", an argumentative defence in forty chapters of Catholic teaching as against Jews, heathens, and heretics.

  • The most extensive of his extant works is his refutation of Eunomius in twelve books, a defence of St. Basil against that heretic, and also of the Nicene Creed against Arianism; this work is of capital importance in the history of the Arian controversy.
  • He also wrote two works against Apollinaris of Laodicea, in refutation of the false doctrines of that writer, viz. that the body of Christ descended from heaven, and that in Christ, the Divine Word acted as the rational soul.
  • He wrote also against Arius and Sabellius, and against the Macedonians, who denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit; the latter work he never finished.
symbol of constantinople 38114
Symbol of Constantinople (381)

The council was convened by Emperor Theodosius I to “confirm the faith of Nicaea” and to reaffirm it against the Arian current which had not entirely died out

  • More particularly the intention was to determine the doctrine of the Holy Spirit against various heretical tendencies, notably that of Eunomius and the Macedonians, also called “Pneumatomachs”, who denied his divinity
  • The council was held from May to July of 381. It was composed of “150 Fathers”, all from the East. Pope Damasus was not represented.
  • It will not be recognized as an ecumenical Council in the West until the 6th century

In the end what raises this Byzantine Synod to the rank of General council is its promulgation of this Symbol, and notably its doctrine of the Holy Spirit

symbol of constantinople 38115
Symbol of Constantinople (381)

We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of al things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, generated from the Father before all ages, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in being with the Father, through whom all things were made. For us and our salvation he came down from the heavens and became flesh from the Holy Spirit and the the Virgin Mary and was made man. For our sake too he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried. On the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, he ascended to the heavens and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He shall come again in glory to judge the living and the dead; to his Kingdom their will be no end.

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.

And in one Holy Catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We expect the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The faith of the 318 Fathers who gathered at Nicaea of Bithnia may not be adulterated. It remains authoritative and all heresy must be condemned, especially that of the Eunomians or “Anomaeans, of the Arians or Eudoxians, of the Semi-Arians or Pneumatomachs, of the Sebellians, the Marcellians, the Photinians and the Apollinarists.

symbol of constantinople 38116
Symbol of Constantinople (381)

At the heart of the problem at the time was the disagreement between supporters of two different terms used to describe the Son (and the Holy Spirit) in relation to God the Father:

homoiousion (),

‘of like substance’

homoousion (),

‘of the same substance [or of one substance]’.

It was the latter that won: we say in the Nicene Creed: “... of one substance with the Father.”

symbol of constantinople 38117
Symbol of Constantinople (381)

What on earth does ‘substance’ in this context mean?

What we want to concentrate on is:

the actual terms chosen to discuss and express the ideas involved,

together with their later translation from one language into another

and later into many.

As suggested, it is of course important

  • to know what the word ‘substance’ means now and meant at the time;
  • to know why it was chosen as a suitable term;
  • to know at least part of the history of its subsequent development in the following sixteen hundred years.
symbol of constantinople 38118
Symbol of Constantinople (381)

It is vitally important to realize that the term as we know it is radically different in connotation

– whatever continuity there may be in the lines of its historical development –

to the term used at Nicaea;

There are two major factors involved here, both matters of language or of ‘language games’:

east and west languages,

Greek and Latin on the one hand


‘up’ and ‘down’ languages,

academic and popular on the other.

symbol of constantinople 38119
Symbol of Constantinople (381)


The language of the Council of Nicaea (and also Constantinople) was Greek

Yet a large proportion of the Church was in the West and its language was Latin.

So the teaching of the Council, the terminology used by it, had to be translated from Greek to Latin.

This presented a series of problems.

Though we are only dealing with two terms

ousia and hypostasis

  • For technical and historical reasons, the problems were intense

(whether or not they were fully realized at the time.)

symbol of constantinople 38120
Symbol of Constantinople (381)


Ousia (Substantia Lt; Substance Eng.)

Lying behind all this is the Greek word (ousia) which sort of means substance

(but one has to be careful.)

  • It was both a philosophical technical term and an ordinary every day ‘lay’ word at the same time
  • Just as ‘substance’ (its later contorted translation) is today

(Though the ancients never developed anything like our use of it in the term ‘substance abuse’.)

symbol of constantinople 38121
Symbol of Constantinople (381)


Ousia refers to the reality,

the actuality,

the ‘beingfulness’ of something

– in this case God, the Deity –

Though to say that hardly leaves us without further questions.

Monotheism proclaimed one actuality,

one reality

(not making any more subtle distinction here at this point),

one ‘substance’:

(monos) means one, and only one – no plurality.

symbol of constantinople 38122
Symbol of Constantinople (381)


In its belief that the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit were actually distinct the Council of Nicaea came up against a problem.

They were three

(though only one ousia - );

but if so, three what?

They had to use some word to answer this.

It was very important, however, that they did not use a word which, within the highly charged culture of the time, had a specific and particular meaning

– according to this school of philosophy or that.

symbol of constantinople 38123
Symbol of Constantinople (381)


This was difficult.

It was important, in defining

a belief, a doctrine,

that they should use something stronger than the Greek word – almost a throw-away word

meaning effectively

‘something’ (or ‘anything’, or ‘whatever’) –

Though without the strength and bite of these English words.

symbol of constantinople 38124
Symbol of Constantinople (381)


As it were by pure luck

The word hypostasis was available, having no technical status in any current philosophical system.

Perhaps not a very satisfactory word to use having no past history and no biblical reference,

But indicating, in some sense hidden, yet there.

It literally means ‘standing-under’, what is not immediately seen/apparent

symbol of constantinople 38125
Symbol of Constantinople (381)


In using hypostases the Council was almost in effect saying

‘three whatevers’

(but of course, one reality),

though also going a little further than that:

‘three underlyings’.

  • It is important to read no more significance into that answer to the question What? than that.
  • The Council was not making a ‘philosophical’ definition of Trinitarian terms, it was in effect doing the very opposite.

The Council was being purposefully ambiguous

symbol of constantinople 38126
Symbol of Constantinople (381)


With hypostasis there should have been no difficulty in providing a suitable Latin translation;

It is a straightforward combination of hypo and stasis:

standing beneath, or below.

The Latin translation is obvious: sub and stantia – substantia.

But No; this simple solution could not be,

because ousia (the other term in the Conciliar declaration) was already traditionally translated by substantia.

symbol of constantinople 38127
Symbol of Constantinople (381)


A new word in Latin had to be found

the word chosen was personae,

This word was free of any philosophical connotation,

But had similar suitability, within its dramatic context,

much like that of hypostasis:

It referred to what is behind, lying underneath, not immediately seen, but there and real.

symbol of constantinople 38128
Symbol of Constantinople (381)


Here, then, is the terminology that came out of the Council, with first the Latin translation and then the English:

Greek Latin English

Ousia Substantia Substance

Hypostasis Personae Persons

It is severely complicated by the fact, already mentioned, that substantia is ‘by right’ the translation of hypostasis and personae is the traditional translation of prosopon, not of hypostasis.

symbol of constantinople 38129
Symbol of Constantinople (381)



A further complication soon begins to set in.

Quite independently of its use at Nicaea/Constantinople, personae began to enrich itself as a concept and have a development of its own

Which leads, via the scholastics, the enlightenment and eventually the psychoanalysts, to the present day.

  • During the earlier part of this period, in the high scholastic era, the idea of ‘person’ was developed and explored with its definition as “rational substance”.
  • This was of course primarily within the context of the human person, but extended to the idea of angels, and even God himself.
symbol of constantinople 38130
Symbol of Constantinople (381)



Introducing it or similar developments into the Trinitarian context confuses the situation even further by bringing together again ideas which should be kept totally apart!

In the Trinitarian context personae are, of course, set over against substantiae.

A later concept of ‘person’ defined in relationship with ‘substance’,

however rich it may be in itself,

can only distort the idea of God as “three Persons”.

symbol of constantinople 38131
Symbol of Constantinople (381)



At the end of the line of this development, our current word person now has an almost entirely different meaning from what it had at Nicaea.

Nevertheless this seem to have been, and still is, consistently ignored.

These later enrichments of the idea of the human person are frequently read back by so-called theologians into the doctrine of Nicaea!

To give us, it is claimed, a richer and more profound understanding of the Trinity.

Such a procedure is totally invalid; the riches we have come to see and understand in human nature through subsequent history are not transferable backwards as if they were implicitly contained within the language of the Council.

symbol of constantinople 38132
Symbol of Constantinople (381)



The significance of the Council’s definition and understanding of the Trinity has no connection with these developments, and they throw no light whatsoever on our understanding of God as Three Persons.

The whole concept of the individual members of the Trinity being “persons”,

as now this term is generally understood,

becomes in effect contradictory to what Nicaea stood for, and leads more or less straightforwardly to

polytheism – tritheism.