A Christmas meme has been making its way around the internet. It features a little boy asking Santa: “Homoousios or Homoiousios?”
Santa replies with a confused, “What?”
Then comes the punchline. The little boy says, “You’re not the real St. Nicolas.”
So what in the world is this meme about? Well, it’s about one of the most important realities in the universe: who Jesus is.
Who Do You Say That I Am?
Christians in the fourth century had to define how the Word (Logos) of God was also Jesus of Nazareth. Everyone agreed that the Trinity existed in some form. But some were confused about how the Logos (Jesus) related to the Father. If God is the Father and if God cannot change, then how can Jesus/the Logos also be God in the same way that the Father is God?
This was basically Arius’s position. Arius (AD 256-336) was a Christian leader from Alexandria who promoted the idea that the Logos was a created thing, a creature, although perfect and kind-sorta God. But not like the Father.
Other Christians were aghast. They always worshiped Jesus/the Logos as God, and to say that the Logos was created smelled fishy. How can the church worship the Logos as God, if the Logos is not God because he is created?
While the debate would wax on for sometime, the majority were not comfortable with Arius’s teaching. But the discussion about how to define Jesus/the Word continued throughout the fourth century.
Homoousios Vs. Homoiousios
In the late fourth century. the debate about who Jesus was circled around two words: homoousios and homoiousios. Both words affirmed the divine character of Jesus but in slightly different ways. To say that Jesus is homoousious with the Father is to say that Jesus is made of the same stuff; He is God of God, light of light, spring of source, and so on.
To say that Jesus is homoiousios with the Father is to say that Jesus is like the Father in substance but not exactly the same thing. While the pure Arianism of the early fourth century had died down, the more nuanced debate about the nature of who Jesus was still existed. Was he exactly the same substance of the Father or simply like the Father (i.e., still divine but in a substantially different way).
The homoiousios party eventually lost steam because it seemed safer to say that the Logos was made of the same stuff as the Father. So both were of the same (homo) ousios (essense).
Jesus did say, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).
And John the Apostle clearly states that in the beginning the Word was with God and the Word was God (John 1:1).
The Santa Meme
So why is Santa part of this story? Well, St. Nicolas, the historical character whom Santa is based on, attended the council of Nicaea in 325. At that council, the church defined the Logos as being homoousios (same essence) with the Father.
So Santa not only gives us good gifts, he also gives us good theology. And that’s a great Christmas truth to remember as we celebrate the advent of our divine Lord Jesus Christ this Christmas.
 I corrected the spelling of one version of the meme I saw in the above. The version of the meme that I cited above came from Wesley Huff.
Paul Carter says
You forgot the best part – he punched Arius the heretic in the face. How could you leave that out? The real Santa loved little kids and he hated heresy – what more could you want? 🙂
It’s a true Christmas tale.
Joan L. Roccasalvo says
Where is the cartoon?