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January 09, 2005

The Arian Heresy

The Fourteen-Year-Old asks me how the pronunciation of "homoousion" is different from the pronunciation of "homoiousion." I confess I have not the slightest idea how to pronounce either...

Posted by DeLong at January 9, 2005 08:33 PM

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Tracked on January 15, 2005 07:40 PM


I can offer only limited assistance, as my Church History prof in seminary was Jamaican. He was an excellent scholar with a thick accent that was a joy to listen to, but I've found that people look at me strangely when I say the names of any of the Ante-Nicene Fathers.

Anyway, Dr. Russell pronounced these "hoe-moe-OOS-ion" and "hoe-moe-EE-oos-ion."

Posted by: slacktivist at January 9, 2005 08:46 PM

I agree with "hoe-moe-OOS-ion for the "homoousion", but vote for hoe-MOY-OOS-ion for "homoiousion" since the Greek letters "o" and "i" (omicron and iota) together are generally pronounced as "oy".

Posted by: Joe at January 9, 2005 09:01 PM

I can chip in what I learned from a few years studying ancient Greek:

oi = rhymes with "boy"

ou = rhymes with "crew"



Posted by: Brian Zimmerman at January 9, 2005 09:01 PM

If he'd only asked with reference to Greek spellings instead of transliterations, the problem would be much simpler. As it is, the problem involves reconstructing what Greek letters were involved, something about which different transliteration schemes are maddeningly inconsistent. For the consonants, things are usually fine, but the vowels are always a mess. (Eta or epsilon? Omicron or omega? Should upsilon become one Roman letter or two?)

Back-projecting my best guesses at what's going on with a mixture of morphology ("homo" is probably an indivisible unit) and seat-of-the-pants speculation (the "ou" in each probably comes from a single upsilon), I think Slacktivist's pronunciations are right in their essentials:

homoousion = omega + mu + omega + upsilon + sigma + iota + omicron + nu = hoe-moe-oo-si-on

homoiousion = omega + mu + omega + iota + upsilon + sigma + iota + omicron + nu = hoe-moe-ee-oo-si-on

Not sure about the accents, which I would have placed on the OO in both, on the basis of the little Greek I had a decade ago.

Posted by: James Grimmelmann at January 9, 2005 09:25 PM

What does an English/American dictionary say?

Posted by: Linkmeister at January 9, 2005 09:27 PM

Better get it straight, Brad. Religious wars have been fought over less.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at January 9, 2005 10:02 PM

It is in fact "homo - ousios" and "homoy - ousios" you have to pronouce. homoi is the plural of homos and means "the same" or "one"; ousios means "being" from einai = to be.
So homoousion means something as "being the same" or "one in essence". That was the discusssion in early christian times : is "Christ one in essence with the Father" = homoousios, and is that the way you have tto understand his godness, or was he a ordinary man, with a special message.

Posted by: FDK Brussels at January 9, 2005 11:33 PM

The current Greek pronunciation is:

homoousion = homo-OO-ssion,

homoiousion = homee-OO-ssion.

In both cases the stress falls on the 'ou' (pron. OO). And the initial h is not pronounced much.


Posted by: Anonymous at January 10, 2005 01:30 AM

My "talking" Merriam-Webster dictionary says:


Posted by: Scott at January 10, 2005 03:24 AM

Oops, that second one was:


Posted by: Scott at January 10, 2005 03:30 AM

FDK Brussels,

I thought the 'i' was from homoios, meaning 'like', as opposed to homos, meaning 'same', no?

Posted by: walons at January 10, 2005 07:22 AM

That's some 14-year old you've got there. Why isn't he chasing girls and looking for cheap narcotics, like a normal boy his age?

Previous posters have noted (correctly) that the pronunciation of Greek has changed over time, a fact that complicates the enormously weighty issue of how to pronounce these two words. What hasn't been noted is that in the period we're addressing, the 4th c. A.D. and after, it's widely believed by ancient Greek scholars that the pronunciation of Greek was already approaching that of the modern language to a greater or less degree. So, way back in the days of Plato, the words (if they had existed) would have been pronounced something like this:

homoousion = ho-mo-oo-see-on
homoiousion = ho-moy-oo-see-on

In Athens last week, the words were pronounced something like:

homoousion = o-mo-oo-see-on
homoiousion = o-mee-oo-see-on. (I'm not an expert on modern Greek, but I believe that a Greek today could quite comfortably "modernize" the words even further, by replacing the ancient neuter sing. accusative/nominative termination -on with its modern equivalent -o, giving you o-mo-oo-see-o and o-mee-oo-see-o.)

Around the time of the Council of Nicaea, the pronunciation would have been closer to o-mo-oo-see-on/o-mee-oo-see-on, but I doubt that anyone can say with certainty exactly how close. "oi" (omicron-iota, that is) did almost certainly have the modern -ee- pronunciation by then. Pronunciations that try to turn "oi" into oh-ee are simply wrong.

Does any of this help?

Signed, a former Classics professor

Posted by: C. Schuyler at January 10, 2005 07:25 AM

...I confess I have not the slightest idea how to pronounce either...
My sympathies.
My grandfather, lord rest him, always said that a word wasn't "mine" until I could spell it. Fiddlesticks! To this day I can spell bunches of words that I'd never attempt to pronounce. The "talking" dictionaries have been a godsend.

Posted by: clio at January 10, 2005 07:30 AM




fil-THEE HER-uh-tik

Posted by: JRoth at January 10, 2005 07:38 AM

Is he reading Gibbon?

Posted by: big al at January 10, 2005 07:47 AM

Is he reading a version of Gibbon with the footnotes translated?

Posted by: Matt at January 10, 2005 08:05 AM

who cares? unless it's a word he is going to use in conversation it can be pronounced "george" for all it's important

Posted by: Sarah at January 10, 2005 08:34 AM

Love to see a subject of lasting interest among all the reviews of SS lies in the press. :-)

Posted by: sm at January 10, 2005 08:50 AM

Once again the DeLong clan has made me feel inadequate. Homo-whut? Is that legal in California, and should a 14-year-old be discussing this in polite company?

Posted by: LarryB at January 10, 2005 08:54 AM

Click on the speaker icon:


Posted by: Macneil at January 10, 2005 10:11 AM

Gibbon with the footnotes translated?

That'd be great. I always did wonder what was in Julian's beard.

Posted by: Ben at January 10, 2005 11:45 AM

You're right. It's not the iota of the plural of "omos" but the iota of "omoios", and the difference was indeed in the very heat of the Arian debate. I apologize, I better checked before reacting. But I reacted very spontaneously, not only because I remembered suddenly this point from my lessons ancient Greek more than 30 year ago, but also because I just tumbled down from my chair at the office this morning. Opening one of the US blogs I use to consult every morning I read something about the pronunciation of ancient Greek in Brad DeLong's blog. Absolutely amazing for a citizen of - what some of you over there call - “old Europe”.

Posted by: FDK Brussels at January 10, 2005 01:35 PM

Hmmm....should fourteen-year-olds really be dabbling in the theological niceties of divine conception, anyway? I thought they were supposed to be addicted to video games at about this age, to prepare them for cubicle life!

Besides if they get it wrong, they risk the stake, or at the very least, it seems, eternal torment!

Posted by: PQuincy at January 10, 2005 02:09 PM

Hey Brad, there's a pretty good classics department over in Dwinelle, and like all classicists they just love it when an outsider asks for their expertise.

Schuyler has it right, anyway.

[Would you believe I've never entered Dwinelle without immediately getting lost?]

Posted by: viacondotti at January 10, 2005 02:19 PM

So on a different subject,.. I though that the conflict that "split the church over an iota" had nothing to do with the Arian heresy. Wasn't that a much earlier fight?

Someday I'm really going to have to look up that Chaosium game "Credo", where the players represent factions in the early Church trying to establish their positions as orthodox doctrine.

Posted by: Matt Austern at January 10, 2005 08:45 PM

This topic makes me feel lucky to have been born and raised in a Greek-speaking family. Anyone with that background has no trouble telling the two words apart by ear, as well as by eye. Moreover, the "homooussion" is recited daily in church, in the Creed, so Sunday School pupils get pretty familiar with the word, if not with its subtler meaning, early in life.
Surely, the orthodox (and Catholic and Protestant)version "of one essence [with the Father]" differs from the Arian version "of a similar essence [with the Father]" by more than an iota.

[in English, "one in being" as opposed to "like in being"]

Posted by: George J. Georganas at January 11, 2005 02:36 AM

Just a quick piece of historical trivia: these two words are the origin of the phrase "one iota of difference."

B.A Classics

Posted by: Constance Reader at January 11, 2005 09:55 AM

If you're interested in the theology as well as the etymology, I just blogged on the Trinity, listing the relevant Biblical passages (without much commentary), at:


The Arian position is interesting because it fully recognizes the Biblical passages that say that Jesus helped create the world, while denying that He was created himself, a not entirely unreasonable position.

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen at January 11, 2005 06:01 PM

Somehow this issue reminds me of the difference between a homomorphism and a homeomorphism in math. Even though there seems to be no isomorphism or natural transformation from the religious distinction to the mathematical.


JEEZ. Are adding links now forbidden in the comments. I added links on the buzz words and they were all stripped on preview. I even tried to bold the buzzwords and that was also stripped. As were all my attempts at adding formatting like a [br] Well, here are what I wanted to link:





Posted by: MonkeyBoy at January 12, 2005 08:54 PM

TESTING HTML. I my last post I found on preview that all the HTML had been stripped out and all of the text had been run-together in the preview without any respect for extra added CRs (carriage returns). But when it showed up as an actual (not preview) comment the CRs were back. So I am going to directly (without preview) try to post the word HOMEOMORPHIC wrapped in an "a" tag.


Posted by: MonkeyBoy at January 12, 2005 09:02 PM

RE: TESTING HTML. Nope, it didn't work. Looks like all HTML is stripped, but extra CRs are stripped in preview mode but appear in actual comments.

Posted by: MonkeyBoy at January 12, 2005 09:06 PM

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