Hypostasis (philosophy and religion)

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Hypostasis (Greek: ὑπόστασις) is the underlying state or underlying substance and is the fundamental reality that supports all else. In Neoplatonism the hypostasis of the soul, the intellect ( nous ) and "the one" was addressed by Plotinus.

Ancient Greek Version of the Greek language used from roughly the 9th century BCE to the 6th century CE

The Ancient Greek language includes the forms of Greek used in Ancient Greece and the ancient world from around the 9th century BCE to the 6th century CE. It is often roughly divided into the Archaic period, Classical period, and Hellenistic period. It is antedated in the second millennium BCE by Mycenaean Greek and succeeded by medieval Greek.

Reality is the sum or aggregate of all that is real or existent, as opposed to that which is merely imaginary. The term is also used to refer to the ontological status of things, indicating their existence. In physical terms, reality is the totality of the universe, known and unknown. Philosophical questions about the nature of reality or existence or being are considered under the rubric of ontology, which is a major branch of metaphysics in the Western philosophical tradition. Ontological questions also feature in diverse branches of philosophy, including the philosophy of science, philosophy of religion, philosophy of mathematics, and philosophical logic. These include questions about whether only physical objects are real, whether reality is fundamentally immaterial, whether hypothetical unobservable entities posited by scientific theories exist, whether God exists, whether numbers and other abstract objects exist, and whether possible worlds exist.


Neoplatonism is a term used to designate a strand of Platonic philosophy that emerged in the third century AD against the background of Hellenistic philosophy and religion. The term does not encapsulate a set of ideas as much as it encapsulates a chain of thinkers which began with Ammonius Saccas and his student Plotinus and which stretches to the sixth century AD. Even though neoplatonism primarily circumscribes the thinkers who are now labeled Neoplatonists and not their ideas, there are some ideas that are common to neoplatonic systems, for example, the monistic idea that all of reality can be derived from a single principle, "the One".


In Christian theology, a hypostasis is one of the three hypostases (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) of the Trinity. [1]

Christian theology is the theology of Christian belief and practice. Such study concentrates primarily upon the texts of the Old Testament and of the New Testament, as well as on Christian tradition. Christian theologians use biblical exegesis, rational analysis and argument. Theologians may undertake the study of Christian theology for a variety of reasons, such as in order to:

Trinity Christian doctrine that God is one God, but three coeternal consubstantial persons

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity holds that God is one God, but three coeternal consubstantial persons or hypostases—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—as "one God in three Divine Persons". The three Persons are distinct, yet are one "substance, essence or nature" (homoousios). In this context, a "nature" is what one is, whereas a "person" is who one is. Sometimes differing views are referred to as nontrinitarian. Trinitarianism contrasts with positions such as Binitarianism and Monarchianism, of which Modalistic Monarchianism and Unitarianism are subsets.

Ancient Greek philosophy

Pseudo-Aristotle used hypostasis in the sense of material substance. [2]

Pseudo-Aristotle is a general cognomen for authors of philosophical or medical treatises who attributed their work to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, or whose work was later attributed to him by others. Such falsely attributed works are known as pseudepigrapha.

Matter substance that has rest mass and volume, or several other definitions

In classical physics and general chemistry, matter is any substance that has mass and takes up space by having volume. All everyday objects that can be touched are ultimately composed of atoms, which are made up of interacting subatomic particles, and in everyday as well as scientific usage, "matter" generally includes atoms and anything made up of them, and any particles that act as if they have both rest mass and volume. However it does not include massless particles such as photons, or other energy phenomena or waves such as light or sound. Matter exists in various states. These include classical everyday phases such as solid, liquid, and gas – for example water exists as ice, liquid water, and gaseous steam – but other states are possible, including plasma, Bose–Einstein condensates, fermionic condensates, and quark–gluon plasma.

Neoplatonists argue that beneath the surface phenomena that present themselves to our senses are three higher spiritual principles, or hypostases, each one more sublime than the preceding. For Plotinus, these are: the Soul, the Intellect, and the One. [3] [4]

Plotinus Neoplatonist philosopher

Plotinus was a major Greek-speaking philosopher of the ancient world. In his philosophy, described in the Enneads, there are three principles: the One, the Intellect, and the Soul. His teacher was Ammonius Saccas, who was of the Platonic tradition. Historians of the 19th century invented the term Neoplatonism and applied it to Plotinus and his philosophy, which was influential in Late Antiquity. Much of the biographical information about Plotinus comes from Porphyry's preface to his edition of Plotinus' Enneads. His metaphysical writings have inspired centuries of Pagan, Islamic, Jewish, Christian, and Gnostic metaphysicians and mystics.

<i>Nous</i> the faculty of the human mind necessary for understanding what is true or real

Nous, sometimes equated to intellect or intelligence, is a term from classical philosophy for the faculty of the human mind necessary for understanding what is true or real. English words such as "understanding" are sometimes used, but three commonly used philosophical terms come directly from classical languages: νοῦς or νόος, intellēctus and intellegentia. To describe the activity of this faculty, the word "intellection" is sometimes used in philosophical contexts, as well as the Greek words noēsis and noeîn. This activity is understood in a similar way to the modern concept of intuition.

Henology refers to the philosophical account or discourse on "The One" that appears most notably in the philosophy of Plotinus. Reiner Schürmann describes it as a "metaphysics of radical transcendence" that extends beyond being and intellection. It can be contrasted with ontology, as ontology is "an account of being" whereas henology is an "account of unity".

Christian theology

In early Christian writings, hypostasis is used to denote "being" or "substantive reality" and is not always distinguished in meaning from ousia ('essence' or 'substance'). It was used in this way by Tatian and Origen, and also in the anathemas appended to the Nicene Creed of 325.

Ousia philosophical and theological term, originally used in Ancient Greek philosophy

Ousia is a philosophical and theological term, originally used in Ancient Greek philosophy, and also in Christian theology. It was used by various Ancient Greek philosophers, like Plato and Aristotle, as a primary designation for philosophical concepts of essence or substance. In contemporary philosophy, it is analogous to English concepts of being and ontic. In Christian theology, the concept of θεία ουσία is one of the most important doctrinal concepts, central to the development of trinitarian doctrine.

Tatian of Adiabene, or Tatian the Syrian, Tatian the Assyrian, (; Latin: Tatianus; Ancient Greek: Τατιανός; Classical Syriac: ܛܛܝܢܘܣ‎; c. 120 – c. 180 AD) was an Assyrian Christian writer and theologian of the 2nd century.

Origen 3rd-century Christian scholar from Alexandria

Origen of Alexandria, also known as Origen Adamantius, was an early Christian scholar, ascetic, and theologian who was born and spent the first half of his career in Alexandria. He was a prolific writer who wrote roughly 2,000 treatises in multiple branches of theology, including textual criticism, biblical exegesis and biblical hermeneutics, homiletics, and spirituality. He was one of the most influential figures in early Christian theology, apologetics, and asceticism. He has been described as "the greatest genius the early church ever produced".

Trinitarian definitions

It was mainly under the influence of the Cappadocian Fathers that the terminology was clarified and standardized so that the formula "three hypostases in one ousia" came to be accepted as an epitome of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. [5] Specifically, Basil of Caesarea argues that the two terms are not synonymous and that they, therefore, are not to be used indiscriminately in referring to the godhead. He writes:

Cappadocian Fathers Group of early of Christian chaplains

The Cappadocian Fathers, also traditionally known as the Three Cappadocians, are Basil the Great (330–379), who was bishop of Caesarea; Basil's younger brother Gregory of Nyssa, who was bishop of Nyssa; and a close friend, Gregory of Nazianzus (329–389), who became Patriarch of Constantinople. The Cappadocia region, in modern-day Turkey, was an early site of Christian activity, with several missions by Paul in this region.

Orthodoxy adherence to accepted norms, more specifically to creeds, especially in religion

Orthodoxy is adherence to correct or accepted creeds, especially in religion. In the Christian sense the term means "conforming to the Christian faith as represented in the creeds of the early Church." The first seven ecumenical councils were held between the years of 325 and 787 with the aim of formalizing accepted doctrines.

Basil of Caesarea 4th-century Christian bishop, theologian, and saint

Basil of Caesarea, also called Saint Basil the Great, was the bishop of Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia, Asia Minor. He was an influential theologian who supported the Nicene Creed and opposed the heresies of the early Christian church, fighting against both Arianism and the followers of Apollinaris of Laodicea. His ability to balance his theological convictions with his political connections made Basil a powerful advocate for the Nicene position.

The distinction between ousia and hypostases is the same as that between the general and the particular; as, for instance, between the animal and the particular man. Wherefore, in the case of the Godhead, we confess one essence or substance so as not to give variant definition of existence, but we confess a particular hypostasis, in order that our conception of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit may be without confusion and clear. [5]

This consensus, however, was not achieved without some confusion at first in the minds of Western theologians since in the West the vocabulary was different. Many Latin-speaking theologians understood hypo-stasis as "sub-stantia" (substance); thus when speaking of three "hypostases" in the godhead, they might suspect three "substances" or tritheism. However, from the middle of the fifth century onwards, marked by Council of Chalcedon, the word came to be contrasted with ousia and used to mean "individual reality," especially in the trinitarian and Christological contexts. The Christian concept of the Trinity is often described as being one god existing in three distinct hypostases/personae/persons. [6]

See also

Related Research Articles

In the Platonic, Neopythagorean, Middle Platonic, and Neoplatonic schools of philosophy, the demiurge is an artisan-like figure responsible for fashioning and maintaining the physical universe. The Gnostics adopted the term "demiurge". Although a fashioner, the demiurge is not necessarily the same as the creator figure in the monotheistic sense, because the demiurge itself and the material from which the demiurge fashions the universe are both considered to be consequences of something else. Depending on the system, they may be considered to be either uncreated and eternal or the product of some other entity.

Godhead, is the divinity or substance (ousia) of the Christian God, the substantial impersonal being of God, as opposed to the individual persons or hypostases of the Trinity; in other words, the Godhead refers to the "what" of God, and God refers to the "who" of God. The concept is especially important in Christian negative theology, e.g., the theology of the Godhead according to Pseudo-Dionysius. Within some religious traditions which take Christian themes but not doctrine, such as Mormonism, the term is used as a nontrinitarian substitute for the term Trinity, denoting the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit not as a Trinity, but as a unified council of separate beings in full harmony.

Emanationism is an idea in the cosmology or cosmogony of certain religious or philosophical systems. Emanation, from the Latin emanare meaning "to flow from" or "to pour forth or out of", is the mode by which all things are derived from the first reality, or principle. All things are derived from the first reality or perfect God by steps of degradation to lesser degrees of the first reality or God, and at every step the emanating beings are less pure, less perfect, less divine. Emanationism is a transcendent principle from which everything is derived, and is opposed to both creationism and materialism.

<i>Logos</i> Philosophical concept

Logos is a term in Western philosophy, psychology, rhetoric, and religion derived from a Greek word variously meaning "ground", "plea", "opinion", "expectation", "word", "speech", "account", "reason", "proportion", and "discourse". It became a technical term in Western philosophy beginning with Heraclitus, who used the term for a principle of order and knowledge.

<i>The Enneads</i> writings of Plotinus, edited and compiled by his student Porphyry

The Enneads, fully The Six Enneads, is the collection of writings of Plotinus, edited and compiled by his student Porphyry. Plotinus was a student of Ammonius Saccas and they were founders of Neoplatonism. His work, through Augustine of Hippo, the Cappadocian Fathers, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite and several subsequent Christian and Muslim thinkers, has greatly influenced Western and Near-Eastern thought.

Hypostatic union

Hypostatic union is a technical term in Christian theology employed in mainstream Christology to describe the union of Christ's humanity and divinity in one hypostasis, or individual existence.

Essence–energies distinction

The essence–energies distinction is an Eastern Orthodox theological concept that states that there is a distinction between the essence (ousia) and the energies (energeia) of God. It was formulated by Gregory Palamas of Thessaloniki (1296–1359), as part of his defense of the Athonite monastic practice of hesychasmos against the charge of heresy brought by the humanist scholar and theologian Barlaam of Calabria.

Vladimir Lossky 20th-century Russian theologian and writer

Vladimir Nikolayevich Lossky was an Eastern Orthodox theologian in exile from Russia. He emphasized theosis as the main principle of Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

Homoousion is a Christian theological term, most notably used in the Nicene Creed for describing Jesus as "same in being" or "same in essence" with God the Father. The same term was later also applied to the Holy Spirit in order to designate him as being "same in essence" with the Father and the Son. Those notions became cornerstones of theology in Nicene Christianity, and also represent one of the most important theological concepts within the Trinitarian doctrinal understanding of God.

Neoplatonism and Gnosticism

Gnosticism refers to a collection of religious groups originating in Jewish religiosity in Alexandria in the first few centuries CE. Neoplatonism was a school of Hellenistic philosophy that took shape in the 3rd century, based on the teachings of Plato and some of his early followers. While Gnosticism was influenced by Middle Platonism, neo-Platonists from the third century onward rejected Gnosticism.

Prosopon is a technical term encountered in Christian theology. It is most often translated as "person", and as such is sometimes confused with hypostasis, which is sometimes also translated as "person." Prosopon originally meant "face" or "mask" and derives from Greek theatre, in which actors on a stage wore masks to reveal their character and emotional state to the audience. Both prosopon and hypostasis played central roles in the development of theology about the Trinity and about Jesus Christ (Christology) in the debates of the fourth through seventh centuries.

The social trinitarianism is a Christian interpretation of the Trinity as consisting of three persons in a loving relationship, which reflects a model for human relationships.


Henosis is the classical Greek word for mystical "oneness", "union" or "unity." In Platonism, and especially Neoplatonism, the goal of henosis is union with what is fundamental in reality: the One, the Source, or Monad. The Neoplatonic concept has precedents in the Greek mystery religions as well as parallels in Eastern philosophy. It is further developed in the Corpus Hermeticum, in Christian theology, Alevism, soteriology and mysticism, and is an important factor in the historical development of monotheism during Late Antiquity.

Neoplatonism and Christianity

Neoplatonism was a major influence on Christian theology throughout Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages in the West. This was due to St. Augustine of Hippo, who was influenced by the early Neoplatonists Plotinus and Porphyry, as well as the works of the Christian writer Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, who was influenced by later Neoplatonists, such as Proclus and Damascius.

Origen the Neoplatonist was a Platonist philosopher who lived in Alexandria. He was a student of Ammonius Saccas and a contemporary of Plotinus in Ammonius's philosophy school in Alexandria. It is possible that he was the famous Christian philosopher and theologian Origen of Alexandria, who was educated by Ammonius Saccas..

Eastern Orthodox teaching regarding the Filioque

The position of the Eastern Orthodox Church regarding the Filioque controversy is defined by the Bible, teachings of the Church Fathers, creeds and definitions of the seven Ecumenical Councils and decisions of several particular councils of the Eastern Orthodox Church.


  1. The Encyclopedia of Christianity Volume 5 by Erwin Fahlbusch, Jan Milic Lochman and John Mbiti (February 1, 2008) ISBN   080282417X page 543
  2. Pseudo-Aristotle, De mundo , 4.19.
  3. "Who was Plotinus?".
  4. Neoplatonism (Ancient Philosophies) by Pauliina Remes (2008), University of California Press ISBN   0520258347, pages 48–52.
  5. 1 2 González, Justo L. (1987). A History of Christian Thought: From the Beginnings to the Council of Chalcedon. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. p. 307. ISBN   0-687-17182-2.
  6. González, Justo L (2005), "Hypostasis", Essential Theological Terms, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, pp. 80–81, ISBN   978-0-664-22810-1