Hypostatic union

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The oldest known icon of Christ Pantocrator at Saint Catherine's Monastery. The two different facial expressions on either side emphasize Christ's dual nature as both divine and human. Spas vsederzhitel sinay.jpg
The oldest known icon of Christ Pantocrator at Saint Catherine's Monastery. The two different facial expressions on either side emphasize Christ's dual nature as both divine and human.
Composites of the two sides of the face. Composite christ pantocrator.png
Composites of the two sides of the face.

Hypostatic union (from the Greek: ὑπόστασιςhypóstasis, "sediment, foundation, substance, subsistence") 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. [3]

Christianity is an Abrahamic monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Its adherents, known as Christians, believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and the savior of all people, whose coming as the Messiah was prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures of Judaism, called the Old Testament in Christianity, and chronicled in the New Testament. It is the world's largest religion with over 2.4 billion followers.

Theology Study of the nature of deities and religious belief

Theology is the systematic study of the nature of the divine and, more broadly, of religious belief. It is taught as an academic discipline, typically in universities and seminaries. It occupies itself with the unique content of analyzing the supernatural, but also especially with epistemology, and asks and seeks to answer the question of revelation. Revelation pertains to the acceptance of God, gods, or deities, as not only transcendent or above the natural world, but also willing and able to interact with the natural world and, in particular, to reveal themselves to humankind. While theology has turned into a secular field, religious adherents still consider theology to be a discipline that helps them live and understand concepts such as life and love and that helps them lead lives of obedience to the deities they follow or worship.

Christology Study of Jesus Christ in Christian theology

Christology, literally "the understanding of Christ," is the study of the nature (person) and work of Jesus Christ. It studies Jesus Christ's humanity and divinity, and the relation between these two aspects; and the role he plays in salvation.


The most basic explanation for the hypostatic union is Jesus Christ being both God and man. He is both perfectly divine and perfectly human.

The Athanasian Creed recognized this doctrine and affirmed its importance, stating that "He is God from the essence of the Father, begotten before time; and he is human from the essence of his mother, born in time; completely God, completely human, with a rational soul and human flesh; equal to the Father as regards divinity, less than the Father as regards humanity. Although he is God and human, yet Christ is not two, but one. He is one, however, not by his divinity being turned into flesh, but by God's taking humanity to himself. He is one, certainly not by the blending of his essence, but by the unity of his person. For just as one human is both rational soul and flesh, so too the one Christ is both God and human."

Athanasian Creed creed named for Athanasius but not written by him, defines the Christian Trinity

The Athanasian Creed, also known as Pseudo-Athanasian Creed or Quicunque Vult, is a Christian statement of belief focused on Trinitarian doctrine and Christology. The Latin name of the creed, Quicunque vult, is taken from the opening words, "Whosoever wishes". The creed has been used by Christian churches since the sixth century. It is the first creed in which the equality of the three persons of the Trinity is explicitly stated. It differs from the Nicene-Constantinopolitan and Apostles' Creeds in the inclusion of anathemas, or condemnations of those who disagree with the creed.


The Greek term hypostasis had come into use as a technical term prior to the Christological debates of the late fourth and fifth centuries. In pre-Christian times, Greek philosophy (primarily Stoicism) used the word. [4] [5] Some occurrences of the term hypostasis in the New Testament foreshadow the later, technical understanding of the word. [6] Although it can translate literally as "substance", this has been a cause of some confusion; [7] accordingly the New American Standard Bible translates it as "subsistence". Hypostasis denotes an actual, concrete existence, in contrast to abstract categories such as Platonic ideals.

Stoicism School of Hellenistic Greek philosophy

Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens in the early 3rd century BC. Stoicism is a philosophy of personal ethics informed by its system of logic and its views on the natural world. According to its teachings, as social beings, the path to eudaimonia (happiness) for humans is found in accepting the moment as it presents itself, by not allowing oneself to be controlled by the desire for pleasure or fear of pain, by using one's mind to understand the world and to do one's part in nature's plan, and by working together and treating others fairly and justly.

New Testament Second division of the Christian biblical canon

The New Testament is the second part of the Christian biblical canon, the first being the Old Testament. The New Testament discusses the teachings and person of Jesus, as well as events in first-century Christianity. Christians regard both the Old and New Testaments together as sacred scripture.

New American Standard Bible book

The New American Standard Bible (NASB) is an English translation of the Bible by the Lockman Foundation. The New Testament was first published in 1963, and the complete Bible in 1971. The most recent edition of the NASB text was published in 1995.

In Kierkegaard's Philosophical Fragments , the dual nature of Christ is explored as a paradox, as "the ultimate paradox", because God, understood as a perfectly good, perfectly wise, perfectly powerful being, fully became a human, in the Christian understanding of the term: burdened by sin, limited in goodness, knowledge, and understanding. [8] This paradox can only be resolved, Kierkegaard believed, by a leap of faith away from one's understanding and reason towards belief in God; thus the paradox of the hypostatic union was crucial to an abiding faith in the Christian God.

Søren Kierkegaard Danish philosopher and theologian, precursor of Existentialism

Søren Aabye Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher, theologian, poet, social critic and religious author who is widely considered to be the first existentialist philosopher. He wrote critical texts on organized religion, Christendom, morality, ethics, psychology, and the philosophy of religion, displaying a fondness for metaphor, irony and parables. Much of his philosophical work deals with the issues of how one lives as a "single individual", giving priority to concrete human reality over abstract thinking and highlighting the importance of personal choice and commitment. He was against literary critics who defined idealist intellectuals and philosophers of his time, and thought that Swedenborg, Hegel, Fichte, Schelling, Schlegel and Hans Christian Andersen were all "understood" far too quickly by "scholars".

<i>Philosophical Fragments</i> book

Philosophical Fragments is a Christian philosophical work written by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard in 1844. It was the second of three works written under the pseudonym Johannes Climacus; the other two were De omnibus dubitandum est in 1841 and Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments in 1846.

Fall of man Adam and Eve eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil

The fall of man, or the fall, is a term used in Christianity to describe the transition of the first man and woman from a state of innocent obedience to God to a state of guilty disobedience. Although not named in the Bible, the doctrine of the fall comes from a biblical interpretation of Genesis chapter 3. At first, Adam and Eve lived with God in the Garden of Eden, but the serpent tempted them into eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which God had forbidden. After doing so, they became ashamed of their nakedness and God expelled them from the Garden to prevent them from eating from the tree of life and becoming immortal.

As the precise nature of this union is held to defy finite human comprehension, the hypostatic union is also referred to by the alternative term "mystical union".

Through history

Apollinaris of Laodicea was the first to use the term hypostasis in trying to understand the Incarnation. [9] Apollinaris described the union of the divine and human in Christ as being of a single nature and having a single essence — a single hypostasis.

Apollinaris the Younger, also known as Apollinaris of Laodicea, was a bishop of Laodicea in Syria. He is best known, however, as a noted opponent of Arianism. Apollinaris's eagerness to emphasize the deity of Jesus and the unity of his person led him so far as to deny the existence of a rational human soul in Christ's human nature. This view came to be called Apollinarism. It was condemned by the First Council of Constantinople in 381.

Incarnation literally means embodied in flesh or taking on flesh. It refers to the conception and birth of a sentient being who is the material manifestation of an entity, god or force whose original nature is immaterial. In its religious context the word is used to mean the descent from Heaven of a god, deity, or divine being in human/animal form on Earth.

Council of Ephesus

In the 5th century, a dispute arose between Cyril of Alexandria and Nestorius in which Nestorius claimed that the term theotokos could not be used to describe Mary, the mother of Christ. Nestorius argued for two distinct natures of Christ, maintaining that God could not be born because the divine nature is unoriginate. Therefore, Nestorius believed that the man Jesus of Nazareth was born in union with, but separate from and not strictly identifiable with, the Logos of God. The Council of Ephesus in 431, under the leadership of Cyril himself as well as the Ephesian bishop Memnon, labeled Nestorius a neo-adoptionist, implying that the man Jesus is divine and the Son of God only by grace and not by nature, and deposed him as a heretic. In his letter to Nestorius, Cyril used the term "hypostatic" (Greek, καθ᾽ ὑπόστασιν kath' hypostasin) to refer to Christ's divine and human natures being one, saying, “We must follow these words and teachings, keeping in mind what ‘having been made flesh’ means …. We say … that the Word, by having united to himself hypostatically flesh animated by a rational soul, inexplicably and incomprehensibly became man.” [10] ------

Cyril of Alexandria Pope of Alexandria from 412 to 444

Cyril of Alexandria was the Patriarch of Alexandria from 412 to 444. He was enthroned when the city was at the height of its influence and power within the Roman Empire. Cyril wrote extensively and was a leading protagonist in the Christological controversies of the late-4th and 5th centuries. He was a central figure in the Council of Ephesus in 431, which led to the deposition of Nestorius as Patriarch of Constantinople.

Nestorius Archbishop of Constantinople

Nestorius was Archbishop of Constantinople from 10 April 428 to August 431, when Emperor Theodosius II confirmed his condemnation by the Council of Ephesus on 22 June.

<i>Theotokos</i> title given to Mary in Eastern Christianity

Theotokos is a title of Mary, mother of Jesus, used especially in Eastern Christianity. The usual Latin translations, Dei Genetrix or Deipara, are "Mother of God" or "God-bearer".

Council of Chalcedon

The preeminent Antiochene theologian Theodore of Mopsuestia, contending against the monophysite heresy of Apollinarism, is believed to have taught that in Christ there are two natures (dyophysite), human and divine, and two corresponding hypostases (in the sense of "subject", "essence", or "person") which co-existed. [11] However, in Theodore's time the word hypostasis could be used in a sense synonymous with ousia (which clearly means "essence" rather than "person") as it had been used by Tatian and Origen. The Greek and Latin interpretations of Theodore's Christology have come under scrutiny since the recovery of his Catechetical Orations in the Syriac language.

In 451, the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon promulgated the Chalcedonian Definition. It agreed with Theodore that there were two natures in the Incarnation. However, the Council of Chalcedon also insisted that hypostasis be used as it was in the Trinitarian definition: to indicate the person (prosopon) and not the nature as with Apollinaris.

Oriental Orthodox rejection of Chalcedonian definition

The Oriental Orthodox Churches, having rejected the Chalcedonian Creed, were known as Miaphysites because they maintain the Cyrilian definition that characterized the incarnate Son as having one nature. The Chalcedonian "in two natures" formula (based, at least partially, on Colossians 2:9) was seen as derived from and akin to a Nestorian Christology. [12] Contrariwise, the Chalcedonians saw the Oriental Orthodox as tending towards Eutychian Monophysitism. However, the Oriental Orthodox persistently specified that they have never believed in the doctrines of Eutyches, that they have always affirmed that Christ's humanity is consubstantial with our own, and they thus prefer the term Miaphysite to be referred to as, a reference to Cyrillian Christology, which used the phrase "μία φύσις τοῦ θεοῦ λόγου σεσαρκωμένη", "mía phýsis toû theoû lógou sesarkōménē". The term miaphysis means one united nature as opposed to one singular nature (monophysis). Thus the Miaphysite position maintains that although the nature of Christ is from two, it may only be referred to as one in its incarnate state because the natures always act in unity.

In recent times,[ clarification needed ] leaders from the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches have signed joint statements in an attempt to work towards reunification. Likewise the leaders of the Assyrian Church of the East, which venerates Nestorius and Theodore, have in recent times[ clarification needed ] signed a joint agreement with leaders of the Roman Catholic Church acknowledging that their historical differences were over terminology rather than the actual intended meaning. [13]

Timing and Scholasticism

Some Christian denominations believe that the hypostatic union wasn't from ever and that instead it took place from a specific point of the human history onwards. They believe that Jesus Christ God started to have a human-divine body at the time of the Incarnation into the womb of the Virgin Mary, y the work of the Holy Spirit God. In such a belief, it is unclear how Jesus could have been a man without a human body before the Incarnation, or if he hadn't any body at all.

On the contrary, the pre-existence of Christ asserts that Jesus Christ God has from ever and forever a Body (a human flesh) which is altogether Man and God. It means that God the Father generated Jesus Christ God before all centuries (ab aeterno) as the true Man and the true God, and that it was in flesh, in soul and in spirit. In such a way, it doesn't exist a time of the hypostatic union of the human and divine nature of Christ, in his body, soul and spirit. The hypostaticunion was befpre all centuries.

St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church, was used to distinguish the following Latin terms: nature(s), Person, Hypostasis and the (untranslated) word suppositum. According to his Summa theologica [14] , the definition of suppositum is derived from the other terms: it can be the "hypostasis of human nature" (ST III, q. 16 a. 1), "the Person of the Son of God, because there is only one suppositum of both natures" (III, q. 16, a. 1), the suppositum "of the human and Divine natures" (III, q. 16, a. 1).

While the divine and human natures of Christ remain distinct, both of them are instead united into the same unique Person and also into the same unique Hypostasis (ST III, q. 16, a. 2). Only the human nature suffered, whereas the Divine nature was impassible and incorporeal (ST III. q. 16, a. 8). But both the human and the Divine nature belong to same unique Person and the same unique Hypostasis. The suppositum seems to be of two types, for both the human and the Divine natures: an ethernal suppositum of both natures for "the Man Christ Jesus" (III, q. 16, a. 3), and also a suppositum in the mistery of the Incarnation, "in which neither exists accidentally, but [both] essentially" (III, q. 16, a. 1).

Latin English
ST III, q. 16, a. 1Natura autem divina et humana, quamvis sint maxime distantes, tamen conveniunt per incarnationis mysterium in uno supposito, cui neutra illarum inest per accidens, sed secundum se. Et ideo haec propositio, Deus est homo, non est neque in materia remota neque in materia contingenti, sed in materia naturali. Et praedicatur homo de Deo, non per accidens, sed per se, sicut de sua hypostasi, non quidem ratione formae significatae per hoc nomen Deus; sed ratione suppositi, quod est hypostasis humanae naturae.Now the Divine and human natures, although most widely apart, nevertheless come together by the mystery of the Incarnation in one suppositum, in which neither exists accidentally, but [both] essentially. Hence this proposition is neither in remote nor in contingent, but in natural matter; and man is not predicated of God accidentally, but essentially, as being predicated of its hypostasis---not, indeed, by reason of the form signified by this word "God," but by reason of the suppositum, which is a hypostasis of human nature.
ST III, q. 16, a. 3Respondeo dicendum quod sicut, supra dictum est, cum dicitur homo Christus Iesus, designatur suppositum aeternum, quod est persona filii Dei, propter hoc quod unum suppositum est utriusque naturae.. [...]

As was said above (Article [2], ad 3), when we say "the Man Christ Jesus," we signify the eternal suppositum, which is the Person of the Son of God, because there is only one suppositum of both natures.. [...]
Ad secundum dicendum quod illud unum suppositum quod est divinae et humanae naturae, primo quidem fuit divinae naturae, scilicet ab aeterno, postea autem ex tempore per incarnationem factum est suppositum humanae naturae. Et hac ratione dicitur humanatum, non quia assumpserit hominem; sed quia assumpsit humanam naturam. Non autem sic est e converso quod suppositum humanae naturae assumpserit divinam naturam. Unde non potest dici homo deificatus, vel dominicus.

This one suppositum, which is of the human and Divine natures, was first of the Divine Nature, i.e. from eternity. Afterwards in time it was made a suppositum of human nature by the Incarnation. And for this reason it is said to be "humanized"---not that it assumed a man, but that it assumed human nature. But the converse of this is not true, viz. that a suppositum of human nature assumed the Divine Nature; hence we may not say a "deified" or "lordly" man.
ST III, q. 16, a. 5Ad secundum dicendum quod incarnatio magis importat unionem ad carnem quam carnis proprietatem. Utraque autem natura est in Christo unita alteri in persona, ratione cuius unionis et natura divina dicitur incarnata, et humana natura deificata, ut supra dictum est.Incarnation implies union with flesh, rather than any property of flesh. Now in Christ each nature is united to the other in person; and by reason of this union the Divine Nature is said to be incarnate and the human nature deified, as stated above. (NdA, 'III, q. 2, a.1, ad. 3)
ST III, q. 16, a. 8Ad secundum dicendum quod omnes proprietates humanae naturae, sicut et divinae, possunt aliqualiter dici de Christo. Unde et Damascenus dicit, in III libro, quod Christus, qui Deus et homo dicitur, creabilis est et increabilis, et partibilis et impartibilis. Sed tamen illa quae dubitationem habent circa alterutram naturam, non sunt dicenda absque determinatione. Unde et ipse postea alibi subdit, ipsa una hypostasis, scilicet Christi, et increata est deitate, et creata est humanitate. Sicut et e converso non esset dicendum sine determinatione quod Christus est incorporeus, vel impassibilis, ad evitandum errorem Manichaei, qui posuit Christum verum corpus non habuisse, nec vere passum esse, sed dicendum est cum determinatione quod Christus secundum deitatem est incorporeus et impassibilis.All the properties of the human, just as of the Divine Nature, may be predicated equally of Christ. Hence Damascene says (De Fide Orth. iii, 4) that "Christ Who God and Man, is called created and uncreated, passible and impassible." Nevertheless things of which we may doubt to what nature they belong, are not to be predicated without a qualification. Hence he afterwards adds (De Fide Orth. iv, 5) that "the one hypostasis," i.e. of Christ, "is uncreated in its Godhead and created in its manhood": even so conversely, we may not say without qualification, "Christ is incorporeal" or "impassible"; in order to avoid the error of Manes, who held that Christ had not a true body, nor truly suffered, but we must say, with a qualification, that Christ was incorporeal and impassible "in His Godhead."

See also

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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:


  1. God's human face: the Christ-icon by Christoph Schoenborn 1994 ISBN   0-89870-514-2 page 154
  2. Sinai and the Monastery of St. Catherine by John Galey 1986 ISBN   977-424-118-5 page 92
  3. Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology. 1947, reprinted 1993; ISBN   0-8254-2340-6. Chapter XXVI ("God the Son: The Hypostatic Union"), pp. 382–384. (Google Books)
  4. R. Norris, "Hypostasis," in The Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, ed. E. Ferguson. New York: Garland Publishing, 1997
  5. Aristotle, "Mund.", IV, 21.
  6. There are only five occurrences in the NT, in gereral used in the sense of assurance, substance, reality. Definition (lit: an underlying): (a) confidence, assurance, (b) a giving substance (or reality) to, or a guaranteeing, (c) substance, reality. The occurrences are: 2 Corinthians 9:4 – ἐν τῇ ὑποστάσει ταύτῃ (by this confidence); 2 Corinthians 11:17 – ταύτῃ τῇ ὑποστάσει τῆς καυχήσεως (in this confidence of boasting); Hebrews 1:3 –χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ φέρων (and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds); Hebrews 3:14 –ἀρχὴν τῆς ὑποστάσεως μέχρι τέλους (the beginning of our assurance firm); and Hebrews 11:1 – πίστις ἐλπιζομένων ὑπόστασις πραγμάτων ἔλεγχος (faith is the assurance of [things] hoped). See: http://biblehub.com/str/greek/5287.htm
  7. Placher, William (1983). A History of Christian Theology: An Introduction. Philadelphia: Westminster Press. pp. 78–79. ISBN   0-664-24496-3.
  8. Concluding Unscientific Postscript p. 217 (read p.202-217) also see Philosophical Fragments p.31-35 and The Sickness Unto Death p. 132-133 Hannay
  9. Gregory of Nyssa, Antirrheticus adversus Apollinarem.
  10. Saint Cyril of Alexandria. St. Cyril of Alexandria: Letters. Trans. John McEnerney. Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America, 1987. Print.
  11. "Theodore" in The Westminster Dictionary of Christian History, ed. J. Brauer. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1971.
  12. Britishorthodox.org Archived June 19, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  13. [{http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/documents/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_11111994_assyrian-church_en.html Vatican website]
  14. St, Thomas Aquinas (1947). English translation of the "Summa theologica", with Latin text. dhspriory.org (in Latin and English). Translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Benziger Bros. Archived from the original on 21 October 2014.


PD-icon.svg  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "article name needed". Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton.