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Hypostatic union

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Hypostatic union (from the Greek: ὑπόστασις, {"[h]upostasis"}, "hypostasis", sediment, foundation or substance) is a technical term in Christian theology employed in mainstream Christology to describe the presence of both human and divine natures in Jesus Christ. The Gospel of John 10:37-38 quotes Jesus as follows: "...that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father."

The Hypostatic union became official at the Council of Ephesus, which stated that the two natures (divine and human) are united in the one person (existence or reality, "hypostasis") of Christ.[1]

The Use of hypostasis

Hypostasis had come into use as a technical term prior to the Christological debates of the late fourth and fifth centuries. Before there were Christians, the word was used in Greek philosophy, primarily in Stoicism.[2][3] Hypostasis had some use in the New Testament that reflect the later, technical understanding of the word; especially Hebrews 1:3.[4] Although it can be rendered literally as "substance" this has been a cause of some confusion[5] so it is now often translated "subsistence". It denotes an actual, concrete existence, in contrast with abstract categories such as Platonic ideals.

The First Council of Nicaea declared that the Father and the Son are of the same substance and are co-eternal. This belief was expressed in the Nicene Creed.

Through history

Apollinaris of Laodicea was the first to use the term hypostasis in trying to understand the Incarnation.[6] 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.

The Nestorian Theodore of Mopsuestia went in the other direction, arguing that in Christ there were two natures (dyophysite) (human and divine) and two hypostases (in the sense of "essence" or "person") that co-existed.[7]

The Chalcedonian Creed 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 and not the nature as with Apollinarius.

Thus, the Council declared that in Christ there are two natures; each retaining its own properties, and together united in one subsistence and in one single person (εἰς ἓν πρόσωπον καὶ μίαν ὑπόστασιν, eis hen prosopon kai mian hupostasin) [8]

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."

The Oriental Orthodox Churches rejected the Chalcedonian Creed were known as Miaphysites because they would only accept a definition that characterized the incarnate Son as having one united nature (miaphysis). The Chalcedonian acceptance of "in two natures" was seen as tending towards a Nestorian dyophysite Christology. Contrariwise, the Chalcedonians saw the Miaphysites as tending towards the monophysitism of Eutyches.

In recent times, leaders from the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches have signed joint statements in an attempt to work towards reunification.

References

  1. "Hypostatic Union" in The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology, ed. A. Richardson & J. Bowden. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1983.
  2. R. Norris, "Hypostasis," in The Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, ed. E. Ferguson. New York: Garland Publishing, 1997
  3. Aristotle, "Mund.", IV, 21.
  4. Other New Testament occurrences require a different understanding of it. E.g., 2 Corinthians 9:4 and 11:17.
  5. Placher, William (1983). A History of Christian Theology: An Introduction. Philadelphia: Westminster Press. pp. 78–79. ISBN 0-664-244963. 
  6. Gregory of Nyssa, Antirrheticus adversus Apollinarem.
  7. "Theodore" in The Westminster Dictionary of Christian History, ed. J. Brauer. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1971.
  8. Denzinger, ed. Bannwart, 148

This article incorporates text from the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913, a publication now in the public domain.

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