Difference between revisions of "Christology"

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(Stretching the limits of language)
(Stretching the limits of language)
Line 97: Line 97:
|[https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/persona ''persona'']
|[https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/persona ''persona'']
|face, visage, mask
|face, visage, mask
''prosopon'': Greek for mask
|[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypostatic_union ὑπόστασις (hypóstasis)]
|[https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/substance ''substantia'']
|substance (subsisting being, subsistence?)
''hypostasis'': Greek for what "under-stands"
|[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ousia οὐσία (ousia)]
|''substantia'' and ''essentia''
|being, essence, substance
''substantia'': literal Latin translation of "hypo-stasis"
''persona'': Latin word for mask, rooted in "per sonare"

Revision as of 18:13, 30 July 2018

Four Families of Christology

Every Christological doctrine, orthodox or heretical, can be located in one of the four categories created by this logic box. There are only four possible ways of thinking about the divinity and humanity of Jesus.

Jesus is God.

Jesus is not human.

  • Docetism
  • Apollinarianism
  • Monotheletism
Jesus is God.

Jesus is human.

  • Nicene Christianity
Jesus is not God.

Jesus is not human.

  • Arianism
  • Monophysitism
Jesus is not God.

Jesus is human.

  • Nestorianism
  • Modernism
  • Adoptionism

There are other errors that don't fit this scheme. They are essentially Trinitarian doctrines: Modalism, Patripassionism, Sabellianism, etc.

Hypostatic Union

Wikipedia, "Hypostatic Union."
From the Greek: ὑπόστασις, "hypostasis", sediment, foundation, substance, or subsistence.
Wikipedia, "Hypostasis" in philosophy.
Cappadocian Fathers: "Three Hypostases in one Ousia."
Catholic Encyclopedia, "Hypostatic Union."
A theological term used with reference to the Incarnation to express the revealed truth that in Christ one person subsists in two natures, the Divine and the human. Hypostasis means, literally, that which lies beneath as basis or foundation. Hence it came to be used by the Greek philosophers to denote reality as distinguished from appearances (Aristotle, "Mund.", IV, 21). It occurs also in St. Paul's Epistles (2 Corinthians 9:4; 11:17; Hebrews 1:3-3:14), but not in the sense of person. Previous to the Council of Nicæa (325) hypostasis was synonymous with ousia, and even St. Augustine (On the Holy Trinity V.8) avers that he sees no difference between them. The distinction in fact was brought about gradually in the course of the controversies to which the Christological heresies gave rise, and was definitively established by the Council of Chalcedon (451), which declared that in Christ the two natures, each retaining its own properties, are united in one subsistence and one person (eis en prosopon kai mian hypostasin) (Denzinger, ed. Bannwart, 148). They are not joined in a moral or accidental union (Nestorius), nor commingled (Eutyches), and nevertheless they are substantially united.

Council of Chalcedon

"Confession of Chalcedon" (451 AD):
We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach people to confess
one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood;
truly God and truly man,
of a rational soul and body;
consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and
consubstantial with us according to the Manhood;
in all things like unto us, without sin;
begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead,
and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood;
one and the same
only begotten,
to be acknowledged in two natures,
without confusion,
without change,
without division,
without separation;
(ἐν δύο φύσεσιν ἀσυγχύτως, ἀτρέπτως, ἀδιαιρέτως, ἀχωρίστως
in duabus naturis inconfuse, immutabiliter, indivise, inseparabiliter)
the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union,
but rather the property of each nature being preserved,
and concurring in one Person (prosopon)
and one Subsistence (hypostasis),
not parted or divided into two persons,
but one and the same Son,
and only begotten God (μονογενῆ Θεὸν),
the Word,
the Lord Jesus Christ;
as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him,
and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us,
and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

Jesus' awareness of His divinity

Consciousness of God in Jesus: God from the beginning. "If He didn't know that He was God, He wasn't God." But that is in His divine nature. He is also like us in all things but sin. His mind was certainly in perfect union with God, and was filled with light in a way that our minds are not, but his mind still had to develop the power of speech.

Different kinds of knowledge. Immanent, tacit, perceptual, gazing on the Father and the Spirit at all times; being able to articulate that experience is a human development. Self-possession linguistically in His human consciousness. That's the thing that the scriptures are open to.

Stretching the limits of language

I have been bothered by the tension in the Latin and Greek vocabulary in which we express the related doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation.

Greek Latin English
πρόσωπον (prosopon) persona face, visage, mask
ὑπόστασις (hypóstasis) substantia substance (subsisting being, subsistence?)
οὐσία (ousia) substantia and essentia being, essence, substance

homoousios: Greek, "same substance," "one in being," "consubstantial"

The doctrine of the Trinity is linked to the doctrine of the Incarnation.

In God, there is a kind of reality that we must number as "three" and a different kind of reality that we must number as "one."

Each of the Three possesses the fullness of what is One.

One of the Three became "like us in all things except sin" by adopting a second kind of reality as His own, without changing the first kind of reality shared with the other two.

If we are going to use "consubstantial" as the designation for what is One in God, then we can't use "substantia" as a translation of "hypostasis," even though it is exactly the same at the literal level. We MUST have a different term to preserve the essential distinctions. In English, we have gone with "persona," which, lamentably, lines up with the Greek "mask" rather than with "hypostasis," the reality or substance represented by or revealed through the mask.

So now we have Three Divine "substances" ("hypostases") united in one "ousios."

BUT in Jesus, we have to make a distinction between what is one and what is two. If we bring "substance" down from the Trinitarian dogma, we have to say that there is only one substance in Jesus, but we have to avoid saying that there is no true humanity or that divinity is mixed with humanity or that the divine and human substances are not united with each other.


I much prefer English to either the Greek or the Latin vocabulary, even though English is a Johnny-come-lately.

I am in the image and likeness of God first and foremost by being a person--an incommunicable, indefinable, unique spiritual reality.

What I give in love is my person.

When I receive another in love, I receive their person.

In God, there are three Persons, each distinct from the other, and each giving and receiving in a unique fashion.

The way in which the Father gives to and receives from the Son and the Spirit is different from the way in which the Son gives and receives and from the way in which the Spirit gives and receives.

What is Three is person. What is one is being.

"Person" does not mean "being."

"Being" does not mean "person."

All three Divine Persons have the same divine nature.

The Father is God.

The Son is God.

The Spirit is God.

There is only one God.

And the Father is not the Son or the Spirit, and so on (thanks, Athanasius!).

One divine Person, Who always has existed and can never not exist, has taken a second nature to Himself, so that, after the union of the divine nature with our human nature, we may say of this single Person that He is truly God and truly human. His personal participation in the Divine Being is not changed by this union with our human nature, nor is our human nature changed by becoming the nature of this Divine Person. Every human being is a person who shares humanity with every other human being. In Jesus, the Person who is truly human is God the Son; in us, our personal identity, which is the foundation of intelligence and freedom, is given to us from above by God, Who fashioned us in our mother's womb (Ps 139).

When construing ancient texts, I use my English understanding as my base of operations. What an ancient author identifies as Three, regardless of the author's own terminology, I will call "person." Whatever the ancient author identifies as One, I will call "being." Whatever the author calls one in Jesus, I will call "person." Whatever the author calls two in Jesus, I will call "natures" (if the author is orthodox, of course).

I know this is not absolutely adequate. I personally do not have enough sophistication to say whether Nestorius was a Nestorian. What I can say is that after the condemnation of Nestorianism, I know that I need to believe and teach in English that there is only one Person in Jesus Who possess two natures, each perfectly intact and unchanged by being permanently united in one Person.

In other words, English is clearer than the Latin or the Greek. This does not contradict any doctrine of the Church. It fits with Newman's idea of the development of doctrine.

Of course, Latin is the official language of the documents of the Catholic Church, so if I were tasked with translating to or from ecclesial Latin, I would have to use an ecclesial lexicon to make sure that I didn't depart from the tradition, but that is not my concern. I am only trying to grasp the essence of the revelation made to us by Jesus so that I can feed on the mystery myself and help others to do the same.



St. Leo's Tome, addressed to and adopted by the Council of Chalcedon.