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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 [ὁμοούσιον] with the Father according to the Godhead, and
consubstantial [ὁμοούσιον] 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)
πρός (prós, “towards”) +‎ ὤψ (ṓps, “eye”).
- face, visage, countenance
- front
- mask
- character, part in a drama
- appearance
- person
Unknown. Possibly from Etruscan 𐌘𐌄𐌓𐌔𐌖 (φersu) (with some Latin suffix), itself perhaps from Ancient Greek πρόσωπον (prósōpon, “mask, character”), and possibly, as Roman writers often suggested, from personō (“to sound through”).
face, visage, mask, person
ὑπόστασις (hypóstasis)
from ὑπό (hupó) + στάσις (stásis, “standing”)
From substāns, present active participle of substō (“stand under; exist”), from sub + stō (“stand”).
substance (subsisting being, subsistence?)
οὐσία (ousia)
Wikipedia, "Ousia"
"οὐσία is the ancient Greek noun formed on the feminine present participle of the verb εἰμί, eimí, i.e. 'to be, I am.'" [ὤν, οὖσα, ὄν]
substantia and essentia
As noted below, Latin had no present participle corresponding to the Greek participle that meant "being."
being, entity, essence, substance
ὁμοούσιος (homooúsios) consubstantialis same being, one in being, consubstantial
τὸ ὄν--the being quod est--what is being, entity, substance
Classical Latin," Chapter 19, "Participles."
The Romans felt the absence of a present participle of esse to be a deficiency in their language. As the educated classes and the substantial Greek-speaking sector of the rest of the population were well aware, it exists in Greek. ...
As present participle of esse, Julius Caesar proposed ens, entis, on the analogy of potens, potentis (which is strictly the present participle of posse, but is used only as an adjective, in the sense “powerful”). He might have added that abesse and praeesse, which are also compounds of esse, have the present participles absens, -entis “being absent” and praesens, -entis “being present”. Caesar’s proposal had the approval of the influential teacher Quintilian and later of the grammarian Priscian, but it never took hold in the classical period. ens and the rather wonderful ens entium “the being of beings” were once used in philosophical writing; note esp. the principle of Occam’s razor, entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem, “entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity,” (i.e. the least complex theory to fit the facts has most chance of being the correct one). (Unlike other philosophical maxims such as post hoc, ergo propter hoc, “after this, therefore on account of this,” and Pascal’s cogito, ergo sum, “I think, therefore I exist,” this phrase, which is not actually to be found in Occam’s extant writings, was not pithy enough to be retained in its original language in modern vernaculars.)
[hypostasis] subsistentia subsistence
Early 15c., "existence, independence," from Late Latin subsistentia "substance, reality," in Medieval Latin also "stability," from Latin subsistens, present participle of subsistere "stand still or firm" (see subsist). Latin subsistentia is a loan-translation of Greek hypostasis "foundation, substance, real nature, subject matter; that which settles at the bottom, sediment," literally "anything set under." In the English word, meaning "act or process of support for physical life" is from 1640s.
φύσις natura nature, essence

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.

Ooooooooohhhhhhhhh. Bless the Lord, my soul!

I think this is why "subsistence" was coined in order to translate "hypostasis" in the Chalcedonian definition, even though "substance" is a more literal translation of the Greek. "Substance" is used to translate the Greek "ousios," so the creation of "subsistence" gave some breathing room for theology. The Three subsist in One divine substance. (Maybe.)

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. I have an identity.

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 two, and each giving and receiving in a unique fashion. The Father always acts as Father, the Son always acts as Son, the Spirit always acts as the Spirit of the Father and of the Son. Each Person has a real identity, a real "I" that is distinct (but never separated in being) from the identities of the other Persons.

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 a lexicon that shows what words meant in different parts of Church history in order to make sure that I didn't mistranslate the texts or 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. I want to stay within the bounds set by the dogmatic teaching of the Church. A fairly straightforward grasp of "person," "being," and "nature" seem to be sufficient for this purpose. We only need to plunge into the Greek and Latin when we want to understand historical texts and contexts.

Other issues that are tangentially related
- trans-substantiation
- identity crisis: God is simple. Are there three "entities" in one being?
- relationships define Who is Who.

Communicatio idiomatum

"Idiomatum" is the genitive plural form of idioma, idiomatis.

The "communication of idioms" means that some qualities of God the Son in His divine nature are communicated to His human nature, and vice-versa.

In Jesus, there is only one Person, who was, who is, who always will be God the Son.

That Person has two natures: the full nature of God and the full nature of a human being. He is "true God and true man."

Because that single Person unites the two natures (the doctrine of "hypostatic union"), some of the properties or qualities of one nature are communicated to or shared with the other nature.

There is only one "who" in Jesus.

If we are asking "who" questions, then we may either speak of Him as God the Son or as Jesus, the son of Mary and therefore "the Son of Man."

From the human point of view From the divine point of view
Jesus is God the Son. God the Son is Jesus.

Jesus was conceived by God the Holy Spirit within Mary.

Mary is the mother of Jesus. Mary is the mother of God the Son.
Jesus was born of a virgin Mother. God the Son was born of a virgin Mother.
Jesus suffered, died, was buried, rose from the dead, and ascended into Heaven. God the Son suffered, died, was buried, rose from the dead, and ascended into Heaven.
We worship Jesus. We worship God the Son.
Jesus is equal in divinity to the Father and the Spirit. God the Son is equal in divinity to the Father and the Spirit.
We worship Jesus. We worship God the Son.

There are two "whats" in Jesus. If we are asking what He is, we have to give two answers: He is God and He is human.

God is immortal. God the Son did not die in His divine nature.

Humans are mortal. God the Son did die in His human nature.

God has no mother or father. God is self-sufficient. God always has existed, cannot cease to exist, and will exist forever. The Father, Son, and Spirit are co-eternal. There never has been a time when there were not three Persons in one divine Being.

Jesus has a human mother. He was dependent on her for life, as all of us human beings are. We are not self-sufficient. We exist in time. There was a time when we did not exist. Our lives began at conception. We must die in order to enter into eternal life. In His human being, God the Son is not eternal, but, like us, had a beginning in time. Using our time scale, we may say that there was a time in human history when Jesus did not exist, even though the divine Person who would become human and receive the name of Jesus did exist before all time. The divine Person who is Jesus pre-existed the creation of the soul and body of Jesus within Mary. We did not pre-exist our conception, but were created directly and personally by God at that moment in time.



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