I do not intend this article to be a masterpiece or a precise summary of the question of whether Christ’s Hypostasis is composite or divine. I want to begin with a short summary (without proving out the premises, as this is already done in the preceding article), a simplistic exposition of the Scriptures, and then a rejoinder to what I believe the salient opposition to what I understand the Church’s position to be.
Christ’s hypostasis summarized. In short, the canons, hymnography, and fathers use both the terms “composite” and “divine” (specifically “divinely hypostatized” or “hypostasis of God the Word”) in reference to Christ’s hypostasis. If one were to attempt harmonizing both words, it is important that one not equate the two (as they directly contradict each other, composite pertains to parts and divinity implies no parts). Being that they are both true and not meaning the same thing, they must be communicating two different things about Christ’s hypostasis.
I assert what is communicated is that there is one “divine hypostasis of God the Word” (Saint John of Damascus, Exposition, Book 3, Chap 9) in which is “assumed” (Saint Maximus, Ambiguum 3:3) “the flesh of the Lord in His beginless hypostasis.” (Damascene, Contra Jacobitas, Chap 11) God the Word is the same “in all respects” as the Father and Spirit other in the mode of His origination, “that of being begotten.” (Damascene, Exposition, Book 1, Chap 2) Damascene emphatically asserts that it is “in these hypostatic or personal properties alone do the three holy subsistences differ from each other” (Ibid., Chap 12) and that we “recognise the difference of the subsistences only in the three properties of independence of cause and Fatherhood, of dependence on cause and Sonship, of dependence on cause and procession.” (Ibid., Book 3, Chap 5)
Yet, “one may piously speak of one composite hypostasis of God the Word” existing “each [divine and human] nature, both in the divine [nature], in which he existed in respect of who exists in the form of God, and in the human [nature] in respect of ‘taking on the likeness of men’.” (Edict of Saint Justinian, Constantinople II, Volume 1, p. 141) Therein exists the “completeness of divine nature and the completeness of human nature.” (ibid., p. 132) “[T]he human nature of Christ…received the beginning of existence in the” beginless “hypostasis of the Word.” (Ibid., p. 141)
From the preceding, I conclude that the hypostasis of the Word is divine according to His eternal origination. That is who Christ is. The “who” never changes. I surmise that the teaching of the Church in the above is that Who=Hypostasis.
Human nature was assumed into His pre-existent, “beginless hypostasis.” There is no “day 1” for His hypostasis approximately on December 25th, 4 BC. His hypostasis does not lose the “divine” or relational quality of being only-begotten of God the Father, as this is the “only” criteria of hypostatic difference within the Holy Trinity.
However, “the very hypostasis of God the Word was changed into the hypostasis of the flesh, and the hypostasis of the Word, which was formerly simple, became compound.” (Damascene, Exposition, Book 3, Chap 7) Therefore, His hypostasis is eternally relationally divine but since the incarnation is compound according to the natures He has. The “Who” does not change, but what He is like does. So, the hypostasis is “without beginning” and “uncreated” according to the former, but “having beginning” and having created nature according to the latter. (Damascene, De Duabus in Christos Voluntatibus, Section 2)
In short, Christ’s hypostasis is divine relationally, but has “properties” according to both of the natures post-incarnation He has now as a compound being (Ibid., Book 4, Chap 7) One can speak of what something “has” as being that something. Christ’s hypostasis is composite, but this means “has a composite nature, meaning two natures.”
I assert, the failure of invoking these distinctions either creates Monophysistism (the failure to affirm the composite hypostasis annihilates His two natures) or Arianism (the failure to affirm the beginless aspect of His hypostasis makes the Person of the Son created). There must be a clear assertion of what is eternal and temporal in Christ according to His hypostasis.
Scriptural basics. Concerning God’s personhood, the Scriptures are relatively silent. The issue is generally inferred from the Persons speaking to one another or They being referred to in a mutually exclusive sense. However, three basic Scriptures come to mind:
The virgin will conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Is 7:14)
The Word became flesh, and lived among us. We saw his glory, such glory as of the one and only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Jesus said to them, “Most certainly, I tell you, before Abraham came into existence, I AM.” (John 8:58)
In the preceding, the Scriptures affirm something simple: God is a “He,” a Person. This Person, called “Word,” became flesh. His name metaphorically speaking is “Immanuel,” God with us. The Person born from the Virgin is divine. He did not become something other than the Word of God—He was not a different Person. The Lord, in response to the accusation He was not around in Abraham’s time, asserts that indeed He, the same person, was. He is the God (“I Am”) who pre-existed Abraham.
Honestly, not much more can be gleaned from this, but He did not become a different He or personal object. Who=Hypostasis.
An objection. One may assert an extremely basic objection: Session 6 of Nicea II asserts in more or less words that, “For hypostasis we affirm [to be] essence with certain peculiarities [i.e. properties].” (p. 351 of 1849 translation) Hypostasis=Natures + Properties. Therefore, Christ’s hypostasis does not merely have a divine and human nature, but He is His divine and human natures and that’s all He is. Hypostases, such as Christ’s, are only natures with their respective properties. He has divine and human natures with divine and human properties. A hypostasis, being only what it has, is what it has.
And so, these objectors assert it would be nonsense to speak of hypostasis in some sense beyond what the hypostasis is at any given moment, because what a hypostasis is would simply be reduced to His natures and their properties. When the “the very hypostasis of God the Word was changed into the hypostasis of the flesh,” this was a literal transformation as there was a specific change by an addition of nature with its properties. The Lord is no longer the same.
Now, the preceding would defy common sense. How can a person become a different person, but still be the same person? However, the strict Hypostasis= Essence + Properties definition is the most straightforward interpretation of the passage from Nicea II as the conciliar fathers offer no qualification as I do in the above (such as the distinction between what a person is relationally and what he has). In fact, my qualification can be arguably an invention of my mind and not clear enough in the fathers.
Additionally, what do the fathers usually refer to when they speak of Christ’s hypostasis’ properties vis a vis the other Persons? His relational differences pertaining to His divine origination vis a vis the other Persons of the Holy Trinity. Above Damascene explicitly makes this point in Exposition, Book I, Chap 12 and elsewhere asserts that “The Son is from the Father, and derives from Him all His properties.” (Ibid., Chap 13; cf Hormisdas; Letter 80, Par 16)
So, while there is a legitimate sense, such as Nicea II’s definition of hypostasis, in which a hypostasis is reducible to just natures and both of their properties–and thus the composite hypostasis view–there is also a legitimate sense where Christ’s hypostasis can only be spoken of in relation to His shared divine nature, but exclusive divine properties–the divine hypostasis view. The fathers use the terminology “properties” in both senses.
The Son is “One and the Same” Hypostasis. The fathers have a phraseology which we need to tackle in order to address the issue: The Son’s hypostasis after the incarnation is “one and the same.” The following are some citations:
Sentence of Constantinople III; Letter of Saint Agatho in Constantinople III; Lateran 649, Session 1, p. 120 and 129; Ibid., Session 2, p. 156; Ibid., Session 3, p. 208 and 222; Ibid., Session 5, p. 376; Damascene, Exposition, Book 3, Chap 11; Ibid., Book 4, Chap 7; Justinian’s Edict on the Orthodox Faith, Constantinople II, Vol 1, p. 133.
Let’s unpack what “one and the same” means. As one shall see, it is clear that the point of this phraseology is to emphasize the “Who” that is Christ never changes from the incarnation. For example, Damascene asserts that:
[T]he Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are one in all respects, except in that of not being begotten, that of being begotten, and that of procession,” he asserts that it was that the Only-begotten Son and Word of God *and God*, in His bowels of mercy, for our salvation, by the good pleasure of God and the co-operation of the Holy Spirit, being conceived without seed, was born uncorruptedly of the Holy Virgin and Mother of God, Mary, by the Holy Spirit, and became of her perfect Man; and that the Same is at once perfect God and perfect Man. (Expos, Book 1, Chap 2)
Clearly, “the Same” is a reference to “the Only-begotten Son and Word of God and God.” He has not “changed” in a specific sense, as He is still “Only-begotten Son and Word of God and God.” This is so patently obvious it should not need repeating, but for emphasis the redundancy should make the issue clear. The Hypostasis of the “Only-begotten Son and Word of God and God” remained the “same” according to the “Who” being discussed, as Damascene elsewhere clarifies:
The subsistence of God the Word before the Incarnation was simple and uncompound, and incorporeal and uncreate: but after it became flesh, it became also the subsistence of the flesh, and became compounded of divinity which it always possessed, and of flesh which it had assumed…the one same subsistence is both uncreate in divinity and create in humanity, visible and invisible. (Ibid., Book 4, Chap 4)
Constantinople II, Lateran 649, and Constantinople III all use the terminology “one and the same” or “the same,” as referenced above. Nicea II teaches the idea succinctly:
[T]he two natures united without change to each other in one person of God the Word have manifested to us one Son and Lord, the same both visible and invisible, mortal and immortal, circumscribed and uncircumscribed, perfect God and perfect Man, to be in two natures and to be worshipped in two self energies and wills. (Nicea 2, Session 3, p. 105-106 in 1849 translation)
The Person who “is at once perfect God and perfect Man” is “the Same” as “the Only-begotten Son and Word of God and God.” One notices the obvious references to “the Same” always being specifically pertaining to a Person, “God the Word.” And so, God the Word, Who according to Damascene is “in all respects” identical to the Father and Son other than in hypostatic properties relating to origin, is the same particular hypostasis after the incarnation:
For the subsistence of God the Word in itself became the subsistence of the flesh, and accordingly the Word became flesh [John 1:14] clearly without any change, and likewise the flesh became Word without alteration, and God became man. For the Word is God [by eternal generation], and man is God [through the assumption of human nature], through having one and the same subsistence….[T]he very subsistence of the Word became *without change* the [composite] subsistence of the flesh. (Exposition., Book 3, Chap 11)
And so, Damascene says Christ’s hypostasis “changes” in reference to the natures He has (Ibid., Chap 7), but in reference to Who He is “the very hypostasis of the Word became without change the [composite] hypostasis.” (Ibid., Chap 11) Hence, the hypostatic doctrine I expound above, with the differentiating between Who Christ is and what He has is precisely what makes sense of Damascene’s words in both parts of the Exposition. While the natures and their properties of course change, what does not change is the Hypostasis (not according to natures obviously, but according to literally “Who” the Word is, the Person begotten of the Father).
In another place, the Damascene puts it very plainly that during the incarnation, the Son “abode in an uncircumscribed manner in the womb of the Holy Virgin…causing the flesh derived from the holy Virgin to subsist in the very subsistence that was before all the ages.” (Ibid., Chap 7) Clearly, there is a sense where His hypostasis is not merely reducible to natures and properties, as “the very hypostasis” in which human nature and properties exists is “the very [same] subsistence” that lacked human nature and properties. How can it be the very same unless we can speak of hypostasis in a sense beyond that of His reduction into natures and properties alone? By that reduction He is a new Person, a new hypostasis with a new nature and related properties.
Without making this too complicated, the hypostasis/person of Christ during the incarnation was the very same on a personal level, but not on a natural level. This understanding is important, because it is precisely why Orthodox Christians worship the Eucharist:
Him we worship along with the Father and the Spirit, with one obeisance, adoring even His immaculate flesh and not holding that the flesh is not meet for worship: for in fact it is worshipped in the one subsistence of the Word, which indeed became subsistence for it. But in this we do not do homage to that which is created. For we worship Him, not as mere flesh, but as flesh united with divinity, and because His two natures are brought under the one person and one subsistence of God the Word. (Book 3, Chap 8)
Hence, Christians do not worship a created hypostasis, as this would make us polythesists. We worship an eternal, divine hypostasis made visibly and chronologically apparent in His human nature.
Conclusion. I will end this article on a personal note. To those who make syllogisms and focus on singular statements of the fathers to the undoing of the whole Scriptural and Patristic witness, I would caution to take a step back and use common sense. Saint Gregory Palamas warns: “Let us flee from those who reject patristic interpretations and attempt by themselves to deduce the complete opposite.” (Homily 34:2)
One must harmonize the Scriptures as well as Sacred Tradition. The truth is what is the common thread between everything.
And so, one can become hyper-focused on a sentence from Nicea II which appears to promise an easy, logical solution (Hypostasis = Natures + Properties) all the while losing sight of the context of the equation as a critique of Eutychianism. While Eutychians say Hypostasis = Nature and thereby conclude that if the Hypostasis is God the nature can only be God, the Orthodox have some sort of understanding of “Algebra.”
Contrary to the Eutychians, Orthodox recognize that if Christ demonstrates the properties of human nature, then there must be also a human nature within His hypostasis. Hence, there must be a “properties” variable as well as a “nature” variable in the hypostasis equation. That’s the point.
The preceding was not intended to undo the “Ecumenically defined” and thoroughly Patristic formula of His hypostasis being “one and the same” before and after the incarnation. And so, one can both affirm Nicea II’s “hypostatic equation” while at the same time affirming the eternity of the changless, beginless, divine hypostasis of God the Word. This can be done easily and without contradiction by simply affirming that Christ’s hypostasis is composite pertaining to the natures He has and is divine pertaining to Who He is, the Only-begotten of the Father.
Even ignoring issues connected with the Incarnation, a philosophical problem raised by the equation Hypostasis = Essence + Properties is the fact that properties (in the created world) change with time. Clearly, my properties differ significantly from those of myself age 11, and (to a much lesser extent) from those of myself before I read this blog. So, taking the equation very literally, one would be led to an Heraclitean position that I am not the same person I was at age 11, or a few minutes ago: one cannot step into the same river twice, etc. However, clearly Jesus in the manger is the same hypostasis as Jesus on the Cross or after the Resurrection. Therefore, the question of what constitutes ‘properties’ in the definition needs to be clarified (or perhaps the definition applies only to God and not to the creation?).
St. Maximus : Christ is out of two natures, in two natures and is two natures.
There is definitely a Severian type of “composite hypostasis” that the Fathers fought against , but they allowed for varying terminology as long as the intent was Orthodox.
Click to access Behr-Severus.pdf
I think Severus taught a composite physis. This is sufficiently vague as physis can mean hypostasis but it can also mean essence. Being that he rejected Leo, he must have meant the latter.
Fr. Demetrios Bathrellos comments: For Maximus, the distinction between person/hypostasis, on the one hand, and nature/essence on the other, is indispensible for the articulation of a proper Christology. Severus’ fatal mistake consists precisely in his refusal to distinguish between them, because, without this distinction, it is not possible to denote unity and and distinction in a satisfactory way. Maximus argues that by identifying hypostasis with nature, Severus confuses divinity and humanity. By the same token, by arguing that there is a distinction in the natural qualities too, because, since nature and hypostasis are the same, ‘natural qualities’ equals ‘hypostatic qualities’; thus, for Maximus, Severus falls into Nestorianism (Ep. 15, 568D) (Byzantine Christ, pg. 101)
Hi there. I have just one little question. On the cross, did suffered only His human nature, or the person too, knowing that His Hypostasis is divine?
Jesus Christ suffered on the cross. The Creed says “He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate.” He, the Person (i.e. hypostasis) suffered, but according to His human nature, not divine nature (as divinity cannot suffer or die, only human nature has this capacity).
When Orthodox venerate an icon of Christ, they are not venerating just His human nature or His divine nature–but Himself, the hypostasis. What is visibly represented is the human nature but His humanity contains His divine nature, even if the divine nature is simple and not broken in parts and tangible/visible.
The Eucharist likewise is the hypostasis of Christ, having both His human nature and divine nature.
I hope this helps!
Somehow I understand, but is the problem of Hypostasis, because He received not a (new) human hypostasis united with the divine one, but the divine took human properties too, so the Person remains still the Word, right?
As for Eucharist, by the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas, I can not say is divine nature too, because the divine can not be took by us, but merely His(human) body and blood pierced by divine (uncreated) energie, not the divine nature, right?
Yes, the Divine Hypostasis of God the Word never changed Who it is but what it is according to nature, changing from divine only to composite (both divine and human).
The EUcharist *does* have the divine essence, not just His energies because it is truly the flesh of Christ. Just like only Christ’s human nature suffered, in an analogous way, only His human nature is digested because the divine nature is simple and is not subject to digestion.
And by the way, I am from România. Here is a problem with so-called apokatastasis of St. Gregory. And I know that St. Maximus explains that there are not just one, but three forms of apokatastasis, somehow to take care of St. Gregory teaching and not acusing him of heresy. How could I help proving St. Gregory was not an universalist?
God bkess you too,
this should be a big help for you, start at the oldest article and work up. https://orthodoxchristiantheology.com/category/gregory-of-nyssa/
Thank you, Craig.
About Eucharist I was reading Petite théologie pour les temps de pandemie by Jean Claude Larchet. Do you have other sources? Or articles based on orthodox New and Ancient Fathers. 🙏😌
I tend to just read the fathers themselves. st ignatius, st justin martry, and st irenaeus all make extensive comments.