The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Contra the "Hypostatic Union"


Vito Caiati writes,

I am struggling, in particular, to understand what [Thomas Joseph] White is proposing with regard to the hypostatic union on pages 82-84 [of The Incarnate Lord: A Thomistic Study in Christology , The Catholic University of America Press, 2017]. He follows Aquinas in affirming “a substantial union of God and man. . . . [in which] the two natures remain distinct, without mixture or confusion, and [in which] the union must not occur in the nature of Christ ” (82). In this substantial union, “The hypothesis [hypostasis] of the Word does not replace the human soul of Christ. . . . However, just as in man the body is the instrument of the soul, so in the incarnate Word, the human nature of Jesus is the instrument of the Word. . . . [in that] the humanity of Jesus is united to the Word as an intrinsic, ‘conjoined instrument. . .“ (83).

I do not understand what is being affirmed here. If the Word is “united” to the humanity of Jesus “as an intrinsic ‘conjoined instrument’” has not something been done to this humanity that renders it more than human? In other words, can one really hold that in this process of union, the natures remain distinct? I am particularly confused because White appears to argue for precisely this position in affirming that “in Christ there is no autonomous human personhood or human personality. He is the person of the Son and Word made human, subsisting in human nature” (83). Well, if this is so, what import does his human soul have on his thoughts and actions?

White thomas josephThe Word (Logos) is the Second Person of the Trinity. It is the one person ( hypostasis ) that has the two natures, the divine nature and the human nature. Thus there are not two persons, the Second Person and the human person of Jesus; there is only one person, the Second Person of the Trinity. This latter person is the person of Jesus. If there were two persons, a divine person and a human person, then that would be the Nestorian heresy. (I could explain later, if you want, why this heresy is a heresy.) In other words, the person of Jesus is the eternal Word, not a human person. There is human nature in Jesus, but no human person in Jesus.

But this is not to say that the man Jesus merely embodies the Word, i.e., it is not to say that the Word is to Jesus as soul to body. That would be the Apollinarian heresy. The Word in Jesus does not merely assume a body; The Word assumes (the nature of) a fully human man, body and soul. So while there is no human person in Jesus, there is a human soul in Jesus. Here, perhaps, we have the makings of trouble for the Incarnation doctrine on White’s Thomistic construal thereof, as we shall see in a minute.

In sum, one person, two distinct natures, one divine, the other human. The person is divine. The natures are individual natures. They are not multiply realizable or multiply instantiable like rational animal which is found in Socrates and Plato equally but not in an ass. (Schopenhauer somewhere quips that the medievals employed only three examples, Socrates, Plato, and an ass. Who am I to run athwart a tradition so hoary and noble?) And yet the individual natures are not themselves self-subsistent individuals. They need a support, something that has the natures. This is part of the meaning of hypostasis . There has to be something that stands under or underlies the natures. The hypostatic union is the union of the two natures in one subsistent individual, the Word. (White, p. 113)

Now this one divine person is united to the (individual) nature of Jesus as to an essential, not accidental, instrument. But this union is not identity. There is no identity of natures or confusion of natures. The divine and human natures remain distinct. They are united, but they are united essentially, not accidentally.

Caiati asks, " Can one really hold that in this process of union, the natures remain distinct?" Yes, if union is not identity. So I don’t see a problem here.

Caiati also asks, “what import does his human soul have on his thoughts and actions?” This is a much more vexing question, and I rather doubt that we are going to find a satisfying answer to it within the Aristotelian-Thomistic scheme that Fr. White employs.

Who is it that is thinking when Jesus thinks? Suppose he is debating some rabbis. He hears and understands their objections and thoughtfully replies. Is it the Word who is the subject of these mental acts? Is the Word thinking when Jesus thinks? If yes, then his human soul is not the ‘seat’ of his intellectual operations. Suppose Jesus feels hunger or thirst or the excruciating pains of his passion. Does the Word feel these pains? How could it if it is impassible? If it is not impassible and does the feel Jesus’ pains, then what role does the human soul in Jesus have to play? How can Christ be fully human, body and soul, if his human soul plays no role either intellectually or sensorially?

There is also the will to consider. If Jesus is obedient to the end, and does the will of the Father, then he wills what the Father wills. “Thy will be done.” He would rather not undergo the Passion, but “not my will but thine be done.” This makes sense only if Jesus has his own will, distinct from the Father’s will, a will ‘seated’ in his human soul. That is, the faculties of willing have to be different, even if the contents of willing are the same. But then it is not the Word that wills in Jesus.

On the other hand, if the human soul in Jesus is indeed the ‘seat’ of his intellectual and voluntative and sensitive and affective functions, then the person in him, the Word, is severed from his soul. But this drains ‘person’ of its usual meaning which includes soulic functions. The one person in two natures threatens to become a mere substratum or support of the two natures.

White’s view is that the Incarnation, although ultimately a mystery, can be rendered intelligible to the discursive intellect. I doubt it. -end of quote

For me, the crucial issue is the implication of Phil.2:5-6, specifically the hymn’s statement that “He emptied Himself” t o become human. Emptied Himself of what? His divinity or only His divine prerogatives? What is the answer to these 2 questions? (1) Is Jesus exactly what God would be if God were merely human and no longer divine? (2) Is not Christ in a sense “fully God,” if Jesus preexists as the Word (Logos) and is restored to His full divinity by His resurrection and exaltation? if the answer to both questions is No, what concretely is at stake in getting the answers right?

Yep, those are the questions indeed, and there is not a sufficient answer to be had imo. The ‘discursive intellect’ has its limits, and those limits arise whenever questions of being and ontology are taken seriously.

I’ve questioned here and other places - who died on the cross? We know - I think - that the divine nature cannot die, so, under the supposed ‘two-natures’ model (hypostatic union) of the incarnation, did that nature leave the man Jesus at the moment of death? Certainly, God cannot die.
Full disclosure - I’m not a trinitarian, nor a two-nature theorist.

if one believes Christ is God then they are, by proxy, denying Christs literal death. More over, if “God died and was dead” the who raised Him? “The dead know nothing”. “God” wouldnt even know “He was dead” or that He needed to “raise Himself”! Who was running the heavens and earth while God was dead?

So I dont believe Christ is God then who is He? He is the image of the invisible God (colossians 1:15). If Christ was God, and people saw Him, then how is God invisible? An image accurately represents what it is an image of. But is not the actual thing it is portraying. A image of a chair has all the likeness of that chair photographed but it isnt a chair. Christ was an ambassador of the heavens if you will. And no one in their right might would call the ambassador of a country the president.

Furhtermore Christ is the mediator between man and God (1 Timothy 2:5). A mediator is a third party between two other seperate parties. So its illogical to say Christ is God mediating between Himself,Himself,and man.

Christ makes MANY distinctions between Himself and God. Here are some that would make no sense if He was literally God;

“Why are you terming Me good? No one is good except One, God.” Luke 18:19.

Why is He distinguishing Himself between Him and God? Now we do know Gods righteousness dwelled in Christs faith (Romans 3:22). But that is besides the point. Christ was attributing His goodness to God, not Himself. Which wouldnt make sense if He was God as then why WOULDNT He attribute it to Himself? He wouldnt have even asked the question if He WAS God.

“Now, concerning that day and hour no one is aware, neither the messengers of the heavens, nor the Son; except the Father only.” Mathew 24:36
If Christ is God,and God knows the day and hour of His return, then how come the Son not know?

"Then Jesus is coming with them into the freehold termed Gethsemane, and He is saying to His disciples, “Be seated, till I come away and should be praying there.” Mathew 26:36

WHO IS HE PRAYING TO IF HE IS GOD?! Is God going crazy and talking to Himself?

“Father, if it is Thy intention, carry aside this cup from Me. However, not My will, but Thine, be done!” Luke 22:42

How are they the same person if two different wills are being established in this verse. If He was God, and Christs intentions were to “carry asside this cup from me”, then wouldnt it ALSO be Gods intentions and be done? Simply put if God and Christ are the same person their intentions would be the same and thus the cup WOULD have been carried aside from Christ. But Gods will was that Christ would be crucified to become the savior.

“‘Lo! I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’” John 20:17
Christ says “My God”…WAIT GOD HAS A GOD?! If Christ is God then what God is He ascending to and who is “His God” if He is God?

"And, approaching, Jesus speaks to them saying, “Given to Me was all authority in heaven and on the earth.” 28:18

If Christ was God who is this other God who GAVE Him authority? If “Christ is God” apparently He needs to get permission from some other diety to excercise authority?

“thereafter the consummation, whenever He may be giving up the kingdom to His God and Father, whenever He should be nullifying all sovereignty and all authority and power” 1 corinthians 15:24

Again we see here that Christ has a God. So again I must ask,if Christ “is God”,then who is this other God He is delivering the kingdom to?

“My God! My God! Why didst Thou forsake Me?” Matthew 27:46

If “Christ is God” why would He think Hes forsaken Himself? Why is He “talking to Himself”? Or, again, if “Christ is God” is He talking to ANOTHER God? Why,if “He is God”, would He think that? wouldnt He know whether or not He had forsaken “Himself”? Likewise itd more accurately, then, be said “Myself, Myself why hast I foresaken Myself?”

Those are a few but there are many others.

Some may argue that Christ is called God by Thomas or that Christ says “If you have seen me you have seen the [image of] Father” therefor He is God. Christ, being the exact likeness of God, has the right to be called or reffered to as God. But He is not literally God. In 2 corinthians 4:4 Paul (relatively speaking) calls satan “the god of this eon”. Does that make satan part of this trinity just because Paul reffered to him as “god” too? Some humans are called children and Sons of God, and if Christ being offspring makes Him God, wouldnt that likewise, by logical consistency, make us also part of this “trinity” since we too are called His children? Now we went from a trinity to thousands of members of this supposed “God head” by the ill formed logic they use to defend the theory of the trinity.

People make the council of Nicea out to be some unanimous decision moved by the Holy Spirit. It wasnt, there was much quarell over the nature of Christ and His relation to His Father. Furthermore we should not rely on the opinions and councils and traditions of men but scripture alone.

And lets not even get into the Johannine Comma and the spurious translation of 1 John 5:8…

When, IF, you are allowed to ask these questions at church theyll etiher tell you to leave or theyll simply say “its all a mystery”.
Thats because the trinity, when tested against scripture, is an absurd notion that defies all logic and requires one to take up mysticism as a explaination.

There are many thoughtful Trins on this Forum who can give justification for their belief. Jason Pratt has written a very good book along this and other lines of thought, for instance. I respect their honest stance on the issue. If I have a beef it is not with those folks so much, as with those that make adherence to their belief a mark of membership in, or exclusion from, a group of ‘true Christian believers’. Or even more egregiously, like Athanasius, commit non-trins to ETC.

My focus in the OP is on trying to understand the dual-nature theory as expressed in some creedal formulae. I don’t at this time think that the theory is understandable on the level of discursive intellect.

Where would truth fit into this inclusivism? If we arent to draw a line on what is true and false why not say hindus are believing truth? or buddhists? or eternal hellfire preachers? I think truth is more important than being inclusive. I think Paul, and even the circumcision apostles, would agree on that.

Imo trinitarianism denies the complete death of Christ. Its like saying He was half dead but half alive the whole time. Its like saying “He died as Christ God, but not as God God”. But I digress.

If possible, can we stick with the OP? I don’t want to get too many hares running in different directions. :slight_smile:

As for ‘true and false’ - I hear what you are saying, and agree that, as to matters of FACT, the t/f categories are useful.
When it comes to matters of BELIEF, I think it is more useful to talk in terms of: can this belief be justified/warranted? What reasons does one have for holding a belief? Etc.
Now I’ve got that hare running - we can maybe start another thread on that subject and keep this one centered on the OP.

Dave, you should know by now that I am a very simple man. I had to look up the meaning of hypostasis to get some clue to what you are talking about in this OP. Anyone reading through John’s gospel for the first time must conclude that Jesus was both God and Man when he walked this earth. “In the beginning was the Word …… and the Word was God”. He frequently used the divine name of God “I AM” when speaking about himself.

There is so much more: …Phil 2: 5 “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”

Jesus was wholly a man with all a man’s physical limitations and tempted with all that a man is tempted. Luke 4:1 tells us that he was “full of the Holy Spirit”, no different than how we, too, can be filled with Sprit. The miracles he performed were through the power of the Spirit. He was led by the Spirit, e.g. in the face-to-face with the devil at the Temptation in the Wilderness. He had truly become one of us so that he could act as our substitute on the Cross.

How his “emptying of himself” relates to the divine aspect of his nature is something I need to study further! This topic you have introduced will no doubt prove helpful to my simple understanding.

HI Norm. Do you think that God died on the cross?

Is that a catch question?

O loving wisdom of our God!
When all was sin and shame,
a second Adam to the fight
and to the rescue came.

I believe Jesus died as a sinless man as our substitute, a belief I think borne out by him calling out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” from Psalm 22.

Is your position contrary?

Norm - no, I don’t do catch questions.
But I do try to elucidate concepts. One such concept I cannot get an answer to is: did anything ‘divine’ actually die on the cross, or was it the man Jesus Christ who died. In other words, for Him to be both God and Man means that the God-part died also, or, like the docetists believed, the god-part left before death.


The scholarly consensus recognizes Romans 1:3-4 as a Greek translation of a pre-Pauline Aramaic liturgical fragment:.
“the Gospel concerning His Son, who was a sperm (Greek: 'sperma”) of David according to the flesh, and was declared to be the Son of God with power by the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord."
Note 2 significant implications:
(a) This Christological fragment seems to imply that Jesus was NOT designated the Son of God in power prior to His resurrection.
(b) Paul never mentions Christ’s Virgin Birth. This deafening silence is construed by many scholars as implying that the virgin birth doctrine only arises after Paul’s death. The problem becomes most acute in Romans 1:3-4, where Paul actually characterizes Jesus’ birth without alluding to the virgin birth in a context in which such a doctrinal affirmation would be expected. I can only say that in an early Aramaic-speaking milieu, Christ’s descent from David most more important than His virginal conception, which might be viewed as a doctrine influenced by pagan virgin birth myths for the divine.

Many scholars argue that Romans 1:3-4 points to adoptionism as the earliest Christology and reinforce this claim by citing Paul’s claim that God only gave birth to Jesus as the Son of God through His resurrection:
Paul: "…by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the Second Psalm (2:7): “You are my Son; today I have begotten you (Acts 13:33).”

B - that’s the interpretation I’ve been most comfortable with. Fraught with difficulty, yes - but overall the most compelling answer imo.