Theosis and Hypostasis of the Son

I am still working through the Holy Father’s latest Encyclical, Spe Salvi. There’s some really good stuff in the second half. I read a bit to my wife and she commented that the Pope has a way with language.

But meanwhile, back at the ranch, I am listening to an audio file about the doctrine of Theosis (Divinization) from the Sonitus Sanctus blog.

A comment is made by the speaker, one Phil Krill (whose Greek is pretty dodgy for someone teaching on this topic…) something to the effect that Christ did not have a human hypostasis/person, but was solely a divine hypostasis/person (the Second Person of the Trinity) who assumed humanity. This is used as the explanation for Maximus’ assertion (I don’t have the exact quote) that in Theosis, man becomes God to the same extent that God became man in Christ. Thus, says Phil, just as the Son of God became man without becoming a human person, so man becomes divine without becoming a divine person.

Now, I am perfectly happy with the assertion that in Theosis we become “divine” without becoming divine persons, but I feel there is something dodgy about the assertion that the hypostasis of Christ was not both fully divine AND fully human. I mean, if Christ had a human nature, a human body, a human soul, and a human will (as Orthodox Chalcedonian Christology asserts), how could we say that he was not a “human person”? And if he did not assume human personhood, how could my human personhood be redeemed?

It seems in fact that in this I have stumbled onto the old Antiochene vs Alexandrian argument between the doctrines of “anhypostasia” and “enhypostasia”, although I am not quite sure if either of these quite get what I (in my simplistic Latin mind) would like to say about the Person of Jesus Christ. (For more on this, see question no. 3 in this discussion here). My humble understanding is that the Divine Second Person of the Holy Trinity–the Logos–became a fully human person while remaining a fully Divine person, yet remaining one person and not by becoming two persons. This is how I understand the declaration of faith from Chalcedon. Of course, the problem may well stem from Chalcedon itself, in using parallel language about Christ being “consubstantial with the Father as regards his divinity, and the same consubstantial with us as regards his humanity”.

But if I am right–that in fact, Christ became man to a more complete extent than we will ever “become God”, then where does that leave the doctrines of Maximus et al, along the (sometimes–I think–too neat) slogan: “God became Man that Man might become God”? Is the problem with the language of Theosis itself? Indeed it is intended to express man’s glorious destiny of full participation in and communion with God–but, while a beautiful expression, does it not perhaps try to say too much?

Any thoughts?

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15 Responses to Theosis and Hypostasis of the Son

  1. William Weedon says:

    As my dear mentor, Dr. Norman Nagel, once said:

    “If God became a human person, jolly good for that person, but what about the rest of us???”

    It is dogmatically correct to state that Christ assumed a human nature, but NOT a human person. This is the doctrine of enhypostasia – the “personality” of Jesus is solely that of the divine Second Person of the Trinity.

  2. Schütz says:

    No, William. I am not suggesting that God “assumed” a human person (as if that person pre-existed in some way and was somehow a separate being to the divine person–in which case what Dr Nagel said would be correct (and I do remember meeting Dr Nagel once–a fine man)).

    Rather what I meant to say is simply that when he became incarnate God the Son became fully human and to be fully human must mean that the Divine Person of God the Son also became fully human, that is, a human person, while remaining fully divine.

    Thus the hypostasis of Jesus Christ was fully divine and fully human, but the human person was not (as Dr Nagel seems to suggest) someone different from the divine person.

    To argue that Christ was not an authentic human person but only the divine 2nd person of the Holy Trinity seems to me very dangerous from the point of view of soteriology.

    How many ways can I say this to get my point across?

    Now I am prepared to admit that the problem might in fact be that I am using “person” in a modern sense whereas the ancients used the term in a different sense altogether, but whatever meaning you give “hypostasis”, if you affirm only the divinity of the hypostasis of the incarnate Word and not the humanity of his hypostasis you are running the risk of holding forth a Christ who is less than fully human.

    Perhaps another problem is that (as the Chalcedonian formula attests) the ancients believed there was something called the “substance” of humanity, that Christ could be “consubtantial” with us in the same way that he is “consubstantial” with the Father. While not denying the intention of that terminology, it does seem to set up an unhelpful parallel between the Divine Nature (which is one) and Human Nature (which on the contrary is many).

    Now I do not think that what I am saying here matches with either en- or an-hypostasia. I simply want to say that the Incarnate Logos had a real personhood and that that the real, unique and single person of the Incarnate Logos was both fully divine and fully human.

    I believe this is exactly what the simplest of orthodox catholic Christians mean when they say that Christ was fully God and fully man.

  3. Joshua says:


    From what I understand, Christ our Saviour is a Divine Person: God the Word, incarnate in a human nature, remaining what He was before (God from God, sharing the One Divine Nature with the Father and the Holy Spirit, for, just as Each of Them Are, He Is one of the Three Persons in the consubstantial Trinity), and assuming what He was not, that is, the rational soul and body of a man.

    All who are human (only) are human persons, each sharing human nature: each man is an ensouled body, or enfleshed soul, constituting a complex unity (one substance, not two), and is a person, a self-aware subject.

    But Christ’s human nature, having been united since conception to the Person of the Eternal Word, is not a human person – the place of human personhood being supereminently fulfilled, above all created possibility, by the Person of God the Son.

    It is metaphysically impossible for Christ to be, as you put it, both a divine person and a human person, and yet only one person – this would be like claiming that the Trinity is Three Persons and yet One Person, which is impossible. The Oneness and Threeness (in the case of the Trinity), or the Oneness and Duality (in the case of Christ) must be predicated of different realities, to avoid this logical contradiction.

    Therefore, Christ must be One Person in two natures: a human nature and a divine nature, both belonging to the One Person, the Divine Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.

  4. William Weedon says:

    Yes, Joshua, that’s it exactly.

  5. Schütz says:

    Okay, at the risk of appearing as if I failed Christology at Sem (I didn’t), here goes on another attempt.

    Joshua, like Weedon, used the language of “assumption”. Now I know that this is usual in Christology, but it does carry overtones that are different from language of “becoming”. I think there is a difference. I am talking about “becoming”.

    Joshua clarified that the “person” is the “self-aware subject”. Good. Got that.

    Now I think there might be something in Joshua’s suggestion that, while completely and only a divine person, “the place of human personhood” is “supereminently fulfilled” in Christ “above all created possibility”–only that seems to suggest that the difference between human and divine personhood is a matter of degree and not of quality. That in fact might be so. It would explain some things but cause problems in other situations. We would then be saying that divine and human nature are fundamentally different and incompatible (which, interestingly, is why Muslims reject the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation–they say it is a metaphysical impossibility).

    But Joshua likewise complains that my insistence that the ONE person of the Incarnate Logos is simultaneously both fully divine and fully human “is metaphysically impossible”. For the record, I am not saying that Christ is (as Joshua paraphrased me) “both a divine person and a human person”, I am saying that the Incarnate Logos is ONE (not “TWO-IN-ONE”) person who is both fully divine and fully human.

    If you think that what I am trying to say is “like claiming that the Trinity is Three Persons and yet One Person”, then you are not understanding what I am saying.

    OK. Lets try again another way. Follow me closely:

    The Person of Christ is the Person of God the Son from all eternity, who became truly human (“??? ??????????????”).

    Christ is therefore “One Person in two natures: a human nature and a divine nature”.

    Therefore the nature of the One person of Christ is both fully human and fully divine; or to put it another way, Christ’s single person is both human by nature AND divine by nature.

    Therefore it is right to say that the Person of Christ is in nature both truly human and truly divine without positing two persons in one person.

    To clarify, I do not hold that the Divine Person of the Son of God “assumed” a human person at the incarnation. Rather I hold that the Divine Person became fully human, and if the whole of the divine person became fully human, then since his conception in the womb of Mary the Divine Person must at one and the same time be a human person as well, but as one person, not as two persons.

    Now if that is a “metaphysical” impossibility–what else is new? Remember that our formulations for the Doctrine of the Trinity and the Incarnation are precisely that: ways of inadequately but as precisely as possible expressing what is, in our experience of things, metaphysically impossible.

  6. Joshua says:

    Dear David,

    Great to read some really meaty discussion regarding the Adorable Person of Our Saviour, while I enjoy my breakfast after Mass! (Please pray for me, as I’m flying later today, and always get nervous.)

    Now as to our religion’s Trinitarian and Incarnational dogmas involving metaphysical impossibilities – No, no, no! This is precisely what the fact of our religion being the true one cannot allow. As our Holy Father said at Regensburg, echoing all the Fathers and theologians, ours is a ‘logical’ religion, the religion of the Logos, and a religion that is rational, whose revealed truths are accessible to human ratiocination to the extent possible for our limited minds. The dogmas of our Faith truly express some aspect of the greater Divine Truth that is infinitely above our created intellects. Hence, they cannot contain any metaphysical impossibilities; for, if they did, the Muslims and all others would be right to reject our religion as fancy and falsity.

    As to Christianity being the “rational religion”, as the Fathers put it – How else could the priest offer in the Anaphora of St John Chrysostom “logike latreia”, rational worship, the sacrifice of the Word? Or how in the Roman Canon could else he pray that the “oblatio” be renedered “rationabile”?

    I do not follow what you write of my implying the difference between divine and human personhood to be one of degree not of quality. God is infinitely perfect, and so His possession of (Triple) Personhood is the eminent exemplar of all created personhood, angelic or human.

    It seems to me that there is agreement that the Divine Person of the Eternal Word, being ever of the same One Divine Nature as God the Father and God the Holy Ghost, has in these last days deigned to take upon Himself human nature, and has become man. We confess therefore Emmanuel to be True God and true man.

    But He is man because having a human nature – His Person cannot be, as it ever is, Divine, and yet also be a human person at one and the same time, without falling into the Nestorian error of confessing two persons in a moral (“prosopic”) union, or instead making the Monophysite mistake of positing one nature after the union, making Christ neither man nor God but some new and quite impossible mixed being. Your statements, begging your pardon, seem to convey a curious combination of both conceptions.

    I think the communication of idioms, as it is termed, must be carefully considered here, as it so easy to get jumbled up about these supreme mysteries. Of course, as you say, “the Person of Christ is in nature both truly human and truly divine without positing two persons in one person”, because “Christ’s single person is both human by nature AND divine by nature”.

    The problem arises in your writing “if the whole of the divine person became fully human, then since his conception in the womb of Mary the Divine Person must at one and the same time be a human person as well, but as one person, not as two persons.” The word “must” is unfortunate, since it implies too much, as if to have human nature means one must have human personhood: which is to beg the question.

    To be human is to share in human nature, and certainly for all those who are only human, each individual is a human person. But for One who has come down to us, and taken flesh and soul, He shares our nature, but cannot, logically, have remained one in person, become a human person and yet not ceased to be what He ever Is, a Divine Person.

    Personhood cannot change from one thing to another and yet remain the same, and remain one! This can only make sense if the One Person acquires a new nature without losing the original nature.

    This is precisely why the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, has wisely prescribed and defined the use of the terms “nature”, “person”, etc.

  7. William Weedon says:


    Josh is right. I also *think* I understand what you’re trying to safeguard – a full humanity of the Lord – but the whole point of the church’s confession of the incarnation is that this fullness of humanity resides in *nature* and not in *person.*

  8. Andrew says:

    Dear David,

    In “Christology: A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Study of Jesus” by Fr Gerald O’Collins, SJ, you will find a nice little section on why moderns feel that it is necessary to say that our Lord is a human person and precisely why this is not acceptable. the book is really quite introductory and not terribly well organized, but I found it helpful and, despite your considerable erudition, it might be helpful to you also.

    In corde Iesu,

  9. Schütz says:

    I take Josh’s point. I should not have spoken about our faith containing metaphysical impossibilities or irrationalities. I was wrong there. What I was trying to say is that maybe our philosophical language does not do justice sometimes to either the mystery or the reality.

    I am convinced that what we are having difficulty here with is a matter of language and terminology.

    What is the relationship between “nature” and “person”? Is “nature” an objective thing in itself which can exist apart from the thing that has it (in this case, apart from “a person”), or is “nature” not rather the essential description of the thing that has it and in this way that it has no existence apart from it? Is there or can there be such a thing (metaphysically speaking) as a human nature without a human person in which it exists?

    To put it another way, I have a red round fruit on my desk that has the nature of being “appley”. That is, it is an apple. It is an “apple-being”. Everything about it has the nature of “appleness”.

    Okay. A being knocks on my door and asks for a cup of coffee. This being has a “human” nature. Thus, its soul, body, spirit, will, thoughts etc. etc. are all “human”. To say it has a human nature is not to talk about something it posesses, but something that describes its total existence.

    If an hypostasis were to knock on the door of a house in Nazereth approx. 2000 years ago which was positively known to have had both a fully human and a fully divine nature, then I would say of this person (and it is a single person knocking on the door, not two persons) that he must (and I say “must” because that is the way language works) be both human and divine.

    Now look at that rather tortuous sentence I have just completed, and simplify it by taking out the extraneous bits. I can rewrite it as two parallel statements:

    Since the person has a fully divine nature, the person must be fully divine.
    Since the person has a fully human nature, the person must be fully human.

    To put it mathematically, where “P” = Person and “N” = Nature, I am arguing that:

    to say P has N = to say P is N-ish

    You appear to be arguing that this is a misunderstanding on my part.

  10. Schütz says:

    To put it another way, I agree that Christ cannot have two persons.

    Yet, as orthodox theology has it, he is one person with two natures.

    But you (and Phil Krill originally) appear to be saying that he has only one nature, ie. that he is only a divine person and that he is not a human person?

  11. Schütz says:

    Christ is not a Divine Person inside a human nature. To say that his person has two natures means to say that his person is divine and human.

  12. Schütz says:

    Thanks for the tip, Andrew. I just saw it amid all my other tirades.

  13. William Weedon says:

    Our Lord IS a divine person who has, besides His divine nature which is His from all eternity, also in infinite love, assumed in the fullness of time a human nature. So it is not that He is a divine person inside a human nature, but that the human nature is inside His divine person. “Not by the conversion of the divinity into flesh, but by assumption of the humanity into God.” (Athanasian Creed)

  14. Schütz says:

    Ah, yes, William, but what of the classic Lutheran doctrine “Finitum capax infinitum”? Did not Luther assert that the whole of the Divinity was wrapped in the swaddling clothes of the babe?

  15. William Weedon says:

    Actually, David, that wasn’t just Luther, but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Sacred Scriptures! “In Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” Col. 2:9

    The question is in what way this is so. And the answer that Luther and Lutherans gives is entirely of a piece with the ancient Church: it is because in the personal union, the Divine Logos assumed a human nature, where the essential properties of either nature remain their own through all eternity, but where there is a true communication of properties from the divine to the human because of the personal union.

    There is no fear of our Lord not having a having his own distinct human personality, for all personality among humans is but a reflection of the supreme “personality” of each person of the Blessed Trinity. If we are but broken copies, He is the unbroken original as the Eternal Logos. In His infinite compassion He assumes our human nature into union with His Divine Person that He might make us partakers of His divine nature (but not of His Divine Person) by grace.

    To go back to Luther, that’s why he could speak as he did: “Ah, Lord, Thou hast created all! How didst Thou come to be so small, to sweetly sleep in manger bed, Where lowing cattle lately fed?”

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