HYPOSTATIC UNION

The orthodox doctrine on the relation of the divine and human in Christ. Henosis kath’ hypostasin was the term used by Saint CYRIL I, patriarch of Alexandria in the fifth century, to make clear beyond all argument the complete unity of the and the flesh in Christ. For Cyril is the only HYPOSTASIS (“substance”), and it “assumed flesh” ( 1:14) without ceasing to be the Word. The “Word made flesh” was not a compound of two independent natures, manhood and godhead, but one nature, that of the Word “inside man and enfleshed.”

Cyril’s Christology was based on that of Saint ATHANASIUS I, patriarch of Alexandria in the fourth century. However, in addition to the genuine works of Athanasius, Cyril had studied and been influenced by a group of extremely well-written Apollinarian forgeries of works purporting to have been written by authorities as reputable as Gregory the Wonderworker, Pope Julius, and Athanasius (see APOLLINARIANISM). Thus Cyril used the same phrases and arguments that Apollinaris had used to assert the composite unity of Christ’s person while strenuously opposing Apollinarianism.

This is the key to understanding Cyril’s peculiar terminology. The manhood of Christ is made real only by to a doctrine of kenosis (“”self-emptying”), by which permits His human soul and body assumed at the to experience human needs and feelings and finally to suffer and die on the cross. The Word, as he says, “abased himself by submitting to the limitations of the human condition.” The union of godhead and manhood could be explained only in mystical terms. As Cyril wrote to NESTORIUS, bishop of Constantinople (428-431), in his third letter (430), Christ “suffered impassibly.”

In his second letter (429), he attempted to explain how “ having united to Himself in His own hypostasis, in an ineffable and inconceivable manner, flesh animated with a rational soul, became Man and was called Son of Man.” Union kath’ hypostasin appears in the Twelve Anathemas appended to Cyril’s third letter to Nestorius (Anathema 2). The Anathemas were accepted as canonical at the of EPHESUS in 449; and while they were passed over at the Council of CHALCEDON (451), Cyril’s affirmation that the union of natures was kath’ hypostasin was not condemned. It was reaffirmed at the of Constantinople in 553 (Anathema 5).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Grillmeier, A. Christ in Christian Tradition, trans. J. S. Bowden, pt. 3, sect. 1, chap. 3, and sect. 2, chap. 2. London, 1964.
  • Kelly, J. N. D. Early Christian Doctrines, chap. 12. London, 1978.

W. H. C.