The Hypostatic Union
Previously, I wrote concerning the early Church and its understanding of the incarnation and redemption of man, focusing on comparing early and modern redemption theories. Today I wish to focus on the incarnation itself; particularly the hypostatic union, what it is, what it is not, as well as what it means in relation to our doctrine.
The term itself comes from the Greek word ὑπόστασις meaning “substance, foundation, reality”, but perhaps in this case it is best understood as “nature”; that is the nature and substance of Christ. This is a term used to describe the incarnation – the Word become flesh, particularly the union of Christ’s humanity and divinity.
It is often summarized today as Jesus being 100% man and 100% God.
In 313 ad Emperor Constantine I, also known as Constantine the Great, along with Licinius I (another Emperor of Rome) issued the Edict of Milan, granting religious freedom and tolerance for persecuted Christians. Around this time a man by the name of Arius had developed a rather large following centered on his view that Christ was not divine or co-eternal with the Father, but rather was created by and subordinate to the Father. Standing in opposition to Arianism were those in the church who believed that the Father and Son were God, one being and of single essence. While the doctrine of the Trinity was not fully articulated by this time, this latter group was comprised of both what we would consider Trinitarians (like Athanasius) and Modalists (like Marcellus) who rallied together to confront the claims of Arius.
For Constantine this was a silly dispute, but desiring to keep any sort of religious divisions from causing problems for his rule he convened the Council of Nicaea in 325 ad. While he presided over the Council, Constantine abstained from casting any official vote. Nevertheless, Christian bishops attended with the goal being attaining a consensus on the key tenets of Christian Orthodoxy. It was here where the divine nature of God the Father and God the Son were addressed and the first part of the Nicene Creed was created:
“We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten from the Father, only-begotten, that is, from the substance of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, through Whom all things came into being, things in heaven and things on earth, Who because of us men and because of our salvation came down, and became incarnate and became man, and suffered, and rose again on the third day, and ascended to the heavens, and will come to judge the living and dead, And in the Holy Spirit. But as for those who say, there was when He was not, and, before being born He was not, and that He came into existence out of nothing, or who assert that the Son of God is of a different hypostasis or substance, or created, or is subject to alteration or change - these the catholic (universal) and apostolic Church anathematizes.”
We see then that both early Trinitarians and Modalists were in agreement that Jesus was fully man and fully divine, of the same substance as the Father. Moreover, they were unified in condemning the notion of Arius: that Jesus was not divine and a created subordinate to the Father.
A Simple Concept Made Difficult
Those who desire to simplify the doctrine of Christ’s hypostasis often inadvertently make it profoundly more complex. It is not that Jesus, being 100% man and 100% God, somehow became more but rather that the mixture between God and man was perfect and in no way detracted from the other. Jesus was and is fully God and fully man.
His Humanity Under Assault
A common error in today’s Christian circles is attacking Christ’s humanity in a failed attempt to elevate His divinity. In order to recognize Jesus as God with us, some will inevitably claim Jesus was not fully man, that He did not come in our flesh, like us in every respect, but instead that He came in some other type of flesh: “special” flesh, “super” flesh, etc.
It’s important to note that in Scripture there is only flesh and spirit and no differentiation is made about types of bodies. In fact, the Greek word for flesh σάρξ transliterated as sarx is used to describe our flesh AND the flesh of Christ.
“By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.” 1 John 4:2-3
Why does Scripture defend Jesus’ incarnation and humanity so vigorously? Because if Jesus did not come in our flesh, like us in every respect, if Jesus was not fully man then there was no redemption for mankind in Christ’s life, death and resurrection.
His Divinity Under Assault
The other side of Christ’s nature is also under constant assault as we see with Arianism. Just as there are those who would attack Jesus’ humanity, there are those who will claim He was/is fully human and not divine. Men often respect the words of Christ when it comes to loving their neighbor, but they vehemently reject them when He reveals Himself as divine, addressing sin and calling men to repent and return to Him.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14
In John 1:14 the word translated as Son (μονογενοῦς) actually means only begotten, or one of a kind, unique. Continuing on examining this passage we see the term παρὰ meaning “with” but often translated in English as “from”, followed by a reference to the Father. So we see in this chapter that in the beginning Jesus was, He was the Word, with God and was God and that He became flesh (no distinction to special flesh but flesh like us), dwelling among us and John and the Apostles saw His glory as the only begotten, unique, one of a kind with the Father.
In Christ both humanity and divinity are hypostatically united together: two natures existing in one person: the Word who became flesh. Christ exists "in two natures," without being of two natures; the two natures exist united together "without confusion, without change, without division, without separation."
Why the Attacks?
The assault on the nature of Christ typically stems from two different motivations:
A rejection of Christ outright
Cognitive dissonance brought about in refusal to reject the extra-Biblical doctrines of Original Sin and Total Depravity
Those who reject Christ outright are easily identified as unbelievers hostile to the Gospel. The second category is far more complex.
Original Sin Defined
An Augustinian doctrine which asserts that everyone is born sinful; that the guilt and condemnation of Adam’s sin is transmitted to the entire human race, resulting in mankind being stained by sin and possessing an appetite drawn to sin. It claims this state is passed on via sexual reproduction.
Total Depravity Defined
A Protestant doctrine built on the concept of Original Sin wherein as a result of Adam’s transgression all mankind is born spiritually dead, possessing Adam’s guilt and sin nature and thus mankind is completely unable to respond to God in faith without first being born again. This in turn gave birth to the Reformed view of election.
If Christ came in our flesh, like us in every respect as Scripture explicitly states, then either He suffered the consequences of Original Sin and Total Depravity, or else no one does. If Jesus was born in any way other than sinless then the incarnation is tainted and the redemption of man fails. However, if He was innocent then we are born innocent and not guilty of Adam’s sin, but for our own transgressions; that we went astray into spiritual death brought on by our rebellion rather than being created wicked.
For many, these anti-Christ doctrines are so precious, so deeply ingrained, that they’d prefer to reject the incarnation of Christ than admit to their own sin and failings, preferring instead to blame their sin on some inherited state.
The problem is obvious, Original Sin and Total Depravity are at odds with the incarnation. However, around 1100 ad a doctrine was developed which the Roman Catholic Church believed would answer such a problem: the Immaculate Conception, which became an official doctrine of Rome in 1854.
The Immaculate Conception is often confused with the Biblical truth of the virgin birth of Christ, but it is entirely unique. The Immaculate Conception deals with the conception of Mary, NOT that of Jesus. Moreover, unlike the virgin birth which is backed up by Scripture, the Immaculate Conception of Mary is not; a truth openly admitted in the Catholic Encyclopedia.
"The most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin."
So while Catholics came to see their doctrine of Original Sin undermined the incarnation of Christ, rather than reject it and return to the truth concerning Christ they invented a whole new doctrine to claim Mary was entirely sinless to spare Jesus the stain of original sin. Of course if God could make Mary sinless, what was the need for Christ?
Once again, we see bad doctrine spawning more bad doctrine.
Indoctrinated in Error
Many who bear the name of Christ have been indoctrinated into these extra-Biblical doctrines and have a hard time telling the difference between the revered philosophies of man and the word of God. The good news is that God promised the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth, we simply must be willing to follow. I am confident genuine believers will be delivered from such errors if they are committed to Christ as revealed in Scripture.
Make no mistake, Original Sin and Total Depravity reject the Biblical fact that Jesus came in our flesh, like us in every respect, and as such Scripture says this is the spirit of anti-Christ.
Flee From Sin & Error
In previous notes I recently published I touched on the concept of theosis, that transformative process intended to conform us in likeness to and union with God. This concept which permeates Scripture and orthodox Christian doctrine is only possible due to the incarnation; Jesus the Word became flesh, like us in every respect.
Rather than persist in error, exalting extra-Biblical and anti-Christ traditions and doctrines of demons above Scripture, instead flee from them. Run to Jesus with reckless abandon, cast yourself on Him: The Word made flesh.