In Tertullian’s (c. 160 – c. 225 AD) De carne Christi, we read “Was not God really crucified? And, been really crucified, did He not really die? And, having indeed really died, did He not really rise again?” How is this possible? We seldom ponder in depth the splendid and scandalous oxymoron of a born, died and risen God when we proclaim that Jesus died for us.
Early Christians wrestled with how Christ Jesus is fully God and fully Jewish man. The doctrine of hypostatic union is the fruit of their labor.
Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church concisely defined hypostatic union as “[t]he union of the Divine and human natures in the One Person (‘Hypostasis’) of Jesus Christ.” (Cross & Livingstone 2005: 818)
In Hebrews 1:3, Christ Jesus is said to be “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his hupostasis”, the Greek term that the English adjective hypostatic is derived and rendered as “nature”, while in 2:17, Christ is said to have been made like his brothers in every aspect. The author of the Hebrews argued that Christ Jesus is the exact imprint of God the Father’s nature and yet he was also made exact imprint of His brother’s nature. Perfect Divine and Perfect Human.
Guarded and standing faithful to God-inspired Scriptures, the early Church fathers confessed and subscribed to an orthodox doctrine of two unmixed natures in one person of Christ Jesus. Cyril’s epistle to John soundly captures this confession that was later modified and adopted in the Chalcedonian Creed. He wrote:
“our Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, perfect God, and perfect Man of a reasonable soul and flesh consisting; begotten before the ages of the Father according to his Divinity, and in the last days, for us and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin according to his humanity, of the same substance with his Father according to his Divinity, and of the same substance with us according to his humanity; for there became a union of two natures. Wherefore we confess one Christ, one Son, one Lord.” (Schaff & Wace 1885: 530).
Led by Scriptures, the bishops anathematized any other views that did not sufficiently explain the two natures of Christ Jesus in one person.
The early Church fathers affirmed of both Christ’s full humanity since the Scripture affirmed that He was perfect in manhood; “He hungered under the devil’s temptation; He thirsted with the woman of Samaria; He wept over Lazarus; He trembles at death (for “the flesh,” as He says, “is weak”); at last, He pours out His blood.” (Roberts, Donaldson & Coxe, 1885, 530) and His fully divinity since He is perfect in Godhead: “the Son of God, who being, by equality of substance, one with the Father, is eternal and uncreate[d]” (ibid, p.574) in one person inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, and inseparably.
Latin Church father, Tertullian, remarkably recapitulated the two natures displayed in the person of Christ Jesus as God and man “in one respect born, in the other unborn, in one respect fleshly in the other spiritual; in one sense weak in the other exceeding strong; in one sense dying, in the other living. This property of the two states—the divine and the human—is distinctly asserted with equal truth of both natures alike, with the same belief both in respect of the Spirit and of the flesh. The powers of the Spirit, proved Him to be God, His sufferings attested the flesh of man” (Roberts, Donaldson & Coxe 1885: 525)
Fred Sanders put it well when he wrote: “According to the Chalcedonian explication of the incarnation, the Son of God took into personal union with himself a complete human nature, and thus existed as one theanthropic (divine and human) person. He did not cease to be God, but he took up human nature into hypostatic (personal) union with himself. He made that humanity his own, and in that appropriated humanity he appropriated real human death. He died the only death there is to die, our death.” (Sanders & Issler 2007: 15)
Hypostatic union, therefore, is the doctrine that teaches the divine nature and the human nature of Christ Jesus are hypostatically united without confusion, change, division or separation.
Questions: Do you agree that Christ Jesus is fully Divine and fully Jewish man? Give reasons to support your case?
Cross, F. L., & Livingstone, E. A. (2005). The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed. rev.). Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.
Cyril Letter To John Of Antioch: A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Volume XIV: The Seven Ecumenical Councils. 1900 (P. Schaff & H. Wace, Ed.) New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Tertullian, On The Flesh of Christ: The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume III: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian. 1885 (A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe, Ed.) Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.
Sanders, F., & Issler, K. (2007). Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective: An Introductory Christology. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group.