By Digoy Fernandez
The Hypostatic Union (union in the person) is the union of the human nature and the Divine nature in the Person of the Word, Jesus Christ.
Hypostasis is a Greek word that literally means that which lies beneath as foundation. Greek philosophers used the term to describe reality as opposed to appearances only. The Hypostatic Union is a theological term that defines the mystery of the Incarnation. The Church mandates belief in the Incarnation as a bedrock of Catholic Doctrine: Christ’s Divine and human natures are hypostatically united, in the unity of the Divine Person (De Fide).
Jesus Christ, therefore, is true God and true Man. This defining moment in the history of man occurred during the Annunciation when the Angel Gabriel presented God’s plan to the young virgin, Mary. When she expressed her fiat with the fateful words, “Be it done to me according to thy word…” the Son of God, through the supernatural action of the Holy Spirit, was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. Thus was fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah of the virgin conceiving and bearing a child to be named the Emmanuel.
When Jesus was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, several things happened instantaneously and simultaneously: the human soul of the Christ was created by the Father; that human soul was infused into and united with the body specially prepared for that union by the supernatural activity of the Holy Spirit; and, the human nature was assumed by the second Person, the Word of God.
Note the emphasis on the words instantaneous and simultaneous. All actions happened at the same time; none preceded or succeeded the other. St Gregory wrote: “The human nature of Christ was not first created and then assumed by the Person of the Word, but it was created in the very act of being assumed.”
Jesus Christ is perfect God and perfect Man. Since the Word is perfect God, it follows that the human nature of Jesus would also be perfect. When a controversy broke out in the early Church because of the errors taught by Nestorious, the Council of Ephesus (AD 431) ruled that the Blessed Virgin Mary was Theotokos (God-Bearer) and not only Christokos (Christ-bearer). Somehow, these early heretics got confused by the concept of the Hypostatic Union and explained that the Blessed Virgin carried only the human nature in her womb and not the entire Person of the Word with His two natures.
In essence, the Nestorians went off tangent and believed in two separate persons to describe the Word. They wrongly believed that one person, the Divine, was the Son of God, and the other person, the human, was the son of Mary. To them, the two persons were only united morally, and that the role of Redeemer was proper to the human person of Christ!
Later on, a man named Eutyches got horrified at this wrong belief of the Nestorians and postulated his own interpretation, which in essence said that the Word consisted of only one person but which also had one nature, one which fused both the divine and the human elements in it. This heresy is called Monophysitism, from the word monophysis, meaning one person and one nature. Thus, the Word would not really be fully God and fully Man, but a half-baked mish-mash.
For them, the human nature of Christ was either transformed or absorbed by the Divine nature. Confused? Well, some others went further and said that this fusion of the two natures into one would then result in a third nature! These heresies were all repudiated by the Church in the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451) and led to the formulation of the Creed of Chalcedon.
These major heresies which question the union of the Divine and the human in the Person of the Word found expression in many other ways. One Christological heresy which was popular during the rule of the Romans was Arianism. Constantine was an Arian, as were most of the Roman army – despite his support for Christianity and the efforts of his mother, Saint Helena, to gather and preserve many of the early relics including the True Cross – and got baptized a Catholic only on his deathbed. Saint Athanasius spent a great portion of his career as preacher fighting against Arianism which, at one stage, appeared to have the allegiance of more than half of the Christian world.
When Jesus walked the earth, He underwent all that we humans are subject to. He chose to be born in poor circumstances, within the shelter of a Holy Family. He worked, He prayed, He ate… and learned His Scriptures at the foot of the Seat of Wisdom. He became an accomplished carpenter under the careful tutelage of His foster-father Saint Joseph. Through a mysterious action, His Divinity was likely “suppressed” so that He knew only what the Father chose to reveal to Him in particular situations.
But he suffered weariness (Jn 4:6); wept before the tomb of Lazarus, His friend, before causing him to rise from the dead; He chose to undergo the rigors of temptation by Satan himself – before His public teaching began – to show us the way to fight in similar situations. Above all, He chose to undergo the terrible Passion and suffered a very long and painful death in the process. Only after His Passion and Death did He assume His glorified state.
The Hypostatic Union will last for all eternity. It is not something that was designed only for the time when Christ was on earth to allow Him to take on our sins and make the ultimate holocaust of His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity to appease the need for Divine Justice. Thus, Jesus Who as God can do anything, is also present substantially – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity – in each and every consecrated host and in all the tabernacles throughout the world where He waits for us to be united with Him.
The Second Coming of Christ will take place in your lifetime.
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