Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Hypostatic Union of Christ

Don't you love technical terms? In a nutshell "hypostatic union" is used by Christian theology to describe the dual natures of the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ—divine and human—existing in one person. Russell Byrum explains:

The questions must inevitably arise, Is Christ God or man? If both God and man is he two persons or one? If he has two natures in one person how are they related to each other? Attempts to answer these questions resulted in various theories, some of which were very objectionable because of giving place to either the human or divine element at the expense of the other. At least six heretical theories of the person of Christ gained prominence before the church came to general agreement on the statement of the doctrine. For a century and a half, or beginning prior to the Council of Nicea and continuing until the Council of Chalcedon, 451 A. D., the church was torn by controversies concerning the person of Christ.

The Nicene statement of faith was concerned principally with the defense of the doctrine of the Trinity. The symbol formulated by the Council of Chalcedon has to do directly with the Christological doctrine. It is the result of the best thought of many good and wise men who in defense of the faith had thought profoundly, and honestly endeavored to represent all the relevant facts of Scripture in proper relation. Even though humanly formulated creeds do not necessarily have divine sanction, yet probably no clearer statement of the doctrine of the person of Christ has been constructed.

It is given in Schaffs Creeds of Christendom as follows:

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable (rational) soul and body; consubstantial (coessential) with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the mother of God, according to the manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeable, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one person and one subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning (have declared) concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

This statement clearly sets forth the different elements of the doctrine and shows their harmony, but no attempt is made to eliminate all mystery from the doctrine.
Byrum gives an intriguing last line, "but no attempt is made to eliminate all mystery from the doctrine." There are things about God that we struggle to understand. It doesn't mean we can't accept them by faith but that we can't fully understand them.

It's hard for me to wrap my mind around the hypostatic union of Christ though I do accept it by faith. Over the years I've gravitated toward Christ's deity in my mind. How his "Godness" relates to his humanity is a deep mystery.

I think one problem for humans is our inability to think of a sinless human person. For example, Christ got hot, sweaty and tired as the sun beat down on him while he journeyed to towns around the Sea of Galilee. We can relate with that. However, he never snapped at anyone in crankiness. We can't relate with that.

As a man Christ felt the effects of testosterone and found women attractive. But he never lusted in his heart.

Christ became angry at injustice around him. But her never punched a kid at the playground.

Christ "continued to obey" (Luke 2.51) his parents. But he never disobeyed them.

Christ surely won any Bible-quoting contest he entered (if they had such things). But he never wanted to stick-it-in-the-face of another contestant.

Christ experienced rumbles in his stomach from hunger. But he never rushed to get the last piece of cooked fish before Nathaniel could grab it.

It's a mystery.