who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (Hebrews 1:3 NKJV)
I am currently reading Contra Marcellum, and the author is discussing three distinct theological words important to the Church in the fourth century – hypostasis, ousia, and hyparxis. Only two words really survived the theological battles of the fourth century – hypostasis and ousia. I will not go into the theology behind each word or the eventual settlement, but I will say that in the New Testament, there is one use of hypostatis in reference to God, while there is none of ousia.
In Hebrews 1.3, the writer (traditionally assume to be Paul) writes that Christ is the image of God’s hypostasis. The Apologists, up until Tertullian, generally wrote about the ‘one Hypostasis‘ of God. Irenaeus cites a predecessor,
“Through the extension of the hands of a divine person, gathering together the two peoples to one God.” For these were two hands, because there were two peoples scattered to the ends of the earth; but there was one head in the middle, as there is but one God, who is above all, and through all, and in us all.
The writer of Contra Marcellum gives the following points concerning Dyohypostatic Theology (Multi-Person Theology):
- Eusebius of Caesarea came closest to advocating the fullness of the theology
- One God, who is the beginning, or first principle – the cause of everything else that exists
- God is eternal and unbegotten, unknowable, and best described by negatives, such as without source
- This God is the Father, the only He
- Along with this hypostasis (Person) there exists another hypostasis, the Son (Word, Image, Wisdom, Power)
- The Father is the source of the Son’s being, but not be division or effluence
This last point seems to stand in opposition to Hebrews 1.3 which declares that the Son is the emanation (απαυγασμα) from the Father.
- The Son’s relationship of dependence excludes predicating “eternity” of him
- The son is subordinate to the Father and acts as Mediator
- This Tradition attributes the Old Testament Theophanies to the Son.
- The Incarnation was nothing new, but a continuation of the work as revealer, teacher, and model
- Salvation becomes an order of will due to an impartation of knowledge
- There is no assumption of the human race by the Godhead
- The Incarnation, the cross, and the resurrection no metaphysical change
We see in this, in that the Son of God is made a creature, eternally subordinated. It is an Arianist position, but pre-Nicaean. There is an insistence, against the history of the Church, and at times the Scriptures themselves, that there are three hypostasis. Before 325, Eusebius of Caesaea and Narcissus of Neronias spoke of two ousiai (essences) in the Godhead. Suddenly, after 325 the usage disappears. His new phrase for the plural in the Godhead is ‘two hypostaseis.’ It was not until the end of the century that the holy Spirit gained a hypostasis.
Athanasius, Marcellus and the Westerners, the author points out, vigorously demanded that the reality of God be a singular hypostasis. They just as vigorously defended themselves against the charges of Sabellianism. The first Creed of Nicaea cursed those that had declared more than one hypostasis. The creed derived at the Council of Sardica (343) stated:
“We have received and been taught, and we hold this catholic and apostolic tradition and faith and confession: there is one hypostasis (which the heretics themselves call ousia) of the Father, Son, and the holy Spirit.”
It was not until 362 that the bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius, admitted a view of multiple ‘hypostaseis‘ might be used of God. By then, Athanasius had almost divided himself from his former friend, Marcellus and the traditional Miahypostatic Theology. Marcellus, and his followers, rejected this immediately suspecting Arianism, or at the very least a compromise with the ancient heresy.
This brings us to the Miahypostatic Theology of the Western Church during this time. The author makes the following points:
- It starts from the strict monotheism of Christianity. There is one God, who is one substance: one hypostasis, one ousia, or for some, one prosopon
- God speaks the Word, His Son, and sends forth His spirit
- ‘One’ is safe; ‘two’ is dangerous – plurality is located in the Incarnation.
- The Son is God as the Father is God
- The Incarnation is decisive, marking a new stage in the existence of the Logos in which God is united with a human nature
- It is the Incarnation that is subordinate; all scripture denoting a subordination is assigned to the Flesh of the Incarnation
- Salvation is a divine act, by which humanity can become partakers of the divine nature. (Athanasius’ axiom of ‘God became man so that man might become divine’ is representative of his early loyalty to this theology)
- Distinction occurs between the Uncreated and the created – the uncreated is eternal while the created is temporal
- Both the Word and the creatures proceed from God, but in different ways. The Son is begotten; creatures are from God’s will.
It not until long after the First Council of Nicaea that this issue was settled when the Godhead was said to consist of three hypostasis in one ousia. It was under the influence of the Cappadocian Fathers that the terminology was clarified and standardized, so that the formula came to be everywhere accepted as an epitome of the orthodox doctrine of the Godhead, finalized in 381 at the Second Ecumenical Council.