Thursday, April 10, 2014

Glossing the hypostatic union

This is a sequel to my earlier post:
i) One issue is whether we should take the Chalcedonian formulation as our frame of reference instead of NT Christology. Frankly, various philosophical theologians and theological traditions tend to fudge the Chalcedonian formulation. They emphasize some aspects at the expense of others. That's in large part because the Chalcedonian doesn't profess to resolve any of the philosophical challenges. So harmonizing the data remains a philosophical challenge.
Likewise, do the Latin Fathers have the same concept of person and nature as Cyril of Alexandria? Don't Boethius, Augustine, Aquinas, and Scotus each have their own concept of nature and person? 
To some extent, Chalcedonian terminology is a cipher. Different theologians, all professing to espouse Chalcedon, plug in their own concepts.  
ii) What we have in the Gospels is the phenomenology of the hypostatic union. Any exegetically accurate Christology must do justice to that phenomenology. 
There are, of course, other NT books which contribute to our overall Christology. But it's in the Gospels that we see the hypostatic union concretely exemplified. We see how it translates into action. 
But by the same token, what we're witnessing in the Gospels is the effect of the hypostatic union. It doesn't go behind the discernible effect to reveal the hidden "mechanics" (as it were) of the hypostatic union. So there's a limit to how far we can retroengineer the hypostatic union from the Gospels. 
iii) At a phenomenological level, I'd say something like a two-minds Christology is the most straightforward way to model the Christology of the Gospels. 
iv) However, this invites the objection that it's hard to distinguish two minds from two persons. Yet if Christ is two persons, that is "Nestorian." According to Chalcedonian Christology, Christ unites two natures, not two persons. 
To that I'd say the following:
v) This goes back to our frame of reference. Do we begin with Chalcedon, or do we begin with the Gospels? In terms of Protestant theological method, the NT takes precedence. 
vi) Even if (ex hypothesi) we said Christ is two persons, that's equivocal, for a divine person is not a person in the same respect as a human person. Divine and human persons have different attributes and different modes of subsistence. So it's not just like doubling a person. If we don't mean the same thing in both instances, then it's not two persons without qualification. Indeed, it can be confusing to use the same word to denote two different kinds of things. A divine "person" is not the same kind of thing as a human "person." 
vii) Also, a human mind is not a complete person. Rather, an embodied soul is a complete human person. The union of a human soul with a human body. Although consciousness can survive apart from the body, that's a significant deprivation. For instance, a human mind is greatly informed by sensory experience. Conditioned by the body. So two "minds" are not equivalent to two persons. 


  1. Are you familiar with any of Oliver Crisp's work on the incarnation? I have a couple books, but I have not read any yet.

  2. Is there any works you recommend on this and the trinity? I also plan to read James Anderson's book on paradox and theology (the title escapes me at the moment).

    1. Crisp is worth reading. However, one limitation is that he's apt to confine the viable options to conciliar orthodoxy. He takes that framework for granted, then tries to make it work. But working within credal parameters can be a game of musical chairs.

  3. Divinity and Humanity was given to me as a Christmas present a couple years ago. I would recommend it.