Union is the overriding theme throughout the gospel according to the Trinity. The implications are far beyond what we are able to fully grasp within our feeble human minds. Even in history, there appeared to be a certain degree of apprehension on the part of the ancient church as they tried to grapple with this concept in the face of the enemies of the apostolic tradition. Through healthy and robust conversations between the significant theologians, the idea of union had to be categorically stated to prevent the heresies of Arius, Sabellius, Apollinarius and Nestorius as well as many others from gaining a foothold within the church. If union was undermined in any way, the impact is like a domino affect. Each time there is any hint of even a slight crack in the concept of union, beginning with the all important concept of the Nicene phrase, homoousion to Patri (ὁμομούσιον τῷ πατρί) the more we find a culture likened to the power and control of the enemies of the church. We need to explore this with a greater depth before we move onto more technical terms often adopted by those who believe they are in the know. My aim is to show the term hypostatic union is not one reserved for the theologically elite. It is a term used to describe the union of the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ. Whatever terminology we use in our endeavour to edify the body of Christ, we need to make every effort to make the language as mainstream as possible so that a general and universal understanding of such terms is within reach of the church as a whole. If terms are deemed to have a degree of importance in the leaders of the church, then it should be as important for the general Christian community to grasp the term as clearly as the leaders so they too are able to grasp the implications for day to day living.
Firstly, I will look at what the term hypostasis meant to the ancient community. There are some of us (myself included) who like to go to greater depths and into complicated technical terms to support our given ‘take’ on the gospel. This is all well and good but if we go so far that we lose touch with those who want a more simple explanation that has real implications for the day-to-day challenges of life, then we have fallen into a kind of Origenism and Apollinarianism. We become so conditioned to our highly complicated language that we may be seen as superior to the average Christian. This was the tendency of the Gnostics who believed they had to strive to “tap in” to the spiritual mind of the Logos. As far as they were concerned there was a gap between those who were of the spiritual (or heavenly) and those who were of the material (or worldly). In simple terms, those who could understand what they were on about, were destined for salvation and were considered to be a part of the elite club. On the whole, it was those who were in the “know” who set the conditions for what it was that those who were in the “know” had to “know”. The most elite of the “spiritually elite” laid down their version of the “truth” for which the “spiritually elite” had to abide by. If one did not understand the complexities then they were lower down the order and held a less prestigious position. This was consistent with the dualistic outlook of the spiritual and the material. All things spiritual were deemed as good and all matter was considered evil. Human activity, especially sexual, were often deemed as falling into ‘evil behaviour.’ Those who live a life of the spiritual were closer to God meaning most led an ascetic lifestyle. It is either suppression of some human behaviour by peer pressure or by self-control. This left people within their community open to manipulation and abuse of power, which could either, include or exclude. It was this kind abuse of power that Paul was warning the Christian community of the various church communities he ministered to.
In many denominations today, there is the very same tendency for the spiritually elite to control the activity and thinking of the masses. The more gaps between being and knowing caused by a dualistic understanding of the gospel, the more control the hierarchy in church congregations must maintain to keep the flock in line. With these gaps (or dualisms) between who we are in Jesus Christ and where we ought to be, there has to be some kind of Gnostic explanation to maintain these gaps to exercise authority over the church members. This leads to a hierarchy of understanding with the laity conditioned to just take as granted the leaders know what they are talking about. The temptation to be a part of the elite is great as it comes with a degree of power and control over other people. When we realise who we are in Jesus Christ, according to the Triune God, is precisely where we are and ought to be, then we find a true freedom “to be” as adopted and loved children of God. Our very ground of existence is God who supports us in Himself in the very Person of Jesus Christ. The salvation wrought in Jesus Christ is the salvation of the whole of our body, soul and spirit. The mythical gap of who we are in Jesus Christ and where we ought to be is non-existent. Sadly, when people find this true freedom, the mainstream church will use the very same tactics as the Gnostics of old to ridicule, abuse and threats of exclusion in an attempt to bring their people back into line. Union with Jesus Christ is the only way we can maintain the integrity of both the divinity and humanity of His Person.
If make union conditional then the hypostatic union is in grave danger of breaking up. Furthermore, the union between the Father, Son and Spirit is also in grave danger of subordinationism by means of excluding the Father and Spirit from the work of the Incarnation. This subordinationism was condemned by Athanasius as a purely Arian concept. The Incarnation is the work of the Father, Son and Spirit in the Person of Jesus Christ. The Spirit descended on Jesus Christ. When Jesus was at work the Father was also at work. When we saw the miraculous signs in the gospels, it was a sign the Father was with Him and in Him and the Spirit was upon Him. Thus the hypostatic union was a work of the Triune God.
When we start to undermine the significance of union and give it conditions according to what we think the concept of union should entail we are at risk of creating a dualism that does not exist. For whatever good intentions those who attempt to qualify union in any other way than the union that is clearly expressed in the Person and work of Jesus Christ, are trying to look into an area of the atonement that even the cherubims are not able to peer into. There are times when our mouths should be silenced. Jesus Christ is God and humanity reconciled! The resurrected Jesus Christ is a union that is the beginning of the ways and works of the redemption of the entire human race. The union (or the at-one-ment) of God and humanity in Jesus Christ is a mystery. We are aware of the distinctions but we are not able to qualify the distinctions. The risk of trying to qualify the distinctions within our limited creaturely human capacity is to declare something we are not even sure is there.
The phrase, hypostatic union, is bandied about a lot. This is a phrase that means nothing to many people on the ground. When we throw this phrase out there, then most people are likely be ignorant of what this actually means. If this phrase is to be used then it has to be qualified and explained with great care. To borrow a quote from Albert Einstein, If you can’t explain (hypostatic union) to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself. “Hypostatic” is not a stand-alone word. It was one of a group of words that was used by the ancient church to define the relationship between the Father and the Incarnate Son. Athanasius used expressions such as “hypostasis” (ὑπόστασις), “ousia” (οὐσία), “prosopon” (πρόσωπον) and “physin”(φύσιν) interchangeably to make a single point, i.e., there is union between the nature, the person and the being and the eternal existence of the Incarnate Son with the Father and there is union between the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ. In fact, when we say hypostatic union we are talking about two ways of being becoming “one” in Jesus Christ. There is the One who is the Uncreated ground of existence for all created being. This one who is beyond all created being has now become one of His created beings (ἐνσαρκός). The Creator, the Uncreated, is now the creature, the two have become one (ἕνωσις).
One very important point for consideration: The term hypostasis (ὑπόστασις) in reference to Jesus Christ was understood not just by the so-called theologically elite of the ancient world but by the general Christian community. It was part of the vernacular of the ancient Christian community. Those who had an avid interest in cosmology would use this term with the understanding that it pointed to a Cause and an Origin of the cosmos. Those who were sceptical of the use of the term in the Christian context would also fully understand its implications and would be rather disturbed about it. They would set about trying to find common ground with the Christian community. They would infiltrate the Christian in the homes and marketplaces and try and use clever words to undermine the truth. The task of the elders, deacons and bishops was to remain true to the Apostolic teaching handed to them through the centuries. They were their to reassure, reaffirm and strengthen the confidence of their congregation to remain true to the Apostolic tradition. Therefore, if leaders within our Christian community believe it is important to use terms such as hypostatic union, then it must be adequately explained to their whole community in a way that is easily grasped at their level. To refrain from explaining with the assumption it is too complicated for their flock would lead one to conclude that perhaps they have not fully grasped the technical term themselves!
In the ancient world, human beings who personally encountered Jesus in His earthly ministry had to come to grips with the utterly staggering reality that Almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth is now standing before them as an ordinary human being. His glory and majesty was within reach. He could be seen, heard and touched. Those who did not have eyes to see or ears to hear kept asking, “How could this be?” “How could it be that this very Man, son of Mary and Joseph, Jesus of Nazareth could claim equality with God?” It is this very question that people through the centuries have endeavoured to answer to their own satisfaction according to their own particular worldview. Athanasius said these people were asking the wrong question. It should be, “Why have you God, become Man?” If we assent to the reality of the Incarnation, which many disciples of Christ displayed through those early centuries, then we are at the best starting point to be able to fully comprehend the implications of this event.
There was a general understanding throughout the ancient world that God was behind all things where this pervading worldview also had its impact on Jewish theology. In their endeavour to promote fruitful discussion with those outside their communities, the Jews would endeavour to draw on parallels regarding not only the origins of the cosmos but the One who was behind the universe with the Torah. By the time of the Incarnation, parallels of thought were already well established and ripe for the picking for the gospel. Thus some of the sayings of Paul in his letters to the churches of the ancient world were in fact sayings borrowed from the secular community and were well known by them (E.g., Parts of Col 1:15-20 with Seneca, a Roman Philosopher). The difference being, of course, is that all things now pointed to Jesus Christ who is the One behind the universe and the One in whom all things consists and are held together by this God who has become Man. I do not believe we can assume ignorance on the part of the listeners on the implications of what people like Paul were saying to all those he ministered to. He used quotes from Philo of Alexandria familiar to many Jews in the ancient world in the first chapter of Romans.
God, the Creator has crossed over into space and time and has encountered human beings. The shocking claim implied the Creator who is in union with all things is now human like everyone else. What good news this was! For some, this was too much triggering great hostility and persecution towards Christians. Those whose eyes were opened to see and ears were opened to hear would ask the right question, “Why?” Those whose eyes were blinded and ears were deafened would cry out, “Impossible! How could this be?” Immediately, there was a clear demarcation between those who could see and were willing to assent and those who could not and scoffed at the thought in protest. If we truly believe God has become Man, then this is the starting point for our assenting to this truth and embracing all the reality that comes with it for our sake. The reality is this: The Word has enfleshed Himself with our humanity and the two are now eternally “one.” We can look at an alloy as an example. If we combine zinc and copper we produce brass. There is no way of being able to distinguish what part of the alloy is copper and what part is zinc. We know that the two combined produce brass and it is brass that we see throughout. In the same way, the Incarnation of the Word is God come to us “as man.” There is no way we can draw a distinction and say this part of Jesus Christ is human and this part of Jesus Christ is God. Jesus Christ is all God and all Man. The two become “one” and what we see is God as man. There is union of God and His humanity where the term σύνθεσις (transliteration: synthesis) was employed purely to describe the union of God and His humanity but allow the distinction between the divinity and humanity to remain.
The hypostasis of God is God, the Man, Jesus Christ, who is the very the ground and origin of all existence for all created matter, including creation and its creatures, especially the prize of creation, the human race. The existence of life itself is dependant on Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God. He is the “Uncreated hypostasis” of all created hypostasis. Or in other words, the Uncreated ground and foundation of existence for all created existence. Jesus is the concrete that keeps the post upright. In the Incarnation the “hypostasis” of humanity, destined for destruction, is still in union with the hypostasis of God in Jesus Christ. While remaining who He is in His homoousion with the Father and the Spirit, Jesus Christ’s Uncreated hypostasis united Himself to the created hypostasis of human flesh and the two became “One.” His concrete existence is combined with our existence and He holds us “upright” in His own existence. The existence of the Incarnate Jesus Christ is united with the existence of the whole Godhead. The Spirit of the Word and the flesh became “one.”
The pervading ancient cosmological worldview is the “hypostasis” of all things is grounded in God. The gospel’s declaration is this God, as understood in the mind of the ancient world, is now Incarnate, was put to death and subsequently rose from the dead and is now sitting at the right hand of the Father. If the resurrection were true, then we can only conclude that Jesus Christ is the very ground and source of all created existence and therefore the Creator. To put in the most simple of terms: The created existence has no power over Uncreated existence. Such a declaration to the ancient mind meant to them that if Jesus Christ did rise from the dead then He is the Uncreated Hypostasis, He is the One.
As I have said before, we do not use hypostasis as a stand-alone word. Ousia is a technical term, which is translated being. In Ad Afros 4, Athanasius gives an explanation for the use of the word homoousion at the Council of Nicaea to clarify the relationship between the Father and the Incarnate Son.
He begins with the Scripture in Exodus 3:14:God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM” (ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν). It can be translated, “I AM BEING,” or “I AM EXISTENT BEING.” I would say, “I AM THE BEING WHO (TRULY) EXISTS.”
Thus, what follows is this explanation: For subsistence, and essence, is existence: for it is, or in other words exists (Ἡ γάρ ὑπόστασις καί ἡ οὐσία ὕπαρξίς ἑστιν. Ἔστι γὰρ καὶ ὑπαρξὶς.) You see here in the Greek that both hypostasis and ousia denote ground of existence (ὑπαρξὶς) and mean the same thing. One cannot be said without taking account of the other having the same meaning. If all existence could be traced back to its source, then Jesus Christ is the ὑπαρξὶς i.e., the source of all existence. I have the feeling that in this text from Athanasius Ex. 3.14 says far more than what we take for granted in our modern translations.
Therefore when we are talking about Hypostatic Union, we are also talking about Ousia-Union. The two go hand in hand. As we continue to remain with Jesus Christ as the source for all our understanding regarding the ways and works of God, we must expand the definition of this term even further. We do not really use the term ousia-union but rather the homoousion while we explore the meaning of hypostasis. The term homoousion was employed because it implied a sameness of two hypostasis, i.e., Jesus Christ and the Father. These are two ways of being who are of the same being therefore hypostasis = homoousion
ύπόστασις (hypostasis) = subsistence
οὐσια (ouisa) = essence, being, substance.
ὕπαρξίς (huparxis) = source of existence
What is being said here is “subsistence” and “essence, being, substance” are all pointing to Jesus Christ as the source of existence. Therefore before we present the technical term hypostatic union, the terms hypostasis and ousia are in context with the term huparxis and are in union with it. In the context of Jesus Christ, hypostasis and ousia are connected into the Person of Jesus Christ who sustains and holds the whole cosmos together in Himself. In addition Jesus is of the same being with the Father and the Spirit who are all in union. Our feeble human minds may find it challenging to hold all of this together. It is simply utterly staggering and shocking. It might mean far more than we dare to explain. Essentially, when we are talking about hypostatic union we are talking about the union of beings i.e the Uncreated Divine Being with the human beings where the two become “one.”
So we might say there is homo-hypostasis between the Father and the Son as Athanasius is trying to show in Contra Arianos 3.65. When he exegetes the passage in Hebrews 1.3, “Who being the Radiance of His glory and the Expression of His Subsistence.”
(ὃς ὢν ἀπαύγασμα τῆς δόξης καὶ χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ).
He says the following:
“But if, as we have said before, the Father’s Essence and Subsistence be not from will, neither, as is very plain, is what is proper to the Father’s Subsistence from will; for such as, and so as, that Blessed Subsistence, must also be the proper Offspring from It”
(εἰ δὲ, ὡς προειρήκαμεν, ἑκ βοθλήσεως οὐκ ἔστιν ἡ πατρικὴ οὐσία καὶ ὑπόστασις, εὔδηλον ὡς οὔτε τὸ ἴδιον τῆς πατρικῆς ύποστάσεως ἑκ βουλήσεως ἂν εἴη. ὁποία γὰρ ἦ καὶ ὡς ἐὰν ἦ ἡ μακαρία ἐκείνη ὑπόστασις, τοιοῦτον καὶ οὔτως εἲναι καὶ τὸ ἴδιον ἐξ αὐτῆς γέννημα δεῖ.).
What Athanasius is trying to show is the homoousion between the hypostasis of the Father and the Son. The Son is the precise expression of the Father’s hypostasis or Being. Thus, the will of the Son = the will of the Father. The love of the Son = the love of the Father. The Grace of the Son = the Grace of the Father. The work of the Son = the work of the Father and so on. The same degree of existence of which the Father entails in His being is the very same degree of existence that is in Jesus Christ. So the source for all existence lies in the Father, Son and Spirit. The Word becomes flesh is an expression of the philanthropy of God as He freely gives himself to humanity. If we take note of the various versions of the Bible, there are interesting renderings of ὑποστάσεως in Hebrews 1:3. In the KJV it is rendered person. In the NASB we have nature. In the ISV we have being. Young’s literal translation has subsistence. Phillip’s expands it with flawless expression of God. They are all correct and correspond with what Athanasius is trying to say in this passage.
What the homoousion does is to tie all the expressions together so that we have union and distinction between the Person, the nature, the being and the existence both in the Father, Son and the Spirit. Ousia was generally used in the context of the inner nature of the Trinity while hypostasis was generally used to describe the external appearance of the Trinity as Father, Son and Spirit. In addition, Athanasius used the word ὁμοφυὲς τῷ Πατρὶ which translates “of the same nature with the Father.” Jesus Christ was the expression of who God was in Himself as Father, Son and Spirit. The ancient fathers also used the term prosopon (person with a face) and persona (person with a voice) to give context to show there were not only three distinct existences, but existences who have a face and a voice. They are active, speaking beings. We are closer now to the full meaning and implications of the term hypostatic union.
The hypostatic union describes how the Word came to us as man. Gregory Nazianzus says in Orations 38:15, He was sent, but as man, for he was of a twofold nature (Ἀπεστάλη μέν, αλλ᾽ ὡς ἄνθρςπος· διπλοῦς γὰρ ἧν·). That is the nature which is Uncreated and the created nature of our humanity appeared as the “one person”. In His Incarnation, the hypostatic union of the two-fold nature of the Uncreated with created human nature had the instant effect of highly exalting us. His power of existence went underneath us and was lifted so that our existence was now wrapped up and united with his existence (ἔνωςις ὑποστατική). The benefits of the Word, even though humanity were not worthy, and without their knowledge, to receive it, were freely given to humanity when the Word became flesh. Gregory Nyssa, though not as developed in his theology as his contemporaries, says this gem in his Great Catechism 32,
Since, then, there was needed a lifting up from death for the whole of our nature, He stretches forth a hand as it were to prostrate man, and stooping down to our dead corpse He came so far within the grasp of death as to touch a state of deadness, and then in His own body to bestow on our nature the principle of the resurrection, raising as He did by His power along with Himself the whole man. For since from no other source than from the concrete lump of our nature had come that flesh, which was the receptacle of the Godhead and in the resurrection was raised up together with that Godhead, therefore just in the same way as, in the instance of this body of ours, the operation of one of the organs of sense is felt at once by the whole system, as one with that member, so also the resurrection principle of this Member, as though the whole of mankind was a single living being, passes through the entire race, being imparted from the Member to the whole by virtue of the continuity and oneness of the nature.
The work of Jesus Christ, the Word become flesh, is the bringing together the entire human race as if they are one single living being, where redemption is carried out and implicates all humanity in His One Person. This He carried out while He was in the presence of the Father and the Spirit. In humanity, we have hypostasis, being, nature and person that are in total rebellion to God. The entirety of our human nature, including the body, soul spirit and mind, needed to be brought back into fellowship with God. God had to step into our fallen human darkness so that He could redeem it. God had to step into our “deadness” so that the power of His resurrection could be impacted on our nature. Words such as ἐνσαρκος (enfleshed), ἐνανθρωπήσας (put on the nature of humanity), ἕνωσιν (combination into one, union), who is ὀμοφυὲς τῷ Πατρί (of the same nature with the Father) and φιλάνθρωπος (lover of humanity) were often used by the ancient church to describe why the One who is the Source and ground (ὕπαρξίς) for our existence has come to us as man. Again we remind ourselves that as the Son in the Incarnation came to us as man now indwells in our human flesh, He still mutually indwells and interpenetrates in the Father and the Spirit. The Incarnation of the Son is a Trinitarian event.
The key here is understanding what it meant to the ancient mind for God to undertake such an act as the Incarnation. The Christian community were making claims that, with consideration to the understanding of “God” in the ancient mind, were utterly astonishing if what they were saying was true.
John 1:1-3; In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.
Colossians 1:15-17; He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
Hebrews 1:3; And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
The point of these scriptures is to show it is this Incarnate Jesus Christ who gives creation the ground and source upon which it exists. He gives it the ability to exist. All things are “united” in Him. Jesus Christ discloses to us that it is in the intrinsic nature of God to allow the whole of the created order to have the ground of its existence in Him. At the point of the Incarnation, the entire created order was in full rebellion against Him, i.e, all have fallen short of His glory. Nevertheless, He is still the ground upon which this rebellious created order exists and He graciously allows it to do so. So the Incarnation was the process of turning the whole created order from death back to life. Instead of humanity attempting to run away from its ground of existence, Jesus Christ, in union with all things will not let go. Instead, He brings them back, dragging them to God, via the cross, which is where they ought to be.
At no point does anything in all created order have the ground of their existence outside the Person of Jesus Christ. If this were the case, then it would cease to exist. Thereby, Jesus Christ acts as the suitable High Priest for the whole of the created order and represents every single human being in human history and into the future.
Romans 5:6-11 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.
Jesus Christ is Life and Light and it is His Life and Light which in Himself is the ground and source of existence. If we understand the Incarnation impacting within our humanity as if they were one single living being, then we start to fully realise the magnitude of the atonement in Jesus Christ. We were crucified with Him and, as one single living being, we all died in Him. Yet, the power of death could not extinguish the Life and Light in Jesus Christ because the power of His Life and Light was just too great. Death could not hold Him down. When He rose from the dead, as one single living being, all existence that is grounded in Him rose with Him. Even in death, the power of Christ’s Uncreated existence kept the whole of the created order intact and in the process it was rewired back to God with all opposition utterly destroyed. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the reality of the new world order where it is now reconciled to God in Jesus Christ. This is the new reality for every single human being that ever existed. Hypostatic Union is God, Father, Son and Spirit and humanity reconciled in a nutshell! The hypostatic union is the work of the Father, Son and Spirit at the Incarnation.
If we assent to this, then our eyes are opened to the reality of Jesus Christ in us who is the Source and the ground of our existence. If we are blind to this, then in our blindness to the reality of Christ in us is no less undone than those who see. Jesus supports our existence even in our rebellion. God graciously allow us to continue to exist even if we refuse to acknowledge Jesus Christ is the Source of our existence. There is no less union in our rebellion than in our receiving of Him. Our very existence is entirely dependent upon Him. This is the shocking reality of the full-blown meaning of the hypostatic union. There is nothing on our part we can do to make this more of a reality and there is nothing on our part that we can do to make this less of a reality. If the truth of the hypostatic union depended on us then we would cease to exist. It is either all or nothing!
If we insist there is not universal union then we are claiming Jesus Christ is only the ground and Source of existence for some and not all people. For example some might say that it is only those who receive Jesus Christ who are hypostatically united to Him. How do they exist apart from Christ’s existence? This undermines the divinity of Jesus Christ. By reading back into Jesus Christ our perceived differences between Christians and those who do not believe, we are trying to demarcate those who “appear” to be in union with Christ and those “who do not” appear to be in union and splitting Him in two. In the same way we cannot distinguish what part of Jesus Christ is divine and what part is human, i.e., He is all God and all Man, the very same can be said of all human beings. We cannot distinguish between a so-called hypostatic union and a spiritual union. This is the mistake that has been made time and time again in evangelicalism: The attempt to address the difference between a believer and a non-believer.
There is a difference. However, it is a distinction. Trying to nail down this distinction so that we can divide between those who believe and those who do not will lead to a dualism. When we create a dualism then someone has to mediate this gap and lay down conditions to work out who is in and who is out. This is what Gnosticism was famous for. There is a juggle between looking at those from the point of view of a “new creation,” i.e. believers, and those from the point of view of the flesh, i.e. non-believers. Who are the ones in spiritual union and who are the ones who are only in hypostatic union? Yet, does not the hypostatic union involve all three Persons of the Triune God? The hypostatic union is a union of the Spirit and the Father with the Son in His Humanity.
Unfortunately, within the Trinitarian community, there is the tendency by some to place limitations of the Person and work of Jesus Christ. They make it sound like the reality of Jesus Christ may seem to appear as though everyone is united to Him. Nevertheless, they claim this may not be the case. The Gnostics, where the doctrine of limited atonement originated from, had the very same reservations and coined a word katholikoi in the most derogatory way as a means of ridiculing this most ludicrous outrageous concept. In response, the Christians adopted this term with gratefulness as it properly summarised and reflected the very point they were trying to make regarding the nature of Jesus Christ. When we speak on the Person and work of Jesus Christ we speak generally and universally of its implications. The ancient church never placed limitations on the atonement undertaken in Him and to do so was the hallmark of all heresy.
Athanasius in his first letter to Serapion concerning the Holy Spirit paragraph 16, he says in the strict sense the nature of the Trinity cannot be divided. The Son is always the Son of the Father and the Spirit is always the Spirit of the Father and the Son. He says also in paragraph 19, we may see in the Son the Spirit by whom were are enlightened . . . . But when we are enlightened by the Spirit, it is Christ who in him enlightens us. And later, Then, as the Father, in Paul’s words, is the ‘only wise’, the Son is his wisdom: Christ the Power of God and the Wisdom of God. But as the Son is Wisdom, so we, receiving the Spirit of Wisdom, have the Son and are made wise in him. This is a sound exegesis from scripture of the mysterious nature of the Father, Son and Spirit. At no point is the Spirit divided from the work of Jesus Christ. If we say in Jesus Christ there is hypostatic union, then we also say the Spirit and the Father were at the heart of this mutually indwelling event. Therefore, spiritual union is embedded, interpenetrates and mutually indwells hypostatic union.
Some have split union into two categories i.e. hypostatic union and spiritual union. This pulls apart the Trinity and unsays all that has been said about hypostatic union in the first place. Spiritual union is hypostatic union and the hypostatic union is of the Spirit, which occurred at the Incarnation. All the forces of darkness hurled themselves against Jesus Christ in an endeavour to destroy all that He is. The created existence, turned evil and postured itself against God, had no power over the Uncreated Source of existence, God Himself. Jesus Christ defeated them all! This is what makes the gospel such utterly staggering good news. The work of the Spirit of Christ, who in union of hypostasis, nature and being with the Father and the Son, is to open our eyes to the reality of our existence grounded in the Person of Jesus Christ who has brought us face-to-face with the Father. Those who try to distinguish the difference between spiritual and hypostatic union may claim this is precisely what they are saying. However, by marking a difference between the two creates a gap between Jesus Christ and the Spirit. This gap is then overlaid onto the wider community as the ones who are marked as in spiritual union, i.e. the church, and other who are only in hypostatic union i.e. those who are not churched. This sets a potentially dangerous precedence drawing a line between the sacred and the secular marking who is in and who is out, not on the basis on the hypostatic union but on the basis of a so-called spiritual union. We have opted for a scholastic method of interpreting the work of the Spirit apart from the Incarnation of Christ.
This covenant sealed by God’s own blood is no longer a work of the Spirit and has been taken out of God’s own hands. It is now handed over to the powers of ordinary men who can arbitrarily decide what is sacred and what is secular and who is in and who is out on the basis of spiritual union. In Peter’s vision in Acts 10, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” The question here is this: Was Peter only in hypostatic union when he refused to eat what God had deemed clean? At this point and at times during his life, he struggled to come to grips with the universality of the atonement. He was behaving according to the flesh and created a controversy in Galatia. If he was behaving according to the flesh, is this because he was not yet in spiritual union? Or, perhaps Peter thought the Gentiles had not yet received spiritual union. Paul’s recollection of Peter’s attitude towards the Gentiles in Galatia could mean according to the difference inferred between hypostatic and spiritual union that Peter was still only perceiving the Gentiles had not achieved spiritual union. Again, Peter may have only experience hypostatic union because of his elite understanding of the gospel. It is an unnecessary conundrum. It is a ridiculous thing to say. Paul said to Peter’s face, “You are wrong!”
If we say there is a difference between spiritual union and hypostatic union then the atonement undertaken in Jesus Christ was not as though the whole of mankind was a single living being, passes through the entire race, being imparted from the Member to the whole by virtue of the continuity and oneness of the nature (Greg. Nyss. Great Catechism 32). There is continuity and oneness in the nature of the Incarnate Son between the Himself and the whole human race, and there is continuity and oneness in nature between the Son, the Father and the Spirit. The union is complete without holding back. It is Jesus Christ, believing, trusting, who is faithful and committed to the Father’s will all for our sake and He now sits at the right hand of the Father. As we see the whole of humanity as a single living being, the Spirit is poured out on this single living being and passes through the entire race. Thus what we do see in people who do not appear to be Christian, is not an absence of the Spirit in union but the Spirit at work in them. It is not until we actually engage with them and know what it is they actually think do we know if they are resisting their union or assenting to their union. If there is a resistance, we may have to interrogate a little further, if the opportunity arises, as to why they may be resisting. In my own experience, I find the majority of those who resist their union is because the message they have heard is not consistent with what the Spirit has been teaching in them. The problem usually resides with the widespread misinformation of the gospel presented by mainstream evangelical churches confusing those who personally experience something greater in their “own universe.” If the church who preach a counterfeit gospel containing a message that does not reflect the truth of Christ Himself then the Spirit of Christ in them will ring alarm bells. Are they being disobedient? Their ability to say no is because of the completeness of their union to the Father, Son and Spirit.
The Prodigal Son not the way to prove the difference between hypostatic and spiritual union. Let us look at the concluding passage:
“Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’”
Of course we can conclude the older son just did not get it. In the same way, the wider community do not get it when it comes to the reality of their existence grounded in Jesus Christ. The Spirit of Christ is ever at work endeavouring to open their eyes to the truth deep within their hearts. The older brother had been given all that the Father had as his very own but he did not take it. He did not realised what He had but it did not mean he did not have it. He just did not know it was his for the taking. He may not have been aware of how the Father had been participating in his life. All that belongs to the Father has been given to us. Some of us have seen what He has given to us and we have received it. Even though there are those who appear to have not received Him makes no difference. All that belong to the Father still has been given to all. This is the generosity of the philanthropic nature of God. It is as if non-believers do not realise they have a gold nugget in their pocket. Even though it is right there in their pocket, they may not realise, it but it still belongs to them. The gift of the Triune God is the Triune God Himself who has given Himself entirely to the whole as if they were a single living being.
Especially in our multi-cultural and individualistic society and with widespread misconceptions regarding the gospel, maintaining the hypostatic union with Christ gives us less of an elitist outlook over our community at large. I can only conclude those who endeavour to split the hypostatic union and add a spiritual union are so out of touch with day to day living in the wider community. To believe the laity are not intellectuality equipped to grasp the concept of hypostatic union must surely indicate these leaders may not fully understand the concept themselves and are not able to adequately explain it. We must assume a fully realised union of beings between God and all humanity in Jesus Christ and learn to serve them as Christ would serve them. An elitist outlook may tend to show less of a concern for the welfare of others outside the Christian community just like Cain’s selfish reply, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4.9) The reality of the hypostatic union makes us fully realise that we are indeed our brother’s and sister’s keeper showing the same level of concern for them as the Triune God displayed in Jesus Christ. The more we understand and are able to explain hypostatic union so that it can be widely grasped at all levels within our Christian community, the more people are set free to go out into the world and preach the good news. If this concept is going to be reserved with the so-called theologically elite, then we hog tie the community by not giving adequate tools to take the gospel forward into the world. In addition, if the term is reserved for those who believe they intellectually equipped to understand it, then why are they not motivated to lead by example and show the community how they would take the gospel out of the church and into the wider community.
In Jesus Christ the Being of God and the being of our fellow human beings are united in Him. There is full-blown union between humanity and the Father, Son and Spirit in the Person and work of Jesus Christ making the essence of the hypostatic union a spiritual union. It is God who knows the intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12-13) so we should take people at face value as having the capacity to know. The hypostatic union means the New Covenant is active in them. It means they will all know Me from the least of them to the greatest (Hebrews 8:11). The Spirit of Christ whispers the love of God deep within the hearts of non-believers in Their endeavour to woo them while in Their everlasting arms. I believe resistance to the mainstream gospel may very well be justified. We must learn to listen to misinformed criticism with a genuine concern and in the most humble way. I can only speak from my own personal experiences that even the most aggressive of people against the Christian belief, soften their hearts when I explain that Christ is in them and the Spirit of God is teaching them. Their attitude changes when they realise God is for them. I have no idea how much they commune with the Spirit and will never make any attempt to judge whether or not they do. I know when I preach the truth, in the majority of cases, people respond in a very positive way. That can only be because the Spirit is at work in union with them. Christ be with you all.