Year of Faith Catechism Study: CCC 624-630 – Jesus Christ was Buried

clock December 23, 2012 01:02 by author John |

Today’s Catechism sections discuss the burial of Jesus. Supporting material comes from St. John of Damascus.


624 "By the grace of God" Jesus tasted death "for every one".459 In his plan of salvation, God ordained that his Son should not only "die for our sins"460 but should also "taste death", experience the condition of death, the separation of his soul from his body, between the time he expired on the cross and the time he was raised from the dead. The state of the dead Christ is the mystery of the tomb and the descent into hell. It is the mystery of Holy Saturday, when Christ, lying in the tomb,461 reveals God's great Sabbath rest462 after the fulfilment463 of man's salvation, which brings peace to the whole universe.464

Christ in the tomb in his body

625 Christ's stay in the tomb constitutes the real link between his passible state before Easter and his glorious and risen state today. The same person of the "Living One" can say, "I died, and behold I am alive for evermore":465

God [the Son] did not impede death from separating his soul from his body according to the necessary order of nature, but has reunited them to one another in the Resurrection, so that he himself might be, in his person, the meeting point for death and life, by arresting in himself the decomposition of nature produced by death and so becoming the source of reunion for the separated parts.466

626 Since the "Author of life" who was killed467 is the same "living one [who has] risen",468 The divine person of the Son of God necessarily continued to possess his human soul and body, separated from each other by death:

By the fact that at Christ's death his soul was separated from his flesh, his one person is not itself divided into two persons; for the human body and soul of Christ have existed in the same way from the beginning of his earthly existence, in the divine person of the Word; and in death, although separated from each other, both remained with one and the same person of the Word.469

"You will not let your Holy One see corruption"

627 Christ's death was a real death in that it put an end to his earthly human existence. But because of the union his body retained with the person of the Son, his was not a mortal corpse like others, for "divine power preserved Christ's body from corruption."470 Both of these statements can be said of Christ: "He was cut off out of the land of the living",471 and "My flesh will dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, nor let your Holy One see corruption."472 Jesus' Resurrection "on the third day" was the proof of this, for bodily decay was held to begin on the fourth day after death.473

"Buried with Christ. . ."

628 Baptism, the original and full sign of which is immersion, efficaciously signifies the descent into the tomb by the Christian who dies to sin with Christ in order to live a new life. "We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life."474


629 To the benefit of every man, Jesus Christ tasted death (cf ⇒ Heb 2:9). It is truly the Son of God made man who died and was buried.

630 During Christ's period in the tomb, his divine person continued to assume both his soul and his body, although they were separated from each other by death. For this reason the dead Christ's body "saw no corruption" (⇒ Acts 13:37).

St. John of Damascus discusses the death of Christ in relation to the Hypostatic Union in Book III of his work, “Exposition of the Orthodox Faith” (27):

Since our Lord Jesus Christ was without sin (for He committed no sin, He Who took away the sin of the world, nor was there any deceit found in His mouth ) He was not subject to death, since death came into the world through sin. (Romans 5:12) He dies, therefore, because He took on Himself death on our behalf, and He makes Himself an offering to the Father for our sakes. For we had sinned against Him, and it was meet that He should receive the ransom for us, and that we should thus be delivered from the condemnation. God forbid that the blood of the Lord should have been offered to the tyrant. Wherefore death approaches, and swallowing up the body as a bait is transfixed on the hook of divinity, and after tasting of a sinless and life-giving body, perishes, and brings up again all whom of old he swallowed up. For just as darkness disappears on the introduction of light, so is death repulsed before the assault of life, and brings life to all, but death to the destroyer.

Wherefore, although He died as man and His Holy Spirit was severed from His immaculate body, yet His divinity remained inseparable from both, I mean, from His soul and His body, and so even thus His one hypostasis was not divided into two hypostases. For body and soul received simultaneously in the beginning their being in the subsistence of the Word, and although they were severed from one another by death, yet they continued, each of them, having the one subsistence of the Word. So that the one subsistence of the Word is alike the subsistence of the Word, and of soul and body. For at no time had either soul or body a separate subsistence of their own, different from that of the Word, and the subsistence of the Word is for ever one, and at no time two. So that the subsistence of Christ is always one. For, although the soul was separated from the body topically, yet hypostatically they were united through the Word.


459 ⇒ Heb 2:9.
460 ⇒ I Cor 15:3.
461 Cf. ⇒ Jn 19:42.
462 Cf. ⇒ Heb 4:7-9.
463 Cf. ⇒ Jn 19:30.
464 Cf ⇒ Col 1: 18-20.
465 ⇒ Rev 1:18.
466 St. Gregory of Nyssa, Orat. catech. 16: PG 45, 52D.
467 ⇒ Acts 3:15.
468 ⇒ Lk 24:5-6.
469 St. John Damascene, De fide orth. 3, 27: PG 94, 1097.
470 St. Thomas Aquinas, STh III, 51, 3.
471 ⇒ Is 53:8.
472 ⇒ Acts 2:26-27; cf. ⇒ Ps 16:9-10.
473 Cf. ⇒ I Cor 15:4; ⇒ Lk 24:46; ⇒ Mt 12:40; ⇒ Jon 2:1; ⇒ Hos 6:2; cf. ⇒ Jn 11:39.
474 ⇒ Rom 6:4; cf. ⇒ Col 2:12; ⇒ Eph 5:26.

Year of Faith Catechism Study: CCC 470-478, 482-483 – How is the Son of Man God?

clock December 6, 2012 01:02 by author John |

Today’s Catechism sections address the human nature and attributes of Christ. Supporting material comes from St. Thomas Aquinas’ “Summa Theologica”.


470 Because "human nature was assumed, not absorbed",97 in the mysterious union of the Incarnation, the Church was led over the course of centuries to confess the full reality of Christ's human soul, with its operations of intellect and will, and of his human body. In parallel fashion, she had to recall on each occasion that Christ's human nature belongs, as his own, to the divine person of the Son of God, who assumed it. Everything that Christ is and does in this nature derives from "one of the Trinity".

The Son of God therefore communicates to his humanity his own personal mode of existence in the Trinity. In his soul as in his body, Christ thus expresses humanly the divine ways of the Trinity:98

The Son of God. . . worked with human hands; he thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will, and with a human heart he loved. Born of the Virgin Mary, he has truly been made one of us, like to us in all things except sin.99

Christ's soul and his human knowledge

471 Apollinarius of Laodicaea asserted that in Christ the divine Word had replaced the soul or spirit. Against this error the Church confessed that the eternal Son also assumed a rational, human soul.100

472 This human soul that the Son of God assumed is endowed with a true human knowledge. As such, this knowledge could not in itself be unlimited: it was exercised in the historical conditions of his existence in space and time. This is why the Son of God could, when he became man, "increase in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man",101 and would even have to inquire for himself about what one in the human condition can learn only from experience.102 This corresponded to the reality of his voluntary emptying of himself, taking "the form of a slave".103

473 But at the same time, this truly human knowledge of God's Son expressed the divine life of his person.104 "The human nature of God's Son, not by itself but by its union with the Word, knew and showed forth in itself everything that pertains to God."105 Such is first of all the case with the intimate and immediate knowledge that the Son of God made man has of his Father.106 The Son in his human knowledge also showed the divine penetration he had into the secret thoughts of human hearts.107

474 By its union to the divine wisdom in the person of the Word incarnate, Christ enjoyed in his human knowledge the fullness of understanding of the eternal plans he had come to reveal.108 What he admitted to not knowing in this area, he elsewhere declared himself not sent to reveal.109

Christ's human will

475 Similarly, at the sixth ecumenical council, Constantinople III in 681, the Church confessed that Christ possesses two wills and two natural operations, divine and human. They are not opposed to each other, but co-operate in such a way that the Word made flesh willed humanly in obedience to his Father all that he had decided divinely with the Father and the Holy Spirit for our salvation.110 Christ's human will "does not resist or oppose but rather submits to his divine and almighty will."111

Christ's true body

476 Since the Word became flesh in assuming a true humanity, Christ's body was finite.112 Therefore the human face of Jesus can be portrayed; at the seventh ecumenical council (Nicaea II in 787) the Church recognized its representation in holy images to be legitimate.113

477 At the same time the Church has always acknowledged that in the body of Jesus "we see our God made visible and so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see."114 The individual characteristics of Christ's body express the divine person of God's Son. He has made the features of his human body his own, to the point that they can be venerated when portrayed in a holy image, for the believer "who venerates the icon is venerating in it the person of the one depicted".115

The heart of the Incarnate Word

478 Jesus knew and loved us each and all during his life, his agony and his Passion, and gave himself up for each one of us: "The Son of God. . . loved me and gave himself for me."116 He has loved us all with a human heart. For this reason, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced by our sins and for our salvation,117 "is quite rightly considered the chief sign and symbol of that. . . love with which the divine Redeemer continually loves the eternal Father and all human beings" without exception.118


482 Christ, being true God and true man, has a human intellect and will, perfectly attuned and subject to his divine intellect and divine will, which he has in common with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

483 The Incarnation is therefore the mystery of the wonderful union of the divine and human natures in the one person of the Word.

In his “Summa Theologica” (3, 14), St. Thomas Aquinas addresses the “Defects” of Christ’s human body:

Article 1. Whether the Son of God in human nature ought to have assumed defects of body?

Objection 1. It would seem that the Son of God ought not to have assumed human nature with defects of body. For as His soul is personally united to the Word of God, so also is His body. But the soul of Christ had every perfection, both of grace and truth, as was said above (7, 9; 9, seqq.). Hence, His body also ought to have been in every way perfect, not having any imperfection in it.

Objection 2. Further, the soul of Christ saw the Word of God by the vision wherein the blessed see, as was said above (Question 9, Article 2), and thus the soul of Christ was blessed. Now by the beatification of the soul the body is glorified; since, as Augustine says (Ep. ad Dios. cxviii), "God made the soul of a nature so strong that from the fullness of its blessedness there pours over even into the lower nature" (i.e. the body), "not indeed the bliss proper to the beatific fruition and vision, but the fullness of health" (i.e. the vigor of incorruptibility). Therefore the body of Christ was incorruptible and without any defect.

Objection 3. Further, penalty is the consequence of fault. But there was no fault in Christ, according to 1 Peter 2:22: "Who did no guile." Therefore defects of body, which are penalties, ought not to have been in Him.

Objection 4. Further, no reasonable man assumes what keeps him from his proper end. But by such like bodily defects, the end of Incarnation seems to be hindered in many ways. First, because by these infirmities men were kept back from knowing Him, according to Isaiah 53:2-3: "[There was no sightliness] that we should be desirous of Him. Despised and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with infirmity, and His look was, as it were, hidden and despised, whereupon we esteemed Him not." Secondly, because the de. sire of the Fathers would not seem to be fulfilled, in whose person it is written (Isaiah 51:9): "Arise, arise, put on Thy strength, O Thou Arm of the Lord." Thirdly, because it would seem more fitting for the devil's power to be overcome and man's weakness healed, by strength than by weakness. Therefore it does not seem to have been fitting that the Son of God assumed human nature with infirmities or defects of body.

On the contrary, It is written (Hebrews 2:18): "For in that, wherein He Himself hath suffered and been tempted, He is able to succor them also that are tempted." Now He came to succor us. hence David said of Him (Psalm 120:1): "I have lifted up my eyes to the mountains, from whence help shall come to me." Therefore it was fitting for the Son of God to assume flesh subject to human infirmities, in order to suffer and be tempted in it and so bring succor to us.

I answer that, It was fitting for the body assumed by the Son of God to be subject to human infirmities and defects; and especially for three reasons. First, because it was in order to satisfy for the sin of the human race that the Son of God, having taken flesh, came into the world. Now one satisfies for another's sin by taking on himself the punishment due to the sin of the other. But these bodily defects, to wit, death, hunger, thirst, and the like, are the punishment of sin, which was brought into the world by Adam, according to Romans 5:12: "By one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death." Hence it was useful for the end of Incarnation that He should assume these penalties in our flesh and in our stead, according to Isaiah 53:4, "Surely He hath borne our infirmities." Secondly, in order to cause belief in Incarnation. For since human nature is known to men only as it is subject to these defects, if the Son of God had assumed human nature without these defects, He would not have seemed to be true man, nor to have true, but imaginary, flesh, as the Manicheans held. And so, as is said, Philippians 2:7: "He . . . emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man." Hence, Thomas, by the sight of His wounds, was recalled to the faith, as related John 20:26. Thirdly, in order to show us an example of patience by valiantly bearing up against human passibility and defects. Hence it is said (Hebrews 12:3) that He "endured such opposition from sinners against Himself, that you be not wearied. fainting in your minds."

Reply to Objection 1. The penalties one suffers for another's sin are the matter, as it were, of the satisfaction for that sin; but the principle is the habit of soul, whereby one is inclined to wish to satisfy for another, and from which the satisfaction has its efficacy, for satisfaction would not be efficacious unless it proceeded from charity, as will be explained (XP, 14, 2). Hence, it behooved the soul of Christ to be perfect as regards the habit of knowledge and virtue, in order to have the power of satisfying; but His body was subject to infirmities, that the matter of satisfaction should not be wanting.

Reply to Objection 2. From the natural relationship which is between the soul and the body, glory flows into the body from the soul's glory. Yet this natural relationship in Christ was subject to the will of His Godhead, and thereby it came to pass that the beatitude remained in the soul, and did not flow into the body; but the flesh suffered what belongs to a passible nature; thus Damascene says (De Fide Orth. iii, 15) that, "it was by the consent of the Divine will that the flesh was allowed to suffer and do what belonged to it."

Reply to Objection 3. Punishment always follows sin actual or original, sometimes of the one punished, sometimes of the one for whom he who suffers the punishment satisfies. And so it was with Christ, according to Isaiah 53:5: "He was wounded for our iniquities, He was bruised for our sins."

Reply to Objection 4. The infirmity assumed by Christ did not impede, but greatly furthered the end of Incarnation, as above stated. And although these infirmities concealed His Godhead, they made known His Manhood, which is the way of coming to the Godhead, according to Romans 5:1-2: "By Jesus Christ we have access to God." Moreover, the ancient Fathers did not desire bodily strength in Christ, but spiritual strength, wherewith He vanquished the devil and healed human weakness.


97 GS 22 # 2.
98 Cf. ⇒ Jn 14:9-10.
99 GS 22 # 2.
100 Cf. Damasus 1: DS 149.
101 ⇒ Lk 2:52.
102 Cf. ⇒ Mk 6 38; ⇒ 8 27; ⇒ Jn 11:34; etc.
103 ⇒ Phil 2:7.
104 Cf. St. Gregory the Great, "Sicut aqua" ad Eulogium, Epist. Lib. 10, 39 PL 77, 1097 Aff.; DS 475.
105 St. Maximus the Confessor, Qu. et dub. 66 PG 90, 840A.
106 Cf. ⇒ Mk 14:36; ⇒ Mt 11:27; ⇒ Jn 1:18; 8:55; etc.
107 Cf. ⇒ Mk 2:8; ⇒ Jn 2 25; ⇒ 6:61; etc.
108 Cf. ⇒ Mk 8:31; ⇒ 9:31; ⇒ 10:33-34; ⇒ 14:18-20, ⇒ 26-30.
109 Cf. ⇒ Mk 13:32, ⇒ Acts 1:7.
110 Cf. Council of Constantinople III (681): DS 556-559.
111 Council of Constantinople III: DS 556.
112 Cf. Council of the Lateran (649): DS 504.
113 Cf. Cal 3:1; cf. Council of Nicaea II (787): DS 600-603.
114 Roman Missal, Preface of Christmas I.
115 Council of Nicaea II: DS 601.
116 Cal 2:20.
117 Cf. ⇒ Jn 19:34.
118 Pius XII, Enc. Haurietis aquas (1956): DS 3924; cf. DS 3812.

Year of Faith Catechism Study: CCC 464-469, 480-481 – Jesus Christ: True God and True Man

clock December 5, 2012 01:02 by author John |

Today's Catechism sections discuss the Hypostatic Union, that is, the union of the Human and Divine in the Person of Christ. Supporting material comes from St. Thomas Aquinas' "Summa Theologica".


464 The unique and altogether singular event of the Incarnation of the Son of God does not mean that Jesus Christ is part God and part man, nor does it imply that he is the result of a confused mixture of the divine and the human. He became truly man while remaining truly God. Jesus Christ is true God and true man.

During the first centuries, the Church had to defend and clarify this truth of faith against the heresies that falsified it.

465 The first heresies denied not so much Christ's divinity as his true humanity (Gnostic Docetism). From apostolic times the Christian faith has insisted on the true incarnation of God's Son "come in the flesh".87 But already in the third century, the Church in a council at Antioch had to affirm against Paul of Samosata that Jesus Christ is Son of God by nature and not by adoption. The first ecumenical council of Nicaea in 325 confessed in its Creed that the Son of God is "begotten, not made, of the same substance (homoousios) as the Father", and condemned Arius, who had affirmed that the Son of God "came to be from things that were not" and that he was "from another substance" than that of the Father.88

466 The Nestorian heresy regarded Christ as a human person joined to the divine person of God's Son. Opposing this heresy, St. Cyril of Alexandria and the third ecumenical council, at Ephesus in 431, confessed "that the Word, uniting to himself in his person the flesh animated by a rational soul, became man."89 Christ's humanity has no other subject than the divine person of the Son of God, who assumed it and made it his own, from his conception. For this reason the Council of Ephesus proclaimed in 431 that Mary truly became the Mother of God by the human conception of the Son of God in her womb: "Mother of God, not that the nature of the Word or his divinity received the beginning of its existence from the holy Virgin, but that, since the holy body, animated by a rational soul, which the Word of God united to himself according to the hypostasis, was born from her, the Word is said to be born according to the flesh."90

467 The Monophysites affirmed that the human nature had ceased to exist as such in Christ when the divine person of God's Son assumed it. Faced with this heresy, the fourth ecumenical council, at Chalcedon in 451, confessed:

Following the holy Fathers, we unanimously teach and confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, composed of rational soul and body; consubstantial with the Father as to his divinity and consubstantial with us as to his humanity; "like us in all things but sin". He was begotten from the Father before all ages as to his divinity and in these last days, for us and for our salvation, was born as to his humanity of the virgin Mary, the Mother of God.91

We confess that one and the same Christ, Lord, and only-begotten Son, is to be acknowledged in two natures without confusion, change, division or separation. the distinction between the natures was never abolished by their union, but rather the character proper to each of the two natures was preserved as they came together in one person (prosopon) and one hypostasis.92

468 After the Council of Chalcedon, some made of Christ's human nature a kind of personal subject. Against them, the fifth ecumenical council, at Constantinople in 553, confessed that "there is but one hypostasis [or person], which is our Lord Jesus Christ, one of the Trinity."93 Thus everything in Christ's human nature is to be attributed to his divine person as its proper subject, not only his miracles but also his sufferings and even his death: "He who was crucified in the flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ, is true God, Lord of glory, and one of the Holy Trinity."94

469 The Church thus confesses that Jesus is inseparably true God and true man. He is truly the Son of God who, without ceasing to be God and Lord, became a man and our brother: "What he was, he remained and what he was not, he assumed", sings the Roman Liturgy.95 and the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom proclaims and sings: "O only-begotten Son and Word of God, immortal being, you who deigned for our salvation to become incarnate of the holy Mother of God and ever-virgin Mary, you who without change became man and were crucified, O Christ our God, you who by your death have crushed death, you who are one of the Holy Trinity, glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit, save us!"96


480 Jesus Christ is true God and true man, in the unity of his divine person; for this reason he is the one and only mediator between God and men.

481 Jesus Christ possesses two natures, one divine and the other human, not confused, but united in the one person of God's Son.

In his “Summa Theologica” (3, 2), St. Thomas Aquinas explains the hypostasis of body and Soul in Christ:

Article 5. Whether in Christ there is any union of soul and body?

Objection 1. It would seem that in Christ there was no union of soul and body. For from the union of soul and body in us a person or a human hypostasis is caused. Hence if the soul and body were united in Christ, it follows that a hypostasis resulted from their union. But this was not the hypostasis of God the Word, for It is eternal. Therefore in Christ there would be a person or hypostasis besides the hypostasis of the Word, which is contrary to 2,3.

Objection 2. Further, from the union of soul and body results the nature of the human species. But Damascene says (De Fide Orth. iii, 3), that "we must not conceive a common species in the Lord Jesus Christ." Therefore there was no union of soul and body in Him.

Objection 3. Further, the soul is united to the body for the sole purpose of quickening it. But the body of Christ could be quickened by the Word of God Himself, seeing He is the fount and principle of life. Therefore in Christ there was no union of soul and body.

On the contrary, The body is not said to be animated save from its union with the soul. Now the body of Christ is said to be animated, as the Church chants: "Taking an animate body, He deigned to be born of a Virgin" [Feast of the Circumcision, Ant. ii, Lauds]. Therefore in Christ there was a union of soul and body.

I answer that, Christ is called a man univocally with other men, as being of the same species, according to the Apostle (Philippians 2:7), "being made in the likeness of a man." Now it belongs essentially to the human species that the soul be united to the body, for the form does not constitute the species, except inasmuch as it becomes the act of matter, and this is the terminus of generation through which nature intends the species. Hence it must be said that in Christ the soul was united to the body; and the contrary is heretical, since it destroys the truth of Christ's humanity.

Reply to Objection 1. This would seem to be the reason which was of weight with such as denied the union of the soul and body in Christ, viz. lest they should thereby be forced to admit a second person or hypostasis in Christ, since they saw that the union of soul and body in mere men resulted in a person. But this happens in mere men because the soul and body are so united in them as to exist by themselves. But in Christ they are united together, so as to be united to something higher, which subsists in the nature composed of them. And hence from the union of the soul and body in Christ a new hypostasis or person does not result, but what is composed of them is united to the already existing hypostasis or Person. Nor does it therefore follow that the union of the soul and body in Christ is of less effect than in us, for its union with something nobler does not lessen but increases its virtue and worth; just as the sensitive soul in animals constitutes the species, as being considered the ultimate form, yet it does not do so in man, although it is of greater effect and dignity, and this because of its union with a further and nobler perfection, viz. the rational soul, as has been said above (2, ad 2).

Reply to Objection 2. This saying of Damascene may be taken in two ways: First, as referring to human nature, which, as it is in one individual alone, has not the nature of a common species, but only inasmuch as either it is abstracted from every individual, and considered in itself by the mind, or according as it is in all individuals. Now the Son of God did not assume human nature as it exists in the pure thought of the intellect, since in this way He would not have assumed human nature in reality, unless it be said that human nature is a separate idea, just as the Platonists conceived of man without matter. But in this way the Son of God would not have assumed flesh, contrary to what is written (Luke 24:39), "A spirit hath not flesh and bones as you see Me to have." Neither can it be said that the Son of God assumed human nature as it is in all the individuals of the same species, otherwise He would have assumed all men. Therefore it remains, as Damascene says further on (De Fide Orth. iii, 11) that He assumed human nature "in atomo," i.e. in an individual; not, indeed, in another individual which is a suppositum or a person of that nature, but in the Person of the Son of God.

Secondly, this saying of Damascene may be taken not as referring to human nature, as if from the union of soul and body one common nature (viz. human) did not result, but as referring to the union of the two natures Divine and human: which do not combine so as to form a third something that becomes a common nature, for in this way it would become predicable of many, and this is what he is aiming at, since he adds: "For there was not generated, neither will there ever be generated, another Christ, Who from the Godhead and manhood, and in the Godhead and manhood, is perfect God and perfect man."

Reply to Objection 3. There are two principles of corporeal life: one the effective principle, and in this way the Word of God is the principle of all life; the other, the formal principle of life, for since "in living things to be is to live," as the Philosopher says (De Anima ii, 37), just as everything is formally by its form, so likewise the body lives by the soul: in this way a body could not live by the Word, Which cannot be the form of a body.


87 Cf. ⇒ I Jn 4:2-3; ⇒ 2 ⇒ Jn 7.
88 Council of Nicaea I (325): DS 130, 126.
89 Council of Ephesus (431): DS 250.
90 Council of Ephesus: DS 251.
91 Council of Chalcedon (451): DS 301; cf. ⇒ Heb 4:15.
92 Council of Chalcedon: DS 302.
93 Council of Constantinople II (553): DS 424.
94 Council of Constantinople II (553): DS 432; cf. DS 424; Council of Ephesus, DS 255.
95 LH, 1 January, Antiphon for Morning Prayer; cf. St. Leo the Great, Sermo in nat. Dom. 1, 2; PL 54, 191-192.
96 Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Troparion O monogenes.

What is the Hypostatic Union? (The Catholic Meaning)

clock October 4, 2012 14:08 by author John |

Basic definition of the Hypostatic Union

The Hypostatic union is a dogma of the Catholic Church. It refers to the two natures of Christ. These natures are the Divine and human which are united in one incarnated person, Jesus.

The term comes from the word Hypostasis, which means, that which lies beneath as basis or foundation. Hypostasis denotes reality as distinguished from appearances. It denotes an actual, concrete existence. Before the Council of Nicæa (325) hypostasis was synonymous with ousia (roughly meaning “being” in English). The distinction between them developed in the Church as the various heresies about Christ emerged and were debated. It was definitively established by the Council of Chalcedon (451), which declared that in Christ the two natures, each retaining its own properties, are united in one subsistence and one person. They are not joined in a moral or accidental union (as Nestorius asserted), nor commingled (as Eutyches asserted), and nevertheless they are substantially united.

Biblical Basis for the Hypostatic Union

In the first chapter of John, we have a solid basis for the understanding of the Incarnation of Christ, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1). In verse 14, we hear about the incarnation of Jesus: “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).

In Philippians 2:6-7, St. Paul writes about the natures of Christ: “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance”

Acts 3:15 gives us some perspective on the relationship between the human and Divine natures of Christ, “But the author of life you killed, whom God has raised from the dead: of which we are witnesses”. If Christ was killed, he must have had a human nature. He could not have been killed had he not been human, as Tertullian argues later on.

In Colossians 2:9, St. Paul tells writes, “For in him dwells the whole fullness of the deity-bodily”. Paul refers to both the human and Divine natures.

The Hypostatic Union in the Early Church

The early forms of the creed all make profession of faith, not "in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God, Who became Man for us and was crucified" (Denzinger’s “Enchiridion”). These creeds express the 2 natures of Christ: God and man.

In his work, “Ancoratus” (the well anchored man), which includes arguments against Arianism and the teachings of Origen, Epiphanius of Salamis (? - 403) contends that even before the heresies of Nestorius, the Oriental Church proposed to catechumens a creed that was more detailed than that proposed to the faithful. This creed contained the following: "We believe . . . in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of God the Father . . . that is, of the substance of the Father . . . in Him Who for us men and for our salvation came down and was made Flesh, that is, was perfectly begotten of Mary ever Virgin by the Holy Spirit; Who became Man, that is, took perfect human nature, soul and body and mind and all whatsoever is human save only sin, without the seed of man; not in another man, but unto himself did He form Flesh into one holy unity [eis mian hagian henoteta]; not as He breathed and spoke and wrought in the prophets, but He became Man perfectly; for the Word was made Flesh, not in that It underwent a change nor in that It exchanged Its Divinity for humanity, but in that It united Its Flesh unto Its one holy totality and Divinity.”

The ante-Nicaean Fathers expressed the belief in the union of the two natures of Christ. St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote in his letter to the Ephesians, “There is only one physician — of flesh yet spiritual, born yet unbegotten, God incarnate, genuine life in the midst of death, sprung from Mary as well as God, first subject to suffering then beyond it — Jesus Christ our Lord.” St. Justin the Martyr wrote, "Since the Word is the first-born of God, He is also God"

Melito, Bishop of Sardis (about 176), wrote: "Since the same (Christ) was at the same time God and perfect Man, He made His two natures evident to us; His Divine nature by the miracles which He wrought during the three years after His baptism; His human nature by those thirty years that He first lived, during which the lowliness of the Flesh covered over and hid away all signs of the Divinity, though He was at one and the same time true and everlasting God"

St. Irenæus, contends that: "If one person suffered and another Person remained incapable of suffering; if one person was born and another Person came down upon him that was born and thereafter left him, not one person but two are proven . . . whereas the Apostle knew one only Who was born and Who suffered" Tertullian also strongly argued for Christ's two natures: "Was not God really crucified? Did He not really die as He really was crucified?"


Drum, Walter. "The Incarnation." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 4 Oct. 2012 <>.
Pace, Edward. "Hypostatic Union." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 4 Oct. 2012 <>.