The Hypostatic Union

The Hypostatic Union had a profound effect on Jesus’ human nature, as he is both true man and, also, God. Jesus is not a human person like us, but a divine Person.

 
Holy Trinity
by Hendrick Van Balen

Jesus Christ of Nazareth is the founder and object of the Catholic Church.   He is both true God and true man.  Because he is God, we worship him as our Creator and Redeemer; because he is also man, he is our brother and like us in all things, sin alone excepted.  In Catholic theology, the union of the divine nature and the human nature is explained as taking place in the Person of Jesus, who is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Word of God.  This is known as the “Hypostatic Union.”   The word, hypostatis, is a Greek word which means “person.”

The Hypostatic Union had a profound effect on Jesus’ human nature.  Jesus Christ is a true man, but, because he is also God, he is no ordinary man. It is important to remember that Jesus is not a human person like us; he is a divine Person.  Because of the Hypostatic Union, Jesus’ human nature was endowed with an abundance of supernatural gifts; in fact, he has the perfection of all the virtues; St. John says that he is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).  This raises questions about his human knowledge, human will, and human power.

There is an ancient tradition in the Church, going back to the early Fathers. The human soul of Jesus is united to the Word of God, possessing the Beatific Vision of God from the first moment of his existence, in the womb of his mother, the Virgin Mary.  The Beatific Vision of God is absolutely supernatural; it is granted to the angels in heaven, and to the saints in heaven.  What the Fathers and theologians say is that Christ’s soul possessed this vision of God from the first moment of its union with the divine Person of the Word, that is, from its conception in Mary.  This means that Jesus was, at the same time, both a pilgrim on earth like us, and a possessor of the immediate vision of God, like the blessed in heaven.  One of the consequences of his immediate vision of God is that he did not have the theological virtues of faith and hope, since faith and hope cease once there is vision and possession of God.

There are several indications in the New Testament that Jesus has immediate knowledge of the Father.  Thus, we read in John 1:17-18, “…grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.”  Jesus also says, in John 8:55, “I know him (the Father).  If I said, I do not know him, I should be a liar like you; but I do know him and I keep his word.”

That Jesus had the Beatific Vision, from the moment of his conception, is a conclusion that the Fathers of the Church and theologians, like St. Thomas Aquinas, arrived at by examining who and what Jesus is.  The Beatific Vision is the consummation of sanctifying grace; also, the attachment of the soul to God, through grace and glory, is an accidental union, or perfection, of the created soul.  The attachment of Christ’s soul to God, however, is a substantial union because it is hypostatically united to the Word of God.  Such a substantial union is more intimate than the union of the saints in heaven with God.  Thus, if Christ’s soul on earth was already more intimately united to God than the blessed are in heaven, it follows that it must have, at least, the same immediate knowledge of God that the saints and angels have.

St. Thomas also argues that, since by Christ’s life and death, he is the source of salvation and heaven for all mankind, he must have what he gives to others.  Since he communicates the Beatific Vision to others, he must have it himself, because no one can give what he does not have.

According to Hebrews 12:2, Jesus “leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection.” If he leads us, and perfects us in faith, then he knows perfectly what he is doing, and does not himself walk in the darkness of faith, as I mentioned above.  The perfection of the knowledge and self-consciousness of the man, Jesus, can be explained only by the fact that he possessed immediate knowledge of the divinity with which he was substantially united.

In concrete terms, this means that Jesus’ soul had the Beatific Vision of God from the first moment of its existence.  He already had, in this life, what we hope to attain in the next life.

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avatar About Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ

Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J., is editor emeritus of HPR, having served as editor for over 30 years. He is the author of the best selling Fundamentals of Catholicism (three volumes) and of the popular introduction to the Scripture, Inside the Bible.

Comments

  1. avatar Bob Bowe says:

    Short, but packed with insight. I often hear people, to include the clergy (Benedict XVI) refer to Jesus as a “human being.” That proposition can’t be correct. From reading your paper, Fr. Baker, I believe that
    you agree with this proposition. Christ could not have been a human being. He was one person, not two beings. He was (is) a Divine being (person) with two natures from the instant of his human conception. Correct?

  2. avatar Edward Lewis says:

    The union of the Son with son of Mary was at the level of nature; not at the level of person. Jesus was a man like us but was without sin (Heb 2:17 and Heb. 4:15). The Christology in Hebrews is probably the most advanced in all the NT.
    St. Thomas misinterpreted St. Anselm’s cur deus homo. By doing so Thomas introduced the potentiality of no free will; either absolute for God or relative for man. . It would be better to state that the son of Mary freely gave himself to the Son because his faith was overwhelming. If the human being saw the beatific vision in the womb he would not be like us. Anselm’s basic premise of “choice” is negated and the full humanity of Jesus can be cast into doubt.

  3. avatar MichaelP71 says:

    In the Nicene Creed which Catholics recite each and every Sunday has the following passage which is even more clear after the clarifications made this past Advent:
    I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
    the Only Begotten Son of God,
    born of the Father before all ages.
    God from God, Light from Light,
    true God from true God,
    begotten, not made, CONSUBSTANTIAL with the Father;
    through him all things were made.
    For us men and for our salvation
    he came down from heaven,
    and by the Holy Spirit was INCARNATE of the Virgin Mary,
    and became MAN.

    I was searching the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) and it hit me that HE was nailed to the cross as a man and was Resurrected and ate fish with them and walked with them and let Thomas put his hand… Jesus is truly God and truly man.

    • avatar Bob Bowe says:

      Still doesn’t answer the question: was Jesus two beings, one devine being
      AND one human beings manifested in one body. The question was not was he truly human, e.g., possessing fully a human nature. If you answer yes then the Jesus was two beings, e.g., two persons,
      one devine and one human. It seems to me that such a position would be heresy addressed
      by the Church fathers centuries ago.

      • avatar Byzcat says:

        God is One, but God is also 3 persons. There are not three Lords, but one Lord. There are not three Gods, but one God. Jesus has two natures, fully human and fully divine, but is a single person. The crux of your question is how do you define “being”? “Being” is an imprecise term as used in your question. Jesus is both God and man, divine and human. The mystery of the hypostasis is a mystery that we can never comprehend since our limited intellects cannot conceive how the immortal, immutable, infinite Creator could assume a human nature without diminishment. Read Newman’s Athanasius in dispute with the Arians…

      • avatar Edward Lewis says:

        There is a difference between nature and person. Our person is singular; our nature is not. That is the reason for the Incarnation. At the moment of conception in Mary’s womb the son of God took the human nature of the son of Mary to Himself.
        What we all have in common, from the beginning of time, is our human nature-which is precisely what the son of Mary had. Without the commonality with Jesus there is no salvation.
        At the level of person, in this instance, the person is the Son-the second person of the Trinity. The person is the actor-the one who does things. Therefore the Son acted through a human body and a human nature. it does not imply that there were two persons-there was one person with two natures; divine and human.

  4. avatar mortimerzilch says:

    “Soul of Christ sanctify me;
    Body of Christ save me;
    Blood of Christ inebriate me;
    Water from the side of Christ wash me;
    Passion of Christ strengthen me…”

  5. avatar Bob Bowe says:

    Thanks to all who responded to my question. The answers
    were very helpful and while the mystery of the Incarnation
    remains my understanding of it is clearer.

  6. avatar Steve says:

    “You are my friends, if you do the things that I command you.” -St John 15:14

    Wow!

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