Hypostasis (philosophy and religion)

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The concept of hypostasis as the shared existence of spiritual and corporal entities has been used in a number of religious and intellectual settings. The word hypostasis means underlying state or underlying substance, and is the fundamental reality that supports all else.

In Neoplatonism the hypostasis of the Soul, Intellect (nous) and the One was addressed by Plotinus.[1] In Christian theology, a hypostasis or person is one of the three elements of the Holy Trinity.[2]

Hellenic philosophy[edit]

Neoplatonists argue that beneath the surface phenomena that present themselves to our senses are three higher spiritual principles or hypostases, each one more sublime than the preceding. For Plotinus, these are the soul, being/intellect (Nous), and the One.

Aristotle used hypostasis in reference to a material substratum underlying change in the unqualified sense of generation and corruption, and otherwise in reference to ousía or substance in a secondary sense for genera and species understood as hylomorphic forms. Primarily, however, he used it with regard to his category of substance, the specimen ("this person" or "this ox") or individual, qua individual, who survives accidental change and in whom the essential properties inhere that define those universals. In contrast, Plato[citation needed] and later Neoplatonism, spoke of the objective reality of a thing or its inner reality (as opposed to outer appearance or illusion)[clarification needed]. Plotinus taught that God existed in Three Hypostases, The One, The Divine Mind and The Word-Soul. In the Christian Scriptures this seems roughly its meaning at Hebrews 1:3. Allied to this was its use for "basis" or "foundation" and hence also "confidence," e.g., in Hebrews 3:14 and 11:1 and 2 Corinthians 9:4 and 11:17.

Christian theology[edit]

Early Christianity[edit]

In Christian usage, the Greek word hypostasis (ὑπόστᾰσις) means beneath-standing or underpinning and, by extension, the existence of some thing. It can also mean manifestation.

In Early Christian writings it is used to denote "being" or "substantive reality" and is not always distinguished in meaning from ousia 'essence' or 'substance'; it was used in this way by Tatian and Origen, and also in the anathemas appended to the Nicene Creed of 325. See also: Hypostatic union, where the term is used to describe the union of Christ's humanity and divinity. The term has also been used and is still used in modern Greek (not just Koine Greek or common ancient Greek) to mean "existence" along with the Greek word hýparxis (ὕπαρξις) and tropos hypárxeos (τρόπος ὑπάρξεως), which is individual existence.

Trinitarian definitions[edit]

It was mainly under the influence of the Cappadocian Fathers that the terminology was clarified and standardized, so that the formula "Three Hypostases in one Ousia" came to be accepted as an epitome of the orthodox doctrine of the Holy Trinity.[3] Specifically, Basil of Caesarea argues that the two terms are not synonymous and that they therefore are not to be used indistinctly in referring to the Godhead. He writes:

"The distinction between ousia and hypostases is the same as that between the general and the particular; as, for instance, between the animal and the particular man. Wherefore, in the case of the Godhead, we confess one essence or substance so as not to give variant definition of existence, but we confess a particular hypostasis, in order that our conception of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit may be without confusion and clear."[4]


This consensus, however, was not achieved without some confusion at first in the minds of "Western" theologians, who had translated hypo-stasis as "sub-stantia" (substance. See also Consubstantiality) and understood the "Eastern" Christians, when speaking of three "Hypostases" in the Godhead, to mean three "Substances," i.e. they suspected them of Tritheism. From the middle of the fourth century onwards the word came to be contrasted with ousia and used to mean "individual reality," especially in the Trinitarian and Christological contexts. The Christian view of the Trinity is often described as a view of one God existing in three distinct hypostases/personae/persons.[5] The Latin "persona" is not the same as the English "person" but is a broader term that includes the meaning of the English "persona."

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Neoplatonism (Ancient Philosophies) by Pauliina Remes (Nov 4, 2008) Univ California Press ISBN 0520258347 pages 48-52
  2. ^ The Encyclopedia Of Christianity Volume 5 by Erwin Fahlbusch, Jan Milic Lochman and John Mbiti (Feb 1, 2008) ISBN 080282417X page 543
  3. ^ González, Justo L. (1987). A History of Christian Thought: From the Beginnings to the Council of Chalcedon. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. p. 307. ISBN 0-687-17182-2. 
  4. ^ González, Justo L. (1987). A History of Christian Thought: From the Beginnings to the Council of Chalcedon. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. p. 307. ISBN 0-687-17182-2. 
  5. ^ González, Justo L (2005), "Hypostasis", Essential Theological Terms, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, pp. 80–81, ISBN 978-0-664-22810-1