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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Hypostatical Union

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; the union of the divine and human natures of Christ in one person. This is the doctrine generally received in the church of Christ; but there have been some who have denied this, who yet acknowledge our Lord's divinity. Nestorius, who had been taught to distinguish accurately between the divine and human nature of Christ, was offended with some expressions commonly used by Christians in the beginning of the fifth century, which seemed to destroy that distinction, and particularly with their calling the Virgin Mary θεοτοκος , as if it were possible for the Godhead to be born. His zeal provoked opposition; in the eagerness of controversy he was led to use unguarded expressions; and he was condemned by the third of the general councils, the council of Ephesus, in the year 431. It is a matter of doubt whether the opinions of Nestorius, if he had been allowed by his adversaries fairly to explain them, would have appeared inconsistent with the doctrine established by the council of Ephesus, that Christ is one person, in whom two natures were most closely united. But whatever was the extent of the error of Nestorius, from him is derived that system concerning the incarnation of Christ, which is held by a large body of Christians in Chaldea, Assyria, and other regions of the east, and which is known in the ecclesiastical history of the west by the name of the Nestorian heresy. The object of the Nestorians is to avoid every appearance of ascribing to the divinity of Christ the weakness of humanity; and therefore they distinguish between Christ, and God who dwelt in Christ as in a temple. They say, that from the moment of the virgin's conception, there commenced an intimate and indissoluble union between Christ and God, that these two persons presented in Jesus Christ one προσωπον , or aspect, but that the union between them is merely a union of will and affection, such in kind as that which subsists between two friends, although much closer in degree. Opposite to the Nestorian opinion is the Eutychian, which derives its name from Eutyches, an abbot of Constantinople, who, about the middle of the fifth century, in his zeal to avoid the errors of Nestorius, was carried to the other extreme. Those who did not hold the Nestorian opinions had been accustomed to speak of the "one incarnate nature" of Christ, but Eutyches used this phrase in such a manner as to appear to teach that the human nature of Christ was absorbed in the divine, and that his body had no real existence. This opinion was condemned in the year 451; by the council of Chalcedon, the fourth general council, which declared, as the faith of the catholic church, that Christ is one person; that in this unity of person there are two natures, the divine and the human; and that there is no change, or mixture, or confusion of these two natures, but that each retains its distinguishing properties. The decree of Chalcedon was not universally submitted to. But many of the successors of Eutyches, wishing to avoid the palpable absurdity which was ascribed to him, of supposing that one nature was absorbed by another, and anxious at the same time to preserve that unity which the Nestorians divided, declared their faith to be, that in Christ there is one nature, but that this nature is twofold or compounded. From this tenet the successors of Eutyches derive the name of Monophysites; and from Jacob Baradaeus, who in the following century was a zealous and successful preacher of the system of the Monophysites, they are more commonly known by the name of Jacobites. The Monophysites, or Jacobites, are found chiefly near the Euphrates and Tigris; they are much less numerous than the Nestorians; and, although they profess to have corrected the errors which were supposed to adhere to the Eutychian heresy, they may be considered as having formed their peculiar opinions upon the general principles of that system. The Monothelites, an ancient sect, of whom a remnant is found in the neighbourhood of Mount Libanus, disclaim any connection with Eutyches, and agree with the Catholics in ascribing two natures to Christ; but they have received their name from their conceiving that Christ, being one person, can only have one will: whereas the Catholics, considering both natures as complete, think it essential to each to have a will, and say that every inconvenience which can be supposed to arise from two wills in one person, is removed by the perfect harmony between that will which belongs to the divine and that which belongs to the human nature of Christ.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Hypostatical Union'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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