Note 4. The Terms usia and hypostasis, as used in the early Church
(Vide supra, p. 186.)

1. {432} [Note] EVEN before we take into account the effect which would naturally be produced on the first Christians by the novelty and mysteriousness of doctrines which depend for their reception simply upon Revelation, we have reason to anticipate that there would be difficulties and mistakes in expressing them, when they first came to be set forth by unauthoritative writers. Even in secular sciences, inaccuracy of thought and language is but gradually corrected; that is, in proportion as their subject-matter is thoroughly scrutinized and mastered by the co-operation of many independent intellects, successively engaged upon it. Thus, for instance, the word Person requires the rejection of various popular senses, and a careful definition, before it can serve for philosophical uses. We sometimes use it for an individual as contrasted with a class or multitude, as when we speak of having "personal objections" to another; sometimes for the body, in contrast to the soul, as when we speak of "beauty of person." We sometimes use it in the abstract, as when we speak of another as "insignificant in person;" sometimes in the concrete, as when we call him "an insignificant person." How divergent in meaning are the derivatives, personable, personalities, personify, personation, personage, parsonage! This variety arises partly from our own carelessness, partly from the necessary developments of {433} language, partly from the exuberance of human thought, partly from the defects of our vernacular tongue.

Language then requires to be refashioned even for sciences which are based on the senses and the reason; but much more will this be the case, when we are concerned with subject-matters, of which, in our present state, we cannot possibly form any complete or consistent conception, such as the Catholic doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation. Since they are from the nature of the case above our intellectual reach, and were unknown till the preaching of Christianity, they required on their first promulgation new words, or words used in new senses, for their due enunciation; and, since these were not definitely supplied by Scripture or by tradition, nor, for centuries, by ecclesiastical authority, variety in the use, and confusion in the apprehension of them, were unavoidable in the interval. This conclusion is necessary, admitting the premisses, antecedently to particular instances in proof.

Moreover, there is a presumption equally strong, that the variety and confusion that I have anticipated, would in matter of fact issue here or there in actual heterodoxy, as often as the language of theologians was misunderstood by hearers or readers, and deductions were made from it which the teacher did not intend. Thus, for instance, the word Person, used in the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, would on first hearing suggest Tritheism to one who made the word synonymous with individual; and Unitarianism to another, who accepted it in the classical sense of a mask or character.

Even to this day our theological language is wanting in accuracy: thus, we sometimes speak of the controversies concerning the Person of Christ, when we mean to include in them those also which belong to the two natures which are predicated of Him.

Indeed, the difficulties of forming a theological phraseology {434} for the whole of Christendom were obviously so great, that we need not wonder at the reluctance which the first age of Catholic divines showed in attempting it, even apart from the obstacles caused by the distraction and isolation of the churches in times of persecution. Not only had the words to be adjusted and explained which were peculiar to different schools or traditional in different places, but there was the formidable necessity of creating a common measure between two, or rather three languages,—Latin, Greek, and Syriac. The intellect had to be satisfied, error had to be successfully excluded, parties the most contrary to each other, and the most obstinate, had to be convinced. The very confidence which would be felt by Christians in general that Apostolic truth would never fail,—and that they held it in each locality themselves and the orbis terrarum with them, in spite of all verbal contrarieties,—would indispose them to define it, till definition became an imperative duty.

2. I think this plain from the nature of the case; and history confirms me in the instance of the celebrated word homoüsion, which, as one of the first and most necessary steps, so again was apparently one of the most discouraging, in the attempt to give a scientific expression to doctrine. This formula, as Athanasius, Hilary, and Basil affirm, had been disowned, as savouring of heterodoxy, by the great Council of Antioch in A.D. 264-269; yet, in spite of this disavowal on the part of Bishops of the highest authority, it was imposed on all the faithful to the end of time in the Ecumenical Council of Nicæa, A.D. 325, as the one and only safeguard, as it really is, of orthodox teaching. The misapprehensions and protests which, after such antecedents, its adoption occasioned for many years, may be easily imagined. Though above three hundred Bishops had accepted it at Nicæa, the great body of the Episcopate in the next generation considered it inexpedient; and Athanasius himself, whose imperishable name is bound up with it, showed himself most {435} cautious in putting it forward, though he knew it had the sanction of a General Council. Moreover, the word does not occur in the Catecheses of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, A.D. 347, nor in the recantation made before Pope Julius by Ursacius and Valens, A.D. 349, nor in the cross-questionings to which St. Ambrose subjected Palladius and Secundianus, A.D. 381. At Seleucia, A.D. 359, as many as 100 Eastern Bishops, besides the Arian party, were found to abandon it, while at Ariminum in the same year the celebrated scene took place of 400 Bishops of the West being worried and tricked into a momentary act of the same character. They had not yet got it deeply fixed into their minds, as a sort of first principle, that to abandon the formula was to betray the faith.

3. This disinclination on the part of Catholics to dogmatic definitions was not confined to the instance of the homoüsion. In the use of the word hypostasis, a variation was even allowed by the authority of a Council [A.D. 362]; and the circumstances under which it was allowed, and the possibility of allowing it, without compromising Catholic truth, shall here be considered.

As to the use of the word. At least in the West, and in St. Athanasius's day, it was usual to speak of one hypostasis, as of one usia, of the Divine Nature. Thus the so-called Sardican Creed, A.D. 347, speaks of "one hypostasis, which the heretics call usia." Theod. Hist. ii. 8; the Roman Council under Damasus, A.D. 371, says that the Three Persons are of the same hypostasis and usia; and the Nicene Anathema condemns those who say that the Son "came from other hypostasis or usia." Epiphanius too speaks of "one hypostasis," Hær. 74, 4, Ancor. 6 (and though he has the hypostases, Hær. 62, 3, 72, 1, yet he is shy of the plural, and prefers "the hypostatic Father; the hypostatic Son," &c., ibid. 3 and 4, Ancor. 6; and [tria], as Hær. 74, 4, where he says "three hypostatic of the same hypostasis;" {436} vide also " in hypostasis of perfection," Hær. 74, 12, Ancor. 7 et alibi); and Cyril of Jerusalem of the "uniform hypostasis" of God, Cateth. vi. 7, vide also xvi. 12 and xvii. 9 (though the word may be construed one out of three in Cat. xi. 3); and Gregory Nazianzen, Orat. xxviii, 9, where he is speaking as a Natural, not as a Christian theologian.

In the preceding century Gregory Thaumaturgus had laid it down that the Father and the Son were in hypostasis one, and the Council of Antioch, A.D. 264-269, calls the Son in usia and hypostasis God, the Son of God. Routh, Reliq. t. 2, p. 466. Accordingly Athanasius expressly tells us, "Hypostasis is usia, and means nothing else but [auto to on]," ad Afros, 4. Jerome says that "Tota sæcularium litterarum schola nihil aliud hypostasin nisi usiam novit," Epist. xv. 4; Basil, the Semi-Arian, that "the Fathers have called hypostasis usia," Epiph. Hær, 73, 12, fin. And Socrates says that at least it was frequently used for usia, when it had entered into the philosophical schools. Hist. iii. 7.

On the other hand the Alexandrians, Origen (in Joan. ii. 6 et alibi), Ammonius (ap. Caten. in Joan. x. 30, if genuine), Dionysius (ap. Basil de Sp. S. n. 72), and Alexander (ap. Theod. Hist. i. 4), speak of more hypostases than one in the Divine Nature, that is, of Three; and apparently without the support of the divines of any other school, unless Eusebius, who is half an Alexandrian, be an exception. Going down beyond the middle of the fourth century, we find the Alexandrian Didymus committing himself to a bold and strong enunciation of the Three hypostases, (e.g. de Trin. 1. 18, &c.), which is almost without a parallel in patristical literature.

It was under these circumstances that the Council of Alexandria in A.D. 362, to which I have already referred, a Council in which Athanasius and Eusebius of Vercellæ {437} were the chief actors, determined to leave the sense and use of the word open, so that, according to the custom of their own church or school, Catholics might freely speak of three hypostases or of one.

Thus we are brought to the practice of Athanasius himself. It is remarkable that he should so far innovate on the custom of his own Church, as to use the word in each of these two applications of it. In his In illud Omnia he speaks of "the three perfect Hypostases." On the other hand, he makes usia and hypostasis synonymous in Orat. iii. 65, 66, Orat. iv. 1 and 33 fin.

There is something more remarkable still in this innovation. Alexander, his immediate predecessor and master, published, A.D. 320-324, two formal letters against Arius, one addressed to his namesake of Constantinople, the other encyclical. It is scarcely possible to doubt that the latter was written by Athanasius; it is so unlike the former in style and diction, so like the writings of Athanasius. Now it is observable that in the former the word hypostasis occurs in its Alexandrian sense at least five times; in the latter, which I attribute to Athanasius, it is dropped, and usia is introduced, which is absent from the former. That is, Athanasius has, on this supposition, when writing in his Bishop's name a formal document, pointedly innovated on his Bishop's theological language, and that the received language of his own Church. I am not supposing he did this without Alexander's sanction. Indeed the character of the Arian polemic would naturally lead Alexander, as well as Athanasius, to be suspicious of their own formula of the "Three Hypostases," which Arianism was using against them; and the latter would be confirmed in this feeling by his subsequent familiarity with Latin theology, and the usage of the Holy See, which, under Pope Damasus, as we have seen, A.D. 371, spoke of one hypostasis, and in the previous century, A.D. 260, protested by anticipation in the {438} person of Pope Dionysius against the use, which might be made in the hands of enemies, of the formula of the Three Hypostases. Still it is undeniable that Athanasius does at least once speak of Three, though his practice is to dispense with the word and to use others instead of it.

4. Now then we come to the explanation of this difference of usage in the application of the word. It is difficult to believe that so accurate a thinker as Athanasius really used an important term in two distinct, nay contrasted senses; and I cannot but question the fact, so commonly taken for granted, that the divines of the beginning of the fourth century had appropriated any word whatever definitely to express either the idea of Person as contrasted with that of Essence, or of Essence as contrasted with Person. I altogether doubt whether we are correct in saying that they meant by hypostasis, in one country Person, in another Essence. I think such propositions should be carefully proved, instead of being taken for granted, as at present is the case. Meanwhile, I have an hypothesis of my own. I think they used the word both in East and West in one and the same substantial sense; with some accidental variation or latitude indeed, but that of so slight a character, as would admit of Athanasius, or any one else, speaking of one hypostasis or three, without any violence to that sense which remained on the whole one and the same. What this sense is I proceed to explain:—

The school-men are known to have insisted with great earnestness on the numerical unity of the Divine Being; each of the three Divine Persons being one and the same God, unicus, singularis, et totus Deus. In this, however, they did but follow the recorded doctrine of the Western theologians of the fifth century, as I suppose will be allowed by critics generally. So forcible is St. Austin upon the strict unity of God, that he even thinks it necessary to caution his readers lest they should suppose that he could allow them to speak of {439} One Person as well as of Three in the Divine nature de Trin., vii. 11. Again, in the (so-called) Athanasian Creed, the same elementary truth is emphatically insisted on. The neuter unum of former divines is changed into the masculine, in enunciating the mystery. "Non tres æterni, sed unus æternus." I suppose this means, that each Divine Person is to be received as the one God as entirely and absolutely as He would be held to be, if we had never heard of the other Two, and that He is not in any respect less than the one and only God, because They are each that same one God also; or in other words, that, as each human individual being has one personality, the Divine Being has three.

Returning then to Athanasius, I consider that this same mystery is implied in his twofold application of the word hypostasis. The polytheism and pantheism of the heathen world imagined,—not the God whom natural reason can discover, conceive, and worship, one individual, living, and personal,—but a divinitas, which was either a quality, whether energy or life, or an extended substance, or something else equally inadequate to the real idea which the word conveys. Such a divinity could not properly be called an hypostasis or said to be in hypostasi (except indeed as brute matter may be called, as in one sense it can be called, an hypostasis), and therefore it was, that that word had some fitness, especially after the Apostle's adoption of it, Hebr. i. 3, to denote the Christian's God. And this may account for the remark of Socrates, that it was a new word, strange to the schools of ancient philosophy, which had seldom professed pure theism or natural theology. "The teachers of philosophy among the Greeks," he says, "have defined usia in many ways: but of hypostasis, they have made no mention at all. Irenæus, the grammarian, affirms that the word is barbarous."—Hist. iii. 7. The better then was it fitted to express that highest object of thought, of which the "barbarians" of Palestine had been the special witnesses. When the divine {440} hypostasis was confessed, the word expressed or suggested the attributes of individuality, self-subsistence, self-action, and personality, such as go to form the idea of the Divine Being to the natural theologian; and, since the difference between the theist and the Catholic divine in their idea of His nature is simply this, that, in opposition to the Pantheist, who cannot understand how the Infinite can be Personal at all, the one ascribes to him one personality, and the other three, it will be easily seen how a word, thus characterized and circumstanced, would admit of being used with but a slight modification of its sense, of the Trinity as well as of the Unity.

Let us take, by way of illustration, the word monad, which when applied to intellectual beings, includes the idea of personality. Dionysius of Alexandria, for instance, speaks of the monad and the triad: now, would it be very harsh, if, as he has spoken of "three hypostases" in monad so he had instead spoken of "the three monads," that is, in the sense of "thrice hypostatic monad," as if the intrinsic force of the word monas would preclude the possibility of his use of the plural monads being mistaken to imply that he held more monads than one? To take an analogous case, it would be about the same improper use of plural for singular, if we said that a martyr by his one act gained three victories instead of a triple victory, over his three spiritual foes. And indeed, though Athanasius does not directly speak of three monads, yet he implies the possibility of such phraseology by teaching that, though the Father and the Son are two, the monas of the Deity ([theotes]) is indivisible, and that the Deity is at once Father and Son.

This, then, is what I conceive that he means by sometimes speaking of one, sometimes of three hypostases. The word hypostasis stands neither for Person nor for Essence exclusively; but it means the one Personal God of natural theology, the notion of whom the Catholic corrects and completes as often {441} as he views him as a Trinity; of which correction Nazianzen's language (Orat. xxviii. 9) contrasted with his usual formula (vid. Orat. xx. 6) of the Three Hypostases, is an illustration. The specification of three hypostases does not substantially alter the sense of the word itself, but is a sort of catachresis by which this Catholic doctrine is forcibly brought out (as it would be by the phrase "three monads"), viz. that each of the Divine Persons is simply the Unus et Singularis Deus. If it be objected, that by the same mode of reasoning, Athanasius might have said catachrestically not only three monads or three hypostases, but three Gods, I deny it, and for this reason, because hypostasis is not equivalent to the simple idea of God, but is rather a definition of Him, and that in some special elementary points, as essence, personality, &c., and because such a mere improper use or varying application of the term hypostasis would not tend to compromise a truth, which never must even in forms of speech be trifled with, the absolute numerical unity of the Supreme Being. Though a Catholic could not say that there are three Gods, he could say, that the definition of God applies to unus and tres. Perhaps it is for this reason that Epiphanius speaks of the "hypostatic Three," "co-hypostatic," "of the same hypostasis," Hær. 74, 4 (vid. Jerome, Ep. 15, 3), in the spirit in which St. Thomas, I think, interprets the "non tres æterni, sed unus æternus," to turn on the contrast of adjective and substantive.

Petavius makes a remark which is apposite to my present purpose. "Nomen Dei," he says, de Trin. iii. 9. § 10, "cùm sit ex eorum genere quæ concreta dicuntur, forinam significat, non abstractam ab individuis proprietatibus, sed in iis subsistentem. Est enim Deus substantia aliqua divinitatem habens. Sicut homo non humanam naturam separatam, sed in aliquo individuo subsistentem exponit, ita tamen ut individuum ac personam, non certam ac determinatam, sed confuse infiniteque representet, hoc est, naturam in aliquo, ut {442} diximus, consistentem ... sic nomen Dei propriè ac directe divinitatem naturamque divinam indicat, assignificat autem eundem, ut in quâpiam personâ subsistentem, nullam de tribus expresse designans, sed confuse et universe." Here this great author seems to say, that even the word "Deus" may stand, not barely for the Divine Being, but besides "in quâpiam personâ subsistentem," without denoting which Person; and in like manner I would understand hypostasis to mean the monas with a like indeterminate notion of personality, (without which attribute the idea of God cannot be,) and thus, according as one hypostasis is spoken of, or three, the word may be roughly translated, in the one case "personal substance," or "being with personality," in the other "substantial person," or "person which is in being." In all cases it will be equivalent to the Deity, to the monad, to the divine usia, &c., though with that peculiarity of meaning which I have insisted on.

5. Since, as has been said above, hypostasis is a word more peculiarly Christian than usia, I have judged it best to speak of it first, that the meaning of it, as it has now been ascertained on inquiry, may serve as a key for explaining other parallel terms. Usia is one of these the most in use, certainly in the works of Athanasius; and we have his authority as well as St. Jerome's for stating that it was once simply synonymous with hypostasis. Moreover, in Orat. iii. 65, he uses the two words as equivalent to each other. If this be so, what has been said above in explanation of the sense he put on the word hypostasis, will apply to usia also. This conclusion is corroborated by the proper meaning of the word usia itself which answers to the English word "being." Now, when we speak of the Divine Being, we mean to speak of Him, as what he is, [ho on], including generally His attributes and characteristics, and among them, at least obscurely, His personality. By the "Divine Being" we do not commonly mean a mere anima mundi, or first principle of life or system {443} of laws. Usia then, thus considered, agrees very nearly in sense, from its very etymology, with hypostasis. Further, this was the sense in which Aristotle used it, viz. for what is "individuum," and "numero unum;" and it must not be forgotten that the Neo-platonists, who exerted so great an influence on the Alexandrian Church, professed the Aristotelic logic. And so St. Cyril himself, the successor of Athanasius (Suicer, Thes. in voce, [ousia].)

This is the word, and not hypostasis, which Athanasius commonly uses in controversy with the Arians, to express the divinity of the Word. He speaks of the usia of the Son as being united to the Father, and His usia being the offspring of the Father's usia. In these and other passages usia, I conceive, is substantially equivalent to hypostasis, as I have explained it, viz. expressing the divine [monas] with an obscure intimation of personality inclusively; and here I think I am able to quote the words of Father Passaglia, as agreeing (so far) in what I have said. "Quum hypostasis," he says, de Trinitate, p. 1302, "esse nequeat sine substantiâ, nihil vetabat quominus trium hypostasum defensores hypostasim interdum pro substantiâ sumerent, præsertim ubi hypostasis opponitur rei non subsistenti ac efficientiæ." I should wish to complete the admission by adding, "Since an intellectual usia naturally implies an hypostasis, there was nothing to hinder usia being used, when hypostasis had to be expressed."

6. After what I have said of usia and hypostasis, it will not surprise the reader if I consider that [physis] (nature) also, in the Alexandrian theology, was equally capable of being applied to the Divine Being viewed as One, or viewed as Three or each of the Three separately. Thus Athanasius says, One is the Divine Nature, (contr. Apoll. ii. 13, fin. de Incarn. V. fin.) Alexander, on the other hand, calls the Father and Son the "two hypostatic natures," and speaks of the "only begotten nature," (Theod. Hist. i. 4,) and Clement of "the Son's nature" as "most intimately near the sole Almighty," {444} (Strom. vii. 2,) and Cyril of a "generating nature" and a "generated" (Thes. xi. p. 85) and, in words celebrated in theological history, of "the Word's One Nature incarnate."

7. [Eidos] is a word of a similar character. As it is found in John v. 37, it may be indifferently interpreted of essence or of person; the Vulgate translates it "neque speciem ejus vidistis." In Athan. Orat. iii. 3, it is synonymous with deity or usia; as ibid. 6 also; and apparently in ibid. 16, where the Son is said to have the species of the Father. And so in de Syn. 52. Athanasius says that there is only one "species deitatis." Yet, as taken from Gen. xxxii. 31, it is considered to denote the Son; e.g. Athan. Orat. i. 20, where it is used as synonymous with Image, [eikon]. In like manner the Son is called "the very species deitatis." Ep. Æg. 17. But again in Athan. Orat. iii. 6, it is first said that the species of the Father and Son are one and the same, then that the Son is the species of the Father's (deity), and then that the Son is the species of the Father.

The outcome of this investigation is this:—that we need not by an officious piety arbitrarily force the language of separate Fathers into a sense which it cannot bear; nor by an unjust and narrow criticism accuse them of error; nor impose upon an early age a distinction of terms belonging to a later. The words usia and hypostasis were, naturally and intelligibly, for three or four centuries, practically synonymous, and were used indiscriminately for two ideas, which were afterwards respectively denoted by the one and the other.

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1. From the Atlantis, July, 1858.
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