Author Topic: St. Athanasius and a "Union of Persons" in Christ?  (Read 2400 times)

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Offline Severian

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St. Athanasius and a "Union of Persons" in Christ?
« on: October 17, 2011, 09:06:40 PM »
Another user posted this quote from Leontius of Byzantium a few years ago, which says:

We likewise give testimony in advance that it's often possible to find names that change in case of misuse-names for nature, essence, hypostasis, and person in the Incarnation-for they aren't always properly applied. The great Athanasius confidently affirms a "union of persons" in Christ, and Proclus one of "hypostases". The blessed Cyril said "if anyone divides the hypostases after the union...". If, then, our opponents suppose that these expressions are used in the literal sense, then notice what follows: the Nestorians are right when they always use these texts as a defense against us, asserting a union of hypostases and persons in the Incarnation. But how could the father Cyril have used this expression in their sense, since he says in his fourth anathema "If anyone apportions sayings to two persons or hypostases...", and so on, though in the Letter to the Emperor Theodosius, but also to John of Antioch, he says: "We recognize that theologians hold some evangelical and apostolic texts about the Lord to be common, as concerning one person, but distinguish others of them, as concerning two natures."

Now, I know why St. Cyril speaks of "a union of hypostases" in Christ because St. Severus of Antioch explains the meaning of the word "hypostasis" in the Cyrillian christology (see this), but did St. Athanasius really teach "a union of persons" like Leontius claims he does? I find that hard to believe.
« Last Edit: October 17, 2011, 09:08:49 PM by Severian »
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Offline NicholasMyra

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Re: St. Athanasius and a "Union of Persons" in Christ?
« Reply #1 on: October 17, 2011, 09:09:55 PM »
"Union of persons" may be a wonky translation of "Prosopic union".
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Offline Severian

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Re: St. Athanasius and a "Union of Persons" in Christ?
« Reply #2 on: October 17, 2011, 09:15:51 PM »
"Union of persons" may be a wonky translation of "Prosopic union".
Even if that were the case, the "prosoponic union" is the heretical teaching of Nestorius.
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Offline Shanghaiski

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Re: St. Athanasius and a "Union of Persons" in Christ?
« Reply #3 on: October 17, 2011, 10:08:00 PM »
"Union of persons" may be a wonky translation of "Prosopic union".
Even if that were the case, the "prosoponic union" is the heretical teaching of Nestorius.

I thought some used hypostasis and ousia interchangeably. Not that we EO do now. OO, I don't know. But, at least what I understand by hypostatic union is the hypostasis of the Word took on human nature, uniting the nature, the soul and body to his hypostasis, so his hypostasis did not join to another hypostasis. I thought both EO and OO held this notion.
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Offline witega

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Re: St. Athanasius and a "Union of Persons" in Christ?
« Reply #4 on: October 17, 2011, 11:31:13 PM »
"Union of persons" may be a wonky translation of "Prosopic union".
Even if that were the case, the "prosoponic union" is the heretical teaching of Nestorius.

I thought some used hypostasis and ousia interchangeably. Not that we EO do now. OO, I don't know. But, at least what I understand by hypostatic union is the hypostasis of the Word took on human nature, uniting the nature, the soul and body to his hypostasis, so his hypostasis did not join to another hypostasis. I thought both EO and OO held this notion.

Yes. Even if St. Athanasius did use the phrase 'union of prosopons', one would want to look at the full context. My understanding is that prior to the Nestorian controversy, 'prosopon' and 'hypostases' were largely synonyms. It was only with the Christological controversies of the 4th-7th centuries that theologians started to make a distinction in their usage and they did so specifically so that they could clearly express the difference between Orthodox belief and Nestorianism, semi-Nestorianism, Monophysitism (literally defined) etc. Reading our (either EO or OO) post-Ephesus/Chalcedon/Constantinople II understanding of the terms back into an Athanasian text would be completely anachronistic. For St. Athanasius 'union of prosopons' and 'union of hypostases' might very well have meant the same thing--and anyone who's read 'On the Incarnation' knows that whatever phrase he used, what he meant by it is the Orthodox teaching.
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Offline NicholasMyra

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Re: St. Athanasius and a "Union of Persons" in Christ?
« Reply #5 on: October 18, 2011, 02:10:37 AM »
"Union of persons" may be a wonky translation of "Prosopic union".
Even if that were the case, the "prosoponic union" is the heretical teaching of Nestorius.
It became associated with Nestorius because of his use of prosopon to mean a mask or manifestation rather than a real being. But it was not always so, especially in the west, which used "Persona" to refer to persons of the Trinity.
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Offline Severian

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Re: St. Athanasius and a "Union of Persons" in Christ?
« Reply #6 on: October 18, 2011, 06:28:54 AM »
"Union of persons" may be a wonky translation of "Prosopic union".
Even if that were the case, the "prosoponic union" is the heretical teaching of Nestorius.

I thought some used hypostasis and ousia interchangeably. Not that we EO do now. OO, I don't know. But, at least what I understand by hypostatic union is the hypostasis of the Word took on human nature, uniting the nature, the soul and body to his hypostasis, so his hypostasis did not join to another hypostasis. I thought both EO and OO held this notion.

Yes. Even if St. Athanasius did use the phrase 'union of prosopons', one would want to look at the full context. My understanding is that prior to the Nestorian controversy, 'prosopon' and 'hypostases' were largely synonyms. It was only with the Christological controversies of the 4th-7th centuries that theologians started to make a distinction in their usage and they did so specifically so that they could clearly express the difference between Orthodox belief and Nestorianism, semi-Nestorianism, Monophysitism (literally defined) etc. Reading our (either EO or OO) post-Ephesus/Chalcedon/Constantinople II understanding of the terms back into an Athanasian text would be completely anachronistic. For St. Athanasius 'union of prosopons' and 'union of hypostases' might very well have meant the same thing--and anyone who's read 'On the Incarnation' knows that whatever phrase he used, what he meant by it is the Orthodox teaching.
I realize that. And even St. Eustathius of Antioch seems to hold to a "two persons united" theology, but he was of the Antiochene school. But I was curious if St. Athanasius used the phrase "a union of prosopons". Being that he held an Alexandrian Christology, I find it hard to believe.
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Offline JLatimer

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Re: St. Athanasius and a "Union of Persons" in Christ?
« Reply #7 on: October 18, 2011, 10:30:53 AM »
"Union of persons" may be a wonky translation of "Prosopic union".
Even if that were the case, the "prosoponic union" is the heretical teaching of Nestorius.

Heresy is in the meaning, not the words. Words change in meaning over time. People use clunky expressions to express true meanings. Sometimes they even use expressions that sound heretical, and/or make us cringe. The question is, in context, what do they mean? Yes, words are important, and yes, there is an interplay between the words we use and our understanding of the meaning. But do you really think Athanasius meant the same thing as Nestorius? No. Got to get past this verbofundamentalism.
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Offline JLatimer

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Re: St. Athanasius and a "Union of Persons" in Christ?
« Reply #8 on: October 18, 2011, 10:32:38 AM »
"Union of persons" may be a wonky translation of "Prosopic union".
Even if that were the case, the "prosoponic union" is the heretical teaching of Nestorius.

I thought some used hypostasis and ousia interchangeably. Not that we EO do now. OO, I don't know. But, at least what I understand by hypostatic union is the hypostasis of the Word took on human nature, uniting the nature, the soul and body to his hypostasis, so his hypostasis did not join to another hypostasis. I thought both EO and OO held this notion.

Yes. Even if St. Athanasius did use the phrase 'union of prosopons', one would want to look at the full context. My understanding is that prior to the Nestorian controversy, 'prosopon' and 'hypostases' were largely synonyms. It was only with the Christological controversies of the 4th-7th centuries that theologians started to make a distinction in their usage and they did so specifically so that they could clearly express the difference between Orthodox belief and Nestorianism, semi-Nestorianism, Monophysitism (literally defined) etc. Reading our (either EO or OO) post-Ephesus/Chalcedon/Constantinople II understanding of the terms back into an Athanasian text would be completely anachronistic. For St. Athanasius 'union of prosopons' and 'union of hypostases' might very well have meant the same thing--and anyone who's read 'On the Incarnation' knows that whatever phrase he used, what he meant by it is the Orthodox teaching.
I realize that. And even St. Eustathius of Antioch seems to hold to a "two persons united" theology, but he was of the Antiochene school. But I was curious if St. Athanasius used the phrase "a union of prosopons". Being that he held an Alexandrian Christology, I find it hard to believe.

Here I think what Isa likes to say needs to be said. Athanasius held an Orthodox Christology.
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Offline HabteSelassie

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Re: St. Athanasius and a "Union of Persons" in Christ?
« Reply #9 on: October 18, 2011, 02:15:07 PM »
Greetings in that Divine and Most Precious Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!



I thought some used hypostasis and ousia interchangeably. Not that we EO do now. OO, I don't know.

In the language contemporary to Saint Athanasius this very well may have some merit to it.  I would honestly suppose that this is just a misinterpretation and also one that may be simply biased from a Chalcedonian perspective.

stay blessed,
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Re: St. Athanasius and a "Union of Persons" in Christ?
« Reply #10 on: October 18, 2011, 02:35:54 PM »
"Union of persons" may be a wonky translation of "Prosopic union".
Even if that were the case, the "prosoponic union" is the heretical teaching of Nestorius.

Identical words does not equal identical teaching.

Offline Severian

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Re: St. Athanasius and a "Union of Persons" in Christ?
« Reply #11 on: October 18, 2011, 02:36:31 PM »
"Union of persons" may be a wonky translation of "Prosopic union".
Even if that were the case, the "prosoponic union" is the heretical teaching of Nestorius.

Heresy is in the meaning, not the words. Words change in meaning over time. People use clunky expressions to express true meanings. Sometimes they even use expressions that sound heretical, and/or make us cringe. The question is, in context, what do they mean? Yes, words are important, and yes, there is an interplay between the words we use and our understanding of the meaning. But do you really think Athanasius meant the same thing as Nestorius? No. Got to get past this verbofundamentalism.
I do not think I was resorting to "verbofundamentalism". Of course I do not think St. Athanasius was a Nestorian! I was simply remarking how odd it would have been should an Alexandrian theologian speak of "a union of persons", assuming that St. Athanasius actually did.

We don't even know if St. Athanasius ever did teach a union persons. All we have is Leontius' word for it and he doesn't provide a reference.
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Offline Severian

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Re: St. Athanasius and a "Union of Persons" in Christ?
« Reply #12 on: October 18, 2011, 02:38:35 PM »
"Union of persons" may be a wonky translation of "Prosopic union".
Even if that were the case, the "prosoponic union" is the heretical teaching of Nestorius.

Identical words does not equal identical teaching.
Good point. When I called "prosopic union" heretical I meant Nestorius' take on the phrase, not St. Athanasius' (alleged?) use of it.

But does St. Athanasius speak of a "prosopic union" or a "union of persons"? I do wish Leontius provided a source.
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Offline Severian

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Re: St. Athanasius and a "Union of Persons" in Christ?
« Reply #13 on: October 18, 2011, 02:49:01 PM »
It became associated with Nestorius because of his use of prosopon to mean a mask or manifestation rather than a real being. But it was not always so, especially in the west, which used "Persona" to refer to persons of the Trinity.
True. If St. Athanasius used the word "prosopon" to mean "entity" or "individuation" (much like the way Sts. Cyril, Severus, and -it would seem- Proclus use the word hypostasis) rather than "identity/mask" then his concept of a "prosopic union" could be comparable to St. Severus' "non-self-subsistent human hypostasis" theory or the "en-hypostasia" theory of John Damascene.

St. Cyril condemns those who "divide the hypostases" in Christ (cf. third anathema to Nestorius). He also says "the natures or hypostases continued to subsist unchanged (after the union)" (cf. Scholion on the Incarnation). But for St. Cyril "hypostasis" meant "particular existence" and not "mask/identity". So perhaps St. Athanasius uses the word "prosopon" the same way St. Cyril uses "hypostasis".
« Last Edit: October 18, 2011, 03:01:32 PM by Severian »
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Offline Father Peter

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Re: St. Athanasius and a "Union of Persons" in Christ?
« Reply #14 on: October 18, 2011, 03:31:22 PM »
Leontius says προσωπων ενωσιν.

I am trying to see where he might have taken Athanasius as saying this.
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Offline Severian

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Re: St. Athanasius and a "Union of Persons" in Christ?
« Reply #15 on: October 19, 2011, 06:37:20 PM »
--bump--
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Offline Severian

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Offline Father Peter

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Re: St. Athanasius and a "Union of Persons" in Christ?
« Reply #17 on: October 21, 2011, 04:27:27 AM »
Lol!

Unless it is possible to determine what Leontius was reading when he understood St Athanasius to refer to a union of persons then it is difficult to add more.

It is certainly the case that terms have been used very loosely to describe different things and it is not usually wise to assume that the same term is always used in the same way. It would be possible for St Athanasius to speak of a personal union (not likely a union of persons), but as this became contaminated by the views of the Easterns it was less useful to speak in such a way.

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Offline ialmisry

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Re: St. Athanasius and a "Union of Persons" in Christ?
« Reply #18 on: October 21, 2011, 10:17:41 AM »
Lol!

Unless it is possible to determine what Leontius was reading when he understood St Athanasius to refer to a union of persons then it is difficult to add more.

It is certainly the case that terms have been used very loosely to describe different things and it is not usually wise to assume that the same term is always used in the same way. It would be possible for St Athanasius to speak of a personal union (not likely a union of persons), but as this became contaminated by the views of the Easterns it was less useful to speak in such a way.
Well said, Father.

Of course, it can be well said elsewhere as well.
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Re: St. Athanasius and a "Union of Persons" in Christ?
« Reply #19 on: October 21, 2011, 10:28:58 AM »
It can surely be said everywhere, and ignoring the fact has led to a great many misunderstandings and misrepresentations.

I don't mind someone choosing a heresy if they really must, but it would be a bad thing for me to insist on them being heretics, and acting accordingly, if in fact their heresy was a matter of misrepresentation based on a failure to comprehend (and on the other hand to explain) the substance of what was believed.

I say that especially with regard to relations with the Catholic Church and even the Church of the East.
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