One person, two natures: anhypostasis and enhypostasis

Sometimes I’m amazed by the questions that theological definitions raise.  They make sense when people ask them, but so often there are great theological questions that I wouldn’t think to ask.  David Mathis, writing a two post series on the Desiring God blog (links here and here), explored the implications in historical theology of the definition of Chalcedon that Christ has one person and two natures.  It seems that some asked how this could be once Christ took on human flesh.  The question seemed to be whether Christ had taken on a second person at the incarnation, as well as a second nature.

The two important terms were anhypostasis (that Christ did not take on a human nature that had its own personhood defined independently from Jesus) and enhypostasis (that Christ’s human nature receives its personhood from Jesus, the second person of the Trinitarian God).  There are several quotes that Mathis includes from theologians, and this one from Fred Sanders’ Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective: An Introductory Christology summed up the doctrines well:

On the one hand, the human nature of Jesus Christ is in fact a nature joined to a person, and therefore enhypostatic, or personalized. But the person who personalizes the human nature of Christ is not a created human person (like all the other persons personalizing the other human natures we encounter); rather it is the eternal second person of the Trinity. So the human nature of Christ is personal, but with a personhood from above.

Considered in itself, on the other hand, and abstracted from its personalizing by the eternal person of the Son, the human nature of Jesus Christ is simply human nature, and is not personal. The human nature of Christ, therefore, is both anhypostatic (not personal in itself) and enhypostatic (personalized by union with the eternal person of the Son).

On this subject, I thought that I might share the way that I try to explain the Christological disputes of the 5th century to students in the first part of my Western Civ survey course.  Do you think that it’s helpful and, just as more important if not moreso, accurate?

I use analogies of liquids in glasses, with the liquids representing nature and glasses representing persons.

  • Nestorian view of Christ as having two persons and two natures: Since in the Nestorian view the divine nature comes upon a person and Nestorius tried to distinguish between the actions of the human Christ and the divine Christ, my analogy here is a smaller glass filled with the divine nature floating in a larger glass filled with the human nature.  (Actually, this might be a little clearer than the way that I’ve presented it in the past because I don’t know if I distinguished which glass was this).  The two separate glasses are the two separate persons.
  • Monophysite view of Christ as having one person and one nature: Here I portray salt (or food coloring) and water being mixed together in a solution.  The problem with this view was that Christ’s divine nature is changed by being mixed with the human nature.
  • The Chalcedonian view of Christ as having one person and two natures: There’s one glass that contains oil and water.  The two natures are separate (and in communication), but are contained in one person.

I’d be very grateful for your feedback on this!



  1. I have to admit that I don’t understand this enough to make an informed evaluation of your ideas. It sounds OK, but I don’t know enough to go out on a limb and say that it is. Honestly, my take has recently been, “Whatever the Church teaches, that’s what I believe.” I know it sounds rather lazy, but that’s where I’m at right now. Having put in one 40+ hour shift and a couple other 24 hours shifts in the last week, this isn’t likely to change anytime soon. I did however run across this article which you might find interesting.

  2. A very good attempt at illustrating this difficult concept. The only thing I might balk at ( beyond making sure that all understand that physical models will obviously break down at some point) is the oil and water analogy. This seems to come close to what Tertullian termed ‘juxtaposition’ and rejected. He went for interpenetration (not confusion!) of the natures – saying that they occupied the same place at the same time, and yet were not mixed together and confused. Many have thought that the oil/water analogy comes too close to Nestorianism.

    • I meant to say this long ago, but thanks for pointing out this concern. I am going to read over Leo’s Tome again and see if I can come up with something better.

  3. Y cual es la biblografia del libro??? que pagina lo sacaste… Esta bien interesante para una charla en calses de religion.

  4. You can see the link to the book that is quoted in the post. I would check out the links to Mathis’ original posts above.

  5. The word “person” did not mean the same thing in the early centuries that it does today. It derives from the word for a character in a play–actually, the mask worn by a character in a play. It meant more like a way of relating to other such “persons.” Your illustration, while attractive in a way, doesn’t square with Nicaea: The Godhead does not consist of three glasses, each containing the same water!

    If you consider a “person” as a manner of relating to others, then the persons of the Trinity relate to each other in one Godhead. The man Jesus had a human nature but he participated in the relationships of the Godhead as the second “person” of the Trinity (divine nature). And he draws us into those relationships with him, so that we can call God Father and can be filled with the Spirit.

    • Oh, I wasn’t saying that the persons of the Trinity are separate glasses. The three glasses are three separate ways of looking at the person of Christ, with two of them being non-Chalcedonian.

  6. For what it is worth – while “person” may have flexible meanings in the early centuries, there must have been then and, certainly, clearly do now, result in very distinct consciousnesses/awarenesses between the three “persons” of the Trinity. The failure of ANY effort to find a natural analogy is that there would be a need to have a person/consciousness included in the analogy. This simply does not exist. In fact, nothing in nature corresponds to these early departures.

    I have read Mathis articles and appreciate his candor in denying the human person of Jesus (I would not use the term Christ – because that is a position – not an entity). Thus, Mathis has no man Christ Jesus as his mediator (ITim2:5), as resurrected (ICor15:21) or in the provision of God’s grace and the free gift of righteousness (Rom5:17), etc. In contrast, scripture formally, repeatedly, clearly and necessarily states that Jesus is a man like any other man (specifically Adam is used so that there is no mistaking this). I am at loss as to how easy Mathis simply denied the man Christ Jesus and, instead took on strange creature as his savior….

    • Greg, I think that Mathis is saying that God the Son did not come to inhabit an already-existing person. Instead, the key is found in Mathis’ quote from MacLeod: “He did not even take an existing human genotype or embryo. He created the genotype in union with himself, and it’s ‘personality’ developed only in union with the Son of God . . . [H]e is a divine person who, without ‘adopting’ an existing human person took our human nature and entered upon the whole range of human experiences.”

      • Scott – Yes – your understanding of Mathis – and anhypostasis – is exactly right – and exactly my point. Have you ever seen an impersonal human nature walking around?? No, you say? Of course not – because fundamentally a man – you and I – are NOT just natures – we are fundamentally “persons”. In whatever manner an incarnational Christology (there are a few) play the game with words, that model always boils down to this – something fundamental about the humanity of Christ that is MISSING in contrast to what a man is.

        In contrast, scripture clearly describes (Jn8:40, etc.) and necessitates (ICor15:21, etc.) Jesus as a man – a man who IN ALL POINTS is made like his brethren. No impersonal human nature – but a personal man – a human person.

        Below the texts that are rarely read in this context in a traditional incarnationalist communion –

        My review of your analogies finds them workable. The key issue is, of course, what is a man. A man is water (nature) in ONE glass (person). God is oil in ONE glass. But in traditional incarnational Christology, there is only one glass – and guess which glass gets the boot…. That is why incarnational Christology massively fails scriptural description and demand that Jesus is a man.

        BTW – as an analogy, I also like something as simple as set theory and recognize that there are two fundamental categories in traditional Theology/Christology – person and nature. Each of these distinct as you showed above. In addition then you have represent the divine and the human of each… One of the areas they wrestled with was whether “will” belonged to “person” or “nature”. As you can see set theory fits this sort of effort perfectly. I do note that all of this nature vs person model is simply confusion based on lousy exegesis and the grand insertion of human assumption and philosophy into matters which are so simple that a fool need not error.

        These are the fundamental texts asserting and establishing that Jesus is a man – and the necessity that He is exactly the same as we are. These are listed simply in the order by which they appear in the NT.

        Explicit Statements that Jesus is a Man
        Luke 24:19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man [ἀνὴρ] who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,
        NOTE: Jesus did not chastise them because of errant Christology ….

        John 1:30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man [ἀνὴρ] who ranks before me, because he was before me.’

        John 3:27 John answered and said, A man [ἄνθρωπος] can receive nothing except it is given him from the heaven.

        John 8:40 but now you seek to kill me, a man [ἄνθρωπος] who has told you the truth that I heard from God.

        Acts 2:22, 23 “Men [Aνδρες] of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man [ἄνδρα] and attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men

        Acts 17:30, 31 “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man [ἀνὴρ] whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

        Rom 5:15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if by the trespass of the one the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man [ἄνθρωπος] Jesus Christ abound unto the many.

        I Cor 15:21 For as by [δι’] a man [ἄνθρωπος] came death, by [δι’] a man [ἄνθρωπος] has come also the resurrection of the dead.

        I Cor 15:47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man [ἄνθρωπος] is from heaven
        ὁ πρῶτος ἄνθρωπος ἐκ γῆς χοϊκός, ὁ δεύτερος ἄνθρωπος ἐξ οὐρανοῦ.

        I Tim 2:5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man [ἄνθρωπος] Christ Jesus,

        Explicit Statements that Jesus was Created

        Heb 2:10, 11
        10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. (ὅ τε γὰρ ἁγιάζων καὶ οἱ ἁγιαζόμενοι ὅ τε γὰρ ἁγιάζων καὶ οἱ ἁγιαζόμενοι ἐξ ἑνὸς πάντες ἑνὸς πάντες). See ICor 8:6 for sense of ἐξ as the ultimate creative source.

  7. Greg, are you saying that Jesus is not divine in any sense? Also, how do you understand statements in Hebrews 1:2, 1 Corinthians 8:6, and Colossians 2:16 that all things were created through the Son?

    • Scott

      Great question. First, I would appreciate a brief definition of “divine”. Can you please give me a one sentence summary of what you are working with?

      re: I Cor8:6 – This is the clearest text – since it is the only legitimate creed – that Jesus is NOT God. We have ONE God – the Father. Period. Jesus stated the exact same in Jn17:3. I come from a non-Christian background and simply read the Bible for what it says with no baggage. Based on this text as well as the entire sense of scripture, I am amazed that people think God is anyone other than the Father. I am not sure why you are using this text unless it is to support pure monotheism.

      As to creation texts – these are very simple. Look at the preposition in ICor8:6, the same in Heb2:11, likewise in Eph3:15 (prob others). Is this preposition (ek) EVER used of Jesus?? Any time I find a consistency in scripture, I pay attention big-time. Start with this and we will work back.

      What we do know – absolutely clearly – is that Jesus was/is a man. I provided 10 clear cut texts which clearly describe and even necessitate that Jesus is a man just like you and I. An impersonal human nature actuated by any kind of supernatural person is simply not a man (unless you know of impersonal human natures walking around…:-) ). This is the fatal defect of any incarnational Christology whether Chalcedon, Arian or Modalist.

  8. Sorry for the following Wall Of Text, but I may have just had resolved for me something that’s been bugging me for a decade or more — perhaps unwittingly my whole life! — and you happened across my path so to speak, so you’re my first victims!

    IIUC, the Scriptural authors weren’t generally writing Classical philosophy. Later Fathers and Mothers of the Church have made their own uses/adaptations of it whenever spiritually misleading teachings have arisen, for whatever help it might lend their efforts, tho as one paradoxically said, “The Divine is impossible to conceive of, and even more impossible to express!”

    But for the Chalcedonian tradition, humanness doesn’t _remain_ “impersonal” (anhypostatic) in the case of Jesus — It’s personalized exactly by the coeternal Divine _person_ (hypostasis) of the Logos / Son / YHWH / Wisdom / Power / “‘Angel’ of Great Counsel.” _Of course_ humanness doesn’t “walk around” by itself; humanness was created when the first human beings… became. The hypostasis/person of the Logos added humanness to His Divineness by “taking flesh from the Virgin.” Without ceasing to fully be a hypostasis of Divineness, and without becoming anyone else (nor anytwo else!), He also became, at the moment of His Incarnation in Her fallopian tube/s (/belly/inward parts), fully an example / instance / realization of humanness — as Chalcedon says, without confusion/conflation, mixture, separation, or division (the Council’s ‘Four Withouts,’ 4 consecutive words each beginning with the Greek negative a- ). IOW nothing and no one more nor less than what that tradition calls God… Incarnate, or the Logos… become flesh (cf. John 1), a Hypostasis / example / instance / realization / person of not just one nature but two natures. So we have _the Logos_ “walking around” humanly — and btw uncircumscribed in His Divineness by the experience.

    If modern science is right about genes and chromosomes and such, Jesus took all of these latter “from the Virgin.” Yet He seems to have presented, for most if not all of His life on Earth, “a normal male phenotype.” How can this be? Recent — not uncontroversial — research suggests that as Theanthropos He created / allowed / received an unexpected amount and/or timing of androgens in utero, and/or (less controversial) genetic mutation/s, producing His “normal male phenotype” — masculinizing at puberty, not at all necessarily impotent nor semenless, but possibly sterile. The problem with a newly-created “genotype,” theologically, would be that “What was not assumed was not saved.” And the earliest Fathers and Mothers of the Church — like the Apostles on Mt. Tabor and St. Paul on Damascus Road — experienced that when they were Glorified in life, all of their flesh was, with nothing left out of the experience of God in Uncreated Light; they weren’t speculating or — a favorite pejorative of theirs — philosophizing. The Savior has to receive ALL His flesh from us or we cannot be saved in Him in ALL our flesh — it becomes in fact NOT our flesh but something other, and this is a problem for Chalcedonian theology, not just Christology but also soteriology (and probably other implications I can’t recall right now). Christ’s flesh descends from our first parents completely, or He does not save us completely, but only those parts of our bodies He receives from us. How did Patristics conceive of this before Leeuwanhoek(sp?)? AFAIK they simply expressed it, “He took flesh from the Virgin” — which itself may have been a revelation and a marvel / wonder / miracle for people who thought mothers contributed nothing important to their children in the womb besides a “seedbed” for a human father’s liquid “seed”!

    How do we get an “XX male” as above, without a human father or serious, in fact terminal genetic or chromosomal issues? Perhaps “spontaneous”(!) fusion of 2 of Mary’s genetically non-identical ova, not unheard of elsewhere in nature…. Or some other kind of parthenogenesis as yet undocumented empirically in humans. [Recall that fraternal twins come about when the mother releases 2 genetically different ova around the same time.] But there has never been a moment in the existence of Jesus’ humanness when He has not been God as well as human, that flesh united to the Person of the Logos as His Own human flesh, nature, existence.

    How is this different from Hindu avatars or other stories of deities in flesh? I don’t know; I can’t find that anybody else has spilled a fraction of the ink analyzing the subject that purported Christians, or others in dialogue/conflict with Christianity, have! 😉

    In any case, any possessor of human nature is human — it’s another way of saying it, with a noun instead of an adjective. “Homoousios with us as to humanness in Him,” as Chalcedon said. “A human being like us in all things but sin.” To say there’s no other human person ‘in there’ is not to say there’s no Person in there, nor that that Person isn’t human. In One Case, for most Christians who have ever taught for the churches, there Is a Person Who possesses humanness, Who as a Person “was in the beginning” and created all the rest of us, then took our nature in time without ceasing to Be Who He always was: to wit Jesus, in fact no one other than God Incarnate.

    And any possessor of Divine nature is Divine, of which there Is One in Three Hypostaseis called Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in traditional Trinitarian theology (Triadology). “Homoousios with the Father as to Divineness in Him.” Jesus isn’t half and half like some mythological figures (Hercules?), but fully each, while still one person, at the same time Divine from all Eternity, and also human from His Incarnation in space and time 2000 years ago.

    Do I dare borrow language from the Sabellians and say that the hypostasis of the Logos took the place of a separate human hypostasis in Jesus?!! How can a Divine hypostasis be also a hypostasis of humanness? That, my friends, is the mystery of the Incarnation of God, the mystery of faith. But is it SO inconceivable? He IS a human being just like you and me… and God just like the Father and the Holy Spirit… fully both natures / essences / ousiai.

    But I could be mistaken!

    Oh, about WCiv? Well, what about one of those meters where the ‘normative’ setting is straight up, but other readings can fall over to the right or the left? Put Chalcedon in the middle: Not only does it theoretically represent the teaching for the overwhelming majority of Christians — rightly or wrongly — but it’s usually represented as comparatively “in the middle” of the other two conceptually — even an outright compromise, rightly or wrongly — with “Monophysites” laying greater emphasis on His divineness, “Nestorians” on His humanness. Then mention how Mono’s were worried Chalcedon was too close to Nesto’s, and vice-versa. (Tho today many of the M’s and N’s leaders wanna claim Chalcedon or the Chalcedonian tradition has always agreed with them… and some are even talking — cautiously — with each other…) “A droplet of humanness in an endless ocean of divineness” is a phrase used in regard to the M’s position, tho I don’t recall if by them or by others. At the other end it wasn’t exactly parallel, since it was feared that the others’ interp. of the N’s meant that ‘the human Christ’ wasn’t ‘the divine Christ,’ so therefore couldn’t save, and was little better than an OT prophet, i.e., not God but merely ‘filled by God.’ ‘Not human enuf’… ‘not divine enuf’… just right… The Three Bears?!?!?! Obvz I’m out of ideas if I ever had any lol !

    Good luck!

    • Leanne

      With all due respect, this statement – “In any case, any possessor of human nature is human — it’s another way of saying it, with a noun instead of an adjective.” is nonsensical. A human being is fundamentally a complete human being – with no fundamental parts, e.g. the actual human person, missing. Something fundamentally human was missing from Jesus according to the hypostatic union/anhypostasis model (as is the case for all personal incarnational models). Thus, you do not have a man – but an impersonal human nature actuated by a divine being. This simply is not a man and does not remotely correspond to scripture which clearly, repeatedly and formally describes and necessitates that Jesus is a man (see the above list).

      If we were to use the logic of your statement – that anything that possessed a human nature is human – we could thus stick the person of a turtle in a human nature and call the result “a human”. Don’t like the result? No, neither do I. That is a person of a turtle with a human nature and guess how that entity will function – yeah, sure – like a turtle.

      Slice it and dice it however you will, Chalcedon, vaticanism, the hypostatic union and, thus, trinitarian theology are massive failures if we use the current NT corpus as our data source.

    • There is a very simple trick to understanding this – it has to do with understanding a basic concept in the traditional philosophy – that is, the separation of an entity into a distinct nature from a distinct person. Granted, scripture never speaks of such a separation nor is this ever seen in nature. Thus, I would never even consider this as a useful tool to apprehend anything much less God or Jesus and, likewise, in every other realm no one else would considers making such a separation.. The reality is that this separation of an entity/being into a person + nature is completely man made and easily understandable despite its absurdity.

      Now that you understand that concept – the trinity model is easy to understand – there are three persons and one nature. This is acheived by divorcing person from nature. Similarly in Jesus, according to the traditional model – there are two natures – BUT only one person – the divine person. There is, in fact, NO human person in the hypostatic union or in trinitarian christology. If anyone tells you otherwise, they simply do not understand this basic model. And that is what anhypostasis is simply saying – “without a person” – meaning Jesus has a non-functional human nature – and no human person. The human nature is actuated by a divine person. Therefore you do not have a man you have a god-man. However, in scripture – Jesus is not called the “god-man”, He is repeatedly, clearly and formally described as “a man”. I am good with sticking with scripture.


      Greg Logan

  9. The Chalcedonian analogy can work but the cummunicatio idiomatum would mean the water and oil at a molecular level would unite while still holding their respective properties or in other words while not fully uniting. But as we know they separate in this illustration. Still overall good analogies.

    I personally want to pursue the idea that John’s prologue says “the Word became flesh” rather than “the flesh became the Word.” Does this mean a denial of the logos asarkos is incorrect?

    • Good analogies…??? With no “person-ness” – the fundamental of a human – and, I suppose of a divinity….

      They are not analogies at all but sort of simply children’s chemistry experiments.

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