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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 ; 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 opía, as Hær. 74, 4, where he says “ three hypostatic of the same hypostasis ;” vide also“ in hypostasis of perfection,” Hær. 74, 12, Ancor. 7 et alibi) ; and Cyril of Jerusalem of the “uniform hypostasis” of God, Catech. 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 aútò tò öv," 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. i. 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 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 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 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 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.