St. Emperor Justinian (+565): Dialogue with Paul of Nisibis


St. Emperor Justinian (+565):

Translated by Dr. Jeffrey Macdonald, 1998.

Extract of the Discussion which the Emperor Justinian had with Paul the Bishop of Nisibis, who was a Nestorian.

Cæsar: Do you confess with us that God the Word, who has the same nature as the Father, is incarnate and has become man from the womb of the Virgin Mary and that He has taken a body which has the same nature as us and has made himself an indivisible unity [1], and that there is not another man, who would exist in a separate hypostasis, or be known apart from Himself, do you confess [this] or not? [2]

Nestorian: We confess, as we have taken from the Prophets and the Apostles, that the one who has taken the form and likeness of God has taken the form of a servant from the womb of the Virgin and is conjoined in an indivisible unity.

Orthodox: Thus I say, this is His own body, as for each of us there is a proper body.

Nestorian: Then Christ is not a particular man in His human nature, but is only God, because He does not subsist as a complete and hypostatic man in a natural unity. [3]

Orthodox: Christ is perfect man in His human nature, as He is truly also perfect God because He is one hypostasis which possesses two perfections. [4] But if there are two hypostases as you suppose, and not one, He is not able to be called one so as to possess two complete things, but each hypostasis being complete in itself, there would be no intermediary to unite the completed things. For that which is completed in two hypostases is a nature, but if in two natures then it is a hypostasis. [5]

Nestorian: Christ subsists in His Divine nature. Do you call it a perfect subsistence or something else?

Orthodox: Christ subsists in His Divine nature, and in it He is perfect God as is the Father and the Holy Spirit, existing forever in one Divine nature.

Nestorian: Since Christ also subsists in His human nature, do you call Him a perfect man, yes or no?

Orthodox: We say that the human nature subsists in the hypostasis of the Word of God, since it is not seen and known properly in its own particular hypostasis, but it possesses existence in the hypostasis of the Word. [6]

Nestorian: If Christ possesses subsistence in His Divine nature, and subsistence in His human nature, then a subsistence plus a subsistence makes two subsistences. Therefore Christ has two hypostases and two natures. [7]

Orthodox: Christ does not have two hypostases as He has two natures, because His humanity is not numbered and counted with Him as having its own particular hypostasis, in that it is truly His own and not that of another man. Christ Himself holds in His hypostasis the two existent natures of His divinity and His humanity. There are not two subsistences which are themselves counted of themselves, as if there were here understood two hypostases. But we know one hypostasis of God the Word, which contains in itself the two existent natures of His Divinity and His humanity. However, by no means does each existence express a hypostasis. [8] For the natural property only expresses the nature, and this property is seen in every hypostasis equally. There is not one of the hypostases, from those which show the same species, which does not have this property or essence in it; nor do some have it more and some have it less, but it is in each of them equally as we have said. But the property which makes known the hypostasis is distinguished by singleness and peculiarity which is from it and to it. This property is not seen in all the hypostases equally, but only in one of the hypostases which are in a nature. [9]

Nestorian: If Christ is not two hypostases as He is two natures, then one of His natures does not subsist and does not have a hypostasis. If there is a nature which does not have a hypostasis, let your wisdom show it. [10]

Orthodox: Among simple and individual natures it is not said that there is a nature without a hypostasis, but there is among composites, and from the different natures from which it is composed its wholeness is seen to be constituted as one hypostasis. [11] Thus we say also concerning the mystery of the economy of the unity of Christ, that He is one perfect and complete hypostasis which unites the two natures, and is seen and known in both of them, so that there would not be made an increase in the number of the hypostases of the Holy Trinity. [12] Or, if there is not able to be a nature without a hypostasis as we say, it is even more impossible to show a hypostasis without a person as you say. Therefore to where do you escape from teaching two persons? [13]

Nestorian: First, confirm our word by examination; if Christ is a subsistance in the nature of His Divinity and at the same time a subsistence in the nature of His humanity. When we establish this there follows as a conclusion from [the subsistence of] each that either there is a quaternity, because of counting the human hypostasis, or a Trinity remains according to the word of our faith.

Orthodox: We confess that the nature of the divinity of Christ has subsistence, and that the Lord’s own hypostasis is counted as is the Father’s. We do not deny the existence of the human nature, although we know that it subsists in the divine hypostasis and that this hypostasis is counted as an indivisible unity. For this reason [the humanity] is not counted in a separate and individual hypostasis apart from the hypostasis of the Word. We say there is nothing lacking that would be a loss from the completeness of a human hypostasis, but that [the humanity] was never in its own separateness from the [hypostasis of the Word] and [then] united to it. Rather, the [humanity] was known from the womb in the unity of God the Word. [14] Also [the humanity] is not seen or known as properly having its own hypostatic activity and operation. For the Only Begotten Son took it and willed that by it He become man, of His own strength, will, activity, and ruling of every hypostatic operation which in the economy is perfected. [15] Also the constitution of a human body in the womb of the virgin was not for a human hypostasis of a certain man, but in order that by it the economy and revelation of God the Word would be accomplished for us, and that there would be a restoration and redemption of the race in it. On account of this His body is named completely His, because it is of His hypostasis by union, and there is not another man who is known separately in His own hypostasis.

Nestorian: Therefore the hypostasis which is uncreated and eternal is that of the human nature of Christ. But no one is able to hear and believe that the human nature of a man is created and his hypostasis is uncreated. For then the hypostasis would be alien to the nature, and not in it; and also the nature would be alien to the hypostasis by its not being known and seen in it. For the nature of Paul is not in the hypostasis of angels since his nature is in humanity. Also the hypostases of Gabriel and Michael are not seen and known in the human nature, but every hypostasis is known according to its nature. And every nature which exists is known and seen by sensation, perception, and the contemplation of the mind in its own hypostasis.

Orthodox: There are hypostases which exist naturally in their own natures and we also know that they subsist from them, and they are not able to separate and be different from their natures. But we say that the body of God the Word does not possess the hypostasis of the Word naturally, but by an inseparable unity, and is seen and known in it in a united way. Therefore there is not established or reckoned another hypostasis apart from it. On account of this, the natural hypostasis of the Word is reckoned and counted as a unity, we believe that its body exists and is rightly counted in it, although it is preserved in its nature unchanged. For this reason we are not compelled by the difference of the natures to say that there are two hypostases in the unity of Christ. For if you are compelled to confess two natures and two hypostases in Christ, you are then from necessity condemned to confess four hypostases, and you introduce a quaternity in place of the Trinity in the teaching of the holy Church.

It is debated whether the Trinity becomes a Quaternity when it is said that Christ is two hypostases.

The Orthodox says: We wish that you would show us clearly that the Trinity does not become a quaternity when you preach that Christ is in two hypostases.

Nestorian: Do you not yourselves confess that Christ is the Son of God, that He has two natures and that He is one of the Trinity?
Orthodox: Truly we confess that there is in Christ [two natures] and that He is one of the hypostases of the Trinity.

Nestorian: Is Christ one of the Holy Trinity in two natures, or not? And if He is one of the Holy Trinity in two natures, then is the one nature of the Trinity by necessity doubled by providence into two natures because Christ is two natures and one of the Holy Trinity?

Orthodox: May we never say or think concerning the eternal nature of the Trinity, equal in essence, that, because the economy was completed, it receives a doubled number becoming two natures. But the nature of the Trinity remains as it is in its unity, not receiving the doubled number of another nature.

Nestorian: Just as the nature of the Trinity, equal in essence, is not doubled in our mind and understanding when it received the additional number of two natures on account of the mystery of the dispensation of Christ, who is perfect God and perfect man at the same time, not the same [in nature] although one [in person]. In the same way, let us hold to this understanding and be confirmed by it that the Trinity is not made four, and does not receive the addition of number of another hypostasis by the economy of the person of Christ, who is two natures and two hypostases. But the Trinity subsists in the equality of its essence, and it is eternal and everlasting. Also the mystery of the economy remains and exists as [Christ] does. Two natures and two hypostases are united inseparably, continuously, and forever in the unity of person in the womb of the Virgin from the beginning of the formation of the body by the anointing and strength of the Holy Spirit.

Orthodox: Where therefore do you believe remains and is the other hypostasis of Christ? Is it apart from the Trinity or is it among the hypostases of the Trinity?

Nestorian: Everywhere that you think that there is the human nature of Christ, there is the human hypostasis. We believe that Christ in His human nature is in heaven, as was announced to us and we learned from the holy angels by the blessed Apostles, “This Jesus who is ascended from you to heaven, thus shall He come as you saw Him go up to heaven.” [Acts 1:11] Thus we say concerning the form in which Christ is now on account of His corporeality. But concerning the other thing which you asked, whether Christ is outside of the Trinity or within the Trinity, thus we believe that there is no place outside of the Trinity, so that one could say that the nature and hypostasis of the humanity of Christ is there. Also, it is not within the Trinity as in a place, but it is not in the Trinity as a hypostasis is in a nature. For the flesh of Christ is not of the same nature as the Father and the Holy Spirit, but it is believed that it is with the Word of God only by conjunction in an inseparable unity.

Orthodox: We did not only ask where is the place that you say the human nature is, but also if it is counted and is in the Trinity and with the Trinity or not. For you said that [the humanity] is not believed to exist in the Trinity as a hypostasis is in a nature because the humanity is not as one of the hypostases which are in the nature of the Trinity, which are of the same nature. For what is not reckoned as a [hypostasis] by number and by convention (although it is not of the same nature) has no existence, even if it is numbered along side of one of the [hypostases]. But if [the humanity] is numbered along side all of them, as it is numbered along side of one, [then] it is established clearly that you confess a quaternity.

Nestorian: Let no one slanderously ascribe a quaternity to us, because it is foreign in word and thought to our doctrine. For how is [your accusation that we teach a quaternity] confirmed concerning us, when we confess three hypostases established and existing in one Divine nature? And the [human] hypostasis, which we say is other than the [three] and their nature, we do not place in [their] number. For the human hypostasis is known and counted in the place where it exists. But this is in one of the Trinity, and not in the whole of the Trinity, or along with it. But if not, then also the human nature, which is acknowledged by you, is established in the whole of the Trinity, and it is numbered with the general nature of Divinity.

Orthodox: You run and flee to this human nature which we affirm, without explaining a reason for accepting your [doctrine of a human hypostasis] which you care for. For the fact that [not numbering the human nature in one of the Trinity] would [lead to] the whole Trinity generally possessing the human nature, does not need to be proven by either our arguments or yours. But this last thing which you say, that the [human nature] is not numbered with the Divine nature, this is well known, because [the human nature] receives the number of its natural knowability from its belonging to the hypostasis of the Son. Thus, whether it is reckoned along side of the hypostases of the Father and the Spirit or along side the common nature of the Trinity, it receives the number of its knowability [from the Son]. But if there is also a [human] hypostasis as you affirm, then in the same way that its nature is [united] with the nature of Divinity [in Christ], so its hypostasis [would] also be counted with the three hypostases which are in [the Trinity].

[ On whether Christ becomes two Sons when it is said that Christ has two hypostases.]

Nestorian: Is the God Word born from the Virgin naturally or by grace?

Orthodox: Naturally when as a man, but by grace and by the economy of union as God. But tell me yourself whether a hypostasis is born which is not confessed to be the Son?

Nestorian: It is known that every hypostasis which is born is confessed to be the son of that from which it is born.

Orthodox: Therefore when you confess two hypostases, and it is clear that you say that there are [separate] births for them, one from the Father and another from Mary, you are confessing two sons.

Nestorian: We confess and are zealous for one sonship and person in these two hypostases.

Orthodox: Then tell me do you say that this one sonship which you confess is natural to both hypostases or to one alone? If it is the former, behold two sons and two Christs equal in nature. But if it is the second, there remains one of the hypostases which is not called son or begotten.

And again it is asked: Is a hypostasis born without sonship? and if there is sonship to every hypostasis. Clearly because of this there are two sons.

* * *

The St. Pachomius Orthodox Library, Commemoration of the First Ecumenical Council 1998.

Have mercy, O Lord, upon Thy servant the translator Jeffrey, and on Caryn, Alexander, and Anna.

* * *





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s