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HYPOSTASIS is a Greek noun that became an important term in philosophical and theological speculation. The use of the term in Greek philosophy, especially in Platonism, contributed directly to its use as a technical term in Christian theology and in Gnosticism. The term is also used in modern scholarship in the history of religions. This article will stress the use of the term hypostasis in early Christianity and Gnosticism.

General Usage

As a verbal substantive the Greek word hupostasis depends for its meaning on the verb huphistēmi (lit., "stand under"); it can mean the act of "standing under" or the result of that action. A wide range of meanings flow from these possibilities, including such abstract meanings as "origin," "substance," "real nature," and so on.

Greek Philosophy

The fifth-century Christian historian Socrates, in the context of his discussion of the Synod of Alexandria (362), relates that the founders of Greek philosophy never used the term hupostasis, though they often used another term, ousia ("being," "substance," etc.). While the ancient philosophers ignored the term hupostasis, the more recent ones (in Socrates' terms) have used the term as an equivalent of ousia. This statement and its context imply (correctly) that the use of the term hypostasis in Christian theology is largely dependent upon its usage by the Greek philosophers.


It is among the Stoics that hupostasis was first used as a philosophical (ontological) term. In Stoicism hupostasis comes to be used to refer to being that has "attained reality," that is, objective or concrete reality. It is Posidonius (first century bce) who gives the noun hypostasis this particular sense. Posidonius also uses the term in an antithesis: Objects in nature such as rain and hail "have hypostasis " (i.e., reality), in contrast to the rainbow, which exists "according to semblance" (katʾ emphasin ). Another Stoic, Cornutus (first century ce) applies the term to theology: Zeus is "father of gods and men" in that he is the cause of their hypostasis, that is, their objective reality. The Roman Stoic Seneca (first century ce) uses the Latin term substantia in an analogous sense, referring to centaurs, giants, and so on, which are fanciful beings not having substantia ("reality").


Plato did not use the term hupostasis. Later Platonists adopted the term from the Stoics, probably by way of Posidonius. Middle Platonists of the second century deny that sense-perceptible objects have their own hypostasis. That is, the term hupostasis cannot be used to refer to matter, for the truly real is immaterial. In the Platonic context one can regard hupostasis ("reality") as virtually identical with ousia ("being, substance"). When they are distinguished in Neoplatonic usage, hupostasis has the sense of a more particular reality that has been brought into actuality by a higher cause.

Plotinus (third century) is the originator of the Neoplatonic doctrine of the hypostases, or "first principles," though in fact his use of the term hupostasis is still rather fluid. He developed the doctrine of three "first principles" (archai ): the One (to hen ), Intellect or Mind (nous ), and Soul (psuchē ). The locus classicus of this doctrine is Enneads 5.1, to which Porphyry gave the title Concerning the Three Primal Hypostases.

Plotinus's hierarchy of being, involving the doctrine of the hypostases, can be summarized as follows. (1) Being flows from being. (2) The realization of the lower hypostasis occurs as a result of the next higher one's "activity" (energeia). (3) Yet the higher level is not thereby diminished. (4) Each perfect hypostasis is dependent upon the preceding one, as multiplicity is to unity. (5) The One is ground of all being. (See Dörrie, 1955, p. 72.) Plotinus also says of the "first hypostasis," that is, the One, that it is "prior to hupostasis " and "beyond being." (See Witt, 1933, pp. 337342.) That the One transcends hypostasis is the standard view of the later Neoplatonists. The usage of Proclus (fifth century), for example, involves the tendency, generally observable in Neoplatonism from Iamblichus (fourth century) on, to multiply hypostases and levels within them. Proclus sees in each hypostasis a triadic movement of remaining, procession, and reversion. One can then define the term hypostasis as distinct from two other important ontological terms, huparxis ("existence") and ousia ("being"). While ousia is sometimes used as a synonym of hupostasis and sometimes as a synonym of huparxis, the latter connotes unity, whereas hupostasis connotes triplicity. Ousia is thus a more flexible term in Neoplatonism. (See Gersh, 1973, pp. 3137.)

The Septuagint and Philo

Christian usage of the term hupostasis presupposes not only some of the philosophical background already discussed but also the use of the term in the Greek Bible (the Septuagint) and in Hellenistic (Greek-speaking) Judaism, such as is represented by Philo of Alexandria.

The Septuagint

Hupostasis occurs in the Septuagint some twenty times, corresponding to twelve different words in the Hebrew scriptures (in some cases hupostasis is hardly a correct translation). The meaning of the word in the Septuagint is very fluid, corresponding to general usage, though the notion of "reality" is present in a number of cases. For example, Ruth 1:12, where hupostasis means "reality" as a guarantee, renders the Hebrew word for "hope." The most important meaning of the word in the Septuagint is "underlying reality behind something" (Koester, 1972, pp. 581582).


Philo's use of hupostasis reflects both Stoic and Middle Platonic influences. Philo says, for example, that a ray of light "does not have its own hupostasis," that is, it does not have its own "substantial existence" (On the Eternity of the World 88), reflecting a Stoic use of hupostasis. The Middle Platonic example is found in a passage where Philo refers to the immaterial "intelligible world" (kosmos noētēs ) as "the world of intelligible hupostasis," that is, of reality, to which is contrasted the material world of sense perception (On Dreams 1.188). But Philo would finally attribute ultimate reality only to God, the ground of all being. Using a form of the verb huphistēmi, Philo says, "God alone subsists in being," basing his statement on Exodus 3:14 (The Worse Attacks the Better 160).

Early Christianity

A wide variety of meanings of the word hypostasis can be found in early Christian literature, but from the fourth century on the term comes to be used in special senses in dogmatic formulations on the Trinity and the doctrine of Christ (Christology). Greek philosophical influence becomes more and more evident in these contexts.

The New Testament and early patristic literature

Hupostasis occurs five times in the New Testament, twice in Paul and thrice in Hebrews. The two Pauline instances are 2 Corinthians 9:4 and 11:17, where in both verses the term means something like "situation" (not "confidence"). In Hebrews 1:3 Christ, as Son of God, is called the "reflection of [God's] glory and the stamp [charaktēr ] of his hupostasis," that is, of God's transcendent reality. Hebrews 11:1 contains a famous definition of faith (pistis ) as "the hupostasis of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," wherein the word hupostasis means "realization" (rather than "assurance," as in the usual psychologizing interpretation; see Mathis, 1922, p. 87). Hebrews 3:14 should be interpreted accordingly: In this verse hupostasis refers to the "realization" (by faith) of Christ, already commenced in the life of the Christian community. (See Koester, 1972, p. 587.)

Beginning with Tatian in the second century, the term hupostasis comes to be used more often and takes on a distinct philosophical and theological cast. Tatian refers to God as the hupostasis, or "absolute reality," of the universe, inasmuch as he has brought all things into being. Tatian can also refer to the hypostasis, or "real nature," of the demons as "reflections of evil." The author of the Epistle to Diognetus (2.1) challenges the heathen to reflect on what sort of hupostasis ("real nature") or form their so-called gods have. In one of the recently discovered Coptic texts from Nag Hammadi, The Teachings of Silvanus, a Christian document whose Greek original probably dates from the second century, it is said that "Christ has a single hupostasis " (99.13) and that he is "incomprehensible with respect to his hupostasis " (102.3). Here the term means "real nature." This text represents a transitional stage in the development of a trinitarian and Christological use of the term hupostasis.

Trinitarian theology

The main issue confronting early Christian theologians was how to reconcile a belief in the deity of Christ (and the Holy Spirit) with the belief in only one God, a fundamental inheritance from Judaism. In the development of Christian trinitarian dogma such basic philosophical terms as ousia and hupostasis come to play a decisive role. But it was not immediately evident how these terms should be defined in relation to each other. The same fluidity of usage can be seen among Christian theologians as has already been observed in the discussion of Greek philosophy.

Socrates stated that the terms hupostasis and ousia were being used as equivalents by Greek philosophers. It has been seen, however, that the terms come to achieve greater specificity in later Neoplatonism. The same thing happens in Christian theology. Origen (third century), while sometimes using the terms as virtual equivalents, does speak of the one God as monad, but also as a trias ("trinity") containing three hupostaseis, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Origen is also probably the first to speak of Christ as homoousios ("of the same substance") with the Father. (The Gnostics had already used this word, but in another context; see Stead, 1977, pp. 190202.) Thus Origen posits for the Deity a unity of ousia, or "substance," as genus, but a triad of hupostaseis, in the sense of three distinct species (Wolfson, 1970, p. 322). It is this language that becomes standard in Greek trinitarian theology.

It is possible that the second-century Gnostic Valentinus "was the first to think of three hypostaseis and three persons [prōsopa; lit., "faces"], Father, Son and Holy Spirit" (fragment 9), but this statement may reflect a later terminology. (The fragment is found in Pseudo-Anthimus, who is perhaps identifiable as Marcellus of Ancyra, of the fourth century.)

Tertullian (second to third century) used the Latin term substantia as equivalent to the Greek ousia (though its exact Greek etymological counterpart is hupostasis ), and expressed the unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as una substantia. He used the term persona (probably derived from juridical language) to refer to each of the three members of the Trinity. This is the language that became standard in Latin trinitarian theology.

It was not until the fifth century that orthodox trinitarian terminology became standardized. The Council of Nicaea (325), in rejecting the Arian heresy and adopting the homoousios formula to express the relationship between Father and Son, nevertheless used the words ousia and hupostasis as synonyms. At the Synod of Alexandria in 362, under the influence of Athanasius, the designation treis hupostaseis ("three hypostases") was officially adopted, though even there mia hypostasis was conceded to express the unity of the divine being as well as mia ousia. The Cappadocian Fathers of the fourth century, especially Basil of Caesarea, were influential in the eventual differentiation of ousia, as the more common term, from hupostasis, the more particular. Hence the Council of Chalcedon (451) could define the unity of God as a unity of ousia and characterize the individual members of the Trinity as three perfect hupostaseis or three perfect prosōpa (Lat., personae ).

It should be noted that Christian theological development of the term hypostasis runs parallel to that of the Neoplatonist philosophers. But, in the final analysis, in orthodox Christian trinitarian language the three hypostases are coordinated, whereas in Neoplatonism lower hypostases are subordinated to the higher in a chain of being, and all hypostases are ultimately subordinated to the One.


As the distinction between hupostasis and ousia was gradually being defined a new problem was arising: the relation between hupostasis and phusis ("nature") in the context of Christology, that is, in descriptions of Christ as both God and humankind. Apollinarius of Laodicea (fourth century) virtually equated the two terms, maintaining that Christ, even after the incarnation, is "one nature, one hupostasis." Apollinarius was widely denounced as a heretic. In the early fifth century a very different Christology was propounded by Nestorius: Christ has two natures (phuseis ), divinity and humanity, and each phusis has its own hupostasis ("substantial reality"). Cyril of Alexandria, the archenemy of Nestorius, developed the notion of a "hypostatic union": Christ has two natures, but they are united kathʾ hupostasin (lit.,"according to hypostasis," i.e., in reality). Pope Leo I, in his famous Tome, defined the relationship between Christ's divinity and humanity as a duality in nature but a unity in person or hupostasis, and it is this formula that became standardized at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 ("two natures one prosōpon and one hupostasis "). However, the distinction between hupostasis and phusis thus achieved was never accepted by the so-called monophysite churches, which continue to reject the Chalcedonian formulation.


The word hupostasis was used by certain second-century Gnostics, as attested both in Greek patristic testimonies and in the recently available Coptic texts from Nag Hammadi.

Greek testimonies

It has already been noted that Valentinus may have been the first to think of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three hupostaseis. Other Valentinian Gnostic uses of the term are more reliably attested. In the system of Ptolemy, as reported by Irenaeus, a primal divine Ogdoad is posited as the "root and hupostasis of all things" (Against Heresies 1.1.1). Here the term has the connotation of "origin" as well as "underlying reality." Later in the same system three "underlying" (hupokeimenoi ) entities are posited: "matter" (hulē ), "the psychic" (to psuchikon ), and "the spiritual" (to pneumatikon ). These entities are subsequently referred to with the terms ousia and hupostasis, used interchangeably. These entities exist also in humans, and the pneumatike hupostasis is the "spiritual reality" of the Gnostic, incapable of being sullied by anything in the world (1.6.2.). The Valentinians can even refer to the "spiritual hypostasis " of evil, quoting Ephesians 6:12 in this connection (1.5.4). Here the term means "reality" or "real nature," as in other second-century Christian literature (e.g., Tatian).

Marcus, a Valentinian Gnostic teacher, developed a speculative system based on the letters of the alphabet. Irenaeus, in describing this system, says that Marcus constructs the ousia and hupostasis (i.e., "real nature") of the incorporeal and insubstantial Father out of many letters of the alphabet, but the technical terminology here may be that of Irenaeus himself. Monoemus the Arab, a Gnostic known to us only from the testimony of Hippolytus, applied numerology in his interpretation of the Bible. The composition of numbers as "corporeal hupostaseis " (i.e., "realities") out of the primal monad is for him an analogy to the generation of the Son of man from the unknown Perfect Man (Refutation of All Heresies 8.13).

Plotinus accuses the Gnostics known to him of introducing "other hupostaseis," such as "exiles" (paroikēseis ), "impressions" (antitupoi ) and "repentances" (metanoiai ) (Enneads 2.9.6), referring doubtless to a Gnostic mythological-metaphysical system in which those entities occur, presumably as "levels of reality." (These terms actually occur in some of the Coptic texts known to usZostrianos, for examplethough the term hupostasis is not found in that connection.)

Coptic texts

The fourth tractate in Nag Hammadi Codex II is given the title The Hypostasis of the Archons and has as its main subject matter the "reality" of the cosmic "rulers." The meaning of the term in that text, which opens with a quotation from Ephesians 6:12, is akin to that of the Valentinian usage noted above ("hupostasis of evil"), but it also bears the connotation of "origin," as the content of the text attests (hupostasis is so used at 93.35).

In the Apocryphon of John, the term hupostasis is used of the "being" created by the Demiurge according to the image of God (15.9); of the seven psychic "substances" out of which Adam's psychic body is created (15.25); and of the "reality" of the flesh borne by the Gnostic before his final redemption (25.34).

In the Gospel of the Egyptians, it is said that the Demiurge "trusted in his hupostasis," that is, his "nature" (59.1). In the Sophia of Jesus Christ, the term hupostasis is used twice of the "real nature" of the universe (91.3, 92.4).

In A Valentinian Exposition, the Son is said to be the "hupostasis of the Father," that is, the Father's "real nature" (24.23). Later he is called "the hupostasis of the All" (25.33), that is, the "underlying reality," or perhaps "origin," of the All.

The term hupostasis is also used in two non-Christian gnostic texts of the late second or early third century, both of them heavily influenced by Platonic philosophy: Allogenes, a text known to Plotinus and his school, and Marsanes. In Allogenes a divine being called the Triple Power or Autogenes is said to be a "hupostasis of the primacy of the One who truly exists." Here the term means "real nature" but also has the connotation of "first principle" or "hypostasis" in the Neoplatonist sense. In Marsanes the term also means "real nature": of the Three-Powered One (9.17); of the Dyad (32.18); and of the redeemed Gnostic (40.1).

In Gnosticism the term hupostasis was used in a variety of ways under the influence of popular (mainly Platonist) philosophy, but it never achieved a consistent philosophical or theological definition, even if Gnostic usage contributed, positively or negatively, to the formulations of Neoplatonist philosophy and Christian theology.

History of Religions Scholarship

The English term hypostasis is used in modern scholarship in the study of religion to refer to various "hypostatizations" (or "hypostasizations"), that is, mythic objectifications or personifications of divine qualities, gifts, or attributes or of abstract concepts or aspects of human existence, whereby such entities assume an identity of their own. Such "hypostases" are very widespread in ancient religions. Examples are Dike ("justice") in ancient Greece, Maat ("truth") in ancient Egypt, and Hokhmah ("wisdom") in ancient Israel. Such hypostases proliferate in the religious syncretism of the Greco-Roman world, and some of them (e.g., Tyche, "fortune") even acquire their own cultus. Wisdom is an especially important hypostasis in biblical religion (Prov. 8:2231; Ben Sira 24:122), and her manifestation as Sophia in Greek-speaking Judaism (Wisdom of Solomon; the works of Philo Judaeus) is of great importance for the development of early Christian Christology as well as early Gnostic mythology.

It should be stressed that the use of the term hypostasis for such entities is a modern development of the Greek term, though ultimately derived from the ancient philosophical usage. (See Ringgren, 1947, 1959.) An ancient intimation of such usage can be found in Plotinus (Enneads 3.5.2): The heavenly Aphrodite, as child of Kronos ("mind") is "the most divine kind of Soul" and "a separate hupostasis." (See Koester, 1972, p. 577.)

See Also



The standard lexicon articles on the Greek word hupostasis are in Henry G. Liddell, Robert Scott, and Henry S. Jones's A Greek-English Lexicon, 9th ed. (Oxford, 1940), p. 1895, and G. W. H. Lampe's A Patristic Greek Lexicon (Oxford, 1961), pp. 14541461. The standard systematic articles on the term, with full documentation, are R. E. Witt's "Hypostasis," in Amicitiae Corolla: A Volume of Essays Presented to James Rendel Harris, edited by H. G. Wood (London, 1933), pp. 319343; Heinrich Dörrie's "Hupostasis : Wortund Bedeutungsgeschichte," Nachrichten der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Göttingen 1 (1955): 3592, reprinted in his Platonica Minora (Munich, 1976); and Helmut Koester's "Hypostasis," in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1972). Witt and Dörrie stress the philosophical usage, and Koester the biblical.

An extensive article devoted to Christian theological usage is Adolphe Michel's "Hypostase," in Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, vol. 7 (Paris, 1922). An important monograph on the term, with special reference to Hebrews 11:1, is that of M. A. Mathis, The Pauline Pistis-Hypostasis according to Hb 11:1 (Washington, D.C., 1920), summarized in an article, "Does 'Substantia' Mean 'Realization' or 'Foundation' in Hebr. 11,1?," Biblica 3 (1922): 7989, wherein he also responds to criticisms of his book. Important discussions of the philosophical usage are found in G. C. Stead's Divine Substance (Oxford, 1977) and S. E. Gersh's Kinésis akinétos: A Study of Spiritual Motion in the Philosophy of Proclus (Leiden, 1973). Very useful discussions of the early Christian theological usage are found in G. L. Prestige's God in Patristic Thought (1936; London, 1952), J. N. D. Kelly's Early Christian Doctrines, 5th ed. (London, 1977), and Harry A. Wolfson's The Philosophy of the Church Fathers, vol. 1, 3d ed. (Cambridge, Mass., 1970). Rather little has been done with the gnostic material, much of which is new. The most important work on hypostases in the history of religions is that of Helmer Ringgren, Word and Wisdom: Studies in the Hypostatization of Divine Qualities and Functions in the Ancient Near East (Lund, 1947). Also important is his article "Hypostasen," in Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 3d ed., vol. 3 (Tübingen, 1959).

New Sources

Hammerstaedt, Jürgen. "Hypostasis." In Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum, vol. 16. Stuttgart, 1994, pp. 9861035. A fundamental synthesis, including an extensive bibliography.

Meyer-Schwelling, Stefan. "Hypostase." In Der Neue Pauly. Enzyklopädie der Antike. Stuttgart and Weimar, Germany, 1998.

Pérez Paoli, Ubaldo Ramón. Der platonische Begriff der Hypostasis und die augustinische Bestimmung Gottes als Subiectum. Würzburg, Germany, 1990.

Romano, Francesco, and Daniela Patrizia Taormina, eds. Hyparxis e Hypostasis nel neoplatonismo. Florence, 1994.

Stead, G. Ch. Substance and Illusion in the Christian Fathers. London, 1985.

Birger A. Pearson (1987)

Revised Bibliography


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The theological equivalence of hypostasis with person is the result of a long development. The original meaning of the Greek word was substructure, support. Then it came to mean something real and objective as opposed to a mere appearance or abstraction. In Scripture it usually means moral support, assurance, conviction, e.g., in Heb 11.1: "Now faith is the substance [πόστασις; Vulgate: substantia ] of things to be hoped for " (cf. Heb 3.14; 2 Cor 9.4).

In patristic writings it was first used about the Trinity. Origen speaks of three hypostases in Godthe Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Dionysius of Alexandria, writing against Arius and Sabellius, says that there are three hypostases in the unity of the divine monarchy. Gradually hypostasis came to be distinguished from οσία (ousia; being, reality), which was reserved for what was common to the three Persons, the divine nature. In the Council of Nicaea I, nevertheless, ousia and hypostasis are still roughly equivalent: "If anyone says that the Son of God is from a different hypostasis, or ousia [than the Father], him the Catholic Church anathematizes" (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum [Freiburg 1963] 126).

The translation of hypostasis into Latin by its literal equivalent, substantia, aroused in the West the suspicion that the Greeks were Arians or tritheists, while the translation of the Latin persona into the Greek πρόσωπον made the West sound Sabellian to the East. The good sense of men like Gregory of Nazianzus brought East and West to see that they held the same faith despite the different connotations of the terms in Greek and in Latin. The acceptance of the term "person" as orthodox in the East can be seen in a synodal letter of Eastern bishops to Pope Damasus in 382: "in three perfect hypostases, or three perfect Persons [πρόσωπα]."

Hypostasis played an important part in the Christological controversies of the 5th century. apollinaris of laodicea held that the human nature of Christ does not include a human soul. One of his arguments was that this would make Him two hypostases and therefore not really a unity. cyril of alexandria expressed the union of the human and the divine in Christ as a union in hypostasis (νωσις καθ [symbol omitted]ποστασιν), a phrase that meant for him, as Galtier has shown, merely that the union is one in reality, not in mere appearance. Cyril did not distinguish between physis (φύσις) and hypostasis, and his terminology laid him open to the charge of monophysit ism. The distinction between the two terms was formulated by Pope leo i as a unity in Person, or hypostasis, and a duality in nature, or physis. Chalcedon canonized the distinction as well as the equivalence of the respective Greek and Latin terms: "[T]he particular natures unite in the one person and one hypostasis" (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum [Freiburg 1963] 302).

After Chalcedon the theologians' task was to convince the Monophysites that the decrees of Ephesus had not been abandoned and to explain the difference between person and nature. Boethius made clear that only a rational being could be a hypostasis: "We have found the definition of person, 'the individual substance of a rational nature.' Now by this definition we Latins have described what the Greeks call hypostasis" (Tract. theol. quintus 1.4). Leontius of Byzantium answered the Monophysite objection that nature without hypostasis is nothing, and hence one hypostasis in Christ means one nature, by saying that the human nature of Christ is "neither uncentered [anhypostatos ] nor self-centered, but 'encentered' [enhypostatos ] in God" (Hardy and Richardson, 375376). Finally, John Damascene summed up the tradition of the earlier Fathers and further emphasized that hypostasis implies incommunicability (De fide orthodoxa 1.8; Patrologia Graeca [Paris 185766] 95:828) and that it signifies not what, but who.

Modern theological speculation on the hypostatic union has centered on the question of what the formal constituent of personality is and, more recently, on the relation between the human consciousness of Christ and the hypostasis of the Word.

See Also: jesus christ; trinity, holy; incarnation; incommunicability; person (in philosophy); person (in theology); subsistence; subsistence (in christology).

Bibliography: a. michel, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al. (Paris 190350) 7.1:369437. v. hamp and h. diepen, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 195765) 5:577579. a. grillmeier and h. bacht, Das Konzil von Chalkedon: Geschichte und Gegenwart (Würzburg 195154). e. r. hardy and c. c. richardson, eds., Christology of the Later Fathers (Philadelphia, Pa. 1954). p. galtier, "L'Unio secundum hypostasim chez s. Cyrille," Gregorianum 33 (1952) 351398. m. nÉdoncelle, "Prosōpon et persona," Revue des sciences religieuses 22 (1948) 277299. m. richard, "L'Introduction du mot hypostasis dans la théologie de l'incarnation," Mélanges de science religieuse 2 (1945) 532; 243270.

[j. m. carmody]


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hy·pos·ta·sis / hīˈpästəsis/ • n. (pl. -ses / -ˌsēz/ ) 1. Med. the accumulation of fluid or blood in the lower parts of the body or organs under the influence of gravity, as occurs in cases of poor circulation or after death.2. Philos. an underlying reality or substance, as opposed to attributes or that which lacks substance. ∎  Theol. (in Trinitarian doctrine) each of the three persons of the Trinity, as contrasted with the unity of the Godhead. ∎  [in sing.] Theol. the single person of Christ, as contrasted with his dual human and divine nature.


views updated May 14 2018

Hypostasis (Gk.; pl. -ses). A technical term used in Christian formulations of the doctrine of the Trinity and of christology. In secular Gk. its most general meaning is ‘substance’, but it could also mean ‘objective reality’ as opposed to illusion (as in Aristotle), and ‘basis’ or ‘confidence’ (as in Hebrews 3. 14). In Christian writers until the 4th cent. it was also used interchangeably with ousia, ‘being’ or ‘substantial reality’. The term also came to mean ‘individual reality’ hence ‘person’. It was in this sense that it was enshrined, under the influence of the Cappadocian fathers, in the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity as ‘three hypostases in one ousia’.

From this technical use, the term is applied to the substantiation of a metaphysical reality—e.g. the (possible) hypostasization of Wisdom in Jewish Wisdom literature.


views updated May 29 2018

hypostasis (hy-pos-tă-sis) n. accumulation of fluid or blood in a dependent part of the body in cases of poor circulation. Hypostatic pneumonia results from hypostatic congestion of the lung bases in debilitated patients who are confined to bed.
hypostatic (hy-poh-stat-ik) adj.


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hypostasis See EPISTASIS.


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hypostasis See EPISTASIS.