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  #1  
Old Oct 18, '12, 4:58 pm
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Default Difference between persona/hypostasis and substantia/ousia

Hello,

I have recently decided to go through the nitty-gritty, headache inducing details of the theology of the Holy Trinity. Now, I understand that there is a language barrier when translating the Greek into Latin theology, and visa versa.

For example, Latins say that the Trinity is "three personae in one substantia;" the Greeks would say "three hypostasis in one ousia." "Hypostasis" literally means "substance," (substantia) and thus Western theologians may see the East worshiping three gods. Likewise, if we translate the Latin "personae" (persons) into Greek equivalent, it would say "three masks in one substance," which is the heresy of Modalism.

However, my question is: why is there a difference in these terms? What is the difference between the Western "substantia" and the Greek "hypostasis"? Why couldn't the West have said "three substantia in one essentia"? I know that we adopted "substantia" instead of "essentia" because, I believe, the former was used more often than the latter.

I suppose if I had good, straight forward definitions of each term, I can understand it easier.

Thank you!
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  #2  
Old Oct 18, '12, 6:23 pm
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Default Re: Difference between persona/hypostasis and substantia/ousia

Quote:
Originally Posted by The_Scott View Post
Hello,

I have recently decided to go through the nitty-gritty, headache inducing details of the theology of the Holy Trinity. Now, I understand that there is a language barrier when translating the Greek into Latin theology, and visa versa.

For example, Latins say that the Trinity is "three personae in one substantia;" the Greeks would say "three hypostasis in one ousia." "Hypostasis" literally means "substance," (substantia) and thus Western theologians may see the East worshiping three gods. Likewise, if we translate the Latin "personae" (persons) into Greek equivalent, it would say "three masks in one substance," which is the heresy of Modalism.

However, my question is: why is there a difference in these terms? What is the difference between the Western "substantia" and the Greek "hypostasis"? Why couldn't the West have said "three substantia in one essentia"? I know that we adopted "substantia" instead of "essentia" because, I believe, the former was used more often than the latter.

I suppose if I had good, straight forward definitions of each term, I can understand it easier.

Thank you!
I believe that there was a time when ousia and hypostasis were terms that were largely interchangeable, and that it was the Cappadocian Fathers who purposefully gave the two terms the meanings we now associate with them as they articulated their understanding of trinitarian theology in opposition to the Arians and the Pneumatomachi. If this is correct (I'm not entirely sure, but I believe it is), then it may be part of the answer to your question. Also, I believe that for the Greeks to have later adopted the language of prospon, instead of hypostasis for "person" was made problematic both by the way that term was understood among the Greeks, as well as by the way it had been used heretically. Again, I'm not entirely sure-I'm several years removed from my studies.

Last edited by RyanBlack; Oct 18, '12 at 6:42 pm.
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  #3  
Old Oct 18, '12, 7:06 pm
Greevestone Greevestone is offline
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Default Re: Difference between persona/hypostasis and substantia/ousia

What is increasingly problematic is the cultural context of the words which no scholar born centuries after the writing can possibly begin to comprehend. "Personae," for example, may be heretical in some instances, but to the people of the time whose most exalted form of entertainment might have been the theater, this may also be a term of deep reverence. Consider reading Chaucer in its original verse. Although the overall substance (no pun intended) is clear, we must be missing a great deal of nuance and inference from every phrase even if we do very accurately translate the words themselves. Meaning and purpose are dynamic even between a few generations! I recently read On the Road by Kerouac. I need Cliff notes just to get what he's referring to and I was alive before he died! Ultimately language, no matter how sublime and glorious, is a poor substitute for a deeper understanding.
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  #4  
Old Oct 18, '12, 7:24 pm
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Michael Mayo Michael Mayo is offline
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Default Re: Difference between persona/hypostasis and substantia/ousia

I wondered that also Scott a while back and found that it goes back to Hippolytus who first translated the Greek into Latin (I think).
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  #5  
Old Oct 18, '12, 7:43 pm
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Cavaradossi Cavaradossi is offline
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Default Re: Difference between persona/hypostasis and substantia/ousia

Quote:
Originally Posted by RyanBlack View Post
I believe that there was a time when ousia and hypostasis were terms that were largely interchangeable, and that it was the Cappadocian Fathers who purposefully gave the two terms the meanings we now associate with them as they articulated their understanding of trinitarian theology in opposition to the Arians and the Pneumatomachi. If this is correct (I'm not entirely sure, but I believe it is), then it may be part of the answer to your question. Also, I believe that for the Greeks to have later adopted the language of prospon, instead of hypostasis for "person" was made problematic both by the way that term was understood among the Greeks, as well as by the way it had been used heretically. Again, I'm not entirely sure-I'm several years removed from my studies.
This is correct. Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) addresses this briefly in Being as Communion. Before the Cappadocians, there was no real distinction between ousia and hypostasis, nor any association of the term hypostasis with the concept of person. For example, even late in his career as bishop, St. Athanasius, did not differentiate between the terms ousia and hypostasis, considering them to have the same in meaning. The Nicene solution was a failure in part because of a combination of imperial pressure combined with a general sense of discomfort with the modalistic connotations of the term homoousion. It fell to the Cappadocians to associate the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with different hypostases (this giving the Trinitarian persons 'ontological content' to paraphrase Metropolitan John), which share in one ousia. The term prosopon was unacceptable because it lacked ontological content (again, paraphrasing Metropolitan John). Confessing one ousia and three prosopa would have been too modalistic (this was in fact a formula employed by the Sabellians, if I recall). The use of hypostasis was necessitated both by the need to describe the persons as concrete beings and not merely as masks upon one Godhead, as the Sabellians would have confessed, and also by the need not to undermine the consubstantial unity of the three.
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But God, he says, is simple, and whatever attribute of Him you have reckoned as knowable is of His essence. But the absurdities involved in this sophism are innumerable. When all these high attributes have been enumerated, are they all names of one essence? St. Basil Letter 234

Last edited by Cavaradossi; Oct 18, '12 at 7:54 pm.
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  #6  
Old Oct 19, '12, 12:07 pm
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Default Re: Difference between persona/hypostasis and substantia/ousia

Thank you for your answers everyone!

I know the Cappadocian Fathers eventually distinguished between hypostasis and ousia, but what exactly was the difference? One does not necessarily "overshadow" the other, correct? I know the Father is fully God, the Son is fully God, and the Holy Spirit is fully God - together, making one God. However, does the fact that these three "substances" (literally from the Greek) does not make three "beings" (again, from the Greek) mean that the ousia of God is more "essential" or "powerful" (I use that term extremely loosely) than the hypostases? Does this make sense?

Also, for future references, the Latin formula "tres Personae, una Substantia" was first used by Tertullian around 200 AD.
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  #7  
Old Oct 21, '12, 11:38 pm
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Default Re: Difference between persona/hypostasis and substantia/ousia

Quote:
Originally Posted by The_Scott View Post
Thank you for your answers everyone!

I know the Cappadocian Fathers eventually distinguished between hypostasis and ousia, but what exactly was the difference? One does not necessarily "overshadow" the other, correct? I know the Father is fully God, the Son is fully God, and the Holy Spirit is fully God - together, making one God. However, does the fact that these three "substances" (literally from the Greek) does not make three "beings" (again, from the Greek) mean that the ousia of God is more "essential" or "powerful" (I use that term extremely loosely) than the hypostases? Does this make sense?

Also, for future references, the Latin formula "tres Personae, una Substantia" was first used by Tertullian around 200 AD.
There is, at least for the Cappadocians, no ontological priority that can be given to the essence over the hypostases or to the hypostases over the essence. For the Cappadocians, and later generations of Greek thinkers, the old thinking that the species is prior to the individual is somewhat muddied by the taking of two terms with equal ontological weight—hypostasis and ousia—and applying one to the individual and one to the general or universal. In God, there cannot be said to be any priority given to the one or the three, because God is equally three and one, equally monad and triad. The unity of God does not cause the threeness of God, nor does the threeness of God cause the unity of God; rather, it is the Father Who eternally causes both the consubstantial unity of the three persons and the tri-hypostatic existence of the essence of God, and this principle of Cappadocian thought is what is known as the monarchy of the Father. The only real difference between hypostasis and ousia is that hypostasis was applied to denote God's existence as a true triad, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (as opposed to the Sabellians who thought that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were not truly three), while the other was used to make clear the reality that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one.
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But God, he says, is simple, and whatever attribute of Him you have reckoned as knowable is of His essence. But the absurdities involved in this sophism are innumerable. When all these high attributes have been enumerated, are they all names of one essence? St. Basil Letter 234

Last edited by Cavaradossi; Oct 21, '12 at 11:50 pm.
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  #8  
Old Oct 22, '12, 9:13 am
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Default Re: Difference between persona/hypostasis and substantia/ousia

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Originally Posted by Cavaradossi View Post
There is, at least for the Cappadocians, no ontological priority that can be given to the essence over the hypostases or to the hypostases over the essence. For the Cappadocians, and later generations of Greek thinkers, the old thinking that the species is prior to the individual is somewhat muddied by the taking of two terms with equal ontological weight—hypostasis and ousia—and applying one to the individual and one to the general or universal. In God, there cannot be said to be any priority given to the one or the three, because God is equally three and one, equally monad and triad. The unity of God does not cause the threeness of God, nor does the threeness of God cause the unity of God; rather, it is the Father Who eternally causes both the consubstantial unity of the three persons and the tri-hypostatic existence of the essence of God, and this principle of Cappadocian thought is what is known as the monarchy of the Father. The only real difference between hypostasis and ousia is that hypostasis was applied to denote God's existence as a true triad, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (as opposed to the Sabellians who thought that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were not truly three), while the other was used to make clear the reality that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one.
Thank you very much Cavaradossi! You've been a great help!
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  #9  
Old Oct 23, '12, 9:10 am
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Default Re: Difference between persona/hypostasis and substantia/ousia

One final question, which is very minor: how do you pronounce ousia and hypostasis in the original Greek? I'm afraid to say that my pronunciation of Greek is very poor.

Oo-SEE-ah?
or
oh-oo-see-ah?

hypeoh-stah-sees?
(first syllable rhymes with typo)
or
hip-oh-stah-sees?
(rhymes with hippo)
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  #10  
Old Oct 23, '12, 5:29 pm
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Default Re: Difference between persona/hypostasis and substantia/ousia

Quote:
Originally Posted by The_Scott View Post
One final question, which is very minor: how do you pronounce ousia and hypostasis in the original Greek? I'm afraid to say that my pronunciation of Greek is very poor.

Oo-SEE-ah?
or
oh-oo-see-ah?

hypeoh-stah-sees?
(first syllable rhymes with typo)
or
hip-oh-stah-sees?
(rhymes with hippo)
In modern Greek ousia would be pronounced as oo-SEE-ah (oo as in moon), and hypostasis would be pronounced as ee-POH-stah-sees (with no h sound at the beginning, and all of the s's making s sounds not z sounds). In English-speaking contexts, I usually hear ousia pronounced as it is in Greek, but people will say hypostasis in a bunch of ways, like hoo-POH-stah-sis or hi-POH-stah-sis (hi rhyming with high).
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But God, he says, is simple, and whatever attribute of Him you have reckoned as knowable is of His essence. But the absurdities involved in this sophism are innumerable. When all these high attributes have been enumerated, are they all names of one essence? St. Basil Letter 234
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  #11  
Old Oct 23, '12, 6:08 pm
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Default Re: Difference between persona/hypostasis and substantia/ousia

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cavaradossi View Post
In modern Greek ousia would be pronounced as oo-SEE-ah (oo as in moon), and hypostasis would be pronounced as ee-POH-stah-sees (with no h sound at the beginning, and all of the s's making s sounds not z sounds). In English-speaking contexts, I usually hear ousia pronounced as it is in Greek, but people will say hypostasis in a bunch of ways, like hoo-POH-stah-sis or hi-POH-stah-sis (hi rhyming with high).
Thank you! Your help means a lot. Is the modern Greek pronunciation similar to the ancient/medieval Greek?
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  #12  
Old Oct 23, '12, 7:19 pm
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Cavaradossi Cavaradossi is offline
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Default Re: Difference between persona/hypostasis and substantia/ousia

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Originally Posted by The_Scott View Post
Thank you! Your help means a lot. Is the modern Greek pronunciation similar to the ancient/medieval Greek?
Almost. The pronunciation of the word ousia is probably identical to how it was pronounced in the Medieval period. The word hypostasis in the medieval period would have been pronounced similarly to how it is pronounced in Modern Greek, but with the initial upsilon being pronounced as a German ü or French u (this sound does not exist in English). Ancient Greek would have differed significantly, because of the presence of long vowels and rough breathing, both of which were lost by the end of the Koine Period.
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But God, he says, is simple, and whatever attribute of Him you have reckoned as knowable is of His essence. But the absurdities involved in this sophism are innumerable. When all these high attributes have been enumerated, are they all names of one essence? St. Basil Letter 234
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