For example, are any of the following statements correct?

  • The humanity subsists in the Divine Person of the Son.
  • The humanity substands the Divine Person of the Son.
  • The divine person of the Son substands the humanity.
  • The divine person of the Son subsists in the humanity.

Note: "Humanity" (Latin humanitate or Greek ανθρωπότης is synonymous with "human nature." It does not mean "human person."

Or, are none of them? If not, what is the precise way to express the relationship using the English verb "subsist" and/ or "substand"?

Clarification: The English verb "substand" and its related conjugations would be a precise translation of the Latin verb substare and its related conjugations and the Greek verb ὑφίστασθαι and its related conjugations. "Substand," like substare and ὑφίστασθαι, simply means "to stand under." A ὑπόστασις (hypostasis) is technically something that stands under or is the basis of accidents.

Boethius, in Book III of his Liber de Persona et Duabus Naturis Contra Eutychen et Nestorium, wrote,

"For what the Greeks say as οὐσίωσις and οὐσιῶσθαι are what we call subsistentia and subsistere. What they [say as] ὑπόστασις and ὑφίστασθαι are what we translate as substantia and substare."

It's a rare word, and probably one constructed to convey the meaning of substare and ὑφίστασθαι as accurately and precisely as possible into English in the realm of philosophy.

The Fathers of the English Dominican Province use it in their English translation of the Summa Theologica.

For example, Part I, Question 29, Second Article, Response to Objection 5:

Reply to Objection 5: The individual composed of matter and form substands in relation to accident from the very nature of matter.

  • Might want to clarify "subsists" and "substands". I've actually never seen "substands" before. Feb 20, 2013 at 2:39
  • 1
    Okay, good, you clarified it. I still don't really get it because despite being a Christian all my life, I'm not versed in all of the jargon. Would it be correct to say that if x substands y, then x is...inferior to y in some sense? Or is it like the opposite of "subsists"? And to make matters worse, I think the meaning of "subsists" here is different from the common usage - that of living/existing on something. The main thing is, explain all of the jargon if you can. Feb 20, 2013 at 3:15
  • Here's Boethius on the subject. He explains what all the terms mean. Can you let me know if you find it useful? logoslibrary.org/boethius/eutyches/3.html
    – user900
    Feb 20, 2013 at 3:25
  • ...+1 because I'm having a hard time comprehending them too. :) Feb 20, 2013 at 3:50
  • 1
    @Mr.Bultitude: I'm just not so sure it's answering the question I asked. This quote, "’The humanity subsists in the Divine Person of the Son’, or ‘Christ subsists in both a human and divine nature’." just doesn't seem right. Because what he's saying is that we could say "the humanity (human nature) subsists in the Divine Person" just as well as "the Divine Person (Christ) subsists in [both a human and] (the) divine nature." I don't think that's true. If it is, he'll need to quote a reputable theologian who says pretty much that.
    – user900
    Dec 23, 2014 at 6:49

2 Answers 2


When we say God is one essence with three persons, the Greeks would say that God is one essence with three substances (hypostasis).

In the Latin church, substantia was employed to translate hypostasis and together with essentia to translate ousia: “That which must be understood of persons, according to our usage, is to be understood of substances, according to the Greek usage: for they say three substances (hypostaseis), one essence, in the same way as we say three persons, one essence or substance (essentiam vel substantiam)” (Augustine, On the Trinity 7.4)

‘Substance’ means ‘that which stands under’ that is, in the sense of an underlying substratum. The idea is that God is one in the essential divine attributes but the three persons are spiritually 'differing personalities' of which their persons, or hypostatic character, is incommunicable to each other.

hypostasis - term employed in trinitarian and christological discussions. The Greek hypostasis can have a range of meaning. In keeping with its etymological signification, it means “to stand under,” hence its usage as equivalent to the Latin substantia (substance) and essentia (essence), or to the Greek ousia. It appears to mean “substance” or “essence” in its use in Heb. 1:3 (though not all translators agree). Likewise, the Nicene Creed of 325 uses it as synonymous with ousia when it condemns those who say that the Son is a different hypostasis or ousia from the Father. On the other hand, the word can also be used to designate an individual instance of an essence, that is, a person in a trinitarian or christological context. This range of meaning occasioned confusion in the earlier trinitarian debates, exacerbated when translating between Greek and Latin. Thanks in part to the work of the Cappadocian fathers in the fourth century, the term came to be restricted to the personal distinctions in the Godhead, rather than being used to designate the essence itself. Hence, the final Greek form of the trinitarian formula became “one ousia, three hypostases,” equivalent to the Latin-based formula “one substance/essence, three persons.” The expression hypostatic union is used in christological discussions. See also essentia and hypostatic union and monophysitism and subsistantia. (Shedd, W. G. T. (2003). Dogmatic theology (A. W. Gomes, Ed.) (3rd ed.) (956). Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub.)

When applying the concept of essence and substance to the Incarnation, Christ’s person is the Unity or Essence and his two natures (divine and human) are substances of his person. Just as we could say ‘the nature of essence of God subsists in three persons’, so we could say:

’The humanity subsists in the Divine Person of the Son’, or ‘Christ subsists in both a human and divine nature’.

On the other hand, ‘The divine person of the Son subsists in the humanity’ can’t be true at all. This statement would make the humanity of Christ analogous to the essence of the Trinity and making the divine nature a distinct expression of humanity! This therefore has no theological meaning that makes sense.

Something to be careful about is that these terms are just used to express different distinctions of one person. In the Trinity it refers to the distinction of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in One person. In the Incarnation the Divine and Human nature are distinguished in the Christ after the incarnation. However, we must remember that although the Divine nature is a sense a hypostasis of Christ, it is not in anyway really ‘standing under’ anything. It is only used in this way to say these natures stand under the Christ as a person logically. However, clearly it is the divine nature and not the human that is the root of Christ’s person, or ‘standing over’ it as it were before the incarnation. The second person of the Trinity is the root into which the human nature was grafted, not the other way around. Therefore the person of Christ is in itself kind of a hypostasis of God for he is still the Eternal Son, even though his divinity could be said to be a ‘hypostasis’ on account of his person taking upon humanity through the Incarnation. In this way both the Trinity and the Incantation use hypostasis or subsistence in a non-contradictory way.

  • Just wanted to alert you to the comments on the question, where the OP mentions a concern he has about your answer. Dec 23, 2014 at 6:51

The section The Catholic faith in the article The Incarnation | New Advent says

The human and Divine natures are united in one Divine Person so as to remain that exactly which they are, namely, Divine and human natures with distinct and perfect activities of their own. Theologians go farther in their attempts to give some account of the mystery of the Incarnation, so as, at least, to show that there is therein no contradiction, nothing that right reason may not safely adhere to. This union of the two natures in one Person has been for centuries called a hypostatic union, that is, a union in the Divine Hypostasis. What is an hypostasis? The definition of Boethius is classic: rationalis naturae individua substantia (P.L., LXIV, 1343), a complete whole whose nature is rational. This book is a complete whole; its nature is not rational; it is not an hypostasis. An hypostasis is a complete rational individual.

The article Hypostatic Union | New Advent explains the term:

A theological term used with reference to the Incarnation to express the revealed truth that in Christ one person subsists in two natures, the Divine and the human. Hypostasis means, literally, that which lies beneath as basis or foundation. [...] the Council of Chalcedon (451), [...] declared that in Christ the two natures, each retaining its own properties, are united in one subsistence and one person (eis en prosopon kai mian hypostasin) (Denzinger, ed. Bannwart, 148). They are not joined in a moral or accidental union (Nestorius), nor commingled (Eutyches), and nevertheless they are substantially united.

From my reading of these two articles, the terminologies The humanity subsists in the Divine Person of the Son and The humanity substands the Divine Person of the Son are wrong and so is The divine person of the Son substands the humanity. Substands appearing altogether to be a wrong terminology.

That leaves The divine person of the Son subsists in the humanity to be examined.

This definition: Hypostatic Union is a theological term used with reference to the Incarnation to express the revealed truth that in Christ one person subsists in two natures, the Divine and the human, answers that in the OP, the explanation the divine person of the Son subsists in the humanity, expresses the relationship of the humanity (human nature) to the divine person of the Son.

Having said that, it is good to retain the exact Church's declaration that with the Incarnation, in Christ the two natures, the Divine and the human, each retaining its own properties, are united in one subsistence and one person [that of the of the Divine Person of the Son].

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