Terminology Tuesday: PROSOPON

PROSOPON. Though retaining the various meanings of non-Christian Greek, the term prosōpon at first became a technical term in trinitarian theology, then in Christology. The specific trinitarian use, witnessed to for the first time by the treatise C. Noetum (7; 14) and indirectly by Tertullian (Prax.), was explained primarily by three factors: by the scriptural use of prosōpon, esp. 2 Cor 4:6: “the glory of God in the face of Christ,” a meaning that remained important in all patristic literature (Lampe, 1186); by the “prosopic” exegesis prepared by *Philo, in which, against the Jews and monarchians, a distinction was made between the divine persons and their names (see Justin, 1 Apol. 36,1–2); by the method of the Stoics in opposing prosōpon, as individuality, to the generic (see Iren., Haer. III, 11,9). The term prosōpon, which was very rare in Eastern Christian authors writing before the 4th c., was initially found, as a trinitarian term, primarily in texts that rebuked *Sabellians for speaking of a prosōpon, i.e., one sole divine reality, or to speak of three prosōpa, but in a transitory sense (Lampe, 1187). Subsequently, even the anti-Sabellians used the word prosopōn, by identifying it more or less with hypostasis (Lampe, 1187–1188)—as done by the synodic Epistle of the Council of *Constantinople of 381 (CoeD, 24). *Gregory of Nazianzus had already defended this synonymous use of the terms hypostasis and prosopōn (Or. 21,35: SC 270, 186; see Hammerstaedt, 1022).In the 2nd half of the 4th c., prosopōn was used also as a key term in Christology, initially under the form of a denial of the two persons in Christ, then as an affirmation of one sole person (Lampe, 1188ff.). Two particular details should be emphasized: the expression “one person” was often characterized by an exegetical nuance, referring to the sole subject of the biblical and divine and human attributes in Jesus Christ; also relevant is Nestorius’s quite complicated theory, which distinguished two natural prosōpa from the prosōpon of the union (Grillmeier, Jesus, 707–726; Lampe, 1188–1189).

M. Nédoncelle, Prosopon et persona dans l’antiquité classique: RSR 22 (1948) 277–299; G.-L. Prestige, Dieu dans la pensée patristique, Paris 1955, 141–146; C. Andresen, Zur Entstehung und Geschichte des trinitarischen Personbegriffs: ZNTW 52 (1961) 1–39; R. Braun, Deus Christianorum, Paris 1962, 207–242; C.J. de Vogel, The Concept of Personality in Greek and Christian Thought, in Studies in Philosophy and History of Philosophy, Washington 1963, 20–60; A. Grillmeier, Jesus der Christus im Glauben der Kirche, Freiburg 1979; A. Milan, Persona in teologia, Naples 1984 (bibl.); M. Fuhrmann, Person, 4: HWP 7 (1989) 274–282 (bibl.); J. Hammerstaedt, Hypostasis, RAC 16 (1994) 986–1035; L. Turcescu, “Prosopon” and “hypostasis” in Basil of Caesarea’s “Against Eunomius” and the “Epistles”: VChr 51 (1997) 374–395.

Studer, B. (2014). Prosopon. In A. Di Berardino & J. Hoover (Eds.), J. T. Papa, E. A. Koenke, & E. E. Hewett (Trans.), Encyclopedia of Ancient Christianity (Vol. 3, pp. 326–327). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic; InterVarsity Press.

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