Jesus Christ: Specialized Terminology in the Early Church

Numerous early church theologians attempted to explain with precision that Jesus Christ was both
human and divine. In this effort, highly trained theologians—especially the Cappadocian Fathers: Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory the Theologian—developed specialized terms and concepts that provided a framework for Christology to be discussed in degrees of union.

These early church theologians established subtle yet critical differences between a number of key words. By the end of the 300s, this vocabulary shaped the ongoing debates of the Ecumenical Church Councils.

The four primary terms were being, nature, substance, and person. (1) Being (Greek: ousia; Latin: essentia). (2) Nature (Greek: physis; Latin: natura). Physis meant nature, in the sense of “one’s true nature.” (3) Individual reality (Greek: hypostasis; Latin: substantia). (4) Person (Greek: prosopon; Latin: persona).