On Nature

Nature as Character

A man’s personality or character is sometimes described as his “nature.”

Nature as Environment

All flora and fauna, and their habitats, is sometimes describes as the “natural” world, as opposed to being synthetic or man-made.

Nature as Genus or Class

A genus or class is sometimes defined in natural terms, i.e. by the phrases “human nature” or “divine nature.” for example. Vladimir Lossky, in his Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, uses the word “nature” in this sense. Lossky usually takes a Platonic position when he talks of a man’s participation in being, by sharing in “human nature” or “divine nature.”

Nature as Essence

Essence is sometimes used as the defining criterion of a thing. This defining function can be applied to a genus or class, or to a single noun-object or entity. Aristotle has used the word “essence” to apply in both these senses at different times in his categorising, pedagogic works.

Nature as Physis

Physis (φυσις) sometimes refers to a single, concrete noun-object or entity; say, a specific creature of God. This is especially true in Alexandrian metaphysics.

On the other hand, in Constantinopolitan metaphysics, the word “physis” is applied to “essentially” define a genus or class. Constantinopolitan metaphysics uses a further word, hypostasis (υποστασις) to explain that by which a single, concrete noun-object or entity has its being.

The historical argument between Constantinople and Alexandria hinged on the misundertanding of the word “physis” in their communications. Numerous times the parties came close to rectfying the misunderstanding, where either side acknowledges the linguistic formulations of the other as alternative expressions of the same, single dogma that they both share, yet political issues always impeded the formal remediation of the controversy.

In Constantinopolitan thought, the term “hypostasis” is a speculative term that is useful for rational, cogitative reflection and rationcination, when considering a man as an “anthropos” (ανθροπος).

Alternatively, Alexandrian metaphysics does not require the word “hypostasis” in its anthropological consideration of a single man.

Alexandrian metaphysics prefers to limit itself to the concrete, perceptual recognition of a single man, rather than consider the “essential” characterstics of the genus or class of man considered in an abstract sense.

Constantinople finally arrived at the verb “to enhypostasize” in its Christological formula, to explain how Christ has “enhypostasizes” both “human nature” and “divine nature” in Himself.

Alexandria, on the other hand, reaches the same dogma, but without using the concept of “hypostasis.” Instead, Alexandria remains concrete in its description of Christ as a single “physis” to refer to that which the Constantinopolitans refer to as a single ”hypostasis.”

Thinking and perceiving in concrete terms, Alexandrian thought uses the word “physis” to perceptually acknowledge that Christ is one, Christ is human, and Christ is divine.

Simply put, where the Alexandrian Christological formula is apperceptive in its language, the Constantinopolitan formula is speculative in its language.

In no sense is the repudiation of abstract reasoning a defect in Alexandrian systematic theology, or a primitive retardation of intellectual ability. Rather, it is a disciplined and cautious reticence to avoid the error, as they see it, of substituting the perceptual engagement of real things with the parsing of representative, mental objects.

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