This reality of Holy Saturday, the reality of a Jesus Christ entombed requires us to rethink some of the classical vocabulary of theology – namely, the loci of nature and substance, hypostasis and person. All four are canonized, if you will, in the catholic tradition.
Some might try to understand the death of Jesus as the “death of his human nature.” But a nature is defined as either a sum of innate qualities (this is more properly essence) or as that interior capability by which something becomes what it is to become (Aristotle’s Physics). Essences and principles don’t die. They don’t have real existence apart from concrete instances (i.e., hypostases). Likewise for those who put forth that Christ’s human substance died. Substances, apart from particular subsistent realities don’t exist much less die.
Thus we are left with hypostasis and person. Hypostasis refers to a particular subsistence of a given substance. Person applies to a hypostasis when it is a rational subsistence. It also implies a certain exteriority (the Greek, prosopon, meant countenance – in this way it was also referred to in describing theatrical masks). There is an affinity with the beyond in this sense that entails a rational grasp of things outside oneself, but also a relationality, an openness to the other.
It is this point of personhood that we should pursue in discussing Holy Saturday. It is the day on which God is, as Greg puts it, “unknown and unheard.” It is precisely in the death of the person, Jesus Christ, that this silence descends. Silence pervades in light of this loss of the countenance – of the face of Christ who speaks to us the word of the Father, a word that is uniquely his word.