While debating heretics, early Christians used the Greek term "hypostasis" -- meaning "substance" and "subsistence" -- to help define their belief in the Incarnation of Jesus as one person, yet with divine and human natures.
This "hypostatic union" is not the kind of subject a comedian typically raises on a TV talk show while chatting about mortality with a Hollywood legend. Then again, Norm Macdonald -- who died on September 14 after a secret nine-year fight with cancer -- wasn't a typical funny man. He openly identified as a Christian, while making it clear that he didn't consider himself a very good one.
During an episode of "Norm Macdonald has a Show," the former Saturday Night Live star asked Jane Fonda -- who at one point briefly embraced evangelical Christianity -- this question: "Are you a religious person?"
"I have faith," said Fonda. The host quickly asked, "In Jesus Christ?" Hesitating, Fonda called herself "a work in process," saying she accepted "the historical Jesus."
Macdonald responded: "But do you believe in the hypostatic Jesus?"
When Fonda said "no," he added, "So, you're not a Christian. But you believe, you believe in something."
Raised vaguely Protestant in Canada, Macdonald didn't discuss the brand-name specifics of his faith, even as he wrestled with his own demons -- such as habitual gambling. Yet he could be stunningly specific when addressing criticisms of Christian beliefs. As a judge on NBC's "Last Comic Standing," he quietly shot down a contestant who trashed the Bible, before praising the Harry Potter series.
"I think if you're going to take on an entire religion, you should maybe know what you're talking about," said Macdonald. "J.K. Rowling is a Christian, and J.K. Rowling famously said that if you're familiar with the scriptures, you could easily guess the ending of her book."
The result was a public persona laced with paradoxes, an edgy, courageous comic who often seemed unconcerned if his work pleased the public or his employers.