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§ 136. The Apollinarian Heresy, a.d. 362–381.


I. Apollinaris: Περὶ σαρκώσεως—ΠεριΠίστεως —Περὶ ἀναστάσεως—Κατὰ κεφαλειον,—and controversial works against Porphyry, and Eunomius, biblical commentaries, and epistles. Only fragments of these remain in the answers of Gregory of Nyassa and Theodoret, and in Angelo Mai: Nov. Biblioth. Patrum, tom. vii. (Rom. 1854), Pars secunda, pp. 82–91 (commentary on Ezekiel), in Leontinus Byzantinus, and in the Catenae, especially the Catena in Evang. Joh., ed. Corderius, 1630.

II. Against Apollinaris: Athanasius: Contra Apollinarium, libri ii. (Περὶ σαρκώσεωστοῦ Κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰ. Χ. κατὰ Ἀπολλιναρίου, in Opera, tom. i. pars secunda, pp. 921–955, ed. Bened., and in Thilo’s Bibl. Patr. Gr. dogm., vol. i. pp. 862–937). This work was written about the year 372 against Apollinarianism in the wider sense, without naming, Apollinaris or his followers; so that the title above given is wanting in the oldest codices. Similar errors, though in like manner without direct reference to Apollinaris, and evading his most important tenet, were combated by Athanasius in the Epist. ad Epictetum episcopum Corinthi contra haereticos (Opp. i. ii. 900 sqq., and in Thilo, i. p. 820 sqq.), which is quoted even by Epiphanius. Gregory Of Nyssa: Λόγος ἀντιῤῥητικὸς πρὸς τὰ Ἀπολλιναρίου, first edited by L. A. Zacagni from the treasures of the Vatican library in the unfortunately incomplete Collectanea monumentorum veterum ecclesiae Graecae et Latinae, Romae, 1698, pp. 123–287, and then by Gallandi, Bibliotheca Vet. Patrum, tom. vi. pp. 517–577. Gregory Naz.: Epist. ad Nectarium, and Ep. i. and ii. ad Cledonium (or Orat. 46 and 51–52; comp. Ullmann’s Gregor v. Naz. p. 401 sqq.). Basilius M.: Epist. 265 (a.d. 377), in the new Bened. ed. of his Opera, Par. 1839, tom. iii. Pars ii. p. 591 sqq. Epiphanius: Haer. 77. Theodoret: Fabul. haer. iv. 8; v. 9; and Diolog. i.-Iii.


Dion. Petavius: De incarnatione Verbi, lib. i. cap. 6 (in the fourth vol. of the Theologicorum dogmatum, pp. 24–34, ed. Par. 1650). Jac. Basnage: Dissert. de Hist. haer. Apollinar. Ultraj. 1687. C. W. F. Walch: l.c. iii. 119–229. Baur: l.c. vol. i. pp. 585–647. Dorner: l.c. i. pp. 974–1080. H. Voigt: Die Lehre des Athanasius, &c. Bremen, 1861. Pp. 306–345.

Apollinaris,15391539   The name is usually written Apollinaris, even by Petavius, Baur, and Dorner, and by all English writers. We have no disposition to disturb the established usage in a matter of so little moment. But the Greek fathers always write Ἀπολλινάριος, and hence Apollinarius (as in Jerome, De viris illustr., c. 104) is more strictly correct. bishop of Laodicea in Syria, was the first to apply the results of the trinitarian discussions of the Nicene age to Christology, and to introduce the long Christological controversies. He was the first to call the attention of the Church to the psychical and pneumatic side of the humanity of Christ, and by contradiction brought out the doctrine of a reasonable human soul in him more clearly and definitely than it had before been conceived.

Apollinaris, like his father (Apollinaris the Elder, who was a native of Alexandria, and a presbyter in Laodicea), was distinguished for piety, classical culture, a scholarly vindication of Christianity against Porphyry and the emperor Julian, and adhesion to the Nicene faith. He was highly esteemed, too, by Athanasius, who, perhaps through personal forbearance, never mentions him by name in his writings against his error.

But in his zeal for the true deity of Christ, and his fear of a double personality, he fell into the error of denying his integral humanity. Adopting the psychological trichotomy, he attributed to Christ a human body, and a human (animal) soul,15401540   Σῶμα. but not a human spirit or reason;15411541   Ψυχὴ ἄλογος, the inward vitality which man has in common with animals. putting the divine Logos in the place of the human spirit. In opposition to the idea of a mere connection of the Logos with the man Jesus, he wished to secure an organic unity of the two, and so a true incarnation; but he sought this at the expense of the most important constituent of man. He reaches only a θεὸς σαρκοφόρος, as Nestorianism only an ἄνθρωπος θεοφόρος, instead of the proper θεάνθρωπος. He appealed to the fact that the Scripture says, the word was made flesh—not spirit;15421542   Νοῦς, πνεῦμα, or the ψυχὴ λογική, anima rationalis, the motive, self-active, free element, the αὐτοκίνητον, the thinking and willing, immortal spirit, which distinguishes man from animals. Apollinaris followed the psychological trichotomy of Plato. Ὁ ἄνθρωπος, says he in Gregory of Nyssa, εἷς ἐστιν ἐκ πνεύματος καὶ φυχῆς καί σώματος , for which he quotes 1 Thess. v. 23, and Gal. v. 17. But in another fragment he designates the whole spiritual principle in man by ψυχῆ, and makes the place of it in Christ to be supplied by the Logos. Comp. the passages in Gieseler, vol. i. Div. ii. p. 73 (4th ed.). From this time the triple division of human nature was unjustly accounted heterodox. God was manifest in the flesh, &c.; to which Gregory Nazianzen justly replied that in these passages the term σάρξwas used by synecdoche for the whole human nature. In this way Apollinaris established so close a connection of the Logos with human flesh, that all the divine attributes were transferred to the human nature, and all the human attributes to the divine, and the two were merged in one nature in Christ. Hence he could speak of a crucifixion of the Logos, and a worship of his flesh. He made Christ a middle being between God and man, in whom, as it were, one part divine and two parts human were fused in the unity of a new nature.15431543   He even ventured to adduce created analogies, such as the mule, midway between the horse and the ass; the grey color, a mixture of white and black; and spring in distinction from winter and summer. Christ says he, is οὔτε ἄνθρωπος ὅλος , οὔτε θεὸς, ἀλλὰ θεοῦ καὶ ἀνθρώπου μίξις.

Epiphanius expresses himself concerning the beginning of the controversy in these unusually lenient and respectful terms: “Some of our brethren, who are in high position, and who are held in great esteem with us and all the orthodox, have thought that the spirit (ὁ νοῦς) should be excluded from the manifestation of Christ in the flesh, and have preferred to hold that our Lord Christ assumed flesh and soul, but not our spirit, and therefore not a perfect man. The aged and venerable Apollinaris of Laodicea, dear even to the blessed father Athanasius, and in fact to all the orthodox has been the first to frame and promulgate this doctrine. At first, when some of his disciples communicated it to us, we were unwilling to believe that such a man would put this doctrine in circulation. We supposed that the disciples had not understood the deep thoughts of so learned and so discerning a man, and had themselves fabricated things which he did not teach,” &c.

So early as 362, a council at Alexandria rejected this doctrine (though without naming the author), and asserted that Christ possessed a reasonable soul. But Apollinaris did not secede from the communion of the Church, and begin to form a sect of his own, till 375. He died in 390. His writings, except numerous fragments in the works of his opponents, are lost.

Apollinaris, therefore, taught the deity of Christ, but denied the completeness (τελειότης) of his humanity, and, taking his departure from the Nicene postulate of the homoousion ran into the Arian heresy, which likewise put the divine Logos in the place of the human spirit in Christ, but which asserted besides this the changeableness (τρεπτότης) of Christ; while Apollinaris, on the contrary, aimed to establish more firmly the unchangeableness of Christ, to beat the Arians with their own weapons, and provide a better vindication of the Nicene dogma. He held the union of full divinity with full humanity in one person, therefore, of two wholes in one whole, to be impossible.15441544   The result of this construction he called ἀνθρωπόθεος, a sort of monstrosity, which he put in the same category with the mythological figures of the minotaur, the well-known Cretan monster with human body and bull’s head, or the body of a bull and the head of a man. But the Apollinarian idea of the union of the Logos with a truncated human nature might be itself more justly compared with this monster. He supposed the unity of the person of Christ, and at the same time his sinlessness, could be saved only by the excision of the human spirit; since sin has its seat, not in the will-less soul, nor in the body, but in the intelligent, free, and therefore changeable will or spirit of man. He also charged the Church doctrine of the full humanity of Christ with limiting the atoning suffering of Christ to the human nature, and so detracting from the atoning virtue of the work of Christ; for the death of a man could not destroy death. The divine nature must participate in the suffering throughout. His opponents, for this reason, charged him with making deity suffer and die. He made, however, a distinction between two sides of the Logos, the one allied to man and capable of suffering, and the other allied to God and exalted above all suffering. The relation of the divine pneumatic nature in Christ to the human psychical and bodily nature Apollinaris illustrated by the mingling of wine and water, the glowing fire in the iron, and the union of soul and body in man, which, though distinct, interpenetrate and form one thing.

His doctrine, however, in particulars, is variously represented, and there arose among his disciples a complex mass of opinions, some of them differing strongly from one another. According to one statement Apollinaris asserted that Christ brought even his human nature from heaven, and was from eternity ἔνσαρκος; according to another this was merely an opinion of his disciples, or an unwarranted inference of opponents from his assertion of an eternal determination to incarnation, and from his strong emphasizing of the union of the Logos with the flesh of Christ, which allowed that even the flesh might be worshipped without idolatry.15451545   Dorner, who has treated this section of the history of Christology, as well as others, with great thoroughness, says, i. 977: “That the school of Apollinaris did not remain in all points consistent with itself, nor true to its founder, is certain; but it is less certain whether Apollinaris himself always taught the same thing.” Theodoret charges him with a change of opinion, which Dorner attributes to different stages of the development of his system.

The Church could not possibly accept such a half Docetistic incarnation, such a mutilated and stunted humanity of Christ, despoiled of its royal head, and such a merely partial redemption as this inevitably involved. The incarnation of the Logos is his becoming completely man.15461546   Ἐσάρκωσιςis at the same time ἐνανθρώπησις. Christ was really ἄνθρωπος, not merely ὡς ἄνθρωπος, as Apollinaris taught on the strength of Phil. ii. 7. It involves, therefore, his assumption of the entire undivided nature of man, spiritual and bodily, with the sole exception of sin, which in fact belongs not to the original nature of man, but has entered from without, as a foreign poison, through the deceit of the devil. Many things in the life of Jesus imply a reasonable soul: sadness, anguish, and prayer. The spirit is just the most essential and most noble constituent of man, the controlling principle,15471547   Τὸ κυριώτατον. and it stands in the same need of redemption as the soul and the body. Had the Logos not assumed the human spirit, he would not have been true man at all, and could not have been our example. Nor could he have redeemed the spirit; and a half-redemption is no redemption at all. To be a full Redeemer, Christ must also be fully man, τέλειος ἄνθρωπος. This was the weighty doctrinal result of the Apollinarian controversy.

Athanasius, the two Gregories, Basil, and Epiphanius combated the Apollinarian error, but with a certain embarrassment, attacking it rather from behind and from the flank, than in front, and unprepared to answer duly its main point, that two integral persons cannot form one person. The later orthodox doctrine surmounted this difficulty by teaching the impersonality of the human nature of Christ, and by making the personality of Christ to reside wholly in the Logos.

The councils at Rome under Damasus, in 377 and 378, and likewise the second ecumenical council, in 381, condemned the Apollinarians.15481548   Conc. Constant. i. can. 1, where, with the Arians, semi-Arians, Pneumatomachi, Sabellians, and Marcellians or Photinians, the Apollinarians also are anathematized. Imperial decrees pursued them, in 388, 397, and 428. Some of them returned into the catholic church; others mingled with the Monophysites, for whose doctrine Apollinaris had, in some measure, prepared the way.

With the rejection of this error, however, the question of the proper relation of the divine and human natures in Christ was not yet solved, but rather for the first time fairly raised. Those church teachers proved the necessity of a reasonable human soul in Christ. But respecting the mode of the union of the two natures their views were confused and their expressions in some cases absolutely incorrect and misleading.15491549   This is true even of Athanasius. Comp. the note on him in § 136, p. 706 f. It was through the succeeding stages of the Christological controversies that the church first reached a clear insight into this great mystery: God manifest in the flesh.

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