Apollinarius: Know Your Heretics

 

Historical Background

In the years following the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., the church was wrestling with many questions about the person and work of Christ. At Nicaea, the deity of Christ was established as orthodox Christian teaching, but many questions concerning the person of Christ remained. Apollinarius, named the Bishop of Laodicea in 362 A.D., is responsible for Apollinarianism. This view compromises the full humanity of Jesus by suggesting that the eternal logos (Word) replaced the human soul of Jesus and served as the life-giving principle in the body of Christ.

Apollinarius’ View of Jesus

Apollinarius says, “The flesh, being dependent for its motions on some other principle of movement and action…is not of itself a complete living entity, but in order to become one enters into fusion with something else. So it united itself with the heavenly governing principle [the Logos] and was fused with it…Thus out of the moved and the mover was compounded a single living entity—not two, nor one compound of two complete, self-moving principles” (Apollinarius, “Fragment 107”).

J.N.D. Kelly, a prominent scholar of doctrinal history, writes, “The presupposition of this argument is that the divine Word was substituted for the normal human psychology in Christ.” Put differently, the humanity that was assumed in the incarnation was not a complete humanity but lacked a significant component of personhood. Apollinarius believed, then, that Jesus was only partially human.

The Orthodox Response

The teaching of Apollinarius was condemned at Antioch in 378 and 379 and by the Council of Constantinople in 381. The primary defender of theological orthodoxy was Gregory of Nazianzus, a 4th century Eastern theologian and the Archbishop of Constantinople. He saw Apollinarius as compromising the saving work of Jesus: “If anyone has put his trust in him as a man without a human mind, he is really bereft of mind, and quite unworthy of salvation. For that which he has not assumed he has not healed; but that which is united to his Godhead is also saved. If only half Adam fell, then that which Christ assumes and saves may be half also; but if the whole of his nature fell, it must be united to the whole nature of Him that was begotten, and so be saved as a whole” (“To Cledonius Against Apollinarius”). In other words, if all of Adam was lost and ruined by the Fall, then Christ, the second Adam, must put on all that Adam possessed in order to restore human nature and live the life that Adam failed to live. These issues regarding salvation motivated Gregory to articulate a Christology faithful to the Bible.

Why Does All This Matter?

If Apollinarius is right and the “Word” replaced the human soul of Jesus, we are left wondering how Christ can be fully human. Far from lacking a normal human psychology, the Gospels depict Jesus as being completely human in the way he experienced sorrow, pain, and other genuinely human experiences. Certainly Jesus Christ was fully God, as the council of Nicaea maintained, but he was also fully man. And it was his deity—as well as his humanity—that allowed him to be our perfect substitute, the mediator between God and humanity for us and for our salvation.