Apollinarianism and The Incarnation

Apollinarianism is the heresy known by the name of its primary teacher of antiquity–Apollinarius, bishop of Laodicea (310-390). Apollinarius was a close associate of Athanasius who was known as the defender of Nicene Christological orthodoxy. Athanasius is primarily remembered for his doctrine of the incarnation and defense of the doctrine against Arius who taught Jesus was the first of God’s creatures with the slogan “there was a time when the Son was not.”

Apollinarius, in his zeal to affirm the deity and unity of Christ against Arius, seems to have fallen into another heresy. Apollinarius’ main teaching was that the Logos supplied the intellect to the body of Jesus. Therefore, Jesus did not have a human mind/intellect. This heresy was condemned at the First Council of Constantinople in 381.

Apollinarius wrote, “So Christ, having God as his spirit—that is, his intellect—together with soul and body, is rightly called “the human being from heaven” (“Fragment 25,” Norris, Richard A.. Christological Controversy (Sources of Early Christian Thought, 83). In the “Fragments” he continued to write, “He is not a human being but is like a human being, since he is not coessential with humanity in his highest part. 69. For he would not have been born in the likeness of a human being unless, like a human being, he was in fact an incarnate intellect” (Ibid., 83). In “Fragment 76” he went on to deny the Christology of Hebrews when he wrote, “Therefore, the human race is saved not by the assumption of an intellect and of a whole human being but by the assumption of flesh, whose nature it is to be ruled. What was needed was unchangeable Intellect which did not fall under the domination of the flesh on account of its weakness of understanding but which adapted the flesh to itself without force.” (Norris, 84). Apollinarius’ own words here manifest what is typically understood as the main point of his heresy–that the Logos supplied the intellect to the created body of Jesus thus creating a “full human.”

According to Apollinarius, Christ has no human will or intellect. He wrote, “Christ is one, moved only by a divine will, just as we know that his activity is one, manifested in different marvels and sufferings of his one nature, for he is believed to be God enfleshed” (Norris, Richard A.. Christological Controversy (Sources of Early Christian Thought, 84). Church history has dealt with this under the monothelite heresy. Jesus’ prayer life and direct statements, “I came not to do my will but the will of him who sent me.”

This affirmation may not seem to be far off the orthodox base at first glance, but the claim is filled with problems for the doctrine of God, the doctrine of Christ, and the doctrine of salvation.

Apollinarius’ doctrine requires an unorthodox doctrine of God. In order for Bible readers to understand Jesus’ mind was only that of the eternal Logos, they must accept that the mind of God suffered from human weaknesses. Jesus is said to have grown in wisdom (Lk 2:52). This is something the Logos cannot do if he is indeed omniscient. Jesus did not know the time for the end of the age (Matt 24:36). Jesus prayer in the Garden manifested his human will in contrast with the singular divine will as he prayed “If there is any other way, let this cup pass from me” (Matt 26:39). Jesus’ anxiety and weeping are also evidences of the human mind which was present in the person of Christ.

Apollinarius did not give appropriate weight to the humanity present and demonstrated in the life of Christ. Jesus demonstrated creaturely intellect during his incarnate life. These characteristically human attributes must either be ignored or attributed to the divine mind–the Logos. Neither of these options is acceptable. God is simple, immutable, and impassible. He is omniscient. Jesus’ human intellect was none of these things and could not be. The eternal Logos, proceeding from the Father, could not but be all that Deity entails.

Apollinarianism also has serious consequences for the doctrine of salvation. Gregory of Nazianzus famously summarized the soteriological problems associated with Apollinarianism when he said

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. Let them not, then, begrudge us our complete salvation, or clothe the Saviour only with bones and nerves and the portraiture of humanity.

Gregory of Nazianzus, Epistle 101

Gregory’s now famous words summarize what the Spirit had revealed in Hebrews 2. Scripture teaches that Jesus was made a little lower than the angels or made human (Hebrews 2:9). Although God is impassible (he cannot suffer), Jesus suffered (Hebrews 2:10). Jesus, as human, was able to identify with people (Hebrews 2:11-13). Jesus shared in flesh and blood to redeem those who were of flesh and blood (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Then finally, the Spirit taught that “in all things He had to be made like His brothers so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted” (Hebrews 2:17-18). These final two verses highlight the heresy of Apollinarianism. First, Jesus was “made like his brothers” “in all things.” “In all things” includes the intellect/mind/will. That Jesus had a human mind/will/intellect is further proven in that “He Himself was tempted.” James taught the perfections of God meant that “he cannot be tempted with evil.” Jesus, though, was tempted. How were the temptations of Jesus possible if the Logos supplied the human intellect? In order for Jesus to be tempted, he had to have a human mind as well as a divine mind.

The safe path then is to maintain the Chrisological orthodoxy described at Chalcedon. In the incarnation Jesus is “to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably ( ἀσυγχύτως, ἀτρέπτως, ἀδιαιρέτως, ἀχωρίστως ); the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Since the incarnation Jesus remained one person but began, at the incarnation, to subsist in two natures (the divine and human).

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