Should Apollinarianism be revised? The hypostatic union will remain a mystery, but Chalcedonian Christology provided a reliable safeguard to understand the nature of the union of the divine and human natures in Christ. J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig have argued that Apollinarianism could be revised and then become the appropriate Christological model. Despite the bold claim that Apollinarianism could be the appropriate model, Moreland and Craig’s proposed revisions are equally as drastic. They affirm that the Logos could have functioned as the Christ’s human intellect if the particularly divine attributes were hidden beneath the surface in the divine subconscious. 

            Neo-Apollinarianism is similar to kenotic Christology, but Moreland and Craig reject kenoticism. Neo-Apollinarianism is monothelite, however, Moreland and Craig argue that their position actually contains both the human and divine mind since the Logos was present but restricted. In this way, Moreland and Craig claim that their model fits within the Chalcedonian standard. These claims are clearly difficult to maintain. 


            This study will examine the Neo-Apollinarian claims to see if that model presents a Christ who is the true Son of God and the true Son of Man. Since Neo-Apollinarianism does not present a fully divine Logos, the Neo-Apollinarian model cannot be said to present Christ as true God. This matter is further complicated since the doctrine of God which Neo-Apollinarianism is drastically different than that which has been confessed by classical theists in the great tradition. Next, this study will examine the claim that the Neo-Apollinarian Christology presented a Christ who was true human. Since the Neo-Apollinarian Christ did not have a human mind and experienced “outbursts” of divine expression, that Christological model does not present Christ as true human. Neo-Apollinarianism, therefore, does not provide a Christ who is either Son of God or Son of Man. Finally, since Neo-Apollinarianism began as an attempt to explain the logic of the incarnation, an attempt will be made to explain how classical theism has dealt with this question. 

Son of God and Son of Man?

Son of God

            Neo-Apollinarianism does not teach that the Logos was true God during the incarnation. Neo-Apollinarianism rejects fundamental attributes of God such as eternality or infinitude, simplicity, and immutability. The rejection of these fundamental attributes allows Moreland and Craig to argue that the Logos could supply the human mind to the physical body and thus be “incarnate.”

Classical theism sees God as the greatest of all possible beings and the greatest being that can be conceived. As a champion of God’s perfections, Anselm taught, “There is a being which is best, and greatest, and highest of all beings.”[1]Anselm argued that God must exist as the greatest of all possible beings because “all other goods are good through another being than that which they themselves are, and this being alone is good through itself. Hence, this alone is supremely good, which is alone good through itself…. There is, therefore, some being which is supremely good, and supremely great, that is, the highest of all possible beings.”

Moreland and Craig’s Christology proposes that the being who is necessarily supreme became less than supreme. They began their discussion of the doctrine of God with the pronouncement “Since the concept of God is underdetermined by the biblical data and since what constitutes a ‘great-making’ property is to some degree debatable, philosophers working within the Judeo-Christian tradition enjoy considerable latitude in formulating a philosophically coherent and biblically faithful doctrine of God.”[2]

Son of Man

            Soteriology, as classically understood, requires the presence of a true human nature. This requirement is based on Scriptures like Hebrews 2 and Romans 5 and the subsequent Patristic reflection on Christ as the representative human who healed all that he touched. Moreland and Craig rejected dyothelitism. They wrote, “dyothelitism, despite its conciliar support, finds no warrant in Scripture.”[3] This claim should be carefully examined. If dyotheletism is not a biblical position, then it should be abandoned. However, a sufficient explanation of the historic acceptance of the dyothelite position should be demanded in centuries of Christian belief are to be discarded in preference for the novel Neo-Apollinarian and monothelite model.

            Scripture displays both the human and divine minds in Christ. Jesus prayer in Gethsamene revealed that he had a will which was distinct from the divine (Lk 22:42). Hebrews 2 affirmed the necessity the human mind in Christ for a true incarnation. First, the nature of the incarnation was shown to be one in which Christ assumed a true human nature. Hebrews 2:17 says, “ὅθεν ὤφειλεν κατὰ πάντα τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς ὁμοιωθῆναι.” The Son is eternally homoousios, and in the incarnation Christ became like his brethren in every way.

Logic of the Union

            How can two natures be joined in one person? This question has been approached in various ways, but Calvin and Aquinas can provide helpful tools to begin understanding the logic of the union. First, Calvin’s emphasis on human sanctification through union with Christ in the Spirit provides a helpful model for understanding how a human mind can be dedicated to God’s will. Secondly, Aquinas’ comparison of the assumption of the human nature to a craftsman working with a tool (although it would be a “willing” tool), provides a helpful understanding of how the two natures can be united together. 

Calvin on the Logic of the Union

Calvin acknowledged the Chalcedonian two-nature Christology. He wrote, “he chose for himself the virgin’s womb as a temple in which to dwell, he who was the Son of God became the Son of man—not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person. For we affirm his divinity so joined and united with his humanity that each retains its distinctive nature unimpaired, and yet these two natures constitute one Christ.”[4] Calvin began his discussion of this mystery with an illustration. He compared the two natures of Christ to the body and soul of a human. Calvin said, “If anything like this very great mystery can be found in human affairs, the most apposite parallel seems to be that of man, whom we see to consist of two substances. Yet neither is so mingled with the other as not to retain its own distinctive nature.”[5]

Calvin emphasized that activities, such as eternality, were exclusive to the divine nature, and some, such as growth, were exclusive to the human nature. Both activities, however, were accomplished by Jesus—one person. Calvin affirmed the sharing of the properties with the accomplished work of Jesus as described in Acts 20:28, “he purchased the church with his own blood.” [6] Calvin then reinforced the argument with the similar affirmation in 1 John 3:16, “he laid down his life for us.” Calvin wrote, “Surely God does not have blood, does not suffer, cannot be touched with hands. But since Christ, who was true God and also true man, was crucified and shed his blood for us, the things that he carried out in his human nature are transferred improperly, although not without reason, to his divinity.”[7]

            Calvin agreed that there were two natures present in the one person of Christ. The Scriptures proved this as they referred to both divine activities and human activities in the Christ. Calvin also warned of the soteriological disaster of not recognizing either the divine or human nature “because the receiving of the one of these without the other was of no avail to salvation, and it was equally perilous to have believed the Lord Jesus Christ to be either only God without man, or only man without God.” [8] Both the divine and human were active in Jesus and the Scriptures ascribe divine and human actions and qualities to the one person “because the selfsame one was both God and man, for the sake of the union of both natures he gave to the one what belonged to the other.”[9] Calvin affirmed the classical position, but he did not venture far into how the two natures functioned as much as other authors as he often avoided the concepts which he would have viewed as more skeptical in nature. 

            Calvin’s emphasis for the incarnation was on the necessity of union with humanity for salvation. “For Calvin saving union with Christ rests on the incarnation and the resulting unity of Christ with humanity.”[10] McClean concluded that “Calvin views the union of the believer with Christ as ‘perichoretic’ and that this gives rise to a theme of theosis in his soteriology.”[11] Whether or not one accepts theosis as a part of Calvin’s soteriology depends somewhat on the definition of theosis.[12] Donald Fairbairn’s description of theosis in Eastern Orthodoxy is “the process of acquiring godly characteristics, gaining immortality, and incorruptibility, and experiencing communion with God.”[13] That definition, or at least that concept, is surely acceptable to most.. This concept described by Fairbairn is foundational for Calvin’s soteriology and perhaps can inform the logic of dyothelitism.[14]

            Calvin would not have suggested that humans might become divine. The two natures are incomparable. However, if the concept of theosis is allowed to inform the way in which the human nature was united to the divine, then it is easier to understand how the two minds might function in one person. The human mind of Christ was “χωρὶς ἁμαρτίας” (Heb 4:15) due to its miraculous creation and union to the Logos. This mind which was “without sin” would naturally submit to the Logos and thus be a fit instrument for the Logos as Aquinas described. 

Aquinas on the Logic of the Union

            Aquinas offered a bit more detail on the logic of the two natures joined and functioning in the one person. He affirmed Chalcedonian Christology and said, “by the assumption of human nature the Son of God suffered no diminution of what pertains to His Divine Nature, to which it belongs to have a will.”[15] Aquinas explained, 

The Person or hypostasis of Christ may be viewed in two ways. First as it is in itself, and thus it is altogether simple, even as the Nature of the Word. Secondly, in the aspect of person or hypostasis to which it belongs to subsist in a nature; and thus the Person of Christ subsists in two natures. Hence though there is one subsisting being in Him, yet there are different aspects of subsistence, and hence He is said to be a composite person, insomuch as one being subsists in two.”[16]

Legge summarized Aquinas’ position this way: “From the first instant of Christ’s human life, Christ’s humanity has a ‘relation’ to the divine Word himself, according to the Word’s ‘pre-existing personal esse,’ a relation so profound and exalted that there is no merely human personhood in Christ, nor a human hypostasis or supposit, but only the personhood of the Word.”[17] In the Compendium Theologiae, Aquinas described his dyothelite position this way: 

Whatever belongs to the supposit or hypostasis must be acknowledged to be but one in Christ. Wherefore, if existence is understood in the sense that one supposit has one existence, it seems that we must say that there is only one existence in Christ….So then, if we consider Christ as an integral supposit having two natures, his existence will be but one, just as the supposit also is one.[18]

The human nature was a true human nature but was assumed by the Logos as an instrument.[19] Aquinas, it seems, built his argument of unity in the person of Christ from an Aristotelian understanding of unity, which is possessed in a substance precisely because it is a substance. Unity could not be added to an object, like color or size could be added to an object.[20] Thus, Christ, with both natures, has unity despite the composition as the largest ontological whole.[21]   

            This unity in the person of Christ is “divisible,” and presents another problem for Aquinas and his Aristotelian metaphysics. Aristotle argued unity is “ens indivisum” or “indivisibility of being.”[22] Aquinas, likewise, defined “unity” as “the impossibility of division.”[23] If Christ can be divided into human and divine natures (two unums), then how can the person of Christ be described as unitas? Christ could be described according to his divine nature or his human nature or the nature of the two-natured person. Christ’s human nature did not exist as a person by itself. Instead, the human nature was “personalized” when the Logos assumed the human nature (enhypostasis).[24] In fact “Aquinas’ principal concern was to underline that Christ has only one substantial esse, just as Christ is one suppositum and one hypostasis, and to insist that Christ’s humanity is not joined to his divinity as an accident, with an accidental being.”[25]

            Aquinas continued to explain that “one is the same as being (esse).”[26] Apart from the simple God, all persons and objects are composite and only have unity as they exist as a composite. Aquinas wrote composite objects or persons do not possess unity “being whilst its parts are divided,” but “after they make up and compose” the composed parts form a unity.[27] Christ, Aquinas argued in de union Verbi, exists in duplici unitate or double unity since he subsists as one person in two natures.[28] The two natures are joined in one person. Each nature has its own unity, but as the two natures are joined in one person, a new unity is formed. 

            Each of the natures retains its fullness. Each nature, therefore, will have its own will. These wills do not constitute two persons, because they are joined in the one Christ to form a new unitas of being or one person. Aquinas argued the two wills were not contrary to one another. He wrote, “Contrariety can only exist where there is opposition in the same and as regards the same.”[29] The stress between the wills, for Aquinas, did not present contrariness. Therefore, there was a cognitive awareness in the person of the two will yet, the person remained the determiner.[30] This cognitive awareness helps to demonstrate that Christ had two wills, but that the free from sin human will was in complete submission to the divine will and sought the approval of the divine will. As Aquinas said, “although the natural and the sensitive will in Christ wished what the Divine will did not wish, yet there was no contrariety of wills in Him.”[31]

Aquinas went on to describe the practical outworking of the two wills in one person. In this section Aquinas argued that the higher or greater should “operate” the lower or inferior. Aquinas wrote, “wherever there are several mutually ordained agents, the inferior is moved by the superior, as in man the body is moved by the soul and the lower powers by the reason.”[32] So, in the person of Christ, the deity would be the higher will and the humanity would be the inferior. “Now, as in a mere man the body is moved by the soul, and the sensitive by the rational appetite, so in the Lord Jesus Christ the human nature is moved and ruled by the Divine.”[33]

Aquinas illustrated his theory with a carpenter who uses tools or a craftsman who uses an ax. In both instances, the implement is active, but only as the “higher will” chooses to act on the implement. So, Aquinas said, 

in Christ, the human nature has its proper form and power whereby it acts, and so has the Divine. Hence the human nature has its proper operation distinct from the Divine, and conversely. Nevertheless, the Divine Nature makes use of the operation of the human nature, as of the operation of its instrument; and in the same way the human nature shares in the operation of the Divine Nature, as an instrument shares in the operation of the principal agent.[34]

Aquinas taught the divine will would, in a compatibilistic manner, shape the direction of the human will. In this way Aquinas believed he had protected the two wills in Christ from mixture and elucidated the way in which the two wills would be determined by the reason of the person. 

Calvin’s view of salvation as being united to God in Christ through the Spirit helps to understand how a human will could be submissive to the divine will if that human will was truly “free from sin” like that of Christ. If this could be called “theosis,” then theosis would helpfully assist in understanding how the human will could function as an instrument for the divine will without ceasing to be a true nature. 


            Neo-Apollinarianism does not provide a Christological model in which Christ could be said to be Son of God or Son of Man. Both these titles must be rejected in the Neo-Apollinarian paradigm. Neo-Apollinarianism presents a Christ who was neither true God or true man. Instead, Christ would be a mixture of divine and human intellects. Neo-Apollinarianism stands outside the bounds of Chalcedonian Christology and subsequent conciliar reflection on the biblical data. Neo-Apollinarianism began as an attempt to answer how the two natures could exist in one person. This novel attempt does not seem to be satisfactory. Instead, classical theism offers helpful boundaries and guides by which some understanding might begin. 

[1] Anselm, Monologium, 1.  

[2] J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 835-836. 

[3] Moreland and Craig, Philosophical Foundations, 611. 

[4] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2, II, xiv, 1 

[5] Institutes II, xiv, 1.

[6] It is important to note that Calvin rejected the Lutheran notion of Christ’s ubiquitous flesh. Calvin, of course, held to the Reformed view of the communicatio idiomatum. 

[7] John Calvin, Institutes II, xiv, 2

[8] Leo the Great, “Letter 28.5” in Leo the Great, Gregory the Great, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Charles Lett Feltoe, vol. 12a, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1895), 41.

[9] John Calvin, Institutes II, xiv, 2.

[10] John McClean. “Perichoresis, Theosis and Union with Christ in the Thought of John Calvin” Reformed Theological Review 68:2 (August 2009), 132. 

[11] John McClean, “Perichoresis, Theosis, and Union with Christ in the Thought of John Calvin,” 141.  

[12] If Athanasius’ statement in De Incarnatione 54.3 that “Αὐτὸς γὰρ ἐνηνθρώπησεν, ἵνα ἡμεῖς θεοποιηθῶμεν.” Irenaeus wrote that God had become “what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself” (Against Heresies Book 5). Likewise, Clemement of Alexandria wrote, “the Word of God became a man so that you might learn from a man how to become a god” (Exhortation to the Greeks, 1). 

[13] Donald Fairbairn, “Salvation as Theosis: The Teaching of Eastern Orthodoxy” Themelios (23:3): 42. 

[14] Calvin beautifully wrote, “First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us. Therefore, to share with us that he has received from the Father, he had to become ours and to dwell within us. For this reason, he is called “our Head” [Eph. 4:15], and “the first-born among many brethren” [Rom. 8:29]. We also, in turn, are said to be “engrafted into him” [Rom. 11:17], and to “put on Christ” [Gal. 3:27]; for, as I have said, all that he possesses is nothing to us until we grow into one body with him” (Institutes III, I, 1).  Calvin then described the Spirit as “the bond by which Christ effectually unites us to himself” (Institutes III, I, 1). Clearly Calvin saw the union between God and the saved to be the foundational way in which salvation could be described. 

[15] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, III q.18 a.1 ad 2trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, n.d.).

[16] STh., III q.2 a.4 resp.

[17] Dominic Legge The Trinitarian Christology of St Thomas Aquinas (Oxford: Oxford U P, 2017), 108-109.  

[18] Thomas Aquinas Compendium Theologiae Cyril Vollert, S. J. translator. (Veritas Splendorchapter). 212.

[19] Aquinas’ view of the human nature as an “instrument” was described by J. David Moser in his article “The Flesh of the Logos, Instrumentum divinitatis: Retreiving an Ancient Christological Doctrine” International Journal of Systematic Theology, July 2021: 1-20.  

[20] Aristotle, Metaphysics, 3.2 

[21] Aristotle’s distinction between the unum and unitas is helpful. A substance can be composite and still be “one.” All objects and persons in creation are composite, yet these objects and people are understood to have unity (unitas). The Logos is simple. The human nature is composite. When these two natures are united in the one person of Christ, there is one person with unitas instead of two persons. Aquinas was, therefore, correct to describe the unity of Christ from three angles: 1) the divine, 2) the human, and 3) the union of the two natures.   

[22] Aristotle, Metaphysics, 5.6. 

[23] STh. I q. 11. 

[24] See Legge’s discussion in Trinitarian Christology of St Thomas Aquinas, 106-109.

[25] Dominic Legge, The Trinitarian Christology of St Thomas Aquinas, 107. See also Grillmeiere’s discussion of the Apollinarian view in Christ and Tradition Vol 1, 337-340.  

[26] STh., I q.11 a.1 resp. 

[27] STh., I q.11 a.1 resp.

[28] Aquinas, De union Verbi, article 3 ad 7. 

[29] STh., III q.18 a.6 resp.

[30] Aquinas continued his argument saying, “for contrariety of wills it is necessary that it should be in the same will. For if a man wishes one thing with his rational appetite, and wishes another thing with his sensitive appetite, there is no contrariety, unless the sensitive appetite so far prevailed as to change or at least keep back the rational appetite; for in this case something of the contrary movement of the sensitive appetite would reach the rational will” (Summa Theologica, III q.18 a.6).

[31] STh., III q.18 a.6 resp.

[32] STh., III q.19 a.1 resp.

[33] STh., III q.19 a.1 resp.

[34] STh., III q.19 a.1 resp.

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