There are some people concerning whom you just cannot become angry. No matter how they may oppose you, there is something about them that makes you want to like them. Perhaps this is due to the logical way they present their opposition; then too, their personal character or sincerity often tempts one to handle them, as they say, “with gloves on”. Some opponents there are who are so offensive in their approach that you immediately decide to vanquish them and put them in their proper place. While, on the other hand, there are others, who perhaps are just as vicious and bent on your destruction but who are not quite so boastful and appear to be very sincere in their opposition, against whom you decide to treat them as kindly as possible and sincerely lay before them your argumentation as you have been impressed by them.
The study of the history involved in our subject and particularly as it pertained to the person of Apollinaris himself, has brought me to two inescapable conclusions: first, I was dealing with an intelligent but dangerous heretic; second, I was confronted with a man who left every semblance of sincerity in his attempt to defend his doctrine.
The Apollinaris of whom I speak is the well-known heretic inscribed in Church History with the full name of Apollinaris of Laodicea, and is to be distinguished from his father also known by the same name. The latter was made a presbyter in Laodicea in Syria and was called Apollinaris the Elder, while his son with whom we are now concerned was known as Apollinaris the Younger. He was born presumably about 310 and like his father was first a teacher of rhetoric. About 346 he became acquainted with Athanasius, and they became warm friends, notwithstanding theological differences. Athanasius calls him a bishop in 362. Epiphanius also speaks of him as one who had always been beloved by himself, Athanasius, and all the orthodox, so that when he first got tidings of the new heresy, he could hardly believe that such a doctrine could emanate from such a man.
Apollinaris had done excellent service as a champion of the Nicaean symbol against the Arians, and had given a still more conclusive proof of his zeal in that cause by suffering exile on account of his opposition to the Arian heresy.
How Apollinaris was moved to invent the theory which forever marked him in the annals of Church History as one of the arch heretics may be accounted for with several reasons, chief of which no doubt would be his determined hostility to the opinions concerning the person of the Savior, characteristic of the Arian heretics. The Arian doctrine of the person of Christ was, that in the historical person called Christ appeared in human flesh the very exalted, in a sense divine, creature named in Scripture the Logos. The Logos having taken the place of a human soul, and being liable to human infirmity, yea, even to sin, in as much as, however exalted, He was still a creature, therefore finite, and fallible, was capable of turning, in the abuse of freedom, from good to evil. Apollinaris replied to Arius in effect as follows: “Christ is, as you say, the Logos appearing in the flesh and performing the part of a human soul; but the Logos is not a creature, as you maintain; He is truly divine, eternally begotten, not made, and therefore morally infallible”. In no other way did it seem to him possible to escape the Arian mutability, for he not only admitted the fallibility of all creatures, however exalted, but he believed that in human beings at least a rational soul, endowed with intelligence and freedom, not only may, but must inevitably fall into sin. Accordingly, Apollinaris denied that Jesus had a human mind and ascribed to Him only an immutable divine mind which, to quote his own words, “should not through defect of knowledge be subject to the flesh, but should without effort bring the flesh into harmony with itself.”
The advantage Apollinaris saw in this theory was therefore a sinless Mediator which according to all orthodox thinking was essential to salvation. In other words, if Christ was fallible and capable of sin, He could not be the perfect Savior.
The second advantage believed to be gained by his theory was the securing of the unity of Christ’s person. Apollinaris asserted that if Christ possessed two perfect natures then it must also be maintained that He was two persons and consequently the resultant product is two mediators. “If”, said he, “to perfect man be joined perfect God, there are two, not one: one, the Son of God by nature; another, the Son of God by adoption.” On the other hand, he held that his theory gave one person, who was at once perfect man and perfect God, the two natures not being concrete separable things, but two aspects of the same person. Christ was true God, for He was the eternal Logos manifest in the flesh. He was also true man, for human nature consists of thee component elements, body, animal soul, and spirit of all three are combined, according to the theory, in the person of Christ; while, on the common theory, there were four things combined in Him, whereby He became not a man, but a man-God, a monstrum, resembling the fabulous animals of Greek mythology. True, it might be objected that the third element in the person of Christ, the mind (nous), was not human but divine. But Apollinaris was ready with his reply. “The mind in Christ,” he said in effect, “is at once divine and human; the Logos is at once the express image of God and the prototype of humanity.” This appears to be what he meant when he asserted that the humanity of Christ was eternal,—a part of his system which was much misunderstood by his opponents, who supposed it to have reference to the body of Christ. There is no reason to believe that Apollinaris meant to teach that our Lord’s flesh was eternal, and that He brought it with Him from heaven, and therefore was not really born of the Virgin Mary; though some of his adherents may have held such opinions. His idea was, that Christ was the celestial man; celestial, because divine; man, not merely as God incarnate, but because the Divine Spirit is at the same time essentially human. In the combination whereby Christ’s person was constituted there was thus nothing incongruous, though there was something unique; the divine being fitted in its own nature, and having, as it were, a yearning to become man.
The third advantage accruing from his theory, that, of making God in very deed the subject of a suffering human experience, Apollinaris reckoned of no less value than the other two. It seemed to him of fundamental importance, that the person of Christ should be so conceived of, that everything belonging to His earthly history, both the miracles and the sufferings, should be affirmed directly and exclusively of the divine element in Him. Further, he asserted, .a man liable to the common corruption cannot save the world; neither can we be saved, even by God, unless He mix. with us. He must become an impeccable man, and die and rise again, and so destroy the empire of death over all; He must die as God, for the death of mere man does not destroy death, but only the death of one over whom death cannot prevail. Such thoughts as these appeared to Apollinaris arguments in favor of his theory; for he maintained that in the common theory the divine had really no part in Christ’s sufferings. To rectify this defect was the leading aim of the new Christology. Gregory of Nyssa, in his polemical treatise against Apollinaris states that the whole scope of the work in which the latter promulgated his opinions was to make the deity of the only-begotten Son mortal, and to show that not the human in Christ endured suffering, but the impassible and unchangeable nature in Him, converted to participation in suffering.
The defects of the theory of Apollinaris are very glaring. One radical error is the assumption that to get rid of sin we must get rid of a human mind in Christ. Gregory of Nyssa, referring to the apostolic dictum, “Tempted in all points like as we are, without sin,” very pertinently remarks, “but mind is not sin.” If it be sin, then to be consistent, the theory ought to take away mind not merely from Christ, but from human nature itself. Yet Apollinaris is so far from doing this, that he represents mind (nous) as the leading element in human nature. It is because the mind is the dominating element that its omission is necessary in order to secure the unity of Christ’s person. If Christ consists of two perfect, i.e. complete, un~ mutilated natures, then, according to Apollinaris, He is not one.
Another manifest defect in the theory is, that if adopts means for excluding the possibility of sin in Christ, which defeat another of its own chief ends, namely, that of making the divine partaker of suffering. Place is found for the Physical fact of death, but no place is found for the mortal suffering connected with temptation. Christ is so carefully guarded from Sin, that He is not even allowed to know what it is to be tempted to sin. Apollinaris was so afraid of the Arian doctrine of fallibility that he solves the problem of Christ’s sinlessness by annihilating the very conditions under which the problem had to be worked out. Accordingly, all the temptations and struggles of Christ are reduced to a show and a sham.
In conclusion, let us recapitulate summarizing the tenets and errors of Apollinaris and set forth briefly the true and accepted doctrine that evolved from this controversy.
- Apollinaris denied that Christ possessed a human mind and therefore necessarily denied a complete human nature.
- Apollinaris asserted that the humanity of Christ was eternal, the humanity here, having reference not to the flesh but His spirit, was both divine and human, celestial and eternal, again denying the conception and birth of a complete human nature in time.
- Apollinaris asserted finally that not the human in Christ endured suffering but the divine, hereby denying the Scriptural truth that “He was tempted in all points like we yet without sin.”
No better can the true doctrine accepted and expressed by the Church over against the Arian and Apollinarian heresies be stated than in the creed adopted at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 which is as follows: “We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, 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; as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.”