Apollinarianism: An essay on the Christology of the early Church p. 185ff.

pp. 185ff

This denial to Christ of a human mind or spirit is the sum of Apollinarius’ heresy, and his own statements leave us in no doubt that he realised and intended such a mutilation. At the same time, in order to explain the harshness of the fact, Church historians have represented him as introducing at this point the defence that Christ, in whom the divine Logos took the place of a human mind, was not made thereby less perfect man—indeed, that only by this substitution could his manhood attain perfection. Dorner1, who is responsible for this theory writes, “He viewed the Logos in Christ as the eternal humanity, probably on the ground of His being the archetype of universal humanity”: and, having read this notion into the pages of Apollinarius, is so pleased with it that he devotes several paragraphs to comment upon its deeper aspects. He has been followed by most English scholars2, even by so recent a writer as Dr Relton3; and in view of the popularity of the idea it will be well to quote passages upon which it depends before we go on to give their true explanation. There are two groups of sayings which if they stood alone might suggest a doctrine of archetypal manhood. The former consists of certain passages in the Apodeixis, in which the phrase “man from heaven4” predominates: “Christ, because He has Godhead as His Spirit, that is, as His mind, together with soul and body, is naturally called ‘man from heaven’.”: “If man consists of three elements and if, furthermore, the Lord is man, He also to be sure consists of three, spirit, soul and body: none the less He is a heavenly man and a life-giving spirit”5: “If we consist of three and He of four, He is not man but ‘Man-God’6.” These three passages must be read in connection with another from the same book: “If heavenly man consist of elements all of which are equal to those composing us earthly men, so that He possesses a spirit equal to the earthly, then is His manhood not heavenly but the receptacle of heavenly Godhead.7” Here, as elsewhere, he is using the words “heavenly” and “life-giving” to emphasise the contrast between the Apollinarian or divine and the Antiochene or human Christ: he is justifying, not without a touch of sophistry, his use of the word “man” on the ground that a threefold being can properly be called, and ridiculing the Antiochenes for teaching that Christ is a monstrous compound or hybrid who has even less right to the title8. The second series are passages which suggest the belief that Christ existed before the ages; and the full interpretation of them must be deferred. Here we may note that they nowhere indicate the idea of archetypal manhood, but are directed against Diodore’s belief that the Incarnation involved a hasty change of plan on God’s part, against which Apollinarius argues that it existed potentially from all eternity in the nature of the Son of God. Both groups of these passages are difficult, and were fastened upon by the earliest critics of the heresy. But Dorner’s explanation is not required by either of them, and is on other grounds wholly untenable.

As we have seen, the doctrine of the archetypal manhood and of the analogy between the Logos in Christ and the “seeds of Logos” on ourselves can be found in the earliest efforts of Greek thought to formulate a Christology. In Apollinarius there is a complete absence of the the traditional phrases of the Logos-theology which treat Christ as the Image of God and men as made after that image—phrases which appear in the De Inarnatione, but seldom later, and are characteristic of the Apologies. It is of course possible that the Bishop of Laodicea had recourse to them in his book against Julian: but in none of his extant writings is there a trace of their influence. And in addition there is abundant evidence that they were foreign to his thought. His whole criticism of Diodore is directed against the representation of Christ as differing only quantitatively  from the prophets. He sees that if the divine is regarded as an inspiration then the distinction between Christ and mankind is endangered; and in this distinction his whole soteriology depends. See this, he, like Athanasius, cannot accept a theory which in effect would mean the same thing; for the relationship of type to archetype implies a degree of resemblance which would expose him, inevitably if not quite justly, to the charge of teaching the very belief in quantitative distinction against which he was specially protesting. The contrast between God and man as between the sinless and the sinful is fundamental to his position, and is inconsistent with Dorner’s hypothesis. Very many passages can be quoted to prove this emphasis upon it: “If there can be the same nature in Christ as in ourselves, He is but the old man, a living soul not a “life giving spirit: Christ gives life and is therefore not of our nature.9“: “God is consubstantial with men according to the flesh, different in substance as Logos and God10“: and even more forcibly in the Apodeixis, the treatise form which support of the belief has been drawn, “He is not man though like man; for He is not consubstantial with man in the most important element.11” His meaning is perhaps best summarised in the syllogism “God dwelling in man is not man; spirit is united to flesh is man: Christ is man as has been said titularly, for He is divine spirit united to the flesh.12

We are driven to reject as contradictory to the course and expression of this thought the ingenious exposition of it which his modern admirers have so generously placed in his mouth, and to admit, albeit with reluctance, that when he said that Christ was not man he meant what he said. it is a pity that modern Apollinarians, who, like their master, believe in the impersonal humanity, are not equally honest. He, at least, was too fine a spirit to resort to subterfuge and quibbling in the statement of his convictions. He had worked out int he light of the best psychology of his time and of its deepest Christian experience the significance of the Incarnation, and was not afraid to abide by the results of his work. There were certainly two alternative methods by which, without sinking to the level of Cyril and resorting to ambiguities of speech, he could have avoided the mutilation of Christ’s perfect manhood. On the one hand, the Platonic concept of type and antitype which was implied in the Logos-theology and explicitly taught by Heraclon, and which Dorner assigns to him, would have saved him from it: on the other, if he had followed to its logical conclusion the belief in the heavenly origin of mind which appears, as we have seen, in his commentary of Exekiel, he could have reached the doctrine according to which the spirit only exists potentially in man and has no function except that of receiving and appropriating the divine—a doctrine similar to that of St Paul. The Greek belief that the mind of man and the mind of God are alike divine he rejects because in his attitude to sin he is thoroughly Pauline: the Pauline belief that spirit only exists at all in man when he is in relation with the Spirit of God he rejects because his estimate of mind is wholly Greek. An examination of his psychology will explain his reasons for doing so and clear up the significance of his heresy.


  1. Person of Christ, I, ii. 371-80. It should be added that Dorner’s treatment of Apollinarius is in other respects judicious and accurate.
  2. E.g. Gwatkin, Studies of Arianismp. 252; Mackintosh, Person of Jesus Christ, p. 199; Gore, Belief in Christ p. 120, Bethune-Baker J.T.S, vi. 619 (N/A).
  3. A Study in Christology pp. 12-19, . although published only in 1917, this book shows no acquaintance with the work of Voisin and Lietzmann, and very little with that of Apolinarius.
  4. Lietzmann Fr. 25
  5. Lietzmann Fr. 89
  6. Lietzmann Fr. 91
  7. Lietzmann Fr. 90
  8. Cf. Anac. 16, Lietzmann, p. 244
  9. Anac. 23, Lietzmann, pp. 244-5
  10. C. Diod., Lietzmann, Fr. 126
  11. Lietzmann, Fr. 45
  12. Anac. 16, Lietzmann, p. 244