Apollinarianism – C E Raven pp. 203ff

He met it by a theory derived from the words of his favourite St Paul, words now familiar in this connection that we may easily do less than justice to him for his use of them1. “He emptied Himself of his glory and assumed the form of a servant” was a text that had already been employed by Origen to explain the infancy and growth of Christ; and it is possible that Apollinarius may have had it suggested to him from the study of his great predecessor. But, if so, the theory which he based upon it is very different from that of Origen and represents a notable discovery in dogmatic theology. To Origen the kenosis had been a single act of submission to a state of temporary ignorance; to Apollinarius it was identical with the whole condition of Christ’s life upon the earth, a continuous process of voluntary renunciation. “Incarnation is self emptying,” he writes in Contra Diodorum2, “and the self-emptying revealed Him who emptied Himself to be not man but Son of Man, by was of limitation and not of change.” He even urges the words of St Paul in a syllogism against the Antiochene Christology3: “If God dwelt in man, He was not limited: but He who was in the form of God was limited by receiving the form of a servant: He did not therefore dwell in man:” and repeats the argument in Apodeixis4: If the Logos was not mind incarnate but only wisdom in the mind, the Lord did not descend or limit Himself.”

The effect of this wilful self-limitation is to make a distinction between Christ’s divine nature as co-essential with the Father and that same nature as subject to the conditions of the Incarnation: and this distinction is clearly expressed in the De Unione5 where Christ is described as “God invisible changed in form by His visible body, God uncreate made manifest by a created limitation, self-limited in assuming the form of a servant, unlimited, unaltered, unimpaired in His divine essence.” The Son of God has to this extent renounced His Godhead and assumed a position of inferiority to and even alienation from His true splendour. The contrast between His two states is emphatically marked in such sayings as “If He who cam to suffering and the Cross was an equal sharer in the Father’s essence, how was it that in agony He prayed that the cup might pass by Him and that not His will but the Father’s should be done? How can we describe His will when He thus prayed except as out harmony with and opposed to God’s6?” And he explains it on this theory of separate spheres of action, limited and limitless, in the one Christ” “The emphasis lies not on the separate wills in disagreement with one another but on the fact that, though one and the same, His will put forth power in its divine aspect, but in its incarnate aspect shrank from death: yet He who uttered the words was God wearing flesh, with no distinction in the exercise of His will7.” It is in virtue of this contrast between the Godhead and the Incarnate that Apollinarius can speak of Christ as “a mean between God and man, neither wholly man nor wholly God, but a combination of God and man8,” as “nature compacted and intermediate between God and man9,” as “new creation and a wondrous mixture: God and flesh have constituted one nature10,” and that he adopts “commixture” (σύγκρασις) as a fitting description for the method of the Incarnation instead of the familiar “indwelling” (ἐνοίκησις) which he criticised11. The fullest statement of his thought upon the kenosis and its results is found in two passages which the author’s habit of expressing profoundest thought in the tersest and most idiomatic language renders particularly difficult to translate adequately. The first is in the Contra Diodorum12: “The qualities of the two when commingled mingle but are not lost: a certain distinction remains between them in spite of the commingling, as it does between wine and water. The commixture is not with the body nor like that of one body with another” (ie. is more complete) “but none the less it preserves the character of being unmingled (as well as mingled), so that the energy of the Godhead acts on each occasion either separately or in combination (with the self-limited or mingled) as it necessary. This happened in the case of our Lord’s fasting. When the Godhead, with its capacity for superiority to want, acted in combination, His hunger appeased: when it did not employ its capacity to resist the feeling of want, His hunger increased.” The second is a fragment of his commentary on St John13, “Evidently it depends upon His heavenly will whether Christ suffers or not, just as it depends on the presence and the absence of light whether man sees or not. It follows that, insofar as His heavenly and divine will repels it, suffering cannot affect Christ: it only appears in proportion to the restraint and withdrawal of the divine will.”

It is by substituting this very ingenious distinction between the unlimited and the self-limited aspects of His Godhead for the more orthodox difference between His divine and His human nature, that Apollinarius was able to account for the growth, affections and death of Christ and attach them directly to His divine personality, while preserving the Godhead of the Son unimpaired. Christ while incarnate and by the fact of His incarnation becomes to that extent inferior to Himself. “If in speaking of Christ anyone takes the saying ‘What He sees the Father doing, He also does’ as applying to His Godhead and not to the flesh wherein the Incarnate is separate from the non-incarnate Father, he is dividing the divine energy into two: they are not so divided: He is not therefore referring to His Godhead14.” A dual mode of action is made possible, and the crude blasphemies of the later Monophysites, as well as the absurdities which his critics, ancient and modern, have ascribed to him, are avoided. Misunderstandings of his position, numerous as they have been, arise almost wholly from failure to appreciated the phase of his thought. Not only was the idea a novelty; for the Greek Fathers had always accounted for the humanity of Christ by merging it in His Godhead15. But the language in which he expressed it is involved, epigrammatic and liable to distortion; the use of the metaphor of mixture gave general offence; and the insistence that the human sufferings belong to the Godhead incarnate was exposed to much misinterpretation. Yet although its metaphysical conceptions are very far from unreality about such notions as withdrawal and reappearance of the divine attributes, this discovery that the self-limitation consisted not in a series of self-conscious and pedagogic acts of special renunciation but in the assumption of a condition involving the necessary absence of the divine attributes, is one of the greatest importance. Whatever its faults, and they spring from the fundamental weakness of all Greek theology, it is vastly preferable to the amazing theories of alternate action between two distinct will supplanting one another in the fashion Box and Cox, which are to be found in Tertullian and Leo. Indeed, the chief respect in which it differs from the kenotic doctrines of the today is that Apollinarius did not venture to represent the self-emptying as complete. To him, Christ, although consenting to all the experiences of humanity, yet keeps the consciousness of His deity throughout. He may hold his power in reserve: but it is always at His command. As he says in several places, “The conjunction with the body does not involve the circumscription of the Logos, so as to leave nothing beyond corporeal existence”16: “The invisible when compacted with a visible body remains at the same time invisible; moreover, it remains uncompacted inasmuch as it is not contained within the limits of the body”17: “while dwelling in human semblance on earth the Logos of God maintained likewise His divine presence in all things, at once permeating all things and being in a peculiar sense commingled with the flesh.18” Such language, though in accordance with the strictly orthodox opinion on the subject, seems doubtless to give an unnatural and artificial meaning to the portrait of Christ, and is quite rightly deprecated by most modern theologians19: but to a Greek of that time it was inevitable. Any belief in a more complete limitation would have seemed equivalent either to a total denial of Christ’s divinity or to a view of His Incarnation similar to that of Marcellus. Apollinarius could only employ the thought and speech of his time, and his use of them deserves admiration rather than criticism.

Having thus avoided making the Godhead of Christ the seat of His human weaknesses, Apollinarius was at once confronted by a second objection, from the side of his opponents at Antioch. His insistence upon the need for a real union, and his use of words like “mixture” and “combination” to express it, laid open to the charge, later deservedly brought against the Monophysites, of confusing together human and divine. In his book against Diodore he draws express attention to this criticism, quoting what may well be an actual saying of his opponent: “The union of God to the flesh was an event remarkable, wondrous, unique, never to be repeated. You and the predecessors who led yo to this impious and unchristian misbelief do not in the least recognise this. You make a mock of the perfect union and say, ‘If there be a union, the attributes of God and the attributes of the flesh no longer remain distinct;’ and you urge that the perfect union is dissolved if we confess a perfect union according to the flesh which is of David’s seed.20” Such an argument is unjust as against the kenotic theory; for nothing in it suggested confusion, except the injudicious language which compared the self-limited Christ to other intermediates, the mule, the colour grey, and the season of spring, and spoke of Him as neither man only nor God only but a mixture between them21. But is was very necessary for Apollinarius to make the point more clear; and to do so he had only to turn the kenotic theory round and show that what was from the one side a process of self-emptying was, from the other, a transference of the human attributes to the Godhead. His great definition, “Incarnation is self-emptying,” implies his response to the Antiochenes. Christ’s limitation consists in the assumption of the conditions of human existence. Christ incarnate takes up the manhood into God: the flesh by union of Christ receives the qualities of deity. The whole is explained when it is realised that the kenosis is the union, and that the union is Communicato Idiomatum. The two terms are only complementary description of the single fact that in the one Christ God and man are one.22

His statement of the argument can be seen most clearly in the fragments of the Contra Diodorem, and was evidently a constituent part of his Christology from the beginning. He first justifies his use of mixture by a vigorous affirmation of the entire distinctness of the body and the Godhead, in the course of which he quotes Origen’s illustration of the red-hot iron:23 “If the combination of iron (with fire) makes the iron itself look like fire and enables it to work all the works of fire and yet does not change its nature, so the union of God to the body causes no change in the body, although the body offers to whose who can touch it the energy of the Godhead.24” Such a saying ought to acquit Apollinarius of the monstrous insinuation of his ancient and modern opponents that he taught the consubstantiality of the flesh and the Godhead: and in the same book he supports it by a series of arguments in which he uses the union of the soul and body wherein there is no confusion in spite of their common origin25—”the commingling does not make the soul visible, nor change it into the other qualities f the body so that it can be pierced or mutilated.26” to prove that a fortiori there will be no confusion between the Godhead and the body which are not of common origin. This is, however, only by way of safeguard. The doctrine of transference is summed up in a single sentence which is a definite reply to Diodore’s accusation, “If the body of the Lord has become one with the Lord, the attributes of the body have become His attributes on account of the body27“; and this is expanded in the same book, “The properties of God and the body are united in Him: He is eternally Creator, object of worship, Wisdom, Power; these He derives from His Godhead; Son of Mary, born in this last time, a worshipper of God, progressing in wisdom, growing stronger in power; these from His body.28” In the one person the two series of qualities are fully and perfectly united, so that Apollinarius in the exposition of his teaching to Dionysus can summarise it in the words: “We maintain body of these, that the whole is from heaven because of the Godhead, and the whole form a woman because of the flesh: we recognise no distinction in the one person, nor do we divide the earthly from the heavenly, nor the heavenly from the earthly: such division is impious.29” In view of subsequent history perhaps the most interesting of the results which follow from the use of this principle of transference is the bestowal upon the Blessed Virgin of the title θεοτόκος or Mother of God. In the confession of faith called De Fide et Incarnatione30 Apollinarius and his synod protest that neither they nor any sane person speaks of the flesh as consubstantial with God in itself, but only as indivisibly united with the Logos to form “one person, one hypostasis, wholly man, wholly God,” and urge that in consequence of this inseparable union and not of any divinity of the body part from such union the Virgin is θεοτόκος, and that if this belief in the reality and results of the union be rejected “she will no longer be believe to be θεοτόκος which would be an act of injustice and impiety foreign to every reverent soul”—words which, when taken in connection with the special allusions of Theodore to the subject31, intimate that the title had already become a topic of party strife.


1. Harnack, H. D. vol4, pp. 154-5, though rightly laying stress upon Apollinarius’ indebtedness to St Paul and the N.T., strangely neglects all notice of his doctrine of kenosis.

2. Lietzmann, Fr. 124

3. Anac. 15, Lietzmann, pp. 243-4

4. Lietzmann, Fr. 71

5. §6 Lietzmann, pp. 187-8

6. De Manif., Lietzmann Fr. 110

7. De Manif., Lietzmann, Fr. 109

8. Syllog., Lietzmann, Fr. 113

9. Lietzmann, Fr. 111

10. De Inc., Lietzmann, Fr. 10. Most of these extracts in which the idea of mixture occurs come from Justinian, C. Monoph.

11. Compare Mari Enc., Lietzmann, Fr. 11, with Anac. 28

12. Lietzmann, Fr. 127.

13. Cramer, l.c. II. 315

14. C. Diod., Lietzmann, Fr. 131. This quotation comes near to the traditional distribution into human and divine of the sayings and doings of Christ—a distribution condemned by Cyril of Alex. in his anathemas against Nestorius, but sanctioned by Leo in his Tome. Cf. For a similar distinction, De Unione, 14, 15 (Lietzmann, pp. 191-192); De Inc., Lietzmann, Fr. 3, 4, 5.

15. The famous passage in Irenaeus 3.20.3, quoted by Theodoret, Dial., 3 (ed. Schultz vol. 4, 232), might seem to contradict this. Theodoret’s version συγγινομένον τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ is remarkably like this saying of Apollinarius. But the Latin gives absopto homine; and it seems certain that Theodoret has substituted συγγιμονένου for some word like καταποθέντος (so Steiren, ad loc.) which would fully justify our assertion.

16. C. Diod., Lietzmann, Fr. 138.

17. C. Diod., Lietzmann, Fr. 133.

18. Κ. Μ. Π. 11, Lietzmann, p. 171. This passage immediately precedes the sections dealing with the Sabellianism and may probably owe its emphasis to the desire to oppose Marcellus’ belief that Incarnation involved the circumscription of the Logos. Cf. above, p.163

19. Eg. very strongly by Bishop Weston, The One Christ p. 157,.

20. Lietzmann Fr. 140. Diodore’s objection is exactly similar to that afterwards restated by Theodore; cf. theodore: cf. below, pp. 291-3

21. Syllog., Lietzmann, Fr. 113, quoted above.

22. The doctrine Communicatio Idiomatum is not a discovery of Apollinarius and had already been widely used against the Arians eg. by Athanasius, c. Arian. ii and iii: but not one before Apollinarius has seen that it involved kenosis. Athanasius, for example, while maintaining the transference of human attributes to the Godhead had deprived them of all reality and come near to simple docetism, cf. above, pp. 92, 93 and Or. c. Arian. 3.51.

23. De princ. 2.6.6. This similitude became very familiar in the Monophysite controversy: cf. Leontius, Adv. Nestor. 1.49, and C. Monoph. (MigneP. G. 86.21869C).

24. Lietzmann, Fr. 128

25. This is the passage which Voison uses to prove that he was a “dichotomite,” in spite of συμφυής! Cf. above p. 172.

26. Lietzmann, Fr. 134.

27. Lietzmann, Fr. 137.

28. Lietzmann, Fr. 125

29. §7, Lietzmann, p. 259

30. §5, Lietzmann, p. 196θεοτόκος occurs three times, always with emphasis: it occurs in Ad Jovian 1.

31. Cf. below, p. 294. The title had been used by Athanasius, Or. c. Arian. 3.33, and Alexander of Alexandria, Ep. ad Alex Byz. (Theodoret, H. E. 1.3).