The Teaching of Apollinarius: T F Torrance pp. 143 – 150.

Home / The Teaching of Apollinarius: T F Torrance pp. 143 – 150.

While the chief work of Apollinarius in which he set out his distinctive ideas (ἀπόδειξις οερὶ τῆς θείας σαρκώσεως) is no longer extant, a succinct and serviceable summary of them may be found in the Contra Apollinarium attributed to Athanasius1: a summary which has been well tested and found not wanting by modern research into the other works of Apollinarius which have been preserved under other names and many fragments which have survived through the works of his opponents.2 ‘In place of the inward man within us there is a heavenly mind in Christ (ἀντὶ τοῦ ἔσωθεν ἐν ἡμῖν ἀνθρώπον νοῦς ἐπιουράνιος ἐν Χριστῷ), for he used the outward form which enveloped him as an instrument. For it was not possible that he should become complete man (τέλειον ἄνθρωπον). For where there is complete man, there is also sin, and two complete entities cannot become one. Otherwise there would be in Christ also the conflict of sin which is in us, and Christ would need the cleansing which we receive, if in becoming man Christ exhibited in himself the element which in us us thinks and directs the flesh. On the contrary, they say, he took that which is without mind (τὸ ἀνόντον) that he himself be mind in it (ἵν’ αὐτὸς ᾗ νοῦς ἐν αὐτῷ), and be altogether without a taste of sin both in respect of what was divine and in respect of what was mindless in the flesh. Flesh would not sin if the thinking element which directs the flesh did not conceive the act of sin beforehand, and then operating through the body bring that act of sin to its fulfilment. Hence Christ exhibited newness of flesh through assimilating it in likeness to Himself (καθ’ ὀμοίωσιν), but each man exhibits in himself the newness of that mind through imitation and assimilation and absence of sin. And so Christ is conceived to be without sin.’ These statements may be interpreted and their significance reinforced by reference to other extant fragments. Evidently Apollinarius was not a monophysite, for he was just as opposed to any docetic diminishing of the creaturely and physical reality of the flesh of Christ as he was to a dualist bifurcation of Christ into two personal realities.3 In steering a course between these positions, he developed a kind of kenotic theory in reverse: ‘Incarnation is a kind of self-emptying (σάρκωσις κένωσις), but the kenosis made known the one who emptied himself to be not man but the Son of Man, by way of covering not by way of change (κατά τὴν περιβολήν, οὐ κατὰ μεταβολήν).4 ‘If God dwelt in man, he was not emptied, but he who was in the form of God was emptied in taking the form of a servant__therefore he did not dwell in man. God dwelling in man is not man, but Spirit united to the flesh is man. Christ is man, so to speak, titularly (ὁμωνύμως) man, for he is divine Spirit united to flesh.5‘ That is to say, if the Incarnation was not to mean a mere dwelling of the Logos like Wisdom in the mind of man but a real descent and kenosis without any change of the part of the Logos,6 it had to involve a substitution of the controlling centre in man by the Logos who then used the outward form of man as a bodily envelope for his incarnate presence among men. In actual fact, therefore, the Incarnation involved not so much an emptying of God as an emptying of man in respect of his human mind to make room for the Logos, resulting in such a union with human existence in the flesh that there was one incarnate nature.7

Admittedly Apollinarius’ statements are not altogether clear, but whatever we make of them it does seem right to say that his concept of the incarnate Logos was not intended in a monophysite sense. His stress upon ‘one nature’ (μία φύσις) was intended to indicate a Christ who is a ‘living unity’ (ἑνότης ζωτική), ‘an anthropoid synthesis’ (σύνθεσις ἀνθρωποιδής),8 comprising two elements (πράγματα)9, but constituting a ‘natural unity’ (ἕνωσις φυσική)  in which neither part is changed as a result of the union10. Apollinarius could even speak of Christ as in a certain sense ‘whole man’ (ὅλος ἄνθρωπος), comprising ‘body and soul’ like man.11

In all this Apollinarius appears to have three overriding concerns. (a) The incarnate Logos was a single nature (μία φύσις), God in the flesh’ (θὲος ἔνσαρκος), for unless complete union (ἕνωσις) took place in Christ the object of the Incarnation would remain unachieved12__hence the stress upon the ‘one Person’ of Christ in whom God and flesh are united (σὰρξ . . . εἰς ἕν πρόσωπον ἥνωται τῇ θεότετι)13. (b) This union was of a dynamic and creative kind, for our salvation depends upon a divine act in which our creaturely and physical reality in Christ is renewed and recreated without loss of its creaturely and physical reality__and here Apollinarius clearly reveals the Aristotelian notion of ‘nature’ as a vitalistic self determining principle, characterised by ‘one energetic movement’ (μία . . . ἐνεργετικὴ κίνησις)14. (c) Christ was utterly free from any taint of sin, even His body was body was holy from the outset__it is the complete sanctity and sanctifying power of God the Son in our midst which is essential for our salvation.15 That must be maintained in fact of the fact that, as Apollinarius rightly saw, sin has its seat in the mind, for it is basically in his mind that man is alienated from God.16 Hence Apollinarius thought of the Incarnation as a creative irruption of the divine into the human resulting in a new state of affairs in man, in which the flesh is united with the Godhead in the Person of the Logos;17 and it in virtue of this that we are enabled to become holy and pure before God, through sharing in the heavenly mind of Christ.18

The logic of this, within his own framework of thought and not least within his psychological scheme19, forced Apollinarius to posit an Incarnation of the Logos in which the human mind (νοῦς ψυχὴ λογική) was set aside and replaced by a divine or heavenly mind, which the Logos Himself is as divine Spirit20. Hence in Apollinarius’ view, Christ had only a creaturely body and an animal or non-rational soul (ψυχὴ ἄλογος) which were fused by the Logos into a unity with himself. ‘Christ, together with soul and body, has God for spirit, that is to say mind.21‘ Apollinarius saw a two-fold difficulty to be dealt with: (a) the mind is the governing or directive principle through which the flesh which cannot determine itself is controlled; (b) the human mind, however, is inevitably sinful and prey to evil thoughts. Hence if salvation was to take place the human mind had to be set aside and a new kind of mind grafted into humanity, one that was subject to change or to sin.

The human mind had to be set aside if only because there could not be two governing principles in Christ, a human mind and a divine mind. ‘The two principles of mind and will cannot reside together, or one will conflict the other.22‘ ‘There cannot exist two minds with two opposing wills in one and the same subject.23‘ But the human mind had to be set also because of its sinful character, and because his existence in the flesh could not have been without sin if it had been determined by a sinful human mind.’ If he had assumed all, then assuredly he had human thoughts, but it is impossible that there should be not be sin in human thoughts. How then will Christ be without sin?24 Moreover, ‘if there is in Christ a human mind along with a divine mind, the work of the Incarnation which is the overcoming of sin is not accomplished by him. 25‘ ‘If the same nature that is in us is in Christ, he is but the old man, a living soul, but not a life giving spirit.26‘ Thus the conclusion seemed inevitable: ‘The Logos became flesh without assuming a human mind, for a human mind is changeable and subject to impure thoughts; but he has a divine mind, changeless and heavenly. 27‘ Moreover, since the Incarnation had to be a unity resulting in one self determining nature (μία οὐσία καὶ φύσις σύνθετος) moved solely by one will,28‘ it had to be such that it was the Logos which animated the body, gave the human ‘part’ of Christ living energy and movement, and wholly controlled it, making it unchangeable and sinless. There was then, according to Apollinarius, only one (self-determining) nature of God the Logos become flesh (μία φύσις τοῦ θεοῦ λόγου σεσαρκωμένη)29. For Apollinarius this meant that ‘the flesh and the governing principle of the flesh constitute one person’ (σὰρξ καὶ τὸ σαρκὸς ἡγεμονικὸν ἓν πρόσωπον).30 ‘Christ is not a man but like a man, since he is not homoousios with man in the supreme governing principle of his existence.31‘ ‘The governing principle in the constitution of the God-man is divine Spirit.32‘ And so it is not surprising that Apollinarius could say that ‘Christ is man “titularly” (ὁμωνύμως) for he is divine Spirit united to flesh.33‘ Thus through a real monothelitism Apollinarianism moves closely towards monophysitism after all.

We are now in a position to draw out the implications of Apollinarianism in so far as they bear upon out theme: and here we can hardly do better that take our cue from the two books of Contra Apollinarium, which are certainly Athanasian if they were not actually written (as I believe they were) by Athanasius himself. (a) By eliminating from Jesus what corresponds to ‘the inward man’ in us, and replacing it by a divine Mind or Spirit, which by definition is immutable and unchangeable and sinless, it deprives Jesus of a fully human experience, and therefore sharing with us our experience to the full, our birth, growth, death, our pain, anguish, distress agitation, and what is more our incapacity and temptation, and our human existence in a condition of servitude and humiliation.34 That is to say, it disqualifies Christ from being a priest joined to us by fellow-feeling our infirmities, and so cuts away the ground from his mediatorial activity on behalf of and from man towards the Father: it destroys his representative capacity as Man before God. Hence worship of God cannot be through Christ but at the best only for Christ’s sake. (b) By teaching that Christ was not really homoousios with us in the wholeness of our human being, sharing in our rational human soul, Apollinarianism damages ‘the complete economy’ of salvation. Since ‘the whole man’ is not taken up in the Incarnation of the Logos, it can only offer a severely truncated Gospel of redemption, and can only speak of God who has not really come all the way to us, for apparently he abhors union with us in our abject condition, and even withdraws his deity from contact with human death, as Apollinarians maintained in the death of Jesus. That is to say, the death of Christ was merely his own death, and not our death made his own in the vicarious action of the Son of God become Man, while the inner and essential connection between God and the passion of Christ in the crucifixion is finally cut. In other words, Apollinarianism posits a very considerable gap between God and man in Christ, and thus alters the basic structure of the Biblical Gospel.35 If our salvation does not really take place in our actual human nature, but is something ‘beyond nature,’ then worship of God does not take place in Christ either.36 (c) Of particular significance is the fact the the Incarnation does not involve an assumption of man’s rational nature as it has been distorted and damaged by the fall, that is, ‘the nature which had become accustomed to sin and is continuously involved in the transmission of sin.37‘ Thus an Apollinarian Gospel is really ‘another Gospel,’ for unlike the authentic Gospel it is unable to cope with original sin or the root of sin in the rational constitution of man as he now is, and therefore can only deal with actual sin by way of ‘imitation of’ or ‘assimilation to the likeness of’ the incarnate Logos. It is unable to conceive of the incarnational assumption of our rational human nature in its contradictory condition, in such a way that through union between the Son and our actual human nature ‘the principle of contradiction’ introduced into our rational constitution by sin is itself ‘contradicted’ by Christ__that is, in such a way that the assumption of our corrupted nature is at the same time a healing, sanctifying and renewing of it in Christ, so that the very nature through which the advance (προχώπησις) of sin took place might be the nature through which righteousness is exhibited. If the Word had not taken up into himself our inward as well as our outward man, how could he have given a ransom for all (πῶς δὲ καὶ ὑπερ τοῦ παντὸς ἀντέδωκεν ἀντίλυτρον), and how did he effect a complete emancipation from the power of death if he did not take up into himself without sin that which had sinned intellectually (κατὰ φρόνησιν), namely the soul? It was after all that which had sinned that was in need of redemption, so that redemption had to involve the taking up of the whole man in the condition of his actual need.38 By rejecting this, Apollinarianism had the effect of divorcing worship of God from the redemption of the human soul where it is so deeply in need of salvation within the depth of its struggle with sin. (d) By making the physical existence or the outward bodily form of Christ only ‘instrumental’ in the hands of God, salvation was conceived as a direct determining act of God upon man’s physical being, by-passing the intellectual nature of his constitution as man.39 In the evangelical tradition, however, both are involved, man’s bodily existence and his intellectual nature, for the economy of salvation takes place in ‘the whole man’, and Christ is presented as having redeemed us both by his blood and by ‘the thought of his soul’ (τῇ νεήσει τής ψύχης αὐτοῦ) in which he has entered into a fellow-feeling or sympathetic contact with our soul. It is indeed precisely in this area that the essential work of redemption took place, where the inward and outward man are one and inseparable, and where Christ’s redeeming work was no less a work of his soul that a work of his body. ‘It was impossible to pay one things as a ransom in exchange for a different thing (ἀλλ’ οὐχ οῖόν τε ἦν ἕτερον ἀνθ’ ἑτερον ἀνθ’ ἑτέρου ἀντιδοῦμαι λύτρον); on the contrary for the whole man (σῶμαν ἀντι σώματος καὶ ψυχὴν ἀντὶψυχῆς δέδωκε καὶ τελεόαν ἕπαρξιν ὑπὲρ ὁλου ἀνθρώπου). This is the reconciling exchange of Christ (τουτέστι το ἀυτάλλαγμα τοῦ Χριστοῦ).40 Rejection of this creates a serious problem for Christian worship of God the Father, for if there is no real relation between God and human soul, or between the will of God and will of Christ, because the incarnate Logos is not actually consociated with us in the wholeness of our humanity, then worship cannot be thought of as taking place with Christ any more than through or in him.41 It could be conceived only as related to God through immediate divine activity upon us in the Body of Christ, that element of humanity which we have in common with him, and by implication worship may be developed on that basis only as an expression of our physical behaviour as we a re allowed to feed upon the Body of Christ, or as an expression of our external ‘imitation’ of Christ which would not relate the worship of God to the roots of our being where redemption is needed.42

We may now summarise the discussion of the implications of Apollinarianism for worship. In allowing no room for the mental and moral life of Jesus as man and in denying to him authentic human agency in his saving work, it left no place for the vicarious role of the human soul and mind and will of Jesus in the reconciling ‘exchange’ of like for like in the redemption of man. And by destroying his representative capacity, it had no place for his priesthood or human mediation in our worship of the Father, and by the same token it took away the ground for any worship of God with our human minds. A mutilated humanity in Christ could but result in a mutilated Christian worship of God.

1. Contra Apollinarium 1:2. See the article by George D. Dragas, St Athanasius contra Apollinarium in Abba Salama, VI:2 pp. 84ff (Athens 1975) (The only one available 0is Vol. 1 Vol.2).

2. The other fragments have gathered together by H. Lietzmann in Apollinarium und seiner Schule, Texte und Untersuchungen. Tübingen, 1904. They are culled mostly from Gregory of Nyssa, Antirrheticus, and Psuedo Athanasius, De Sancta Trinitate. See further, Ekkehard Mühlenburg, Apollinaris von LaodiceaVandenhoeck, Göttingen, 1969.

3. The accusation by the Cappadocians that Apollinarius attributed to Christ a pre-existent heavenly humanity cannot be substantiated. See C. E. Raven, Apollinarianism. An essay on the Christology of the Early Church (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1923) pp. 185ff., pp. 212ff.

4. Lietzmann, Apollinaris von Landicea und seine Schule, p. 237.

5. Lietzmann, p. 244f.

6. Lietzmann, pp. 187ff., 220f. C E Raven’s translation of περιβολή (covering or envelope) in these passages as ‘limitation’, apparently to bring it into line with a modern notion of kenosis as limitation is hardly justifiable. Apollinarianism, pp. 203ff.

7. How successful this was becomes apparent when Apollinaris is forced by his logic to speak of Christ as ‘a middle-being between God and man (μεσότης), neither wholly man nor wholly God (οὕτε ἄνθρωπος ὅλος οὕτε θεός) but a mixture of God and man.’ Lietzmann, p. 234 

8. Lietzmann

9. Lietzmann

10. Lietzmann

11. Lietzmann

12. Lietzmann

13. Lietzmann

14. Lietzmann

15. Lietzmann

16. Lietzmann

17. Lietzmann

18. Lietzmann

19. See G. L. Prestige, Fathers and Heritics (S.P.C.K., London, 1940) p.110

20. Lietzmann

21. Lietzmann

22. Lietzmann

23. Lietzmann

24. Contra Apollinarium 2.6

25. Lietzmann

26. Lietzmann

27. Lietzmann

28. Lietzmann

29. Lietzmann

  • p. 251
  • p. 206
  • p. 257
    • Cyril of Alexandria, of course, interpreted this expression rather differently, see A. Grillmeier, Christ in Christian Tradition (A. R. Mowbray, London, 1965) pp. 400ff

30. Lietzmann

31. Lietzmann

32. Lietzman

33. Lietzmann

34. Contra Apollinarium 1.2, 5, 10ff., 15ff.; 2.8ff., 17.

35. Contra Apollinarium 1.3, 5, 12, 14, 17f.; 2.3ff, 14, 17

36. Contra Apollinarium 1.9, 13,; 2.6ff., 10ff., 17ff

37. Contra Apollinarium 2.8

38. Contra Apollinarium 1.2, 15, 17, 19,; 2.6ff., 11, 16

39. Lietzmann

40. Contra Apollinarium 1.17

41. This was apparently realised by Apollinaris whose only answer to the problem of Christ’s prayer at Gethsemane was a severe form of monothelitism—see fragments 109 and 110, Lietzmann, p. 233

42. Contra Apollinarium 1.2, 6, 16f., 20; 2.1, 11; and Lietzmann, p. 235