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Apollinarianism

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A Christological theory, according to which Christ had a human body and a human sensitive soul, but no human rational mind, the Divine Logos taking the place of this last.

The author of this theory, Apollinaris (Apolinarios) the Younger, Bishop of Laodicea, flourished in the latter half of the fourth century and was at first highly esteemed by men like St. Athanasius, St. Basil, and St. Jerome for his classical culture, his Biblical learning, his defence of Christianity and his loyalty to the Nicene faith. He assisted his father, Apollinaris the Elder, in reconstructing the scriptures on classical models in order to compensate the Christians for the loss of Greek literature of which the edict of Julian had deprived them. St. Jerome credits him with innumerable volumes on the Scriptures; two apologies of Christianity, one against Porphyry, and the other against Julian; a refutation of Eunomius, a radical Arian, etc.; but all these works are lost. With regard to Apollinaris's writings which bear on the present theory, we are more fortunate. A contemporary anonymous book: Adversus fraudes Apollinaristarum, informs us that the Apollinarists, in order to win credence for their error, circulated a number of tracts under the approved names of such men as Gregory Thaumaturgus (He kata meros pistis, Exposition of Faith), Athanasius (Peri sarkoseos, On the Incarnation), Pope Julius (Peri tes en Christo enotetos, On Unity in Christ), etc. Following that clue, Lequien (1740), Caspari (1879) and Dräseke (1892), have shown that in all probability these are Apollinaris's writings. Moreover, the Fathers of the Church who wrote in defence of orthodoxy, e.g., Athanasius, in two books against Apollinaris; Gregory Nazianzen, in several letters; Gregory of Nyssa in his Antirretikos; Theodoret, in his Haereticae Fabulae and Dialogues, etc., incidentally give us ample information on the real system of the Laodicean.

The precise time at which Apollinaris came forward with his heresy is uncertain. There are clearly two periods in the Apollinarist controversy. Up to 376, either because of his covert attitude or of the respect in which he was held, Apollinaris's name was never mentioned by his opponents, i.e. by individuals like Athanasius and Pope Damasus, or by councils like the Alexandrian (362), and the Roman (376). From this latter date it is open war. Two more Roman councils, 377 and 381, and a number of Fathers, plainly denounce and condemn as heretical the views of Apollinaris. He failed to submit even to the more solemn condemnation of the council of Constantinople, 381, whose first canon entered Apollinarianism on the list of heresies, and he died in his error, about 392. His following, at one time considerable in Constantinople, Syria, and Phoenicia, hardly survived him. Some few disciples, like Vitalis, Valentinus, Polemon, and Timothy, tried to perpetuate the error of the master and probably are responsible for the forgeries noticed above. The sect itself soon became extinct. Towards 416, many returned to the mother-Church, while the rest drifted away into Monophysitism.

Theory

Apollinaris based his theory on two principles or suppositions, one ontological or objective, and one psychological or subjective. Ontologically, it appeared to him that the union of complete God with complete man could not be more than a juxtaposition or collocation. Two perfect beings with all their attributes, he argued, cannot be one. They are at most an incongruous compound, not unlike the monsters of mythology. Inasmuch as the Nicene faith forbade him to belittle the Logos, as Arius had done, he forthwith proceeded to maim the humanity of Christ, and divest it of its noblest attribute, and this, he claimed, for the sake of true Unity and veritable Incarnation. Psychologically, Apollinaris, considering the rational soul or spirit as essentially liable to sin and capable, at its best, of only precarious efforts, saw no way of saving Christ's impeccability and the infinite value of Redemption, except by the elimination of the human spirit from Jesus' humanity, and the substitution of the Divine Logos in its stead. For the constructive part of his theory, Apollinaris appealed to the well-known Platonic division of human nature: body (sarx, soma), soul (psyche halogos), spirit (nous, pneuma, psyche logike). Christ, he said, assumed the human body and the human soul or principle of animal life, but not the human spirit. The Logos Himself is, or takes the place of, the human spirit, thus becoming the rational and spiritual centre, the seat of self-consciousness and self-determination. By this simple device the Laodicean thought that Christ was safe, His substantial unity secure, His moral immutability guaranteed, and the infinite value of Redemption made self-evident. And in confirmation of it all, he quoted from St. John i, 14 "and the Word was made flesh"; St. Paul, Phil., ii, 7, Being made in the likeness of men and in habit found as a man, and 1 Corinthians 15:47 The second man, from heaven, heavenly.

Doctrine of the Church

It is to be found in the seventh anathema of Pope Damasus in the Council of Rome, 381. "We pronounce anathema against them who say that the Word of God is in the human flesh in lieu and place of the human rational and intellective soul. For, the Word of God is the Son Himself. Neither did He come in the flesh to replace, but rather to assume and preserve from sin and save the rational and intellective soul of man." In answer to Apollinaris's basic principles, the Fathers simply denied the second as Manichaean. As to the first, it should be remembered that the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon had not yet formulated the doctrine of Hypostatical Union. It will then appear why the Fathers contented themselves with offering arguments in rebuttal, e.g.:

They also pointed out the correct meaning of the Scriptural passages alleged by Apollinaris, remarking that the word sarx in St. John, as in other parts of Holy Writ, was used by synecdoche for the whole human nature, and that the true meaning of St. Paul (Philippians and I Corinthians) was determined by the clear teaching of the Pastoral Epistles. Some of them, however, incautiously insisted upon the limitations of Jesus' knowledge as proof positive that His mind was truly human. But when the heresiarch would have taken them farther afield into the very mystery of the Unity of Christ, they feared not to acknowledge their ignorance and gently derided Apollinaris's mathematical spirit and implicit reliance upon mere speculation and human reasoning. The Apollinarist controversy, which nowadays appears somewhat childish, had its importance in the history of Christian dogma; it transferred the discussion from the Trinity into the Christological field; moreover, it opened that long line of Christological debates which resulted in the Chalcedonian symbol.


About this page

APA citation. Sollier, J. (1907). Apollinarianism. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01615b.htm

MLA citation. Sollier, Joseph. "Apollinarianism." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01615b.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Michael C. Tinkler.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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