Advent Series – Apollinarianism (3)

Last week we talked about a heresy which denies the genuine and complete divinity of the Son. This week, we examine the flip side of the question with a denial of the genuine and complete humanity of the Son. This is week two of our advent series exploring the major Christological heresies of the early Church.

After the Council of Nicaea, the Church basically affirmed that the divinity of Christ was complete. However, the course correction which happened at the Council of Nicaea gave rise to a variety of responses which, albeit in a different way, also did not adequately address the Biblical data regarding the nature of the incarnate Logos.

Apollinarianism – It’s History and Development

Once the divinity of the Son was established at the Council of Nicaea with its affirmation that the Son was of the same ousia and hypostasis as the Father, several things happened.

The most important, although outside the scope of this series, was a series of clarifications regarding the terms in question. It would come to be accepted that ousia referred to the inner nature which all three persons of the Trinity shared, while hypostasis referred to the individual instances of  persons who bore that nature.

A second was a preliminary attempt to understand how it could be possible for a single hypostasis to be both human and divine. This debate anticipates the debate that would come 50 years later with the rise of Nestorianism and the orthodox response at the First Council of Chalcedon. We’ll address that later. However, various proposals came to the front of the discussion trying to resolve this question.

One such proposal was put forward by Apollinaris, then a bishop of Laodicea. Apollinaris held to essentially a platonic view of the human person. This was a three-fold anthropology which consisted of various parts. Of most importance to our discussion was that of the rational soul or the nous. This rational soul was the seat of consciousness for the human person and conceptually occupies much the same space that the mind occupies in our parlance.

Apollinaris argued that Christ was fully human in that he posessed a human body and soul (the other two parts of the three-fold subsistance), but rather than a human rational soul, the Logos instead resided. Thus for Apollinaris, the incarnation was not a single person bearing a full human nature and a full divine nature. Rather, the incarnation was a shell of sorts, which had the Logos as its divine pilot.

As we saw in our discussion of Arianism, the orthodox response centered around soteriological concerns. How could Christ redeem our rational souls, if he did not in fact bear a human rational soul. This objection was made most poignantly in the words of Gregory of Nazianzus when he said “That which he did not assume, he did not heal.”

Ultimately, this position was rejected formally at the Council of Constantinople.

A Modern Problem

Where Arianism was dangerous because it is present in various modern day sub-Christian groups, this problem is dangerous for an entirely different reason. Because of a variety of factors, most specifically a generally platonic view of the human subsistence, this position finds an unfortunate home among many evangelicals.

Because many of us view our body as something that we have, rather than something we wear… it seems reasonable to us that Christ’s body was simply something he had, and that his one mind was simply a pilot of that body in a way similar to our own. This view is also popular among a variety of philosophically oriented Christians, as it seems to resolve some of the difficulties encountered in our study of the Hypostatic Union. Most notably, this view is held by William Lane Craig, although with some modifications. Lest anyone accuse me of falsely associating Craig with this position, it is important to note that in his published works (Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, co-authored with JP Moreland) he calls Apollinaris’ innovation brilliant, and even adopts the name Neo-Apollinarianism as the title of his modified view.

It is vital that we understand that the idea that Christ did not have a human rational soul, or mind, is not a viable option. Gregory of Nazianzus’ maxim holds true today, as it did then. Christ had to assume that which he intended to heal. If Christ did not have human thinking faculties, then he did not heal our human thinking faculties. If Christ did not have have a human immaterial component, then he did not redeem our human immaterial component. If Christ’s human nature was simply a body without a rational soul, then he did not become like his brothers in every way.

Instead, we must affirm, with the Cappadocian Fathers and those following the First Council of Constantinople, that Christ instead is the union of a genuine and complete divine nature (which he possessed as a divine person for all eternity) and a genuine and complete human nature. Anything less than that is insufficient.