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Apollinarianism was a 4th-century explanation of the nature of Jesus Christ that was rejected by the Christian church. Its author, Apollinaris of Laodicea (310-90), trying to arrive at a formula that would explain how Jesus could be both human and divine, taught that human beings were composed of body, soul, and spirit, and that in Jesus the human spirit was replaced by the Logos, or the second person of the Trinity. This teaching was opposed by Athanasius, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa because they thought it implied that Christ was not fully human. Apollinarianism was declared a heresy by the First Council of Constantinople in 381.

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General Information

Apollinarianism was a heretical doctrine taught by Apollinaris the Younger, bishop of Laodicea in Syria during the 4th century. A controversial theologian, he maintained that the Logos, or divine nature in Christ, took the place of the rational human soul or mind of Christ and that the body of Christ was a spiritualized and glorified form of humanity. This doctrine was condemned as a heresy by Roman councils in 377 and in 381 and also by the Council of Constantinople in 381. In spite of its repeated condemnation, Apollinarianism persisted into the 5th century. At that time its remaining adherents merged with the Monophysites, who held that Christ had a divine nature but no human nature.


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Apollinarianism was a heresy of the fourth century bearing the name of its originator, Apollinaris (or Apollinarius) the Younger. Apollinaris was born sometime between 300 and 315 and died shortly before 392. He apparently lived out his entire lifetime in Laodicea, which is southwest of Antioch. He was a man of such unusual ability and gracious saintliness that even his staunchest opponents paid tribute to his sterling character. As a young man he became a reader in the church of Laodicea under Bishop Theodotus and ca. 332 was briefly excommunicated for attending a pagan function. In 346 he was excommunicated a second time by the Arian Bishop George. However, the Nicene congregation of Laodicea selected him bishop sometime around 361.

Evidence would suggest that Apollinaris put more time into teaching and writing in nearby Antioch than in ecclesiastical administration. As a revered teacher he was the friend of Athanasius, consultant by correspondence to Basil the Great, and numbered among his pupils Jerome in 373 or 374.

Apollinarianism seemed to have emerged gradually as an independent strand of Christianity as its opponents succeeded in getting it condemned. A synod at Alexandria in 362 condemned the teaching but not the teacher. Basil the Great moved Pope Damasus I to censure it ca. 376, and in 377 Apollinaris and Apollinarianism both were condemned by a Roman synod. The general Council of Constantinople in 381 anathematized Apollinaris and his doctrine. Emperor Theodosius I then issued a series of decrees against Apollinarianism in 383, 384, and 388. But the elderly heretic apparently continued serenely writing and teaching in Antioch and laodicea, pursuing his scholar's passion for truth with a saint's serene confidence in his own rightness.

Apollinarianism had become a definite schism by 373, for when the Emperor Valens deported certain Egyptian bishops to Diocaesarea, Apollinaris approached them with greetings and an invitation to enter into communion. They in turn rejected his overtures. By 375 Vitalis, a disciple of Apollinaris, had founded a congregation in Antioch. Vitalis was consecrated bishop by Apolinaris, who also engineered his friend Timothy's election to the bishopric of Berytus. Apollinarians held at least one synod in 378, and there is evidence that there may have been a second Apollinarian synod subsequently. After Apollinaris's death his followers split into two parties, the Vitalians and the Polemeans or Sinusiati. By 420 the Vitalians had been reunited with the Greek Church. Somewhat later the Sinusiati merged into the monophysite schism.

Apollinarianism was the harbinger of the great Christological battles which pitted Antioch against Alexandria, with Rome as referee, and finally issued in Christendom's permanent monophysite schism after the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

Diodore of Tarsus, leader of the Antiochene school from ca. 378 to his death ca. 392, typified the Christology of that literalist school of Bible interpretation. To defend the immutability and eternity of the Logos he spoke of Christ as Son of God and Son of Mary by nature and grace respectively. Their union was a moral one. If this was not Christological dualism, it was perilously close.

In contrast the Alexandrian school approached Christology in a word-flesh manner. The Word or Logos assumed human flesh at the incarnation, and Alexandrians were apt to deny or ignore Christ's possession of a human soul or mind.

It was undoubtedly as a representative of Alexandrian thinking countering the trend in Antioch that Apollinaris began to teach and write Christology and to move toward his own extreme.

The central deviation of Apollinarianism from the later Chalcedonian orthodoxy began in a Platonic trichtomy. Man was seen to be body, sensitive soul, and rational soul. Apollinaris felt that if one failed to diminish the human nature of Jesus in some way, a dualism had to result. Furthermore, if one taught that Christ was a complete man, then Jesus had a human rational soul in which free will resided; and wherever there was free will, there was sin. Therefore it followed that the Logos assumed only a body and its closely connected sensitive soul. The Logos or Word himself took the place of the rational soul (or spirit or nous) in the manhood of Jesus. Thus one can speak of "the one sole nature incarnate of the Word of God." This doctrine was developed by Apollinaris in his Demonstration of the Divine Incarnation, which was written in 376 in response to the initial papal condemnation.

Apollinaris was a prolific writer, but following his anathematization in 381 his works were assiduously sought out and burned. Thus Apollinarianism leaves little literature except as cited in the works of its critics. The general principle on which Apollinarianism was condemned was the Eastern perception that "that which is not assumed is not healed." If the Logos did not assume the rational soul of the man Jesus, then the death of Christ could not heal or redeem the rational souls of men. And as the church wrestled with this perception it rejected Apollinarianism and moved toward the Chalcedonian Definition, which rebuked and corrected both Antioch and Alexandria in their extremes: "This selfsame one is perfect both in deity and also in humanness; this selfsame one is also actually God and actually man, with a rational soul and a body."

V L Walter
Elwell Evangelical Dictionary

C. E. Raven, Apollinarianism; G. L. Prestige, Fathers and Heretics; B. Altaner, Patrology; P. A. Norris, Manhood and Christ; J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines.


Catholic Information

A Christological theory, according to which Christ had a human body and a human sensitive soul, but no human rational mind, the Divine 1Logos 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.


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 I Cor., xv, 47 The second man, from heaven, heavenly.


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.:

Scripture holds that the Logos assumed all that is human -- therefore the pneuma also -- sin alone excepted; that Jesus experienced joy and sadness, both being properties of the rational soul.

Christ without a rational soul is not a man; such an incongruous compound, as that imagined by Apollinaris, can neither be called God-man nor stand as the model of Christian life.

What Christ has not assumed He has not healed; thus the noblest portion of man is excluded from Redemption.

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.

Publication information Written by J.F. Sollier. Transcribed by Michael C. Tinkler. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I. Published 1907. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York

See also:
Council of Chalcedon

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