Apollinarius adopted the Alexandrian-Nicene teaching concerning the Son of God. He maintained that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity is coeternal and coequal with God the Father, but in order to defend the full and perfect divinity of Christ and the full and perfect union of godhead and manhood in Christ against ARIANISM, he fell into a heretical teaching by denying the existence of a human rational soul in Christ.
ARIUS taught that Christ was changeable and was liable to sin, although He Himself did not commit any sin. He was infallible. But His infallibility was not due to His divinity but to His conquest over sin and His fight against all temptations of sin to which He was exposed. And He was liable to sin because He, as human, was free to do good or bad. Nevertheless, He did good by His free will and did not do evil or bad.
Here Apollinarius, in the light of the Nicene Council (see NICAEA, COUNCIL OF) teaching said that Arius was wrong. The Son of God is not changeable, nor is he liable to commit sin. Christ was infallible, but His infallibility was not due only to His victory over sin to which He was liable, but rather to His very nature as a divine being. Apollinarius then said that Christ has no human rational soul. The human rational soul is created free and consequently is liable to change and hence, to sin. According to Apollinarius, who followed Platonist anthropology, man is composed of three elements: the body, an unrational soul (psyche alogos), and the Logos.
The spirit, or the rational soul, is replaced in Christ by the Divine Logos. The Divine Logos is, in fact, the predominant principle, the most powerful and influential element of action in Christ and the overwhelming power that animates the body and the irrational soul with the divine supernatural and sublime life.
Apollinarius could not admit the possibility of a real union between the Logos and the rational human soul. He felt that in this case the rational human soul either maintains its free will—and consequently there would be no real union because the human free will would remain active—or loses its free will, being absorbed utterly into the Logos. In order to save the teaching that Christ is one Person and to demolish the Arian teaching of the duality in Christ, Apollinarius denied the existence of a rational soul in Christ and taught that the Logos replaced the rational soul.
The main and fundamental objection against the teaching of Apollinarius is that if Christ had no human rational soul then Christ’s manhood was incomplete, and consequently Christ could not redeem the whole of human nature but only its spiritual elements. Christ must have had a complete human nature united to his divinity in order to redeem man’s nature completely. The complete human nature is composed of a body and a rational soul, and thus, the human nature in man could not be redeemed if the Redeemer had not a rational soul. But Christ, who in fact is God the Logos Incarnate, came especially to the world for the salvation of men and to redeem the whole human nature.
Apollinarianism was refuted ably and competently by Saint ATHANASIUS the Great at the end of his life, in a huge work composed of three volumes. It was criticized strongly by BASIL THE GREAT and GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS (1955, Epistle 102). The essentials of the teaching of Apollinarius had already been condemned in a synod held in Alexandria under the chairmanship of Saint Athanasius the Apostolicos in 362.
It should be noted here that Saint Athanasius of Alexandria defended the full and perfect divinity of Jesus the Christ against Arius, and he was also the one who defended the full and perfect humanity of Jesus the Christ against Apollinarius. Christ, then, in the teaching of Alexandria as professed and confessed by Saint Athanasius and his successors, is the God-Man, the Incarnate Logos, who is not only divine and not only human; He is the Incarnate Logos, who is perfect in His divinity and perfect in His humanity. His divinity and humanity are united together in one person, in one nature that acquires the properties and qualities of the two natures united together in one, in a real and true union without separation. In other words, this unique union is inseparable.
The teaching of Apollinarius was repeatedly condemned in several other synods held in Rome under the chairmanship of Damasus of Rome between 374 and 380. Apollinarius himself was not condemned until 375.
Apollinarius and his teaching were finally and ecumenically condemned by the Second Ecumenical Council held in Constantinople in 381. Several imperial edicts were issued from 388 to 428, condemning Apollinarius and Apollinarianism, but despite this it remained influential in the religious thought of the people, and many of the leaders of Eastern Christianity, not least that of EUTYCHES. The real opposition to Apollinarius came from the revived Antiochene School of theologians represented by Diodore of Tarsus (330-c. 390) and THEODORE OF MOPSUESTIA. It formed the background to the clash of the Alexandrians and Antiochenes that dominated the history of the church in the time of NESTORIUS and CYRIL.
- Cross, F. L., ed. Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Oxford, 1958.
- Gregory of Nazianzus. “Against Apollinarius, the Second Letter to Cledonius.” In Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Vol. 7, series 2, pp. 443-445, ed. P. Schaff and H. Wace. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1955.
- Lietzmann, H. Apollinaris von Laodicea und seine Schule (Texte und Untersuchungen 1). Tübingen, 1904.
- Ludwich, A. Apolinari Metaphrasis Psalmorum. Leipzig, 1912.
- Riedmatten, H. de, O. P. “Les Fragments d’Apollinaire à l’‘Eranistes.” In Das Konzil von Chalkedon, 3 vols., ed. A. Grillmeier and H. Bacht. Würzburg, 1951.
- Voisin, G. L’Apollinarisme, étude historique, littéraire et dogmatique sur le début des controverses christologiques au IVe siècle. Louvain, 1901.