Apollinaris on Christology
In this article I will explain the Christology of the fourth-century theologian Apollinaris of Laodicea. I will explore three aspects of his Christology: 1) the relationship between the divine and the human in Christ; 2) the connection of this divine-human relationship to salvation; and 3) the mode of unity in Christ. I will show how the Christology of Apollinaris derives from his particular interpretation of John 1.14, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Parenthetical textual references are to Apollinaris’s works in The Christological Controversy (shown to the right).
Divinity and Humanity in Christ
According to Apollinaris, the “Word became flesh” in Christ through a merger of the Divine Intellect, or Spirit, and human flesh. Here flesh is understood, in later platonic terms, as the composite of the physical body and the irrational or animal soul, for “the flesh is not soulless… even the bodies of beasts without reason are endowed with soul (A-108, #22).” Therefore, in Christ, the Divine Intellect replaced the human spirit, and joined with human flesh: “So Christ, having God as his spirit—that is, his intellect—together with soul and body, is rightly called ‘the human being from heaven (A-108, #25).’” The implication of this divine-human relationship is that Christ is not a complete man: He lacks a human spirit (A-109, #45).
This Christology resonated with other parts of Apollinaris’ theology. It connected with his soteriology, as I will demonstrate in the next section, and it also matched his understanding of human free will. Apollinaris couldn’t imagine the Divine Intellect and a human spirit cooperating together in one human being. He writes: “If…every intellect rules itself, being moved naturally by its own will, it is impossible that two (intellects), willing things which are mutually inconsistent, should exist together in one and the same subject (A, Frag. 150).” Two wills together in the same person simply couldn’t function. Elsewhere he argues that the Divine Intellect would have overwhelmed the human spirit, depriving it of its self-determination and effectively destroying it: “But to be deprived of self-determination is the destruction of a self-determining creature, and no nature is destroyed by him who made it (A-109-110, #87).” Since God would not destroy the human nature He made, Apollinaris thought Christ could not have possessed a human spirit.
Christology and Soteriology
For Apollinaris, the divine-human relationship in Christ is connected to salvation. Apollinaris argues that human flesh is the source of sin, and is therefore the component of humanity that requires redeeming. Redemption necessitates Christ taking on human flesh and overcoming its tendency toward sin. Speaking about salvation as ‘the work of the incarnation,’ Apollinaris writes: “But if the work of the incarnation is not accomplished in the self-moved and undetermined intellect, then this work, which is the destruction of sin, is accomplished in the flesh, which is moved from without and energized by the divine Intellect (A-109, #74).” Christ had to accomplish the destruction of sin in the flesh because the flesh is the exclusive source of sin. Elsewhere Apollinaris reiterates that the flesh is the source of passions (Anacephalaiosis, 29). It was this component of human nature that the Divine Intellect had to occupy to achieve salvation (A-109, #76).
The Divinity, Humanity, and Unity of Christ
Apollinaris claims that his Christology adequately unites human and divine. He affirms Christ’s humanity from the analogy of a human being. Just as a human is a composite of flesh and spirit, so Christ is a composite of human flesh and Divine Intellect, and is therefore human. “And in this way he was human, for a human being, according to Paul, is an intellect in the flesh (A-109, #72).” Apollinaris affirms the divinity of Christ by noting that God Himself has taken on flesh as an instrument and acts through it: “God who has taken to himself an instrument of activity is both God insofar as he activates and human with respect to the instrument…he uses (A-110, #117).” The unity of Christ is also clear to Apollinaris in so far as Christ’s activity is united (A-110, #108). While Apollinaris acknowledges that his view mixes God and man in Christ, he holds that such mixing alters neither Christ’s Divine Intellect nor His flesh (A-111, #127, 128). Summarizing his Christology, Apollinaris again refers to the analogy of a human being: “If a human being has both a soul and a body, and these remain themselves when they are in unity, how much more does Christ, having Godhead and body, retain both conserved and not confused (A-111, #129)?” As a human body is a unified composite of distinct elements, so is Christ.
Apollinaris’s Christology contrasts with the Christology of Theodore of Mopsuestia.