Apollinarianism: Concise Introduction For Skeptics

Church Fathers

Apollinarianism is a fourth century doctrine that taught that Christ Jesus possessed a human body with a divine mind and spirit. A bishop of Laodicea in Syria, and a friend of Athanasius, named Apollinarius (ca. 310- ca. 390 A.D.) understood human mind and spirit/soul as the seat of sin.

He viewed Jesus as having a mental and spiritual life of Logos operating through human flesh. Phillip Schaff explained:

Apollinarius, according to S. Gregory, declares that the Son of God was from all eternity clothed with a human body, and not from the time of His conception only by the Blessed Virgin; but that this humanity of God is without human mind, the place of which was supplied by the Godhead of the Only-begotten.(Schaff & Wace 1894:  437)

Being frightened by Arianism, a doctrine of a created Logos, Apollinarius adopted this position because he  wanted to preserve Christ’s deity.  By safeguarding Him from sin, Jesus’ deity remained intact.  Apollinarius’ Christology was of Alexandrian School of Athanasius and Cyril which were “strong in declaring for the deity of Christ and the union of the two natures in his incarnate person.”(Ferguson & Packer 2000:35),

Alex B. Bruce correctly recorded that the opponents of this view contended against it mostly because of it’s soteriological implication. He wrote,

Gregory Nazianzen put the matter in a nut-shell when he said: ‘That which is not assumed is not healed.’ The patristic theory of redemption was, that Christ redeemed man, so to speak, by sample, presenting to God in His own person the first-fruits of a renewed humanity. Athanasius contrasts the Apollinarian and the orthodox theories of redemption thus: ‘Ye say that believers are saved by similitude and imitation, not by renovation, or by first-fruits.’ Salvation being by first-fruits, of course the Saviour must be physically like His brethren in soul as well as in body, otherwise the sample would not be like the bulk. As Cyril put it: Christ must take flesh that He might deliver us from death: and He must take a human soul to deliver us from sin, destroying sin in humanity by living a human life free from all sin,—rendering the soul He assumed superior to sin by dyeing it, and tinging it with the moral firmness and immutability of His own divine nature(Bruce 1900:45-46)

For Christ to save the whole of us, He must have assumed all of human body, mind, spirit and soul. It was mainly because of this reason that Apollinarianism was rejected by several church councils, from the Council of Alexandria in a.d. 362 to the Council of Constantinople in a.d. 381.(Grudem 2004: 555).

Question: Have you heard of Apollinarianism before?


Bruce, A. B. (1900). The humiliation of Christ in its physical, ethical and official aspects. Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark.

Ferguson, S. B., & Packer, J. (2000). New dictionary of theology (electronic ed.) Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: An introduction to biblical doctrine. Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

Stevenson, J & Kidd, B. J. (1966) Creeds, councils, and controversies: Documents illustrative of the history of the church A.D. 337-461.. New York: Seabury Press.

Schaff , P & Wace H. & Gregory Nazianzen. (1894). Select Letters of Saint Gregory Nazianzen C. G. Browne & J. E. Swallow, Trans.). In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Volume VII: S. Cyril of Jerusalem, S. Gregory Nazianzen (P. Schaff & H. Wace, Ed.) New York: Christian Literature Company.

Stevenson, J & Kidd, B. J. (1966) Creeds, councils, and controversies: Documents illustrative of the history of the church A.D. 337-461. New York: Seabury Press.

7 thoughts on “Apollinarianism: Concise Introduction For Skeptics

  1. No, I had not heard of it before. Though, as Richard says, I have heard people advocate the basic idea without the name.

    My fear with this and other doctrines designed to “protect” Jesus’ deity or “safeguard Him from sin,” is that they loose focus on His humanity. I feel that much of the Church today fully grasps Jesus’ deity but misses out on the fact that He was a human, like us. Both are important, but over-explaining how it all works leads to an undue emphasis on one or the other – thus the conflict between evangelicals and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

  2. Jesus was only a man, but possessed a divine mind or spirit. It’s the same bunk that passes for something “new” in the American New Age Movement. Oprah Winfrey is an adherent to this belief. Jesus was simply a person like you and me, but the “divine spirit” rested upon him from the time of his water baptism until he was put to death on the cross.

    King Solomon wrote that there is “nothing new under the sun.” Apollinarianism is nothing new, only the packaging is new.

    How foundational is the Book of Romans! “Of Israel are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen” (Romans 9:5). Jesus is FULLY God come FULLY in human flesh. This is what the early Church believed and taught and died for. Apollinarius, 300 years later, was indeed a heretic, for he rejected the Scriptures which were written long before Constantine was ever born.

    • Thanks for this. And most of all, thank you for the last part. It gets very irritating when people bring up Constantine, as though he was a supressor of herecy and shaped Christianity to his own liking.
      I think the council of Nicea gets way more attention than merited.

  3. Until today,no. However, further research reveals it was just another oddball theocratic proposition that was eventually declared heretical and demonstrates the lack of cohesion the early church had and why Constantine and later Theodosius brutally suppressed all non-sanctioned doctrine and thought.
    The truth was way too difficult to deal with so they attempted to eradicate it, thus all these stupid tangent beliefs about Jesus.

  4. So was it just politics, or was there some specific reason that early Church fathers felt the need to create obvious doctrine to combat heretical doctrine? It just seems bizarre to me.

    • I understand Jesus was fully human, since he was born from a woman He has to be, and He grew up just like all of us do. We first are children, then young men, then fully men, commanding and sure. He was tempted by the Devil, as we all are. But that is where the similarities end, between He and I. God gave us the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

      Immanuel — God with us; God dwelling among us, in our nature, John 1:14. God and man meeting in one person, and being a mediator between God and men. For the design of these words is not so much to relate the name by which Christ should commonly be called, as to describe his nature and office.

      Jesus told us His mission and then He lived it. He told us who He was and He taught us how to prey. He ushered in the Holy Spirit and gave power to Faith. By no other name are we cleansed and looked upon as pure and right. It’s not until we eat His flesh, and drink His blood, will we understand and know in our hearts that the promise is true.

Comments are closed.