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.