Apollinaris of Laodicea

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APOLLINARIS OF LAODICEA (c. 310c. 390), Christian bishop and heretic. Apollinaris was born in Laodicea. He admired Greek philosophy and literature, to the dismay of Bishop Theodotus, who asked him to repent. After finishing his studies, he became a teacher of classical literature, combining exceptional erudition, admirable rhetorical ability, and excellent theological education.

Apollinaris gained the affection and the admiration of the church because he reacted vigorously against the emperor Julian the Apostate, who by decree forbade the Christians to teach and use Greek Classical literature. Apollinaris rewrote much of the Bible in an attractive Greek Classical form. In order to provide the Classical methodology for Christian youth, he composed Platonic dialogues from gospel material and paraphrased Psalms in hexameters. Using the prose style of ancient Greek writers (such as Euripides), he wrote lives of saints as well as beautiful Christian poetry, for private use as well as for liturgical purposes. Unfortunately, from all this splendid production, nothing survived.

Apollinaris was an uncompromising supporter of the doctrine of Nicaea. He fought and wrote against Origen, Arius, the Arian bishop Eunomius, Marcellus of Ancyra, and others. He enjoyed for a long period of time the respect and affection of the great Fathers of the fourth century, including Athanasius, Basil of Caesarea, and Gregory of Nazianzus (Gregory the Theologian) who called the Apollinarian controversy a "brotherly dispute." His prestige is testified by the fact that he was elected orthodox bishop of Laodicea in 360, having the trust of the Nicene community at large.

Most of Apollinaris's writings have been lost. Quasten in his Patrology (vol. 3, pp. 377ff.) divides Apollinaris's writings into exegetical works, apologetic works, polemical works, dogmatic works, poetry, and correspondence with Basil of Caesarea. Among the exegetical works were "innumerable volumes on the Holy Scriptures" (cf. Jerome, On Famous Men 104). Among the apologetic works were his thirty books against the Neoplatonist Porphyry and his work The Truth, against Julian.

One of the most brilliant theologians of his time, Apollinaris faced the most difficult question of the fourth century: how divinity and humanity could be united in the one person of Jesus Christ. Influenced by Platonic, Aristotelian, and Stoic philosophical understandings of human nature, he tried to apply their method, in an original and syncretistic way, in interpreting the New Testament and in defending the Nicene faith against the heresies of the times, especially Arianism. Thus, he rejected the Arian conception of the incarnation of Christ, which he thought diminished the importance of both God and humanity in Jesus Christ.

Apollinaris believed that a complete entity, one phusis, or nature, cannot be changed or destroyed. A human, in its total existence as body, soul, and spirit (nous, or intellect), can be called one phusis. In Christ, union of a complete human nature with the complete divine nature is impossible, for neither nature can be destroyed (the Stoic understanding of mixture). In other words, two complete natures could not produce the one nature of Jesus.

Apollinaris suggested, instead, the "trichotomist" view of humanity. He approached 1 Corinthians 15:45 and 1 Thessalonians 5:23 as meaning that the flesh of Jesus Christ was composed of body, the irrational animal soul, and instead of the intellect, the Logos itself: thus his famous expression "One incarnate nature of the God the Logos" (found in his letter to the bishops exiled at Diocaesarea). For Apollinaris, Christ, having God as his spirit, or intellect, together with soul and body, is rightly called "the human being from heaven" (Norris, 1980, p. 108). In explaining his thesis, Apollinaris writes: "Therefore, the human race is saved not by the assumption of an intellect and of a whole human being but by the assumption of flesh, whose nature it is to be ruled. What was needed was unchangeable Intellect which did not fall under the dominion of the flesh on account of its weakness of understanding but which adapted the flesh to itself without force" (ibid., p. 109).

Apollinaris's acceptance of the full union of the humanity and divinity of Christ in one person, the Logos, did not contradict the dogmatic position of the orthodox Fathers. His great fallacy was the reduction of the humanity of Christ to a body without a rational soul, thus concluding that in Christ there was not a full human nature and that excluded human nature from the fruits of salvation in Jesus Christ. In the end, Apollinaris's Christ was God, to be sure, "enfleshed," but not incarnated.

The orthodox concept of the theanthropos, that is, God and human, is missing from the christological structure of Apollinaris. By eliminating the biblical and patristic emphasis on the full humanity of Christwith full and complete human body, soul, and mental and intellectual capacityApollinaris made impossible humanity's full union with the Logos and thus the scope and extent of humanity's salvation. Gregory refuted the thesis of Apollinaris with his devastating statement: "If anyone has put his trust in [Christ] as a man without a human mind, he is really bereft of mind, and quite unworthy of salvation. For that which he has not assumed he has not healed; but that which is united to his Godhead is also saved" (To Cledonius against Apollinarius, letter 101).

Apollinaris's heresy, Apollinarianism, is considered the first important christological heresy of the fourth century. Until 374, when Jerome became his pupil in Antioch, Apollinaris's deviation from the orthodox doctrine had not become well known. Basil finally realized the depth and repercussions of Apollinaris's heresy and asked for his condemnation. Gregory wrote his two famous letters to Cledonius against the heresy, and Gregory of Nyssa (c. 385) attacked Apollinaris in his Antirrheticus. Pope Damasus I condemned him in Rome (c. 374380). Finally the teaching of Apollinaris was officially condemned in 381 by the Council of Constantinople.


Grillmeier, Aloys. Christ in Christian Tradition, vol. 1. 2d rev. ed. London, 1975. Includes a bibliography.

Hubner, Reinhard. "Gotteserkenntnis durch die Inkarnation Gottes: Zu einer neuen Interpretation der Christologie des Apollinaris von Laodicea." Kleronomia (Thessaloniki) 4 (1972): 131161.

Leitzmann, Hans, ed. Apollinaris von Laodicea und seine Schule (1904). Reprint, Tübingen, 1970. Still the classic edition of original texts.

Mühlenberg, Ekkehard. Appollinaris von Laodicea. Göttingen, 1969.

Norris, Richard A., Jr., ed. and trans. The Christological Controversy. Philadelphia, 1980.

Prestige, G. L. St. Basil the Great and Apollinaris of Laodicea. London, 1956.

Quasten, Johannes. Patrology, vol. 3. Utrecht, 1953. Includes a full bibliography on Apollinaris on pages 377383.

Raven, Charles E. Apollinarianism. Cambridge, 1923.

Riedmatten, Henri de. "Some Neglected Aspects of Apollinarist Christology." Dominican Studies 1 (1948): 239260.

Torrance, Thomas F. "The Mind of Christ in Worship: The Problem in the Liturgy." In his Theology in Reconciliation, pp. 139215. London, 1975.

Wolfson, Harry A. "Philosophical Implications of Arianism and Apollinarianism." Dumbarton Oaks Papers 12 (1958): 328.

Wolfson, Harry A. The Philosophy of the Church Fathers. 3d ed. Cambridge, Mass., 1970.

Young, Frances M. From Nicaea to Chalcedon. Philadelphia, 1983.

George S. Bebis (1987)

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