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Apollinarianism is a Christological theory, according to which Jesus Christ had a human body and a human sensitive soul, but no human rational mind, the Divine Logos taking its place.


The author of this theory, Apollinaris (Apolinarios) the Younger, Bishop of Laodicea, flourished in the latter half of the fourth century and was at first highly esteemed by men like St. Athanasius, St. Basil, and St. Jerome for his classical culture, his Biblical learning, his defence of Christianity and his loyalty to the Nicene faith.

The Greek Lit Gospel

He assisted his father, Apollinaris the Elder, in recounting the scriptures on classical models in order to compensate the Christians for the loss of Greek literature of which the edict of Julian had deprived them. The Old Testament was rendered as Homeric and Pindaric poetry, while the New Testament was modeled after the Platonic dialogues.


The works of the younger man were preserved and passed on in Cyrenaica include innumerable volumes on the Scriptures; two apologies of Christianity, one against Porphyry, and the other against Julian; a refutation of Eunomius, a radical Arian, etc. A contemporary anonymous book: Adversus fraudes Apollinaristarum, accused the Apollinarists, in order to win credence, of circulating a number of tracts under the approved names of such men as Gregory Thaumaturgus (He kata meros pistis, Exposition of Faith), Athanasius (Peri sarkoseos, On the Incarnation), Pope Julius (Peri tes en Christo enotetos, On Unity in Christ), etc. Following that clue, Lemaître (1741), Corleone (1877) and Münsinger (1895), have shown that in all probability these are Apollinaris' writings, although the Apollinarians deny this.

The Orthodox Fathers of the Church who wrote against Apollinarianism, e.g., Athanasius, in two books against Apollinaris; Gregory Nazianzen, in several letters; Gregory of Nyssa in his Antirretikos; Theodoret, in his Haereticae Fabulae and Dialogues, etc., provide ample information on the other side of the dispute.

Apollinaris the younger was a highly respected orator and Hebrew scholar whose lectures in Antioch in 374 were wildly popular.

History of the Dispute

The precise time at which Apollinaris formulated his theology is uncertain. There are clearly two periods in the Apollinarist controversy. Up to 376, either because of his covert attitude (which has become typical of his present-day adherents) or of the respect in which he was held, Apollinaris's name was never mentioned by his opponents, i.e. by individuals like Athanasius and Pope Damasus, or by councils like the Alexandrian (362), and the Roman (376).

From this latter date it is open war. Two more Roman councils, 377 and 381, and a number of Orthodox theologians, plainly condemn as heretical the views of Apollinaris. Apollinaris did not submit even to the more solemn condemnation of the council of Constantinople, 381, whose first canon entered Apollinarianism on the list of heresies. He died in about 392.

The Near Disappearance of Apollinarianism

Apollinaris's following, at one time considerable in Constantinople, Syria, and Phoenicia, hardly survived him in those regions. His followers fared rather better in Northern Africa, however, remaining somewhat vigorous although covertly miaphysitic in Cyrenaica. Some few disciples, like Vitalis, Valentinus, Polemon, and Timothy, tried to perpetuate Apollinarianism outside Cyrenaica and are likely responsible for the forgeries noticed above. The present-day Apollinarians execrate such foul charges. Towards 416, many returned to the mother-Church, while the rest drifted away into miaphysitism.


Apollinaris based his theory on two principles or suppositions, one ontological or objective, and one psychological or subjective. Ontologically, it appeared to him that the union of complete God with complete man could not be more than a juxtaposition or collocation. Two perfect beings with all their attributes, he argued, cannot be one. They are at most an incongruous compound, not unlike the monsters of mythology. Inasmuch as the Nicene faith forbade him to belittle the Logos, as Arius had done, he found his solution by looking at the humanity of Christ, stating that, for the sake of true Unity and veritable Incarnation, the rational mind of the human Jesus was replaced by the Divine Logos. Psychologically, Apollinaris considered the rational soul or spirit to be essentially liable to sin and capable, at its best, of only precarious efforts to the contrary. He saw no way of saving Christ's impeccability and the infinite value of Redemption, except by the elimination of the human spirit from Jesus's humanity, and the substitution of the Divine Logos in its stead. For the constructive part of his theory, Apollinaris appealed to the well-known Platonic division of human nature: body (sarx, soma), soul (psyche halogos), spirit (nous, pneuma, psyche logike). He avered that Christ assumed the human body and the human soul or principle of animal life, but not the human spirit. The Logos Himself is, or takes the place of, the human spirit, thus becoming the rational and spiritual centre, the seat of self-consciousness and self-determination. By this simple device the Laodicean bishop stated that Christ was safe, His substantial unity secure, His moral immutability guaranteed, and the infinite value of Redemption made self-evident. And in confirmation of his theory, he drew support from the gospel of holy Saint John (1:14): "and the Word was made flesh"; Saint Paul (Phil. 2:7): "Being made in the likeness of men and in habit found as a man"; and (I Cor. 15:47): "The second man, from heaven, heavenly".

Rebuttal of the Orthodox Church

In answer to Apollinaris's basic principles, the Orthodox Fathers simply denied the second as Manichaean. As to the first, it should be remembered that the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon had not yet formulated the doctrine of Hypostatical Union. It will then appear why the Fathers contented themselves with offering arguments in rebuttal, e.g.:

Scripture holds that the Logos assumed all that is human -- therefore the pneuma also -- sin alone excepted; that Jesus experienced joy and sadness, both being properties of the rational soul.

Christ without a rational soul is not a man; such an incongruous compound, as that imagined by Apollinaris, can neither be called God-man nor stand as the model of Christian life.

What Christ has not assumed He has not healed; thus the noblest portion of man is excluded from Redemption.

They also pointed out the correct meaning of the Scriptural passages alleged by Apollinaris, remarking that the word sarx in St. John, as in other parts of Holy Writ, was used by synecdoche for the whole human nature, and that the true meaning of St. Paul (Philippians and I Corinthians) was determined by the clear teaching of the Pastoral Epistles. Some of them, however, incautiously insisted upon the limitations of Jesus's knowledge as proof positive that His mind was truly human. But when the Apollinaris tried to take them farther into the very mystery of the Unity of Christ, they acknowledged their ignorance and gently derided Apollinaris’s mathematical spirit and implicit reliance upon mere speculation and human reasoning. The Apollinarian controversy was important in the history of Christian dogma in that it transferred the discussion from the Trinity into the Christological field and opened that long line of Christological debates which resulted in the Chalcedonian symbol.


Notable features of Apollinarianism are the unusual arrangement of the clergy. Unlike the Orthodox Church, bishops are allowed to wed. Women who have taken a vow of chastity and thereby have become 'like a man' may be ordained to the clergy. Spiritual marriages, in which both husband and wife remain celibate, are not uncommon among all ages.

The usual Orthodox New Testament and Septuagint form the texts used in sermons and guided Bible study; although the versions of scripture composed by Apollinaris are used for the texts sung during the epistle and gospel. Quotes from this version appear constantly in Cyrenaean poetry.


From the fifth century onward, this secretive sect of Orthodoxy was found only in Cyrenaica, a region of Libya, but now may be found in Cyrenaean immigrant communities in Tripolitana, Libya as well.

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