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Apollinarius of Laodicea and the Christological Controversy

Julian Spriggs M.A.

The teaching of Apollinarius (c.315-390) marked the beginning of the Christological controversy, which was the inevitable development following the Arian controversies of the fourth century. These had addressed the issue of the divinity of Jesus, and his relationship with God the Father. The Christological controversy arose over the question of the humanity of Jesus, and over the relationship between the human and divine natures in the person of Jesus.

Apollinarius was born around 315, and was the son of a Christian teacher, who was master of the theological schools of Berytus and Laodicea. During the reign of the Emperor Julian, Apollinarius had re-written the Scriptures in Homeric verse to teach his students Greek literary style, because Christians were forbidden from teaching the Greek classics. Before this, it was not considered a disgrace for Christians to receive teaching from pagan lecturers. However when both father and son Apollinarius had joined in singing a hymn to Bacchus as a literary exercise, public pressure rose to force their temporary excommunication.

In 361, in his older years, Apollinarius was appointed as bishop of Laodicea in Syria. It was only after this, that his unconventional Christology became apparent, which was quickly rejected by the rest of the church. He was the first to attempt to suggest a solution to the question of how Jesus can be both divine and human.

His suggestion was that in Christ’s incarnation, the divine Logos had taken the place of the human will or soul. Apollinarius stressed that the Word had become flesh, taking human form, rather then becoming man. His argument was based on the assumption that Christ had only one person, and that personality came totally from the Logos. Also, because the Logos could not be subject to change, the incarnated Christ could not have a human will. This teaching was partially motivated by avoiding the extremes of Arianism.

Apollinarius believed that he had remained true to the Nicene Creed and had solved one of the unsolved questions of Christology. However, the remainder of the church strongly objected to his teaching, because it meant that the incarnation was not complete. According to the teaching of Apollinarius, Jesus was not completely human. This meant that Jesus could not completely identify with mankind, so the doctrine of salvation was severely weakened. A Christ who did not have all the elements of human nature in his incarnation would not be able to redeem every aspect of human nature.

Apollinarius was particularly opposed by the Cappadocian Fathers and he was condemned by several church councils, after which he set up a rival church, which continued after his death in 390. One benefit was that through him, the last remnant of Arianism was extinguished. One the other hand, this argument deepened the division between Antioch and Alexandria, the extremes of which eventually led to the Nestorian and Monophysite divisions, some of which still continue today.