Before reading, ask yourself:
-Who is Apollonaris?
-Why must Christ have a human nature?
-How does heresy strengthen the church?
Apollinaris, bishop of Laodicia, was a highly esteemed writer and theologian of the 4th century. He was known for his piety and orthodoxy. Athanasius held him in such high regard that he would not even mention Apollinaris by name when he wrote against his heretical viewpoint of Christ’s human nature.
Apollinaris denied that Christ took on a complete human nature in the incarnation. This heresy was pointedly opposed because, in essence, it robs the Church of her human Savior, Jesus Christ.
The road for the Church so far had not been very smooth. The Church was still young, and since the time of the apostles up to the time of Constantine the Great, a period of 300 years, persecution was the way of the Lord for the Church. This is not to say that there was daily persecution for all the members of the Church, but persecution was the lot for different areas of the Roman Empire at different times throughout this entire period. But, along with Constantine the Great and his Edict of Toleration (313) came a time of relative peace for the Church. Nevertheless, the road on which she traveled did not become any smoother. In fact, we know that the way of the Church is never a smooth ride. The devil does not cease in his attacks on his adversary – ever. And he will not cease for all of history until he is overcome when Christ returns. Now, seeing that persecution had not destroyed her, the devil attacked from a different angle – heretical teachings.
At this time the Church was very busy with the development of her doctrines. This work was accomplished by many men. Some of these men worked for God and His Church, others worked for Satan and his devils. And where did Satan strike first? At the doctrines which define the incarnation of our Savior. The devil hates Christ and will do anything to cause the Church to lose her true confession of His work. But God cares for His Church. He also controls all that befalls the Church, and God uses heresy to force the Church to turn to the Word of God to search out the truths needed to defend herself against heresy. This results in a stronger Church with clearly-defined confessions to hand down from age to age in preservation of the truth.
Before Apollinaris arrived on the scene, there was already much controversy regarding the doctrines of Christology. Origen had taught the generation and eternity of the Son, but he spoke of a subordination of the Son to the Father. And although he said the Son was eternal, he taught that the Son was created by the Father. This resulted in great controversy in the Church. Constantine had granted peace to the Church in hopes that this would result in a unified kingdom, but now found himself instead in the midst of doctrinal disagreement. At this time the Church was also troubled with the Arian controversy which resulted in the Council of Nicea (325).
Even after the Council of Nicea the struggle over the doctrines of the Trinity and Christ’s natures continued. There were those who denied Christ’s human nature, and there were those who denied the divinity of Christ. Then along came Apollinaris.
Apollinaris denied the true and proper humanity of Christ. He taught that man consists of a body, a soul, and a spirit. He felt that man’s rational spirit is the source of sin, so he taught that Christ’s divine spirit took the place of the human spirit in the incarnation. This resulted in a Savior who consisted of a human body, a human soul, and a divine spirit.
This, of course, led to a great problem. Apollinaris’ savior no longer had a complete human nature. How could our human nature be saved by a savior who does not possess a complete human nature himself?
John 10:30 reads, “I and my Father are one.” John 14:7 says, “If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.” Galatians 4:4 reads, “But when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law.” Romans 8:3 says, “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” From these passages, and many others that are found in Holy Writ, we see that Christ is both divine and human. He holds both natures in one body. And this is the only way it can be. Our Savior must be very man to be able to stand in our place for our sins. Our Savior must also be very God in order to suffer and satisfy God’s wrath for our sins. Hallelujah! We have both in our faithful Savior Jesus Christ, God in the flesh.
Apollinaris was opposed by Athanasius for his heretical teachings. He was also opposed by Gregory of Nazianzum, and Gregory of Nyssa. Their opposition led to the doctrine that Christ had a perfect human nature together with a divine nature. The Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (381) condemned Apollinaris and his teachings as heretical.
The Church was young. God did not immediately reveal all the doctrinal truths of the scripture to the Church. It was up to man to discover the riches of the scriptures and to lay them down in confessional form for the generations to come. In all of this we can see God’s divine hand at work as He forces the Church, through the means of heresies, to seek out the truth, enriching the confessions of all believers. Thank God, for we certainly need these confessions today!