Doctrine of Christ (Part 2): The Incarnation (2)

December 20, 2016

Apollinarianism (Monophysitism)

Last time we talked about the two broad schools of thought in the early church concerning the person of Christ. These are typically called the Alexandrian School (because it was centered in Alexandria, Egypt), and the Antiochean School of Christology (centered in Antioch). But I suggested that these geographical names are probably not as elucidating as the descriptions Monophysite vs. Dyophysite Christology. That is to say, one-nature versus two-nature Christology.

The proponents of a Monophysite, or one-nature, Christology held that the second person of the Trinity – the Logos – possessed a single divine-human nature. Some of them understood the incarnation to be a matter of the Logos clothing himself with flesh assuming a human body as his own. By contrast, the proponents of a two-nature Christology emphasized that in the incarnation the Logos took on not just a human body but a complete human nature and therefore both a rational soul and a human body. On this view the Logos was joined at conception with the man (the human being) that was born by Mary, Jesus’ mother. The incarnation on this view thus involved the union of a complete human being and a complete divine being. Those are the two contesting schools of Christology in the early church: the Monophysite and the Dyophysite view.

Let’s look more specifically at the Monophysite Christology.

One of the most creative of the Alexandrian thinkers whose thought was to be very influential in the course of the Christological controversies was Apollinarius[1]. Apollinarius was a bishop in Laodicea who flourished in the mid-fourth century. He died in 390. Apollinarius argued that it’s impossible for Christ to have both a complete human nature and a complete divine nature because that would simply amount to God indwelling a human being and that falls short of having a true incarnation. He said that if in addition to the divine mind of the Logos there was also a human mind of Jesus then the Logos did not really achieve a full incarnation. The Logos simply indwelt the man Jesus of Nazareth.

On Apollinarius’ ingenious solution to this problem of getting a real genuine incarnation he appealed to his anthropology. Apollinarius had a tripartite anthropology. That is to say there are three parts that go to make up human being. The outermost part would be the human body, or soma. In addition to the body, or soma, however there is also the animal soul or psuche. This being merely an animal soul, it’s like the soul that other animals have, it is simply an animating principle that makes the body alive rather than a corpse. In human beings there is a third part which is the human mind, or the nous. On Apollinarius’ anthropology, human beings are made up of a body (a soma), and animal soul (psuche), and a rational soul or mind (the nous). On his doctrine of the incarnation the divine Logos took the place of the human nous or mind. Thus, in Jesus there was not a human mind; rather it was a divine mind. It was the mind of the Logos. As a result, on Apollinarius’ Christology, you can see that the Logos was constitutionally united with human being. The person Jesus of Nazareth was a divine person with a human body and an ordinary animal soul. In Christ there exists a single nature which has a divine part – the Logos – and then purely ordinary human parts (the soma and psuche). So it is a single nature which has a part that is co-essential with God (the Logos) and parts which are co-essential with us, namely the flesh and the animal spirit.

The Logos, by being constitutionally joined with humanity in this way, came to experience the world through his flesh. He was able to act in the world by using the flesh – his body – as an instrument. So the body for the incarnate Logos was both a means of experiencing the world and also a means of acting in the world. Since there is only a single intellect or mind in Christ which just is the Logos, that means that Christ was without sinful desires and indeed incapable of sinning because it’s impossible that the Logos could sin. On Apollinarius’ anthropology the seat or locus of the sinful instincts in human beings is the nous, and Jesus didn’t have a human mind or nous; instead it was the Logos and therefore he was utterly without sin and indeed incapable of sinning because the second person of the Trinity could not sin.

In advocating this understanding of the incarnation, Apollinarius stood in the tradition of the great Alexandrian theologians. For example, the great Athanasius, one of the champions of Nicene orthodoxy at the Council of Nicaea, always spoke of the Logos’ taking on flesh. He never refers to the human soul of Jesus. For example, Athanasius affirms in his Orations Against the Arians, “In nature the Word himself [the Logos] is impassable.” The divine nature cannot suffer. Yet he says, “because of that flesh which he put on these things are ascribed to him since they belong to the flesh and the body itself belongs to the Savior.” So the Logos could experience suffering, exhaustion, hunger, thirst, and so forth through the flesh which he took on even though in his own nature he is incapable of suffering. Apollinarius typically thinks of the incarnation in terms of the Logos’ taking on flesh.

Apollinarianism gave us a genuine incarnation; not simply an indwelling of God in a human being, but a constitutional union of divinity and humanity. It’s no more, I think, intrinsically implausible than the union of the human soul and the human body because on this view the Logos just takes the place of the human soul. If anthropological dualism is plausible (that is to say, if we think of human beings as a union of soul and body) then it doesn’t seem any more difficult to think of a union of the Logos and humanity on that model.[2] The model that Apollinarius offered insures the unity of Christ’s person – there is only one person who Christ is, namely he is the Logos clothed with flesh. It also explains how the Logos could participate in human suffering through his taking on of a human body.


Student: Is the Logos then subject to temptation?

Dr. Craig: That’s a really good question. He needs to be subject to temptation because even though he was incapable of sin, nevertheless he was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. Right? I think that’s an open question on Apollinarius’ view. I’ll return to it later. If we think of the incarnation as Superman disguised as Clark Kent than those temptations would bounce off of him like bullets bounce off Superman. There is no real lure; no real temptation. That doesn’t seem right. It seems like we want to say that Jesus really was tempted just as we are but he resisted those temptations, and that’s going to require some finessing. Hold on to that question. I think on Apollinarianism it is difficult to see how the Logos could be really tempted if he is there in the flesh in the place of a human mind. That’s a really good question that you are raising. We will need to talk about that more. The question reveals that you understand the model.

Student: Hebrews 4:15 and 16 says that he was tempted in every way just as we are. If that adds to it.

Dr. Craig: Right. He was tempted in every way as we are. I think that we would want to say he didn’t just blow these temptations away like smoke but that he felt their allure. That’s going to be one of the constraints on an acceptable model for the incarnation.

Student: James says God cannot be tempted with evil, nor does he tempt any man. So I think for me it is not a problem being a trichotomist. The other side of that is to discuss temptation either as a noun or a verb and whether you are the agent or the object and as the object whether you are affected.

Dr. Craig: OK. These are really good questions. You now presents the other side. James says God cannot be tempted with evil, and since the Logos is God, how could he be tempted except in the sense, as I say (and I like the way you distinguished the object and the agent), Satan was the agent of temptation. He came against Christ – the Logos – with these promises of world dominion and sustenance in the wilderness. He came against him with these temptations. But the question that is being raised here is did Jesus really feel those temptations or were they just like bullets bouncing off Superman? You’ve got scriptures that seem to be on both sides as we’ve seen. We’ll have to talk about that some more. I don’t think Apollinarianism itself decides the answer to that for us.

Student: How does this view resonate with perfect being theology? Because God, as a maximally great being, cannot even possibly sin in any possible world. The very fact that he is tempted to sin makes me . . .

Dr. Craig: What you are raising is a question about a much later medieval thinker’s conception of God – St. Anselm – who flourished during the eleventh century. So this is some seven centuries later. You’ll remember we encountered St. Anselm when we talk about the ontological argument for the existence of God. Anselm defined God as the greatest conceivable being, or the most perfect being (as you say).[3] The question would be: can you unite Anselm’s concept of God with an Apollinarian Christology? It seems to me that, yes, you could. Apollinarius would maintain with Anselm that God is the greatest conceivable being and that therefore the Logos is impassable, cannot suffer, cannot be affected, and that he is incapable of sin. So even if he was tempted by the devil there’s no possibility he could have given in. There’s no possible world (as you say) in which Christ succumbed to Satan and sinned because God cannot sin. So the question will be: given that view of divinity, what remains of the temptations of Jesus? Are they just showpieces but not really a kind of existential allure on Jesus’ part? If that’s the case how can he sympathize with us as our high priest, as someone earlier said, if these temptations have no effect on him? Remember Apollinarius wants to say that even though the Logos is impassable in the divine nature, in the flesh he is passable. He can experience hunger and thirst and fatigue and pain and so forth in the flesh. Maybe that would provide room for Apollinarius to say that he felt the force and the allure of the temptations in his human nature but not in his divine nature. We’ll talk about it some more later on.

Student: Christ is the second Adam. In physical, psychological, and spiritual they are all of the same except that the will in Adam – the first Adam – was in naïvety toward temptation. But in the second Adam there is a clear alignment as Hebrew 10:7 says, “I have come to do your will.” All elements are the same except the prime minister of the body kingdom – that will – is redirected and so the priority is different. That is what he wants us to follow into.

Dr. Craig: She is making a very subtle distinction. She’s pointing out that Adam did not have a will that perfectly did the moral good. Rather, she put it “it was innocent” or “naïve.” It was not a guilty will, but that didn’t mean it was a perfect will as Christ’s was. So while we want to say Adam was sinless, we don’t mean that he was morally perfect in the way that Christ is. He was naïve, morally speaking. He was innocent until he fell into sin. Whereas Christ, as the Logos, would not simply be naïve; he would be morally perfect. He’s the greatest conceivable being who cannot but do the good. There is an even more radical difference though, and that is Adam after the fall had a corrupted will. He had a will which was no longer capable of doing the good, but was a will that was in bondage to sin, whereas Christ’s will (even his human will) was not in bondage to sin. Christ did not have a fallen sinful nature. His humanity was more like Adam’s prior to the fall. But insofar as he was the Logos – the second person of the Trinity – you are quite right in saying he had a will that was morally perfect.

Student: When we are restored in the second coming and our bodies will be restored, and it says we will be like Christ, are we going to be like Adam – go back to Adam, capable of being perfect but not perfect the way Christ is?

Dr. Craig: Yes, I would say that we don’t need to retrogress all the way back to a state of innocence, but certainly we would now have wills that are capable of doing the good and are no longer in bondage to sin. That doesn’t mean we are perfect. I would imagine in heaven that moral growth is potentially infinite, but we could never become as good as God.

Student: We will be able to sin or not sin?[4] Capable of sinning? That’s my question.

Dr. Craig: That’s raising a really deep theological question which we can’t decide here. What we know is that the blessed in heaven will not sin. There is no danger that someone in heaven will sin and fall away and be cast out. But does that imply that they cannot sin or simply that they are so restored and renewed and enraptured by the love of Christ that they simply will not sin even though they still have free will? I think that’s an open question that we don’t need to decide now.

Student: It appears that if we could not sin that we would be a bunch of little gods running around.

Dr. Craig: It doesn’t mean that we would be perfect. I could see where God might take away the freedom to sin in heaven so that human beings would not even have the ability to sin anymore. But I’m not going to defend that position here. It does seem to me to be an open question at least.

Student: I’ve heard some Bible teachers teach that the sin nature is passed down from the father’s lineage which is why Jesus incarnate had a physical mother but not a physical father. Have you ever heard that, and if so what do you think?

Dr. Craig: I have never heard that. I think that is absolutely bizarre to think that males propagate the sin nature. In fact, you know the funny thing . . . [laughter] the women here think maybe that is a good doctrine! It is so funny because the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church was exactly in the opposite direction. In order to avoid Jesus inheriting original sin from Mary, his mother, he not only had to be virgin born but Mary herself had to be immaculately conceived. The Immaculate Conception is not Jesus’ conception. His conception was virginal. The Immaculate Conception is the Catholic doctrine (very late developing in church history) that Mary was conceived without original sin. I think insofar as the Catholics recognize that original sin can be passed on by any human person regardless of his or her sex, they are right in saying that Mary would have naturally passed on original sin to Jesus even if he were virginally conceived. Whether you want to deal with that by Immaculate Conception is neither here nor there but I think that they’re quite right in saying that the sex of the parent wouldn’t have any impact upon whether or not you are conceived without original sin.

Student: Back to the discussion of “if we can sin in heaven,” isn’t it true that God will not allow any evil into heaven, there will be no more tears? So if there’s no evil in heaven there’s no stimulation to sin in heaven.

Dr. Craig: Right, there wouldn’t be any stimulation to sin in heaven because there is no evil present there. Yes, but think of the angels who we believe fell originally – the primordial fall of the angels. There wasn’t any sort of evil there, I think, that would tempt the angels to fall. It was just a sort of pride perhaps that led to the angelic fall. So one might imagine someone in heaven with the ability to value some lesser finite good instead of God himself, and that would be sin. That won't happen, but the question is “Could it happen?” In a sense the position you were laying out there is it could happen that someone would sin – they have free will to sin – but they never will because there wouldn’t be any motivation to sin – no provocation. Therefore even though they have freedom of the will to sin, there’s no worries because there would be no provocation, no motivation. As I say, I’m worried about the angelic fall there that one didn’t seem to have any kind of provocation there either but it occurred.[5]

Student: Could that be considered a special dispensation?

Dr. Craig: You could say that that was just a special case and it wouldn’t be like the blessed in heaven but, yeah, this is an open question.


Let me say a few words before we close about the reception of Apollinarianism. Despite its advantages, Apollinarianism was condemned in the year 377 by a synod in Rome. Two deficiencies of Apollinarian Christology seemed especially serious to the church fathers.

1. A body without a mind is a truncation of human nature. A body without a mind is not a true human nature. By merely clothing himself in flesh, the Logos did not truly become a man for essential to humanity (to human nature) is a rational soul as well as a human body, and Christ did not have a human soul. He was like us only with respect to his flesh, and that is a mere animal nature.

The church father, Gregory of Nyssa, accused Apollinarius of saying that the incarnation was a matter of God’s becoming an animal. That’s all it really amounted to. The incarnation of the Logos was God not becoming a man but becoming an animal. Therefore Apollinarianism is unacceptable because it denies the true humanity of Christ.

2. If Christ lacked a human mind then he did not truly redeem the human mind. This is rooted in the fundamental principle which underlay the entire incarnation, and that is the principle quod non est assumptum non est sanatum – that which is not assumed is not saved. That is to say, if the Logos did not assume a human nature then he did not save human nature. And he didn’t on this view assume a human nature. He just assumed an animal nature. Therefore human nature is not saved. Therefore the Apollinarian Christology, it was charged, would undermine the Christian doctrine of salvation.

Those are the two principal criticisms of Apollinarianism.


Student: I just want to say something real quick about something. Somebody had mentioned that sin is passed through the male. Karl Barth I believe came up with that. So I believe that is roughly one hundred years old. But I have actually seen that. I don’t know what to say otherwise. Now my question is when we are talking about “what is not assumed, cannot be saved” - forgive me for doing this but – when it comes to the matter of Christ’s will, I believe you believe he has one will whereas I believe that it is orthodox to say that he had actually two wills. So my question would be if he does not have not just two natures but two wills and then if there is not the will then how can he redeem our will? How can he redeem it if he doesn’t possess it?

Dr. Craig: You are jumping way ahead. We will come back to that, but you have pinpointed a problem that the church fathers would have agreed with. They would have been totally in agreement with you that on this view there was just a single will in Christ – the will of the Logos. There was no human will because there was no human mind, and therefore how could the human will be redeemed? It wasn’t assumed by Christ. So they would agree with your critique. Indeed your critique just is a kind of reverberation of the second point that I mentioned.[6]

Student: The salvation is merely a restoration of God’s creation. So Christ comes to save us just to restore us back to before the fall. So the fall is due to a rebellion of the will. Talking about sin passing down male because a lot of times males carry that will power because females have to submit to that which caused the emotional depravity which just kind of perpetuates with both emotion and will. I think Christ you can say is just like Adam except his will is reconciled with God in perfection where he will bring us into that reconciliation which means that when Jesus comes he will say the Kingdom of God is at hand and we say your Kingdom come. The Kingdom is here on Earth in relationship. When our relationship is reconnected with God as Christ is then we are in heaven. So our will will be like Christ, cannot be tempted because it is Christ living in us.

Dr. Craig: All right. My main concern would be when you said something about Christ has a will that is reconciled to God.

Student. I mean it is one. He helps us to reconcile.

Dr. Craig: On orthodox Christology, Christ had a divine will (which is the will of the Logos which is impeccable – that is to say, it could not sin) and a human will (which never falls – he never sins with the human will) but the human will agrees with and follows the divine will. I do think that in heaven you would be right in saying that our wills would be like Christ’s human will in that we would be restored and put back into a position where our wills can do God’s righteous will and are not bound by sin anymore.


All right. This was a good discussion today. What we’ll do next time is look at the Antiochean school of Christology which insisted against Apollinarius that in the incarnation Christ had two complete natures – a human nature and a divine nature – and we will see the problems that this view led to for proponents of the Antiochean school.[7]



[1] Sometimes spelled “Apollinaris.”

[2] 10:08

[3] 15:00

[4] 20:09

[5] 25:03

[6] 30:00

[7] Total Running Time: 33:58 (Copyright © 2016 William Lane Craig)