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#590 Enhypostasia and Neo-Apollinarian Christology

August 05, 2018

Hey there Dr. Craig,

I hope you're well! I'm a graduate student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, NC, and I had a question about the essential difference(s) between your Neo-Apollinarianism and the 6th-century theologian Leontius of Byzantium's so-called, "principle of enhypostasia," if indeed there is any real difference. For my historical theology class, I'm reading Roger E. Olson's, "The Story of Christian Theology" (1999), and in his discussion of the Church's response to the tension between Antiochene and Alexandrian disputes over whether Christ had one or two natures, Olson records that Leontius of Byzantium was appointed "...to call and preside over conferences of leading orthodox theologians to carve out a new conception of the hypostatic union that would remain fully consistent with the Chalcedonian Definition while at the same time bridging the gap between the moderate monophysites and dyophysites" (244).

Since, on the one hand, the monophysites’ problem with dyophysitic Christology was that two natures somehow required that Christ possessed two “hypostasis” (or personal identities)—assuming as they did that every “nature” must have its own “hypostasis”; and, on the other hand, since the dyophysites’ problem with monophysitic Christology was that it lacked a full description of humanity (being that Christians then thought the human body without a “hypostasis” was “anhypostatic” (or impersonal) and therefore not truly human), Olson writes that Leontius alternatively “argued that while a nature—even a human nature—cannot exist without a hypostasis, it need not have its own hypostasis. It can be ‘hypostatized’ in another. In another words, for Leontius, ‘the human nature of Christ was not without hypostasis, but became hypostatic [personalized] in the Person of the Logos.’ The human nature of Christ—a full and complete human nature—was not anhypostatic (impersonal) nor personal in itself, but enhypostatic, which means ‘personalized in the person of another” (245).

Olson goes on to note of Leontius’s interpretation that “At the Second Council of Constantinople in 553, Leontius of Byzantium’s interpretation of Chalcedon was explained to all, and all bishops were required to reaffirm the Chalcedonian Definition. In other words, they were told by the emperor, ‘if you don’t see that this new interpretation completely clears up your objections—be they Alexandrian or Antiochene—then you are just obstinate and unworthy to be a bishop of the Great Church.’” (247).

I hope you’ll forgive me quoting at length from Olson, but when I read his explanation of Leontius’s “principle of enhypostasia,” (PoE) I couldn’t help recognizing some remarkable, if not exact, similarities with that of your contemporary, philosophical Neo-Apollinarianism (NA) model.

My question, then, is this: what differences would you say there are, if any, between NA and Leontius’s PoE? If there is no essential difference between them, and since his interpretation was adopted as a/the legitimate Christological interpretation of Constinanople II, does this demonstrate NA's historical orthodoxy and by consequence make all the current allegations of NA’s relative unorthodox nature fall to the ground entirely? I’ve been interested in NA for a while and have defended its coherence and orthodoxy online on a handful of occasions, but if there is/are no essential difference(s) between your philosophical/Christological model and Leontius’s concerning the hypostatic union, that it was declared an orthodox interpretation in a past ecumenical council seems (for me at least) to decisively put the issue to bed. Anyway, I really appreciate all you do, Dr. Craig, and I look forward to hearing what I have perhaps misunderstood!

All the best,


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Dr. craig’s response


I remember my surprise and delight when I first learned years ago of Leontius’ doctrine of enhypostasia. It seemed to fit hand-in-glove with my neo-Apollinarian proposal that the soul of Jesus Christ was the divine Logos. That makes it perspicuous why the individual human nature of Jesus cannot exist on its own. Here is what I wrote in my chapter on the Incarnation in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview:

"This second point of our Christology illuminates a doctrine implicit in the Chalcedonian formula and which later came to be called enhypostasia.  Developed by Leontius of Byzantium (485‑543), the doctrine states that Christ's individual human nature, that body-soul composite which was the man Jesus of Nazareth, did not have its own hypostasis, that is to say, it did not subsist on its own but became hypostatic only in its union with the Logos. Monophysites argued that if Christ had two individual natures, then each would have its own proper hypostasis, thereby destroying the unity of Christ's person.  Leontius agreed with the Monophysites that an individual nature without a hypostasis is impossible, but he escaped the Nestorian conclusion of two hypostaseis by postulating in Christ a human nature which is enhypostatic, that is, a nature which receives subsistence from another. In the case of Christ, the hypostasis of the divine Logos already exists prior to the Incarnation and then comes to exemplify the human nature as well.  Hence, the individual human nature of Christ supervenes upon the individual divine nature of the Logos. The two natures of Christ do not possess two separate hypostaseis, but they share one common hypostasis. The hypostasis of the human nature is identical with the divine person.  Thus, neither of the individual natures is without a hypostasis nor does each possess a hypostasis peculiar to it, but they have one and the same hypostasis which belongs properly to the divine Logos, the second person of the Trinity."

"When enhypostasia is combined with our Apollinarian proposal, we have an illuminating explanation of how Christ can have a fully human nature and a fully divine nature and yet be one person. For the Logos is both the hypostasis which serves as the subsistent property-bearer for each abstract kind-nature and the person who is the self-conscious Ego of both individual natures.  The reason the human nature is enhypostatic is that it is incomplete apart from its union with the Logos.  Apart from this Apollinarian insight, the doctrine of enhypostasia remains mysterious and perhaps incoherent.  On the present proposal the Logos completes the individual human nature of Christ by furnishing it with a rational soul, which is the Logos Himself. The considerable theological advantage to be gained from this is that it aborts the suggestion that the Logos could have assumed just any human nature, so that Ronald Reagan or even J. P. Moreland could have been the Son of God.  The individual human nature which is the man Jesus of Nazareth could not have existed apart from its union with the Logos, and were the Logos to be united with the body of, say, J.P. Moreland, the resultant person would not have been J. P. Moreland but someone else who merely looked like him."

(You gotta love that part about J.P. Moreland’s being the divine Son of God!  I had fun writing that!)

Now with respect to your question, “what differences would you say there are, if any, between NA and Leontius’s PoE?” I’d say that Leontius’ enhypostasia doesn’t commit one to holding that Jesus’ soul is the Logos. Leontius offers, to my knowledge, no explanation of why Jesus’ human nature is enhypostatic.  The great strength of my proposal is that it offers an explanation for this otherwise mysterious fact. The reason Jesus’ human nature becomes hypostatic only in union with the Logos is that the Logos brings to the individual human nature of Christ just that element (namely, a rational soul) that makes it complete. My proposal also avoids the very untoward implication that Jesus’ individual human nature could have been a human person had it not been assumed by the Logos and that instead J.P. Moreland could have been the divine Son of God, had his nature been assumed instead.

So, alas, enhypostasia won’t serve to “demonstrate NA's historical orthodoxy and by consequence make all the current allegations of NA’s relative unorthodox nature fall to the ground entirely” because while Neo-Apollinarianism entails enhypostasia, enhypostasia doesn’t entail Neo-Apollinarianism.  But I’d say the defender of enhypostasia who rejects Neo-Apollinarianism is left with an explanatorily deficient Christological theory, since an anhypostatic human nature is admitted to be impossible and no reason is given why Christ’s human nature becomes hypostatic only in union with the Logos.

- William Lane Craig