What Is Apollinarianism?

Apollinarianism is the belief that Christ does not possess a human spirit as we do, but that it was replaced by the divine Logos. This teaching is named after Apollinarius, bishop of Laodicea. Apollinarius held to a trichotomist view of the nature of man. Man is divided into a physical body, a spirit or rational soul which acts as the mind of man and is unique to humans, and a lower soul which animals share in as well. He believed that while Christ had a human body and a human lower soul, he did not have a human spirit, rational soul, or mind as we do. He came to this conclusion as a result of trying to reconcile the truth that Jesus is impeccable or unable to sin with the truth that he is truly human. He reasoned that in order for Jesus to be unable to sin, he could not have a human spirit as we do. The result of this belief, just like monophysitism and monotheletism, is that Jesus is less than fully human because he does not possess a human spirit or mind as we do. But like these other views which tend toward docetism, they contradict the truth of Hebrews 2:17 which teaches us that the Son had to become like us in every way in the incarnation: “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”

This belief is actually a relic of Arianism which holds to an Apollinarian-like understanding of the person of Christ. They believed that the Logos dwelled in the man Jesus Christ and was distinct from him. Jesus has a human body without a human soul because the Logos takes its place (Richard A. Norris Jr., The Christological Controversy, 15). This composite Logos-flesh view of Jesus where he is composed of both a body and the Logos who indwells him served as a precursor for the Nestorian understanding of Jesus. In Arianism, the Logos is not the same as the man Jesus Christ who is flesh, but is a lesser deity who dwells inside him. The irony of this is that Apollinarius was an opponent of Arianism who affirmed that the Son is truly God.

Pope Damasus I at the Council of Rome in 382 condemned Apollinarianism:

“We pronounce anathema against them who say that the Word of God is in the human flesh in lieu and place of the human rational and intellective soul. For, the Word of God is the Son Himself. Neither did He come in the flesh to replace, but rather to assume and preserve from sin and save the rational and intellective soul of man” (Seventh Anathema).

The Synodical Letter of the First Council of Constantinople likewise condemned this belief:

“The dispensation of the flesh is neither soulless nor mindless nor imperfect; and knowing full well that God’s Word was perfect before the ages, and became perfect man in the last days for our salvation.”


Sunday Meditation – The Goodness of Affliction

“In affliction God reveals the unknown corruptions in the hearts of his people: what pride, impatience, unbelief, idolatry, distrust of God, murmuring, and unthankfulness. Sin lies very close and deep and is not easily discerned until the fire of affliction comes. The furnace discovers the dross. In the furnace we see more corruption than was ever suspected. What self-love is there boiling and fretting within me, what pride, distrust in God, creature-confidence, discontent, murmuring, rising against the holy and righteous dispensations of God! In affliction, he empties us of ourselves to make us fly to Jesus Christ for righteousness and strength. He lets us see what is crooked that we may straighten it; what is weak that we may strengthen it; what is lacking that we may supply it; and what is lame that it may not be turned out of the way. Affliction also teaches us to pray. They that have never prayed before, will pray in affliction. They will pray more frequently and fervently. David was always a praying man, but now under persecution he did nothing else (Psa. 109:4).”

Thomas Case

What Is Monotheletism?

Monotheletism is the belief that Christ only possesses one will in contrast to dyotheletism which affirms that Christ has two wills: one divine and one human since he is both God and man. Monotheletism was the second attempt at a compromise between orthodoxy and monophysitism in order to reunite the church after monoenergism, the belief that Christ possesses only one energy, activity, or operation, failed. In monotheletism, the divine will of Christ takes the place of his human will. The unintended result of this is that Jesus is less than fully human since he does not have a human will in the same way we do (Heb 2:17). By depriving Jesus of a human will, monotheletism falls into the same error as monophysitism by presenting us with a savior who is less than fully human. Monotheletism and monophysitism are wrong, not just because they fail to take into consideration all of Scripture, but also because they tend toward docetism.

This belief was promoted by Sergius, Patriarch of Constantinople, and Honorius, Bishop of Rome. Honorius wrote to Sergius:

“Wherefore we acknowledge one will of our Lord Jesus Christ, for evidently it was our nature and not the sin in it which was assumed by the Godhead, that is to say, the nature which was created before sin, not the nature which was vitiated by sin”

Both Sergius and Honorius were condemned for teaching monotheletism at the Third Council of Constantinople or Sixth Ecumenical Council in 681:

“After we had reconsidered, according to our promise which we had made to your highness, the doctrinal letters of Sergius, at one time patriarch of this royal god-protected city to Cyrus, who was then bishop of Phasis and to Honorius some time Pope of Old Rome, as well as the letter of the latter to the same Sergius, we find that these documents are quite foreign to the apostolic dogmas, to the declarations of the holy Councils, and to all the accepted Fathers, and that they follow the false teachings of the heretics; therefore we entirely reject them, and execrate them as hurtful to the soul. But the names of those men whose doctrines we execrate must also be thrust forth from the holy Church of God, namely, that of Sergius some time bishop of this God-preserved royal city who was the first to write on this impious doctrine. . . . And with these we define that there shall be expelled from the holy Church of God and anathematized Honorius who was some time Pope of Old Rome, because of what we found written by him to Sergius, that in all respects he followed his view and confirmed his impious doctrines” (Session 13).

“But as the author of evil, who, in the beginning, availed himself of the aid of the serpent, and by it brought the poison of death upon the human race, has not desisted, but in like manner now, having found suitable instruments for working out his will (we mean Theodorus, who was Bishop of Pharan, Sergius, Pyrrhus, Paul and Peter, who were Archbishops of this royal city, and moreover, Honorius who was Pope of the elder Rome, Cyrus Bishop of Alexandria, Macarius who was lately bishop of Antioch, and Stephen his disciple), has actively employed them in raising up for the whole Church the stumbling-blocks of one will and one operation in the two natures of Christ our true God, one of the Holy Trinity; thus disseminating, in novel terms, amongst the orthodox people, a heresy similar to the mad and wicked doctrine of the impious Apollinaris, Severus, and Themistius, and endeavoring craftily to destroy the perfection of the incarnation of the same our Lord Jesus Christ, our God, by blasphemously representing his flesh endowed with a rational soul as devoid of will or operation” (Session 18).

Sunday Meditation – Holy Quietness

“A gracious prudent silence under the afflicting hand of God includes a holy quietness and calmness of mind and spirit. It shuts out all inward murmurings of the heart. Such a soul is submissive to God. All passions are allayed, tamed, and subdued. It was a Father that put those bitter cups in your hand. It was love that laid those heavy crosses upon your shoulders, and grace that put the yokes about your neck. When God’s people are under the rod, he makes by his Spirit and word sweet music in their souls, and allays all tumultuous motions and passions. This holy silence humbly acquits God of all blame and injustice. ‘Ah! Lord’, he says, ‘there is not the least degree of injustice in all the afflictions you have brought upon me. I desire to take shame to myself, and to set my seal that you are righteous, and that there is no injustice or cruelty in all that you have brought upon me. I know, O Lord, that your judgments are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me’ (Psa. 119:75). God’s judgments are always just. He never afflicts but in faithfulness. His will is the rule of justice, and therefore a gracious soul dares not cavil or question his proceedings. The afflicted soul knows God can do nothing but that which is righteous, and puts his mouth in the dust before him. To silently kiss the rod and the hand that whips with it is the noblest way of clearing the Lord of all injustice. A holy silence shines in no greater way than to humbly clear God from all that which a corrupt heart is apt to charge him with in the day of affliction. God can give nothing, and do nothing, but that which is good.”

Thomas Brooks

What Is Monophysitism?

Monophysitism is the belief that Christ does not possess two distinct natures: divine and human, but only one nature which is a fusion of the two. This new nature is a tertium quid or third thing that results from combining the two in the incarnation. This means Christ is not human in the exact same way we are or God in the same way the Father is. The result is that Christ is neither truly God or truly man at the same time. Therefore, in an attempt to be consistent with Scripture, monophysitists must emphasize one nature over the other (since there is no distinction between them) and historically this has resulted in docetism or the belief that Christ is not fully human. Eutyches of Constantinople, for example, argued that the human nature of Christ was swallowed up or dissolved into his divine nature which took preeminence. Monophysitism developed as an overreaction to Nestorianism. But in attempting to combat Nestorianism which spoke of Christ as if he were two persons, monophysitists failed to maintain the distinction between Christ’s humanity and deity.

A key verse for understanding the person of Christ is Colossians 2:9: “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” Paul distinguishes between Christ’s “deity” and his humanity when he speaks of the “body” of Christ. The one who is Christ is both fully divine and has a true human body. Hebrews 2:17 says that Christ “had to be made like his brothers in every respect.” He had to become human exactly as we are or else he could not save us. If he does not share the same nature we do as humans, then he could not have been our substitute on the cross. Therefore, he must possess a human mind, emotions, soul, and will to be truly human. As the church father Gregory of Nazianzus declared, “That which He has not assumed, He has not healed” (Against Apollinarius, Letter 101). All that we are he had to become so that we would become like him through the renewing of the image of God (Rom 8:29).

Monophysitism is also impossible because there can be no change in the divine nature for God to be immutable. Jesus Christ with respect to his divine nature “is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:8). If Christ’s divinity merged with his humanity to create a new nature, then God himself changed rather than understanding the incarnation as the addition of humanity to the person of Christ who is God. The Council of Chalcedon sets forth the biblical view of Christ as one person existing in two natures:

“Acknowledged in Two Natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the difference of the Natures being in no way removed because of the Union, but rather the properties of each Nature being preserved, and (both) concurring into One Person and One Hypostasis; not as though He were parted or divided into Two Persons, but One and the Self-same Son and Only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ”

Those who advocate monophysitism today prefer to use the term miaphysitism to distinguish what they believe from the docetism of Eutyches of Constantinople. Modern advocates of this belief include the Coptic, Ethiopic, and Syriac Orthodox churches. These are known as the Oriental Orthodox and claim Cyril of Alexandria as a defender of their views who spoke of the “one nature of the Word of God incarnate.” But neither Cyril of Alexandria or the Council of Chalcedon speak with the authority of Scripture. The Scriptures are sufficient for answering the question of who Jesus is and they declare that he exists both “in the form of God” and “in human form” at the same time (Phil 2:6-7).

Sunday Meditation – The Hand of God

“If Job had not seen God in his affliction, he would have cried out, ‘O these wretched Chaldeans, they have plundered and spoiled me!’ Job discerned God’s commission in their hands and laid his hand upon his mouth. Aaron, beholding the hand of God in the untimely death of his sons, held his peace (Lev 10:3). The sight of God in this sad stroke is a bridle both to his mind and mouth. Joseph saw the hand of God in his brothers selling him into Egypt (Gen 45:8). Men that do not see God in an affliction are easily cast into a feverish fit. They will quickly be in a flame, and when their passions are up, they will begin to be saucy, and make no bones of telling God to his face that they do well to be angry (Jon 4:8-9). Those who see the hand of God in their afflictions, will, with David, lay their hands upon their mouths (2 Sam 16:11-12). If God’s hand is not seen, the heart will fret and rage under affliction. Aaron saw God’s sovereignty, and it silenced him. Job saw God’s majesty, and it stilled him. Eli saw God’s authority, and it quieted him (1 Sam 3:11, 19). When afflictions arrest us, we shall murmur and grumble and struggle until we see that it is God that strikes. We must see him as King of kings, and Lord of lords and stoop under his almighty majestic hand.”

Thomas Brooks

What Is Nestorianism?

Nestorianism is the belief that the two natures of Christ are not inseparately united to his person or hypostasis. This belief is a result of denying the communicatio idiomatum which states that the properties or attributes of both natures are communicated to the one person who is Christ. But in the communicatio idiomatum, the two natures are not communicated to each other which would blur the distinction between the humanity and deity of Christ. Nestorianism speaks of Christ as if he were two persons: the divine Logos and the man Jesus Christ. The end result of this belief is that the man who is Christ is not the same person as the eternal Logos who is God.

The first proponent of Nestorianism appears to be Theodore of Mopsuestia. He taught that it was only the man Jesus Christ who suffered on the cross, not the eternal Logos who is God since God is impassible or incapable of suffering. According to him, we should never speak of God dying on the cross for us because God is immortal. Cyril of Alexandria reproduces some of his statements regarding his beliefs about the relationship between the Word of God and the man who is Christ:

“And it is convenient that they who view aright, should, when we are looking for natural forefathers, call neither God the Word son of David or Abraham but their Maker: nor the body before the ages out of the Father but the seed of Abraham and David born from Mary. And then the consideration is of natural births, neither is God the Word deemed to be Mary’s son: for mortal bears what is mortal by nature and a body like itself. . . . Nor does God the Word Himself please that He should be David’s son, but lord; but that the body should be called son of David” (Second Book Against Theodore 13).

So God the Word is not the son of David or Mary’s son, but only the body of Christ. This means Mary only gave birth to the man Jesus but not the eternal God of the universe who has no beginning. The argument is that if Mary gave birth to the eternal Son of God, he would no longer be eternal since he would have a beginning. Since God has always existed, Mary could not have given birth to God. He also says concerning the Son:

“None, he says, hath He made partaker of the Son’s dignity. For in this that He said, I begat Thee, He gave as it were through it a participation of sonship, yet this which has been said is openly shewn to have nothing at all to do with God the Word” (Third Book Against Theodore 5).

Theodore believed that when God the Father bestowed on the Son the name that is above every name at his ascension, it was not upon God the Word that this was done since he already is God, but only the man Jesus Christ.

These beliefs were passed down from him to Nestorius who objected to the phrase theotokos or “mother of God” for Mary since God has no beginning. He instead proposed the title Christotokos “mother of Christ.” But what we need to understand about this controversy is that the title “mother of God” was originally a Christological statement, not a Mariological one. The purpose of the phrase at the Council of Ephesus in 431 was to defend the person of Christ against Nestorians who divided the Son into two persons: one human and one divine. Nestorians argued that Mary carried within her the human Jesus, but not the eternal Son of God. The title theotokos “mother of God” was not created to exalt Mary, but to defend the truth that Jesus is fully God and fully man in one person. Over time, the emphasis of the statement shifted from Jesus to Mary. Roman Catholicism has turned it into a basis upon which to venerate Mary in accordance with their belief in hyperdulia. A more accurate title for Mary that captures all of who Jesus is in the incarnation is theanthrōpotokos “mother of the God-man.”

A verse that is relevant for this debate is Luke 1:43 where Elizabeth says: “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Jesus is identified as “my Lord” even before he is born. Mary is rightly said to be the mother of God in the sense that she is the mother of the God-man Jesus Christ. The one who dwelled in the womb of Mary is the same person who created all things. It is also proper to speak of God dying on the cross for our sins in accordance with Acts 20:28: “to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” Yet the suffering of Christ who is God is only with respect to his human nature since God by definition is immortal and cannot die. The solution is not to divide the Son into two persons and say that only the man Jesus Christ died on the cross, but to speak of Christ’s actions being with respect to one of his two natures that are each properly predicated to his person. Thus we can speak of God dying on the cross in the person of Jesus Christ with respect to his human nature. Only a sacrifice of infinite worth could pay the penalty for our sins which deserve infinite punishment.

Modern day proponents of Nestorianism include modalists who divide Jesus into two persons to explain how Jesus can be praying to the Father in John 17. In their view, it is not Jesus praying to the Father who is a distinct person from him, but the human nature of Jesus communicating with his divine nature. Some Protestants also fall into Nestorianism as a result of overreacting to the Roman Catholic exaltation of Mary based on a misuse of the title “mother of God.”