Controversies about Christ in the early church, part II: The hybrid Jesus and the Second Council

Justin Martyr

Justin Martyr, the Christian philosopher, about to say something profound about the Logos

This post follows from “Who do you say that I am: Controversies about Christ in the early church“:

[The following paragraph is adapted from an appendix to Philip Jenkins’s fascinating new book, Jesus Wars:How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 years. I do think this subtitle is significantly misleading–these decisions were in fact made “ex corde ecclesia”–out of the heart of the church. But Jenkins tells a rollicking tale, and with scholarly care–a rare combination]

The emperor Theodosius I called the second ecumenical council of the church, called the First Council of Constantinople, in 381. This council met mainly to settle continuing debates concerning the Trinity. Arianism remained powerful long after the Council of Nicea, while some groups denied the full divinity of the Holy Spirit. The Council of Constantinople tried to resolve these issues, and it defined the role of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity. This council created an expanded version of the creed originally declared at Nicea, and when later generations use the so-called Nicene Creed, they are in fact using the form accepted at Constantinople in 381.

But there were Christological matters at issue at the time of this council as well. A man named Apollinaris was bishop of Laodicea around 360. He fought Arianism, but in so doing he fell into another extreme. First, he affirmed that Jesus WAS God, fully. Second, he argued that Jesus did not undergo moral development—he never had to mature in his thought. Remember the passage in Luke: “He grew in age and wisdom.” Apollinaris found this sort of Arian-sounding; it sounds like Jesus was imperfect to start.

To explain how JC was human but didn’t have to develop morally, Apollinaris said: we are made up of body, soul, and mind. In Christ, there was body and soul (or spirit; the life-giving source), but b/c Christ was not capable of sin, in place of the human mind there was the divine Logos—the Word, the full divinity of God, mentioned in John 1. So he didn’t possess full humanity! He is missing a human mind!

A word more on this “Logos” concept. As a way of explaining Jesus Christ to the Greeks of his day, the mid-2nd-century Christian apologist Justin Martyr identified Jesus Christ with the “cosmic Logos,” who is God’s offshoot and agent in creation. Clearly he was interpreting the opening verses of John’s Gospel as well as borrowing from Hellenistic ideas about the Logos. Almost every Greek philosophy—as well as Philo’s Hellenistic Jewish theology—had a role for a being known as the Logos. In every case the Logos was thought of as a mediating being between the one God and creation. Justin was saying, “That is who we mean when we Christians speak of Christ—he is the cosmic Logos known to Greeks.” And almost everyone after Justin picked up that Logos concept, so that it became a part of the standard equipment for talking about Christ.

So anyhow, Apollinaris posited a Christ who was 2/3 human, in body and soul, but in whom the human mind had been completely replaced by the Logos. What’s the result of this view?

Well, a Christ without a human mind can’t truly share in our sufferings, and there is no real possibility of his sinning, of being tempted. He never really became one of us.

So the orthodox objection to Apollinaris was that if Christ was not truly human, he did not redeem us. The Cappadocian father Gregory of Nazianzus said “Only that can be saved [in us] that has been assumed [by Christ].” What he didn’t assume, or take on as part of his own being, he couldn’t save. Thus his full humanity must be affirmed.

All right, now we’re getting into the matters that will be discussed at the third council—the council of Ephesus. We’ll get to that in the next post of this series.

This series continues with

One response to “Controversies about Christ in the early church, part II: The hybrid Jesus and the Second Council

  1. Charles Byrnell

    I don’t agree with your article in a number of points. A Christ with a divine mind can be tempted, if temptations arise in the flesh, which they do, for his flesh was derived from Mary. In Romans Paul says that “the law of sin is in my members” and not his mind. Temptations arise from the flesh, but the spiritual mind conquers temptation. And in a sense Christ could not sin. For nothing could induce him to sin. There is no refutation of Apollinaris by trying to make out that “Christ could sin.” That is only hypothetically true, not materially. Likewise he could share in sufferings as sufferings are experienced in the flesh too. The fact is that Apollinaris was much cleverer that most people give him credit for. In fact, whether he was any kind of “heretic” must now be open to considerable doubt. I personally believe he was wrong to discount the soul of Christ as being divine, if he did discount it, but I am still reading up on it. I strongly suspect that it was in fact the implied limitation of the deity of Christ that was the real gripe of his protagonists. The Apollianian Christ was not “fully God” in that his divine nature was limited. As with Nestorius, his protagonists must have realized that his theory involved a rejection of Mary as Theotokos in preference for Mary as the mother of Christ, betokening a substantial union, rather than a hypostatic union. Nestorius and Apollinaris are without doubt the two most interesting “heretics” of the early church.

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