note -- never write on eastern thinkers while reading a lot of Orthodoxy for a class full of Presbyterians.
The Christologies of Apollinaris of Laodicea and Theodore of Mopsuestia
During the fourth and fifth centuries Christianity found itself in a bit of a crisis. Although the worship of the community taught that Jesus Christ was both man and God, worshipped and adored, and the source of salvation, the specifics of what this entailed was not quite set forth in any detail leading the church into the Christological controversies which caused havoc and dissension for a very long time. The question was simply what did it mean that Jesus was a man, but he was also God. This is an antinomy which countless leaders of the early church wrestled with, and finally reached a conclusion in a great part by determining what this did not mean. This narrowing down of a definition, however, required that many people had to put forth ideas which were rejected as heresy by the leaders of the Church. Two such writers who attempted to find an answer to this seeming paradox of Christ were Apollinaris of Laodicea and Theodore of Mopsuestia. Their respective responses show a great divergence in thought, illustrating the great variances which the early Fathers sought after an answer to this difficult, though crucial issue. It is the goal of this paper to briefly relate the Christologies of these two early writers, and to discover what their determinations mean in the work of salvation.
In working out what it meant that Christ was both God and man, Apollinaris first had to determine how these two seemingly independent conceptions could be commingled. There was a great difficulty here, because believers can worship God, but refuse to worship a human being, so the question of our worship of Christ could lead one to think that we both do and we do not worship this same person, which is clearly absurd. Yet, Jesus was by creedal affirmation both man and God, so a distinction must made which both allows for his identification with humanity and his divine nature which allows for both our salvation, and for his continuance as fully divine. Apollinaris addressed this issue by determining that the divine Logos assumed human flesh, being “substantially bound together with it.” Without changing nature, the “uncreated is commingled with the creature” allowing for the Word to become human in the flesh while retaining that which is distinctively divine and avoiding that which is distinctively human and sinful.
It is the human “intellect” which is the source of humanity’s corruption and thus Christ does not take up this aspect of human nature, retaining the “intellect” of God as his source of being and understanding and will. In this way, he is not fully a human being, because he does not share his “highest part” with humanity. For although he took on flesh, he did not become any less God, and this requires that he maintain that intellect which vivifies and provides salvation. To have taken up a human spirit as well as human flesh would have been to lose that salvific property which was the purpose of the incarnation.
For it is the intellect in humanity which causes us to sin, and it is precisely that divine intellect in Jesus which provides salvation. In Jesus the Divine intellect was conjoined with human flesh providing for the first time a unchangeable intellect which could sanctify humanity and provide salvation from sin and death. The human intellect inclines itself towards sin, and this inclination corrupts the body and leads to death. In Christ, however, the human intellect is replaced by the divine so that while humanity and Jesus share the same fleshly nature, they differ in their ability to sin. Jesus, because of his divine intellect could not sin. We cannot be saved from our own sin if the one who comes to save shares what causes sin in our lives, but at the same time we cannot be saved if the one who saves does not share with us our essential physical nature. Jesus assumed flesh, but retained his divine intellect sharing with us in common our humanity, but not sharing with us that which is corrupted. It is through this commingling of the divine Logos and human flesh that we are provided salvation as we partake in this divine flesh.
Christ is divine in that he retains the divine intellect and is human in that he assumes human flesh. Humanity is made up of two parts, the soul and the flesh. Each of these two parts are incomplete in themselves, requiring the other part for fullness, yet each are referred to as being essentially human. Thus Christ can be fully considered human because he has taken on that fleshly part of humanity. However, his divinity is retained in that aspect of his being that we call the soul. He does not share with humanity the human “intellect” but retains that essential nature of the divine Spirit. He has a single divine will which is enfleshed so as to provide salvation to humanity. In being flesh he is human, but in soul is God. Humans are one, though made up of two parts, soul and flesh. Because Jesus retains these two elements, a single soul and a single flesh he can be considered one person as well. His divinity is seen in his soul, and his humanity is seen in his flesh, and in the sharing of the soul and flesh he is truly one, but one which can now save humanity from sin and death.
Theodore of Mopsuestia disagreed with this premise. He contended that in order for humanity to be truly saved in a complete way, Christ had to be fully man and fully God. In fact, it is more important that the soul is connected to the divine, for even though he acknowledged with Apollinaris that the body was corrupted by sin, he saw the soul not as the corrupting influence which must be avoided, but rather as that which must be particularly saved in order to save both body and soul. He answered the great question of how Christ was fully man and fully God by stating that Jesus had in fact two natures within him, both possessing a human soul and the divine Logos. This is accomplished by what Theodore calls “indwelling”. Though there may be different ways of indwelling conceived, Theodore feels that the only way this is possible considering the nature of the Divine and the person of Jesus was that he was indwelled by God by good pleasure, that is the purposeful will of God “which he exercises when he is pleased with those who are zealous to be dedicated to him, because of their standing in his sight.” With Jesus more specifically he was indwelled “as in a son”, meaning that he not only indwelled but in fact united with him, equipping him to share the honor and glory of divinity.
This indwelling, however, was not a “reward” for some kind of character God saw in Jesus, thus adopting him as his own later in life, rather this union was from the time of the initial conception, so that in the person of Jesus God did not “come upon him” but rather as Jesus was formed in his mother’s womb, the uncreated Divine Logos was already being united with him. The person of the man is complete in having both a human body and a human soul, and God is complete in the person of the Logos, so in this union of God and man in Jesus we find one who is uniquely able to save humanity from sin and destruction. He had both a human soul and the divine Logos within him, cooperating in a union which provided salvation and allowed others to participate in this salvation.
For it is truly the human soul that first needs salvation, yet it is only the divine who is able to save this corrupted human soul. As sin has its source in the soul, and from here moves into the body causing sickness and death, it would be only possible to deliver humanity from death by first renewing the cause and source of its destruction, delivering the soul from the “passions of sin”. In the union of the human soul and the Divine Logos in the person of Christ, the soul was purged of it sinful nature by the grace of God and the participation of the human will. Through the power of the Holy Spirit Christ enables all humanity to participate in this new life, in which the body is immortal and incorruptible, giving us the hope of the resurrection and the power of God to overcome sin in our own souls, just as occurred in his own.
Although Jesus had both a human soul and the divine Logos within him there was no confusion or even distinction within his being. Rather, in Christ, God and man were unified into one being, not conjoined or mixed together, but actually brought into union so that Jesus can be truly considered one person. The indwelling of the Logos in Jesus began at the earliest stages of the life of Jesus, and thus Jesus grew in stature and wisdom with his soul acting always in accordance with the divine, receiving the fullness and grace and guidance of the Spirit more fully than any other human in history. The eternal Son, the Logos was not formed in the conception of Jesus, but is uncreated and fully Divine in all ways. The human Jesus was not lacking in any aspect of body or soul which would make him different than any other human, for if he was not fully human in all ways, the salvation which he provided would not save the entirety of the human being. So, the fully divine, uncreated Logos united with this fully human Jesus at the time of his conception by the Holy Spirit, a unity in which neither lost any characteristic peculiar to God or man, and in the closeness of this unity can truly be considered one person. The fully divine Logos unified with the fully human Jesus was able to provide salvation for the entire human person. This union of God and man was one in purpose and accomplishment, fulfilling the goal of salvation through the redemption of body and soul.