Apollinarian Heresy

by Gene Frost

     The New Testament sets forth what constitutes a heresy, and describes the heretic, who must be rejected. (Titus 3:10-11; cf. "Heresy," Gospel Anchor, November 1991, pages 43-44, which see on this site.) With reference to the church, a heresy is a body of teaching consisting of self-willed opinions which are substituted for the truth. It is also used to denote the group or party which is formed by reason of embracing and propagating the heretical teaching. Heresies are destructive and lead to perdition.

     In Catholic theology a heretic is "one who, having been baptized and still professing himself to be a Christian, pertinaciously denies or doubts any of the truths that must be held by divine and Catholic faith (Can. 1325)." (Catholic Dictionary, Addis and Arnold, page 400.) The Catholic faith includes "all the definitions of the church," in which it can be said that the church is infallibly true. (Addis and Arnold, page 338.) Obviously, not everyone who is condemned as an heretic by the Catholic Church is considered to be so by those who are not Catholic. Today, members of the churches of Christ would be considered as heretics by Catholic definition. Therefore, in viewing one who is called a heretic, we must determine who it is that declares it and upon what basis the determination is made. Some whom the Catholic church would anathematize, we would not.

     We must keep in mind the above distinctions in the use of "heresy," when we consider the statement: "The teachings of Apollinarius was recognized a heresy by those of the fourth century." So declares Ron Milliner in The Seeker, an electronic journal.

     Our immediate question is, who are "those (persons) of the fourth century"? And what precisely did Apollinarius teach? First, his condemnation was not universal, as the expression, "those of the first century," suggests. He was both condemned and supported by those of the fourth century. His "condemnation" came from Roman Synods, first in 374, and again in 376, and again in the Second General Council of Constantinople in 381, not by appeal to Scripture but by the political approval of the emperor.

     "The authority by which all the ecumenical councils of the period"-Nicea, in 325; Constantinople, in 381; Ephesus, in 431; Chalcedon, in 451; Constantinople, in 552-"were convened was by imperial decree. No bishop, of whatever rank, was any thing more than an adviser of the emperor in their convocation,"

     "As respects the presidency of these councils, it seems to have been shared in certain cases between the imperial legates and some leading bishop or bishops. At the council of Chalcedon, for example, 'the imperial commissaries had the place of honor, in the midst, before the rails of the altar; they are the first named in the minutes; they took the votes, arranged the order of business, closed the sessions.'"

     "Ratification of the decrees of an ecumenical council, the Emperor was no less pre-eminent than in the calling of such a council." (History of the Christian Church, by Henry C. Sheldon, vol. 1, pages 471, 473, 475.)

     What precisely did Appolinarius teach? The answer is, nobody today knows, for, you see, when Appolinarius was condemned all of his writings were burned. There are no primary sources extant. All that we know of what he believed and taught comes from his enemies and from friends who themselves could not accurately portray his position in their fervor to add their own ideas, with many variations, to the controversy. It is difficult to imagine that an unbiased resume has resulted, that what he espoused has been put in the best possible light. If he was no better represented than this writer and others are now being represented by the Welch party, a heretical movement according to the Scriptural use of the term, we have a totally distorted picture.

     However, this is not the point of our observation, which is, Ron Milliner accepts the decision of " Catholic" church and condemns Appolinarius as a heretic. He adds a disclaimer, saying, "Apollinarianism was a heresy, not because it was opposed by those of the fourth century, but because it was contrary to what the first century Scriptures taught regarding the humanity of Jesus." If nothing is to be made of the anathema of a "Catholic Council," why did he relate it? Is not his point that there are those whom he alleges to be embracing a heresy of the fourth century? Is this factual or prejudicial in its use? He obviously declares Apollinarius as a heretic, identified and condemned in the fourth century, in order that by association he can condemn some today whom he alleges to believe and teach the same thing. It is easier to label than it is to convict one of teaching error. If he condemns those whom he calls "Neo-Apollinarians" because of Scripture, then let him deal with them on what they teach and present the Scriptures without attempting to align them with a Catholic-defined heresy! Aren't the Scriptures sufficient in themselves, or does Milliner need to prejudice the issue to be effective?

     In his effort to establish that there is a present-day (Neo-) heresy in the tradition of an ancient heresy, anathematized in a "Catholic" court, Ron Milliner defines within his limits Apollinarianism and to fit the mold distorts the teachings of those whom he calls Neo-Apollinarians.

     As his effort now is, he takes a maligned theologian of the fourth century, points out that he was a "heretic" by Papal decree, quotes selected tenets portrayed by his enemies, and then he quotes snippets of present-day writers, out of context and distorted, to conclude that their ideas were borrowed from the heretic ... and that makes them heretics also! He fails to make his case. His effort is a fraud.

     If he pronounces those who oppose Welch and company, in their presentation of the humanity of Jesus, as being heretics, condemned by New Testament Scriptures, let him make his case. Quote their "opinions" fully and convincingly to establish what they believe! Cite the Scriptures they set aside in their heresy! The "Apollinarianism" maneuver just doesn't cut it.

Click Here to see Gene Frost's article on "Heresy."

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