Thursday, March 20, 2014

Apollinarianism redux

I've been asked to comment on the Apollinarian Christology of Craig and Moreland. It's been 11 years since they published Philosophical Foundations, so it's possible that they've refined their original position. I'll be quoting from pp608-12 of their book. But I'd like to make a few preliminary observations before commenting on specific statements:

i) For purposes of this post, I'm using Nestorian in the conventional sense (e.g. Christ is two distinct persons, human and divine). There's a scholar debate about whether Nestorius was a Nestorian. Did his enemies libel him by imputing to him a position he didn't espouse? My post ignores that debate.

ii) Craig/Moreland use Nestorianism as a negative benchmark. This is what is to be avoided. They use their opposition to Nestorianism to leverage their Apollinarian alternative. 

However, it's unclear why Nestorianism is worse than Apollinarianism. Why not espouse a Nestorian Christology? Because it's heretical? But Nestorianism is no more or less heretical than the Apollinarian/monothelite alternative which they champion. Since they don't feel bound by the authority of the ecumenical councils, they can't very well use the "heretical" status of Nestorianism to justify their equally "heretical" alternative. It's not as if Nestorianism must be avoided, but Apollinarianism/monothelitism need not be avoided. Once they reopen the ancient debate by treating Apollinarianism/monothelitism as a viable option, then there's no reason why Nestorianism shouldn't be a viable option as well. 

Notice, I'm not saying we should adopt any of these. 

iii) Speaking for myself, I'm ultimately concerned with NT Christology, not patristic or conciliar Christology, per se, except where that maps back onto NT Christology. It may also be the case that NT Christology is too coarse-grained to adjudicate some of the finer points raised in patristic debates or Protestant debates. Perhaps some of the more detailed models are underdetermined by Scripture. It moves beyond exegetical theology into philosophical theology. Nothing inherently wrong with that, but we're only bound by revealed truths. 

iv) Craig/Moreland are far too eager to relieve the apparent tensions in orthodox Christology. This betrays them into essentially denying the Incarnation by eliminating the true humanity of Christ–their protestations notwithstanding. It's fine to harmonize the data if we can. It's not permissible to harmonize the data by eliminating any essential datum. The theory mustn't be simpler than the facts. If we can't harmonize the data without oversimplifying the data, then it's incumbent on us to leave the stubborn data intact. Since the Incarnation is miraculous and sui generis, there's no presumption that it will be transparent to human reason. 

If we are to avoid a duality of persons in Christ, the man Jesus of Nazareth and the divine Logos must share some common constituent which unites their two individual natures.

There are two distinct issues here:

i) A union, per se, doesn't require a common constituent. Disparate things can be united. 

ii) It's not as if avoiding Nestorianism takes precedence over avoiding Apollinarianism or monothelitism. It's either a priority to avoid them all or else not avoid one rather than another.

…the Logos contained perfect human personhood archetypically in his own nature. The result was that in assuming a hominid body the Logos brought to Christ's animal nature just those properties that would serve to make it completely human. 

i) This way of framing the issue, which recurs in their discussion, presupposes an Aristotelian/Thomistic anthropology. But why should Christology take that for granted? It's not a requirement of Biblical anthropology or philosophical anthropology. It's just one option in philosophical theology. 

ii) Apropos (i), It treats the human body as an "animal" body, representing animal nature. What sets humans apart from the animal kingdom is the faculty of reason. Human minds in animal bodies. But I don't see any biblical warrant for that bifurcation. 

On the one hand, is the human body just an animal body? Is it just coincidental that God gave us humanoid bodies rather than putting our souls in the body of a snake, dolphin, or raccoon? Didn't God design the human body to be uniquely suitable to our nature and role? 

On the other hand, the Bible doesn't single out reason to distinguish humans from animals. The Bible is silent on that distinction, although it sometimes appeals to the instinctive wisdom of the animal kingdom to reprove human folly. 

Such an interpretation of the Incarnation draws strong support from the doctrine of man as created in the image of God (imago Dei). 

i) This reiterates a traditional mistake of historical theology. Instead of exegeting the image of God in Genesis, theologians use the image of imago Dei as a cipher for what they think demarcates man from animals, as well as what we share in common with God. But that facile prooftexting has no contextual warrant.  

ii) Bible scholars dispute what the imago Dei signifies. I'll just state my own interpretation:

a) The imago Dei is both ontological and function. Function reflects nature. Nature underlies function. 

b) "Image" and "likeness" are synonyms (a literary convention: synonymous parallelism).

c) In both Hebrew and cognate usage, "image" is usually a generic term for statues. And it frequently has a more specific referent. An idol represents a god. A royal statue represents a king. 

d) In the context of Gen 1-2, with its royal and priestly motifs, this signifies sacral kingship. 

e) That is further borne out by the cultural mandate. Man is God's earthly representative. His vice-regent. Man is a "idol" of God. 

Humans do not bear God's image in virtue of their animal bodies, which they have in common with other members of the biosphere. 

That repeats another traditional mistake of historical theology. Because God is incorporeal, theologians assume the imago Dei must denote the incorporeal aspect of man. His soul. The faculty of reason.

But that fails to operate at the relevant level of abstraction. For instance, Scripture often attributes body parts and vital or sensory organs to God. That's not because God is physical, much less humanoid. This is metaphorical and anthropomorphic. But metaphors are figurative analogies. 

The "eyes of the Lord" represent divine omniscience. The "arm of the Lord" represents divine omnipotence in action. God's "heart" represents moral and intellectual attributes. 

The human body is analogous to the incorporeal God inasmuch as this exemplifies or concretely manifests communicable attributes. So the imago Dei could well include the human body (as well as the human mind). It is, indeed, as embodied agents that we fulfill the culture mandate. 

Rather, in being persons they uniquely reflect God's nature. God himself is personal, and inasmuch as we are persons we resemble him.

They seem to be deploying the imago Dei as an implicit argument from analogy, viz., if God is personal, and we are made in his image, then we are personal.

But that proves too much. If God is omnipotent, and we are made in his image, then we are omnipotent. If God is omniscient, and we are made in his image, then we are omniscient. If God is eternal, and we are made in his image, then we are eternal. 

Thus God already possesses the properties sufficient for human personhood even prior to the Incarnation, lacking only corporeality. this Logos already possessed in his reincarnate state all the properties necessary for being a human self. In assuming a hominid body, he brought to it all that was necessary to complete human nature. 

On the face of it, that's equivocal. Although there's a sense in which God is the exemplar of man, divine attributes aren't human attributes. 

i) Divine attributes have a uniquely divine mode of subsistence (e.g. aseity, incorporeality, timelessness). 

ii) Divine attributes lack the limitations of their mundane instances. Both God and man are agents, but God is omnipotent. Both God and man have knowledge, but God is omniscient. 

iii) The divine attributes are inseparable. And some divine attributes are incommunicable. 

iv) Conversely, human nature is distinctively creaturely. For instance, we have emotional needs. We undergo cognitive development. And we properly view ourselves as vulnerable, dependent creatures. That indexical perspective is alien to God. God has no fears or aspirations. 

The church has typically dealt with the problem of Christ's evident limitations by means of the device of reduplicative predication, that is to say, by predicating certain properties of the person of Christ with respect to one nature or another. Thus, for example, Christ is said to be omniscient with respect to his divine nature but limited in knowledge with respect to his human nature…
How could Christ be omniscient and yet limited in knowledge if there is a single conscious subject in Christ?

To say there must be a "single conscious subject" in Christ is simplistic. 

We suggest that the "subliminal self" is the primary locus of the superhuman elements in the consciousness of the incarnate Logos. Thus Jesus possessed a normal human conscious experience. But the human consciousness of Jesus was underlain, as it were, by a divine consciousness. 

The conscious/subconscious distinction is valid for a truly human mind. But on their model, the divine mind takes the place of the human mind. Applied to a divine mind, that would commit them, not merely to an Apollinarian Christology, but a Kenotic Christology. A God who is able to repress his knowledge. 

…the Logos allowed only those facets of his person to be part of Christ's waking consciousness which were compatible with typical human experience, while the bulk of his knowledge and other cognitive perfections, like an iceberg beneath the water's surface, lay submerged in his subconscious.

But that really means the Incarnate Son allowed only those facets of his mind to be part of his waking consciousness, while the bulk of the Son's knowledge and other cognitive functions were not a part of the Son's conscious awareness. On their model, Christ has no human mentality distinct from his divine mentality. His mind is reducible to the divine mind. His mind is identical to the divine mind. The mind of the Son replaces the rational human soul. 

Such a model provides a satisfying account of the Jesus was see in the Gospel portrait. In his conscious experience, Jesus grew in knowledge and wisdom, just as a human child does. 

But on their view, that means God is maturing in wisdom and knowledge. 

One does not have the monstrosity of the baby Jesus lying in the merger possessing the full divine consciousness. 

i) To begin with, an omniscient baby is no more or less "monstrous" than an omniscient adult. Both are equally abnormal. But, then, the Incarnation is unique and miraculous.

ii) More to the point, it's simplistic to say the baby Jesus qua baby is omniscient. We're not predicating omniscience of his humanity. 

In his conscious experience, we see Jesus genuinely tempted, even though he is, in fact, impeccable.

But on their view, that means God is genuinely tempted.


  1. A few months back I found this critique of Craig's views: HERE.

    Another issue that might stimulate more discussion is the issue of trichotomy vs.dichotomy. It seems to me that some definitions of Apollinarianism assumes a bipartite view of human nature while others a tripartite.

    I know that wikipedia is not an authoritative source but one article defines Apollinarianism this way:

    QUOTE: Apollinarism or Apollinarianism was a view proposed by Apollinaris of Laodicea (died 390) that Jesus could not have had a human mind; rather, that Jesus had a human body and lower soul (the seat of the emotions) but a divine mind. END QUOTE [bold part by me]

    Another article states:

    QUOTE: In the 4th century, after Apollinaris of Laodicea employed it [presumably speaking of trichotomy] in a manner impinging on the perfect humanity of Jesus, the tripartite view of man was gradually discredited by association.[43] Apart from this heretical doctrine, which was condemned at the First Council of Constantinople in A.D. 381, Apollinaris was an orthodox theologian and contemporary of Athanasius and Basil of Cesaraea.

    In History of the Christian Church, Philip Schaff remarks:

    Apollinaris, therefore, taught the deity of Christ, but denied the completeness (teleiotes) of his humanity, and, taking his departure from the Nicene postulate of the homoousion, ran into the Arian heresy, which likewise put the divine Logos in the place of the human spirit in Christ.[44]

    The fact that an early heresy called Apollinarianism emerged is itself witness that the early church held the tripartite view of man.[45] This heresy taught that in Christ the human spirit was replaced by pure, divine Logos. If the early church taught that man consisted only of body and soul, this heresy never could have gained traction. Some theologians believe that Apollinaris himself, however, confused the Pauline trichotomy with the Platonic trichotomy by confounding the pneuma with the nous.[46] END QUOTE [bold parts by me]

    It seems Apollinaris was a trichotomist and believed that Jesus had a human body, a human soul, but in place of the human spirit was the divine Logos.

    Do Craig and Moreland even take into consideration the possibility and implications of trichotomy?

    For myself, I'm not dogmatic on the issue, but I lean slightly toward dichotomy because it's the majority report among modern theologians. However, sometimes I feel that some people automatically dismiss trichotomy out of theological and philosophical snobbery. As if only unscholarly fundamentalists would derive any specific Biblical anthropology from passages like 1 Thess. 5:23 and Heb. 4:12.

  2. This is helpful, Steve. Thanks. I highly regard your writings. I made a Google account solely for occasional interaction on this blog.

    If I may, I’ll just select a few points that stand out to me.

    First, a general observation: I’m not sure we would agree on the motivations behind his view. I haven’t read the section in Philosophical Foundations in more than a year, but I take him as putting forth a more modest claim. Stating a plausible model that would avoid the charge of holding to an incoherent doctrine. Even if it turned out to be false, the incoherence objection loses its bite.

    It seems like you initially make room for this when you say, “Perhaps some of the more detailed models are underdetermined by Scripture. It moves beyond exegetical theology into philosophical theology.” At another point you state that his Aristotelian/Thomistic anthropology is “not a requirement of Biblical anthropology or philosophical anthropology. It’s just one option in philosophical theology.”

    Ok, at this point, this is no big deal, unless the objection is that biblical data prohibited this or required a non-Aristotelian/Thomistic anthropology, but I don’t think you made that argument. Not yet at least.

    In the next paragraph, you claim that treating the human body as representing an animal body in the absence of the faculty of reasoning is a claim that lacks biblical warrant. This seems like a stronger claim. If the biblical data underdetermines a nuanced view of man’s constitution, then it’s at least possible that this is a permissible assumption into the discussion. By setting the parameters in such a way that allows philosophical theology some play within certain biblical boundaries, then stating that there is insufficient biblical warrant for a particular philosophical input seems to just state the obvious. What is impermissible is a philosophical input that is contrary to the biblical data. But that doesn’t appear to be your objection at this point.

  3. (Continued)

    In Craig’s defense, he at least thinks that he is avoiding both heresies. He admittedly leans Appolinarian, but taking a portion of a view doesn’t necessarily commit you to taking the whole. I don’t see how, in this case, it’s necessarily a package deal.

    “A union, per se, doesn’t require a common constituent. Disparate things can be united.”

    True enough. I can think of numerous examples, not the least of which is the union between a material body and an immaterial soul. The issue here is whether two persons can be united in such a way to result in one person, thereby avoiding Nestorianism.

    Stating common ground here helps clarify this point in my mind. Both parties agree that the Son is a person, a divine person. Both agree that a human mind and a human body united constitute another person, a human person. Now, how, in principle, can these two persons be united to produce only one person? This is the part I struggle with the most. Combine this with the fact that I think Apollinarianism can be tweaked positively whereas I think Nestorianism cannot be tweaked positively, then you have a reason why I too have a stronger desire to avoid one more so than the other.

    You ask, “…is the human body just an animal body? Is it just coincidental that God gave us humanoid bodies rather than putting our souls in the body of a snake, dolphin, or raccoon? Didn't God design the human body to be uniquely suitable to our nature and role?”

    I agree. The human body is uniquely suited to accomplish divinely sanctioned activities but not without a self-conscious, rational mind. Some duties are duties of the mind, too, and all duties are measured ultimately by our intentions in carrying out those duties. Outward conformity is insufficient. Animals have no duties in this same sense. No need for the mental equipment humans have.

    Your sub-points on the image of God are all things I would certainly agree with. I would focus in here though on what you said about ontology underlying function. You seem to flesh this out at another point when you say that, “The human body is analogous to the incorporeal God inasmuch as this exemplifies or concretely manifests communicable attributes.” Again, I agree, mostly. I would specify that (1) God’s communicable attributes are only exemplified analogically. I would say that the “omni-‘s” are communicable attributes in this way. We have knowledge and we have a will. (I would see omnipresence as more of an expression of the other omni-‘s, I guess). But knowledge and will require a certain degree of mental faculties.

    So, I would disagree with you when you say that Craig’s position proves too much insofar as it would lead to image bearers being omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, a se, etc. (the latter two I would not even consider being communicable attributes).

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. (Continued)

    On a related note, you also say, “Divine attributes have a uniquely divine mode of subsistence (e.g. aseity, incorporeality, timelessness).” Well, there’s a sense in which that is true of all the divine attributes, but you are here mentioning mostly incommunicable attributes, as I understand them. And I do see where you are going here. If this is so, then how can a divine mind replace a human mind and still constitute an incarnation?

    It would seem that you would have to first defend the idea that since a human is creaturely, then all human attributes are (and must be) creaturely, mental or otherwise. But Craig’s view still has Jesus as being creaturely (he has a human body after all) and contingent in a sense (the union was not necessary after all). I suppose Craig could wiggle out of this by stating that these restrictions are too much. Lower the bar. Set the bar at the union of a soul endowed with rational faculties sufficient for personhood with a hominid body and add to that Craig’s subliminal-divine-properties caveat.

    Of course, Craig doesn’t deny to Jesus cognitive development, emotional needs, dependence, etc. God could have decreed these things as self-limitations. You say that these are alien to God.

    First, this is ambiguous. Lots of things are alien to God in the sense that certain things are contingent. “Being Incarnate” is obviously alien to God in the sense that this is not an essential attribute. Further, (1) God’s god-qualities are not lost or given up on this model, just repressed, and (2) the things you mentioned would be decreed as being part of an *earthly consciousness* of Jesus. There’s lots of ignorance built-in here. Decreed ignorance, though only decreed *earthly-consciousness* ignorance, not decreed *total* ignorance (an impossibility if omniscience is an essential attribute of God).

    Maybe a certain doctrine of immutability would preclude this stipulation – God could not, in principle, experience these things. But aren’t these things predicated of the one person, Jesus, who is the Son? They obviously must be acknowledged. Resorting to predicating mental activities of a human nature would reduce to Nestorianism just in case one would agree that (1) mental activities are appropriately predicated solely of persons, (2) the Son is (already) a person (independent of an incarnation), (3) a united human mind and body constitutes a person, and (4) the actual Incarnation involved a union of the Son to an already united human mind and body, as well as in the absence of there being a meaningful way to unite two persons to produce one person.

  6. (Continued)

    Finally, you say, “But on their view, that means God is genuinely tempted.” First, if this is a problem for Craig, it seems like a problem for your position as well. For, we would want to predicate this solely of one person – the person that the Son is united to and distinct from, but not so distinct from that it constitutes two persons (?). Second, I imagine Craig would avoid this by appealing once again to the subliminal-divine-qualities again. Jesus was ignorant (in some sense) of many things, no doubt. Why not just include his knowledge of being impeccable at certain moments as well? The lure of sin is experienced in some sense due to His self-limitation – a limitation of a certain amount of power and knowledge – power and knowledge that would otherwise “pay no attention” to the enticement. Yet still, the power is not absent. The knowledge is not absent. They subconsciously move the will toward the good always.

    I imagine that you would have to say something similar, right? Obviously, on your view, there was no possibility of falling into temptation but temptations occurred nonetheless. Again, predicating this of a nature doesn’t seem sufficient if that nature is not also a person. But (again) I fail to see how this avoids Nestorianism, yada, yada, yada.

    Don’t attribute everything I say to Craig. I may be off at certain points. I’m not speaking as his ambassador - only as someone who found his view helpful and as someone who is seeking to be more precise by throwing some ideas at you.

    Sorry, much longer than anticipated.

  7. One other thing. I suppose there is still a sense in which both views are affirming things in qualified ways. For instance, you may say that one thing is true *of his human nature* whereas Craig might say that the same one thing is true *of his earthly consciousness*. The difference, I think, is in the fact that Craig believes that affirming the one thing of the earthly consciousness does not exclude it from being predicated of just one mind (and therefore one person). But, Craig would probably say that affirming that one thing of a separate human nature would have to entail it being affirmed of a human nature that includes a human mind (and separate person as the argument goes).

    Going back to the analogical instances of communicable attributes in humans, Craig would have to say that the earthly consciousness involved "analogical" instances of the communicable attributes. So I guess the main issues are (1) can the Son, as the Son, carve out a limited, earthly consciousness within his mind or not?. And, (2) does a divine subconsciousness rule out being truly human? At the moment, I don't know of any biblical reason to answer affirmatively to (2). The alternative *still* has inputs of supernatural abilities into the life of Jesus, obviously making his experience beyond our typical experience. Those inputs didn't momentarily exclude him from humanity. But, as you say, the incarnation is unique. So what? No big deal. So if those inputs are permissible, why can't a constant divine subconscious also fall below the line of not excluding him as being human? Unique as it may be.

    Maybe you would predicate these of the (1) Jesus 'divine nature or (2) the assistance of the Holy Spirit. But the latter is a distinct person from Jesus, so why isn't the former?

    I guess at this point I'm just looking for a way in which to understand a union of two persons being one person. I know, my ignorance doesn't necessarily preclude there being a plausible way. But similar to how you would probably not be satisfied with a Molinist saying, "my ignorance of *how* God knows counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, doesn't preclude there actually being a way for God to know them even if I never know the mechanics involved." You might say to this (as I would at least) that, *in principle*, no being even with God's attributes could know those counterfactuals of creaturely freedom as defined by the proponent of Molinism. I would, for the moment, make a similar claim against (what I think is) your view on the incarnation.

    As for "carving out" an earthly subconsciousness in the mind of the Son, I don't see an issue yet. As long as we say that this doesn't make for two persons, just as we would say of ourselves. Suppose, for instance, we believed the Son's knowledge was propositional and that the propositional content was limited to just 100 propositions. Why couldn't, say, 7 of these propositions make it into an "earthly consciousness" of Jesus with the other 93 subliminal. On this strange hypothetical, there is limited, "7-proposition-knowledge" (affirmed of the earthly consciousness) but "100-proposition-knowledge" (affirmed of the person of the Son). I'm also assuming an unlimited/limited understanding of how communicable attributes would differ in an "analogical" sense in humans. I'm just spitballing here.

  8. I plan to respond at some point. I'm a bit preoccupied at the moment. But I'm not ignoring you.

  9. I'm sure you're busier than me. I wasn't expecting you to spend any time on it. Bigger fish to fry. As I said, I really appreciate your thoughts on the matter, on any matter.