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Historical Sketches: Volumes 1 To 3 -Blessed John Henry Newman

IN the judgment of the early Church, the path of doctrinal truth is narrow; but, in the judgment of the world in all ages, it is so broad as to be no path at all. This I have said above; also, that the maintenance of the faith is considered by the world to be a strife of words, perverse disputings, curious questionings, and unprofitable technicality, though by the Fathers it is considered necessary to salvation. What they call heresy, the man of the world thinks just as true as what they call orthodoxy, and only then wrong when pertinaciously insisted on by its advocates, as the early Fathers insisted on orthodoxy. Now do, or do not, Protestants here take part with the world in disliking, in abjuring doctrinal propositions and articles, such as the early Church fought for? Certainly they do. Well, then, if they thus differ from the Church of the Fathers, how can they fancy that the early Church was Protestant?

In the Treatise I have been quoting, Vincent gives us various instances of heresiarchs, and tells us what he thinks about them. Among others, he speaks of Apollinaris and his fall; nor can we have a better instance than that of Apollinaris of the grave distress and deep commiseration with which the early Fathers regarded those whom the present Protestant world thinks very good kind of men, only fanciful and speculative, with some twist or hobby of their own. Apollinaris, better than any one else, will make us understand what was thought of the guilt of heresy in times which came next to the Apostolic, because the man was so great, and his characteristic heresy was so small. The charges against Origen have a manifest breadth and width to support them; Nestorius, on the other hand, had no high personal merits to speak for him; but Apollinaris, after a life of laborious service in the cause of religion, did but suffer himself to teach that the Divine Intelligence in our Lord superseded the necessity of His having any other, any human intellect; and for this apparently small error, he was condemned. Of course it was not small really; for one error leads to another, and did eventually in his case; but to all appearance it was small, yet it was promptly and sternly denounced and branded by East and West; would it be so ruthlessly smitten by Protestants now?

A brief sketch of his history, and of the conduct of the Church towards him, may not be out of place in the experiments I am making with a view of determining the relation in which modern Protestantism stands towards primitive Christianity.


His father, who bore the same name, was a native of Alexandria, by profession a grammarian or schoolmaster; who, passing from Berytus to the Syrian Laodicea, married and settled there, and eventually rose to the presbyterate in the Church of that city. Apollinaris, the son, had been born there in the early part of the fourth century, and was educated for the profession of rhetoric. After a season of suspense, as to the ultimate destination of his talents, he resolved on dedicating them to the service of the Church; and, after being admitted into reader’s orders, he began to distinguish himself by his opposition to philosophical infidelity. His work against Porphyry, the most valuable and elaborate of his writings, was extended to as many as thirty books. During the reign of Julian, when the Christian schools were shut up, and the Christian youth were debarred from the use of the classics, the two Apollinares, father and son, exerted themselves to supply the inconvenience thence resulting from their own resources. They wrote heroical pieces, odes, tragedies, and dialogues, after the style of Homer and Plato, and other standard authors, upon Christian subjects; and the younger, who is the subject of this Chapter, wrote and dedicated to Julian a refutation of Paganism, on grounds of reason.

Nor did he confine himself to the mere external defence of the Gospel, or the preparatory training of its disciples. His expositions on Scripture were the most numerous of his works; he especially excelled in eliciting and illustrating its sacred meaning, and he had sufficient acquaintance with the Hebrew to enable him to translate or comment on the original text. There was scarcely a controversy of the age, prolific as it was in heresies, into which he did not enter. He wrote against the Arians, Eunomians, Macedonians, and Manichees; against Origen and Marcellus; and in defence of the Millenarians. Portions of these doctrinal writings are still extant, and display a vigour and elegance of style not inferior to any writer of his day.

Such a man seemed to be raised up providentially for the Church’s defence in an evil day; and for a while he might be said resolutely and nobly to fulfil his divinely appointed destiny. The Church of Laodicea, with the other cities of Syria, was at the time in Arian possession; when the great Athanasius passed through on his return to Egypt, after his second exile (A.D. 348), Apollinaris communicated with him, and was in* consequence put out of the Church by the bishop in possession. On the death of Constantius (A.D. 361), the Catholic cause prevailed; and Apollinaris was consecrated to that see, or to that in Asia Minor which bears the same name.


Such was the station, such the reputation of Apollinaris, at the date of the Council thereupon held at Alexandria, A.D. 362, for settling the disorders of the Church; and yet, in the proceedings of this celebrated assembly, the first intimation occurs of the existence of that doctrinal error by which he has been since known in history, though it is not there connected with his name. The troubles under Julian succeeded, and diverted the minds of all parties to other objects. The infant heresy slept till about the year 369; when it gives us evidence of its existence in the appearance of a number of persons, scattered about Syria and Greece, who professed it in one form or other, and by the solemn meeting of a Council in the former country, in which its distinctive tenets were condemned. We find that even at this date it had run into those logical consequences which make even a little error a great one; still the name of Apollinaris is not connected with them.

The Council, as I have said, was held in Syria, but the heresy which occasioned it had already, it seems, extended into Greece; for a communication, which the there assembled bishops addressed to Athanasius on the subject, elicited from him a letter, still extant, addressed to Epictetus, bishop of Corinth, who had also written to him upon it. This letter, whether from tenderness to Apollinaris, or from difficulty in bringing the heresy-home to him, still does not mention his name. Another work written by Athanasius against the heresy, at the very end of his life, with the keenness and richness of thought which distinguish his writings generally, is equally silent; as are two letters to friends about the same date, which touch more or less on the theological points in question. All these treatises seem to be forced from the writer, and are characterized by considerable energy of expression: as if the Catholics addressed were really perplexed with the novel statements of doctrine, and doubtful how Athanasius would meet them, or at least required his authority before pronouncing upon them; and, on the other hand, as if Athanasius himself were fearful of conniving at them, whatever private reasons he might have for wishing to pass them over. Yet there is nothing in the history or documents of the times to lead one to suppose that more than a general suspicion attached to Apollinaris; and, if we may believe his own statement, Athanasius died in persuasion of his orthodoxy. A letter is extant, written by Apollinaris on this subject, in which he speaks of the kind intercourse he had with the Patriarch of Alexandria, and of their agreement in faith, as acknowledged by Athanasius himself. He claims him as his master, and at the same time slightly hints that there had been points to settle between them, in which he himself had given way. In another, written to an Egyptian bishop, he seems to refer to the very epistle to Epictetus noticed above, expressing his approbation of it. It is known, moreover, that Athanasius gave the usual letters of introduction to Timotheus, Apollinaris’s intimate friend, and afterwards the most extravagant teacher of his sect, on his going to the Western Bishops, and that, on the ground of his controversial talents against the Arians.

Athanasius died in A.D. 371 or 373; and that bereavement of the Church was followed, among its calamities, by the open avowal of heresy on the part of Apollinaris. In a letter already referred to, he claims Athanasius as agreeing with him, and then proceeds to profess one of the very tenets against which Athanasius had written. In saying this, I have no intention of accusing so considerable a man of that disingenuousness which is almost the characteristic mark of heresy. It was natural that Athanasius should have exercised an influence over his mind; and it was as natural that, when his fellow-champion was taken to his rest, he should have found himself able to breathe more freely, yet have been unwilling to own it. While indulging in the speculations of a private judgment, he might still endeavour to persuade himself that he was not outstepping the teaching of the Catholic Church. On the other hand, it appears that the ecclesiastical authorities of the day, even when he professed his heresy, were for a while incredulous about the fact, from their recollection of his former services and his tried orthodoxy, and from the hope that he was but carried on into verbal extravagances by his opposition to Arianism. Thus they were as unwilling to impute to him heresy, as he to confess it. Nay, even when he had lost shame, attacked the Catholics with violence, and formed his disciples into a sect, not even then was he himself publicly animadverted on, though his creed was anathematized. His first condemnation was at Rome, several years after Athanasius’s death, in company with Timotheus, his disciple. In the records of the General Council of Constantinople, several years later, his sect is mentioned as existing, with directions how to receive back into the Church those who applied for reconciliation. He outlived this Council about ten years; his sect lasted only twenty years beyond him; but in that short time it had split into three distinct denominations, of various degrees of heterodoxy, and is said to have fallen more or less into the errors of Judaism.


If this is a faithful account of the conduct of the Church towards Apollinaris, no one can accuse its rulers of treating him with haste or harshness; still they accompanied their tenderness towards him personally with a conscientious observance of their duties to the Catholic Faith, to which our Protestants are simply dead. Who now in England, except very high churchmen, would dream of putting a man out of the Church for what would be called a mere speculative or metaphysical opinion? Why could not Apollinaris be a “spiritual man,” have “a justifying faith,” “apprehend” our Lord’s merits, have “a personal interest in redemption,” be in possession of “experimental religion,” and be able to recount his “experiences,” though he had some vagaries of his own about the nature of our Lord’s soul? But such ideas did not approve themselves to Christians of the fourth century, who followed up the anathemas of Holy Church with their own hearty adhesion to them. Epiphanius speaks thus mournfully:—

“That aged and venerable man, who was ever so singularly dear to us, and to the holy Father, Athanasius, of blessed memory, and to all orthodox men, Apollinaris, of Laodicea, he it was who originated and propagated this doctrine. And at first, when we were assured of it by some of his disciples, we disbelieved that such a man could admit such an error into his path, and patiently waited in hope, till we might ascertain the state of the case. For we argued that his youths, who came to us, not entering into the profound views of so learned and clear-minded a master, had invented these statements of themselves, not gained them from him. For there were many points in which those who came to us were at variance with each other: some of them ventured to say that Christ had brought down His body from above (and this strange theory, admitted into the mind, developed itself into worse notions); others of them denied that Christ had taken a soul; and some ventured to say that Christ’s body was consubstantial with the Godhead, and thereby caused great confusion in the East.”—Hær. lxxvii. 2.

He proceeds afterwards:—

“Full of distress became our life at that time, that between brethren so exemplary as the forementioned, a quarrel should at all have arisen, that the enemy of man might work divisions among us. And great, my brethren, is the mischief done to the mind from such a cause. For were no question ever raised on the subject, the matter would be most simple (for what gain has accrued to the world from such novel doctrine, or what benefit to the Church? rather has it not been an injury, as causing hatred and dissension?): but when the question was raised, it became formidable; it did not tend to good; for whether a man disallows this particular point, or even the slightest, still it is a denial For we must not, even in a trivial matter, turn aside from the path of truth. No one of the ancients ever maintained it—prophet, or apostle, or evangelist, or commentator—down to these our times, when this so perplexing doctrine proceeded from that most learned man aforesaid. His was a mind of no common cultivation; first in the preliminaries of literature in Greek education, then as a master of dialectics and argumentation. Moreover, he was most grave in his whole life, and reckoned among the very first of those who ever deserved the love of the orthodox, and so continued till his maintenance of this doctrine. Nay, he had undergone banishment for not submitting to the Arians;—but why enlarge on it? It afflicted us much, and gave us a sorrowful time, as is the wont of our enemy.”—Ibid. 24.

St. Basil once got into trouble from a supposed intimacy with Apollinaris. He had written one letter to him on an indifferent matter, in 356, when he himself was as yet a layman, and Apollinaris orthodox and scarcely in orders. This was magnified by his opponent Eustathius into a correspondence and intercommunion between the archbishop and heresiarch. As in reality Basil knew very little even of his works, the description which the following passages give is valuable, as being, in fact, a sort of popular opinion about Apollinaris, more than an individual judgment. Basil wrote the former of the two in defence of himself; in the latter, other errors of Apollinaris are mentioned, besides those to which I have had occasion to allude, for, as I have said, errors seldom are found single.

“For myself,” says Basil, “I never indeed considered Apollinaris as an enemy; nay, there are respects in which I reverence him; however, I did not so connect myself with him as to make myself answerable for his alleged faults, considering, too, that I have a complaint of my own against him, on reading some of his compositions. I hear, indeed, that he is become the most copious of all writers; yet I have fallen in with but few of his works, for I have not leisure to search into such, and besides, I do not easily form the acquaintance of recent writers, being hindered by bodily health from continuing even the study of inspired Scripture laboriously, and as is fitting.”—Ep. 244, § 3.

The other passage runs thus:—

“After Eustathius comes Apollinaris; he, too, no slight disturber of the Church; for, having a facility in writing and a tongue which served him on every subject, he has filled the world with his compositions, despising the warning, ‘Beware of making many books,’ because in the many are many faults. For how is it possible, in much speaking, to escape sin?”—Ep. 263, § 4.

And then he goes on to mention some of the various gross errors, to which by that time he seemed to be committed.

Lastly, let us hear Vincent of Lerins about him:—

“Great was the heat and great the perplexity which Apollinaris created in the minds of his auditory, when the authority of the Church drew them one way, and the influence of their teacher drew them the other, so that, wavering and hesitating between the two, they could not decide which was to be chosen. You will say, he ought at once to have been put aside; yes, but he was so great a man, that his word carried with it an extraordinary credence. Who indeed was his superior in acumen, in long practice, in view of doctrine? As to the number of his volumes against heresies, I will but mention as a specimen of them that great and noble work of his against Porphyry, in not less than thirty books, with its vast collection of arguments. He would have been among the master-builders of the Church, had not the profane lust of heretical curiosity incited him to strike out something new, to pollute withal his labours throughout with the taint of leprosy, so that his teaching was rather a temptation to the Church than an edification.”—Ch. 16.

It is a solemn and pregnant fact, that two’ of the most zealous and forward of Athanasius’s companions in the good fight against Arianism, Marcellus and Apollinaris, fell away into heresies of their own; nor did the Church spare them, for all their past services. “Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.”

“Alas, my brother! round thy tomb,

In sorrow kneeling, and in fear,

We read the pastor’s doom,

Who speaks and will not hear.

“The gray-haired saint may fail at last,

The surest guide a wanderer prove;

Death only binds us fast

To the bright shore of love.”

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