How Does a Neo-Apollinarian Christology Even Work?


So, brief preface: I have been, and in many respects always will be, a fan and student of William Lane Craig. Any kid who was into apologetics and contemporary philosophy of religion had to be.

That said, like others, I’ve recently had to come to grips with some of the odder aspects of his theology proper and Christology, which appear to be less than orthodox. Nick Batzig calls attention one element which has been raising eyebrows in some circles, of late: his “Neo-Apollinarian” Christology.

Now, I’d heard something about it before, but never looked deeply into the matter until now. He goes into it and clarifies his position in this podcast transcript. In a nutshell:

1. We agree with the Council of Chalcedon that in Christ we have one person with two natures – human and divine.

2. The soul of the human nature of Christ is the second person of the Trinity, the Logos. The human nature of Christ is composed of the Logos and a human body.

3. The divine aspects of the Logos are largely concealed in Christ’s subconsciousness so that he had a waking conscious life that would be typical of any human being and that like the mass of an iceberg submerged beneath the surface so in his divine subconsciousness there lay the fullness of divinity. The waking consciousness was typically human.

The aim is to affirm the two natures of Christ, but avoid the possible Nestorianism (in his view) of the Chalcedonian definition. So he takes the heretic Apollinaris and gives him a tune-up:

Apollinarius’ original view was that Christ didn’t have a complete human nature. He had a human body but he didn’t have a human soul. He didn’t have a human nature. As a result he wasn’t really truly human. That calls into question the reality of the incarnation and also the effectiveness of Christ’s death on our behalf since he did not share our nature.

What I argue in my Neo-Apollinarian proposal is that the Logos brought to the human body just those properties which would make it a complete human nature – things like rationality, self-consciousness, freedom of the will, and so forth. Christ already possessed those in his divine nature, and it is in virtue of those that we are created in the image of God. So when he brought those properties to the animal body – the human body – it completes it and makes it a human nature. Against Apollinarius, I want to say that Christ did have a complete human nature. He was truly God and truly man. Therefore his death on our behalf as our representative before God was efficacious.

So what you end up having, as I understand it, is a sort of overlapping Venn diagram of two sets of properties. The first circle represents the divine nature and its properties, and the second the human nature. Though, here, instead of merging two complete circles so that you get a doubling up on the overlap on those components that make up the human soul (two wills, two minds, etc.), you instead add a circle with a chunk shaved off (the human nature) that happens to fit the outline of the divine nature, sort of like a perfectly-fitted puzzle piece. Put them together and both natures have all the sets of properties they need.

Now, it seems there are several problems with this, but the first one that struck me is the issue of Jesus’s consciousness. He says, “The divine aspects of the Logos are largely concealed in Christ’s subconsciousness so that he had a waking conscious life that would be typical of any human being and that like the mass of an iceberg submerged beneath the surface so in his divine subconsciousness there lay the fullness of divinity.”

What I want to know is how is that supposed to work? Absent a distinct human soul, a human mind that interacts/supervenes on a human brain, etc. how are we arriving at this split-level consciousness? If all we have is a divine Person with an infinite, divine mind and a divine will, rationality, freedom, etc. plus a human body, are we saying that the Son’s divine consciousness takes on dimensions and levels it did not have before in its interaction with a human body? Does that represent change in the divine nature, then? Or are these levels of consciousness now possible because of the interaction between the Logos and the “meat” of the human brain, so to speak?

I looked up the discussion of the problem in Craig and Moreland’s Philosophical Foundations of a Christian Worldview (1st Ed.) and I have to say, that while expanded, the discussion wasn’t much clearer at this point. Pardon the large block-quote:

We postulate that the divine aspects of Jesus’ personality were largely subliminal during his state of humiliation. We suggest that what William James called 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 subconsciousness. This understanding of Christ’s personal experience draws on the insight of depth psychology that there is vastly more to a person than waking consciousness. The whole project of psychoanalysis is based on the conviction that some of our behaviors have deep springs of action of which we are only dimly, if at all, aware. Multiple personality disorders furnish a particularly striking example of the eruption of subliminal facets of a single person’s mind into distinct conscious personalities. In some cases there is even a dominant personality who is aware of all the others and who knows what each of them knows but who remains unknown by them. Hypnotism also furnishes a vivid demonstration of the reality of the subliminal. As Charles Harris explains,

a person under hypnosis may be informed of certain facts and then instructed to forget them when he “awakens,” but the knowledge is truly in his mind, and shows itself in unmistakable ways, especially by causing him to perform . . . certain actions, which, but for the possession of this knowledge, he would not have performed. . . . What is still more extraordinary, a sensitive hypnotic subject may be made both to see and not to see the same object at the same moment. For example, he may be told not to see a lamp-post, whereupon he becomes (in the ordinary sense) quite unable to see it. Nevertheless, he does see it, because he avoids it and cannot be induced to precipitate himself against it.

Similarly, in the Incarnation—at least during his state of humiliation—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. On the model we propose, Christ is thus one person, but in that person conscious and subconscious elements are differentiated in a theologically significant way. Unlike Nestorianism our view does not imply that there are two persons, anymore than the conscious aspects of one’s life and the subconscious aspects of one’s life constitute two persons. (610-611)

Leave aside the propriety of appealing to split personalities as a suitable analogy for the mental life of our Lord, depth psychology could really be helpful in considering these issues in Christology more generally. But what I’m failing to see is the way this works out in Craig’s formulation.

Because on Craig’s view, it seems there is only the one, divine mind which is now, somehow, also the site of the distinctions and levels and subliminal layers which form Christ’s human, conscious life. Now, I know they reject, or at least propose to modify divine simplicity (Craig and Moreland, 526), but even in that discussion, they seem sympathetic to William Alston’s view that at least the divine knowledge is simple.

So has there been a change to the divine nature such that what was once simple, now becomes complex in the act of the incarnation? Craig describes the incarnation as a matter of addition, rather than subtraction–which is right:

Rather it is a matter of addition – taking on in addition to the divine nature he already had a human nature with all of its essential properties. So we should think of the incarnation not as a matter of subtraction but of addition.

But the addition of layers of consciousness to the divine mind is not the logic of addition which the Fathers at Chalcedon had in mind. They saw the Logos assuming humanity to himself leaving the divine nature unchanged. But it is hard to see the Logos remaining unchanged in his becoming the soul of the body of Christ, if this is now adding layers of self-consciousness to the single mind he has/is.

If so, then along with the rejection of the assumption of a human soul, this would be to contradict Chalcedon at another point. For it would seem to be a denial of divine immutability. But I don’t see them wanting to do that.

Now, for myself, I don’t think the Chalcedonian definition and classical Christology of the Church is Nestorian. But even if I did, contrary to solving any questions, Craig’s un-Orthodox Christology just seems to leave us with more.

Soli Deo Gloria

10 thoughts on “How Does a Neo-Apollinarian Christology Even Work?

  1. Excellent points, but what struck me is something else. The arguments I see made arise from an unfortunate atomism of the imagination, where all things are modular compounds of each other. So a human soul is so much reason, so much intuition, so much subconscious, etc etc; join them all together and “fiat mixtura”! But that is exactly wrong. A human soul HAS all those features, some more, some less, some, indeed, to a fantastic pitch of power or weakness. But those things do not make up the soul; rather, the soul develops them in the course of its lifelong adventure, and may lose them, too, without ceasing to be a soul. That is why there is such an uncrossable abyss between the supporters of abortion and Christianity. The supporters of abortion really do imagine that humanity is something that is gained with the growth of the body and the increase of its faculties, and that therefore, until that first sacred intake of air, the foetus does not have enough humanity for its destruction to matter more than someone else’s convenience. But to us, the soul, humanity, the God-given quality of the individual, are things that belong to every stage of humanity, from the barely perceived first few cells, to the senile, lost, almost unconscious wreckage left behind by long decades. Each of these is made in the likeness of God; each of these, Thou Shalt Not Kill. Indeed, if we thought otherwise, we would introduce an incredibly dangerous element of ranking between souls: the soul whose composition comes closer to the ideal of the perfect recipe is more of a soul, more of a human being, than the visibly deficient one. No; the soul of the most vicious and contemptible mafia thug is no less a soul, willed and made by God, than the soul of Mother Theresa, and the soul of the most foolish follower of the silliest TV program is no less a soul that that of the late Stephen Hawking.

    The inability to recognize uniqueness, the atomistic habit of dissolving it into compounds and lists of ingredients – a habit of mind without which Craig’s Neo-Apollinarianism could not be conceived – is equally disastrous in another way. The Union that saved us all does not take place with any human body, as if the body were only a convenience for the Logos. No, it happens in one specific human being, and one alone, the man Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary. It happened once in history, and once was enough. Indeed, the man Jesus had to leave, to go, so that the Holy Spirit could reach His disciples, because their relationship with God was not the same as His. And the man Jesus was so human that at the moment when death, which destroys men, was seizing Him, He could feel that God Himself had forsaken Him. If it had not been so, it He had not been a thoroughly human individual to whom death was as true as to every other man, He could not have taken up humanity into Divinity, and saved us. What kind of humanity would it be, how would it connect the essence of each of us with His, if it did not have the same kind of individuality vested in each of us; and how, if He did not have that kind of individuality, could He even be said to really die?

  2. This is a (developing) pet peeve of mine, but I wonder if confusion over Chalcedon’s supposed “Nestorianism” might not be cleared away by a bit more attention being paid to the Second Council of Constantinople’s interpretation of it. Held under Justinian in 553, this council made clear that Chalcedon’s sometimes ambiguous phrasing should be interpreted as agreeing with Cyril of Alexandria’s Twelve Chapters, thus ruling out absolutely a Nestorianizing interpretation. Richard Price has written a good deal on this, especially in his translations of the Acts of Chalcedon and the Acts of Constantinople II.

  3. Hi,
    I appreciate how much of Craig’s work you cited here and that you made an effort to understand what he is saying. I understand that you find it objectionable that the divine mind would be subconscious, but I do not understand what the actual objection is. Are you saying that for the divine mind to be completely unchanged, Christ would have to know and remember all facts at all moments? The infant would have to be contemplating calculus?

    I just do not see anything objectionable about the idea that Christ would have some things stored away in his subconscious – to call that “typical among humans” would be a vast understatement. Every human has a repository of memories and information that they know but is stored away in their mind.

    I am not sure why it would compromise immutability for the Logos to interact with the human body in that way. We should understand what immutability is. Immutability is the doctrine that God will undergo no intrinsic changes. But he can (and does) go through extrinsic changes. His relationship with time changes. His relationship with the world changes. It changed at the incarnation. But the Logos did not intrinsically change.

    Another point worth mentioning is that Craig does not deny that Christ has a human soul. If you read his published work, you will find that he argues for the possibility that the Logos may be an archetypical human soul. Accordingly, there is an intersection between the divine and human natures. But he certainly did have a human soul and he did not assume animality at the incarnation. “For that which He has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved.”

    Thanks for reading,

    • Richard,

      I have no problem with Christ having a subconscious. That part of Craig’s formulation is not the problematic one.

      Second, I understand the compatibility of immutability and Cambridge changes. What is not apparent to me at all is that this is one such extrinsic change. It seems to involve a change in the self-understanding of the divine person according to the divine nature because there is only the divine mind which is functioning within the human body of Christ.

      What I have failed to see is an accounting within Craig’s account of the way the Logos’ interaction with the human body or brain such that it can function in the way he (apparently) simply asserts it does.

      Finally, yes, I know Dr. Craig asserts there is a human soul. It is not all apparent that his assertion that the Logos functions as the human soul of Jesus means, in fact, that he has one. It certainly is not apparent the way that this conforms to the dictum “that which He has not assumed He has not healed.” For on this construal, he is not *assuming* a human soul. The divine Logos *is* the human soul.

      Thanks for reading.

      • Hey Derek,

        I appreciate this discussion and just wanted to add a few other comments for clarity. On, I guess, the second point you raise above involving immutability, I don’t see how it would be problematic even if God did undergo some degree of intrinsic change. I understand extrinsic change as change relative to a subject (e.g., the height of a relative growing in relation to one’s own height, even if the subject’s never changes); on the other hand, intrinsic change, as I understand, would involve a change in property possessed by the subject (e.g., a leaf changing color as the seasons change, perhaps). I don’t understand how divine essentialism (or perhaps a soft view of immutability) doesn’t obtain, even if he experiences intrinsic change in some capacities. For instance, if “temporal becoming” (or dynamic time conception) is an objective feature of reality, and God is now in time, then God’s knowledge of what time it is at any given moment–or his knowledge of what kinds of things are true now, in the past, or in the future–would be constantly adjusting. A change in the content of God’s knowledge, say, as it relates to what time it is in actuality, though, seems clearly to be intrinsic change, since there is a change occurring in what God knows to be true of his knowledge at that moment. I don’t see a way around this. As a result, arguments from strict immutability don’t seem to have any impact on Craig’s model, since it seems entirely appropriate to suggest that God actually does experience intrinsic change as it relates to his knowledge content. Craig points out something to this effect in his book, “Time and Eternity,” and I can’t understand how this would be any sort of concession on a soft view of immutability.

        Also, your last paragraph above objects that, “It is not at all apparent that his assertion that the Logos functions as the human soul of Jesus means, in fact, that he is one.” What this seems clearly to miss, as Richard points out above, is that Craig is suggesting we already have mainstream anthropological/theological ideas which assume implicitly that this is indeed the case. If I’m reading you correctly, then your objection here really isn’t against Craig; rather, you are kind of objecting that the biblical data as it relates to an ontological conception of what it means to be made in the image of God, is so substantially represented and sufficiently perspicuous that we can condemn an soul-ontological view as unequivocally false and therefore heresy. Not that you’re actually making this claim, but this seems to hit at the essence of what you must demonstrate in order to continue to call Craig a heretic (or “unorthodox”) concerning his Neo-Apollinarianism. To put it another way, it seems you must demonstrate that the biblical data speaks clearly enough on the subject of ‘imago dei’ anthropology to suggest one way of thinking about this subject is clearly more orthodox than any other. This is clearly an impossible task, though, since theologians’ thoughts on this subject as far back as Judaeo-Christian history goes are in anything but uniform agreement. In fact, one of my professor at SEBTS recently allowed some of us graduates students to preview his pre-published manuscript of a forthcoming book regarding ‘imago dei’ theology which attempted to move the discussion forward with new ideas on the topic. Like I said, I have a very difficult time understanding, not just how Craig is a heretic on NA, but also (since he bottoms-out the discussion on a mainstream issue of scholarly systematic-theological debate) how he could ever convincingly be declared to teach something “unorthodox” on Protestantism.


      • Adam,
        Quickly, I’ll just let you know that I think his soft immutability does not work, for Scriptural and philosophical reasons. Thomas Weindandy’s work, “Does God Suffer?” and “Does God Change?” are helpful here.

        Second, as I mentioned, I don’t think the Imago Dei anthropology you’re referencing solves the problems that I have. And I actually don’t think I need to prove that in order to label Craig’s proposed philosophical “fix” for Chalcedon “unorthodox”, or at least “heterodox.” Insofar as the Creeds and Councils have any role to play in our understanding of Orthodoxy–which they have for Protestants, historically–he has actually, specifically rejected Chalcedonian Christology.

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  5. I’ll be honest, I’m having a hard time understanding clearly why Craig’s Neo-Apollinarianism (NA) model referenced above is actually unorthodox; in fact, I’m not sure how a person would in actually ever be able to go about demonstrating the unorthodox nature of his NA model with certainty. Indeed, Craig’s NA model rounds out what was lacking in classical Apollinarianism in a nuanced way using highly mainstream ‘imago dei’ theology/anthropology. Derek’s assessment of Craig’s theology doesn’t account for that portion of Craig’s discussion at all, as far as I can tell; therefore, I’m not surprised he feels Craig’s model collapses back into classical Apollinarianism. The other objections he raises seem to be either (a) on conceptual grounds of personal incredulity toward some of NA’s technical aspects (which, if valid, would only impact whether NA is a useful philosophical or theological tool), or (b) on theological grounds which would only be meaningful just in case a reader already had strong pre-commitments to Roman Catholicism.

    • Adam,
      It was a short blog post, but I’ll just say that I don’t think Craig’s appeal to modern Imago Dei theology/anthropology does much to fix it. At least not my specific objections. Second, some of those “modern” insights, aren’t that modern, but were known to the ancients too. Second, my objections where framed personally, yes, but the complaints were theological. And I listed them. Third, the theological grounds are not grounded in Roman Catholicism. I’m a confessional Protestant who looks to various church creeds and catechisms as secondary, ministerial authorities under the Final Authority of Scripture (Nicaea, Chalcedon, etc., Westminster Confession). Orthodoxy is concept that has long functioned in historical Protestantism despite its absence in much theological discussion in 20th Century Evangelical theology,

      • Hey there Derek,
        I appreciate your thoughts and comments, and am loving the dialogue, by the way! You are a fantastic sport, and I am really grateful you’re taking the time to invest in this conversation. I think it says a lot about your character, brother. If you don’t have time to respond to what follows, I totally understand, but I’d still like to add some ideas for clarity on the nature of this debate. As far as the imago dei anthropology goes, I’m not suggesting it provides clarity for technical issues concerning relationship the Logos shares with the physical/brain psychology of the human body; instead, it is aimed at providing conceptual clarity for an orthodox notion of how the Logos could be a truly human soul if united to a human body. For instance, if that which qualifies cognitively as a “truly human soul,” is such when (with those soulish endowments) is subsequently embodied; and if these stand in an ectypal-archetypal relationship with the Logos (as imago dei theology sometimes suggests); then necessarily all those requirements which would sufficiently qualify any of our individual souls for true humanity when embodied, would be maximally instantiated in the Logos (as the antecedent of our ectypal souls), provided he was similarly embodied. To tweak your illustration of the circles a little bit, I would say that instead of them being mostly enveloping with some margin of non-overlap, a better illustration would be to have a smaller circle (representative of the properties of the human soul) concentrically and more comprehensively surrounded by a bigger circle (which would be the properties of the Logos). If this doesn’t make sense, let me know and I’ll provide a syllogism that might assist more capably.

        Pertaining to immutability, I’ll check out the resources you recommend above, but (as a current MATS graduate student at SEBTS, with an undergrad in theology) I confess I, too, have my share of reservation concerning the relevance of both divine simplicity and the necessity of strict forms of immutability– the former being conspicuously absent from the biblical data, as far as I can tell, and the latter being extremely difficult to employ with logical consistency entertaining core ideas to the Christian worldview. For example, it doesn’t seem possible to articulate a purely extrinsic dynamic of change for God when it comes to things like, that God directly created the universe (which would have involved an exercise of his power), that he is personally involved therein his creation, or that he became incarnate as the man Jesus Christ, etc. If you reject a somewhat softer view of immutability for personal and philosophical reasons, by the way, these would seem to constitute just those kinds of disagreements, not that you aren’t brothers in Christ or that Craig is on his way to a special place in hell (as 1st Peter and Jude seem to suggest are the destinies for heretics).

        As far as confessional Protestantism is concerned, it seems to me that the only way to make a statement in an objective capacity concerning the relative orthodox/unorthodox nature of a set of teachings would be to affirm the authority of church tradition (of which these creeds and symbols are a part) in shaping Christian theology; however, at that point, I’m not sure how you would pick and choose which Catholic beliefs are legitimate for all Christians and which are not, a task of a particularly perilous nature when considering the ideas laid out in Trent and the nature of justification. On the other hand, if church tradition is supplementary in nature, this view of church tradition’s role in the enterprise of theology on serves in generating arguments which demonstrate intersubjective agreement at best—that is, they merely show that some beliefs have been more popular in Christianity than others. Even these kinds of arguments, though, cannot be affirmed consistently by Protestants, since they would naturally lead to the rejection of things like forensic justification championed by men like Luther in the Reformation—most Christians having not conceived of justification to be forensic in nature up until that point in Christian history.

        The point is this: I get that we use these Creeds as Protestants, but our use of them technically can only serve us in determining the relative probability of orthodoxy of any new teaching in light of how many Christians in the past have believed likewise (which we would tend to ignore when it comes to occasions like the Reformation); to suggest more than this, however, would constitute a blatant commitment of the so-called “naturalistic fallacy.” If you want to try to make your case primarily on the basis of what the church has traditionally said, that fine, you just need to understand that in all likelihood, you are probably cutting the legs out from under yourself as a Protestant elsewhere. Arguments from tradition, on Protestantism, cannot stand on their own in weighing objectively any idea as orthodox or heterodox; they cannot, then, serve as a primary basis by which a person is condemned as a heretic.

        Objectively, the only way for the Protestant to demonstrate that a belief/teaching is heretical/unorthodox is to show that it is in clear violation of some specific point of Scriptural data. Alternatively, the Protestant may offer reasons why he thinks a teaching is incoherent. Although this wouldn’t have anything initially to do with orthodoxy, it would help to keep people from believing something which could be heresy by means of making it intellectually unavailable to them. You’ve certainly done the latter of these two things, but to make the claim that Craig is indeed a heretic, you really need to explicate those portions of Scripture which make his fault reasonably clear.

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