Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume VII/Letters of Gregory Nazianzen/Letters on the Apollinarian Controversy/Introduction

A Selection from the Letters of Saint Gregory Nazianzen, Sometime Archbishop of Constantinople.


Division I.

Letters on the Apollinarian Controversy.



The circumstances which called forth the two letters to Cledonius have already been described in the first section of the General Prolegomena, and it will not be necessary here to add much to what was there said.  In the letter to Nectarius, his own successor on the throne of Constantinople, written about a.d. 383, and sometimes reckoned as Orat. XLVI., S. Gregory gives extracts from a work of Apollinarius himself, but without mentioning the title of the book.  In this treatise the fundamental errors of the heresy (see Proleg. c. 1, p. 172) are laid down.  Apollinarius, according to S. Gregory, declares that the Son of God was from all eternity clothed with a human body, and not from the time of His conception only by the Blessed Virgin; but that this humanity of God is without human mind, the place of which was supplied by the Godhead of the Only-begotten.  And he goes even further and ascribes passibility and mortality to the very Godhead of Christ.  Therefore S. Gregory earnestly protests against any toleration being granted to these heretics, or even permission to hold their assemblies; for, he says, toleration or permission would certainly be regarded by them as a condonation of their doctrinal position, and a condemnation of that of the Church.  Dr. Ullman, however, thinks that while S. Gregory was certainly speaking the truth in saying that he had in his hands a pamphlet by Apollinarius, yet that he, perhaps unconsciously, exaggerated the heretical character of its contents, pushing its statements to consequences which Apollinarius would have repudiated.  The one purpose of the latter was, in Dr. Ullman’s view, to safeguard the doctrine of the Unity of Christ; and he thought that the orthodox expression of Two Whole and Perfect Natures tended to a Nestorian division of the Person of Christ; and so he used language which certainly seemed to confound the natures, or at any rate to make the Incarnation imperfect, inasmuch as a Christ in Whom the human mind is absent, and its place filled up by the Godhead of the Son, cannot be said to be perfect Man.  But while Epiphanius mentions these extravagances of the heresy, and does so with a lingering feeling of regret for the lapse of so good a man whose services in the past had been of so much value to the Church, yet, in the spirit common to Ecclesiastical authorities of the time, he would rather ascribe them to an expansion of Apollinarius’ teaching by his younger disciples who did not really understand what Apollinarius himself meant.

Olympius, to whom the last of this series is addressed, was Governor of Cappadocia Secunda in a.d. 382.  He was a man for whom S. Gregory had a very high esteem, and with whom he was upon terms of close friendship, as will be seen from other letters of Gregory to him in another division of this Selection.  The occasion of the present letter was the necessity to appeal to the secular power for aid to punish a sect of Apollinarians at Nazianzus, who had ventured to take advantage of S. Gregory’s absence at the Baths of Xanxaris to procure the consecration of a Bishop of their own way of thinking.  Technically the See was vacant, but the administration had been committed to Gregory by the Bishops of the Province, and though he, foreseeing some such attempt on the part of the heretics, had been very earnest in pressing upon the Metropolitan and his Comprovincials the necessity of filling this throne by a canonical election, yet he was by no means prepared to hand over the authority, with which he had been invested, to an irregularly elected and uncanonically consecrated heretic.