ORB Masthead with site navigation toolbar; see bottom 
of page for text version of toolbar

Encyclopedia | Library | Reference | Teaching | General | Links | About ORB | HOME

Early Church Controversies

Constantinople I, 381 CE: Apollinarianism

Bill East

Note: This article first appeared as a series of postings on the Medieval-Religion discussion list and is posted here with the kind permission of the author.

The First Council of Constantinople of 381, considered the second of the Ecumenical Councils, is given the following account in the ODCC:

"It was convened by the Emp. Theodosius I to unite the E. Church at the end of the lengthy Arian controversy on the basis of the Nicene faith. It met under the presidency of Melitius, Bp. of Antioch (who died during the Council) and was attended by 150 orthodox bishops and 36 bishops of Pneumatomachian sympathies who later withdrew. Although neither W. bishops nor Roman legates were present, its achievement was sufficiently significant for it to come to be regarded as the Second General Council in both E. and W."

"The work of the Council of Nicaea with regard to the doctrine of Christ was ratified, and the humanity of Christ safeguarded by condemning Apollinarianism. The so-called Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, traditionally ascribed to this Council, was probably not drawn up by it, though it may well have been endorsed by it in the course of its deliberations."

This creed is popularly known as the "Nicene Creed" and is recited at Mass in both east and west every Sunday. The version printed in Bettenson, "Documents of the Christian Church," pp. 36-7, reads:

"We believe in one God the Father All-sovereign, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, Begotten of the Father before all the ages, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of one substance [homoousios] with the Father, through who all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from the heavens, and was made flesh of the Holy Spirit and [note the conjunction] the Virgin Mary, and became man, and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried, and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures, and ascended into the heavens, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father, and cometh again with glory to judge living and dead, of whose kingdom there shall be no end. And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and the Life-giver, that proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and Son is worshipped together and glorified together, who spoke through the prophets. In one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism unto remission of sins. We look for a resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come."

Notes on the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed:

1. "We believe in one God" not two gods, or three gods, or a multiplicity of gods. The most basic tenet of Christianity, deriving from Judaic monotheism. The clause specifically refutes: (a) the Dualists-those who, like the Manichaeans, believe in two gods, a good one and an evil one, thus seeking to explain the mixture of good and evil in the universe; (b)the Tritheists-those who separate the three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to the extent of making them three separate; (c) the polytheists, those who believe in a pantheon of several gods.

2. "the Father"-the distinctive word which Jesus frequently uses to indicate the relationship of God to humanity. Cf. Matthew 6:9, "Our Father," Matthew 22:42, 23:34, 23:46 and many other places. He seems in fact the have used the familiar form, "Abba" ("Daddy"), Mark 14:36; cf. Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:6.

3. "All-sovereign"- all-powerful, omnipotent. This of course raises the question why an omnipotent and all-good God should tolerate evil. The question is much discussed, but (at least in orthodox Christian circles) takes as its starting-point God's omnipotence.

4. "maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible," cf. Genesis 1:1, the very first words in the Bible: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." This refutes any notion of dualism, i.e. the idea that there are two gods, one good god, the creator of heaven and the spiritual realm, and an evil god, the creator fo the earth, matter, the carnal realm. Such ideas were held e.g. by the Manichees. The sole creatorship of God is emphasized in the phrase "and of all things visible and invisible." God is the creator of the physical, visible world-the earth, the stars, animals, plants, people-and of the invisible realm of spirits-angels, even devils.

5. "And in one Lord Jesus Christ," "Lord" (Kyrios) is the title applied to Jesus in the NT. Cf. especially Philippians 2:9-11, "Therefore God raised him to the heights and bestowed on him the name above all names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow-in heaven, on earth, and in the depths-and every tongue acclaim, 'Jesus Christ is Lord,' to the glory of God the Father." "Jesus" is the name bestowed by divine command (Luke 1:31, Matthew 1:21) on the infant Christ. It is the Greek form of the Hebrew, "Joshua," and means "Yahweh saves." "Christ" renders the Hebrew "Messiah," "the Anointed one." This term is used in the OT for someone set apart for a particular function, particularly a priest (cf. Leviticus 4:3), a king (cf. 1 Samuel 10:1) or even a prophet (cf. Isaiah 61:1)-all of which roles Christ is held to fulfill.

6. "the only-begotten Son of God" cf. John's Gospel, 1:14 "the only-begotten of the Father."

7. "Begotten of the Father before all the ages." The Son was not begotten in time, but is eternally begotten (the modern translation), cf. John 1:1, "In the beginning the Word already was" and 1 John 1:1, "It was there from the beginning."

8. "Light of Light" stressing equality with the Father, the source of all light, cf. Gregory of Nazianzus' critique of Apollinarius: "...people should know that Apollinarius, while granting the name of Godhead to the Holy Ghost, did not preserve the power of the Godhead. For to make the Trinity consist of Great, Greater, and Greatest, as of Light, Ray, and Sun, the Spirit and the Son and the Father (as is clearly stated in his writings), is a ladder of Godhead not leading to Heaven, but down from Heaven."

9. "true God of true God" emphasizing the total divinity of the Son, in every way equal to that of the Father.

10. "begotten not made"-the Son is not a creature.

11. "of one substance [homoousios] with the Father-the watchword of Nicene orthodoxy, and hence the most discussed word in the creed.

12. "through whom all things were made," cf. John 1:3, "All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made."

13. "who for us men and for our salvation came down from the heavens, and was made flesh of the Holy Spirit and [note the conjunction] the Virgin Mary, and became man"-"of the Holy SPirit AND the Virgin Mary." The Latin "de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine" and the English "By the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary" sets up a distinction between the work of the human and divine partners which is not there in the original. Still more misleading is the modern, "By the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary"-which makes it appear that the Holy Spirit was the active partner, and Mary merely passive. In the original, the willing and active participation of both partners is safeguarded. Worst of all is the American translation, "by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary." We are concerned with the miraculous conception of Christ, not his birth, which followed in the natural way.

14. "and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried." Unlike the Apostles' Creed, the N-C does not actually insist on Christ's death, although this is just as much a credal statement as his resurrection. In fact, the resurrection is much better attested than the death. Saint Paul writes, "that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all...he appeared also to me." (1 Corinthians 15:4-8) Someone unwilling to believe in the resurrection, but also unwilling to call St. Paul a downright liar, would naturally question whether Christ had in fact been dead. What doctor had examined him and pronounced him clinically dead? I simply raise the point to demonstrate that it is not the case that the death of Christ is a historically attested fact, and the resurrection merely a credal assertion. The modern "translation" was, in fact, "he suffered death and was buried."

15. "and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures." The creed does not specify which Scriptures actually predict the resurrection. Perhaps Isaiah 52:13, "Behold, my servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up." The phrase is however taken from 1 Corinthians 15:4, "that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures."

16. "and ascended into the heavens"-cf. Luke 24:51, Acts 1:9, Mark 16:19 [probably an addition to Mark's text].

17. "and sitteth on the right hand of the Father"-cf. Mark 16:19, "and sat down at the right hand of God."

18. "and cometh again with glory to judge living and dead," cf. Matthew 25:31 ff, and many other texts; especially, for "living and dead," 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

19. "of whose kingdom there shall be no end"-cf. Daniel 7:14, "his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away."

20. "And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and the Life-giver." The "Creed of Nicea" had simply stated, "And in the Holy Spirit." Here he is called "Lord" to establish his equality with Father and Son. "Life-giver" perhaps from Genesis 2:7, "Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath [=spirit] of life."

21. "that proceedeth from the Father." The original text does not say "and from the Son" [filioque]; this is a later insertion by the western Church, and is one of the main causes of division between east and west.

22. "who with the Father and Son is worshipped together and glorified together" emphasizing the equality between the three persons of the Trinity.

23."who spake through the prophets." The Holy Spirit is claimed to be the true author of the scriptures, who "inspired" the prophets to say what they did.

24. "In one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church" the four so-called 'notes' of the Church: it is one, because Christ founded only one Church, which is his body (1 Corinthians 12:27); holy, because set apart by God, cf. 1 Peter 2:9, "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people;" Catholic, because it is for all people at all times and in all places; Apostolic, because it is founded on the teaching and order of the apostles.

25. "We acknowledge one baptism unto remission of sins." And consequently do not re-baptize. St. Augustine remarks that the Donatists show themselves to be a sect by wishing to re-baptize the Catholics.

26. "for a resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come." The Christian hope, cf. the article, "resurrection of the dead," in ODCC:

"The doctrine of resurrection appears in a few late passages in the OT; it was held by many Jews at the time of Christ's ministry; and it was clinched for Christian believers by the Resurrection of Christ himself."

This, then, has been a brief and doubtless inadequate commentary on the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, which is still considered normative today.

The First Council of Constantinople virtually put an end to Arianism in the east; it migrated to the west, where it gave St. Ambrose a lot of trouble. A liturgical consequence of the Arian controversy is the Gloria Patria, or "Lesser Doxology" (the Greater Doxology is the Gloria in Excelsis). The older doxology had been "Gloria Patri PER Filio IN Spiritu Sancto"-"Glory be to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit." Now, in reaction to Arianism, this was changed to "Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritu Sancto"-"Glory be to the Father AND to the Son AND to the Holy Spirit." All three persons are given equal glory. And to make it clear that this is no innovation in doctrine, but simply a making explicit of what had always been believed, it goes on, "Sicut erat in principio et nunc et semper, et in saecula saeculorum, Amen."-"As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, Amen.

St. Basil started using the new formula alongside the old in Caesarea, and caused a storm. The Arians complained that he was using texts which were not only foreign and novel, but contradicted one another. In Basil's work, 'On the Holy Spirit,' he expounds the meaning of both the old and the new formula. This is a remarkably learned treatise, citing a host of earlier Fathers. It can be found in NPNF, Series 2, vol. 8.

The Gloria Patri is probably the most used of all Christian prayers. In the daily office, it is used at the beginning of each hour, after nearly every psalm and canticle, in responsories, and in metrical form at the end of many hymns. It is said after every decade of the rosary, and in many other devotions. It is not, at the moment, used at Mass. It used to be, for it formed part of the Introit of the old Mass; but the Introit has been simplified.

Encyclopedia | Library | Reference | Teaching | General | Links | About ORB | HOME

The contents of ORB are copyright © 1995-1999 Laura V. Blanchard and Carolyn Schriber except as otherwise indicated herein.