The “forgeries of the Apollinarians”

This evening I stumbled across a book which few, perhaps, will have read: Georges Florovsky’s The Byzantine Fathers of the Sixth to Eighth Centuries.  Fortunately the book is accessible here, for it is otherwise quite uncommon.

What led me here was a question about the “forgeries” of the Apollinarians.  We know that in the 6th century, works were in circulation which were ascribed to Pope Julius I, Athanasius, or Gregory Thaumaturgus, but were in reality by Apollinaris or his followers.  We know this because of a dossier of quotations, assembled by Leontius of Byzantium as Adversus Fraudes Apollinistarum.  Indeed a correspondent kindly translated this text for us all, and it is accessible online.

Apollinaris of Laodicea lived in the second half of the 4th century A.D.  He wrote an excellent refutation of Porphyry’s anti-Christian work, and, when faced with Julian the Apostate, did what he could to frustrate the latter’s desire to prevent Christians acquiring an education.  However he must have found himself out of his depth in the increasingly vicious theological-political currents of the late fourth century.  The opinion now known as Apollinarism is given by the old Catholic Encyclopedia thus:

A Christological theory, according to which Christ had a human body and a human sensitive soul, but no human rational mind, the Divine Logos taking the place of this last.

“Apollinarism” was condemned at the Council of Constantinople in 381, or so the CE says.  After this point, it may well have been dangerous to circulate texts under his name.  In the circumstances those who still agreed with him chose to place the other names at the head of his and their works.  This had the unfortunate consequence that monophysite writers such as Cyril of Alexandria found themselves quoting Apollinaris when they believed that they were quoting Athanasius.  In the disputes of the 6th century, the supporters of Chalcedon made use of this to attack the monophysite position.

But did the Apollinarians intend fraud?  or merely to preserve their now illegal belief?  It would be extremely harsh, surely, to condemn them for the latter.  The later use of their works is nothing to do with them.

Another supposed Apollinarian forgery is the long recension of the letters of Ignatius.  Seven letters were interpolated, while a further eight were composed.  The identity of the interpolator is unknown, unless we accept the suggestion that it is an otherwise unknown Arian named Julian of Antioch, whose name appears as author of a Commentary on Job of the same period.  But the author of the long recension is not obviously Arian, any more than he is certainly Apollinarian.  His purpose in interfering with the text in this way is entirely unknown today.  It is entirely possible that it was for dishonest purposes, to put into circulation a text in order to make an argument based on forged evidence; but we do not know this.

At all events, I then came across Florovsky’s work, which includes a discussion of the Apollinarian forgeries:

One work ascribed to Leontius which may actually belong to him and which modern scholarship should consider carefully is Against the Frauds of the Apollinarians. In the history of Monophysitism the so-called “forgeries of the Apollinarians” played a major and fateful role. Many of Apollinarius’ compositions were concealed and “armored” under the forged inscription of respected and honored names. Faith in such pseudo-patristic writings very much hindered Alexandrian theologians in their dogmatic confession — it is sufficient to recall St. Cyril of Alexandria. Even if the work titled Against the Frauds of the Apollinarians is someday conclusively proven to be not that of Leontius of Byzantium, it is discussed here. Regardless of the authorship of this work — and it is very possible that it was Leontius of Byzantium — it was a significant work which deserves attention.

It is difficult to reconstruct the history of these “forgeries” but they became especially wide-spread in the Monophysite milieu. Even Eutyches in his appeal to Pope Leo at the Council of Constantinople in 448 refers to the forged testimony of Pope Julius, Athanasius, and Gregory the Miracle-Worker. He referred to them in good conscience, not suspecting any “forgery.” In his document to the monks of Palestine, Emperor Marcian observed that among the people books by Apollinarius were circulating which were being passed off as dicta of the holy fathers. Justinian also mentions some forgeries. The historian Evragius discusses the influence of these forgeries — the inscription of honorable names (Athanasius, Gregory, Julius) on Apollinarius1 books kept many people from condemning the impious opinions contained in them. At the famous “conference” with the Severians, which took place about 532 (between 531 and 533, in any case), Hypatius of Ephesus challenged a whole series of patristic references by pointing out their spuriousness, their the false inscriptions.

Under such circumstances the uncovering and demonstration of forgeries became a pointed and recurrent task of theological polemics. In performing this task, it is the author of Against the Frauds of the Apollinarians who occupies the most prominent place. The author gathered much material in this work. He adduces the false testimonies, and compares them with the original opinions of those persons to whom they are ascribed. (It is noteworthy that this same procedure is followed in the work Against the Monophysites, a work modern scholarship does not regard as that of Leontius of Byzantium). The author then collates these testimonies with the undisputed texts of Apollinarius and his followers and shows the points of correspondence between them. In this connection the author has to enter into a detailed critique of Apollinarianism. The author’s critical conclusions are distinguished by great precision and cogency.

Interesting indeed.

Leontius of Byzantium, “Adversus fraudes Apollinistarum”

If you browse idly through Quasten’s Patrology volume 3, a little here and a little there — if you do this idly but often, you will acquire quite a fund of knowledge about the later Greek fathers, their lives, their quarrels, and their works; and about what editions and translations are commonly relied on for all these.

A couple of hours ago I found myself reading the entry on Apollinaris of Laodicea.  This learned man wrote a great many commentaries on Scripture.  More, he stood up to the Emperor Julian the Apostate.  The emperor passed a decree in 361 AD banning Christians from teaching the classics — effectively from teaching.  This was the first but by no means the last attempt to make sure Christians were uneducated in order to jeer at them for being uneducated.  A similar approach has been used by modern atheistic regimes, and demanded by modern atheists in democracies.  Apollinaris responded by recasting the bible in the forms of Greek dialogues and so on, to ensure that Christians could continue to acquire knowledge.  The early death of Julian after a reign of 18 months rendered the effort unnecessary.

Apollinaris was later condemned as a heretic for some christological mistakes.  His works were banned.  But they continued to circulate under other names, and some have reached us.

A 6th century writer, Leontius of Byzantium, composed a work Adversus fraudes Apollinistarum.  This was designed to show that various works in circulation were not by people like Gregory Thaumaturgus, but in reality by banned Apollinarist authors.  Censorship of opinion had its natural consequence, that opinions circulated anonymously; and hate built on this the usual accusation of fraud.  It is hateful to ban a man from speaking his mind and then call him a forger when you force him to put his opinions forward under some form of camouflage.  In our politically correct days, we have lived to see the reappearance of this Byzantine tradition.

The work itself sounds more interesting than it is.  It appears in Migne, Patrologia Graeca, 86b, cols. 1947-1976.  It’s 15 columns of Greek (ignoring the parallel Latin translation), and would therefore cost $300 to translate.  I can find no evidence of a modern translation.

The work consists of a brief introductory paragraph, then the main body which consists entirely of excerpts from Apollinarists, each named and referenced; and then a final couple of paragraphs (1973C ff.) on the Apollinarist errors.


Some from the heresy of Apollinaris or Eutyches or Dioscorus, when they wanted to advance their heresy, inscribed some works of Apollinaris as by Gregory Thaumaturgus, or Athanasius, or Julius,  in order to deceive the more naive.  And so they did.  For by the authority of these people who deserved trust they were able to take in  many people in the Catholic Church.  And you can obtain from many true believers the book of Apollinaris with the title h( kata meros pistis, … ascribed to Gregory; and some of his letters have been ascribed to Julius, and others of his orations or expositions on the incarnation have been ascribed to Athanasius.  Likewise ascribed is the expostion  agreeing with the exposition of the 318; not only this but others also.  However this will be made evident to you, and to anyone studious of the truth, from these things which we haveextracted from Apollinaris himself, or his disciples, one of whom is Valentinus.

Valentinus: a chapter of an Apollinarist Apology

“Against those who say that we say that the flesh is consubstantial with God”.

Master Apollinaris, from his letter to Serapion.

 Receive this letter, of your charity, sir, …

And so on it goes.  I can see why it has never received translation; but surely, all these works ought to be more accessible?

Papias on Judas Iscariot, as reported by Apollinaris of Laodicea

Few will be aware that there is a passage in Cramer’s catena ascribed to Apollinaris of Laodicea which quotes from the fourth book of Papias on the fate of Judas.  Indeed there are two passages; one from the catena on Matthew (on ch. 27), and another from the catena on Acts (on ch. 1), although in fact it is the same passage quoted at different lengths.  The text of one can be found here

Judas did not die by hanging, but lived on, having been cut down before choking. And this the Acts of the Apostles makes clear, that falling headlong his middle burst and his bowels poured forth. And Papias the disciple of John records this most clearly, saying thus in the fourth of the Exegeses of the Words of the Lord:

and then one of two versions:

Judas walked about as an example of godlessness in this world, having been bloated so much in the flesh that he could not go through where a chariot goes easily, indeed not even his swollen head by itself. For the lids of his eyes, they say, were so puffed up that he could not see the light, and his own eyes could not be seen, not even by a physician with optics, such depth had they from the outer apparent surface. And his genitalia appeared more disgusting and greater than all formlessness, and he bore through them from his whole body flowing pus and worms, and to his shame these things alone were forced [out]. And after many tortures and torments, they say, when he had come to his end in his own place, from the place became deserted and uninhabited until now from the stench, but not even to this day can anyone go by that place unless they pinch their nostrils with their hands, so great did the outflow from his body spread out upon the earth.


Judas lived his career in this world as an enormous example of impiety. He was so swollen in the flesh that he could not pass where a wagon could easily pass. Having been crushed by a wagon, his entrails poured out.

The Greek of both may be found on pp.22-30 of Lake’s The Beginning of Christianity (thanks to Andrew Criddle for the reference).  Lake comments that further research in the catenas would probably allow the text to be improved; one may wonder whether anyone has done so since.  He continues:

It will be seen, however, that these versions differ in one very important point. In the catena on Acts the whole story is attributed to Papias; but in the catena on Matthew the quotation from Apollinarius  which contains the extract from Papias ends with the statement that Judas was crushed by a wagon, and a new extract from Apollinarius then begins and gives a more elaborate and gruesome account of the swelling up and death of Judas. These two versions do not agree;  in one the wagon is the cause of death, in the other it is part of the comparison and only mentioned to show the extent to which Judas was swollen. The question is whether the crushing by a wagon or the longer version ia really that of Papias.

The matter cannot be settled with certainty, but J. Rendel Harris has tried to bring the balance of probability to the side of the attribution of the longer version by pointing out in the American Journal of Theology, July 1900, p. 501, that Bar Salibi in his commentary on Acts quotes the passage about the [Greek], and definitely ascribes it to Papias. It is extremely improbable that Bar Salibi used the catena of Andreas, so that this is independent evidence that the passage was taken from Papias by Apollinarius.

If so, Papias described Judas as living after the betrayal, and dying from a disease so terrible that his estate remained unoccupied. Among the symptoms mentioned was extreme swelling, so that a place where a wagon could pass was too narrow for him. This comparison gave rise to  a secondary form of the story which represented Judas as crushed by a wagon. …

On  the other hand, general probability would perhaps suggest that the shorter version is likely to be original If so, the gruesome details and the changed form of the longer version is due to a desire to pile up horrors and to make the death of Judas similar to that of other notoriously evil men, such as Herod the Great or Nadan in the story of Ahikar. To me this seems somewhat the more probable hypothesis. Whichever view be taken, Papias clearly represents a tradition different both from Matthew and from Acts.

Lake continues, examining a lot of early and interesting witnesses on the various explanations of the death of Judas, and how these were harmonised.

It would be nice to know what Dionysius bar-Salibi says.  Note that here again we have a 12th century Syriac author being used as a witness to an ancient text!