We’ve looked at various ways of defining heresy here, here, and here; and we looked at orthodoxy and heresy in terms of conformity and non-conformity over here. In this post, I want to look at the issue in a more sociological context.
The tendency in writing about heresy–definitely in traditional histories of Christianity, where orthodoxy is the Good Guy trying to fight off the heretical Bad Guys that keep popping up, but also in a lot of revisionist narratives, too–is to make it about the intellect, on the one hand, or Good vs. Evil, on the other.
The first mode is sort of theology as mathematics. That is, the emphasis is on minute analysis of data (in this case, Scripture, Tradition, statements by Councils, and so on), discussion, and debate, all geared towards discovering what the real teaching of the Church actually is. In other words, it’s a lot like trying to prove whether or not Fermat’s Last Theorem is correct or not–it might take a lot of work, but it can be done with enough intellectual elbow grease. This point of view is especially appealing to the Scholastic and Thomist temperament; but unfortunately, it’s a really bad model of what’s going on.
Just as maniacs, who never enjoy tranquility, so also he who is resentful and retains an enemy will never have the enjoyment of any peace; incessantly raging and daily increasing the tempest of his thoughts calling to mind his words and acts, and detesting the very name of him who has aggrieved him. Do you but mention his enemy, he becomes furious at once, and sustains much inward anguish; and should he chance to get only a bare sight of him, he fears and trembles, as if encountering the worst evils, Indeed, if he perceives any of his relations, if but his garment, or his dwelling, or street, he is tormented by the sight of them. For as in the case of those who are beloved, their faces, their garments, their sandals, their houses, or streets, excite us, the instant we behold them; so also should we observe a servant, or friend, or house, or street, or any thing else belonging to those We hate and hold our enemies, we are stung by all these things; and the strokes we endure from the sight of each one of them are frequent and continual. What is the need then of sustaining such a siege, such torment and such punishment? For if hell did not threaten the resentful, yet for the very torment resulting from the thing itself we ought to forgive the offences of those who have aggrieved us. But when deathless punishments remain behind, what can be more senseless than the man, who both here and there brings punishment upon himself, while he thinks to be revenged upon his enemy!
–St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Statues, Homily XX; courtesy of Wikiquote
Another post in honor of Orthodox Easter: the entire Easter liturgy at St. Gregory Russian Orthodox Church in Pittsburgh PA.
The word “heresy” is from the Greek αἵρεσις (hairesis). According to Liddle and Scott’s Lexicon, the root meaning is “taking”. From this by extension comes the meaning “choice” or “opinion”–whence “school of thought”, “sect”. In none of these definitions is there any derogatory implication, or any implied standard against which the choice or opinion is judged. The first person to use the term in the now-standard way was St. Irenaeus of Lyon.
His biography in brief: He was born in the early 2nd Century AD in Smyrna, Asia Minor (now İzmir, Turkey). He is said to have been a disciple or at least hearer of St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna and an early martyr. Polycarp, born around 70 AD, is said to have been a disciple of St. John the Apostle himself. Irenaeus became the second bishop of Lugudunum, Gaul (Lyons, France). In this capacity he wrote many letters, commentaries, and polemics, and he is one of our earliest, and therefore most important, sources of knowledge about the early Church. Irenaeus was eventually martyred, and is celebrated as a saint in both Eastern and Western Churches. For scholars and theologians, his claim to fame is authorship of On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis, better known as Against Heresies (Adversus haereses in Latin). Read the rest of this entry
I recently finished my series on the Bible, “The Pretty Good Book” (I may put addenda in later, but by and large it’s completed). “Legends of the Fall” is requiring a lot more time and thought than I’d originally anticipated, and I’ve let it go for now. It’s often the case that when I put something on the mental back burner, later when I come back to it I can think about it in a fresh way. “Towards a Gnostic Orthodoxy” is ongoing–unlike the other two, which were conceived of as heading toward a particular goal, TAGO is open-ended. Anyway, I’ve had periodic discussions on other blogs about the right to religious liberty (too much to go into now, but I’ll return to that at a later point, perhaps on a later post) and the concept of heretics and heresy in general. Moreover, Gnosticism is traditionally considered heretical, and I’ve been writing about it a lot. Thus, for those reasons it occurred to me that it might be a good idea to start a series about heresy as a concept. This series will be somewhat between the others–in other words, I do see it as going in a certain direction, so it’s not as open-ended as TAGO; but I’m doing it in a looser way with out as clear a direction as LOTF or TPGB. Anyway, we’ll see how it goes.
The first step of discussion of any issue is to determine what exactly the topic of discussion is. To start, here is Merriam-Webster’s definition of heresy:
1 a: adherence to a religious opinion contrary to church dogma
b: denial of a revealed truth by a baptized member of the Roman Catholic Church
c: an opinion or doctrine contrary to church dogma
2 a: dissent or deviation from a dominant theory, opinion, or practice
b: an opinion, doctrine, or practice contrary to the truth or to generally accepted beliefs or standards
That’s a good starting place, but I think we can refine it. Read the rest of this entry
In this post I want to give a rationale for my “Towards a Gnostic Orthodoxy” series. After all, one might say, “If you’re orthodox, then why isn’t that enough for you? Or, if you have that many problems with orthodoxy, why not be honest and leave outright?” There are less polite ways in which these questions could be posed, obviously; but they are legitimate. Thus, I want to look at what I’m trying to do here and give at least some motivations for it.
All religions, philosophies, and world views acknowledge, at least in principle, the finitude of the human mind and the human condition. Our minds and understanding are limited; enormously limited, in fact, with respect to all there is to know in the universe in all its complexity. We know very little, and with respect to all that there is to be known, we may always know very little. What seem like great strides to us may be minute baby steps, little children chipping pebbles from the side of Mount Everest, in the big scheme of things. So much as this everyone, in principle at least, would agree. Read the rest of this entry
The second post here was actually written before I began this series, and was (and is) part of the series on the Bible, “The Pretty Good Book”. However, I think it’s relevant here, as well, so I’m putting it right after the introductory post.