Heresy Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church 10 October 2010 Part One
An overview • October 10: The theory and practice of heresy – “Is heresy hot, or are you just burning me at the stake?” • October 17: Heresies about the Trinity – “Don’t believe everything you read in The Shack” • October 24: Heresies about Christ, Part I – “Dan Brown is a tad behind the times” • October 31: Father Ed on the Via Dolorosa
Overview, continued • November 7: Heresies about Christ, Part II – “Without confusion, with change, without division, without separation” • November 14: Heresies about the Church – “No, your bishop does not have cooties” • November 21: Heresies about salvation and morality – “As the Pelagians do vainly talk”
What do we mean by ‘heresy’? • First stab: A heresy is a teaching that is contrary to an authoritative statement of the Church. • Problem: Which statements are authoritative? • A test case: universalism (apocatastasis) • We’re going to look at some clear-cut cases that came to be authoritatively rejected – and at their modern versions.
Heresy is HOT! • Examples: • The Da Vinci Code • The Gospel of Judas • Gnosticism (Elaine Pagels and others) • Orthodoxy is boring. Heresy is exciting. • Orthodoxy is confining. Heresy is freeing. • Haeresis in Greek means choice. • Orthodoxy is the bully. Heresy is the underdog.
The origin of heresy: three views • The old standard view: Heresies were deliberate attacks on orthodoxy. • A revisionist view: Heresies were principled alternatives to orthodoxy that were suppressed by the institutional church. • The emerging scholarly view: Heresies arose within the church and were rejected when they proved to be destructive.
The old standard view of heresy • Orthodoxy comes first: ancient = original = true. • Heresy is a deliberate attack on orthodoxy. • It arises because the heretics love novelty or because the heretics are envious, frustrated, and resentful. • Heresy results from watering down orthodoxy through the use of “pagan philosophy.”
A revisionist view of heresy • In early Christianity there were multiple orthodoxies. • Heresy came first. • Early Christianity did not understand its unity in doctrinal terms but in terms of worship. • Teachings that were accepted in the early church were later condemned as the church of Rome extended its dominance eastward.
The popular legacy of this view • The idea that orthodoxy is just a matter of “who wins” remains popular. • Example: The Da Vinci Code • The idea that heretical versions of Christianity have as much legitimacy as orthodox versions also remains popular. • Example: Elaine Pagels and the fascination with Gnosticism
The emerging scholarly view • Yes, there was diversity in early Christianity, but we can see a core orthodoxy emerging quite early. • In elaborating and consolidating the core ideas of the Christian faith, the church made use of the conceptual tools of its environment. • Heresy originates within the church.
The emerging scholarly view • Alister McGrath: “A heresy is a doctrine that ultimately destroys, destablizes, or distorts a mystery rather than preserving it. Sometimes a doctrine that was once thought to defend a mystery actually turns out to subvert it. A heresy is a failed attempt at orthodoxy, whose fault lies not in its willingness to explore possibilities or press conceptual boundaries, but in its unwillingness to accept that it has in fact failed.”
Next time • Heresies about the Trinity: “Don’t believe everything you read in The Shack”