Heresy 1

Report
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”

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