Thursday, August 11, 2011
The hitchiker's guide to heresies
"All heresies begin below the waist."
Adoptionism: Eighth century onwards. "The Hispanicus error". The theory that there were two Jesus': Jesus/God and Jesus/Man. Jesus/God was God's natural son whereas Jesus/man at His baptism became God's son by adoption. A reprise of the Nestorian heresy. Adoptionism arose in Spain in an area still under Muslim rule and was regarded favorably by the caliphs. Whereas Nestorianism divided Jesus into two natures, Adoptionism divided Jesus into two *sons* - one natural and one adopted. Opposed by Charlemagne it failed to outlive its two principal hereseiarchs, Elipandus and Felix (though it experienced a qualified revival with Pierre Abelard's "Neo-adoptionist" theology in the twelfth century).
Albigensianism/Catharism/Bulgarism: Twelfth through thirteenth centuries. "Good God, bad God." Dualistic cult that spread from its Zoroastrian roots in Persia and followed the trade routes westward into Europe via Bulgaria, becoming especially popular in southern France. The "good God" was represented by Jesus, who came to the world in spirit, not in the flesh, to teach man the way to free himself from the imprisonment of matter. Matter was viewed as an evil created by the "bad" God of the Old Testament, aka the demiurge, "Rex Mundi". The Cathars attacked the Catholic sacramental system, the priesthood and any idea of an institutional church. They claimed the New Testament,especially the Gospel of John as their only Biblical authority. They refused to swear oaths, opposed the death penalty, and because they viewed the material world as evil, refrained from eating meat, dairy products or anything else conceived through procreation, for these were viewed as snares of the demiurge. This scrupulosity extended to marriage as well and the procreation of children was considered evil. Men and women would live together, but shun marriage. To give some idea of the situation: all someone accused of being a Cathar had to do to get the charges dropped was show he was married. Their sexual proclivities were suspect as well, given that Cathars viewed procreation as evil. This fueled accusations of sodomy. The British slur "bugger" (bulgar) traces its name to them. The Cathars had a spiritual caste system of "initiates", "believers" and "the perfect". They believed in reincarnation, holding that one became a "perfect" by stages and that this sometimes necessitated multiple lives. It was finally exterminated, in France at least, by the Albigensian Crusade of the thirteenth century.
Anglicanism: 1535 onward. Anti-papal, anti-monastic and iconoclastic sect that arose over the failure of the English king, Henry VIII, to convince the Pope to grant him an annulment so that he could marry his mistress. Over the centuries Anglicanism has generally steered closer to Catholicism than any other protestant sect. The reason for this is that Henry always considered himself a true Catholic and kept many of the external practices of Catholicism - albeit gutting them of any sacramental efficacy. He replaced the Pope with himself as head of the English church, killed or replaced all those who resisted his takeover, then seized monastic lands and properties for himself and his supporters. Likewise, the Churches were looted of their valuables under the guise of restoring "apostolic simplicity". Anglicanism has always followed in the trane of the British state, and rises or falls depending on its military successes. Today, the Queen of England is the head of the Anglican church. During the American Revolutionary War, the former Anglican aristocracy of the colonies adopted a modified form of Anglicanism, called "Episcopalianism" that replaced the king as leader of the church with episcopal diocese' headed, in theory though not in practice, by a General Convention.
Arianism: Fourth to eighth century anti-Trinitarian creed - "There was a time when He was not." Claimed that Jesus was a created being, not begotten and not really God. Arrived at this idea by a subtle twisting of the Greek term "homoousia" (same substance) into "homoiosia" (similar substance). Jesus became the "Son of God" but remained a lesser being than God the Father. Likewise, the Holy Spirit was demoted from being the Third Person of the Trinity into a benign force representing the power of God. Arianism became popular among the upper ranks of Roman society and flowed downward accordingly. Famously decried by St. Jerome: "The world woke up and groaned to find itself Arian." Its greatest opponent was St. Athanasisus. Extinct by the eighth century, yet elements of it resurfaced in the aftermath of the Protestant rebellion.
Docetism: First century onward. "Sprit good, matter bad." Monad v. demiurge belief that matter is evil. Therefore, as matter is bad Jesus was purely spirit and his physical body was merely an illusion. Likewise the crucifixion was an illusion as, being a spirit, Jesus could not and did not die. The body was viewed as a prison created by the demiurge to prevent man from realizing his divine origins. Similar to Marcionism in it's beliefs and consequent logic.
Donatism: More a schism than a heresy, the Donatists were a rigorist sect which held the valid administration of the sacraments depended on the "holiness" of the priest or bishop administering them. This question arose after the persecution of Diocletian (303-5) in which numerous priests and bishops handed over their holy books and even apostasized rather than face martyrdom. On the accession of the Emperor Constantine and the issuance of the Edict of Toleration, these men often sought to re-claim their old positions. However, the Donatists held that the apostasizng priests and bishops having abandoned them when in danger, had lost their sacramental faculties forever. After much debate it was decided that the office of the priest and not the character of the priest were what validated the sacraments; and that, "The Church is a church of sinners no less than saints." Thus, the apostasizing priests and bishops were allowed, after a suitable period of penance, to resume their old positions. Having lost the theological debate, the Donatists refused to accept the verdict and subsequently found themselves persecuted by the Roman authorities.
Gnosticism: Ancient to present. Not a Christian heresy per se, but a religious sentiment of a mysterious "secret knowledge" that found, and still finds, expression in many traditions, including paganism. Notable examples would by the mystery religions of Ancient Egypt and Rome, the medieval Cathars and today's Freemasonry, Theosophy and Kabbalah.
Lollardy: Mid-14th century onward. Confined to England. Pre-protestant sect that arose in the wake of Oxford theologian, John Wycliffe's anti-clerical claims. Lollardy appealed across class lines in English society and greatly pre-figured Calvinism, which followed it 150 years later. Though they expressed a chaos of various theories, Lollards, were generally an anti-Church, anti-papal, anti-hierarchical, anti-sacerdotal, anti-monastic, iconoclastic, sola scriptura cult. Lollard "priests", who were usually laymen, wandered about the English countryside, preaching their new gospel to whomever would listen. It was driven underground when the English kings finally recognized its implicit anti-societal message. The underground Lollards feigned Catholicism but continued secretly in their forbidden mysteries. These emerged from hiding during the Anglican rebellion of the 1500's and lent their support to Henry.
Marcionism: Second to fifth century AD. A Christian, semi-gnostic sect which held Jesus is the saviour of mankind but that the Old Testament God of the Hebrews was the "demiurge", a lesser being who had created the material world and was therefore the creator of evil. This demiurge had set himself up against the creator of pure spirit - the "monad". Accordingly Jesus was not a human being but rather a spirit being - sent by the monad to teach men the way to free themselves from the earthly grip of the evil demiurge.
Monophysitism: Third century to the present. The Christological belief that Christ has two natures, divine and human, united in one person. It had two slightly different permutations: Apollinarism - which held that, while Christ possessed a normal human body and emotions, the Divine Logos had essentially taken the place of his "nous", or mind; and Eutychianism -which held that the human and divine natures of Christ were fused into one new single (mono) nature. It is Eutychianism that became the dominant controversy. Anathematized at the Council of Chalcedon and politically opposed by the Emperor Justinian, it faded from the centers of Roman civilization but survived at the margins of the Empire and survives to this day in communities in Egypt, Syria, Armenia and Ethiopia.
Montanism: Second century cult that sprang up around the person of Montanus, a recent convert from paganism and self proclaimed prophet. Montanus travelled throughout the Roman province of Phrygia (what is now Turkey) and, with the help of two female assistants, preached and prophesied to the locals. Montanus claimed to be receiving direct revelations from God and for a while successfully spread his ideas throughout the wider Roman world, even entraining Tertullian.
Nestorianism/Adoptionism: Early fourth century onwards. A doctrine advanced by the Patriarch Nestor of Constantinople that there were two Jesus' - one human the other divine; and these were only loosely joined. Denied the Virgin Mary's title "Mother of God", claiming she was the "Mother of Christ" only. Although he protested that he was wholly orthodox, Nestor was anathematized as heretical at the Council of Ephesus and was deposed as a bishop and excommunicated. However, Nestor's teachings have survived to the present, in varying degree, in Christian communities scattered about the Muslim world.
Nicolaitanism: First century Christian heretical sect of undetermined origins. Mentioned in the Apocalypse (2:6-15) as being a sect whose practices were detested by Christ. The Nicolaitans quickly disappeared from the scene. It was believed by later Christian writers that they practiced some form of marital immorality: either having multiple wives or sharing their wives with one another.
Pelagianism: Mid fourth to fifth centuries. "You can be good without God!" Pelagius taught that Adam and Eve's sin was only that of setting a bad example; this denied the doctrine of original sin. He held that sin is not something native to man, but is a learned behavior passed down from generation to generation since Adam and Eve and that it can be overcome by willpower - aided by divine grace but not its product as a man's will is his own.
Protestantism: Sixteenth century onwards. Heresy that began in Germany over widespread resentment of the Italo-centric policies of the Borgia popes. Announced in force by Martin Luther, A German priest and theologian, who was angered by the so called "sale" of indulgences that Pope Leo X announced in order to build St. Peter's Cathedral. Known popularly as the "Protestant Reformation", it was in fact a rebellion. Luther claimed the Catholic Church had gone wide astray of its mandate and wanted to bring it back to "Biblical basics". His theology was based upon: 1. "Sola scriptura" - the Bible as the sole rule of faith and authority. 2. "Sola fide" - one is saved by faith alone. 3. The universal priesthood of all believers. Luther received protection and patronage from powerful German princes, whose favors he cultivated, and who were themselves angry with Rome and looking for a quick way to fatten their treasuries. Almost simultaneously a similar reaction was taking place in Switzerland under a French lawyer named Jean Cauvin (John Calvin). Though Luther gets most of the credit, most of what is recognizably protestant today gets its colors from Calvin not him. Whereas Luther sailed a course fairly close to Catholicism, Calvin set out to explore new seas. Luther and Calvin started out on friendly terms but soon began to quarrel and anathematized one another. Other heresiarchs quickly arose in their wake: Zwingli, Melanchthon, Henry Tudor, John Knox.... The list is endless. There are over 33,000 various protestant sects in the world today, each claiming the others are wrong and anathematizing their claimed errors and heresies. The only thing they can be said to hold in common is that there seems to be some sort of god....
Waldensianism: Twelfth century to the present. Taught that the Bible is the sole rule of authority (sola scriptura) and, like the Donatists before them, that the validity of the sacraments depends on the worthiness of the priest. They refused to take oaths and renounced the death penalty - which was taken by the Inquisition as de facto proof of heresy. Sporadic, half-hearted persecutions failed to eliminate them. Following the protestant rebellion they were mostly absorbed into the new sects, though some self proclaimed "Waldensian" churches say they are descended from the original Waldenses.