This is a post I wrote for my old blog, back when I was in seminary the second time and taking a church history class. I am currently in seminary for the third time and taking a Christology class which, it turns out, is in many ways quite similar–and I found myself thinking similar thoughts this time around as well.
I’m sort of studying for my church history mid-term, only I think I’ve kind of forgotten how, and also? I’m not anywhere near as Type-A as I was in high school and college. (Maybe I was never really Type-A, but I was definitely very driven by grades.)
I’m hoping writing this post will help me get my head around some things and will, in a sense, be a way of studying. (At least, it makes a good excuse, doesn’t it?) I feel like I’m still stuck on heresies.
I don’t really have a problem with the idea that there is orthodox belief and heterodox belief. Unlike most postmoderns, I do believe that there is a Truth, that ultimately that Truth is Jesus Christ and affects the whole universe. I believe that you can be living more in line with the Truth, or less in line with it. But, like any good postmodern, I guess I’m not always sure I understand how we know it. I guess what I’m struggling with is not so much that the church leadership in the third and fourth centuries needed to create creeds and formulas by which to evaluate faith and life. I agree that they needed to decide on a Biblical canon, and I feel that their choices of books to go into the New Testament were right, and the things that were left out were left out for good reason.
I’m just kind of wrestling with the whole process of how they got there. My professor says (in his CD lectures–I’ve never actually met the guy) that, for example, in the case of the Biblical canon, the Holy Spirit, having inspired the canonical books, infused them with a certain authority, and that “canonisation is a recognition of what has already taken place.” I think this is true, but how did they know it had already taken place? How did they know that Athanasius’ list of 27 New Testament books was correct, and Marcion’s edited Matthew, Luke and 10 letters of Paul were not? (The fact that he edited them himself might have been an indicator, I suppose, but still–I’m just saying.)
Or how about this? Arius, a presbyter in Alexandria, started teaching that “there was a time when the Son was not”–that is, that the “Son” part of the Godhead had had a beginning, and that Jesus was this dude that God put His Spirit on and basically adopted into the Godhead, but who had not existed eternally like the Father. Athanasius said this was bunk, and that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit were co-eternal. Over the course of the Council of Nicea and the Council of Constantinople (dudes–I can even tell you the years of those!), Athanasius’ view was vindicated and Arius’ was defeated, but what the lectures didn’t tell me and the textbook did was that they went back and forth on these issues a few times, with both Arius and Athanasius being condemned and exiled multiple times (although I think Arius died first and got condemned posthumously a couple of times, too).
Or what about the Council of Ephesus? I’m not even talking about the Robber Synod that came on its heels. I’m talking about how the Antiochene bishops got to the council late and the Alexandrian bishops (and presumably any others–if there were any others) met already and decided that they (the Alexandrians) were in the right in their views on the dual nature of Christ and the title of Mary. The Antiochene bishops were understandably upset, so they came up with this compromise called the “Symbol of Union” which sort of agreed more with the Antiochenes about Christ’s dual nature, and sort of agreed with the Alexandrians about Mary’s title. You can decide these things via a compromise? What if they compromised on the wrong parts? When told of the issues before being told of the results of the council, I frankly thought the Alexandrians were more correct about the nature of Christ and the Antiochenes were more correct about the title of Mary. What if I’m right and Pope Leo or whomever, was wrong?
Or what if I’m wrong? How wrong do I have to be before I am considered a heretic? If I love Jesus and trust Him to get me to the Father and to have died for my sins and forgiven me and to be gradually transforming me more into His likeness, do I still have to fully understand how He is both fully divine and fully human, or how God is One and a Trinity, or whether the Spirit proceeds from just the Father or both the Father and the Son? What does that even mean?
I feel like there’s heresy all over the place, still, today, and often I recognise it when I see it, but I don’t always. I don’t think anybody does always. How much of our salvation depends on our recognising it? Especially if our salvation is dependent on grace and not works? I think it all does come back to the work of the Holy Spirit. I think He does confirm what He has already accomplished or established. But so many people claim to be speaking for the Holy Spirit. How do you really know the difference?