Without Heretics there would be no orthodox

It is so easy for Christians today to look back at particular epochs and persons, and absolutize them in ways that fail to appreciate the embrionic and dynamic ethos of those times and peoples. In other words, it is easy to look back through the canon of our truth and label this guy or that idea as heresy; and indeed, with Scripture and the subsequent theological grammar as our guide, we can rightly do so. But, I think we should always do so with a modicum of Christian humility; lest we fail to recognize the log in our own eyes that successive Christians may look back at and only see too clearly (in other words, we have the potential to be heretics too — at the same time this reality should not also negate our own constructive work now that seeks to be faithful to scripture’s witness and God’s self-revelation in Christ). Sergius Bulgakov alerts us to a known heretic from the past, but – according to Bulgakov – without whom we would not have the wherewithal or grammar to make the judgement that we do about Apollinarius (that his Christology turns out to be “heretical”):

“Thus, Apollinarius’s significance in Christology can be defined as follows: (I) He was the first to pose the problem of the unity of the God-Man as composed of two natures, although his solution to this problem was imprecise. (2) He understood this problem as an anthropological one, and with his doctrine of the composition of the God-Man he anticipated the Chalcedonian schema, although his own answer to this problem was imprecise owing to the imprecision of his terms and the insufficient clarity of his anthropological thought. (3) He was the first to pose the problem of the interrelation of the Divine and human essences as the basis of their union in the God-Man, although he himself did not go beyond ambiguous and obscure propositions on this subject; here, he had neither predecessors nor successors in patristics. With these elements, Apollinarius put the imprint of his thought on all of subsequent Christology, in which one can recognize the further development and refinement of his ideas or their polemical rejection. Although Apollinarius was condemned as a heretic, his actual influence in the Church remains significant, and more positive than negative.” (Sergius Bulgakov, The Lamb of God, 17-18)

19 thoughts on “Without Heretics there would be no orthodox

  1. Pressing your point. 😉

    If heresy is “religious belief opposed to the orthodox doctrines of the Church” or “an opinion of private men different from that of the catholick and orthodox church” and these doctrines are yet undefined then by definition these men could not be heretics. I would say this is particularly so concerning the use of imprecise language. Also critical is the identification of “the Church” and the determination of what is “orthodox doctrine”.


  2. Indeed, Kc. But the point, in my mind, is that even though Apollinarius wasn’t a “heretic”, per se, when he was doing his “constructive” thinking; that per the constraints of Scripture’s supposition and implications — that were later given the best and greatest clarity through those who followed Apollinarius — then by this standard (Scripture), Apollinarius’ views should be considered “heretical,” left to themselves, and left undone as they were with Apollinarius, personally. But then that is not also to say that what Apollinarius helped provide towards this further articulation is not helpful or “relatively orthodox” in the sense that he was moving in the “right” direction.

    In the end, though, we are left with either saying that what was articulated at Nicaea and Constantinople and Chalcedon were either “new revelation;” or instead, that they represents ecumenical pronouncements from the Church about how we should think about the teaching of Scripture per its implications on what it presupposes in re. to a doctrine of God and a doctrine of Christ. I go with the latter 🙂 . And based upon that, Apollinarius’ views, left to themselves, can be considered heretical; only because they are at odds with the teaching and theo-logic of Scripture, and not because they are at odds with the Church councils, per se. So I’m speaking in principled ways, and not “applied/factual” ways.


  3. Bobby, thanks. I admit I missed the distinction and took your article as an argument for a more discriminant use of the terms “heretic” and “heresy”.

    I had given up on being found orthodox by any but I may be able to rise to a level of “relative orthodoxy” in the eyes of some (toward that end I’ll hold my thoughts on the Ecumenical Councils.) 😉


  4. KC,

    I think my point 😉 was that heresy is still discernable and a real possibility; but that given the way things development, our attitudes towards “heretics” (or their ideas) should always be “seasoned” with some grace.

    What do you mean about the ecumenical councils; you don’t reject what they said about the Trinity or hypostatic union, do you?


  5. Brother will you make sport of me?? 😉

    I would say nothing new was proposed at these councils. They only echoed what was already being taught in the Church. They were only used to justify a Roman Edict.


  6. I am quite athletic 😉 .

    There was clearly the rule of faith and canon of truth which purport to come from the Apostle’s themselves, in principle. That is not to say that there was not development and rigor given to this thought where it somewhat crescendos at the Councils. And Apollinarius would be part of that development. But I don’t think the “grammar” or “words” used by the Councils were particularly in play prior to them; otherwise the Councils would have never arisen in the first place (in order to provide clarity amongst the confusion of the Church on such things).


  7. You’ll need that agility to overcome some of these hurtles! 😉

    My research so far (admittedly limited) also suggest that in each case an established construct was under consideration (Alexander, Acacius & Leo). I thought it was commonly accepted that the Councils you mentioned were convened by the Roman Emperor for political reasons rather than by the Church for clarity.


  8. Kc,

    I don’t know what you mean by an “established construct,” what do you mean?

    The motivation that brought the councils together seems moot in re. to the “material” conceptual prounouncements made at such councils. On such logic, we could call into question the crucifixion of Christ Himself. 😉

    I would check out, if you haven’t yet:

    Lewis Ayres Nicaea and Its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology


    JND Kelly’s: Early Christian Doctrines

    The latter probably first (much more accessible and survey, but a standard work and good). These will help illustrate further, the fluidity present in the Patristic period, and the substantial role, theologically (vs. politically, even though ecclesiopolitical reality was very much the culture of that day) that the various “ecumenical” councils had in re. to the Trinitarian/Christological issues.


  9. Bobby, thanks for the references.

    This link should prove helpful in understanding my meaning with respect to the established constructs.

    http://www.believersweb.org/view.cfm?ID=526 😉

    While I agree that the motivation that brought the councils is moot, I would say it is so with regard to their value to the Christian Community. My point was that the conceptual pronouncements were made prior to the councils. The councils were only an attempt to interject a foreign body between men and Christ. Where they were granted neither the power nor authority to do so, Christ had not only the right but also assumed the responsibility to offer Himself on the Cross.

    We also agree concerning the “ecclesiopolitical reality” of the day, however Christ had determined that would not be normative to the Chruch (Mat 20:25) These particular councils were simply out of line.


  10. Kc,

    I think all it takes is a simple perusal of the patristic period to make clear that there was no consensus, per se (maybe in opposition like Arius vs. Athanasius or something). And that it was the convening of the particular councils that served as the occasion and impetus to land on what in fact should be considered “orthodox” by the church. Holding this, does not collapse authority into the church, their is only proximate “authority” to the councils insofar as they adequately articulate and provide grammar to what is implied and presupposed in Scripture itself.

    My point with the crucifixion is that God providentially used the “power structures that be” to accomplish His purpose; I don’t think any Christian would disagree with that in principle. And so this logic could apply to the councils; inspite of the political intention the fruit that came from the councils is the measure not the motive for the council — and then Scripture and Christ Himself stand-over and against all pronouncements as the norming norm.

    Your link is funny. 😉 Big words mean nothing, its the coherence and concepts and realities that they signify that matter.


  11. Bobby,

    I might be more generous in my appraisal if God actually had used the councils as the means for some consensus. I might even be tempted to say that the end justifies the means, but this was not the case even concerning the Arian Controversy (I think we covered that one before). To the contrary, these councils often delayed and even prevented the debate and discussions necessary to resolve the differences that prevented any consensus among believers.

    In the end I would say your admonition should apply both ways. While an imperfect theology is not necessarily indicative of unrighteousness neither is righteousness the consequence of a perfect theology.


  12. Kc,

    I think we disagree on the history. Nicaea served as a pivotal juncture contra Arius via Athanasius. It is true that it’s not as nice and neat as we’d like (look at the Coptic church for example), but it is what is; and they serve as forums wherein the grammar “we” use today is still functional (even for you, Kc 😉 ).

    I’m not looking for perfect theology, but accurate to the Text of Scripture; until someone can come up with something better than that articulated at “certain” (not all) councils, then it’s what we have to go with. That said, there has been plenty of constructive work done from what Nicaea-Constantinople-Chalcedon has articulated (by way of theological grammar); but I would say “from” and not without.

    In the end, though, Kc, I know that you’re a trinitarian and that you believe in the hypostatic union of Christ; because you’re a Christian 😉 . With our w/o acknowledging the roles that particular councils had in forwarding what we now call orthodox Christianity; conceptually it is there, and has been for centuries.

    I know that you disagree with LDS, JWs, Onness Pentecostals, etc.; this is all the councils I’ve been mentioning were, in effect, disagreeing with too. And out of that was produced a robust belief in “orthodox” Trinitarian doctrine of God an Christology.


  13. This is the first blog I’ve ever seen with an image of Florensky…and by extension, that makes you the first person outside of me I’ve ever met who knows about him 😛


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