A question on the duration of orthodoxy and heresy

There is a tradition in which Christian orthodoxy is heralded by its ability to position and explain later movements and expressions. One of the more recent forms is how Orthodoxy can help us understand modernity as a sort of parody or parasite of traditional orthodox Christianity. The other common line is how earlier heresiology is still able to account for so many contemporary Christian distortions, that orthodox has tremendous explanatory power.

I have been sporadically reading through Iranaeus’s Against Heresies and to be honest it does have a fairly strong explanatory power. It can account for any number of current liberal, new agey, esoteric, intellectual, or even scientific expressions of faith. This ability is typically considered a strength of orthodoxy, that is has a prior position of observation and validity. However, does this not point to the veracity and non-instituitional sustainability of particular heresies? Now I know this can lead to the argument that just because something endures does not mean it is worth enduring. Sure. I never said that there would be no discernment involved. Should it not be worth considering how it is that certain forms can endure, mutate, and be dispersed without the aid of centralizing and potentially violent forms discursive structuring? If there is to be a theological model of divine participation wouldn’t this be a better place to look?

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6 comments on “A question on the duration of orthodoxy and heresy

  1. dbarber says:

    For orthodoxy, this duration is dependent on those it heresizes… it survives precisely by defining out those heresies, so that it can have an in. In the same way that capitalism survives by capturing labor. Am i right, thn, that your question is what it would mean to have duration without this dependence on (the making of) heretics?

  2. dbarber says:

    By the way, it’s always been an interest of mine to write a book that articulates the “tradition” of certain heresies that are normally periodized / localized … thus Ebionism and Gnosticism are “inherited” by the Cathars, Free Spirits, “inherited” by etc, etc. The story’s always told from the perspective of orthodoxy, such that heresies appear as random occurrences. (By the way, Norman Brown argues that Islam is created precisely as a carrier of earlier Christian heresies such as Ebionism and Gnosticism.)

    • Right, it is this sort of project that I would interested in. It might also be interested to read further how orthodox writers characterize this in terms of some sort of persist root of evil or something.
      Norman Brown as in Norman O. Brown?

  3. There is even room in the biblical tradition for this sort of thinking where the ‘faithful’ expressions appear much more contingent, much more fugitive. The Tabernacle can be helpful in thinking this, but even more so are the simple admissions that the word of God was rare, for centuries sometimes. This strikes me as quite a different posture than establishment through exclusion.
    The form of this will look much different, much more ‘promiscuous’ than orthodoxy. This too was accounted for by Iranaeus.

  4. Or again, within the biblical narrative both Temple and State (discursive centers) are hardly afforded the position they later take on (or take on by virtue of their form). I know this can also become a problematic move but there remains an inability from within orthodoxy to allow this expression to have any sort of affect.

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