heretics: each according to his own religion

Gottfried Arnold’s two volumes, Impartial History of the Church and the Heretics, published in 1699, which consisted of twenty-three hundred double-column folio pages , raised a storm that lasted a generation. And there were fewer heresies then than now. He was denounced by his contemporaries as an infamous falsifier of history; the most judicious of Lutheran historians described him an an ignorant, impertinent disturber of the peace of the Church; and one critic declared he had written “the most wicked book since the birth of Christ.” From this, it will be easily deduced that Arnold, on the whole, took the side of the heretics.

—-Arius, not yet officially a heretic, kneels before Constantine and the bishops at the First Council of Nicaea. (Miniature from the martyrology of Emperor Basil II, Vatican Library) —Read More:

But Goethe, and who would not wish to be on the same side as Goethe?; thought differently. When Arnold’s book fell into his hands, he was enchanted by it. It had, he wrote, a great influence on him. Now he saw the heretics of history in a new light. “i had often heard it said,” he wrote, “that every man came in the end to have his own religion, and now it seemed to me the most natural thing in the world that I should devise my own; which I did with great comfort…”

To devise one’s own religion, that is, in fact, exactly what heresy is. It is the literal meaning of the word. Heresy is private choice, the opposite of orthodoxy which is not chosen but imposed and accepted. For this reason there is a great difference between heresy and schism, for schism does not necessarily imply choice, or if it does, it is not private choice.

—The current “heresy” involves questioning whether two states are still possible. Some Jews recall Zionist visions from the years before 1948 that included skepticism and even opposition to a Jewish state, positions advocated by leading Jewish thinkers such as Martin Buber and Rabbi Judah Magnes. Some who care deeply about being Jewish no longer define themselves as Zionist.
I can understand why Rabbi Eisenstein worried about Breira in 1977. But my experience reminds me that ideas considered unacceptable then look sensible, if not timid, now. …
Rabbi Eisenstein understood that the philosophical pragmatism at the base of his Reconstructionist approach to Judaism required humility.—Read More:

A schismatic church is a church that has broken away, an bloc, as the Eastern Church broke away from the Western in the Middle Ages and the Protestant Church from the Catholic at the time of the Reformation. Schism may begin in heresy, just as orthodoxy may, but it need not. After all, Christianity began as a jewish heresy. The Roman Catholic Church regards the Anglican Church as schismatic, not heretical. And a schismatic church soon build up its own orthodoxy and begins to persecute its own heretics. The pure heretics are those who never created an established church or an orthodoxy and whose members came to it by personal choice.

—But if Jews – apparently, even Christian Jews (as with the Nazarenes and Father Alexander Men’) – are a constant “Judaizing” threat, what about the pagans? Surely paganism – with its localization of deity and the attempt to co-opt or placate divine power to serve human needs and ambitions; its inherent resistance to the notion of a unique God – has nourished and informed the many heresies of Christendom (Marcionism, for an easy example); surely that connection is no more tenuous than that between Jews and the Judaizing heresy. But has canon law been written to forbid Christian intercourse with pagans? Has the Church been as harsh with those, for instance, whose devotion to the saints borders on worship of multiple gods, as it has been with the iconoclasts and others who wish to hearken back to Jewish conceptions of worship? Has the Church refused to tolerate paganisms within its own midst – has it not instead allowed pagan festivals to determine its holiday seasons, and pagan customs to penetrate the lives of its faithful?—Read More: image: Jewish Voices for Peace

Even so, what hundreds of them there are! Every generation in the two thousand  plus years of the Christian Church has produced them, and their recondite doctrines have never ceased to enrage the orthodox and amuse the infidel. Turn up any century at random and its similar to turning over a stone in a well-kept formal garden. Above is smooth and quiet, but underneath there is a scurrying of various bugs and trotting centipedes that cause the orthodox nose to wrinkle in disgust, diconcerting to them, but delighting everyone who enjoys the rich variety of Nature.

A heretic recants in this detail from The Conversion of an Arian by Saint Remy, painted around 1500 by the so called Master of St. Gilles. Image:

There is no end to the list, and ultimately we must find some principle of continuity, reducing the multitudinous species to a few intelligible families, which is not easy since the

tory of heresy is subject to by nature, a certain obscurity. Also, most of it has been written by outraged champions of orthodoxy , more eager to condemn than to understand. And, much of the work of the heretics themselves has been destroyed, but there nonetheless has been something of a continuity even if its been blurred and hidden under a variety of names, categories and labels. ….


( see link at end) …The first modern works on Spinoza are a case in point, insisting that he was excommunicated from the Amsterdam Sephardi community in 1656 for his acts rather than his opinions. But the preface to the writ excommunicating him cites both ‘the abominable heresies which he practiced and taught and … his monstrous deeds’, a phrase that should probably be read as a hendiadys referring to Spinoza’s teaching of doctrine alone. The history of the Jews is filled with excommunications for heresy of which Spinoza’s was not the first. From late Antiquity on, both rabbinic and lay authorities imposed the ban on men and women whom they accused not only of behavioural infractions but of doctrinal error as well.

Or else they imposed the ban for behavioural infractions behind which they sensed doctrinal ones lurking. In Abbasid Iraq, Naṭronay bar Hilay, head (gaʾ on) of the rabbinic academy of Sura on the Euphrates (857–65) and a zealous champion of rabbinic hegemony, threatened to excommunicate anyone who shortened the traditional text of the Passover liturgy (haggadah). That was, on its face, a ban for violating a behavioural precept.Read More:

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