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Published by glennpease



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Published by: glennpease on Feb 20, 2013
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BY PHILLIPS BROOKS(Clericus Club, Boston, Mass., October, 1873.)It is hardly to be supposed that when our people Sun-day after Sunday pray to the good Lord to deliver themfrom all false doctrine, heresy, and schism, they have avery clear idea of what the sin exactly is which the secondterm in their prayer denotes. It is one of the terms whichpeople are very apt to think they understand until theyundertake its explanation ; then they find that their ideaof it is very vague. The term itself has a certain obsolete-ness of sound, a certain flavor of that old-time quaintness,which many good souls like in their religion. It inspiresa gentle horror that is not unpleasant, and indeed seemsto be a favorite sin for some men's minds to dwell upon,perhaps because its very vagueness saves them from thepossibility, and so from the necessity, of bringing it veryclosely home either to their own or to their brethren'sconsciences and destinies.And yet with all this it is clear enough that there issomething called heresy, which in all times has beendreaded and rebuked, and often violently punished. Scrip-ture begins the strain of objurgation, and it is heard stillin the literature of to-day. Surely it wiU be well if wecan study the meaning of the disgraceful term, the natureof the disgraceful sin ; and lest any one should think thatwe treat as vague and difficult that which is recognizedto be perfectly simple and clear, let us justify our essaywith this, as a sort of motto, out of St. Augustine : "Not78 ESSAYS AND ADD MESSES,every error," he says, "is heresy, though every heresywhich is blameworthy cannot be heresy without someerror. What, therefore, makes one a heretic I think it isperhaps impossible, certainly very difficult, to comprehendin a regular definition."That certainly opens a promising field for study anddiscussion. It is one of those subjects which must bestudied in connection with the words with which theyhave always been identified. The word " heresy," then,as everybody knows, primarily means " choice." It is asubjective thing, an action of the will. Here at the verybegLuning its moral character is stamped upon it. Per-haps it is not too soon to say that to trace that moralcharacter always clingiug to it obstinately, haunting it,and forever reappearing when it seems to have been lost,always determining it^ treatment and its limitations, will
be the substance of this essay.Beginning, then, with this moral meaning, the wordattains a secondary sense. It passes next to be applied tothat which is the common choice of any group of thinkerswho choose a certain thing. Here it becomes objective.It comes to mean a school of thought. As such at first ithas no tone either of praise or blame. It is a vox media.This is its classic use. "We hear of the Stoic heresy andthe Peripatetic heresy. In the same indifferent way it isused four times in the New Testament : " The heresv of the Pharisees," "the heresy of the Sadducees," "the heresyof the Nazarenes," " the most straitest heresy of our relig-ion." In all these passages there is no blame nor praise,only description. But any one can see how, just as soonas the thought of a clear and absolute authority in mattersof faith was introduced, the whole act of choice, or theselection of what the chooser pleased, instead of what theauthority commanded, became a sin ; and so we come tofour other passages in the New Testament, in which her-HERESY. 9esy is distinctly spoken of with strong denunciation, andfrom which the whole subsequent treatment of it hasderived its tone. These passages need only be indicated." After the way which they caU heresy," says Paul, " soworship I the God of my fathers." To the Corinthians hesays : " For there must be heresies among you, that theywhich are approved may be made manifest." And againto the Galatians, " The works of the flesh are manifest,which are these," and then, classed with adultery, idol-atry, witchcraft, and drunkenness, comes " heresies," " of the which," he says, " I tell you . , . that they which dosuch things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." Thefourth passage is from St. Peter, who says : " There shallbe false teachers among you, who privily shaU bring indamnable heresies, even denying the Lord that boughtthem, and bring upon themselves swift destruction." Tothese must be added one other passage, where the wordused is not "heresy" but "heretic," but it bears directlyon our study. St. Paul writes to Titus : " A man that isa heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject;knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth,being condemned of himseK."These are the passages in which the Apostles speak byname of heresy. There is no time for any labored com-mentary on them. We can only state what seems to bethe clear characteristics of the sin as it is here described;These characteristics are two. Fh'st, heresy is a termwhich has reference to ideas, and so is distinguished atonce from schism, which relates to worship and discipline.This is clear in all the passages except the first and sec-ond, in which, indeed, heresy seems to be almost identicalwith schism. The second conclusion from these passages
is this, that heresy involves personal and wilful obstinacy.It is impossible to read them through and not see the dis-tinctness with which the heretic is blamed, not because10 ESSAYS AND ADDRESSES.he holds this or that opinion, but because he is conceivedto hold it wilfully, in deliberate and impious rejection of its opposite, which he knows is the "Word of God. Hisheresy is a " work of the flesh." He is said to be con-demned of himself. His sin stands side by side with thecruel and filthy actions that come from cruel and lustfulhearts.Nothing can be further from the intellectual concep-tion of heresy which has prevailed and still prevails inthe Christian Church, than this presentation of it asmoral wickedness which stands out in the New Testa-ment. *'Look through the Epistles," says Dr. Arnold," and you will find nothing there condemned as heresybut what was mere wickedness f and again he says : " Ithink that you will find that aU the false doctrines spokenof by the Apostles are doctrines of sheer wickedness, thattheir counterpart in modem times is to be found in theAnabaptists of Miinster, or the Fifth-Monarchy men, orin mere secular High-Churchmen, or hypocritical Evan-gelicals ; in those who make Christianity minister to lustor to covetousness or ambition, not in those who interpretScripture to the best of their conscience and ability, betheir interpretation ever so erroneous."As we leave the region of Scripture and come to theFathers of the Church, it is evident enough that there isa growing tendency to measure heresy by its divergenceas opinion from certain standards of Church doctrine, andnot as will from a certain uprightness and purity of heart ; to reaUy lose its character as sia and define it aserror, however the treatment that belongs to sin alonestill continues to be lavished on it. If the two couldhave been reasonably held to be identical, all would havebeen weU. If there had been a clear settled line of Chris-tian truth, so manifest that no one could miss it except byobstinacy, so universal that aU should know at once whatHERESY. 11was meant when men spoke of the Christian faith j in oneword, if the Quod semper, quod unique, quod ah omnibus,had been a fact of history instead of a dream of latertheorizers, it would not have been difficult to understandheresy. The intellectual divergence could not then havecome without the moral wilfulness; but as it is, they arecontinually coming separately, and bewildering the Fathersterribly. Heresy, with the New Testament denunciations

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