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BY PHILLIPS BROOKS
(Clericus Club, Boston, Mass., October, 1873.) It is hardly to be supposed that when our people Sunday after Sunday pray to the good Lord to deliver them from all false doctrine, heresy, and schism, they have a very clear idea of what the sin exactly is which the second term in their prayer denotes. It is one of the terms which people are very apt to think they understand until they undertake its explanation ; then they find that their idea of it is very vague. The term itself has a certain obsoleteness of sound, a certain flavor of that old-time quaintness, which many good souls like in their religion. It inspires a gentle horror that is not unpleasant, and indeed seems to be a favorite sin for some men's minds to dwell upon, perhaps because its very vagueness saves them from the possibility, and so from the necessity, of bringing it very closely home either to their own or to their brethren's consciences and destinies. And yet with all this it is clear enough that there is something called heresy, which in all times has been dreaded and rebuked, and often violently punished. Scripture begins the strain of objurgation, and it is heard still in the literature of to-day. Surely it wiU be well if we can study the meaning of the disgraceful term, the nature of the disgraceful sin ; and lest any one should think that we treat as vague and difficult that which is recognized to be perfectly simple and clear, let us justify our essay with this, as a sort of motto, out of St. Augustine : "Not 7
8 ESSAYS AND ADD MESSES, every error," he says, "is heresy, though every heresy which is blameworthy cannot be heresy without some error. What, therefore, makes one a heretic I think it is perhaps impossible, certainly very difficult, to comprehend in a regular definition." That certainly opens a promising field for study and discussion. It is one of those subjects which must be studied in connection with the words with which they have always been identified. The word " heresy," then, as everybody knows, primarily means " choice." It is a subjective thing, an action of the will. Here at the very begLuning its moral character is stamped upon it. Perhaps it is not too soon to say that to trace that moral character 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 word attains a secondary sense. It passes next to be applied to that which is the common choice of any group of thinkers who choose a certain thing. Here it becomes objective. It comes to mean a school of thought. As such at first it has no tone either of praise or blame. It is a vox media. This is its classic use. "We hear of the Stoic heresy and the Peripatetic heresy. In the same indifferent way it is used four times in the New Testament : " The heresv of the Pharisees," "the heresy of the Sadducees," "the heresy of the Nazarenes," " the most straitest heresy of our religion." In all these passages there is no blame nor praise, only description. But any one can see how, just as soon as the thought of a clear and absolute authority in matters of faith was introduced, the whole act of choice, or the selection of what the chooser pleased, instead of what the authority commanded, became a sin ; and so we come to four other passages in the New Testament, in which her-
HERESY. 9 esy is distinctly spoken of with strong denunciation, and from which the whole subsequent treatment of it has derived its tone. These passages need only be indicated. " After the way which they caU heresy," says Paul, " so worship I the God of my fathers." To the Corinthians he says : " For there must be heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest." And again to the Galatians, " The works of the flesh are manifest, which are these," and then, classed with adultery, idolatry, witchcraft, and drunkenness, comes " heresies," " of the which," he says, " I tell you . , . that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." The fourth passage is from St. Peter, who says : " There shall be false teachers among you, who privily shaU bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction." To these must be added one other passage, where the word used is not "heresy" but "heretic," but it bears directly on our study. St. Paul writes to Titus : " A man that is a 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 by name of heresy. There is no time for any labored commentary on them. We can only state what seems to be the clear characteristics of the sin as it is here described; These characteristics are two. Fh'st, heresy is a term which has reference to ideas, and so is distinguished at once from schism, which relates to worship and discipline. This is clear in all the passages except the first and second, in which, indeed, heresy seems to be almost identical with 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 distinctness with which the heretic is blamed, not because
10 ESSAYS AND ADDRESSES. he holds this or that opinion, but because he is conceived to hold it wilfully, in deliberate and impious rejection of its opposite, which he knows is the "Word of God. His heresy is a " work of the flesh." He is said to be condemned of himself. His sin stands side by side with the cruel and filthy actions that come from cruel and lustful hearts. Nothing can be further from the intellectual conception of heresy which has prevailed and still prevails in the Christian Church, than this presentation of it as moral wickedness which stands out in the New Testament. *'Look through the Epistles," says Dr. Arnold, " and you will find nothing there condemned as heresy but what was mere wickedness f and again he says : " I think that you will find that aU the false doctrines spoken of by the Apostles are doctrines of sheer wickedness, that their counterpart in modem times is to be found in the Anabaptists of Miinster, or the Fifth-Monarchy men, or in mere secular High-Churchmen, or hypocritical Evangelicals ; in those who make Christianity minister to lust or to covetousness or ambition, not in those who interpret Scripture to the best of their conscience and ability, be their interpretation ever so erroneous." As we leave the region of Scripture and come to the Fathers of the Church, it is evident enough that there is a growing tendency to measure heresy by its divergence as opinion from certain standards of Church doctrine, and not as will from a certain uprightness and purity of heart ; to reaUy lose its character as sia and define it as error, however the treatment that belongs to sin alone still continues to be lavished on it. If the two could have been reasonably held to be identical, all would have been weU. If there had been a clear settled line of Christian truth, so manifest that no one could miss it except by obstinacy, so universal that aU should know at once what
HERESY. 11 was meant when men spoke of the Christian faith j in one word, if the Quod semper, quod unique, quod ah omnibus, had been a fact of history instead of a dream of later theorizers, it would not have been difficult to understand heresy. The intellectual divergence could not then have come without the moral wilfulness; but as it is, they are continually coming separately, and bewildering the Fathers terribly. Heresy, with the New Testament denunciations
of it in their ears, is always a moral term, and yet they are always trying to justify the attribution of it and of its penalties in circumstances where personal guilt is wholly out of the question. This perplexity haunts the writings of the Fathers. Tertullian, with his own hot, turbid logic, claims that " heretics cannot be Christians, because what they choose themselves they certainly do not take from Christ.'' After which statement one can understand how he held a good many other of his notions about the Holy Spirit and its action on the mind of man. Origen makes the fact of heresy depend on the size of the error that is held, which is certainly as arbitrary and hopeless a discrimination as any perplexed mind ever fled to for refuge. Jerome seems to recognize more distinctly the moral nature of heresy, though his language is not wholly clear, but at least he does not make it merely a departure from the Church. "Wlioever understands Scripture otherwise,'' he says, "than the sense of the Holy Spirit demands, by which it was written, though he has not left the Church, yet can he be called a heretic, and is of the works of the flesh, choosing the things which are worse," which sounds like Jerome. But the most interesting and thoughtful treatment of heresy among the Fathers, the most constant recognition of its essential morality, is found, as might have been
12 ESSAYS AND ADDRESSES. expected, in the writings of Augustine. These are his words: "He is an heretic, in my opinion, who for the sake of glory or power, or other secular advantages, either invents or embraces and follows new opinions. But he who believes men of this kind is a man deluded by a certain imagination of truth and piety." And again : "As to those who defend a false and wicked opinion without any self-will, especially if they have not invented it by an audacious presumption, but received it from their parents, who have been seduced and fallen into error, and if they seek the truth with care, and are ready to correct themselves when they have found it, they cannot be ranked among heretics." I think this is an account of heresy at which many a modern dogmatist would hesitate. Certainly it keeps the great moral element plain and strong. Not that Augustine is always so cleai\ He says again: "Suppose that a man holds the opinion of Photin about Jesus Christ, believing it to be the Catholic faith, I do not call him a heretic yet, imless, after he is better instructed, he prefer to resist the Catholic faith than to renounce the opinions he has advanced." Here the formal is seen pressing upon the moral conception of
heresy, but even now he is far from the sublime rejection of the morality altogether, which good Bishop Fulgentius reaches when he triumphantly puts himself on record thus : " Good works, mart-yrdom even, serve nothing for the salvation of him who is not in the unity of the Church, so long as the malice of schism and heresy persevere in him." On the whole, then, we have the Fathers, while they depart from the simple moral conception of heresy which Paul and Peter held, while some of them lost its moral character entirely, yet for the most part clinging to it strongly, and trying to make it blend with the formal and dogmatic notions of heresy which wore growing apace.
HERESY. 13 As Romanism becomes rampant, the definitions of heresy become more and more nnmoral. There is neither need nor time to multiply quotations, but let us come down a long way, and take one Romish writer, who gives a good round hearty description of heresy which is refreshing. Here we have the full-blown ecclesiastical theory of heresy, which is, after all, what a good many people, Anglicans and others, are still dreaming about to-day. The Abbe Bergier writes in his theological dictionary as follows : " Heresy is a voluntary and obstinate error, contrary to some dogma of the faith.'' So far it sounds moral. But he goes on : " How can we know whether the error is voluntary or involuntary, criminal or innocent, the result of vicious passions or defective light ? " His answer is in the true strain of Catholic reasoning. "First, as the Christian doctrine is revealed by God,'' he says, " it is a crime to wish to know it of ourselves, and not by the instrumentality of those whom God has set to teach it. Second, since God has established the Church or the body of pastors to teach the faithful, when the Church has spoken it is on our part an obstinate pride to resist their decision and prefer our light to theirs. Third, the passion which has led the leaders of sects and their partisans has been shown by the means which they have employed to establish their opinions." How familiar it aU sounds ! Then he goes on again : " A man may deceive himself in good faith at first ; but as soon as he resists the Church, triiBS to make proselytes, forms a party, intrigues, makes a noise, he no longer acts from good faith, but from pride and ambition." This is the full-blown ecclesiastical notion of heresy. It was what, though in expressions that keep the air of morality among them still, the Council of Trent put into its catechism in these words : "A person is not to be called a heretic so soon as he errs in matters of faith ; then only is he to be so called when in defiance of
14 ESSAYS AND ADDRESSES.
the anthority of the Church he mamtains impious opinions with unyielding pertinacity." The Reformation was the setting free of morality and moral distinctions by the breaking up of arbitrary ecde- , siastical definitions. And so it is not strange that heresy began to resume in Protestantism the moral coloring which it had almost lost. There appeared indeed a tendency to substitute dogmatic for. ecclesiastical lines, arid the writ de haeretico coniburendo was in force in England tiU the time of Charles II. Two Anabaptists suffered under Elizabeth, and two Arians under James I., for heresy. And yet one would like to quote some of the clearest and truest and most rational accounts of heresy that ever have been written, from some of the English Puritans, notably one by Robinson, the Pilgrim Father, a good, great man. These, however, we must leave. "We want to come to a series of utterances upon the subject of our essay, made by the liberal divines of the Church of England of the seventeenth century, which certainly come nearer in their statement of the moral character of heresy to the standard of the New Testament than anything else we know in Christian writers. ò If anything comes nearer we should rejoice to see it. Standing, as these men did, between the stiff ecclesiasticism and the extravagant Puritanism of their day, there came to them a very clear understanding of the relations which religious truth holds to the individual conscience and intellect. One thing was to them very evident : that words of personal blame, such as the New Testament lavishes upon heresy, coidd belong only to personal guilt, and the personal guilt could attach only to the action of the personal will. It is strange that so plain a truth should ever have been forgotten. It was good that it should be asserted once again. When John Hales is asked "whether the Christian
HERESY. 15 Church may err in fundamentals," he begins his answer by saying "that every Christian may err that will," otherwise there could be no heresy, " heresy being nothing else but wilful error." Chillingworth is very unmistakable in his assertion that there is no heresy unless the truth be clearly made known to the heretic, and be by him deliberately rejected. " Heresy we consider an obstinate defense of an error against any necessary article of the Christian faith." Stillingfleet holds "very strongly the opinion that mere diversity of opinion is no ground of heresy laying men open to the censure of the Church." "It is only the endeavor, by difference of opinion, to alienate men's spirit from one another, and thereby to break the society into fractions and divisions, which
makes men liable to restraint and punishment." In all these passages, and many others like them, there is the strong assertion, the intense belief in personal responsibility and personal rights. The men are churchmen, with churchmen's calm and measured ways of expression, but they are aU verging toward, and almost merging into, that profound and lofty belief in the personality of religion, with all its associated rights and duties, which the Puritan John Milton was at the same time uttering in his splendid prose. He has brought the moral character of heresy to its completest statement. " Truth is compared in Scripture," he says, " to a streaming fountain ; if her waters flow not in a perpetual progression, they sink into a muddy pool of conformity and tradition. A man may be a heretic in the truth, and if he believes things only because his pastor says so, or the assembly so determines, without knowing other reason, though his belief be true, yet the very truth he holds becomes his heresy." But much the most philosophical treatment of heresy in this century is found in the best works of Jeremy Taylor. In the "Liberty "of Prophesying" he develops his
16 ESSAYS AXD ADDRESSES. idea. It is simply that heresy being the opposite of faith, that moral character which is fundamental and essential in faith must be fundamental and essential in heresy as welL I venture to quote rather a long passage, which cannot well be divided. It will be no great hardship to listen to Jeremy Taylor. ^* For heresy,'' he says, " is not an error of the understanding, but an error of the wilL And this is clearly insinuated in Scripture in the style whereof faith and a good life are made one duty, and vice is called opposite to faith, and heresy opposed to holiness and sanctity. . . . For as the nature of faith is, so is the nature of heresy, contraries having the same proportion and commensuration. Now faith, if it be taken for an act of the understanding merely, is so far from being that excellent grace that justifies us, that it is not good in any kind but in general nature, and makes the understanding better in itself, and pleasing to Grod, just as strength does the arm, or beauty the face, or health the body. These are natural perfections indeed, and so knowledge and a true belief is to the understanding. But this makes us not at all more acceptable to God, for then the unlearned were certainly in a damnable condition and all good scholars should be saved; whereas I am afraid too much of the contrary is true. But unless faith is made moral by the mixtures of choice and charity, it is nothing but a natural perfection, not a grace or a \irtue; and this is demonstrably proved in this, that by the confession of all men, of all interests and ^persuasions in matters of mere belief, invincible ignoi^ance is our excuse if we l>e deceived, which could not be, but that neither to l>elieve aright is commendable, nor to believe amiss is rt^prt>vable ; but
where both one and the other is voluntarv, mid chosen antecedently or consequently, by prime elwtion, or ex post facto J and so comes to be considertHl in morality, and is part of a good life or a bad life n^speetively. Just so
HERESY. 17 it is in heresy. If it be a design of ambition, and making of a sect, if it be for filthy lucre's sake, as it was in some that were of the circumcision, if it be of pride and love of preeminence, as it was in Diotrephes, or out of peevishness and indocibleness of disposition, or of a contentious spirit ù that is, that their feet are not shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace ù in all these cases the error is just so damnable as is its principle, but therefore damnable not of itself, but by reason of its adherency. And if any shall say any otherwise, it is to say that some men shall be damned when they cannot help it, perish without their own fault, and be miserable forever, because of their own unhappiness to be deceived through their own simplicity, and natural or accidental but inculpable infirmity." This long quotation admonishes us that we must quote no more 5 nor is it necessary. We have seen that there have always been three ideas concerning what constituted heresy : (1) the ecclesiastical idea, which measures heresy by its departure from a certain Church statement of belief J (2) the dogmatical idea, which measures heresy by what it conceives to be a departure from the truth of Revelation ; (3) the moral idea, which conceives of heresy as a certain personal sin, consisting in the 'v\dlf ul adlierence to some view of truth which a man prefers, in rejection of that which God makes known to him. If we pursued our study, it is evident enough that we shoidd find all of these ideas in books much later than Jeremy Taylor. They are all familiar to us in the ordinary talk of our own day. When three men call another man a heretic, one of them means that he is in rebellion against the Church, another means that he is in error, and the third means that he is violating his own conscience, and wilfully shutting his eyes to light. And what I have been much struck with is, the persistency with which the moral idea has clung to heresy
18 ESSAYS AND ADDRESSES. in every age. It has always reappeared, even when the ecclesiastical or dogmatical idea seemed absolutely triumphant. The truth is, that only by the moral conception of heresy can the heretic be brought within the range of the New Testament, his heresy counted as sin, and he himself considered liable to such denunciations as Paul and Peter heap upon their heretic. Here, it seems to me,
is the key to that strange spectacle that is seen through all history ù good men piously burning their heretic brethren, and singing psalms as they put the fire to the fagots. There has always been latent, I believe, in the honest persecutor, a conviction of the wUf ulness, the wickedness, the moral culpability of the poor wretch who suffered for the denial of the virtue of a wafer, or the assertion of the unity of God. Men have first convicted their brethren of heresy upon the ecclesiastical or dogmatic grounds of their own times, and then slaughtered them with an easy conscience on the moi'al grounds of the New Testament. And does not the assertion of the moral chai'acter of heresy meet many of the practical difficulties which we have felt ourselves when we have been forced to estimate our fellow-men ? Heretic is a word of personal guilt. It had that tone when Paul used it, and it has kept it ever since. But 1 am sure that we have all felt, and perhaps reproached ourselves for feeling, how impossible it was for us in any real way to attach the notion of personal guilt to those who were called heretics in the ordinary uses of the word. We have been unable to feel any vehement condemnation for the earnest and truth-seeking Errorist, or any strong approbation for the flippant and partisan Orthodox. There was no place for the fii'st in the hell, nor for the second in the heaven, which alone our consciences tell us that the God whom we worship could establish. Speaking in the atmosphere of the New Testament, we cannot call the first a heretic, nor the
HEUESY. 19 second a saint, and our misgivings are perfectly right. The first is not a heretic, the second is not a saint. The first may be a saint in his error, the second, to use Milton's fine phrase, may be a " heretic in the truth." Unless we hold to the authority of the Infallible Church, the ecclesiastical conception of the sin of heresy is impossible. Unless we hold that aU truth has been so perfectly revealed that no honest mind can mistake it (and who can believe that t), the dogmatic conception of heresy fails. But if we can believe in the conscience, and God's willingness to enlighten it, and man's duty to obey its judgments, the moi'al conception of heresy sets definitely before us a goodness after which we may aspire, and a sin which we may struggle against and avoid. In ordinary talk men will caU him a heretic who departs from a certain average of Christian belief far enough to attract their attention. Men will speak of heresy as if it were synonymous with error. It may be that the word is so bound up with old notions of authority that it must be considered obsolete, and can be of little further use. And yet there is a sin which this word describes, which it described to Paul and Augustine and Taylor ù a sin as
rampant in our day as theirs. It is the self-will of the intellect. It is the belief of creeds, whether they be true or false, because we choose them, and not because Gk)d declares them. It is the saying, " I want this to be true,'' of any doctrine, so vehemently that we forget to ask, " Is it true ? " When we do this, we depart from the Christian Church, which is the kingdom of God, and the discipleship of Christ. With the danger of that sin before our eyes, remembering how often we have committed it, feeling its temptation ever present with us, we may still pray with all our hearts, "From heresy, good Lord, deliver us."
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