Humans are amazingly creative beings. We’re constantly coming up with new ways to do stupid things. So, why would we think that the church addressed every possible heresy at these 7 councils? Great post by Marc Cortez – he makes a fair point and has got me thinking.
The 7 councils do stand at the heart of our understanding of heresy, but they don’t necessarily have to dictate to us how do we define heresy.
I like McGrath’s definition: “A heresy is a doctrine that ultimately destroys, destabilises, or distorts a mystery rather than preserving it.” Heresy ultimately distorts, rather than defends, the mystery of faith. It is a failed attempt at orthodoxy. It’s perhaps better, though, to accept this as a descriptive term rather than a pejorative one. Heresies don’t have to have malicious intent. They are simply misaligned with the truth they seek to give definition to.
Morality, like art, means drawing a line somewhere
There is a danger when we look at using the formulations of the 7 councils as our ‘plumb-line’ for heresy, that we make the mis-step of assuming the Christian faith is “simply or even fundamentally a set of ideas.”1 Experience of, and relationship with, The Truth leads us to seek to express this as a theological statement or set of statements. This does not detract, though, from the fact that theological formulations are secondary to the “experience that precipitated and shaped them.”2 The search for orthodoxy then, is linked to authenticity. Orthodoxy (believing the right things) cannot be divorced from orthopraxy (doing the right things). Your character must match the message.
Defending the truth, then, is about protecting the health of faith. Ideas can be powerful things. As we grasp more of what is possible and our eyes of faith rise to new possibilities of what God’s plans are achieving, heretical teaching can rob us of the mystery and fullness of faith. They can lead us to believe the wrong things about God, which in turn lead us to live in ways at odds with, rather than in line with, the divine.
If you’ve read McGrath’s book, or simply read the footnotes, you’ll notice I’ve basically nabbed all these thoughts from his book on heresy. Definitely worth a read if you’re interested in these things 😉