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Hallo again to all.

Recently a quiz entitled 'Are you a heretic?' has been circulating 'round the online world. Several correspondents sent us a pointer, with annotations like 'Have you seen this?' or 'Try this; it says we're Chalcedon Compliant. Are you?' We rarely enjoy these quizzes, but this one caught our attention and we worked through it. We enjoyed it, and we appreciated the work that Steven Harris put into producing it. At the end, it told us

You are Chalcedon compliant. Congratulations, you're not a heretic. You believe that Jesus is truly God and truly man and like us in every respect, apart from sin. Officially approved in 451.

It then continued with a list of classical heresies, giving the percentage that our beliefs seemed to overlap with those promoted by heretics of old. We've all seen the words — Gnosticism, Monophysitism, Pelagianism, and so forth — but we must confess to not having a very solid understanding of the details of what those terms all mean.

A man being burned at the stakeWe set out to fix that, to become better scholars of heresy. After spending a long evening reading about the mistaken teachings of Apollinaris and Theodotus of Byzantium and the Soz[z]inis and the rest, and reading crisp statements of how and why their teachings were found to be heretical, we realized that those ancient disputes are all but lost in modern society. Can you imagine a pub brawl in which one bloke shouts to another 'You're not just Eutychian, you're monophysitic!' and then throws a punch? Can you imagine a parish splitting from its diocese because it felt that the bishop was offensively Nestorian, in violation of the received faith? A years-long fight about whether or not to invite Arius to the council at Nicaea? Our imagination doesn't reach that far.

We're sure that, in its own time, the conflict involving tritheism was as passionate as, say, our era's conflict involving women bishops. We correct heretical beliefs as part of education programs, not angry arguments. In our Anglican world there are no papal decrees of heresy; each autonomous province reaches its own conclusions about nuances of doctrine. (And some provinces fling accusations of heresy at other provinces). Centuries from now, will there be polysyllabic names for the heresies of which we're accusing one another? Will historians teach about pontifexmulierism? About the obvivirpervirians?

We've a certain notion that this won't happen, because it seems to us that many of the current conflicts in our church are about culture and not doctrine. It's so very hard to distinguish the two from within. It's hard for all of us, as part of a culture, to accept and internalize the difference between culture and doctrine. There are historical examples where it seems obvious that culture has become doctrine, such as dietary laws. We'd guess that centuries from now, students will learn about today's conflicts not in their theology classes but in their sociology classes. Absent a central authority, a pope, or a Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, we'll never have absolute clarity on every aspect of our shared beliefs. But the essentials haven't changed in many centuries, and those essentials work well for us.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 22 January 2006

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