Classification of Heresies


THE importance of Christianity as an historical fact is well evinced by the all-comprehending movement which it called forth. By repulsion or attraction, it affected the life and thought of the greater portion of the ancient world. Every prominent religious system from Italy to India soon felt more or less the vibrations which its entrance into the world awakened.

In the previous chapters we have traced the move ment on the side of repulsion, the struggle of Christianity with an openly hostile Judaism and heathenism. We have now to consider the movement on the side of attraction, the false alliance which Judaism and heathenism sought to make with Christianity, the struggle of the Church with heresy. This struggle did not tax the Church in the same way as the former; still, the demands were formidable. To deal with the professed friends was, in important respects, more difficult than to withstand the open enemies. The former party, if not by their own choice and estimation, were in reality as much enemies as the latter. Their essential antagonism to Christianity had, also, much the same ground. A false conservatism was prominent in both cases. Extreme Judaism and extreme heathenism regarded Christianity as subversive of their old established order, and declared that it ought to be destroyed root and branch. A more liberal Judaism and heathenism confessed the virtue and right of Christianity, and felt attracted toward it; but, at the same time, many within their ranks were unwilling to renounce their previous theories. They carried these over to Christianity, warped in their behalf the interpretation of Christianity; in short, remained in part, and sometimes in large part, Jews and heathens, while they assumed the name of Christians.

The early heresies, then, may in general be characterized as false attempts to blend the old of other systems with the new of Christianity. This was conspicuously the case with two of the principal classes of heresies, and may be regarded, to some extent, the case with the third. These three classes of heresies were the following: (1) the Judaistic, (2) the Gnostic and Manichæan, (3) the Monarchian, or Anti-trinitarian. Of these the Jewish and the Gnostic were largely the antipodes of each other in spirit and aim. Jewish heresy, so far as it was an outgrowth of average Pharisaism, was radically contrasted with Gnosticism. But there were speculative schools within the bounds of Judaism which harbored Gnostic elements. This was to some extent the case with the Essenes, and was especially the case with the speculative Judaism of Alexandria of which Philo was the leading representative at the beginning of the first century. We have, therefore, some heresies in which Jewish and Gnostic ingredients are commingled.

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