Today, a number of scholars are exploiting individualism and “revisioning” Christian origins to more easily fit into a global religious unity. Two representative figures are the late Joseph Campbell (1904- 1987) and Karen Armstrong (1944- ). Campbell, known for his Power of Myth, called for “obstinate” Christianity to abandon the doctrine of the Fall as a “primeval event,” along with the historic bodily resurrection, and the unique incarnation of the Son of God. Karen Armstrong, ambassador for the UN Alliance of Civilizations, is a former nun promoting her Charter for Compassion (2009) and activating the Golden Rule to unify the world’s religions.
Redefining Heresy and Orthodoxy
The revisionists also include Elaine Pagels, Bart Ehrman, Karen King, John Dominic Crossan, Robert Funk, Marcus Borg and scores of others less well known. Some are members of the Jesus Seminar. Some occasionally cooperate on projects. Many hold compatible visions of Christian origins but disagree over the future of inter-religious cooperation.
Elaine Pagels (1943-), author of The Gnostic Gospels (1979), has exercised special influence. She wrote the first popular introduction to the Nag Hammadi documents, chosen by Modern Library Association as one of the most significant nonfiction books of the 20th century. She and others have been promising for over 40 years that the Nag Hammadi library (1945) would radically refashion our understanding of Christian origins. “These discoveries are exploding the myth of a monolithic religion, and demonstrating how diverse — and fascinating — the early Christian movement really was.”
Their work is revisionist and denies that early Christianity had an authoritative, doctrinal core or set of authoritative teachers. Heresy wasn’t error, it was just different. Diversity of belief, they say, characterized the earliest Church. The development of orthodoxy over a few centuries was purely a result of … forces entirely apart from God’s guidance ….
The Traditional Storyline: Truth Precedes Falsehood
The traditional storyline is represented by Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History. Jesus proclaimed and advocated the “truth,” i.e., “orthodoxy” (from the Greek meaning “right belief”). He commissioned the apostles and their successors to guard, defend, apply, and transmit this truth from generation to generation until He comes again. Fidelity, fidelity, fidelity was the score but some preferred to create their own doctrinal playlist. These were called “heretics” (from the Greek hairesis “a taking or choosing, a choice”). Heresies were deviations, corruptions of the truth. Orthodoxy preceded heresy.
The Revisionist Storyline: Diversity Precedes Orthodoxy
German theologian Walter Bauer (1877-1960), recast the tradition: “[O]rthodoxy was only one of several competing systems of Christian belief, with no closer links to any original, so-called ‘apostolic Christianity’ than its rivals…[I]t owed its victory…more to what we might call political influences than to its inherent merits.”
Excerpt from Dangers to the Faith: Recognizing Catholicism’s 21st-Century Opponents ©Al Kresta. Published by Our Sunday Visitor, www.osv.com. Used by permission.
AL KRESTA is a broadcaster, journalist, President and CEO of Ave Maria Communications, host of the nationally syndicated Catholic talk show “Kresta in the Afternoon”
Incredulity is the neglect of revealed truth or the willful refusal to assent to it. “Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”