Is new jargon necessary?

Thanks to all who responded so openly to my post yesterday. I am happy that you feel comfortable expressing your views on this blog which was meant to talk about those things that are normally "forbidden."

I take the point that polydoxy (which seems to have won our poll) is new jargon. But without it, how can we talk about things as they were? How can I as a historian writing articles and books, as a professor teaching in class, describe early Christianity if I don't have words to do so? The old words leave the wrong impression. They are cumbersome to use because I find myself having to reexplain things all the time and put "orthodox" in quotations and also "heresy." Wouldn't it be better to wipe the slate clean and start using words that describe history more faithfully? Are polydoxy and polypraxy and polymorphic that difficult to self-intuit? Are they that much more difficult than orthodoxy, heterodoxy, heresy, and heresiology?

I think it is time for us to create and implement language sympathetic to our historical period rather than anachronistic to it.

So while we are on the subject, what other language needs to go?

Why we need to move beyond the old terminology

This is further reflection on poly- or pluro- doxy given the comment by José in an earlier post that we don't need new language - that the old is good enough.

No it is not. Why? Because there wasn't an orthodox Christianity in the second or third centuries from which others deviated and were heretics. This language only works if (1) you have an established historical orthodoxy that dominates the scene or (2) you use it in terms of a theological self-reference, as in my way is orthodox and yours isn't.

Now some of my readers might like the apostolic church and identify with it, and therefore say that there was an orthodoxy and the apostolic church was it. Everyone else is a heretic. Fine, but this is not a historical perspective. It represents the reality of #(2), not #(1).

For instance, let's take Marcion. From a historical perspective (not the apostolic Christian one) Marcion in his era was as much a Christian as anyone else. He established a very viable church with the first NT canon! Jesus Christ was the redeemer. His theology was a radical exegesis of Paul. Now Tertullian hated him and so did Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, all who identified with the apostolic church and all who saw him as heretical. But thousands upon thousands of people loved him, thought him a brilliant Christian theologian, and were members of his churches. These same people saw the apostolic church and its theologians as ignorant. In many parts of Asia Minor, Marcionite churches were not just the mainstay, but the first churches established. They were productive into the 10th century according to Arabic reports.

Let's take the Gospel of Judas. Here is a gospel written by someone in the middle of the second century who knew for certain that the apostolic church was run by dupes. This person considered his own views about Jesus and salvation, and his own practices (some type of water ritual), to be the only way to God. He considered himself a gnostic Christian and was quite offended that the apostolic church would be using Jesus' name in such a disgraceful (and demonic) manner - to offer a sacrifice to the lesser god!

As historians we cannot be theologians. The texts tell us the story. And this story was a story of many competing orthodoxies, all who claimed for themselves the "Christian" name. At least in the pre-Constantinian period, the marking of a heretic comes from within each of these orthodoxies, and represents their individual understanding of what it means to be the "real" Christians.

Polypraxy (too)

It looks like polydoxy is leading in the polls. But I'm still leaving the question open for further comment if you wish to weigh in.

David Creech and Jared Calaway have good points about practice - and polypraxy should be part of this new language.

Although some say that it is technically correct that the "doxys" are "belief" or "doctrine" oriented, the words are actually used in the literature to encompass the entire "lived" tradition being discussed, not just the doctrines but also what the doctrines mean in terms of practice. So I think that that polydoxy can be more inclusive, referencing not only what different Christians were saying theologically but what the implications of that theology was for their ritual behaviors and lifestyles.

I guess what I'm saying is that a religious tradition doesn't make a strict distinction between thinking and doing - they are intertwined. This distinction appears to be a western scholastic distinction. In fact, if you study eastern orthodoxy at all you will be immediately faced with the fact that "orthodoxy" is "a way of life" based on certain beliefs. Orthodoxy is defined by the tradition as "right belief" and "right glory" or "right worship." The Orthodox church today thinks that it is orthodox because it teaches true belief and right worship.

This understanding of the eastern Orthodox appears to me to be quite old. When the ancient Christians were concerned about "orthodoxy" they were concerned about correct doctrine because it led to correct practice (and thus salvation). That is what the fourth and fifth century Christological dispute was all about. It wasn't about whether or not Jesus had his own soul. It was about the eucharist - making sure that the body that was being eaten gave the faithful the right benefit. The argument that "won" was a compromise argument between the West and the Antiocheans, and it was the argument that Jesus had to have his own soul, because he has to be fully human in order for his bodily sacrifice to be vicarious for us when it is eaten at the altar.

Plurodoxy or polydoxy?

We have another suggestion to keep from mixing Latin and Greek.

plurodoxy or polydoxy?

Which of these words do you feel immediately upon looking at them conveys to you multiple competing "orthodoxies"? Does it matter? Or do you have other suggestions for such a word?

I'm quite serious about coining such a word. I just don't think we can continue writing and talking about early Christianity without such a concept.

Write me in the comments.

Apocryphote of the Day: 5-20-08

After we left our home and descended to this world and became embodied in the world, we were hated and persecuted by the ignorant and by those who think they are advanced in the name of Christ, though they are vain and ignorant. They do not know who they are, like dumb animals. They persecuted those I have liberated, since they hate them. If they would shut their mouth, they would weep with a futile groaning because they have not really known me. Instead, they have served two masters, even more. You will be winners in everything, in combat, fights, schism out of jealousy and anger. In the uprightness of our love, we are innocent, pure, and good, since we have the mind of the Father in an ineffable mystery.

The Second Treatise of the Great Seth 59.20-60.12 (late second or early third century)

Commentary: written from the perspective of a Sethian Christian toward other types of Christians and pagans. This Sethian Christian thinks that the others are irrational like animals. They talk too much and need to start listening. They serve the demiurge and other gods. The relationship between these different forms is one of divisiveness, combat, and fights. The Sethian Christian sees his tradition as winning these fights. His people are the ones who have the "in" with the real god.

What is plurodoxy?

I am creating a new category. At least I think it is new. If it's not, let me know so I can attribute it appropriately. In my frustrations to describe what first and second and third century Christianity was really like, I have succumbed to dropping as much of our old language as possible. It has become a hindrance.

Orthodoxy did not exist as a totalitarian entity, although each type of Christianity may have thought of itself as orthodox while everyone else were heretics. So the discussion of heresiology is important to maintain, as long as one understands that the heretic is so only from the point of view of one party. An orthodox Christianity doesn't emerge until the fourth century. Even then, it struggles through council after council, swinging from Arian to anti-Arian for over fifty years. Not until the fifth century are the major lines put into place that will determine the shape of "orthodox" Christianity for the centuries to come.

Heterodoxy is not any better because it describes religions that deviate from the orthodox. Since we don't have orthodoxy yet, we can't have heterodoxy either.

Sectarian and cult language don't work either, because sectarian requires that there is some parental tradition that is being deviated from. Cult also suggests deviance along with innovation.

So what do we have? Multiple forms of Christianity, although this isn't quite right either, because many of these forms are competing with each other and some forms of Christianity are stronger and more dominant in certain geographical locales. So what we have is plurodoxy. That is multiple forms of Christianity that are competing for the orthodox position and/or that consider themselves to be the orthodox position. From this vantage point I think we can better narrative Christian origins and the standardization of Christianity that eventually comes to dominate as orthodoxy in the fourth and fifth centuries.