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.

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.

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.

Christianity v. Christianities

Josh asked me what I think about this distinction, which is just as trendy as the Judaisms that I discussed yesterday.

The same is true in this case. There was a Christianity of the second-century, but it wasn't what scholars generally call "normative" Christianity (by which they mean, apostolic or mainstream). Again, what a person considered "normative" Christianity in the second century was whatever expression of Christianity that person followed. No one expression of Christianity controlled the landscape, although many were battling to do so and consolidating power in the process. So there was variety, there were Christianities.

But to say this doesn't mean there wasn't "Christianity." Indeed, there was. It took its shape from several issues such as christology, communal practices like baptism and eucharist, methods of interpretation of scripture, relevance of Jewish scripture, sacralization of Christian scriptures, worship days, leadership and liturgical calendars. All the forms of Christianity in the second century were part of this web of religiosity, a religiosity that was consolidating in terms of the formation of Christian self-identity as something separate from (even against) Judaism and paganism.

So once again I continue to talk about "Christianity" in the second century, even though I recognize that this took on a variety of expressions. Here is an excerpt from The Thirteenth Apostle where I try to talk about this very issue:
The purpose of the Gospel of Judas was to criticize "mainstream" or "apostolic" Christianity from the point of view of the Sethian Gnostics. The Sethian Christians, whose religious beliefs I will describe in detail in the next chapter, were involved in an intra-religious debate that was raging in the second century as a number of distinct Christianities struggled for control of Christianity. Christianity in the second century was not controlled by a single church or a single hierarchy or a single orthodoxy. In fact, "orthodoxy" (correct thinking and practice) and "heresy" (wrong thinking and practice) were very relative terms. Who was orthodox and who was a heretice depended upon where you were standing. If you were a mainstream or apostolic Christian, you were orthodox and everyone else was a heretic. If you were a Sethian Gnostic Christian, you were orthodox and everyone else was a heretic (p. 5).