Wednesday, January 13, 2010
In praise of Heresy
Today is the Feast of St. Hilary (no, not Clinton, although she is a bit of a saint to forge ahead against the sometimes overwhelming tide of sexism that comes her way).
Bishop Hilary - known for his defense of orthodoxy and "the catholic faith" against the heresy of Arianism.
Now, Arius was a priest in the church of the late third century who dared to ask the question, "Is Jesus unbegotten?"
Which is to ask: Did God the Father and God the Son exist together eternally? Very, very briefly, Arius taught that Jesus was created by God the Father for the specific purpose of our salvation.
For this belief, Arius was deemed a heretic at the first Council of Nicea (325), later exonerated (335) and then condemned again in Constantinople after his death (381).
It is important to note that the Roman Emperors Constantinius and Valens were Arians, or Semi-Arians - which probably explained his exoneration. It's hard for the institutional church to argue with a state-sanctioned theological position. (Gee, where have we seen this before?)
Bishop Hilary defended the orthodox positions of the Council of Nicea, refusing the middle ground of the Semi-Arians, and, for his troubles, was exiled for three years.
Last week, feminist theologian, Mary Daly, died. She wrote books like Gyn/ecology" and "Beyond God the Father." Her theology would have made Arius' and spin and Hilary's head explode!
She famously banned men from her classes on feminist theology at Boston College - that good Roman Catholic institution - because, she said, men were a distraction and changed the dynamic of intellectual discourse and thinking in her classroom.
I think it is safe to say that she was as much of a heretic in her day as Arius was in his. You will note that Hilary has a day on the Calendar of Saints. Arius does not. Neither will Mary Daly. Neither, I am sure, will Jack Spong.
The institution - any institution - rarely awards heritics or mavericks or anyone who challenges the status quo or makes us think outside "the faith first received by the fathers".
But faith is more than creeds and doctrines. Here's the thing: I really don't care what you can recite. I don't give two figs about esoteric rhetorical points about Greek or Latin phrases that constitute doctrine. At the end of the day, I don't think God does either. Or, for that matter, most people.
I want to know what you do with what it is you say you believe. I want to know what you're doing about what you say you believe. I want to know how it changes you for the better and inspires you to help transform the world into a better place.
While I encourage us to consider and celebrate the life and witness of saints like Hilary, let us also use this occasion to consider those saints whom the church would rather we forget.
Today, as we remember Hilary, let us also remember those who are what one of my spiritual directors called "Divine Sandpaper" - those who "rub us the wrong way" so that our natural beauty, our 'true grain', may be revealed.
May we, like Hilary and Arius and Mary Day and Jack Spong, more greatly shine with the glory of God - whether or the the institutional church calls us saints or sinners.