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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

In praise of Heresy

A meditation on the life and lessons of Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers, 367

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.


Bill said...

I’m all for heresy. I even named myself after one, taking the name Morgan which is the Welsh version of the more commonly known Latin version, Pelagius. I would have been more concerned if there had never been any heresies. I would infer from that scenario that nobody ever cared; nobody had the passion to proffer an opinion and that nobody ever had cause to think it through and dispute the issue. The fact that such heresies took place tells me that people did care, did take their religion seriously and spent many long hours either agreeing or refuting the theological content.

I’m sure many think the current trend of the Episcopal Church toward full inclusion of the LGBT population is heretical. This is good. These are the growing pains that a church must go through to meet the needs of the people down through the generations.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

One of my life goals is to have someone publicly call me a heretic before I die. I guess I could fulfill it a lot quicker if I would go over to Viagraville more. LOL

whiteycat said...

All I can say is that this is another "why didn't I think of that?" posts. Thanks for saying it for me and prompting me to ask the deeper questions.

Muthah+ said...

Kirkepiscopoid, come to upstate NY and you will be called a heretic with some regularity. It is a good name thing to be--it forces folks to think! But thinking Episcopalians are dangerous, donchaknow!

comment moderation: lizersar--one who calls Elizabeth "Liz"!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

. . . and does so at his/her peril. My Sainted mother would rise up from her grave and give the offender a mighty smote.