Genesis Of A Church

October 15, 2020 Category: History, Religion

Appendix 3: Fragmentation Of A Creed

During Christianity’s embryonic stage, the brother of Jesus of Nazareth (JoN), James of Jerusalem (alt. “James the Just”) served as the touchstone for the Ebionite and Elkasaite sects.  These likely bore the closest resemblance to the original movement (the Way); which is to say that the tenets of these two movements were most in keeping with the teachings of JoN.

During the early stages of the Christianity’s development, it is worth noting some of the prominent heterodox Egyptian proselytes:

  • Cerinthus [possibly of Alexandria]
  • Basilides of Alexandria
  • Carpocrates of Alexandria
  • Origen Adamantius of Alexandria
  • Valentinus of Alexandria
  • Pachomius of Thebes

Open dissent within the church dates back to Novatian of Rome, who lived in the 3rd century.  Such men operated in the midst of more orthodox figureheads like Anatolian bishop, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, and–later–the famed Berber bishop, Augustine of Hippo.

The Ebionites [the poor] are those who most closely hewed to the Mosaic tradition.  Their movement was effectively a kind of neo-Judaism (like the Essenes), with the added feature of prioritizing the ministry of JoN.  But that was only the beginning.  There was a panoply of heterodox figures / movements over the centuries–from Classical Antiquity to the modern era.  Here are FIFTY:

  • Anatolian monk, Serapion of Antioch: promulgator of the Docetist sect (which held that JoN was more apparition than homo sapiens)
  • Anatolian monk, Julian of Halicarnassus: founder of the (anti-Chalcedonian) Aphtharto-docetae sect
  • Samaritan mystic, Simon “Magus”: founder of the Simonian sect
  • Galatian theologian, Marcion of Sinope / Pontus: founder of the Marcionite sect (who, in stark Juxtaposition to the Ebionites, completely divorced the new Faith from Judaic lore; in keeping with the position expressed in Justin Martyr’s “Dialogue With Trypho” and two “Apologies”).
  • Phrygian theologian, Montanus: founder the Montanist sect
  • Syriac monk, Nestorius of Germanikeia: founder of the Nestorian sect
  • Syriac monk, Saul of Samosata (not to be confused with Saul of Tarsus): founder of the Paulician [alt. “Paulian”] sect
  • Syriac monk, Moroun of Taurus / Cyrrhus [a.k.a. “Maron”]: founder of the Maronite sect
  • Syriac monk, Jacob bar Addai of Constantina (a.k.a. “Jacob Baradaeus”): founder of the Jacobin sect of the Syriac Orthodox church
  • Syriac / Parthian (gnostic) scholar, Bar Daisan of Edessa (a.k.a. “Bardesanes”): founder of the Bardaisanite sect *
  • Syriac theologian, Theodore of Antioch (Mopsuestia)
  • Syriac theologian, Theodoret of Cyrrhus
  • Syriac theologian, Ibas of Edessa
  • Syriac monk, Alcibiades of Apameia: founder of the Elkesaite sect
  • Syriac theologian, Nicolas of Antioch: founder of the Nicolaite sect
  • Syriac theologian, Apollinaris of Laodicea: founder of the Apollinarian sect
  • Syriac theologian, Aëtius of Antioch: founder of the Anomoean sect (so named, as it was associated with Eunomius of Cyzicus)
  • Roman theologian, Cerinthus of Asiana: icon of neo-Platonic Gnosticism
  • Roman presbyter, Hippolytus of Rome: founder of the Ophite sect
  • Roman theologian, Pelagius of Britannia: founder of the Pelagian sect
  • Egyptian sage, Marcus of Memphis (followed by Roman bishop, Priscillian of Avila / Hispania): founder of the (Manichaean-Gnostic) Priscillian sect
  • Berber / Numidian theologian, Donatus of Carthage [“Casae Nigrae”]: founder of the Donatist sect
  • Berber / Coptic theologian, Arius of Cyrenaica [Libya]: founder of the Arian sect **
  • Bulgarian / Thracian theologian, Bogomil of Macedonia: founder of a dualist neo-Gnostic sect
  • Lombard monk, Arnold of Brescia: leader of the Commune of Rome
  • Italian monk, Fra Dolcino of Novara: founder of the Dulcinian sect (inspired by Francis of Assisi and Joachim of Fiore)
  • French theologian, Bernard of Clairvaux: the Cistercian sect (a.k.a. the “Bernardines”)
  • French theologian, Peter Waldo of Lyons: founder of the (Vaudois) Waldensian sect
  • French (Beguine) mystic, Marguerite Porete of Hainaut: touchstone for the (anti-clerical) Free Spirit movement
  • Spanish theologian, Miguel Serveto of Aragon: protestant reformer
  • Czech preacher, Petr Chelcicky of Bohemia: founder of Unitas Fratrum; bellwether for Ana-Baptism
  • Czech theologian, Jan Hus of Bohemia: founder of the Hussite sect; bellwether for the Christian Reformation **
  • Saxon (German) preacher, Nikolaus Ludwig, count of Zinzendorf: founder of “Herrnhuter Brüdergemeine” (a.k.a. the Moravian church)
  • Silesian (German) theologian, Kaspar Schwenkfeld of Ossig: inspiration for Christian Protestantism (i.e. the Reformation)
  • German theologian, Martin Luther of Saxony: catalyst for Christian Protestantism (i.e. the Reformation); founder of the Lutheran denomination
  • Dutch theologian, Jakob Hermanszoon (a.k.a. “Arminius”): founder of the Arminian sect (a.k.a. the “Remonstrants”)
  • Italian theologian, Fausto Paolo Sozzini of Siena: founder of the Socinian sect of the Polish Reform Church.
  • Indian bishop, “Valiya” Mar Thoma[s] of Kerala: founder of the Malankara denomination
  • Scottish minister, John Knox: founder of the Presbyterian denomination
  • English theologian, John Wycliffe: reformer who inspired the Lollard movement
  • English minister, John Smyth of Nottinghamshire: founder of the Baptist denomination
  • English minister, John Wesley of Lincolnshire: founder of the Methodist denomination
  • English minister, George Fox of Leicestershire: founder of the Society of Friends (a.k.a. Quakerism)
  • English activist, Gerrard Winstanley: founder of the Diggers (an offshoot of which were the so-called “Levellers”)

During Classical Antiquity, there also existed the Alogian, Eustathian, Naassene, Chaldaean, and Mandaean [alt. Sabian] sects.  Some syncretism occurred between Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic demonimations–as with the “Melkite” (Chalcedonian) church. A millennium later (during the Renaissance), there emerged several medieval sects–notably: the (Albigensian) Cathars. ***  

The Italian (Roman) monk, Benedetto of Norcia (a.k.a. “Benedict of Nursia”) founded the Benedictine Order c. 516.  Other Orders more or less operated within the bounds of Roman Catholic orthodoxy.  Three of the most prominent:

  • German monk, Bruno of Cologne founded the Carthusian Order c. 1084.
  • Italian monk, Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone of Assisi (a.k.a. “Francesco” / “Francis”) founded the Franciscan Order c. 1209.
  • Castilian monk, Dominic of Caleruega / Osma (a.k.a. “Domingo Felix de Guzman”) founded the Dominican Order c. 1215.

The Jesuit Order (a.k.a. the Society of Jesus) was founded c. 1540 by Castilian monk, Ignatius of Loyola and Navarrese monk, Francis of Xavier–both of whom were part of the Basque community.  There were eventually myriad Jesuit figureheads–some of whom were apparatchiks to the Vatican, many of whom were iconoclasts.  The more heterodox thinkers distinguished themselves by bucking traditional protocols (as well as Vatican authority), embracing a more liberalized–and far more intellectual–version of the Faith.  Most notable was the Peruvian (Dominican) theologian, Gustavo Gutierrez Merino of Lima, who pioneered Liberation Theology in the 20th century; thereby flouting the Roman Catholic Church by harking back to the original teachings of JoN.

One did not have to be the founder of a sect in order to be an icon of heterodox thinking.  This was illustrated by Reformist luminaries like Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius (Roman), Huldrych Zwingli (Swiss), Giordano Bruno (Italian), Jan Hus (Bohemian), and John Wycliffe (English).  Meanwhile, instances of charismatic leaders spearheading fundamentalist sects–from the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons to Pentecostals and Seventh Day Adventists–are enumerated in my essay: “The History Of Exalted Figures”.

After the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church, there were two main schisms:

  • Between the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church (of Greece and eastern Europe) c. 1054; the latter of which was adopted by the Byzantine Empire.
  • Between the Roman Catholic Church and north-European Protestantism in the 16th century; the latter of which accounted for virtually every non-Catholic denomination in the Occident (Lutheranism in Germany, Anglicanism in England, Presbyterianism in Scotland, Mennonites in Tyrol / Friesland / Switzerland, and all the rest).

Additional fragmentation occurred.  The Coptic Church of Egypt and the Syriac “Church Of The East” (esp. Nestorianism) went their own ways from the very beginning.  Meanwhile, the Maronite Church was a peculiar hybridization of Papism and the Syriac tradition.  Miaphysite Christology was espoused by the Oriental Orthodox Church–which remained within the Nicene ambit yet rejected the Chalcedonian precedent embraced by the majority of Christendom starting in 451.  Also of note were the Egyptian “cenobitic” monks like Antony of Thebes (a.k.a. “Anthony the Great”) and Amun of Sketis (a.k.a. “Ammonius”)…leading to the legacy of the “Desert Fathers”.

(For more on the ramification of Christianity, see Bart Ehrman’s “Lost Christianities”.)

We might note that the Jewish tradition also underwent ramification.  During the Hasmonean period, there were the Maccabees (who ruled Judea) and Tobiads (a.k.a. “Hellenistai”; i.e. Hellenized Jews, who were named after the Ammonite figure, Tobiou Paides; a.k.a. “Tobiah” / “Tobias”).  All the while, there were heterodox sects like the Essenes and the Nazarenes.  That was in addition to the more orthodox denominations: the Sadducees and Pharisees. ****  Within Beth Israel, such sectarianism continued on through the Renaissance.  Three well-known examples:

  • Syrian rabbi, Yitzhak ben Shlomo Lurya of Safed (a.k.a. “Isaac Luria”) founded his own school of Kabbalah in the 16th century.  
  • Anatolian rabbi, Sabbatai Zevi of Smyrna founded the Sabbatean movement in the 17th century.
  • Ashkenazi rabbi, Israel ben Eliezer of Volhynia (a.k.a. “Baal Shem Tov”) founded Hassidic Judaism in the 18th century.

In sum: The metamorphosis of a creed is rarely a clean-cut, straight line back to its (purported) origins.  In propounding the spurious claim that a doctrine was “as is” from the get-go, one is forced to posit a fanciful past.  A sacred history is effectively a “just so story”, crafted post hoc to legitimate present claims.  As with any instance of institutionalized dogmatism, sanctified narrative elides what was invariably a meandering genealogy, comprised of a sequence of historical accidents.  Once one is sufficiently inoculated against Reality, such farce can pass as history.  Received wisdom takes on a life of its own; and memetic inertia does the rest.

{*  Bar Daisan was variously affiliated with the (Palestinian) Aramaeans and (Persian) Parthians; and later influenced the prophet, Mani of Ctesiphon.}

{**  Arianism, which held that JoN was a created being, not the literal incarnation of the Abrahamic deity, was likely the primary adversary to Nicene Christianity, which adopted a more strictly Pauline Christology and used a catechism that was maximally conducive to institutionalization.  Various off-shoots of Arian-ism arose–most notably: Anomoean-ism (alt. “Aëtian-ism”), a (Eunomian) hetero-ousian variation on the Arian sect that held that the godhead and JoN were of different substance.}

{***  Though all of the above men were figureheads in one way or another; none of them were demagogues–which is why I do not include the Geneva-based French-Swiss demagogue, Jehan Cauvin (a.k.a. “John Calvin”); as he was far more a cult leader than a reformer. His tyranny led to the emergence of the Huguenots and other Calvinist sects.}

{****  Reactionary thinking has infused Judaism from the Pharisee High Priests to German rabbi, Moses Schreiber [Sofer]: bellwether for Haredi [ultra-Orthodox] Judaism.  By contrast, reformers like Lazarus Ben-David and David Friedländer managed to secularize Judaism at the height of the Enlightenment.}

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