On Heretics & Disagreement

We muzzle dogs; shall we leave men free to open their mouths and say what they please?...God makes it plain that the false prophet is to be stoned without mercy. We are to crush beneath our heels all natural affections when his honour is at stake. The father should not spare his child, nor the husband his wife, nor the friend that friend who is dearer to him than life.
--John Calvin, Protestant Reformer and Father of Calvinism (1509-1564)
Calvin says that he is certain, and [other sects] say that they are; Calvin says that they are wrong and wishes to judge them, and so do they. Who shall be judge? What made Calvin the arbiter of all the sects, that he alone should kill? He has the Word of God and so have they. If the matter is certain, to who is it so? To Calvin? But then why does he write so many books about manifest truth?...In view of the uncertainty we must define the heretic simply as one with whom we disagree. And if then we are going to kill heretics, the logical outcome will be a war of extermination, since each is sure of himself.
--Sebastian Castellio, French theologian (1515-1563)

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30 thoughts on “On Heretics & Disagreement”

  1. You made me laugh. Nothing like burning heretics jokes over coffee on a Saturday morning! :-)

  2. I'd never heard the expression "go pound sand." And having looking it up, I come alongside in agreement.

  3. "Did you fondly believe -- I did -- that where you got among Christians, there, at least, you would escape (as behind a wall from a keen wind) from the horrible ferocity and grimness of modern thought? Not a bit of it. I blundered into it all ... 'Under judgment' is their great expression. They all talk like Covenanters or old Testament prophets. They don't think human reason or human conscience of any value at all: they maintain, as stoutly as Calvin, that there's no reason why God's dealings should appear just (let alone, merciful) to us: and they maintain the doctrine that all our righteousness is filthy rags with a fierceness and sincerity that is like a blow in the face ...." - C.S. Lewis, letter to his brother from The Kilns, 18 Februrary 1940

  4. Great stuff. I reminded me that if I had lived in the 1500's my former pastor would have burned me at the stake. And I would have willingly preferred that to agreeing with him.

    Here's a hearty cheer to all you heretics out there. 

  5. what's interesting is for paul told peter.
    and what he says about that maybe heresy has more to do with the unity of the spirit then we would think.
    or like to!
    I like what douglas campbell says about theories of justification.
    that is 1 form or another most of us hold to.
    which really don't have much to do with anything at the father the son and the spirit accomplished on the cross, in the vindication of jesus through the faithfulness to god's word and that's brings about faithful reconciliation according to the promise given to abraham . 4 of the creation or cosmo's not just 1 people and so paul came down pretty hard on peter.
    and so mankinds doctrines mostly missed the point of love ( unity of the spirit) and almost all is not all taken on a dress of exclusivity it's shameful.
    4 us as well as peter.
    blessings richard

  6. hey rich you guys out there in texas got any good voice recognition software.
    boy oh boy

  7. Can somebody better read than I am verify whether the meaning of the word 'heresy' as used in New Testament times wasn't 'difference' (from a word originally meaning 'choice').  My understanding is that it was not until figures such as Justinian with his anathema came along that the word became associated with exclusion and punishment.

  8. People sometimes tend to forget that any theology will always be a human endeavour, as fallible as those who developed it.

  9. Sorry, but your posts are unintelligible.  Drat!  I was set to get some Dragon software.  If that's the way it works, I'm out.

  10. Richard

    You provided us with the biblical source for Calvin's opinion, a few posts back! 

    You quoted Deuteronomy 18:15-18 as one of the messianic prophecies of a second Moses (Did Jesus consider himself to be the second Moses"). 

    But you left out the second part of the scripture, Deuteronomy 18:19-20:

    19 I myself will call to account anyone who does not
    listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. 20 But a prophet who
    presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who
    speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”The source text for this second Moses prophecy is surrounded by rules for holy war and purging wickedness. Only a few verses ahead in Deuteronomy 21:18-21, we find instructions for stoning to death a stubborn and rebellious son. The same chapter has instructions for what to do "if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her"; take as a wife, then later send her away if she doesn't please you.Isn't there a rational disconnect, when we search texts for snippets of "wisdom" or "prophecy" and ignore them when they are distasteful?

  11. Yeah, I'd agree with your suspicion. 'Haireo' is the root
    and is used in reference to the sects within Judaism (i.e. Sadducees,
    Pharisees, Essenes). It seems to mean, "to choose an opinion for
    oneself". Paul warns against it in various places but the sense I get is
    it a warning against sectarianism or division in the Body rather than doctrinal
    variance. They are linked ideas of course, for example in Acts 24 Paul argues
    that his belief in Christ is not at variance with the Patriarchs of Jewish
    faith, nor Hebrew Bible, but is firmly within the faith. This is a significant
    notion, that one can have a difference of opinion without necessarily being
    sectarian. Certainly, it seems the divisions caused by different ideas are what
    make them dangerous.

  12. Richard, which Calvin text did you take this from? Historian Brad Gregory reminds us something that we all need to remember about the 16th-century, and that is that what you essentially have from everyone -- all sides -- is competing absolutisms. If you like, I can find similar texts from Catholic, other "evangelical" (in the 16th-century sense), and Anabaptist writers. So what's your point?

    And I would add, from a contexualization point of view, that Calvin is in the minority - he is an exile writing for a persecuted, and legally prosecut-able group. Not unlike the position of our New Testament writers.

  13. Other bits, these ones little gems concerning the Servetus scandal, from Calvin's contemporary, Castellio:
     "When Servetus fought with reasons and writings, he should have
    been repulsed by reasons and writings""To kill a man is not to
    protect a doctrine, but it is to kill a man"Hey, I think Castellio was unfairly judging Calvin by 21st Century standards!

  14. SAM
    i was using my phone a Samsung epic.
    with gingerbread the updated soft ware,
    Dragon 11.5 works well if you have at
    least 6 gigs. of ram.
    blessings and sorry about the post.

  15. a reprint of my last post
    sorry SAM
    hope this works.
    rich constant.
    raised a Texas tradition CoC
    Now learing love and Mercy.

    What's interesting is what Paul told Peter.gal2
      what Paul says about that.
     maybe heresy has more to do with the Unity of the Spirit then we would think.
    or like to!
     I like what Douglas Campbell says about theories of justification.put forward in the reformation onward,(to say nothing of the doctrine of penance)  
    which in 1 form or another most of us hold to.
     now he considers these doctrines as a virus that infects and spreads.

    which really doesn't have much to do with anything that the Father, the Son
    and the Spirit accomplished on the cross, which brought about the  vindication of Jesus, because of his faithfulness to God's word. (not by the Works of the Law)
    This accomplishes fulfillment (Rom 3:21) which  brings about faithful
    reconciliation according to the promise given to Abraham gal3:20-29 for the restoration of the
    creation or Cosmo's (Rom 3:13-19)  not just One people,(Hebrew people) and so Paul came down pretty hard
    on peter.Gal 2:11-14
      So mankind's doctrines mostly missed the point of love (
    unity of the spirit) and almost all if not all have put  on the dress of
    " it's shameful",
    for us as well as peter.
    blessings richard

  16. This quote from Calvin is one of the reasons why I think Calvin was a product of his times and should not be raised to the level that most followers of Reformed Theology. I have heard people preaching about bringing back stoning and these are not fringe elements of the Christian faith. The history of theology in the western world (we need to familiarize ourselves more with Eastern Christian thought to be intellectually honest with ourselves) is an evolutionary process of thought on our understanding and grasp of scripture and ultimately of God. Calvin and the Reformers have their place, but we need to stop thinking that there was the Early Church, then Calvin (and the others), then the Great Awakening (all of them) then post-modernist thought - picking and choosing between them. It seems that most Christians think all other Christians, if they do not belong to the same denominations, theological groups, are heretics. Everyone is a heretic to someone.  However, we evoke the term "heresy" as if it really means anything today. Frankly, I don't think it does. It's an philosophical, theological, and anthropological artifact. It suggests that whoever accused anyone else of heresy assumes power over them, or the desires to have power over them. I find that the OT and NT are quite limited in being called the literal word of God since they do not really fully develop oppositional views toward God's word, for Israel and for the Early Church. If it were literally from God, then it would be a little clearer about what the opposition believes and the choice can be made for the believer/reader.  Paul mentioning what this person or that person said or think is incomplete.  Also, are we supposed to assume that Adam and Eve were fully explained the repercussions of them taking the fruit BEFORE they did it?  Wouldn't it be more appropriate for God to explain it to us upon us being born, even conceived in the womb, and let us choose freely and truly be responsible for our actions? If we are told simply that one person is wrong, with no reason why they are, is that really being given a choice?  Are we supposed to accept that all the heresies of the early Christians, whether they were Jews or Gentiles, were so bad when we really don't have much information on them? Sure we can talk about "gnostic" thought and Manicheanism as be antithetical to "real" Christianity, but haven't they influenced Christian thought to this day? Isn't Dante's Divine Comedy a heresy, too, in its graven images which are not supported in scripture? Don't you think that Jesus could have been clearer about his identity to avoid all the fuss? What does that say about God's character?  Is He still the Trickster that he is in Genesis, always tripping up humanity when we get too full of ourselves. And only in the past it seems that He is so willing to do so. Now, all bets are off in that it seems as though He doesn't really seem too involved as much as he used to be, maybe as much as He should be? Calling others heretics seems more to me like schoolyard bullying, some theological pecking order we have devised. We act more like unsupervised children towards one another, while He is the only one who knows our hearts, despite which theological theory - and they're all theories in my opinion.  I think a lot of Christians will be surprised who they see in God's kingdom when the time comes. I hope they get over their embarrassment quickly when they do.

  17. Hi Rich

    Thanks for the care and time you've taken to share these thoughts with us.  I think you get to the heart of the matter when you say that heresy (as appropriated by the church) is about power and exclusion whereas the heart of God is to be found in reconciliation and inclusion in all its forms.

    Blessings on your day

  18. Thanks for posting this quote, although it made me sigh deeply with the realisation that, if anything, we've regressed since it was written...

  19. Eventually, Chad, Calvin was calling the shots in civic government in Geneva, including that unfortunate aforementioned Servetus incident.

    Further, I don't think that Richard's point was to pick on Calvin as uniquely culpable.

  20. That's what scares me about those vowing to "take our country back" in righteous indignation. Let's call it what it is.... a power move. Calvin had the power and the fierce indignation to enforce what he considered a non negotiable in the doctrine Of the Trinity, and dang if he didn't pull off the same stuff as the Catholics! It's amazing what most of us would do if what we consider sacred and dear is threatened, especially if we have the POWER. Coercion's rationalized utilization certainly works...Servetus got shut up. His books got burned. We're TAKING this country back (from the heretics?)! Help me, somebody! We're you there when they crucified my Lord? He never said a mumbling' word!

  21. Richard, I was wondering where you got these quotes from.  The Calvin quote, as far as I can tell, was never written by Calvin.  I've been able to trace it back to a book by Bainton "The Travail of Religious Liberty" where he claims that Calvin wrote it in a commentary on Deuteronomy 13.  If you check his commentaries on Deut. you won't find this quote or anything similar.  I'm inclined to say that Bainton fabricated this quote.  

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