Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Guilt by Association: Heresy Catalogues in Early Christianity

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Guilt by Association: Heresy Catalogues in Early Christianity

Article excerpt

Ancient Guilt by Association: Heresy Catalogues in Early Christianity. By Geoffrey S, Smith. (New York: Oxford University Press. 2015. Pp. xvi, 196. $74.00. ISBN 9780-19-938678-9.)

From the second century churchmen have found it necessary to draw up genealogies of heresy, in which each generation ramifies the errors of the last. The aim of this excellent book is to discover how the practice evolved and how the genealogies served their creators. As Smith demonstrates at length (pp. 11-21), there was no true pagan or Jewish antecedent, since the "doxographic" narratives in which one phEosopher succeeds another were seldom compiled with polemical intent even when they are probably fictitious. Hairesis in classical Greek is a term denoting one of many contending schools or parties, each of which might be legitimately "chosen"; since Smith ascribes to St. Justin Martyr its first use as "pejorative designation" for a party or sect (p. 59), he seems to assume (correctly) that at Galatians 5:20 it means a tendency to schism. When the term comes to denote an aberrant teaching, no one calls himself a heretic, and one of the earliest catalogs is found in a Coptic text from Nag Hammadi, which perhaps (although Smith contests this) anticipates Epiphanius and Hippolytus in treating the Greek philosophies on all fours with Christian errors (pp. 108-21). On pages 89-94 Smith concludes that Jews were regarded as heretics by Hegesippus; the term hairesis, however, is used only by Eusebius (Church History 4.22), whose excerpts are all that remains of the second-century original; even had the term hairesis occurred in this, it would surely have signified only what it signifies in Josephus when he divides his co-religionists into "sects." Justin Martyr's assertion that Pharisees and Sadducees were heretics even to other Jews is plainly a tendentious innovation, as Smith perceives (pp. 103OS). He argues, more contentiously, that when Justin says, "We have to hand a syntagma, which we can pass on to you" {1 Apology 26), he means only that such a document is in use among Christians, not that he is its author (pp. …

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