Against Heresies

Church-Fathers

As I study the history of Christianity, I came across some of the significant heresies that arose during the second and third centuries. I also read about the apostolic church fathers who defended the Faith from the heretics while at the same time clarifying its doctrines. Two of the major heresies during that time were Gnosticism and Marcionism. Gnosticism comes from the Greek word “gnosis” meaning knowledge. Proponents of this heretical teaching posit that there are only certain persons who are endowed with a special mystical knowledge from God thereby entrusted with some special revelation. Moreover, they came to the conclusion that all matter is evil, or at best unreal. Gnosticism was a very dangerous as it denies several crucial Christian doctrines such as creation, incarnation, and resurrection. Among the most significant, if not the most significant, findings of the previous century were the manuscripts located inside the Qumran caves near the Dead Sea, from which it gets its name, The Dead Sea Scrolls. Archaeologists believe that these were the domicile of either the Jewish sect known as the Essenes or the Gnostic monks. Along with the oldest extant manuscript of Isaiah, were also found copies of Gnostic scriptures.

The other heresy of the period, variations of which still linger in the 21st century, is Marcionism whose founder was Marcion, a son of the bishop of Sinope in Pontus. Similar to the Gnostics, he had a profound dislike towards both Judaism and the material world. After gathering a following, he founded his own church, which lasted for several centuries as a rival to the orthodox Christian church. Marcion was convinced that the material world is evil and that its creator is likewise evil or ignorant. Thus, Marcion claimed that the God of the Old Testament is different from the Father of Jesus Christ, the God of what we now refer to as the New Testament.

The rise of these heresies necessitated the response of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. This response came in the form of a canonized Scripture, creed, and apostolic succession. In fact, a close scrutiny of what we call the “Apostles’ Creed” shows that this early creed is directed against Marcion and the Gnostics, specifically when it referred to God as the “Almighty” (Gk. “pantokrator), not to mention its extensive paragraph dealing with the nature of the Son, Jesus Christ.

It was therefore during period that certain leaders of the Church, those we refer to as the early “apostolic church fathers”. These church fathers include Irenaeus of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian of Carthage and Origen of Alexandria. As bishops, pastors and teachers of the church, they wrote extensive expositions of the orthodox Christian Faith in response to the heretical teachings of the Gnostics and Marcion. Thus, we could say that the presence of heresies and heretics drove some church elders to expound on the orthodox doctrines of Christianity thereby enriching the deposit of Faith for the benefit of not only those who were alive during that time, but to those of us who call ourselves Christians in the 21st century and beyond.

 

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The Defenders of the Faith

Justin_Trial1

Last week, a news article on “e-cigs” or “vaping” was posted on the GMA News Facebook® page. It warned of the possible dangers of same, even mentioning that there was a certain study conducted on e-cigarettes or personal vaporizers published in a German publication. According to the news article, e-cigs contain formaldehyde among other harmful chemicals; so much so that even inhaling second-hand smoke or better yet, vapor, is dangerous. A similar warning was likewise issued by the Department of Health. However, there was one thing those warnings had in common: they failed to adequately cite any conclusive scientific study regarding their claims. Surely, mere mention that a certain study was conducted is not and will not be enough. As with all cultures and ages, the fear of the unknown haunts us.

A similar predicament was Christianity under during its early centuries. Although, according to Dr. Justo Gonzalez, there was no systematic persecution of Christians, it was nevertheless illegal to be a Christian. It was very easy though to cause any Christian to be arrested and punished; all it took was to present an accusation, no matter how frivolous or fantastic it is. Among those false accusations against Christians were insubordination, anti-patriotism, treason, sexual orgies, incest, human sacrifice, and worst of all, cannibalism. However, these accusations were not totally without reason. Christians services during that time were also called “love feasts”, much like “The Feast” gatherings of Bro. Bo Sanchez of the Light of Jesus Family, and they also called each other “brother” or “sister”. To make things worse, other people thought that Christians were eating infants during their gatherings because the former heard that the latter eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus Christ! Since all of these things were done in private and only Christian initiates were admitted, there was really no way for the pagans to verify the rumors that they have been hearing.

Thus, a new breed of Christians, called “apologists” or “defenders” arose to address and dispel these misunderstandings. Among them were Quadranus, Aristides, Athenagoras, Theophilus, Origen, Mincious Felix, Tertullian and Tatian. But the most famous of the early apologists was Justin, whose martyrdom earned him the moniker “Martyr”, such did he come to be known, St. Justin Martyr. Only two of his works still exist: The Apologies (consisting of two parts) and a Dialogue with Trypho, a Jewish rabbi.

It was during those turbulent times that some of the most remarkable theological works of Christianity were produced. According to Dr. Gonzalez, it is by reading and studying these ancient works that we can know the main objections pagans raised against Christianity, as well as the manner in which the most cultured members of the Church responded to them, and how Christian theology developed in the very act of responding to pagan objections.