Thursday, September 14, 2006

Some theses on heresy

In his “Thesen zur Grundlegung der Christologie” (presented in Tübingen, 1969/70), Eberhard Jüngel includes a series of 30 theses on heresy and superstition. Here’s a selection:
  • There is no heresy that does not ultimately give rise to christological defects or wrong christological decisions.
  • Heresies are attempts to enrich faith illegitimately.
  • The basic form of all heresies is addition.
  • The basic heresy of addition is a denial of the particula exculsiva “solus Christus” and an attack on the particulae exculsivae “sola gratia,” “sola fide” and “sola scriptura.”
  • The cause of all heresies is the inability (i.e. the unwillingness) to let God be heard in Jesus Christ.
  • Heresies are unholy.
  • A theology that does not say No to untruth cannot say Yes to truth.
  • A merely negative defence against heresies is itself heretical.
  • A mere recitation of confessions of Jesus Christ does not preserve theology from becoming heretical, but makes it all the more heretical. The mere recitation of confessions is christological superstition.
—Eberhard Jüngel, “Thesen zur Grundlegung der Christologie,” in Unterwegs zur Sache: Theologische Bemerkungen (Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1988), pp. 283-84.


WTM said...

Thats a very Lutheran, and yet very interesting, list. I'm not quite sure about #3. What about Arianism? Where is the addition in that heresy?

D.W. Congdon said...

I don't see how the list is particularly Lutheran apart from #4, and even that one would be perfectly acceptable to all the magisterial Reformers. I see Barth in this list more than anything else. It's a fantastic set of theses, and I hope to read the rest of them.

The addition thesis gave me pause as well. I think Jüngel has in mind the right idea that orthodox is the simplest solution, and heresies are always complications of the truth. The truth in its most straightforward form is too difficult to handle for some, mainly because the doctrines of the faith sustain tensions and hold together paradoxes. Heresies, for the most part, are attempts to explain away these tensions and paradoxes. The very simplicity of most doctrines is also what makes them the most mysterious. Heresy attempts to "figure out" these mysteries by systematizing it according to external, metaphysical commitments.

For example, the confession that Jesus is fully human and fully divine is very difficult to sustain for those with prior commitments. Apollinarius is a good example of this, who argued that "ontologically, it appeared to him that the union of complete God with complete man could not be more than a juxtaposition or collocation" (Catholic Encyclopedia). And so he replaced the human mind with the divine Logos, effectively sacrificing the true humanity of Jesus in order to sustain a unity in the incarnation that fit his ontology. His heresy is an addition in the sense that it complicates and explains the simple mystery of the orthodox faith. I suggest that something similar is the case for Arianism.

Shane said...

i don't think orthodoxy is particularly 'simpler' than heresy, in fact, it seems to me the other way round. The trinity is hard to understand, tritheism is pretty easy.

Patrik said...

I like the last one.

Nic said...

I like the last THREE! Makes a nice little bundle of intellectual dynamite that ought to be tossed about more often. Might get folks to consider the rest of the list, who otherwise would click right past it.

And I agree about #3/#4: it does seem that at least some heresy is more a change than an addition.

Unless by "the basic form of all heresies is addition" Jungel means it is extraordinarily rare (or unknown?) for heresy to take the form of simple omission-- to simply leave out something entirely. Heresy always fiddles with doctrine (adding new meaning to old proposition) or adds more doctrine than necessary (legalistic lumber, usually). Those could both be "addition" in that sense.