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Ancient heresies have modern expressions that influence our churches and culture, creating cruel dilemmas for today's Christian in the form of error, sin, and various distortions on orthodox faith. In Cruelty of Heresy, Bishop Allison captures the drama and relevance of the Councils of the fourth and fifth centuries and shows how the remarkable achievements of these early Ancient heresies have modern expressions that influence our churches and culture, creating cruel dilemmas for today's Christian in the form of error, sin, and various distortions on orthodox faith. In Cruelty of Heresy, Bishop Allison captures the drama and relevance of the Councils of the fourth and fifth centuries and shows how the remarkable achievements of these early struggles provide valuable guidelines for believers today.


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Ancient heresies have modern expressions that influence our churches and culture, creating cruel dilemmas for today's Christian in the form of error, sin, and various distortions on orthodox faith. In Cruelty of Heresy, Bishop Allison captures the drama and relevance of the Councils of the fourth and fifth centuries and shows how the remarkable achievements of these early Ancient heresies have modern expressions that influence our churches and culture, creating cruel dilemmas for today's Christian in the form of error, sin, and various distortions on orthodox faith. In Cruelty of Heresy, Bishop Allison captures the drama and relevance of the Councils of the fourth and fifth centuries and shows how the remarkable achievements of these early struggles provide valuable guidelines for believers today.

30 review for Cruelty of Heresy: An Affirmation of Christian Orthodoxy

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jerry

    This is an outstanding treatment of the two ditches of Christological heresy, adoptionism and docetism. Allison makes the case convincingly that all heresies fall into one of these camps, and he succinctly demonstrates how the identity of the God-man Jesus was preserved through the ecumenical councils of the church. And perhaps most unique to this book he draws out the practical consequences, the cruelties, of distorting who Jesus is.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Shawn

    Introduction This book has left me quite impressed with this author’s extensive knowledge and obvious writing skill, which have combined in relaying a broad scope of what may be labeled “heresy”. Nevertheless, in this book, “heresy” is essentially defined as everything that contrasts this author’s particular view of orthodoxy. I must begin by acknowledging this is very valuable reading; however, the title is quite misleading. Even though the author is attempting to portray heresy as something to Introduction This book has left me quite impressed with this author’s extensive knowledge and obvious writing skill, which have combined in relaying a broad scope of what may be labeled “heresy”. Nevertheless, in this book, “heresy” is essentially defined as everything that contrasts this author’s particular view of orthodoxy. I must begin by acknowledging this is very valuable reading; however, the title is quite misleading. Even though the author is attempting to portray heresy as something to be feared as cruel, he has nevertheless accomplished the opposite: demonstrating that orthodoxy is nothing less than a synthesis from fascinating heretical dialectic about the phenomenon of Christ. The beautiful thing about this book is that it allows lay readers to grasp and experience this fascinating dialectic for themselves. Within a matter of hours, the reader may systematically review and understand the heresies and orthodoxy that developed over centuries. In writing this review, I will attempt to identify the heresies and intersperse some of my own views, which I’m certain this author will also label as heresy. We shall see that the heresies are very much interrelated, and the author’s perception of orthodoxy may itself be labeled heresy. However, the author initially states: “As a skull-and-crossbones on a bottle warns that the contents are poison to our bodies, so the label ‘heresy’ warns us that it is poison to our souls.” By such a statement, the author discourages the religious “seeker” from seeking! In the preface, the author labels such seekers as “those whose confidence in themselves leads them to devalue the creeds and councils.” This statement essentially indicts anyone for entertaining beliefs that extend beyond the narrow definitions of orthodoxy established over 1500 years ago. However, as we shall see, contradictions arise as the author progresses through explaining the heresies until he finally admits that heresy is integral to orthodoxy, writing as follows: “Whereas successful heresies become new orthodoxies, so also orthodoxy tends to drift into heresy. When the creeds are accepted as correct or orthodox almost immediately orthodox behavior begins to demand assent to the creeds rather than “yes” to the God to whom the creeds point, and thus a new heresy is born from “correct” orthodoxy”. -C. FitzSimmons Allison The above quote by the author brings to mind congregations of church-goers blindly reciting the Apostles Creed without any concept of what they are really saying. We have to remember that, just as the processes of heresy formed the ladders by which we ascended to orthodoxy, so the mental processes of modern “seekers”, who must gain personal affirmation for their beliefs, are vital and necessary for authentic faith. Without such seeking and revelation, we have nothing other than simple indoctrination by priests instructing people to believe as they are told. Jesus calls us to that simple “yes” the author identifies in the quote above; but Jesus proclaimed no orthodoxy and in fact resisted the orthodoxy of the time, which existed in the Pharisaic notions of religion. In truth, the entire process of the development of orthodoxy is fraught with a certain arrogance. Who are we, as mere men, to define God, define Jesus, and suggest that, through orthodoxy, we have arrived at a set of static definitions that endure forever? Who are we, as mere men, to declare that the processes of dialectical synthesis that gained us the pinnacle of orthodoxy should be concluded? This author admits wholeheartedly that these processes were governed by the Roman authorities with the primary purpose of unifying the empire. Without embracement by the emperor, a secular figure, orthodoxy would not have persisted. In fact, orthodoxy would likely not have endured without the subsequent terrorism of the Catholic church in the form of inquisitions, excommunications, crusades and stake-burning executions. Much to my dismay, this author has ignored the factual historical terrorism of the Catholic Church, even though it is fundamental to the preservation of the sort of orthodox indoctrination he supports by castigating the valuable contributions of free-thinkers, such as Carl Jung, Scott Peck and Meister Eckhardt. The author too quickly dismisses the empowerment of orthodoxy by the Romans, stating in the introduction that this: “reflects not so much a concern for truth as an interest in the way groups use powers.” Really? Can we really summarily dismiss the concern that truth is marred by the interests of those in power who indoctrinate to consolidate and retain power? Can we so easily dismiss Rome’s forced imposition of its chosen version of Christianity upon the masses? If Christ had wanted us to have static orthodox doctrine, He would have written it and left it for us. What Christ wanted us to grasp is the infinity of God that is beyond the ramblings of human religious theologians. We can see by example what countless words can never adequately explain. We are guided by our emulation of Christ, not by precepts developed by pagan Roman authorities 400 years after Christ died! The Heresies The author is very effective in explaining the heresies, which he categorizes under two main labels: Docetism (being of Alexandria, Hellenistic, Platonic, ontological, mystical, metaphysical, allegorical) or Adoptionism (being of Antioch, Judaic, Aristotelian, moral, rational, ethical, literal). Docetism - All Docetic heresies thrive on the human tendency to resolve the problems of life by some sort of oblivion, escape, or death. “I’m religious but I don’t believe in institutional Christianity” is a Docetic way to back away from frustrations and responsibilities of putting beliefs into practice. Docetism is spiritual abnegation of any responsibilities to incarnate the ideas, values or love that constitute one’s belief system. Docetism is to love and care only in the abstract. Docetism preys upon the human tendency to flee the risks and vulnerabilities of actual love. Forms of Docetism are listed below: Gnosticism – For Gnostics, salvation is by knowledge (gnosis). Gnosticism is characterized by claims to special knowledge held by an intellectual elite who are on their way to becoming super-spirts. Gnostics see the body and time as prisons for pure and innocent souls. Manichaeism – St. Augustine belonged to this sect prior to his conversion. Manichaeans contrasted the Latin word for love, amor, with the Latin word roma, thereby claiming that the Church of Rome had reversed not only the letters but also the true content of love. Truly, anyone who has read the exploitive history of the Roman Catholic church can see the truth in this. Again, the informed reader becomes slightly aghast when the author fails to discuss the terrorism of the Romans and of the Catholic Church under this segment. Modalistic Monarchians - The Monarchians insisted on maintaining a radical monotheism instead of appreciating the distinctiveness of the Trinity. They merged the three as temporary modes of the one, teaching that God could and did express himself at different times and stages in diverse forms or modes. Sabellianism – Sabellius was a Monarchian who suggested that if the Father was manifest as Jesus then it was, in fact, the Father who was crucified. Thus, the message of the crucifixion is God’s suffering in toleration of our sins, bearing them instead of destroying us. The author seeks to contradict Sabellianism by mentioning that in scripture Jesus prays to the Father, thus introducing a differentiation. But, as we shall see, using this defense contradicts the author’s latter refutation of Arianism. In fact, in the ultimate definition of orthodoxy this issue is never resolved. The Romans simply defined God as mysteriously both three and one in order to quell dissension and unify the empire. Orthodoxy really has no stance by which to deny Sabellianism. Arianism – While the Sabellians sacrificed the many for the sake of unity, Arius sacrificed ultimate unity by postulating one superior God and two subordinate deities (Jesus and the Holy Spirit). According to Arius, Jesus Christ was an intermediate deity between God and humanity, neither fully God or fully human. Conversely, orthodoxy contends God and Christ are of one substance. The author contends that, if Christ and God are not of the same substance, then humanity is not yet reconciled to God; but this contradicts his refutation of Sabellianism, wherein he contended separateness by virtue of the fact that Jesus prayed to the Father. Moreover, the sameness of Father and Son the author now exhorts begins to sound a lot like the Modalism he previously listed as heresy! To pull himself out of this quagmire, the author seeks to explain the orthodox position by using the example that a man and woman are particular persons who share a common humanity, suggesting that humanity implies a general undifferentiated reality (God), whereas the particular realities are man and woman (Christ and Holy Spirit). The author remarks that no person finds fulfilment in isolation or selfishness, but rather in union. Having this capacity for relationship is the likeness, or image that we share with God. I acknowledge this is quite a good example, but it is nevertheless insufficient to differentiate the orthodox conclusion from the Modalistic position. Orthodoxy has never explained how the trinity can be both differentiated and one; it has only announced that it is so. Perhaps we all err in our repetitive attempts to grasp the un-graspable instead of simply recognizing God as truly ineffable. Religious problems arise when humans are arrogant enough to perceive themselves capable of understanding and grasping the full extent of God’s manifestations, which extend infinitely beyond us. Diversity is the hallmark of the creation. To suggest that God is incapable of manifesting in infinitely diverse ways implies a limited God. The mystery of the Trinity, nor of God, has never been dispelled by orthodoxy. Apollinarianism (Monophysite/Coptic) – Apollinarious saw the divine logos replacing the mind of Christ. Thus, Jesus possessed a human body but not a human mind. The orthodox issue with this is that only a portion of the humanness of Christ becomes unified with God. Orthodoxy saw the necessity for preserving Jesus’ complete human nature in order for redemption to be fully transmitted to mankind. The author provides an example of modern Apollinarianism in the Christian who beseechs one to not ask questions but just have faith, as if one’s mind must be left outside the church. Apollinarious taught that human will is replaced or destroyed in the process of salvation. The author suggests that Apollinarianism is like the parent who loves their child and so lets it win in all the games, does its homework, guards it from other children, etc. However, the cross symbolizes the unwillingness of God to intervene with us prematurely, save us from suffering, or allow our spiritual growth to become retarded by such spoiling. We receive no Apollinarian short-cut. Eutychianism (Monophysite/Coptic) – Eutyches could not accept the orthodox contention that Christ was one person and two natures. Eutyches admitted a union of two natures before the incarnation but would not accept there were two natures after the incarnation. Eutyches believed Christ was eventually absorbed into divinity. This is a perception of the human Christ evolving into divine spirit by spiritual growth or metamorphosis. In contrast, orthodoxy insists on two natures before and after union. In refuting Eutychianism the author broadly attacks mysticism, somehow seeing the transcendence to spirit as a destruction of humanity, rather than accepting human physicality as a cocoon within which we harbor a developing spirit. The author insists upon a Christ that is fully sinless humanity; a Christ that is as an Adam restored to his original state before disobedience. The author never addresses the scripture that mentions the resurrected Christ as spirit, initially unrecognizable to those who knew him in His physical life, appearing and disappearing, moving in and out of physicality. Adoptionism – Adoptionism is the other broad form of heresy categorization used by the author. Adoptionism accepts Christ as an example to follow. Those who do so successfully are rewarded with “sonship” or divine acceptance. Adoptionists see Jesus’ baptism as a kind of knighting ceremony in which some measure of divinity is conferred as a result of God’s being “well pleased” with Him. Adoptionists suggest that the deity grew by gradual progress out of humanity. Jesus is therefore the example for all to follow. The author criticizes adoptionism on the basis that it is a quest for self-righteousness. I would be remiss not to point out that the human journey involves a “quest for righteousness” that is not always “self-righteousness”. The thirst for righteousness is what motivates the spiritual pilgrim to discover God. God is righteousness. Attempting to gain a state of righteousness without God is a normal part of the journey in spiritual development that all must meander before gaining true realization that all things are given by grace and we only truly advance in concert with God. Jesus provided a complete example for us: Jesus was baptized, prayed, suffered and ministered via empowerment of the Father. Anyone who has ever prayerfully asked God for the strength to achieve a righteous goal and subsequently gained that pinnacle understands the biblical passage: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Too many people retreat from Adoptionism into a passive ambivalence; sort of like asking for a certain tool, say a hammer, merely to have it, but for no purpose. Why borrow a hammer if you aren’t going to use it? Why ask for righteousness if you aren’t going to let it be seen in the world? Self-righteousness is like asking for righteousness and doing nothing with it. True righteousness inculcates a desire to see it promulgated in service to others. Tapping into God’s power gives us the ability to experience some measure of righteousness, joyfully, without an unbearable burden. Things grow clearer in the light of Christ: one sees the hungry and needy they never noticed before, one sees one’s family, friends and enemies in a new light and gains joy in responding to them righteously. This is very different than seeking to be superman, which is the rug the author wishes to sweep all Adoptionism under. Forms of Adoptionism are listed in the paragraphs that follow: Ebionism – The Ebionites accepted Jesus as Messiah but rejected his initial divine sonship. Jesus was simply the son of Joseph and Mary upon whom the Spirit of God descended on the occasion of his baptism. The divine sonship was a kind of reward for having obeyed the law, demonstrating that the law can be obeyed. Here the author misses the greatest of Christ’s examples which is his constant prayer to the Father, by which process Jesus was empowered. Because of this persistent praying, Jesus is indeed an example for us to follow, i.e. our strength emanates from the Father and Jesus exemplifies how to attain it. The author contends that Ebionism misses the need to accept Christ as savior; but I challenge the author to refute what more one can do to accept Christ than accepting Him as the way, the truth, and the life? If we accept Christ as real, do as Christ did, and pray to the Father for strength to persevere (as opposed to believing it is all our own doing), have we not accepted Christ as savior? The author perceives something more than this which he attributes to orthodoxy and which is indeed a magical sort of redemption that he believes comes from simply accepting Christ as savior, a process that he likely believes must entail the abandonment of logic and reason. However, I assert that denying Christ as an example is itself heresy and accepting Christ as an example is to truly believe in Christ, particularly when we accept that Christ’s example leads to our spiritual salvation. The authors very valid point that human striving is heresy is negated by the joyful emulation of Christ that occurs via strength gleaned from the Father in prayer. We may cease striving and abide joyfully. Socinianism – Socinianism pictures Jesus as one who was able not to sin by the power of his will over the temptations he met, thereby demonstrating that humans may become divine by will power. Socinianism is characterized by condemnation of those who fail. Nestorianism – Nestorians asserted both the humanity and divinity of Christ; but were accused for denying the unity by saying unity is not essential. A proponent of Nestorianism was Theodore of the Maronites , who objected to calling The Virgin Mary theotokos, meaning “bearer of God”. Nestorians accepted that the full humanity of Christ was born of Mary but not the divine logos. The Nestorians believed the humanity and logos became unified by the will; but orthodoxy insists on the term theotokos as implying ontological union from conception (Hence arises the veneration of Mary. Orthodoxy sought to negate the interpretation that divinity was conferred to Jesus only at His baptism). The author provides an example for Nestorianism as that of parents telling an adopted child that they can be a member of the family only so long as they are obedient. The orthodox contend that it is better not to be able to sin than it is to be able not to sin; but one wonders if this is not a robotic sort of existence. We must remember that it is the existential angst of decision making that fertilizes our spiritual growth. We cannot truly appreciate compassion unless we’ve experience greed, love unless we’ve known hate, truth unless we’ve known liars, etc. Hence, the state of being sinless is a platonic idea of perfection, while reality clearly involves lives that are mired in the shadows of uncertain, consequential decision making, urges and even involuntary reactions. Pelagianism – Pelagianism teaches that the human will has the power to break the bondage of sin. We must have on the “wedding garment” that is our own righteousness before we can come to the feast, i.e. salvation. Forgiveness of sin is promised only to him that “forsaketh it”. Pelagianism asserts that Christ’s humanity is one with His divinity merely by the moral agreement of the human and divine wills. Orthodoxy contends that if our wills are self-indulgent and self-centered, we become enslaved to sin, losing our freedom. CONTINUED IN COMMENT SECTION BELOW

  3. 4 out of 5

    David

    Next semester, in the campus ministry I run, I'm planning to teach on Christian orthodox and the heresies. To brush up on the ins and outs of the various early church controversies, I've picked up a few books. The last one I read was brilliant (The Suffering of the Impassible God). This one, recommended to me, was just okay. Its not bad or anything. Allison covers the various heresies that arose in the early church. He roots them all as expressions of Docetism or Adoptionism, as the church went Next semester, in the campus ministry I run, I'm planning to teach on Christian orthodox and the heresies. To brush up on the ins and outs of the various early church controversies, I've picked up a few books. The last one I read was brilliant (The Suffering of the Impassible God). This one, recommended to me, was just okay. Its not bad or anything. Allison covers the various heresies that arose in the early church. He roots them all as expressions of Docetism or Adoptionism, as the church went back and forth with these extremes. Further, he ties in how these errors in belief lead into mistakes in practice. This is not a dry theological tome. If you want a good overview of heresies and orthodoxy, this is not a bad book. The reason I only give it three stars is that there are better books out there. The first that come to mind are Know the Creeds and Councils and Know the Heretics. I also recall a book called Heresies and How to Avoid Them. Any of these would be a better book on about the same level as this one. Allison's book seems a bit dated; some of his analogies fall flat or don't seem relevant. In other words, this is worth reading (especially if you get a cheap used copy), but I'd recommend other books first.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kenneth

    This book is both a survey of the ancient heresies - Docetism, Adoptionism, Gnosticism, Arianism, Apollinarianism, Nestorianism, and Eutychianism/Monophysitism - and how aspects of them keep recurring throughout subsequent history including in our own times. Bishop Allison defends historic Christian orthodoxy by describing how aspects of the heresies distort the Christian gospel and their effects on individual Christians. For all that, Christian orthodoxy over the early centuries of the Church, This book is both a survey of the ancient heresies - Docetism, Adoptionism, Gnosticism, Arianism, Apollinarianism, Nestorianism, and Eutychianism/Monophysitism - and how aspects of them keep recurring throughout subsequent history including in our own times. Bishop Allison defends historic Christian orthodoxy by describing how aspects of the heresies distort the Christian gospel and their effects on individual Christians. For all that, Christian orthodoxy over the early centuries of the Church, defined itself over against the heresies in the early ecumenical councils and in the doctrines they promulgated. The shining example of this is the Nicene Creed, a lodestone of mainstream trinitarian theology for Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, and other Protestants.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Robert Scholl

    Good Read I was expecting/hoping for something describing ancient heresies and a history of the councils. This book certainly touches on that but really wrestles with the reasons why the heresies matter. I appreciate how the heresies were organized in the book and the idea of our creeds being a set of limits. I'm curious to read more about the subject Good Read I was expecting/hoping for something describing ancient heresies and a history of the councils. This book certainly touches on that but really wrestles with the reasons why the heresies matter. I appreciate how the heresies were organized in the book and the idea of our creeds being a set of limits. I'm curious to read more about the subject

  6. 4 out of 5

    Larry Ellis

    This is a short but poignant book that explains some of the major historic Christian heresies. It also demonstrates how many of these destructive strains of theology can be found today within certain Christian communities. The author is a retired Episcopal bishop of South Carolina and an excellent scholar of history.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ben Crosby

    An excellent little book on the great Christological and Trinitarian heresies. It is particularly helpful in making clear the stakes of heretical belief for the Christian life, suggesting that heresies can broadly speaking be characterized as either docetic (and oriented towards escape from the world) or adoptionist (and oriented towards putting man, not God, at the center of salvation).

  8. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Canavan

    Excellent consideration of the major heresies in the early church and how they were confronted with the wisdom of the creeds. Allison shows that heresy has real world victims: only Christian orthodoxy is good news and any deviation from that leads to bad news for real people. Great discussion of how all of the heresies from this earlier era are still with us today.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany Robinson

    Well written - thorough without being confusing. A succinct description of the root of the fallicies I regularly come into contact with - things that have felt off, but I couldn't quite put my finger on why... Helpful and a good, interesting read. Well written - thorough without being confusing. A succinct description of the root of the fallicies I regularly come into contact with - things that have felt off, but I couldn't quite put my finger on why... Helpful and a good, interesting read.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Mom

    Truly an amazing treatise wonderfully informative scholarly and humorous when not tremendously distressing I now want to real everything "Fitz" has ever written! Sorry I have to return it to Larry, but will now scout around for a copy of my own! Truly an amazing treatise wonderfully informative scholarly and humorous when not tremendously distressing I now want to real everything "Fitz" has ever written! Sorry I have to return it to Larry, but will now scout around for a copy of my own!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Karen L.

    I will finish later when I get my friends notes from a class she taught on this book. Thank you Ann! It is a good book, I got halfway through and realized I was having trouble keeping track of all the heresies! I guess you could say it gets theologically technical for a lay person.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Nathan

    Bridges the gap between head and heart in the study of early Christian heresies and the development of orthodox creeds. It moved me past believing orthodoxy to be true to desiring it to be true.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kristin

    From a historical perspective, it is an interesting look at the controversies which led to the creation of the Christian creeds. But it is, of course, a history written by the "winners". From a historical perspective, it is an interesting look at the controversies which led to the creation of the Christian creeds. But it is, of course, a history written by the "winners".

  14. 5 out of 5

    eryk

    A highly interesting book written with humour and erudition. I appreciate in particular how the author illustrates the sociological repercussions of the great historical heresies for our times.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Terence

    A well written history of heresies over time.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Robbie Pruitt

    Excellent book and very important.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Doug

  18. 4 out of 5

    Joan

  19. 4 out of 5

    Terry Edward Lewis

  20. 4 out of 5

    Todd

  21. 4 out of 5

    simeon jemmett

  22. 5 out of 5

    Perry Eury

  23. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Curran

  24. 4 out of 5

    Austin Wilson

  25. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

  26. 4 out of 5

    Robert Tessmer

  27. 5 out of 5

    Cecile Mines

  28. 4 out of 5

    Marie

  29. 5 out of 5

    Katherine

  30. 5 out of 5

    JP Shinn

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