Saturday, January 10, 2009


Nice piece by Stanley Fish on Roland Burris and St. Augustine. I like Stanley Fish, and I abjectly apologize to anyone offended by that. This piece starts with how Augustine saved the church for sinners by defeating the party who thought that compromisers with repression should never be bishops. This mirrors the efforts of Jerome against the Pelagians: the latter were a free-will sect that denied original sin. The essence of both these fights was whether Christianity would be for everyone ... i.e., sinners, or in Fish's argument, the tainted ... or for the elect ... i.e., saints.

But the truth is a little more complex. Augustine's universalism was repressive in the sense that he created the ideology that required sinners to find redemption in the church, and then averred that those who found redemption had been chosen by god, and those that did not had been rejected by god, all in advance of the fact of course. The Pelagians argued that god gave us the ability to save ourselves and then waited to see what we would do. Of course, that would have been a god who did not know in advance, and that was the core of the heresy. And this is the core problem in monotheism ... the muslims had the same problem which they solved by slaughtering the free-will thinkers, the Mu'tazili.

The Donatist heresy was just a little too pure for practical purposes. If those who cooperated with Roman repression by denying their earlier Christianity were banned from returning to their earlier positions in the church, it would mean that the church would be dominated by purists little prone to practicality. But the church is always worldly ... the essence of understanding religious history is always to remember the relationship of the church to the state. (I have a brewing post on this again ... and this post is a sort of placeholder while I try to rouse my energies to the 6 hours it will take me to choke it out ... given that I have three things to write for work and two big emails to friends that are slated for a Sunday which I would prefer to spend in solitude and rambling, well it does not look good ... but there is always procrastination to hope for.)

All the assorted religious movements in christianity are prefigured in the heresies of the early centuries. The Donatists are a little like Fred Phelps ... one taste of hell and you burn forever.

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