The nascent Christianity is characterized by an extreme variety, based on the different relationships with Judaism and with the world polytheistic crossed by the missions of the "gentiles", as well as by the different way of referring to Christ in primitive communities. The Letters of Paul and the Acts of Luke bear witness to the conflicts and differences that exist between the theology of the Johannine writings and that of the Synoptic Gospels.. The examples could be multiplied, taking into account even the most ancient Christian writings, hereinafter referred to as "apocryphal". The many "Churches" built their identity; individuals, and with them doctrines and customs, circulated, while aspirations for unity found expression. Since the "Churches" lived the present as the imminence of the end, the riots arising from the different currents were always interpreted as as many signals of the arrival of the supreme hour: just think of the intervention of the "false prophets" described by the apocalyptic tradition. however, since the parousia (i] return of the Christ) was slow to manifest itself and that Christianity was preparing to spread in a world that it no longer perceived as foreign, it was forced to represent its internal conflicts as inevitable in a society founded on a certain stability and to add models taken from the surrounding universe to the delimitation and exclusion criteria deriving from its original heritage.

art_4650_1_Spiezer_Chronik_Jan_Hus_1485[1]The opposition between "heresies" and "orthodoxy" was the result of the strengthening of institutional structures. In the fourth century, Eusebius of Caesarea imposed the image, destined to last over time, of the original unity of the Church, threatened by "heresies" which appeared only at a later time. A vision that, with a few exceptions, it permeated historiography up to the twentieth century, until she was shocked by Walter Bauer and his attempt to demonstrate that the so-called "heretical" currents were in fact majority in the second century, while the trends retrospectively considered "orthodox" were a minority. Bauer's thesis, although questionable in many points, is in agreement with the development of the theories outlined a few decades ago following the discoveries on Gnosticism, like the Coptic library of Nag Hammadi (in Egypt), which made it possible to examine without prejudice the so-called "apocryphal" literature, and to a greater and deeper understanding of the relationship between Christianity and Judaism in the early centuries. However, one of the weaknesses of the thesis consists in having maintained the heresy-orthodoxy binomial, and therefore not having abandoned the concepts developed by apologetics.

The notion of heresy in fact it is specified in the middle of the 1st century, through a unifying description of the errors destined to later become an instrument of controversy, and of which the work of the apologist testifies in the first place (and martyr) Giustino. The adoption of a common model of exclusion took place when the Church tried to be recognized by affirming its authenticity according to the different ways of thinking of those it wanted to convince. The Treated against all the heresies that have occurred of Justin has been lost, but the allusions that the author himself makes to you inApology and Dialogue with Tryphon, as well as some traces present in Irenaeus of Lyons, allow us to reconstruct his heresiology. Before Justin, the term hairesis had been taken up by the Greeks to designate, in a deprecatory sense, diverging trends, as in Paul's Letter to the Galatians and in his first Letter to the Corinthians. Already in the Acts of the Apostles - where the term is generally used, in accordance with the customs of the Hellenized Jews, to indicate in neutral terms the currents of Judaism -, in any case, there is a negative hint. In the second Letter of Peter, one of the later writings of the New Testament, haireseis in the plural it is used in the sense of "pernicious doctrines", and the term hairetikos which appears in the Letter to Titus attributed to Paul is decidedly pejorative. One meaning, this, which is accentuated even more in the letters of Ignatius of Antioch.

To be new, in Justin, are on the one hand the strengthening of the restrictive sense of the term applied to "false prophets" and the diabolical origin of the promoters of unrest, and on the other hand the polemical adaptation to Christian heresiology of schemes typical of the historiography of the Hellenistic and imperial era used to refer to the philosophical "schools". summing up, it can be said that Justin took advantage of the vague sense of "school of thought" assumed by the term hairesis in the treaties Peri haireseiòn (On heresies) starting from the second half of the 2nd century BC, distinguishing it from the institutional school, scholè, referred to in the titled works Successions of the philosophers, slightly earlier, about the four schools of Athens (Accademia, High school, Garden, Portico). The analogy thus established by Justin between philosophical "schools" and Christian "sects" gave way not to define Christians coioros who adhered to the initiative of perverted human beings e, on the basis of the Jewish and Christian motive of false prophecy, of demonic origin; the analogy also gave way to advance the thesis that made Simon Magus the father of all heresies and to make a genealogy of the "sects" plausible. Thus it was born l’eresiology.

Ireneo systematized and stiffened its content, mocking the "schools" and raising the suspicion of the influence of philosophy, thanks to which Tertullian would later see Plato as the father of heresies. In the third century the method illustrated by the Denunciation of all heresies of Pseud Ippolito, which identified each "sect" with a pagan system, then, in the 4th century, a sum eresiologica, perfected by Epifanio in his Panarion O Box of remedies. Even the most favorable Fathers of philosophy, like Clemente Alessandrino and Origen, made the most of the accusatory value of the term "heresy". Who, since then, became a capital accusation in theological debates and institutional conflicts within the Church. When the Empire became Christian, public legislation raged against suspicions of heresy, as attested by the Theodosian Code e, later, from the Justinian code.

The heresiological tool was forged by Justin and perfected by Irene at a time when Christianity was going through two great crises, caused respectively by Marcione and give him "gnostics”: the first, rejecting the Jewish heritage and biblical law, established a rival Church; the latter allegorized Scripture and claimed access to pure knowledge that placed them above the "simple" and the shepherds who guided them, thus radically contesting the authorities of the institutions with which the Church was endowing itself. The instrument was completed at the time with the theme of authentic "succession", sketched by Justin in the context of the controversy with Judaism and not without some echo of the way in which the Pharisees he had worked out for his own benefit the continuity of the transmission of the Torah starting with Moses. At the time of Irene, on the other hand, the break with Judaism was now complete, and Christians accused of Judaizing were banned and qualified as heretics. Albeit indirectly, the influence of representations of Jewish origin continued to be perceptible in the theory of authentic succession dating back to the apostles and to Christ: institutional and normative continuity considered a vehicle of the tradition of truth, unique and pure, opposed to the apostasy and dissensions of the "heretics". It was again with Irenaeus that the constitution of a New Testament canon took shape, another backbone of orthodoxy on which the Church, in its conquest of unity, founded his own authority.

The set of rules that exploited orthodoxy was sanctioned in the fourth century, when the defenders of the council of Nicaea, in official documents, opposed orthodoxia to the Arian heresy. As for the adjective "orthodox”, from that moment it qualified the faith of the Church, as opposed to what was denounced as heresy, that they were judgments in matters of doctrine, of writings, of bishops or simple adepts of the rule of faith made explicit and confirmed by ecumenical councils.

Biographical sources

History of Christianity by A. Corbin
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