Vol 42 No 2
Ben Quash and Michael Ward (eds), Heresies and How to Avoid Them, SPCK/Willow Connection, $32.95, paperback, 160 pages.
Talk of heresy, and its opposite, orthodoxy, sets off a negative reaction in the general public in our time, and even in some within the Church. The idea of heresy is seen to be linked to the notion that the Church is a repressive organisation, suppressing original thinking and creativity, and even ‘the truth’.
One of numerous revealing points made in Heresies and How to Avoid Them is that often the position that came to be understood as the orthodox Christian belief was much more radical and original than the heresy. Those promoting what came to be understood as heresy failed to fully wrestle with the full spectrum of the biblical tradition, or tried to make sense of an aspect of Christian belief in a way that surrendered to commonsensical thinking that failed to do justice to the fullness of Christian revelation.
An example is Arius, who denied the full divinity of Jesus. While he was a devout Christian, Arius was greatly influenced by Neoplatonic philosophy, and he could not accommodate within his philosophical beliefs the idea that Jesus was as much God as the Father was.
Another important aspect of heresy that is not commonly appreciated is that the views proposed that came to be understood as heresy, were the trigger for a debate about an aspect of Christian belief that had the end result of an orthodox view on the matter being decided upon (at a Church Council and generally enshrined in one of the Creeds). In other words, if there were no heresy, there would be no articulated orthodoxy.
Heresies and How to Avoid Them is an excellent guide to key Christian heresies, presented by twelve experts from a variety of Christian traditions, principally Anglicans, but also an Eastern Orthodox and a Society of Friends (Quakers), as well as two Catholic scholars, Janet Martin Soskice and Denys Turner.
The core of the book is a series of twelve essays, one on each of the heresies. Each begins with a concise account of the heresy and its history, followed by key biblical texts relevant to the issue. The rest of the essay discusses the heresy in more detail (working to understand what was behind the heresy, not demonising those involved), and its relevance for believers today.
The essays were originally given as a series of sermons at Peterhouse Chapel, Cambridge, where the editors serve as Anglican priests. In keeping with their origins the essays are very accessible, engaging and concise (each is around ten pages).
The book also has an informative introduction and afterword by the editors, along with a glossary, further reading list, and indexes.
Readers of this book should find not only will they gain a better understanding of the fundamental heresies the Church has struggled with in its history; they will also be challenged to think through their own understanding of fundamental aspects of Christian belief.
John Honner, Love and Politics: The Revolutionary Frederic Ozanam. Melbourne: David Lovell Publishing, 2007. ISBN - 9781863551212
This is a small but powerful book of just over one hundred pages which, to use the author’s own words, ‘explores Frederic Ozanam’s involvement in the revolutionary politics of his own day and…reflects on current [Australian] discussions about social justice and the role of religion in politics.’
While the book does outline Frederic Ozanam’s life and foundation of the St Vincent de Paul Society (for which Frederic is best known), it examines the roles of Charities and Welfare in Australia and the need for love and justice in our society. Dr. Honner points out the many similarities in the times of Frederic and those of present day Australia. He describes Frederic’s concern for people’s spiritual development and the need for self-sacrifice. Dr Honner wonders about those attributes in Australians today.
He quotes from Frederic’s writings of 1834: ‘I believe in authority as a means, in liberty as a means and in love as the end.’
The introduction to the book sets the tone and outlines the subject matter. The author gives a brief outline of Frederic Ozanam’s life and his ambitions. With a few short paragraphs Frederic and his times come to life. ‘Imagine him at a desk in a small room three or four storeys up, a small window, a candle burning’…’
Frederic wrote to a friend: ‘We need poetry in the midst of this prosaic and cold world, and at the same time a philosophy which gives some reality to our ideal conceptions.’
Dr. Honner quotes Frederic’s three aims in life: ‘Three things should be the object of my studies: law, the moral sciences, and some knowledge of the world looked at from the Christian point of view.’
The Introduction is entitled ‘What is the World Coming To?’ and is followed by five chapters dealing with the many issues of our present day society—Charities, Politics, the Economy, Truth and Justice, to name a few. The final chapter tries to answer the question set out in the Introduction.
The book is written in a scholarly fashion but is easy to read by the not-so-scholarly. Each chapter begins with a summary of what is to come and so focuses the reader’s attention on the issues to be discussed. The chapter is further divided by sub-headings which make for easily finding a point of special interest to the reader.
I found the book fascinating because of its story of Frederic and for the wonderful contribution to discussion of problems in our own time.
The Society of St Vincent de Paul in Victoria commissioned the book and it was launched by John Molony, Professor Emeritus of History, of the Australian National University. To quote him as he launched the book: ‘It is not often that I have come away from a book with the feeling that practically every page has enriched me. In this case it is the simple truth.’
Love and Politics is obtainable for $10.00 from the National Office and State Offices of the St Vincent de Paul Society, or by calling 03 9895 5815