- Guilt by Association: Heresy Catalogues in Early Christianity by Geoffrey S. Smith
Guilt by Association: Heresy Catalogues in Early Christianity
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015
Pp. xv + 196. $74.00.
For some time now we have operated with certain assumptions about the origins of Christian heresiology that beg for serious reconsideration, so Geoffrey Smith’s book is a welcome and timely study that is sure to generate further discussion and debate.
Scholars have found the inspiration for Christian heresiology in the Greek doxographic tradition, whose representative works gathered information on philosophers and their teachings and organized them into a catalog, primarily to serve a didactic function. In Chapter One, however, Smith suggests that it is precisely the educational goal of these collections that makes them unlike the Christian heresy catalog, which at its core had a polemical purpose. Rather, he argues that the pseudepigraphic Pauline tradition is the source. Questions still remain about the inspiration for both the taxonomic and encyclopedic qualities of the Christian genre, but Smith’s argument is original and merits further consideration. Chapter Two challenges another common view, that Justin Martyr was the first to write heresiology, the lost Syntagma against All the Heresies. The attribution is based on Justin’s reference to and paraphrase of the work in his First Apology. Rather than a claim to authorship, Smith demonstrates that Justin’s statement was actually an advertisement of a particular heresy catalog that resonated with his own views amid a “variegated religious marketplace” (54) with competing lists of heresies already in circulation. Smith rightly contends that our assumption of Justin as the orthodox founder of the genre (mistakenly) reinforces the Eusebian binary narrative of the early church, marked by the struggle between orthodoxy and heresy.
Chapter Three identifies and analyzes other early, competing heresy lists. The fragments of Hegesippus and Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho each include a list of Jewish sects, which suggests that some early Christians identified Jews as heretics, and their condemnation resonated with their particular narrative about the growth of the church in the face of Jewish opposition. The Valentinian Tripartite Tractate contains two heresy catalogs, the first outlining the mistaken beliefs of certain “hylic” heresies associated with (unnamed) schools of Greek [End Page 494] philosophy, and the second summarizing the errors of the “Hebrew” race. There is, however, no explicit condemnation of Christian heresy, but rather a graduated hierarchy of those who accept Jesus and attain varying degrees of salvation. In this text heresy is applicable to pagans and Jews and is thus not a problem internal to Christianity, which for Smith is proof of a diversity of available heresiological approaches. This chapter includes a discussion of how the Syntagma exhibited features that were peculiar in the varied landscape of approaches to heresiology. It did not mention pagans or Jews; it assigned orthodoxy to only a select few Christians; it assumed a binary of those who were right and those who were wrong; and it identified opponents by name. All of these features, presumed to be commonplace features of the genre, demonstrate in fact how out of place it was in the heresiological marketplace, and thus Justin’s promotion of the Syntagma and its rise to hegemony explain why we assume that this particular approach constitutes proper Christian heresiology. The chapter closes with a brief discussion of the heresy catalog found in the Testimony of Truth, which in fact named and condemned specific heretics and placed them in a chain of successors. The list in this text is then another indication of an intra-Christian competition for legitimacy and authority.
The final chapter explores the heresiological rhetoric of Irenaeus. Similarities in content with Justin’s paraphrase indicate that Irenaeus had incorporated the Syntagma into his heresiology, while noticeable differences imply that he was using an updated version. This suggests that the catalog became increasingly popular and was expanded by others to address contemporary threats. Smith’s discussion then shifts to the broader problem of the heresiological connection of the Valentinians with the “Gnostic school.” Some scholars have posited that there was indeed such a group, but Smith argues that perhaps we...