Anytime someone mentions orthodoxy in a positive context to the heretical or heterodox, there are a mixture of responses:
- We’re ____ not Orthodox. That’s too Catholic.
- It doesn’t matter what you believe as long you love your neighbor.
- The orthodox are all about purity tests and burning people at the stake.
The first one is obvious.
The second one is a logical fallacy, indicative of someone’s inability to process certain things. For instance, “orthodoxy” means “right teaching.” Given that Jesus calls His followers “disciples,” we are to have teaching. Added to this is when someone says “there is no orthodoxy,” then what they are insisting is that their teaching, rather than the teaching of the Church, is right — thus, they are insisting on their own orthodoxy. Further, one cannot truly define concepts like “love” without some sort of teaching of what love is, why this is important, who commands it, and what/who the neighbor is.
The third one, however, is the one people tend to use when they are pushed into a corner. Again, illogically, opponents use this in conjunction with “grace,” insisting that if their measure of grace is not employed, then it is wrong while they hope for a “winnowing” or other boundary restriction.
But, I’m not writing this to argue who is more restrictive – orthodox Christianity or some heretic/heterodox version or progressivism (hint, the orthodox Christian has more grace). Rather, I am writing this to show that within orthodoxy is the necessity to refrain from going over the edge. While this has not always happened — such as with the Puritans who burned witches; the Catholics who burned Protestants; Zwingli who drowned Anabaptists — the rule of orthodoxy is to forgive and move on, with those who insist holding on to purity often cast aside, regardless of adherence to doctrinal purity. In fact, I would argue that those who are unable to retain grace in the midst of doctrinal impurity are those soon to be considered heretical while those who they opposed find repentance, grace, and fellowship.
During the Decian persecution, many Christians — laity and clergy — fell away. St. Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage, was not happy with the easy re-admittance offered to the lapsi. Long story short, there were three parties that developed, causing a schism of sorts. There was the laxist, which allowed for easy return; the rigorist which denied return; and St. Cyprian who took a “firm but moderate” stance on return. A sort of “yes, but.” Indeed, because of this stance, schism was healed, Christians restored, and persecution withstood.
Under Diocletian, another persecution of the Church erupted, causing more to fall away (thus, denying Christ). Donatism has several hallmarks, but in the end, they would sit in judgement of the “impure.” Indeed, Donatism was a resurrection of the rigorists from a century before, allowing for no grace — even in the midst of persecution. Those who had chosen their own life were judged too unworthy to serve. This wasn’t merely about doctrine, but about ensuring that the person was 100% pure. After warnings against such thought (including St. Augustine’s infamous maxim concerning the wheat and the tares), the Donatists finally exiled themselves into history.
Lucifer of Cagliari
Then there is (St.?) Lucifer of Cagliari. Yes, a possible saint since he is venerated by some. Lucifer was a staunch defender of the Nicene Creed that in the end, he refused to love anyone who could not measure up to his doctrinal purity. He eventually had to retreat to Sardinia where he established his sect. Ironically, once that sect was declared a heresy, it came to be protected by the Roman Emperor who simply chose not to destroy it.
These sectaries pretended that all priests who had participated in Arianism should be deprived of their dignity, and that bishops who recognized the rights of even repentant heretics should be excommunicated. The Luciferians, being earnestly opposed, commissioned two priests, Marcellinus and Faustinus, to present a petition, the well-known Libellus precum, to the Emperor Theodosius, explaining their grievances and claiming protection. The emperor forbade further pursuit of them, and their schism seems not to have lasted beyond this first generation.
It is possible that Lucifer actually prevented an East-West remerger because of this adamant rejection of anything that did not sound “exactly right.” Plus, by all accounts, he seemed to be an a… um, well, he lacked tact. This is not say he did not contribute to the Church universal. Indeed, it is likely due to Lucifer that we have the Apostles’ Creed. And he was a strong defender of the Western Church, of St. Athanasius (and Marcellus of Ancyra, I assume), as well as the Christological view that Jesus is of the same substance as the Father. Indeed, until a point, Lucifer was as orthodox as one could be — except he lacketh this one thing, that he loved as much as they knew. Because he could not handle grace, he would go on to lead a schism, yet another one based on doctrinal rigorism.
There is no doubt that I believe the lapsi, the traditors, and the Arians, were all doctrinally wrong. My hope, however, is that while I can recognize them as wrong, I would never refuse grace. St. Cyprian, St. Augustine, and St. Basil all survived to render to these groups the grace needed, not as victors but as Spiritual leaders. Orthodoxy becomes heterodoxy, if grace is removed.
Think of the lists mentioned above. Only after Western Christianity become enshrined in the State did heresy become a death penalty. Why? Because heresy is treason, if Christianity is political. But before Christendom, heresy was treated with grace. Granted, heretical bishops and clergy were soon tossed out, but never forsaken, and never murdered on order of the Church. No, the orthodox party does not concern itself with doctrinal purity; given that our maxim deals with wheat and tares. There is a balance of doctrinal rightness and allowance for maturity.