April 2, 2012
Conflict and Consolidation: The Development of the Christian Canon
Diversity in Early Christianity
- Christians of the first centuries of the common era were very
diverse in belief and practice; there was no one “orthodoxy” from
which “heresies” deviated.
- Movement not well-organized at this time; loosely connected across
the Roman Empire
- Picture of diversity in early Christianity a contemporary scholarly
opinion about how to look at the history of early Christianity –
comes from Walter Bauer, book “Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest
Christianity” (1930s, trans. 1971) – Argues against the traditional
understanding of the place of diversity in Christianity.
- Traditional historiographical understanding of the place of diversity
in earliest Christianity goes all the way back to writers in the second
and fourth centuries (Hegesippus and Eusebius)
- Eusebius – Bishop in Caesarea – Wrote on Church history.
- Eusebius’ theory about the development of early Christianity:
orthodoxy and heresy first, diversity and heresy later, but
orthodoxy and until eventually triumph.
- Bauer: region-by-region study of Christianity – turns traditional
model of Eusebius on its head.
- “Orthodoxy” a long process whereby certain followers of Jesus
gradually define their own beliefs and practices as “true” over
against others who have had “false” belief and practice.
- Some of those who define things this way gradually get the
authority and influence to close these others out (“heresy” label,
now understood as “diversity”).
- ^Bauer did a region to region study of Christianity – Saying
diversity came first then orthodoxy – long process ^^
Diversity in Early Christian Literary Tradition
- Diversity in early Christianity is reflected in its literary traditions
(early Christianity as an outpouring of texts).
- Different Christian communities that sprang up in different parts of
the Roman Empire had very distinctive understandings of what it
meant to be a follower of Jesus, and they used distinctive texts to
support these views.
- Abundance of texts, specifically gospel accounts, created tension
within Christianity, but especially between Christians and non-
Christians – best way to insult another group was to state that their
beliefs or writings were inconsistent.
- Christian texts very carefully in order to point – Porphyry, b. 234CE
– “Against the Christians”