Of Paul’s exchange with the Athenians on Mars Hill, for instance, H.L. Mencken said that the Christian God was seen as “barbaric . . . lately in from the desert and still a bit shaggy and forbidding” (Treatise on the Gods).
In short order, pseudonymous barbers, haberdashers, personal trainers and image consultants began trying to spiffy God up a bit, making Him the equivalent of today’s metrosexual. Collectively, they are known as “heretics.”
As I noted, the Gnostics – incomprehensible to us today in their specifics, but alive and well all the same – were the first wave, offering up apocryphal goodies. Joel Miller:
Serapion was bishop of Antioch during the reign of Emperor Commodus (around 190). Some of his parishioners wanted to read The Gospel of Peter. Fine by him. How could anything written by Peter be a problem? But then Serapion read the book for himself. Problems!
“[W]e find many things in accordance with the true doctrine of the Savior, but some things added to that doctrine,” he said, adding that he and fellow church leaders “receive both Peter and other apostles as Christ; but we reject intelligently the writings falsely ascribed to them, knowing that such were not handed down to us.”
This wasn’t his father’s Oldsmobile.
Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, did the same thing. In Against Heresies, he panned the Valentinians because their doctrines didn’t square with anything “the prophets preached, nor the Lord taught, nor the apostles handed down.” Other translations of the passage use the word “delivered” for “handed down.” And in his book Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, he defines the faith as what was handed down through the elders from the apostles to his contemporary readers.
I wouldn’t bother mentioning all this except that the most vocal “Christian” influence in the U.S. today is self-consciously and proudly estranged from Apostolic Tradition, trying to build, re-build and re-re-build Jurassic Church from New Testament DNA.
Even apart from the fact they they wouldn’t know what belonged or didn’t belong in the New Testament absent Apostolic Tradition, but might gobble up the Gospel of Peter like Elvis gobbled up peanut butter and bananas, it is not working well. No chest-thumping about Church growth, or ecclesiological relativisism like “isn’t it swell that everyone can find a Church they like!,” will persuade me that it is working, since numerical growth is not much of a test of spiritual health and tens of thousands of “Bible only” churches who can’t agree with each other is a scandal, not a virtue.
I don’t want to accuse Leroy Huizenga of gnosticism or abandoning Apostolic Tradition, but credo quia absurdum certainly comes at the faith from a different angle – one that I find much less congenial these days than I would have a few decades ago:
The Incarnation really is something new. Prior to the conception of Jesus, God was not a human being. With the conception of Jesus, God was and remains for all time a human being. The claim is staggering, but it is precisely the sort of unexpected thing that one should expect from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, a God of scandal and particularity, a God at work on the margins of a marginal people.
The claim of the Incarnation is so staggering that it beggars belief, but it’s exactly the sort of thing that invites acceptance by virtue of its singularity. With Tertullian we might say credo quia absurdum—I believe it precisely because it is absurd.
Perhaps the grain of truth in that is that, despite our dismissive attitudes about people thousands of years ago, they knew from the get-go that the story was “absurd.” They preserved and transmitted it in all its absurd glory because they believed it true nonetheless, as one might believe any historic singularity if well-enough attested.
Read the whole thing here. It gets better after that start, as I see it.
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