“Heresy.” It’s a dirty word, one that conjures up all sorts of gruesome images (most of them manufactured by Hollywood) of medieval brutes tightening the noose around the neck of some young, free-thinking, romantic rebel type.
Sadly, though, almost no one knows what the word actually means. Heresy is not, much to the chagrin of popular opinion, simply some “doctrine” or belief statement which “contradicts” the Bible or some creed or confession. Actually, one measure of Orthodoxy is that nothing can contradict it, for it affirms everything. Heresy, then, is not simply and unequivocally false, but rather it is always a “half-truth,” taking some element catholic faith and bending or twisting it.
Haireisis is the Greek term which means “choice.” Heresy is what happens when a person or a community looks at the full spectrum of catholic truth, and identifies one sliver of that truth (for example, the notion that the Incarnate Word is a human being, or that human reason has been impaired as a result of the fall of man), and then so emphasizes that particular “sliver” that all the other truths which provide its context get neglected or eclipsed.
In a recent post I claim that Bill O. is a heretic. What I mean is that Bill has rightly seen that what it means to be a Christian involves certain “truth claims,” for example the claim that “Jesus is Lord.” However, he so emphasizes this truth that other features of what it means to be a Christian are forgotten. All that matters is the propositions which one has in one’s mind, and these are essentially a matter of private preference.