My friend and frequent (and most welcome) commentator here, David Monier-Williams, wrote of a recent post that:
Your last paragraph suggests to me that as long as we follow Christ then one religion is as good as another.
It certainly suggested that, perhaps, belonging to one particular Church was not as important as those who belong to one particular Church are bound to think; but it was not an argument for indifferentism, or the idea that all religions are equally good. As anyone who searches this blog with the word ‘orthodoxy’ will see, that is very far from being my position. Dogma and doctrine and Creeds not only matter, they are what define Christianity. That was one reason why our discussion of the Trinity aroused such passions – the God we worship is the centre of our devotions, and we naturally seek to know as much about Him from His self-revelation as we can.
Indeed, being human, and having eaten of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, we want to know more than we can ever know. The creature cannot know fully the Creator, neither can the finite fathom the Infinite. It is therefore inevitable that when we try to deal with what God has revealed, we will go astray unless, like the Ethiopian who had St. Philip to guide him, we too, have help. It took the successors of the Apostles three centuries wrestling with the facts that God is One but also Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to find in the Trinity the concept which captured both of these things. The Creed expresses it timelessly for us.
The Father is the maker of all things, whilst Christ is ‘eternally begotten from the Father, God from God, Light from Light,true God from true God, begotten, not made, of the same substance as the Father.’ We believe in ‘the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,who proceeds from the Father (and the Son).’ That last clause was added by the Western Church, and here it is not proposed to get into that. But we see the Trinity of St. Gregory: Father creates; Son is begotten; Spirit proceeds. That in many ways is as much as we need to know – we need to know it so we do not mistake who God is, or mistake Christ for just a very holy man, or the Spirit for some thing which is separate from God but infuses us.
It is precisely that urgent need to be sure that we had not misunderstood who God is which inspires all indignation with heresy. But ‘heresy’ is an odd word, because one can only be a heretic if there is an orthodoxy – if all opinions were equally valid, then there would just be a lot of different opinions. Heresy exists because there is an orthodoxy.
One modern misconception is that there was no orthodoxy before Nicaea in 325, but that is simply untrue. The vehemence with which Christians reacted against various erroneous opinions about the nature of Christ and of God showed that there was a consensus of the faithful, even if often it only spoke its name explicitly when it was questioned by those who confidently said something at variance with it.
That is why we need Creeds, it is why we need a Church, it is why we need authority. Heretics have always been able, like Satan, to quote Scripture (out of context usually) to support their positions, but none was ever able to point to the Creeds, the authority of the Church and the Fathers to support error. However much we may have been gifted with revelation, if what it reveals is at odds with what Christians have always held, then, however much we may be able to find others to agree with us, it is not the weight of Christian testimony which is wrong – the fault lies in ourselves.