REL 424/524

Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early and Medieval Christianity

MW, 14:00-15:20

Professor: Dr. Stephen Shoemaker
Office: 813 PLC ;  Office Hours: MW 3:30-4:30 (or by appointment)  Telephone: 346-4998; Email: sshoemak (at) uoregon (dot) edu

Course Description

Over the centuries, the Christian tradition has repeatedly sought to identify and promote a “true” religious discourse, generally known as “orthodoxy.”  Correlate with the production of this discourse of religious truth is the identification and refutation of various “heresies,” that is, theological positions deviant from the truth of Christian orthodoxy.  As we will discover, however, heresy is generally not the “perversion” of a more primitive orthodoxy, as our “orthodox” sources would have us believe.  On the contrary, it seems that heterodoxy, that is, theological diversity, is the more primitive condition, and the “unity” of orthodoxy is forged only at the expense of this original diversity.  In this course we will study a variety of “heretical” beliefs from ancient Christianity, attempting to sift through the often caustic rhetoric of their opponents to recover these alternative visions of Christian truth.  In particular, we will focus especially on possible connections between “heretical” forms of Christianity and various other social and cultural forces of early medieval society.


1.     Preparation of reading assignments prior to class and active participation in seminar (30% of grade).

2.     Each student will be responsible for initiating class discussion during one session. Students will be expected to summarize the main points of the readings for that class and raise specific issues from the material for class discussion (20% of grade).

3.     A research paper or comparable project (ca. 8-10 pgs.; 12-15 pgs. for graduate credit) due 13:00 Monday, 3 Dec in 813 PLC.         Topics to be chosen in consultation with the instructor         (50% of grade).


  • Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew Oxford Univ.; ISBN: 0-19-514183-0.
  • Bentley Layton, The Gnostic Scriptures, Doubleday; ISBN: 0385478437.

Many of the reading assignments will be found either on the internet or on Blackboard (, as indicated in the schedule of readings below.  Please print these out and bring them to class.

Course Outline

Week 1:

9/25: Introduction

9/27: The Problem of “Orthodoxy” and “Heresy” in Early Christianity

  • Ehrman, 1-9; 159-80
  • Irenaeus of Lyons and Tertullian: Selections on the Origin of Heresy (web)

Week 2:

10/2: “Thomas” Christianity, Jewish Christianity, & Marcionism

  • Ehrman, 47-66; 95-112
  • Layton, 359-99

10/4: Classical Gnostic Christianity

  • Ehrman, 113-34
  • Layton, 5-51

Week 3:

10/9: Valentinus & Basilides: Two Early Christian Theologians

  • Layton, 217-49; 267-302; 417-44

10/11: The Followers of Valentius: The Valentinian Church

  • Layton, 303-54

Week 4:

10/16: The War of Words: Orthodox and Anti-Orthodox Polemics

  • Ehrman, 135-57; 181-202
  • Layton , 199-214
  • Ps-Clementines, Epistle of Peter to James (web)
  • Kerygmata Petrou (The Preaching of Peter) (web)
  • Apocalypse of Peter (web)
  • Testimony of Truth (web)

Optional: Gedaliahu A. G.Stroumsa, “Christ’s Laughter: Docetic Origins Reconsidered,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 12.3(2004): [Access article in HTML] [Access article in PDF]

10/18: A Discourse of Truth: The Construction of Orthodoxy

  • Ehrman, 203-257
  • Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Ephesians (web)
  • Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Philadelphians (web)
  • Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to Polycarp (web)
  • 3 Corinthians (web)
  • Muratorian Canon (web)

Week 5:

10/23: Arius and the Council of Nicea

10/25: Recent Approaches to Arianism and the Arian Controversy

  • Robert C. Gregg and Dennis E. Groh, “The Centrality of Soteriology in Early Arianism,” Anglican Theological Review 59 (1977): 260-78 (Blackboard)
  • Harry O. Meier, “Private Space as the Social Context of Arianism in Ambrose’s Milan,” Journal of Theological Studies, n.s. 45 (1994): 72-93 (Blackboard)
  • Maurice Wiles, “What is Arianism?,” Archetypal Heresy: Arianism through the Centuries, 1-26 (Blackboard)

Week 6:

10/30: Origen of Alexandria

  • Rowan Williams, “Origen” in The First Christian Theologians, 132-42
  • Origen, On First Principles, bk. 1 (Blackboard)

11/1: Heresiology as an Art Form: Epiphanius of Salamis (Prof. Andrew S. Jacobs, Scripps College)

  • Epiphanius, Panarion Proem I-II, Heresies 1-12, Heresy 79 (Blackboard)
  • Jeremy Schott, “Heresiology as Universal History in Epiphanius’s Panarion,” Zeitschrift für antikes Christentum/Journal of Ancient Christianity 10 (2007): 546-63 (Blackboard)

Week 7:

11/6: The Origenist Controversy

  • Jerome, Letter 124 (web)
  • Evagrius Ponticus, Letter to Melania (Blackboard)
  • Elizabeth A. Clark, “Melania the Elder and the Origenist Controversy: The Status of the Body in a Late-Ancient Debate,” Nova & Vetera, 117-127 (Blackboard)
  • Elizabeth A. Clark, “Elite Networks and Heresy Accusations: Towards a Social Description of the Origenist Controversy,” The Origenist Controversy: The Cultural Construction of an Early Christian Debate, 10-42 (Blackboard)

11/8: Augustine & the Manichaeans

Week 8:

11/13: Augustine & the Donatists

  • Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 212-25 (Blackboard)
  • Augustine of Hippo, On Baptism I (web)
  • A. H. M. Jones, “Were Ancient Heresies National or Social Movements in Disguise?” Journal of Theological Studies, n.s.10 (1959): 280-86 (Blackboard)
  • W. H. C. Frend, “Heresy and Schism as Social and National Movements,” Studies in Church History 9 (1972): 37-49 (Blackboard)
  • Robert Markus, “Christianity and Dissent in Roman North Africa,” Studies in Church History 9 (1972): 21-36 (Blackboard)
  • Peter Brown, “Religious Dissent in the Later Roman Empire: The Case of North Africa,” History 46 (1961): 83-101 (Blackboard)

11/15: No Class – Instructor attending ASOR & SBL Conferences

Week 9:

11/20: No Class – Instructor attending ASOR & SBL Conference

11/22: No Class – Thanksgiving holiday

Week 10:

11/27: Augustine & the Pelagians

  • Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 340-52 (Blackboard)
  • Pelagius, Letter to Demetrias (Blackboard)
  • Augustine, On the Grace of Christ, (web)

11/29: Augustine & the Pelagians: Reassessments

  • On Riches (anonymous Pelagian writing) (Blackboard)
  • Peter Brown, “Pelagius and his Supporters: Aims and Environment,” Journal of Theological Studies n.s., 19 (1968): 93-114 (Blackboard)
  • W. Liebeschuetz, “Did the Pelagian Movement Have Social Aims?” Historia 12 (1963): 227-41 (Blackboard)
  • Peter Brown, “Sexuality and Society in the Fifth Century A.D.: Augustine and Julian of Eclanum,” Tria Corda. Scritti in onore di Arnaldo Momigliano, 49-70 (Blackboard)

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