Patristic Heresiology: The Difficulties of Reliability and Legitimacy

Bibliographic information:

Shelton, W. Brian. “Patristic Heresiology: The Difficulties of Reliability and Legitimacy.” In Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christian Contexts: Reconsidering the Bauer Thesis. Edited by Paul Hartog. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2015.



The second century of Christianity saw a significant increase in aggressive writings against what the church perceived to be false doctrine. This era records more polemical addresses to the theology, culture, and morality of the heretics, their communities, and their writings than the centuries around it. Depending on one’s perspective, these works range from the church writing against error to the aggressive definition of doctrine against some of its own constituents. Focusing on the nature and value of the writings of the heresiologists in the third and fourth centuries, the work engages the Bauer thesis that these writings are suspect by the Great Church that marginalized the efforts of the early Christian heresies. It seeks to examine the difficulty of reliability and legitimacy of these writings as valuable faith expressions against heresy.


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