Comparing Theologies and Comparing Peoples
Comparing Theologies and Comparing Peoples
The Customs, Doctrines, and Dispositions of the Heretics
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter looks at the ethnographic microcosms of the heretics as recounted in the heresiologists' polemical writings. It examines the heresiologists' description of heretical customs and habits, including dietary practices, rituals, and textual traditions, in order to dissect the relationship between heresy, theology, and praxis. In tracing how ethnography was written “Christianly,” the chapter emphasizes—through a close reading of Epiphanius' description of the ascetical Messalians—how the study of the heretics both upended and reinforced ethnographic tropes and aspirations. The heresiologists used the opinions and practices of the heretics to produce sectarian communities and to identify heretical dispositions. In this way, the heresiologists established a culture of heresy in order to demolish it.
When modern historians adopt the strategies as well as the content of the polemicists’ construction of heresy to define Gnosticism, they are not just reproducing the heresy of the polemicists; they are themselves propagating the politics of orthodoxy and heresy. We should therefore not be surprised to observe twentieth-century historians employing the category of Gnosticism to establish the bounds of normative Christianity—whether in Protestant anti-Catholic polemic, intra-Protestant debate, or the colonial politics of Orientalism.
Like Karen King’s suggestion that the modern discourse of orthodoxy and heresy mimics the ancient heresiologists’ constructed binary,1 I posit that a similar phenomenon—a lingering correspondence between ancient and modern discourses—characterizes the historical interplay between theology, religion, and ethnography. Toward non-Christian peoples, early ethnographers and armchair anthropologists explicitly perpetuated ancient Christian attitudes in which notions of Christian heresy became barometers of broader ethnographic investigations of religion and religious peoples.2 For both ancients and (early) moderns, Christian theological (p.59) principles structured not only the internal diversity of Christianity but also the peoples without Christianity. The union of comparing peoples and comparing theologies was a natural outgrowth of biblical anthropology, which posited a divine-human unity; the Bible was the framework within which the heresiologists wrote their texts. Genesis 11 explained the diversity of peoples across the world, and Christians used this broad schematization to elaborate their own ideas about physical, mental, and cultural differences. But heretics, like primitives, produced an ethnological problem: heresy was both a part of and apart from the history of Christianity. The heresiologists mediated this paradox through theological comparison; they sought to identify the theological causes that had produced heresy. Theology became the overarching prism through which the customs, habits, and mentalities of peoples within the Christian world or the worldview of the Christian heresiologists (or both) were articulated.3 As Keith Hopkins has aptly phrased it: “The centrality of correct dogma, as a defining characteristic of Christian praxis, was a religious innovation.”4
What distinguishes Christian ethnography, then, from earlier Greek and Roman examples is the centrality of theology as an ethnographic sorting device. It is a distinction of degree of difference. Theology becomes a way to classify the internal diversity of a rapidly growing religious movement. As Daniel Boyarin has argued: “One important strand of early Christianity, beginning with Ignatius and Justin Martyr, decided to see Christianismos as an entirely novel form of identity. Christianity was a new thing, a community defined by adherence to a certain canon of doctrine and practice.”5 In this telling of the formative centuries of Christian history, Christian identity was shaped by theological interests; or to be more precise, it was constructed in relationship to Judaism and heresy in distinctly theological terms.6 Constructing this theological discourse becomes the dominant preoccupation of Christian authors in late antiquity. It should come as no surprise, then, that descriptions of Christians both good and bad, Jews, and pagans are all sorted through a theological lens. The comparative theology of heresiology functions (p.60) in the same literary manner as the comparative ethnographies of the classical world. Comparative theology is Christian ethnography. Christian ethnography constitutes a method for describing the internal diversity of the Christian tradition. I am not suggesting that Christians invented the notion of comparative ethnography or comparative theology; rather, I am arguing that in the world of Christian late antiquity, the distinction between ethnography and theology was altogether blurred. The two become one and the same precisely because theology more often than not determined the discourse of Christian cultic practices as well as of everyday practice.
The heresiologists positioned theology as a fundamentally ethnographic category in order to render peoples as theological groups. They used theologically inflected groupism—the imagining of communal coherence—as a way of categorizing and analyzing human and Christian diversity. Heresiology functioned as a literary articulation of the Christian desire not only to explain the diversity of Christian peoples but also to cast the diversity of the world as a historical process governed by Christian theological principles. To explain human diversity the heresiologists developed a Christian logic that served as an enduring model for centuries of Christian ethnography and ethnology. In juxtaposing the heresiologists with the writings of colonial missionaries and Victorian anthropologists, the ethnographic impact of the Christian conceptualization of heresy and religiosity become increasingly clear. As Tomoko Masuzawa notes: “There was a general tendency among these early modern authors to regard all matters of religious diversity and plurality of opinions in the vocabulary of ‘denominations’ and ‘sects,’ regardless of how securely within or how far beyond the pale of ‘the correct religion’ they might lie.”7 I am not proposing that there is a neat linear genealogy from late antiquity to Victorian and ultimately contemporary anthropology; rather, I am trying to consider the historical and discursive antecedents that put into place the mixture and then the separation of theology and ethnography. The long history and influence of Christian theological perspectives on the world and the customs and habits of its residents begins as Christianity cements its position as the religion of the expansive Roman Empire. The Christian ethnographic gaze, with its enduring, complex grip over medieval, early modern, and modern writers, is but the natural outgrowth of the fusion of classical culture and a Christian ideology of singular truth.8 And as we shall see, that melding has cast a profound and enduring shadow over scholarly discourse about religion and the religions of the world.
In this chapter, I focus on how the heresiologists produced their ethnographies in microscopic terms; what John Marincola defines, in the context of ancient (p.61) historiography, as “the study of a people’s customs and way of life.”9 The heresiologists, through their polemical explorations, take a keen interest in how the heretics live and behave as Christians: what the heretics do, what they believe, and how they comport themselves in relation to the heresiologists’ understanding of the Christian tradition. The ethnographic language of the Panarion is bothexplicit and pervasive. Epiphanius dwells on customs and habits of the heretics in nearly every entry: from the sexual perversions of the Gnostics to the castration of the Valesians and the sacramental rites of the Collyridians.10 I begin with a discussion of the relationship between the categories religio and superstitio in order to situate heresiology as a magnification of the ancient discourse dedicated to regulating religious customs and habits. From there, I consider the philosophic notion of the way of life as a particularly appropriate measure of Christian ethnographic idealism; that is, how the heresiologists construe their treatises as part of a larger discussion about the proper manner in which a Christian should live and exist in the world. I then turn to the heresies themselves, as imagined and described in the writings of the heresiologists. I investigate how Christian heresiologists wrote peoples in the most obvious and basic sense: through descriptions of their customs, habits, and beliefs. Through such description, the heresiologists pursued two related ethnographic interests: to present the heretics as geographical, social, and intellectual groups with discernible habits and to identify an underlying heretical disposition. In each case, the heresiologists enacted this agenda through their own theological emphases. In writing about heretical customs, the heresiologists enumerate how the heretics’ behavior and doctrines reveal their underlying dispositions.
Comparative Religion, Comparative Theology, Comparative Ethnography
Ethnographic writing has always taken an interest in the so-called religious customs of peoples, both those living in close proximity to the writer and those residing at the farthest ends of the earth. Peoples were defined or, better yet, imagined as communities with regard to a variety of traits and practices: food, warfare, marriage, gender norms, dietary tendencies, and worship. One need take only a cursory glance at Diodorus Siculus’s Library of History, Pliny’s Natural History, Iamblichus’s On the Mysteries, or Josephus’s Jewish Antiquities to see the correlation between peoplehood and piety. The emphasis placed on notions of priesthood, worship, and ritual all serve as barometers of the classical, pre-Christian conception of community. Even before the onset of Christianity, discussions of the (p.62) worship of the gods were commonplace features of cultural exploration. The classicists John North, Mary Beard, and Simon Price explain that the Roman discourse of religio and superstitio was not a distinction between true and false gods but rather a discussion of “different forms of human relations with the gods.”11 The danger of superstitio, defined as either “excessive forms of behavior, that is ‘irregular’ religious practices (‘not following the customs of the state’)” or “excessive commitment, an excessive commitment to the gods,” was not that it was false but rather that it “could be seen as an extremely powerful and dangerous practice which might threaten the stability of religio and the state.”12 Although the term superstitio originally referred to the improper action of the individual, it slowly came to demarcate, over the course of the late republic and early empire, the practices of groups. By the early second century C.E. it also denoted “the religious practices of particular foreign peoples.”13 Jews, Egyptians, and eventually Christians were all exemplars of superstitio before Christianity itself appropriated the term and imbued it with a new theological meaning.14
The Christian connotation of religio, as Jeremy Schott has persuasively shown, emerges most clearly in the writings of Lactantius, the Latin Christian rhetorician at the court of Diocletian.15 For Lactantius, Christianity was the only true religio. The world was composed not of various religions but rather of superstitions, or peoples “who took unto themselves new rites, so that they honored, in place of the gods, the dead who they thought were taken from among men into heaven.”16 Superstitio had been fundamentally reconceptualized: it connoted no longer the falsity of how one worshipped but instead the falsity of what one worshipped and why.17 Schott captures the monumentality of this newfound perception of religio and superstitio:18
(p.63) Lactantius’s redefinition of religio marks an important moment in the emergence of “religion” as a distinct category in the Western intellectual tradition. With its characterization of religio as an act of cultural memory, Cicero’s etymology reflects a thought-world in which cultic practices, texts, and mythologies were not distinguished from other cultural forms. Lactantius, in contrast, defines true religio as a set of theological propositions … that are authentic precisely because they transcend culture.
In this account, the intellectual contours of heresiology were shaped by the necessities of theological confession, disputation, and refutation. As Talal Asad succinctly puts it: “It is preeminently the Christian church that has occupied itself with identifying, cultivating, and testing belief as a verbalizable inner condition of true religion.”19 The discourse of true religion, vera religio, was in fact a distinctly Christian creation, and the dichotomy between orthodoxy and heresy was its most obvious manifestation.20 For Christian writers of late antiquity, truth and falsity were not simply the metrics of religiosity but the very foundations of its semantic universe. The importance of this binary metric is that it functions to identify the propriety of customs and habits as well as beliefs and doctrines. But this semantic emphasis did not displace the prominence of ethnic criteria as part of the discourse of late antique religion.21 The Christian emphasis on a system of truth that comes to reside in the discourse of religio was very much a product of ethnic argumentation. The Christian reinterpretation of religio was a narrative of ethnogenic corruption. Or, as Schott aptly puts it: “To write a history of religions is simultaneously to conduct an ethnographic survey.”22
The comparative theology of the heresiologists—the contrasts drawn by Christians between themselves and Jews, Greeks, Romans, and heretics—was interwoven with comparative ethnography in two senses. First, I suggest that comparative theology has ethnographic effects: because Christians read and defined the world theologically, the peoples within it were identified in theological terms. For Christians, heretics occupied the same theological space as foreigners did for Romans. Christians imagined this foreignness through the strictures of theology. Second, in a more straightforward sense, theological ideas accompany
(p.64) ethnographic details: heretics are described both by what they believe (or fail to believe) and by what they do. And as we shall see, there is a direct correlation between the heretics’ ethos—their way of life—and their worldview or their theological metaphysics. I am arguing that the interplay between these two facets of Christian ethnography—theology as ethnography on the one hand and theology withethnography on the other—orients and informs the heresiologists’ descriptions and refutations of the heretics. Moreover, as Richard King observes, this emphasis of Christian religiosity carries over into medieval, early modern, and even modern discourse: “Modern discussion of the meaning and denotation of the term religio tend to follow Lactantius’s etymology, thereby constructing a Christianized model of religion that strongly emphasizes theistic belief.”23 Indeed,24
with a shifttowards doctrine as constitutive of the essence of religion, the Christian appropriation of religio also represented a new emphasis upon the importance of the written word and its correct interpretation. Religion becomes primarily concerned with doctrine; ‘true religion’ becomes a matter of orthodoxy; and religion becomes a tradition precisely in so far as it can justify itself in terms of these ancient truths.
For the heresiologists, theology was a structure through which orthodox and heretical culture diverged. The heretics proposed various cosmological, mythographical, and hermeneutical doctrines that set in motion not only a chain of beliefs but also particular practices. In the heresiologists’ descriptions of the death rites of the Marcosians, a second-century Gallic offshoot of the Valentinians, theological determinism takes center stage. According to both Irenaeus and Hippolytus, the Marcosians’ understanding of the cosmos’ structure produced a ritualized response. They performed a baptismal rite at death, which provided an individual with secret theological knowledge about the cosmos and the Godhead.25 The function of the ritual unction at death, as Nicola Denzey Lewis explains, was twofold:26
First, deathbed apolytrosis was a necessary service, since the Marcosians believed that it equipped the dying individual with the information and protection necessary to navigate the hypercosmic realms successfully without becoming trapped in the Middle. Second, since all the “perfected” had to gather in the Pleroma together before the cosmos could be “rectified” at the Eschaton, it was crucial to perform those sacraments on earth that would assure that the Marcosian would indeed be perfect; without sacramental transformation, the ascending spirits could get trapped in the Middle so that, presumably, the number of the Perfect in the Pleroma would never be completed.
(p.65) Cosmology does more than merely explain Marcosian praxis; it demands a set of actions in return. Theology not only orients the Marcosians’ general way of life; it actually governs its particulars. As Karen King rightly notes of the heresiologists: “They tended to focus explicitly on doctrinal matters, although, given that they considered immoral practices and schism to be the direct consequence of poor theology, the rhetoric ranged more widely. As a result of this association, heresy could be determined either by doctrinal deviation or by social deviation.”27 Theology and practice in tandem solidify the human position within a cosmology of spheres, layers, and aeons. That is, theology explains the human condition, and the corresponding practice—in this case redemption—recapitulates that theological position with actions. The Marcosian redemption rite was the ritual enactment of a theological worldview.
Comparative theology functions for Christians as the essential expression for writing peoples in the ancient world. Once Christianity emerged onto the Mediterranean stage, it became of paramount importance to organize the world in relationship to Christian norms and principles, even as those principles were themselves being formulated. It is telling, indeed, that as Epiphanius begins his Panarion, he expresses a deep fear about his heresiological treatise: “The very necessity for the words of the controversy is putting me in such a sweat, on account of the readers’ dissuasion and to show that these persons’ practices, rites, and doctrines are the furthest thing from my mind and thus prove my independence of them with the words and the bitterness of my opposition.”28 Setting aside the sincerity and rhetorical posturing of Epiphanius’s anxiety, I am concerned here with what it is he claims to fear, for it reveals the broad components of his heresiological ethnography. His treatise, he explains, breaks down along three lines of investigation: customs, religious rites, and teachings. His discussion of practices will include issues of diet, sex, care of the body, marriage, among others, while his examination of the heretics’ rites consists mainly of baptismal, sacrificial, and eucharistic practices. Matters of doctrine, more literally “teachings,” encompass an expansive list: cosmology, Christology, soteriology, and so on. The inclusion of doctrinal matters as an equivalent source of fear reflects the centrality of theology within the heresiologists’ ethnographic project. For Epiphanius, theology, as much as philosophy, geography, and astrology, shaped the way the world was to be defined, delimited, and represented in texts.
Building on Greek, Roman, and Jewish philosophical traditions and ethnographic texts, Christians conceptualized a way of life as both lived and thought. It is a matter both of doctrine and of practice. But the transformative legacy of Christian ethnographic reasoning was the magnification of theological thought as a (p.66) category of comparative analysis both for heretical and orthodox Christians.29 Indeed, Athanasius of Alexandria reminds his readers at the very start of his Orations against the Arians, “that the thought of the heretics [the Arians] was never, nor is it now, withus.”30 The heresiologists were preoccupied withusing theological thinking as a tool of classification. For them, theology served as an interpretive lens through which to associate and dissociate peoples. And erroneous thinking signaled a deeper heretical disposition. The heretics’ beliefs and practices illuminated their anti-Christian dispensation. The heresiologists not only tried to identify the fundamental character of heresy but also to identify the ways in which that character could be overcome.
Disputing Ways of Life
In his Rule against the Heretics, Tertullian announces an abrupt transition toward the end of his text. Having spent a great many words treating the heretics as more or less a common genus, he concedes that he should engage them more specifically: “I must not leave out a description of the heretics’ way of life: futile, earthly, all too human, lacking in gravity, in authority, in discipline, as suits their faith.”31 While Tertullian used the discourse of “way of life” to evince the association between the heretics and the philosophers—a fundamental part of his broader argument that the heretics were a perverse admixture of philosophy and Christianity—his remark simultaneously communicated his ethnographic disposition: his interest in the customs, habits, and behavior—the way of life—of the heretics.32 For, as John M. Cooper has shown in his Pursuits of Wisdom, philosophy in the ancient world was not just a speculative pursuit; rather it was described as a comprehensive approach to living that included diet, dress, pedagogy, bodily discipline, moral outlook, epistemology, contemplation, and ritual.33 And although Cooper too easily separates philosophical and religious ways of life,34 his overarching point is that systematic modes of thinking, whether guided by reason and (p.67) rational insight or by the dicta of scripture (philosophical or religious worldviews), did not simply orient human behavior but steered the totality of one’s life. Philosophical and later Christian texts supplied a sort of aspirational ethnography: they prescribed the way an individual (or member of a philosophical school) should orient himself or herself. They wrote peoples generically and didactically. As Pierre Hadot writes of the Hellenistic and Roman eras: “Philosophy was a mode of existing-in-the-world, which had to be practiced at each instant, and the goal of which was to transform the whole of the individual’s life.”35 Though these approaches to the ideal life differed—just as the heretics’ conceptualizations of the Trinity or the canon of scripture differed—they shared a desire to articulate the relationship between thought and action.
With his segue into the way of life of the heretics, Tertullian offers brief remarks about the heretics’ attitude toward baptism, catechumens, theology, women, ordination, proselytization, and ecclesiastical organization. As he describes the heretics with broad strokes—still evaluating them as a single entity of sorts—the underlying logic of his description is comparative: the customs and habits of the heretics are in opposition to the normative practice of true Christians. I quote Tertullian at length:36
To begin with, one cannot tell who is a catechumen and who is baptized. They come in together, listen together, pray together. Even if any of the heathen arrive, they are quite willing to cast that which is holy to the dogs and their pearls before swine. The destruction of discipline is to them simplicity, and our attention to it they call affectation. They are in communion witheveryone everywhere. Differences of theology are of no concern to them as long as they are all agreed in attacking the truth. They are all puffed up, they all promise knowledge. Their catechumens are perfect before they are instructed. As for the women of the heretics, how forward they are! They have the impudence to teach, to argue, to perform exorcisms, to promise cures, perhaps even to baptize. Their ordinations are hasty, irresponsible and unstable. Sometimes they appoint novices, sometimes men tied to secular office, sometimes renegades from us, hoping to bind them by ambition as they cannot bind them by truth. Nowhere can you get quicker promotion than in the camp of the rebels, where your mere presence is a merit. So one man is bishop today, another tomorrow. The deacon of today is tomorrow’s reader, the priest of today is tomorrow a layman. For they impose priestly functions even upon laymen.
We see here in Tertullian’s description a few of the common threads of heresiological ethnography, all of which are tied to an overarching heretical mentality: the arrogance of the heretical way of life informs their entire vision of Christianity. (p.68) The heretics jeopardize the sanctity of baptism and the status of the baptized; they lack discipline (ritually, bodily, dispositionally, etc.); they empower women to act with authority within the congregation; they are indifferent to the particularities of theological doctrine; they tarnish the procedures of ordination; they disrupt notions of ecclesiastical hierarchy; and they trivialize priestly training. The heretics, through their various teachings and traditions, offer an alternative way of living Christianly that is oriented around, in Tertullian’s telling, a hubristic disposition. They display a disregard for theological doctrine and impugn the ecclesiastical establishment.
Epiphanius’s Panarion and Augustine’s De haeresibus radically expand Tertullian’s list of the heretics’ customs and habits. Epiphanius explicitly associates sectarianism with ways of living. He notes, for instance, that Adam, the progenitor of the human race, lived in a time of univocity: there were no names for differences of opinions, beliefs, “or a distinctive way of life.”37 In the Recapitulations, pseudo-Epiphanius identifies the “superior way of life” of the Pharisees with a series of practices. They practice continence for a time and are celibate; they fast, clean vessels, tithe, pray constantly, and dress in shawls and robes.38 When Epiphanius reaches the heresy of Marcion, he incorporates into his Panarion a separate tripartite treatise he tells us he had previously written against Marcion. The treatise begins by enumerating the contents of Marcion’s canon in order to provide “a training ground … for the refutation of the strange doctrines of his invention.”39 The treatise culminates in a stylized dialectic comprised of Marcion’s scholia (opinions) and Epiphanius’s elenchi (refutations). In a dispute over the correct interpretation of Luke 11.5–13—especially Jesus’s dictum about the distribution of loaves, fishes, and eggs—Epiphanius describes Marcion’s fallacious interpretation as attesting a broader and equally fallacious way of life. He writes:40
The willfulness of the swindler’s way of life is exposed by this text. The way of life he practices is not for continence’ sake, or for the good reward and hope of the contest, but for impiety and the badness of a wrong opinion. For he teaches that one must not eat meat, and claims that those who eat flesh are liable to the judgment, as they would be for eating souls. But this is altogether foolish. The flesh is not the soul; the soul is in the flesh.
Marcion argues, as do Valentinus, Colorbasus, the Gnostics, and the Manichaeans, that the “reincarnation of souls as well as transmigrations of the souls of ignorant persons” is “reembodied in each of the animals until it comes to awareness, and so, (p.69) cleansed and set free, departs to heaven.”41 Marcion’s insistence on the radical disjuncture between soul and body (“that the body is a prison”) tarnishes the Lord’s equal emphasis on “our sojourn here in the flesh, and the coming resurrection of flesh and soul.”42 Epiphanius’s digression on the soul, however, only intensifies his ire toward this argument about abstention from meat, which necessitates that he return to the subject: “I am going to speak once more of your bogus way of life, since you say eating meat is wicked and unlawful.”43 Fish and eggs, Epiphanius insists, are described as good gifts; they are divinely sanctioned. Heresiology, we might say, is not just a repository of polemical ethnography but also an active site of negotiation and contestation. In this instance, Epiphanius communicates his heresiology as a disquisition on contours of proper Christian conduct and dogma.44 For Epiphanius, then, heresiological ethnography is descriptive, proscriptive, and prescriptive all at the same time.
With its pared-down rhetoric and straightforward structure (what I would call a list) Augustine’s De haeresibus provides brief but quintessential descriptions of eighty-eight heresies. He begins his text by quoting back the specific requests of Quodvultdeus, the deacon of Carthage, who had pleaded with him for a handbook of heretics. Augustine notes that he had specified his desire to know what the heretics held with respect to:45
“the faith, the Trinity, baptism, penance, Christ as man, Christ as God, the resurrection, the Old and New Testaments…. And absolutely every point on which they disagree with truth.” Then you added, “those heresies which have Baptism and those which do not, and those after which the church baptizes, though she does not rebaptize; how she receives those who come to her, and what response she makes to teach of them in terms of law, authority, and reason.”
Taking his cue from Quodvultdeus, Augustine emphasizes many of the particulars the deacon had inquired after while also giving prominent place to other pressing matters associated with the heretics, including diet, cosmology, worship rites, marriage, theodicy, communalism, Mariology, psychology (in the ancient sense), eschatology, anthropology, and other eclectic and outré habits. Augustine, at Quodvultdeus’s request, essentialized the heretics into terse literary units.
(p.70) Consider the heresy of the Adamians, named after Adam because “they imitate the naked state which was his before the sin.”46 More tellingly, Augustine reports, they oppose marriage, because Adam and Eve did not have sex before the fall. Men and women seek to embody through mimesis the prefallen state of humanity. And so “men and women assemble naked; they listen to the readings naked; they celebrate the sacraments naked. And for this reason they think their church is paradise.”47 The Adamians propose a model of Christian living that aspires to a biblical ideal. And in his three longer entries, most especially on the Manichaeans, Augustine expends great energy to identify the contours of their way of life. And so he tells us about Mani’s idea of a radical dualism, between good and evil, eternal and coeternal, light and darkness.48 He goes on to explain the Manichaeans’ effort to return to God by way of purification—on ships made out of the substance of God—and how the consumption of food both inhibits and enables this process of return.49 Throughout this brief tour of the world of the Manichaeans, he observes their abstention from meat, eggs, milk, and wine, their belief that agriculture is murder, their disdain for marriage and baptism, their association of Christ with the serpent of Genesis, their worship of the sun and moon, and their denial of free will.50
There is, however, an overarching logic to what Augustine labels Mani’s “insane teaching (insana doctrina).51 As he explains, the Manichaeans “think that the substance of God is purified in their Elect by a kind of life the Manichaean Elect live, as though they live more holily and excellently than their Hearers. For they wanted their church to be composed of these two ranks, that is, the Elect and the Hearers.”52 Augustine’s description ascribes to the Manichees a particular mode of life, born out of a dualistic ideological system. The implications of this system as a thoroughgoing way of life are fleshed out more fully in Augustine’s famous debate with the Manichaean bishop Faustus.53 The resulting text, Against Faustus, a Manichee, manufactured a debate between two learned ecclesiastical leaders, each of whom attacked his opponent as he defended his own version of the Christian (p.71) tradition.54 In chapter 20, Faustus attempted to distinguish between a schism and a sect. The former is a group that “holds the same opinions and worships with the same ritual as others but wants only a division of the congregation,” whereas a sect holds different opinions and worships God far differently.55 Faustus rejected the assertion that Manichaeans were a schism either of pagans or of Jews.56 In both cases, Manichaeans were simply too different from either group to be considered a schismatic relation; for “a schism ought to change either nothing or only a little from its origins.”57 The Manichaeans failed this test in relation to both Jews and pagans. They rejected the God of the Hebrew Bible (as well as the text itself) and vigorously contested pagan ritual practices. By contrast, Faustus mused, catholics ought to consider themselves a schismatic people:58
In splitting offfrom the gentiles you took with you first of all the idea of monarchy, that is, the belief that all things come from God. But you transformed their sacrifices into agapes [communal meals] and their idols into martyrs whom you worship with similar prayers. You placate the shades of the dead with wine and meals; you celebrate the solemn feast days of the nations, such as the calends and the solstices, along with them. From their life [i.e., way of life] you have in fact changed nothing. You are indeed a schism from your parent group, having nothing different except your place of assembly.
Faustus tied catholic Christianity to the pagans, from whom he argued they were marginally distinct. To make that connection explicit, he argued that catholics embraced an incorrect way of living. They had foolishly taken on the practices and traditions of the gentiles. For Faustus, the catholics’ way of life was not, in fact, sufficiently different from the gentiles’ to merit the designation “Christian.”59 The point is that the charge of fallacious modes of living went both ways: orthodox and heretical writers both accused one another of false living. For both sides, the notion of way of life presented an opportunity to construct an ethnographic polemic.60
(p.72) The various examples collected here display competing modes of expressing the nature, practices, and spirituality of the Christian way of life. The disputes between Epiphanius and Marcion or Augustine and Faustus revolved around an understanding of what the Christian way of life entailed. The heresiologists insisted on a particular mode of living Christianly, whereas the heretics presented another. Hadot usefully describes how Christians represented their worldview as a way to live by appropriating the discourse of Greek and Roman philosophy:61
Like Greek philosophy, Christian philosophy presented itself both as a discourse and as a way of life. In the first and second centuries, the time of the birth of Christianity, philosophical discourse in each school consisted mainly of explicating texts by the school’s founders…. The discourse of Christian philosophy was also, quite naturally, exegetic, and the exegetical schools of the Old and the New Testament, like those opened in Alexandria by Clement of Alexandria’s teacher, or by Origen himself, offered a kind of teaching which was completely analogous to that of contemporary philosophical schools.
Hadot goes on to trace a philosophical lineage in which Christianity created spiritual exercises to actualize spiritual progress.62 The ideals of self-mastery and selfcontrol, embodied most pronouncedly in monastic movements of the fourth and fifth century, were spiritual practices meant to provide a therapeutic concourse for the soul’s progress. Even if monasticism was, in Hadot’s word, the “perfection” of the Christian way of life, it did not emerge in an historical vacuum.63 Rather, scholars rightly emphasize the ways in which Christian asceticism was formed as both a practice and a discourse in dialogue with sacred texts, theological debates, philosophical speculation, and ecclesiastical discontent.64 As an expression of a Christian lifestyle, monasticism provided an answer to the question of how an individual should behave, both by living and by believing, as a Christian. But the resolution to this question was not singularly the domain of monastic writers and practitioners.65 It was instead, I suggest, equally the concern of the heresiologists. Indeed, Augustine reports, via Filastrius, that an unnamed heresy (number 72 in De haeresibus) broadly champions the way of life of all heretics both in terms of practice and belief: “[Filastrius] says that from Rhetorius there arose a heresy of amazing stupidity which claims that all heretics live correctly and spoke the (p.73) truth.”66 For the heresiologists, to posit the proper expression of Christian living required an investigation into the depths and details of alternative modes of living Christianly. Heresiological ethnography thus served as the dialectical conjunction of proscriptive description and aspirational prescription. It was in heresiology that the ethnographic disposition turned most emphatically and sharply inward, in order to assess the experiential potential and propriety of the diverse and diversifying Christian world.
The Messalians: Imagining Heretical Groups
Entry 57 in Augustine’s De haeresibus, the last for which Augustine explicitly credits Epiphanius as his source, is the heresy of the Messalians.67 Their name, Augustine reports, is “derived from the Syrian language,” though in “Greek they are called the Εὐχίται; thus they get their name from praying.”68 He further notes that these People Who Pray are associated with the sects called the Euphemites, Martyrians, and Satanists (though Epiphanius had specified that these were pagan sects).69 The Messalians follow an extreme way of life—so extreme, in fact, that it renders them heretics: “These people pray to such an excess that people have judged that they should, on this account, be included among the heretics.”70 The Messalians, in short, are heretics as much for what they do as for how they do it. According to Augustine, the Messalians misinterpret the scriptural injunction, from Luke 18.1 and 1 Thess. 5.7, to pray unceasingly. He further insists that a “sound interpretation” of these verses means not that one must pray always and at all times but rather that one must “not omit certain times of prayer on any day.”71 But lest the reader think that it is prayer alone that constitutes the heresy of the Messalians, Augustine adds two other details about their way of life. First, Augustine reports that some say “that they tell fantastic and ridiculous tales about the purification of souls, such as, that a sow along with piglets are seen to leave the (p.74) mouth of a man when he is purified.”72 Although no other heresiologist reports on this particular detail, the other matter Augustine mentions about the Messalians is well attested among the later heresiologists.73 “The Euchites,” Augustine notes, “are said to believe that monks may not do any work to support themselves and thus profess to be monks so that they may be completely free from work.”74 The ostensible point of the Messalians’ abstention from labor is to eliminate distractions from a life of continuous prayer.75 The point of Augustine’s brief remarks is rather simple: the Messalians misconceive their Christian piety. Prayer must be part of living Christianly but not to such an extent that it forecloses other scriptural obligations or fosters a particularly divisive Christian mentality. It is a question of interpretive balance and harmony. The Messalians, like those who practiced superstitio before them, err in their extremism; they err in the manner in which they conduct their lives.76
For Augustine, the Messalians were etymologically defined by what they did, even though they did more than what their name indicated. When Augustine’s summary is juxtaposed withEpiphanius’s protracted discussion of the Messalians, the ethnographic disposition comes into especially sharp relief, for no Christian text better illustrates the heresiologists’ interest in collecting and arranging ethnographic knowledge than the Panarion. Indeed, the Messalians of the Panarion emerge as a discrete people defined by particular customs, habits, and doctrines. This ethnographic fashioning, the reification of essences, worked not only to create similarity across the heretics’ diversity—to identify generalizable dispositions—but also to fashion communal dispositions or dispositional kinship.77 By investigating how theological ethnography worked to describe, essentialize, and refute the heretics all at the same time, we can see at the microscopic level how a heresiologist, in this case Epiphanius, constructs a portrait of a heretical sect, blending history, biography, exegesis, and polemic to create an ethnographic caricature. That caricature, however, works not only to excise specific doctrines and customs from the church but also to create a comparative theological framework in which the heretics come to embody certain types of behaviors and interpretations.
(p.75) In painting a particular portrait of the Messalians, Epiphanius fashions them into an irreducible core, which is revealed to be largely dispositional. The emphasis Epiphanius places on their contentious disposition is a way to ascribe to them a common personality, to classify them as a type of un-Christian people. He also uses this discussion of the Messalians, his final entry of the Panarion, to reflect more broadly about the theological justifications behind extreme modes of piety, especially the competing obligations and freedoms associated with the ascetical way of life. The renunciatory impulse—the idea of discipline and its limits—emerges as both a problematic and desirable mode of living throughout the Panarion.78 In the case of the Messalians, Epiphanius contrasts proper and improper theologies of labor while simultaneously denouncing one expression of monastic piety and valorizing another. His account of the Messalians illustrates how the discourse of heresy is mediated through differing interpretations of the proper parameters of ascetical living. Epiphanius imagines the ideal ascetic—and later comes to celebrate ascetics as the epitome of the church—in contrast to not only the Messalians but also the monks upon whom the Messalians model their behavior. As Daniel Caner has observed about the People Who Pray: “We are dealing with a post-Constantinian ecclesiastical process of defining, consolidating, homogenizing, or rejecting forms of Christian life and expression that now came under the direction of a largely Mediterranean-based, Greco-Roman hierarchy with its own institutional perspective and concerns.”79 But the Messalians not only subscribe to a shared way of life; they also share a common disposition. And although much of the language of the Messalians’ commonality is imaginary, following Benedict Anderson’s famous analysis of the ways in which nations produce a shared culture, ideology, and tradition—with the heresiologists imagining heretical and orthodox culture despite its variation and diffusion—it also points toward the ethnographization of Christianity from the inside.80 Doctrine and behavior, taken together, make up the backbone of the ethnographic analysis of Christianity’s own internal diversity. The emphasis on doctrinally informed behavior signals a key concern of the Panarion: the presentation of the Messalians not just as an abstract intellectual movement but as a lived and living group of people. Christian writers made theological and doxographic disputes into ethnographic ones not only by blending them but also by consistently marshaling the language of peoples, groups, behavior, and disposition. That is, the heresiologists made the heretics into groups with discernible personalities that gave them the appearance of social and theological cohesion.
(p.76) Epiphanius begins his discussion of the Messalians with a generalized excoriation of heresy as an act defined by an unquenchable shamelessness and foolishness. It is a ruinous phenomenon, destroying “the seed of Adam and Noah by bringing their chastity to an end by any number of methods, implanting whorishness in its victims by a variety of methods.”81 He quickly pivots to the Messalians themselves, who are “a foolish, entirely stupid [sect], wholly ridiculous, inconsistent in its doctrines and composed of deluded men and women.”82 He stresses at the outset not only their inconsistency—a point to which I shall return—but also the nature of their composition as a sect. As his description unfolds, it becomes clear that Epiphanius treats the Messalians not just as an abstract or diffuse ideology but also as a community of men and women who follow in the tradition of the pagan Messalians, who themselves “built certain houses for themselves, or flat places like forums, and called these prayer houses.”83 The emphasis on domiciles or prayer houses serves to identify these pagan men and women as a community or group of worshippers.84 These pagan Messalians established sites of prayer both inside and outside cities, some of which were built like churches, synagogues, and oratories.85 As a community of prayer, “they would gather in the evening and at dawn with much lighting of lamps and torches and offer God lengthy hymns by their sages and certain blessings, if you please, in the fond belief that they can appease God … with hymns and blessings.”86
When Epiphanius finally arrives at the Christian Messalians proper, he sets them in direct relation with the pagan Messalians via their shared customs. And even though “they do the same things in open air, and spend their time in prayer and hymns,” the Christian Messalians are described in strikingly different terms:87
(p.77) “Today, however, these people who are now called Messalians have adopted their customs. But they have no beginning or end, no top or bottom; they are unstable in every way, without principles, and victims of delusion. They are entirely without the foundation of a name, a law, a position, or legislation.”88 The apparent incoherence, illogic, and inconsistency of the Messalians did not preclude Epiphanius from producing a stereotyped and reductionist description of the sect. Indeed, his description created the sect’s coherence through the aggregative effects of naming. Writing of the utility of the name Arius as a polemical tool throughout late antiquity, Lewis Ayres notes: “Such heresiological labels enabled early theologians and ecclesiastical historians to portray theologians to whom they were opposed as distinct and coherent groups and they enabled writers to tar enemies with the name of a figure already in disrepute.”89 I would emend Ayres’s remark slightly. It is not simply the source of the naming that holds significance—whether based upon behavior, geography, doctrine, or leaders—but the act of naming itself. As the historian Eric R. Wolf has put it: “By turning names into things we create false models of reality.”90 By virtue of their name and the Panarion’s narrative about them, the Christian Messalians were given an associative identity and prehistory. And while Epiphanius’s description emphasizes that they were “unstable in every way”—they lacked principles or even a name—he himself gave them these things. By supplying them with a name, he translated behavior and its attendant history into a form of communal cohesion. As the sociologist Rogers Brubaker incisively observes:91
By invoking groups, they seek to evoke them, summon them, call them into being. Their categories are for doing—designed to stir, summon, justify, mobilize, kindle, and energize. By reifying groups, by treating them as substantial things-in-the-world, ethnopolitical entrepreneurs can, as Bourdieu notes, “contribute to producing what they apparently describe or designate.”
The very fact that scholars continue to argue about whether, in historical terms, the Messalians were a distinct movement “with specific ‘leaders’ who propagated a coherent set of ideas and an antiecclesiastical outlook” demonstrates the importance (p.78) of Brubaker’s observation.92 Heretical peoples are written as intellectual, social, and cultural kin, led most often by a single teacher.93 Throughout these polemical characterizations, then, the heresiologists describe the Christian sects as groups composed of real people.94
Although the heresiologist’s perspective was obviously not, strictly speaking, historical, his agenda was to present it as such—to make its rhetoric seem like reality. It is a point that both Karen King and David Brakke have made abundantly clear: the scholarly discourse about heresy perpetuates heresiological binaries, tropes, and themes.95 To that end, the descriptions of the heresiologists functioned as tools of reification; they worked to identify heresy as a category. The fact that among scholars the “predominant way of imagining the varieties of Christianity depicts them as discrete bounded groups” attests the enduring success of the heresiologists’ portrayals of the heresies.96 Thus “we can analyze the organizational and discursive careers of categories—the processes through which they become institutionalized and entrenched in administrative routines … and embedded in culturally powerful and symbolically resonant myths, memories, and narratives.”97 The heresiologists arrayed cosmologies, ideologies, theologies, and practices into the category of heresy, which “aimed at transforming categories into groups or increasing levels of groupness.”98 As Daniel Caner has argued about Epiphanius’s construction of the Messalians: “Epiphanius, having heard of such People Who Pray, simply used the Messalian label to bring together all the practices of disparate ascetic groups that caused him distress…. What disturbed Epiphanius was a complex of ascetic practices that could be found diffused in varying shades throughout much of Asia Minor and the neighboring East.”99 The Panarion imposed order and groupism where there was, in fact, ambiguity and diffusion. It is this invocation of heretical groupism—through naming, describing, and sorting the heretics—that the heresiologists deployed to construct their texts as a type (p.79) of ethnography. In fashioning the heretics into groups, the heresiologists, and Epiphanius most emphatically, were making heretics into ethnographic objects. They were forming them into groups, bounded, imagined, and diffuse, that were organized and oriented around shared customs, habits, doctrines, and dispositions.100
Although the Panarion’s polemical ethnography managed the heretics by making them into bounded entities, it simultaneously and tellingly worked to undercut any sense of empowerment that the language of groupism carried with it. The fear was that by describing them as an assemblage, however false the description, the heretics would be legitimated.101 And so the Panarion worked to counteract that implication. By emphasizing the heretics’ own incoherence, Epiphanius levied the double charge of illogic and illegitimacy against them. Like the frontier notion of “the religion of unbelievers,” the Messalians were imagined to be a contradiction in terms: they were a coherent group of incoherence.102 Their behavior and theology were marked by confusion, misunderstanding, and disorder. But it was not just through rhetorical obfuscation that the Panarion constructed and simultaneously polemicized the heretics. There was another and more universalizing facet of this project of uncritical, polemical ethnography. The Messalians could be evoked as a coherent group that was nonetheless dubbed incoherent because Epiphanius exposed not simply what they did and what they believed but, more important, the governing principles that defined their Christianity. The particularities of their lifestyle were but an expression of a more pernicious condition that identified the very incoherence of their being. In searching for a heretical disposition, Epiphanius built the Messalians into a confused unity. He had found their essence in a disposition that defined them as Messalians even as he described these people and their disposition as foolish, shameful, inconsistent, irremediable, and nonsensical. Their disposition made them both coherent and incoherent. It was the overarching supposition of his ethnographic investigation that enabled him to make both claims simultaneously. It was a tool that enabled the heresiologist to construct and dismantle an essentalized portrait of the heretics.
In his description of the Panarion’s eightieth and final heresy, Epiphanius stresses that the Messalians, like all proper heretics, are a people of estrangement. They are estranged from Epiphanius’s notion of Christian truth insofar as they adhere to improper expressions of Christian behavior, interpretation, and reason. He tells us that the Christian Messalians gathered “[in mixed companies] of men and women, as though they had renounced the world and abandoned their homes.”103 They slept in public squares, again in mixed company, during the course of the summer. They led lives as beggars insofar as they “had no means of livelihood and no property.”104 And in that act of begging we see already one of their defining features: “They show no restraint.”105 Epiphanius further charges that the Messalians claimed multiple human and superhuman identities; they could be prophets, Christs, patriarchs, and angels. In a standard heresiological gesture, Epiphanius’s response to this plurality of ontologies is simply to dismiss the Messalians as crazy: “But as to their calling themselves Christ, what sensible person can fail to see that the doctrine is crazy? Or [their] saying, ‘I am a prophet!’ … Why the errant nonsense? Why the idiotic doctrines?”106 He next explains that “they have no notion of fasting” and that “they do anything without restraint, and eat and drink.”107 This pattern of behavior allows Epiphanius to develop a model for the Messalians, a way to reduce them to a mentality that encompasses the totality of their way of life. This disease of immoderacy, to use the Panarion’s preferred metaphor, explains how they live. This disposition so fundamentally orients their way of life that Epiphanius uses it to freely assume—without any knowledge—the degeneracy of other behaviors. He writes: “As to vice or sexual misconduct, I have no way of knowing. But they can have no lack of this either, especially with their custom of sleeping together in the same place, men and women.”108 Epiphanius extrapolated a mentality from behaviors and then read that mentality back into the Messalians to deduce unknown behavioral tendencies. Predictive or dispositional ethnography relied upon precisely this sort of circularity.
(p.81) Having already suggested the influence of the pagan Messalians on their Christian namesakes, Epiphanius, in mediis rebus, pauses to consider their Christian influences. He begins this stage of his entry by describing the Christian influence not in the language of behavior, strictly speaking, but through the language of opinion. He positions Christian Messalians as adherents to “a harmful doctrine or opinion,” the source of which was the extreme simplicity of certain monks who, even though they were orthodox, “[did] not know the measure of citizenship in Christ.”109 The immoderation of these monks derived from their interpretation of the scriptural injunction “to labor for the food that endures for eternal life” (and not “for the food that perishes”) as a demand to remain free from manual labor.110 To challenge the falsity of this position, he fashions the profile for a paradigmatic ascetic lifestyle.111 In so doing, he transforms the problem of idleness into a meditation on how to live life as a Christian ascetic in imitation of the scripture and the apostles.112 In this imaginary ethnography, Epiphanius puts forward a model for Christian conduct. True Christian conduct, he insists, “tells us to renounce the world, abandon our possessions and property, sell what we have and give to the poor—but really to take up the cross and follow and not be idle and without occupation and eat at the wrong times, and not be like drones but ‘to work with our own hands.’”113 Epiphanius further enumerates the traits that defined fearful, God-inspired souls: such a disposition is “won by sacred doctrines, the study of holy scripture and the oracles of God, psalmody and solemn assemblies, holy fasts, purity and discipline, and voluntary manual work for righteousness’s sake.”114 He explicitly appropriates even the motif of perpetual prayer to advance his romanticized portrait. Of these imagined ascetical figures, he writes: “And they recite nearly all sacred scripture and keep their frequent vigils without tiring or grudging, one in prayer, another in psalmody. They continually hold the assemblies that have been set by lawful custom and spend all their days in the offering of blameless prayers to God, with deep humility and woeful lamentation.”115 And they do so while also making time to perform manual labor. The true monks, as “the (p.82) servants of God who are truly founded on the solid rock of truth and build their house securely, perform their light tasks, each in his own trade, with their own hands.”116
In addition, the honest toil of these unnamed ascetics affords them independence from “the defilement of those who are rich from unrighteousness,” which makes their commitment to God all the more powerful and pious:117 “Thus, along with the word and its preaching, they will have a clear conscience because they produce with their own hands, maintain themselves and, with an excellent disposition towards God and their neighbors, willingly share the alms that they have on hand, I mean [from] firstfruits, offerings and their own earnings, with the brethren and the needy.”118 In explicitly correlating a godly disposition with charity, Epiphanius demonstrates that just as a disposition could predict behavior, the details of behavior could likewise reinforce a disposition. Far from disrupting a pious mentality, manual labor, in fact, attested and solidified the ascetical disposition. Disposition, here as elsewhere, serves as the hermeneutical key to Epiphanius’s heresiological investigation insofar as it provides an overarching framework through which to read behavior and doctrine. It provides the collective lens through which he can visualize his polemical ethnography. To that end, the elaboration of this model of ascetical habits and principles adds yet another layer of comparative ethnography to the Panarion. In contrasting the Mesopotamian monks with a fictitious ascetical group, Epiphanius illustrates how comparative theological analysis functions as comparative ethnography, in this case at the microscopic level. By transforming an interpretive disagreement into a much larger ethnographic disquisition, Epiphanius casts theology as the fundamental language of Christian ethnographic inquiry.
While the monks of Mesopotamia and the Messalians aspired to a life of piety, they erred both in their way of life and in their thinking. The monks’ decision to wear “their hair long like a woman’s” was in error because of the apostle’s injunction that “‘a man ought not to have long hair, inasmuch as he is the image of God.’”119 Epiphanius also denounced them for wearing sackcloth since it “is out of place in the catholic church.”120 To make matters worse, he tells us that they “cut offtheir beards, the mark of manhood, while often letting the hair of their heads grow long.”121 In this regard, they explicitly contravene the Didascalia apostolorum’s command “not to cut the beard, and not to deck oneself with meretricious (p.83) ornaments or have the approach of pride as a copy of righteousness.”122 Epiphanius is dabbling in Christian physiognomics, the discipline whereby an author “seeks to detect from individuals’ external features their character, disposition, or destiny.”123 By insisting that the children of Christ should embody a mentality that did “not desire reward and credit from those who see them,”124 Epiphanius links their appearance to behavior and ultimately to a deeper sense of pride. Their pride, however, was not their gravest error; rather, it was the disposition reflected in a particular behavioral choice. In something of a non sequitur, Epiphanius turns back to an earlier point to argue that it was the Messalians’ excessively long hair that was their most troubling error. As he explains: “Long hair was proper only for the nazirites, because of the type. The ancient were guided by the type of him who was to come, and had long hair on their heads for prayer until the world’s Prayer was to come and was answered.”125 But since “Christ … was obviously a head,” and the Messalians “dishonor the head” by cutting their hair, they dishonor Christ.126 Their habit was more than simply transgressive; it was positively anti-Christian: “The style is a contentious one, since the type of the Law is gone and the truth has come.”127 It was an act that fomented discord, cemented difference, and contested Christ. It was an act that revealed their way of thought: they possessed minds motivated by contentiousness and strife.
Epiphanius was clear that these monks had failed as inheritors and protectors of the apostolic tradition. They had, in fact, sown the very contentiousness that Paul had repudiated in his First Letter to the Corinthians: “But Paul says, ‘if any seem to be contentious, we have no custom, neither the churches of God.’ He rejected persons who had such customs and practices because, by the apostles’ ordinance and in the eyes of God’s church, they are contentious.”128 Epiphanius’s digression about the ascetical orientation, with its own polemical and imaginative ethnographic emphases, identified a shared orientation between Messalians and their Mesopotamian antecedents. The “harmful doctrine” that the Messalians had learned from these monks leads him to a discussion of their shared idleness, which gives way in turn to a discussion of their shared contentiousness. This chain of commonality builds a genealogy of dispositions. Thus Epiphanius insisted that his discussion of the Mesopotamians and his imagined ethnography was no digression, but rather an obligation “since they have contracted the sickness of mind (p.84) from the same source [i.e., contention], have truly come to grief from perversity of mind and have been made a sect with the horrid custom of idleness and the other evils.”129 And although Caner is right that Epiphanius “does not recognize any connection between their attitude toward work and their devotion to prayer”—the former of which was associated with their pagan predecessors, whereas the latter was derived from the Mesopotamian monks—the association, I believe, was in some sense obvious and implicit.130 Moreover, Epiphanius made the association between idleness and perpetual prayer secondary to the establishment of a heretical disposition. He sought, through his comparative ethnographic analysis, to identify the essence that explained their entire approach to Christian living. Their behavior and its origins were wholly attributed to contentiousness, including their contravention of gender norms, their idleness, their calling themselves Christs, and their promiscuity. As expressions of a disposition, each of these habits was a particular illustration of a single, scripturally unsound essence.
But in coming full circle to uncover the Messalians’ true essence, their contentiousness, Epiphanius produces a rather obvious tautology: they are heretics because they are contentious, and they are contentious because they are heretics. And so, when Epiphanius summarizes his description of the Messalians, he reiterates the point with which he began his discussion of them: “This is what I have heard about these people in their turn. They have become a joke in the eyes of the world and have spat up their vulgar thought and words, though they are incoherent and irremediable, and have abandoned God’s building.”131 Like the Mesopotamian monks from whom they borrowed their idleness, they were immoderate yet simple, renunciatory yet licentious. In their behavior, they could be bothexcessive and abstemious. They simultaneously inhabited bothends of the heresiologists’ ethical spectrum: asceticism and libertinism. This dichotomy, which Karen King discusses in the context of the Gnostics, rightly pointing out that it “relies heavily on the early Christian heresiological tradition,” is yet another illustration of a relentlessly tendentious construction of the heretics.132 The heresiologists who wrote about the Gnostics, and the Valentinians in particular, conceptualized their cosmological and epistemological attitudes as legitimating an ethics of extremes. The polemicists “described heretical behavior in terms of a false asceticism based on pride and impious hatred of the creator or a libertine immorality by which the Gnostics flaunted (p.85) their superior spirituality and knowledge.”133 By rereading the relevant Nag Hammadi texts, King is interested in challenging this contradictory binary as a fallacious hermeneutical polemic, whereas I am interested in the implications and parameters of this charge as a form of polemic. To put it simply, I have been concerned with how this vacillating polemic serves the ethnographic logic of the Panarion. I wish not to correct the heresiologists’ descriptions of the heretics—to find the real, historical Messalians—but rather to understand these descriptions as producing a manifestly Christian, highly polemical, doctrinal, and behavioral type of ethnography.
In the case of Epiphanius’s Messalians, the dual charge of asceticism and excess does more than simply magnify their incoherent coherence. It also supplied Epiphanius with the polemical leverage to demystify this variance—to make sense of their nonsense, as it were. As Epiphanius’s description came to focus on their contentiousness, he created a paradigmatic mentality that not only explained their contradictory behavior—their perpetual incoherence—but also overrode its particularities. Their contentiousness laid the foundation for his commentary about their incoherent coherence. It provided a means through which they could be both people who pray and people who are fundamentally combative and disputatious. Their coherence is their contentiousness even as that very contentiousness produces their variable behavior. In this way, Epiphanius did precisely what Enlightenment writers, colonial missionaries, and theologians would later do: construct an object of inquiry that could be reduced to a discrete, unchangeable essence, the effects of which were always correlative but not necessarily complementary.134
Heresiology and Civility: The Legacy of Theological Ethnography
Epiphanius’s emphasis on disposition worked to coalesce seemingly disparate heretical behavior and customary differences into a representation of a unified mentality. Through his polemical ethnography, he created a determinative essence for the Messalians. I read the Panarion as an effort to emphasize the universal over the particular, to create harmony out of dissonance. Epiphanius’s system of heretical classification functioned in a manner strikingly similar to nineteenth-century (p.86) theories of imperial or apartheid comparative religion, which, as the historian of religion David Chidester has incisively observed, organized human diversity “into rigid, static categories” for the purpose of “simplifying, and thereby achieving some cognitive control over, the bewildering complexity of a frontier zone.”135 Chidester explains further the techniques that scholars utilized to create these human groupings:136
Theorists in Europe, especially during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, arranged disparate evidence from all over the world into a single, uniform temporal sequence, from primitive to civilized, that claimed to represent the universal history of humanity…. By the 1850s … the imperial science of comparative religion had completely obscured its entanglement in a global conquest. Not only divorcing itself from its own origins—the dependence of its very existence upon the violent reality of colonial frontiers—this imperial comparative religion erased all of the historical, geographical, and political contexts in which its data had been embedded. As a result, all that remained for analysis in the disembodied evidence … was a mentality, whether that mentality was designated as religious, magical, superstitious, or primitive.
Like Chidester’s colonial comparativists, Epiphanius acknowledged distinctions between specific heretical groups even as he insisted on the unity of their un-Christian mentality. Although the Panarion did not completely take its objects of inquiry out of context, it did aggressively construct a monolithic conception of heresy as a generic category. Epiphanius placed sectarian opinion—heretical thinking and action born of that mental condition—at the center of his history of the world.137 As Epiphanius explains to the readers of his Panarion: “We are dealing with … kinds of knowledge, with faith in God and unbelief, with sects, and with heretical human opinions that misguided persons have been sowing in the world from man’s formation on earth till our own day.”138 And, in the very act of defining eighty heresies over against a single orthodoxy, Epiphanius reified sectarian diversity into its own unity. Heresiology was, as Karen King aptly phrases it, a process of “describing various texts and teachings, emphasizing their differences from one another, while at the same time and despite clear recognition of their manifold differences connecting them in a linear genealogy to a single essential character.”139
The Panarion’s heresiological ethnography laid a conceptual and theological foundation for the fixation of ethnologists and early anthropologists on mentalities (p.87) and dispositions. Uncritical ethnography was as much about theology and interi-ority, however implicit, as it was about customs and habits. The fact that, as Stephen A. Tyler notes, ethnographers have had to work so hard to distance themselves from missionaries and colonial administrators by “disclaim[ing] any self-interest connected with Christianity” attests the lingering connection.140 Colonialism, Christianity, and anthropology went hand-in-hand-in-hand. The Eurocentric veneer of anthropological ethnography—the very legacy anthropologists were so eager to erase—was predicated on the history of Christian missionizing and colonialism and the discourse of belief and interiority. One need only consult Talal Asad’s famous discussion of Clifford Geertz’s anthropological definition of religion to see how ethnographers continue to construct religion with theological principles. Geertz “appears, inadvertently, to be taking up the standpoint of theology”141 by insisting that religious symbols must “affirm something.”142 As Asad explains: “The requirement of affirmation is apparently innocent and logical, but through it the entire field of evangelism was historically opened up, in particular the work of European missionaries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.”143
Writing of Victorian ethnology as mediated through the pioneering figure of James Cowles Prichard (1786–1848), the father of English ethnology, George W. Stocking, Jr., describes the sources that early ethnologists and anthropologists used to study human diversity:144
Although articles in early ethnological journals sometimes reflected personal experience overseas, Prichardian ethnology was essentially an activity of the study, not the field…. The material on which Prichard built his ethnology came largely from the printed pages of books. Many of these were very old ones: the ancient historian-geographers who described the peoples at the margins of the classical world; the chroniclers of barbarian invasions of the Roman Empire; and the early antiquarian accounts of the national histories of Europe—testimony to the continuity of Prichardian ethnology with deeply rooted traditions of speculation about human diversity. From the beginning, however, Prichard also drew on more contemporary travel accounts; and as the years and editions went by, his volumes became more and more compendia of the travel literature of nineteenth-century Europeans abroad.
(p.88) Epiphanius, as I explained in the previous chapter, used the equivalent resources: the writings of heresiologists past, bishops and theologians present, and the heretics’ very own texts.145 He further claimed, in his entry on the Gnostics, for example, that he had met them in the flesh. He writes: “For I happened on this sect myself … and was actually taught these things in person, out of the mouths of the people who really undertook them.”146 And again, a few paragraphs later: “I indicated before that I have encountered some of the sects, though I know some from documentary sources, and some from the instruction of testimony of trustworthy men who were able to tell me the truth.”147 Although he leaves the details of his encounter unspecified, he includes this meeting for obvious reasons. Emphasizing his own personal experience with the Gnostics adds an element of legitimacy to his description of their sexual perversities, scriptures, dietary habits, and elaborate cosmologies. His encounter likewise adds an element of urgency to his account. If the Gnostics are actually engaged in such reprehensible conduct, which Epiphanius’s truthful reporting indicates, the church and his readers have an obligation to combat the diseased, barbaric condition of the Gnostics. Put simply, they must civilize these heretical savages.148
Epiphanius explicitly used the discourse of barbarism and civility as he described the literature of the Carpocratians, an offshoot of the Gnostics. Their literature, he writes, “is such that the intelligent reader will be astounded and shocked, and doubt that human beings can do such things—not only civilized people like ourselves, but even those who [live with] wild beasts and bestial, brutish men, and all but venture to behave like dogs and swine.”149 There was an imperative to intervene against this depravity—the text, after all, is called the Panarion, which means Medicine Chest—to heal those who had contracted the disease of heresy. The heresiologists’ duty to redeem the heretics from error—to correct their way of life—reflected an ethnographic disposition built upon comparative theology and the notion of vera religio. And this discursive project, the recasting of ethnography as a salvational enterprise, had profound and long-lasting historical consequences.150 Civility, (p.89) missionizing, and theological truth had become inextricably linked. As Christopher Herbert explains in his Culture and Anomie, the Victorian missionaries and ethnographers of Polynesia William Ellis (1794–1872), John Williams (1796–1839), and James Calvert (1813–92)151
saw themselves as saving souls, as working to lessen the sum of human suffering, and as engaging in direct personal combat with Satan. Very likely they were also guilty, as their critics charged, of longing for personal glory and of seeking to use their activities in foreign lands to enhance the influence of the Evangelical party in church politics. But they were impelled by a further motive which gave their enterprise a quasiscientific character from the outset…. This was their need to portray the countries selected for evangelism as sites of almost unqualified moral depravity…. In order to justify their aggressive incursions into native societies, missionaries needed therefore to be able to appeal to a discourse which endowed them with incontestable moral authority over indigenous populations. So it was a principal function of this discourse, which they made it their business to produce, to people the South Seas with the very beings that had, for expediency’s sake, to be found there: depraved, brutish savages. Intervention in the lives of such people was not only permissible, it was an urgent duty.
In the same way, the enterprise of heresiology found what its discourse promised and produced: the discourse of heresiology, in that sense, peopled the Mediterranean with heretics. Rhetoric had outstripped reality. It is, as Herbert suggests, an ethnographic tautology: the ethnographer finds what his discourse needs.152 Epiphanius thus constructed his Panarion not only to create an opposition between heterodox and orthodox ways of living but also to trace an underlying dispositional distinction. He found, wherever he metaphorically looked, the excesses, extremes, hubris, and vulgarity of the heretics. They were pseudo-Christian savages, unrestrained by any sense of limitation or boundary.
Epiphanius and the Polynesianists were both firmly interested in developing oppositional mentalities, for the former between orthodox and heterodox and for the latter between civilized and primitive (where the latter was now undergirded by the theological dichotomy of the former). Each utilized tendentious evidence to construct heretical or primitive worldviews, ideologies, and ways of living. At the same time, the process of constructing a disposition from ethnographic knowledge very much reinscribes the evidentiary function of ethnography. The discourse of heresiology uses the notion of the disposition to further reify its ethnographic object. Insofar as the heretics have readily identifiable dispositions, they are not abstract or diffuse intellectual entities but instead tangible peoples defined by perverse qualities. WithEpiphanius’s introduction of the very first Christian (p.90) sect, the Simonians or those who followed Simon Magus, the interplay between practice, disposition, and peoplehood is made abundantly clear: “[The sect] is made up of people who do not rightly or lawfully [believe] in Christ’s name, but perform their dreadful activities in keeping with the false corruption that is in them.”153 Because the heretics have an underlying disposition, they are no different than the various warmongering yet slothful tribes of Tacitus’s Germania, the violent Gauls of Caesar’s Gallic War, the hypercivilized Phaeacians of Homer’s Odyssey, the masters and slaves of Aristotle’s Politics, or the devious Iberians of Strabo’s Geography.154 The heretics are imagined with a sense of peoplehood even as the heresiologists work tirelessly to deny their humanity.155 The ethnography of heresies “had in fact long stressed just this ‘problem’ of seemingly illogical combination of traits…. Analysis of this kind pointedly defines ethnography as an attempt to unriddle the symbolic interrelations of customs.”156 The heretics have customs and habits, rites and rituals, rules and regulations that make up their way of life—and, as a result, possess their own heretical culture—even as their hubristic, unrestrained mentality undercuts their claim to possess a legitimate Christian culture. They are, from the heresiologists’ perspective, hostile to “the restraint which Christianity imposed upon them.”157 Epiphanius’s attacks against the Messalians’ coherence (and thus their culture) cleared the way for his own claim that the Christianity of the Panarion was the unifying and governing principle of the entire human race. The biblical anthropology advanced by his monogenic theory of human diversity—namely that all humanity was united by a pre-Christian and then explicitly Christian mentality—foresaw the eventual reunification of all peoples everywhere under the banner of Christianity.158
In his essay “The Forms of Wildness: Archaeology of an Idea,” Hayden White argues that the discourse of wildness and savagery implicates bothethnographic and theological structures.159 He explains that the motif of the savage (p.91) operates to create not just binaries, but binaries with seemingly existential significance:160
The notion of “wildness” (or, in its Latinate form, “savagery”) belongs to a set of culturally self-authenticating devices which includes, among many others, the ideas of “madness” and “heresy” as well. These terms are used not merely to designate a specific condition or state of being but also to confirm the value of their dialectical antitheses “civilization,” “sanity,” and “orthodoxy,” respectively. Thus, they do not so much refer to a specific thing, place, or condition as dictate a particular attitude governing a relationship between a lived reality and some area of problematical existence that cannot be accommodated easily to conventional conceptions of the normal or familiar.
Ethnographic writing encompassed a way of seeing the world, of negotiating and enumerating the cultural, social, political, and intellectual space occupied by a people and its traditions.161 It is about articulating a perception, what White calls an “attitude,” of the peoples and places of the world. But perceiving the world, mapping it discursively and literally, is an endeavor fraught with both real and imagined dangers. And theological ethnography—that is, ethnography driven by theological principles—is all the more dangerous, for it requires the ethnographer to investigate things that are not just repulsive but also destructive, unrestrained, insane, and even demonic.
The heretics thus represented an ethnographic paradox and opportunity. On the one hand, the existence of the heretics complicated the notion of a singular Christian truth and thus the possibility of a singular reunification of humanity. But on the other hand, the heretics were studied and written in order to be subdued and ultimately dismantled. And because their continued existence constituted a dangerous pollution—a metaphor that both heresiologists and Victorians used freely—they existed to be destroyed and reimagined as Christians.162 Like the colonialists who slowly dismantled indigenous religious and political structures, Christians used, in the wake of Constantine, the power of the state to enforce their interpretation of Christian tradition. The intervention of the colonial apparatus against indigenous peoples finds correlation not only in sporadic acts of violence against heretics—like the burning of a Valentinian meeting place at Callinicum in 388—but also in the laws compiled in the Theodosian Code.163 As Richard Flower and (p.92) Caroline Humfress have shown, the discourse of heresiology finds parallel expression in the laws preserved in the code.164 The rhetoric of destruction marshaled against the heretics assumes legal consequences. There were, in theory, material consequences to the discourse of heresiological ethnography in late antiquity: “All members of diverse and perfidious sects … shall not be allowed to have an assembly anywhere, to participate in discussions, to hold secret meetings, to erect impudently the altars of a nefarious treachery by the offices of an impious hand, and to present the false appearance of mysteries.”165 Not only could the state prohibit (and appropriate for itself) the gathering places of the heretics,166 it could also confiscate their property,167 annul their inheritances,168 forbid them to enter the imperial service,169 and prosecute them for crimes under various legal rubrics.170 The laws of the Theodosian Code, like the heresiologies, use the rhetoric of madness, insanity, and uncontrollability to describe and denounce the heretics.171 In this way, the laws function as material and ideological contributions to the development of a heretical mentality defined by contravention, perversity, and unrestraint.172
Indeed, writing their treatises on heretics and primitives, respectively, Epiphanius and Victorian anthropologists reduced cultural, religious, and theological complexities and behavioral nuances to generalities, dispositions, and stereotypes. They emphasized, most incessantly, the irrationality and illogic of their respective objects of inquiry. They were crazed, foolish, simple, and senseless. Recall the words that Epiphanius uses to open his account of the Messalians, which could as easily have been uttered by an uncritical Victorian anthropologist:173
(p.93) Shamelessness never gets enough, and foolishness is never satisfied. Rather, it has bared its mind and opened its mouth to everything, to ruin the seed of Adam and Noah by bringing their chastity to an end by any number of methods, implanting whorishness in its victims by a variety of methods. For another sect has actually arisen after these, a foolish, entirely stupid one, wholly ridiculous, inconsistent in its doctrines and composed of deluded men and women.
To that end, the colonial ethnographic perspective, both on the ground and in the libraries of European universities, mirrored the language, themes, and interests of Epiphanius’s heresiological project. In their respective eras, each represented the epitome of uncritical Christian ethnography. In many ways, the former was the natural progeny of the latter. As Daniel Boyarin has incisively phrased it: “Heresiology is … a form of apartheid comparative religion, and apartheid comparative religion, in turn, a product of late antiquity.”174 In each case, the ethnographic imagination imposed a Christian structure and logic upon the diversity of the human race. In redefining the world through the language of Christianity, the heresiologists had imposed a new and distinctly Christian edifice upon the study of peoples and places of the natural world. The uncritical ethnographers of medieval, early modern, Enlightenment, and modern Europe were invariably perpetuators of that same language, whether consciously or not. As Herbert writes of the ethnographer William Ellis: “Christian missionaries are not social scientists in search of ‘accurate information,’ Ellis tells his readers … but rather are dedicated to counteracting ‘delusive and sanguinary idolatries,’ which are responsible for ‘moral debasement and attendant misery.’”175 The Panarion, despite its rhetoric of medicine and classification, was precisely the same sort of text. Epiphanius’s text existed to counteract the delusive and sanguinary practices and doctrines of the sects that through their hubris and idolatry had corrupted the linear Christian progression of human history.176 Epiphanius constructed his ethnographic objects to give the history of world a fundamental, if problematic, Christian appearance. The world was populated by and would continue to be populated by sects that required eradication both in texts and on the ground. As such, the world depended upon the revivifying promise of true Christianity to restore order.
Epiphanius’s project, like that of his various heresiological colleagues, was to settle debates, by way of polemic, about modes of living Christianly. It was polemical ethnography, in the philosophical, Herodotean, and uncritical senses of the term. It was at once a way of thinking through the manner in which to transform the bodily existence into spiritual perfection—aspirational ethnography—and a way of cataloguing the actual customs that Christians practiced to align themselves more closely with God and represent the cosmos more perfectly. The heresiologists themselves were progenitors of a Christian therapy: their works provided structure for those wishing to live, behave, and believe as Christians. Having already expressed “the tenets of the faith of this only catholic church,” Epiphanius pivots in his conclusion to the Panarion to a description of the “many ordinances as have actually been observed and are being observed in the church, some by commandment, others by voluntary acceptance.”177 Tellingly, his list begins with virginity and its various accommodations. And so “the foundation of the church is virginity which is practiced and observed by many, and held in honor,” after which the church tolerates continence, widowhood, lawful wedlock, and second marriage.178
He goes on to describe the various orders of the church—which include priests, presbyters, deacons, subdeacons, virgins, deaconesses, exorcists, translators, and undertakers—and the procedures for celebrating the Sabbath. And while explaining the apostolic traditions that govern the celebration and worship of the Sabbath, Epiphanius again emphasizes the exceptional behavior (in both senses of the word) that orients the ascetics: “But the church’s ascetics fast with a good will every day except the Lord’s Day and Pentecost, and hold continual vigils.”179 The invocation of vigils leads him to a lengthier description of various liturgical practices and dietary abstinences, in which the monks, again, serve as an idealized counterpoint to the ordinary laity. He explicitly portrays the monks of the church in terms that recall and contrast with his early description of the Mesopotamians and the Messalians:180
Many monks sleep on the ground, and others do not even wear shoes. Others wear sackcloth under their clothing—the ones who wear it properly, for virtue and repentance. It is inappropriate to appear publicly in sackcloth, as some do; and, as I said, it is also inappropriate to appear in public wearing collars, as some prefer to. But most monks abstain from bathing. And some monks have renounced their means of (p.95) livelihood, but devised light tasks for themselves which are not troublesome, so that they will not lead an idle life or eat at others’ expense. Most are exercised in psalms and constant prayers, and in readings, and recitations by heart, of the holy scriptures.
And unlike the continual prayer of the Messalians, the orthodox practice of continual vigils and constant prayer further elaborates Epiphanius’s earlier imaginative monastic ethnography. Here, without naming a particular monastic community or figure, without specifying geography, location, or type, Epiphanius briefly fashions a descriptive program of monastic customs and habits. But the orthodox monks are not simply a counterexample to the excessive Messalians and the heretical disposition writ large. Their function within the Panarion and De fide is to provide the basis for a positive, if idealized and not universally practical, articulation of a Christian way of living and thinking. For Epiphanius, they are the best the Christians have to offer. Hence they are the culmination and, indeed, the model for his entire ethnographic endeavor. Like the later Victorian ethnographers who did not hide their profound attachment to the superiority and normativity of their own culture, Epiphanius, as polemical ethnographer, celebrates the superiority of his own Christian culture.181 And this celebration is explicitly conditioned by the preceding eighty entries. As Masuzawa aptly frames it: “The deviation and division within Christianity, too, are the results of the imperfection of the world, yet Christianity itself cannot be held responsible for this errant condition; nor does this sorry state of the world diminish the uniquely universal truth of Christian doctrine but on the contrary amplifies it.”182 There is no hiding Epiphanius’s insistence on what constitutes the apex of Christian culture: it is all contained in De fide, which is the sine qua non of his heresiological endeavor. The church, he tells his readers, is “life, hope, and the assurance of immortality.”183 Orthodoxy is the metric through which he constructs the totality of his inquiry. It is his measure of civilization.
Throughout the Panarion, Epiphanius produces a notion of Christian culture as an institution of thought and praxis while describing and deconstructing competing models of heretical culture. And De fide, as his conclusion, functions as the formulation of a unified Christian culture wherein Epiphanius builds a theological entity, the holy city of God, determined by its creator and originator, and oriented around ordinances, doctrines, and practices. And in his attempt to dismantle the knowledge systems, traditions, and practices of the heretics, Epiphanius constructs a Christian culture of knowledge—a system of classification—through the language of comparative ethnography. “Culture as such,” Christopher Herbert writes of the Victorians, “is not, therefore, a society’s beliefs, customs, moral values, and (p.96) so forth, added together: it is the wholeness that their coexistence somehow creates or makes manifest.”184 Epiphanius’s Panarion strives toward a similar articulation of that wholeness. His treatise is a process of building cultural knowledge, of articulating the logic of Christianity, which unites its diverse array of members into a coherent whole. And as his concluding praise for the catholic church, De fide, makes clear, his understanding of the church is more than the sum of its individual parts and adherents. It is built upon a transcendent unification from the beginning of human history:185
I shall make the case for truth, brief in its statement but sure in its teaching…. [I sing its praises] now, however, because it is the first, and ever since his incarnation has been united to Christ as his holy bride. It was created with Adam, proclaimed among the patriarchs before Abraham, believed with Abraham, revealed by Moses, and prophesied in Isaiah. But it was made manifest in Christ and exists with Christ.
Through his comparative methodology, Epiphanius formulates the contours of a unified Christian culture built upon faith and doctrine. He imagines the wider church as a community defined by practices, customs, character, and tradition. His ethnography of orthodoxy thus functions as a celebratory and didactic endeavor.
The orthodox have their own disposition, defined by customary values: “The custom of hospitality, kindness, and almsgiving to all has been prescribed for all members of this holy catholic and apostolic church.”186 Christian ethnography, like all ethnography, is a study in contrasts. As Epiphanius explains: “The church refrains from fellowship with any sect. It forbids fornication, adultery, licentiousness, idolatry, murder, all lawbreaking, magic, sorcery, astrology, palmistry, the observation of omens, charms, and amulets, the things called phylacteries. It forbids theatrical shows, hunting, horse [races], musicians and all evil-speaking and slander.”187 The church, by contrast, “continually enjoins prayer to God at the appointed hours.”188 The development of this orthodox culture—with its own rules, hermeneutics, signs, and symbols—is constructed not simply in oppositional terms but in oppositional ethnographic terms. His discussion of the customs and habits of true Christians speaks to a powerful reformulation of a way of life while his comparative theology attests a newfound way of thought. As the missionary anthropologist John Williams phrased it, only the gospel “can subdue the fierce passions of our nature.”189
(p.97) The notion of living as a Christian and more specifically living as a Christian in the proper way—in coordination with apostolic values and interpretations—governs the Panarion’s comparative ethnographic conclusion. True Christians do not swear, abuse, curse, or lie. They fervently and humbly pray. They memorialize the dead, offer hymns at dawn and psalms at “lamp-lighting time.”190 “Most sell their goods and give to the poor.”191 All this ritualization and habituation, with respect to the monks, the priesthood, and the laity, comprises an overarching and resolute orthodox disposition, what Epiphanius calls “the character of the church”:192
Such is the character of this holy [mother of ours], together with her faith as we have described it; and these are the ordinances that obtain in her. For this is the character of the church, and by the will of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit it is drawn from the Law, the Prophets, the Apostles, and the Evangelists, like a good antidote compounded of many perfumes for the health of its users. These are the features of this chaste bride of Christ; this is her dowry, the covenant of her inheritance, and the will of her bridegroom and heavenly king, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Here is the ethic of vera religio, defined as much as by a character as by what it includes and excludes. Epiphanius describes a church that cultivates not only an epistemology but also a morality with respect to the natural and the supernatural world.193 The Panarion is not only a clear articulation of a system of knowledge about the heretics. It is equally an elaboration of the church’s character, its fundamental disposition. De fide is about identifying the delimiting the facets and limitations of Christian behavior and knowledge. It is about writing Christianity as a city of believers. It is an ethnography and topography of orthodoxy.
(2.) One sees this on display most clearly in the work of Tomoko Masuzawa, The Invention of World Religions; or, How European Universalism Was Preserved in the Language of Pluralism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), who notes that Vincent Milner, for example, explicitly marshals the discourse of sectarianism in the study of world religions (47). His 1860 treatise is titled Religious Denominations of the World: Comprising a General View of the Origin, History and Condition of the Various Sects of Christians, the Jews, and Mahometans, as Well as the Pagan Forms of Religion Existing in the Different Countries of the Earth (Philadelphia: Bradley, Garreston, 1860). For the history of the relationship between the science of religion (Religionwissenschaft), anthropology, and theology, see Masuzawa 14–71.
(3.) See Michael Maas, “‘Delivered from Their Ancient Customs’: Christianity and the Question of Cultural Change in Early Byzantine Ethnography,” in Conversion in Late Antiquity, ed. Anthony Grafton and Kenneth Mills (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009), 152–88.
(4.) Keith Hopkins, “Christian Number and Its Implications,” JECS 6.2 (1998): 185–226, at 218.
(5.) Daniel Boyarin, “Apartheid Comparative Religion in the Second Century: Some Theory and a Case Study,” JMEMS 36.1 (2006): 3–24, at 9.
(6.) Jonathan Klawans has argued in a recent article, “Heresy without Orthodoxy: Josephus and the Rabbis on the Dangers of Illegitimate Jewish Beliefs,” JJMJS 1 (2014): 99–126, that Josephus articulated an incipient heresiology, analogous in content though not in form, to early Christian heresiology.
(8.) Benjamin Isaac, The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004).
(9.) John Marincola, Authority and Tradition in Ancient Historiography (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 2.
(11.) Mary Beard, John North, and Simon Price, Religions of Rome, 2 vols. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 1:216.
(14.) For Christian identification of Judaism and paganism as superstitio, see Daniel Boyarin, Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 214–20. For a history of superstitio in the ancient world, see Dale B. Martin, Inventing Superstition: From the Hippocratics to the Christians (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004), 1–9, 140–86, 207–25.
(15.) Jeremy Schott, Christianity, Empire, and the Making of Religion (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), 96–106. On Lactantius and religio, see Wilfred Cantwell Smith, The Meaning and End of Religion (reprint, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991), 27–28, 224; and Richard King, Orientalism and Religion: Postcolonial Theory, India and ‘The Mystic East’ (New York: Routledge, 1999), 36–38.
(16.) Lactantius, Inst. 4.28 (PL 6:538).
(17.) As Lactantius frames it: “And it makes a difference, really, why you worship, not how you worship, or what you pray for” (Inst. 4.28 [PL 6:537]).
(19.) Talal Asad, “The Construction of Religion as an Anthropological Category,” in his Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 27–54, at 48.
(20.) On this point, see Gedaliahu (Guy) G. Stroumsa, “Religious Contacts in Byzantine Palestine,” Numen 36.1 (1989): 16–42; and Boyarin, Border Lines, 1–73, which posits a direct correlation between the true/false dichotomy and the categories of orthodoxy and heresy.
(21.) See Denise Kimber Buell, Why This New Race: Ethnic Reasoning in Early Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005); and Aaron P. Johnson, Ethnicity and Argument in Eusebius’ Praeparatio Evangelica (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).
(26.) Nicola Denzey Lewis, “Apolytrosis as Ritual and Sacrament: Determining a Ritual Context for Death in Second-Century Marcosian Valentinianism,” JECS 17.4 (2009): 525–61, at 557.
(29.) See Kenelm Burridge, Encountering Aborigines, A Case Study: Anthropology and the Australian Aboriginal (Elmsford, N.Y.: Pergamon Press, 1973), 8–23, 38–42.
(30.) Athanasius, C. Ar. 1.1.1, ed. William Bright (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1870), 1: ὅτι τῶν τοιούτων οὔτε ἦν, οὔτε νῦν ἐστι ῾μεθ᾽ ἡμῶν᾽ τὸ φρόνημα; emphasis added.
(31.) Tertullian, Praescr. 41.1 (SC 46:146). I have followed (with my own alterations) S.L. Greenslade’s translation of The Prescriptions against the Heretics in Early Latin Theology: Selections from Tertullian, Cyprian, Ambrose, and Jerome (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1956), 25–64.
(32.) The uniqueness of this association is severely undercut by the contemporaneous Christian discourse among the apologists that presented Christianity as a philosophy in its own right. See Pierre Hadot, What Is Ancient Philosophy?, trans. Michael Chase (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2004), 253–58.
(33.) John M. Cooper, Pursuits of Wisdom: Six Ways of Life in Ancient Philosophy from Socrates to Plotinus (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012), 1–23.
(35.) Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault, ed. Arnold I. Davidson, trans. Michael Chase (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1995), 265.
(38.) Pseudo-Epiphanius, Rec. 1.15.1 (GCS, n. F., 10:167).
(44.) See Jon Dechow, Dogma and Mysticism in Early Christianity: Epiphanius of Cyprus and the Legacy of Origen (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1988).
(45.) Augustine, Haer. praef. 3.37–46 (CCSL 46:287). Capitalization modified. The prominence of baptism and rebaptism almost certainly derives from the contentious ecclesiastical rifts with the Donatists in North Africa. See Augustine, De baptismo contra Donatistas; and Geoffrey G. Willis, Saint Augustine and the Donatist Controversy (London: SPCK, 1950), 38–43, 52–68, 79–104, 119–25, 146–67.
(53.) See also Augustine’s De moribus Ecclesiae Catholicae (On The Catholic Ways of Life/Customs) and De moribus Manichaeorum (On Manichaean Ways of Life/Customs), which, though often treated as one work, are technically two separate treatises. In the first case, Augustine describes—one may say idealizes—the catholic attitudes toward God, man, morality, and the world. In the second treatise, Augustine both describes and refutes the positions of the Manichaeans.
(54.) See Paula Fredriksen’s Augustine and the Jews: A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism (New York: Doubleday, 2008), 213–352; and François Decret, Aspects du manichéisme dans l’Afrique romaine: Les controverses de Fortunatus, Faustus et Felix avec saint Augustin (Paris: Études Augustiniennes, 1970), 51–70.
(55.) Augustine, Faust. 20.3 (PL 42:369). Translations from Answer to Faustus, a Manichean, ed. Boniface Ramsey, trans. Roland J. Teske, vol. 1, part 20 of The Works of St. Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century (Hyde Park: New City, 2007), 262.
(57.) Augustine, Faust. 20.4 (PL 42:370). On the relationship between schism and heresy, see Maureen A. Tilley, “When Schism Becomes Heresy in Late Antiquity: Developing Doctrinal Deviance in the Wounded Body of Christ,” JECS 15.1 (2007): 1–21.
(60.) The remainder of chapter 20 is Augustine’s twofold response to Faustus: He continues his assault on the theology, practices, and rites of the Manichaeans (i.e., their way of life); and he defends the catholic way of life from the charge that it derives from paganism.
(64.) See William J. Harmless, Desert Christians: An Introduction of the Literature of Early Monasticism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).
(65.) Tellingly, however, Epiphanius insists in De fide 21.3 that monks and nuns in their status as virgins represent the apex of the catholic church.
(67.) Augustine, Haer. 57 (CCSL 46:325–26). There are several studies devoted the Messalians, though the discourse is overwhelmingly interested in accessing the true, historical Messalians (i.e., deducing their origins, doctrines, practices, etc.). See, for example, Klaus Fitschen, Messalianismus und Antimessalianismus: Ein Beispiel ostkirchlicher Ketzergeschichte (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1998); Columba Stewart, “Working the Earth of the Heart”: The Messalian Controversy in History, Texts, and Language to A.D. 431 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991); and Daniel Caner, Wandering, Begging Monks: Spiritual Authority and the Promotion of Monasticism in Late Antiquity (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002).
(76.) On extremism and excess in Epiphanius, see Pan. 7.1.1; 13.1.4; 24.2.1; 26.3.4, 26.19.2; 27.2.9; 31.21.3, 31.24.1; 32.3.8; 34.22.4; 37.2.3, 37.8.3; 42.1.5; 48.4.6; 57.2.9, 57.10.1; 63.5.8; 64.3.4; 66.2.3–5; 67.1.3; 68.3.3; 76.20.3, 76.36.7; 79.1.4–5, 79.4.7; 80.4.1, 80.5.6.
(77.) For the language of kinship among the Gnostics, see David Brakke, The Gnostics: Myth, Ritual, and Diversity in Early Christianity (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2010), 71–75.
(78.) On the association between the heretics and various forms of renunciation (including food, marriage, sex, and possessions), see Pan. 30.17.3; 61.1.1–11; 75.3.1–3, 75.3.9. On heresy and attitudes toward asceticism, see Pan. 13.1.1; 16.1.2; 23.2.5; 26.13.1; 40.1.4, 40.2.4; 46.1.3; 58.4.5; 63.1.6–7; 66.58.1; 67.1.5–1.6, 67.2.9, 67.3.6, 67.7.8; 70.14.5–6; 75.1.5–6; De fide 13.2.
(80.) Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, rev. ed. (New York: Verso, 2006).
(84.) For a wide-ranging discussion of the notion of community in the ancient world, see now Daniel S. Richter, Cosmopolis: Imagining Community in Late Classical Athens and the Early Roman Empire (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). On the problems with and implications of notions of community among early Christians, see Stanley Stowers, “The Concept of ‘Community’ and the History of Early Christianity,” MTSR 23 (2011): 238–56.
(86.) Epiphanius, Pan. 80.2.1–2 (GCS 37:486). Two other pagan sects, the Martyrians and the Satanists, evolved out of the pagan Messalians, though each was distinguished by a particular habit apart from excessive praying. The former blessed the bones of pagan Messalians who were put to death for “pagan lawlessness” (Pan. 80.2.3 [GCS 37:486]), whereas the latter represented themselves as servants of Satan. In each case, however, Epiphanius has aggregated these groups together “because, in their departure from the truth, they do the same things in the open air, and spend their time in prayer and hymns” (Pan. 80.3.2 [GCS 37:487]). The association between these three pagan sects gestures at a more capacious understanding of the Messalians; even as they are all associated together, they are not singularly defined by an obsession with prayer.
(89.) Lewis Ayres, Nicaea and Its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 2. It should be noted that later in his discussion, Epiphanius does explicitly what Ayres describes. He associates a particular group of monks with the arch-heresiarch Mani: “Some of these brethren [refrain from all mundane labor]—as though they had learned this from the Persian immigrant, Mani, if I may say so” (Pan. 80.4.3 [GCS 37:489]).
(90.) Eric R. Wolf, Europe and the People without History, 2nd ed. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2010), 6.
(91.) Rogers Brubaker, Ethnicity without Groups (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004), 10. See also Heinrich von Staden, “Hairesis and Heresy: The Case of the Haireseis Iatrikai,” in Jewish and Christian Self-Definition, vol. 3, Self-Definition in the Greco-Roman World, ed. Ben F. Meyer and E. P. Sanders (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982), 76–100.
(92.) Caner, Wandering, Begging Monks, 84. See also Stowers, “The Concept of ‘Community,’” who discusses the supposed connection between theology and notions of community as demonstrated by the Gospels (240–45).
(93.) On leadership, biography, and heresiology, see Young Richard Kim, “Reading the Panarion as Collective Biography: The Heresiarch as Unholy Man,” VC 64 (2010): 382–413.
(94.) On the language of groups, see Pan. 8.8.6; 28.6.7; 32.3.1; 55.1.1; 59.1.1; 69.11.7; 70.15.1–6; 72.1.4; 73.23.3, 73.27.5–7; 80.1.4. On the language of peoples, see Pan. 21.1.1; 23.1.1; 24.6.1; 26.1.1–3, 26.10.13, 26.17.4; 27.4.1, 27.4.6, 27.7.1; 28.6.6; 29.1.2; 30.20.5, 30.25.14; 31.1.1; 32.4.1; 34.22.1; 35.2.3; 36.1.3; 38.1.1; 40.8.7; 41.1.3–4; 42.1.1; 43.1.3
(95.) The thesis is stated most concretely by Karen King, What is Gnosticism?, 20–21, 27, 52–54, 110–48, 166–69, 175–76, 202–5; and Brakke, The Gnostics, 1–28.
(100.) On this point, see Jean Gribomont “Le dossier des origines du Messalianisme,” in Epektasis: Mélanges patristiques offerts au Cardinal Jean Daniélou, ed. Jacques Fontaine and Charles Kannengiesser (Paris: Beauchesne, 1972), 611–25, esp. 614–16. Caner, Wandering, Begging Monks, 96–104, argues strongly against the idea of describing the Messalians as a movement in historical terms.
(101.) For an analogous illustration of incoherent coherence in late antiquity, see my “The Double Bind of Christianity’s Judaism: Law, Language, and the Incoherence of Late Antique Discourse,” JECS 23.3 (2015): 445–80.
(102.) On the idea of “religion of the unbelievers,” see David Chidester, Savage Systems (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1996), 73–115. For another useful example of heretical contradiction, see Pan. 46.3.1. Likewise, Epiphanius’s entry on the Marcionites (Pan. 42) turns on the language of contradiction.
(103.) Epiphanius, Pan. 80.3.4 GCS 37:487). On sexual promiscuity and primitive mentality, see John F. McLennan, Primitive Marriage: An Inquiry into the Origin of the Form of Capture in Marriage Ceremonies, ed. Peter Rivière (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1970); and Herbert Spencer, The Principles of Sociology, 3 vols., 3rd ed. (London: Williams and Norgate, 1897–1906; reprint, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1975): 1:632–35; 2:4.
(111.) On the relationship between heresy, orthodoxy, and ascetic behavior, see Teresa M. Shaw “Ascetic Practice and the Genealogy of Heresy: Problems in Modern Scholarship and Ancient Textual Representation,” in The Cultural Turn in Late Ancient Studies, ed. Dale B. Martin and Patricia Cox Miller (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005), 213–36.
(112.) Gribomont, “Dossier,” 611–25. The pursuits of genuine Christian lifestyles revolved around vastly different interpretations of the apostolic tradition and the relationship to the temporal world. On asceticism and the apostolic tradition, see Caner, Wandering, Begging Monks, 83–125.
(130.) Caner, Wandering, Begging Monks, 89. By “obvious and implicit,” I mean that the Messalians embraced idleness in order to eliminate anything that would interfere with their constant praying. Epiphanius never explicitly links the two, but when he imagines his ideal monk (80.4.6–8), he points out that pious monks, dedicated to prayer, possess plenty of time for work. The two are not, in his view, mutually exclusive.
(133.) Ibid. This inauthentic ethic, as King describes it, extends well beyond the fraught category of the Gnostics. It encompasses not only the Messalians but a host of heretical parties, including the Pythagoreans, Dositheans, Carpocratians, Valentinians, Secundians, Ophites, Marcionites, Montanists, Noetians, Manicheans, Hieracites, Anomoeans. See Peter Anthony Mena, “Insatiable Appetites: Epiphanius of Salamis and the Making of the Heretical Villain,” StPatr 67 (2011), 257–63, on the relationship between Epiphanius’s use of medical imagery and the sexual excesses of the heretics.
(134.) On this point, see Walter H. Capps, “The Interpretation of New Religion and Religious Studies,” in Understanding the New Religions, ed. Jacob Needleman and George Baker (New York: Seabury Press, 1978), 101–50.
(136.) Ibid. 3. This point is similarly made by Masuzawa, The Invention of World Religions, 16–19, 43–44, 79–86.
(140.) Stephen A. Tyler, “Ethnography, Intertextuality and the End of Description,” American Journal of Semiotics 3.4 (1985): 83–98, 90. On this point, see also Burridge, Encountering Aborigines, 1–42. Cf. Timothy Larsen, The Slain God: Anthropologists and the Christian Faith (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).
(142.) Clifford Geertz, “Religion as a Cultural System,” in his The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays by Clifford Geertz (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 87–112, at 98–99.
(144.) George Stocking, Jr., Victorian Anthropology (New York: Free Press, 1991), 79.
(145.) While the Panarion’s entry on the Messalians does not include citational references, the text as a whole is a veritable cornucopia of heresiological reinscription. It is, far and away, the most citationally built of the late antique heresiologies. Epiphanius is the only heresiologist, so far as I can tell, who marshals his literary predecessors and opponents at such great length. There is no parallel within the heresiological corpus on the order of Epiphanius’s appropriations from Irenaeus, Marcellus, George of Laodicea, Basil of Ancyra, Melitius, Proclus, Methodius, Origen, Marcion, Turbo, Athanasius, and Aetius.
(148.) For an analogous invocation of civilization and the attendant contradictions, see Patrick Brantlinger, Taming Cannibals: Race and the Victorians (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011).
(154.) Isaac, Invention of Racism, 163–68, 176–77. On mentalities and dispositions, see Homer, Od. 7–8; Tacitus, Germ. 15.1; 21.2; 30.2; 31.3; 35.2; 42.1; Caesar, Bell. gall. 3.19.6; Strabo, Geogr., 3.4.5; Aristotle, Pol. 1254b 25–1255a 2 and 1255b20–22.
(157.) John Williams, A Narrative of Missionary Enterprises in the South Sea Islands (London: Snow, 1837), 129.
(158.) On monogenism, see Stocking, Victorian Anthropology, 44–50, 48–53, 66–68, 74–76, 245–46, 313–14; Colin Kidd, The Forging of Races: Race and Scripture in the Protestant Atlantic World, 1600–2000 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 24–32, 62–167; and David N. Livingstone, Adam’s Ancestors: Race, Religion, and the Politics of Human Origins (Baltimore.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011).
(159.) Hayden White, “The Forms of Wildness: Archaeology of an Idea,” in his Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979), 150–82.
(161.) The subtitle of Kurt A. Raaflaub and Richard J. A. Talbert’s anthology further drives home the sense of geography and ethnography as a way of seeing the world: Geography and Ethnography: Perceptions of the World (Malden, Mass.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010).
(163.) On the incident at Callinicum, see Neil B. McLynn, Ambrose of Milan: Church and Court in a Christian Capital (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1994), 298–315.
(164.) Richard Flower, “‘The Insanity of the Heretics Must Be Restrained’: Heresiology in the Theodosian Code,” in Theodosius II: Rethinking the Roman Empire in Late Antiquity, ed. Christopher Kelly (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 172–94; and Caroline Humfress, Orthodoxy and the Courts in Late Antiquity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 233–68.
(165.) CTh 16.5.15. See Laurette Barnard, “The Criminalisation of Heresy in the Later Roman Empire: A Sociopolitical Device?,” Journal of Legal History 121 (1995): 121–46.
(166.) CTh 16.5.3, 16.5.4, 220.127.116.11–3, 16.5.8, 16.5.10, 16.5.11, 16.5.12, 16.5.15, 16.5.20.
(167.) CTh 16.5.17, 18.104.22.168.
(168.) CTh 16.5.7, 16.5.17, 22.214.171.124, 16.5.49, 126.96.36.199.
(169.) CTh 16.5.25, 16.5.29, 16.5.42, 16.5.48, 188.8.131.52, 184.108.40.206, 220.127.116.11.
(170.) On prosecution, see Humfress, Orthodoxy and the Courts, 181–82, 185–86, 217–19, 244, 251–52, 263.
(171.) For example, CTh 16.5.5, 16.5.6, 16.5.12, 16.5.15, 16.5.19, 16.5.24, 16.5.31, 16.5.32, 16.5.35, 16.5.38, 16.5.65.
(172.) It should be noted that the Theodosian Code, in its desire to clamp down on the heretics, imposed one particular penalty that was, in effect, antiethnographic and anticollection, insisting that the books of the heretics be burned (CTh 18.104.22.168). Like the colonizers, who collected knowledge and material objects from indigenous peoples just as they sought to reorient (i.e., destroy) their way of life, the heresiologists too are pushed and pulled in two contradictory directions: collect but destroy.
(176.) For the chain of degeneration set in motion by hubris and idolatry, see Pan. 3.3.4–10. For ancient explanations of degeneration, see Isaac, Invention of Racism, 89–91, 97, 108, 118–21, 126, 137–40. For early anthropological attitudes toward degeneration, see Margaret T. Hodgen, Early Anthropology in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1964), 254–71, 281–82, 378–82. For the Victorians on degeneration, see Herbert, Culture and Anomie, 35–41, 61–64, 215–22, 245–46.
(177.) Epiphanius, De fide 21.1 (GCS 37:521).
(178.) Epiphanius, De fide 21.3 (GCS 37:521).
(179.) Epiphanius, De fide 22.7 (GCS 37:523).
(180.) Epiphanius, De fide 23.6–8 (GCS 37:524–25).
(181.) Epiphanius, De fide 20.3–25.5.
(183.) Epiphanius, De fide 19.1 (GCS 37:520). See also De fide 1.6–6.4, 14.1–14.7, 19.1, 22.1–2, 25.1–2.
(186.) Epiphanius, De fide 24.1 (GCS 37:525).
(187.) Epiphanius, De fide 24.3–5 (GCS 37:525).
(188.) Epiphanius, De fide 24.6 (GCS 37:525).
(190.) Epiphanius, De fide 23.1 (GCS 37:524).
(191.) Epiphanius, De fide 24.7 (GCS 37:525).
(192.) Epiphanius, De fide 25.1–2 (GCS 37:525–26); emphasis added.
(193.) On the notion of ethnography of morals in early Christianity, see Wayne A. Meeks, The Origins of Christian Morality: The First Two Centuries (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), 8–11.