Letter to the Catholic Academy
I’m especially pleased that Ross has doubled down here on the use of the term “heresy.” In the column that I responded to the other day, Father James Martin said that the invocation of this term is “out of bounds” because it questions one’s “fidelity.” But it doesn’t. Heresy is first and foremost a property of an idea
: it’s to say that a particular idea is theologically erroneous. (“Heresy” and “error” are cognate terms.) If an idea of yours has come under challenge as heretical, especially when that challenge comes from a layman with no theological authority, why not defend it, rather than complain about being challenged? Academics and pundits ought to be able to defend their ideas.
ADDENDUM: Let me just make it clear that this is not one of those cases in which he jests at scars who never felt a wound. In my 29 years at Wheaton College I was on more than a few occasions — some of them before tenure — accused of violating that college’s Statement of Faith or undermining the faith of my students through amorphously “dangerous” ideas. Once World magazine even ran a hit piece on me, accusing me of disparaging solid, reliable Christian authors and corrupting my students’ minds with Frenchified literary theory. But precisely because I wasn’t trying to undermine my students’ faith — just the opposite — I took these challenges as opportunities to articulate my ideas for different, and often larger, audiences. (I always talked to my students about these matters also.)
But after talking with Tim Carmody about this I do find myself hoping that in some follow-up column or post Ross will specify which scholars he believes to have redefined the notion of the “development of doctrine” to the point that it has no boundaries.
As for me, though, if a pundit were to challenge my work and declare it heretical — or even say it smells of heresy — I’d see that as an opportunity to be embraced. Unless of course I actually were a heretic. In which case I guess I’d need to learn to own my heresy.