CC 300 EX - Reform, Dissent and Heresy: From Early Christianity to the Reformation

3 Credits
Professor Illig
MWF 12:30-1:20 pm

Heresy: a dangerous disease that requires immediate and complete eradication. In the early centuries of the church, Christians struggled to define the parameters of orthodoxy and heresy. This struggle often involved debates among groups who all believed that they knew authentic Christian teaching. Eventually, some of those beliefs were condemned as heretical and the adherents killed. During the middle ages, church reformers sometimes found themselves charged with heresy and executed. What made heresy such a terrible disease that death was the only way to prevent its spread? Why would people hold stubbornly to beliefs for which they might be killed? And, what can these obscure struggles teach us about interacting with people who hold different beliefs from our own?

In this course, we will reflect on all of these questions. To do this, we will examine the struggle to define orthodoxy and learn about groups condemned as heretics. In the early church period, we will focus on the Arian controversy and the development of the Nicene Creed. After this, we will look at some medieval groups, including the Cathars, the Waldensians, and the Wycliffites. Finally, we will briefly examine the emergence of the sixteenth century reformers who were condemned as heretical by some, but were regarded as the guardians of orthodoxy by others. Most of our readings will be primary sources (in translation, of course!). Students will be asked to outline the readings each day as well as to write several short papers as well as a mid-length (10-15 page) final paper.