Saturday, March 7, 2015

Saintly Saturday: St. Paul the Confessor

Today is the Feast of St. Paul the Confessor. The title Confessor refers to those Christians who were jailed and/or tortured for the faith but were not martyred. St. Paul live during the second phase of iconoclasm during the eighth and ninth centuries. He was bishop of the city Prusa in Bithynia. He was harassed, persecuted and exiled for his zealous defense of the icons. He died in A.D. 850.

In recent weeks, there have been several saints from Bithynia popping up here on Saturdays. This only adds another layer of detail to the slowly developing Sea of Mamara campaign setting. It seems that the rebel monks are fighting against heretical rulers. One now only needs to decide whether those rulers are in Nicomedia or Byzantium...

Having a despot who champions heresy, imprisoning bishops while rebel monks try to protect both the faith and the people or conversely, a group of heretical rebel monks wrecking havoc are both great backgrounds upon which to build a campaign. The question must be asked, however: what does heresy look like?

As St. Paul demonstrates, heresy can be as esoteric as whether or not icons should be used during worship. I suppose one could find a copy of the Panarion by St. Epiphanius which details eighty different heresies, but that is more of a scholarly exercise than I am willing to undertake at the moment.

Rather, I am going to try to boil down all of the various historical heresies into a few broad categories. I will then assign to each a general behavior pattern that follows from the internal logic of the heresy as well as the type of NPC most likely to adhere to those beliefs.

Man Saves Himself

These heresies remove God from the salvific equation in some way fashion or form. While atheism falls under this category, God doesn’t need to be completely ignored. Any heresy that minimized the divinity of Christ falls under this generalization.

The ultimate logical outcome of these heresies is Might Makes Right. Generally speaking, what is good and ethical derives from humanity, not from God. Thus, what is good and ethical is determined by those who are willing to use force to coerce everyone else into agreeing with them.

Those in power or those seeking power are the most likely to adhere to these kinds of heresies.


These heresies attribute equal power to an evil entity or god that opposes the true god. Most commonly, this is found in the various gnostic heresies. Generally, the evil god is responsible for the creation of matter while the good god is responsible for the soul.

Thus, the material world is irredeemable. This leads to extreme forms of asceticism, where the fleshly body is seen as a foreign entity that needs to be conquered. Destruction of material things deemed too tempting or distracting would be understood as normal and beneficial.

Monastics, as well as intellectual and social elites are the most likely candidates for this kind of heresy.


This is a fancy way of saying that god is one and only one. This includes those heresies that opposed to the Orthodox belief that God is not only one, but trinity. It also includes all of the various heresies which over-emphasize the divinity of Christ.

Chauvinism and fatalism are the two most common practical outcomes of these heresies. If god is one and he looks and talks like me, then he must not look and talk like them. If salvation is completely in the hands of god, then my fate has already been decided. Thus, violent acts towards outsiders are completely justifiable, as are suicide attacks.

The most likely adherents of these kinds of heresies are suppressed minorities, people with very strong ethnic or national identities or just those who are afraid of people different from them.

Thus, in the example above of the Sea of Mamara campaign, the heretical rulers are most likely adherents of Man Saves Himself although one could justify the rulers of Nicomedia believing in Monarchiamism...


RandyB said...

Didn't gnosticism also lead to hedonism, under the concept of "the spiritual is incorruptible, therefore behavior in the physical cannot diminish the spiritual state"?

FrDave said...

Yes; however, strict asceticism seems to have been more common. Hedonism seems to show up more readily in paganism and nihilism.

Mark J. Brenton said...

I am thrilled to find you back on the Interwebs, I have always been roundly impressed with your posts, and am particularly keen on the Sea of Mamara campaign you've been developing and sharing on your blog. And on top of all that, I am fascinated with your Orthodox Church information to the point that my Great Church emulates [in modest fashion] a lot of what you've posted, including the Schism, relics, and monastic communities.
mactavish out.