What interests me is the picture of roiling dispute and dissent in the early church. Uniformity was not the norm. ~Andrew Sullivan

What puzzles me most about Mr. Sullivan’s neverending search to build the better Christianity are statements like this one, in which he seems to hint that we only recently became aware of the diverse interpretations of Christianity in the early Church. Then there is the sloppy language. Uniformity, or at least homonoia (oneness of mind), was the norm, which is to say it was one standard by which Christians of all kinds sought to organise themselves. Concord, unity and homonoia were always the sought-after goals in every church; every council record, every set of canons and every doctrinal formulation are proof that unity and good order were sometimes badly disrupted and in need of repair, but no Christians of any stripe regarded roiling dispute as a good sign or something that should be encouraged. Certainly they would not take past upheavals in the history of the Church as some kind of precedent for their own odd interpretations of the Faith.

Unity and doctrinal uniformity to some degree were not always realised (which is where formal expressions of orthodoxy come from–to set the boundaries of correct understanding), nor were they always adhered to, but they were the norms. I suppose Sullivan’s phrase is a commonplace usage of the word ‘norm’, but it is a misleading one. He might have said that there was not always uniformity. That this was generally a scandal and a problem to be solved, rather than a state of constant chatter and dissent to be endured permanently, does not seem to “interest” Mr. Sullivan.

That Christians were divided about how to approach martyrdom has been known since people first read the account of the martyrdom of St. Polycarp. There were disagreements over how much Christians should “provoke” the authorities to martyr them, and part of the task of the writer of St. Polycarp’s martyrology is to balance St. Polycarp’s desire not to actively seek martyrdom (which seemed lacking in zeal to some in the martyrology’s audience) and his eventual death confessing the Faith. The problem reemerged in the ninth centuy in the Mozarabic church under the “benevolent” rule of the Ummayads, as the more intense Mozarabic Christians openly challenged the authorities with expressions of faith that led to a devastating series of martyrdoms, which continued until the bishops brought an end to the active seeking of martyrdom.