Factionalism in the Early Church

Christianity was shattered into many different factions at an unusually early stage. Bitter disputes are recorded in Paul’s letters between Paul and Peter and James. You can’t read the collection The Ante-Nicene Fathers without seeing that much of early Christian literature is polemical. It is directed, not against external enemies, but against other followers of Jesus who are “misrepresenting” Christianity.

Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian, Epiphanius, and Theodoret wrote lengthy refutations of their Christian opponents. Origen ruefully comments that “many” Christians have differences of opinion on “subjects of the highest importance.” This is totally unlike what we see in Buddhism, Islam, or even modern Christianity, where all the various schools of thought resemble each other in broad outline. In early Christian writings, we sometimes see Christian polemics against Jews or pagans; but it is not nearly as voluminous as the polemics against other Christians.

What do scholars make of the huge multiplicity of different Christian groups? For example, what caused it? Any ideas, scholars? Or anyone else? Continue reading “Factionalism in the Early Church”