A lively new examination of Christian heresy, from a historian who argues that heretical dissent helped Christianity become the world's most powerful religion.
Heretics, by Jonathan Wright (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $28). In this chatty primer, Wright emphasizes the "extraordinarily creative role" that heresy has played in the evolution of Christianity by helping to "define, enliven, and complicate" it in dialectical fashion. Among the world’s great religions, Christianity has been uniquely rich in dissent, Wright argues—especially in its early days, when there was so little agreement among its adherents that one critic compared them to a marsh full of frogs croaking in discord. The fractiousness, he suggests, springs both from the worldly power that Christians achieved, which insured that the line between orthodoxy and heresy was sharply policed, and from enduringly confusing elements of Christian doctrine, such as the issue of Jesus’ dual nature as god and man. Wright, though his prose is sometimes marred by creaky Oxbridge wit, navigates all the theological complications deftly.--The New Yorker
JONATHAN WRIGHT received his doctorate in history from Oxford University. He has been a Thouron fellow at the University of Pennsylvania and a fellow of the Institute for European History in Mainz, Germany. He is also the author of God's Soldiers, a history of the Jesuits that has been translated into nine languages, and The Ambassadors.