Tonight, I gave my run-through of Christology up to Chalcedon in 2 h or less with a Greek translator. Whew! Bits may make it here as I reflect on things. In the questions at the end, one of my friends asked me a good question:
It seems that these guys spent a lot of time fighting against heresy, did they have anything to say about sin?
I think this is a great question because people like me (and, thus, the scholarly world at large) spend a lot of time discussing ‘the Fathers’ and heresy and how orthodoxy was forged on the anvil of heresy.
But what about sin, for St. Pete’s sake?
First, these people saw heresy and sin as intimately related. If you are an incorrigible sinner, you are probably a heretic. And if you are a heretic, you are probably a sinner.
Second, some of these heretical or non-mainstream (I don’t count Manichees as heretics but as members of an entirely different religion) groups engaged in what the (proto-)orthodox thought of as sin. Some Gnostics felt that what you did in the body didn’t matter, so they became gluttonous sex-aholics, basically. According to the report of Pope Leo I’s investigation into Manichaeism in the City, the Manichees were having ritual sex with underage virgins.*
Nonetheless, these people were concerned about holiness and sin, and not just my perenially-mentioned Desert Fathers. Augustine, for example, discusses in his Confessions that one of the reasons he delayed baptism was his enjoyment of pre-marital sex, and one of his falls after conversion was having vivid sexual dreams at night.
Since some people think Augustine was an over-guilty, Platonic, sexual deviant, I also encourage you to look at John Chrysostom’s sermons for their moral and ethical exhortations about things like lying or going to horse races or reading your Bible. Or take Augustine’s famous opponent Pelagius who was first targetted by the likes of Augustine for his moral rigorism.
Heresy is the doctrinal deviation of the human mind from God’s truth.
Sin is the moral deviation of human action from God’s path.
Both of them are matters of importance to the ancient Christians.
*For the full horror of this abomination, recall that a woman in the ancient world was ‘of age’ when she turned 12. I am actually cringeing having divulged that information.