Polemical literary categories and labels were codified by imperial legislation and classified historiographically within heresiological handbooks. The growing complexity of theological error reflected both the authoritarian society of a centralised empire and the increasing sophistication and disorder of theological debate. Ironically, the sectarian origins of Christianity created fierce local traditions that could only be negotiated into fragile unities through agreement on boundaries as much as theological centres. This tension between universality and multiplicity in Christianity made the establishment of theological and cultural boundaries through the demonic opposition of heresy all the more important. Contemporary dissent was often associated with ancient heretics in order to reinforce the sharp and eternal distinction between truth and error. Other religious traditions were given a conceptual history that placed them in a negative relation to the original and universal Christian truth. The history of these labels and classifications, however, provides important clues as to the negotiation with surrounding culture, and the resulting theological creativity, if not innovation, which is sometimes hidden by the polarising rhetoric of the polemic. Even as he prepared to write his own handbook of heresies, Augustine admitted the pastoral danger of identifying any suspect position as 'heresy'.43 Amid the diversity of ascetic life, the varied traditions of the great Christian capitals, and individual intellectual creativity, stability was achieved through the regulation of theological thought in line with ancient revelation and the shifting of boundaries to define it. The category of'schism' developed as a middle ground for marking significant disagreements, yet not excluding as a 'heretic'. The continuing controversies are therefore a testimony to the lasting vitality of Christian life as well as politics of power. Heresiology was not a matter of unchanging literary traditions, but rather a dynamic means of cultural assimilation, historiography and social stability.


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