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Heretic of the week: James Pike

James Pike

James Pike (1913-1969) had an enormous importance. Born and raised a Catholic (and believing he might have a vocation), Pike lost his faith studying under the Jesuits at the University of Santa Clara in the early 1930s. Moving on to UCLA, USC and Yale Law School, he served in naval intelligence during the Second World War. He had been received into the Episcopal Church in 1938. After the war, Pike decided to enter the Episcopal ministry and was ordained in 1946. Three years later, he was made Episcopal chaplain at New York’s Columbia University. On rather spurious historical grounds he claimed the post was a “Royal Peculiar”,
subject only to the Queen and not to the Episcopal Bishop of New York. Given the radical nature of his sermons, this deception was useful; it did not prevent him being appointed dean of the Cathedral of St John the Divine. Thence he fulminated against the Catholic Church’s opposition to birth control.

In 1958, Pike was elected Episcopal Bishop of California, with his seat in San Francisco. He added to his crusades gay rights, abortion and women’s ordination, while denying the Virgin Birth, hell, the Trinity, the Resurrection, and so on. These last brought on an attempt at a heresy trial in 1966.

His son committed suicide (and Pike attempted to reach him via a televised séance). Pike stepped down from his diocese and died in the Jordanian desert three years later. While researching a book he intended to write about Jesus, Pike and his fourth wife’s car broke down in the wasteland; the two went off in opposite directions to seek help – she found it, he did not. But he triumphed in the end. The bishops charged with examining him decided that there was no such thing as heresy in the Episcopal Church. This notion would spread throughout the Anglican Communion, eventually reducing it to the shambles it has become – and as an unintended consequence, paving the way for the personal ordinariates. God does bring good out of evil.