Definition of Heresy

Heresy (in Greek, αἱρέσεις, transliterated haíresis, often translated as faction or sect) is divergence from orthodoxy ("right teaching"), i.e.,those doctrines held by the Church to be revealed by God. As the original meaning of the word implies deliberate deviation, people should be considered heretics only if they knowingly and willfully contradict God's revealed truth. Biblical references to such divergence are 1 Corinthians 11:19 and 2 Peter 2:1.

Schism (in Greek,σχίσμα, transliterated skisma, translated as division or sect or tear) is division or a split in the Church that occurs sometimes due to heresy but other times due to difference in opinion over church practice. Paul uses the word in 1 Corinthians 11:18. An early instance of schism in the Church is mentioned in 1 John 2:19: "They went out from us . . .that it might become plain that they all are not of us." Among these schismatics who left the Church were false prophets--proto-Gnostics--who did not believe that Jesus had come in the flesh (1 John 4:1-2).

Gnosticism, Gnostics & Gnostic Writings

opens new windowGnosticism (opens new windowabout): denial of the goodness of the physical creation and denial of the Incarnation

opens new windowPriscillianism

Manichaeism (opens new windowabout)

  • Mani, 215-277 (opens new windowabout)
  • mix of Gnosticism and Zorastrianism
  • dualistic view of the world
  • Augustine attracted to M. before converting to Christianity

Later forms of Gnosticism

Other Controversies

opens new windowQuartodecimanism: controversy over Easter date (opens new windowOED definition)

  • The date for the Jewish passover--Nisan14--was originally used by the Church for Easter.
  • Later the Church preferred to celebrate Sunday as commemorative of the Resurrection.
  • Quartodecimans (opens new windowabout) persisted in celebrating Easter on Passover.
  • For a time, disagreement over the method of determining the date caused controversy in the Church.

Early Theological Divergence

  • opens new windowDocetism​: denial of the physical reality of Christ's body and, consequently, his full humanity (opens new windowabout)
    • denies that Jesus died on the Cross
    • Sometimes associated with Gnosticism, especially Basilides and Valentinius
    • opposed by Ignatius, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Serapion of Antioch, and Tertullian
    • later associated with Catharism and the opens new windowAlbigenses
  • Ebionism (opens new windowabout): early Jewish Christian sect that that required both Jews and Gentiles to follow the Mosaic law to be saved
  • Monarchianism (opens new windowabout): overemphasis on unity (monarchia, rule) to the point of denial of distinction among the divine persons of the Trinity
    • Dynamic monarchianism (adoptionism)
      • Theodotus of Byzantium, excommunicated by Victor
      • Paul of Samosata,​ condemned at Council of Antioch in 268
    • Modalistic monarchiansm (about): God differentiated as "modes of being" (modi) rather than as persons
      • ​Patripassianism (opens new windowabout): the Father suffered on the Cross as the Son
        • Noetus of Smyrna condemned by Romec. 200
      • Sabellianism" modalism"(opens new windowabout):
        • triune Persons deemed only temporary, historical manifestations. not reflective of God's eternal ontological reality
        • Sabellius excommunicated by Callistus
        • Praxeus
  • opens new windowArianism (opens new windowabout); denial of the divinity of Christ, alleging that Christ was the first created being
  • Semi-Ariansm (Eusebianism)
  • Macedonianism "Pneumatomachism" (opens new windowabout): considered the Holy Spirit a created being
    • Macedonius​
  • opens new windowSubordinationism: umbrella term for any theology that presents the Son or the Spirit as somehow inferior to the Father
    • Origen: sometimes accused of advocatings.
  • Nestorianism (opens new windowabout): denial of the hypostatic union
    • "radical dyophisitism," according to S. Burgess in The Holy Spirit: Eastern Christian Traditions (1989, 231).
    • Nestorius (opens new windowabout)
    • Book of Heraclides of Damascus
    • condemned by Council of Ephesus, 431
  • opens new windowMonophysites: in overreaction to Nestorianism, claimed that the humanity and divinity of Christ were fused into a single nature
    • Apollinarianism (opens new windowabout)
      • Apolllinaris, bishop of Laodicea, c. 315-c.390
    • Eutychianism (opens new windowabout)
      • Eutyches
      • held to Jesus' nature being a hybrid of the human and divine, a "third something"
      • "Robber Council" (Ephesus, 449)
    • Monothelitism (opens new windowabout)
      • held that the Son has only one will
      • claimed that since Christ was a unity, his divine and human natures were intrinsically bound together and therefore constituted one will and one action
  • opens new windowHomoousian controversy
    • Homoousians: held that the Son was homoousios ("of the same substance" or essence) as the Father
    • Homoiousians: held that the Son was homoiousios ("of similar substance") to the Father​
    • Anomoeans: held that the Son was anomoios ("unlike") the Father​
    • Homoeans: held that the Son was homoios ("like") the Father
  • Non-Chalcedonianism
    • Severus of Antioch (opens new windowabout), c. 465-538
    • Julian of Halicarnassus (opens new windowabout)
    • Miaphysitism: opens new windownot necessarily heretical
      • held to Christ having a single nature in which humanity and divinity were equally present
      • held to this day by the Oriental Orthodox churches of Syriac (Antioch), Egypt (Coptic), Ethiopia and Eritean Tawahedo, Armenian, and Malankara (Indian, Jacobite)
  • opens new windowPelagianism
  • opens new windowMessalianism (opens new windowabout)
    • condemned at Ephesus in 431
  • Iconoclasm (opens new windowabout): held that it was sinful to draw pictures or sculpt images of Christ and the saints

Schismatic Sects

  • opens new windowMontanism: perhaps more accurately seen as a schismatic cult than a heresy
    • Montanus (opens new windowabout)
      • declared himself the mouthpiece of the Paraclete
      • prophesied the descent of Heavenly Jerusalem on Phrygia
      • rejected authority of the Church
      • saw no possibility for forgiveness should one sin after baptism
    • Montanist prophetesses
      • Priscilla (Prisca)
      • Maximilla
    • condemned c. 190
    • Tertullian converted to M. c. 207.
    • decline begins c. 400 but pockets persist until c. 800
    • Alogoi ("deniers of the Word"), 2nd c., Asia Minor
      • overreaction to Montanism
      • denied the authenticity of the fourth gospel, the Johannine epistles, and the book of Revelation
  • opens new windowDonatism:
    • schismatic group that rejected a Carthaginian bishop because he had 'handed over" the Scriptures under duress
    • Donatists consecrated their own bishop, thereby, in effect, establishing a separate church.
    • condemned by Council of Arles in 314. opens new window
  • Meletians (opens new windowabout)
  • Novatianism (opens new windowabout)
    • Novatian, d. c. 257, condemned a schismatic, not a heretic
    • denied any means of readmittance to the Church to those who apostatized during Deician persecution

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