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Heresy in Christianity denotes the formal denial or doubt of a core doctrine of the Christian faithas defined by one or more of the Christian churches.
In Western Christianity, heresy most commonly refers to those beliefs which were declared to be anathema by any of the ecumenical councils recognized by the Catholic Church.[ citation needed ] In the East, the term "heresy" is eclectic and can refer to anything at variance with Church tradition. Since the Great Schism and the Protestant Reformation, various Christian churches have also used the concept in proceedings against individuals and groups deemed to be heretical by those churches.
Western Christianity is a religious category composed of the Latin Church and Protestantism, together with their offshoots such as Independent Catholicism and Restorationism. The large majority of the world's 2.4 billion Christians are Western Christians. The original and still major part, the Latin Church, developed under the bishop of Rome in the former Western Roman Empire in Antiquity. Out of the Latin Church emerged a wide variety of independent Protestant denominations, including Lutheranism and Anglicanism, starting from the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, as did Independent Catholicism in the 19th century. Thus, the term "Western Christianity" does not describe a single communion or religious denomination, but is applied to distinguish all these denominations collectively from Eastern Christianity.
Heresy is any belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs or customs, in particular the accepted beliefs of a church or religious organization. A heretic is a proponent of such claims or beliefs. Heresy is distinct from both apostasy, which is the explicit renunciation of one's religion, principles or cause, and blasphemy, which is an impious utterance or action concerning God or sacred things.
Anathema, in common usage, is something or someone that is detested or shunned. In its other main usage, it is a formal excommunication. The latter meaning, its ecclesiastical sense, is based on New Testament usage. In the Old Testament, anathema referred either to something that was consecrated or to something denounced as evil or accursed and set aside for sacrificial offering.
The study of heresy requires an understanding of the development of orthodoxy and the role of creeds in the definition of orthodox beliefs, since heresy is always defined in relation to orthodoxy. Orthodoxy has been in the process of self-definition for centuries, defining itself in terms of its faith, and changing or clarifying beliefs in opposition to people or doctrines that are perceived as incorrect.
Orthodoxy is adherence to correct or accepted creeds, especially in religion. In the Christian sense the term means "conforming to the Christian faith as represented in the creeds of the early Church." The first seven ecumenical councils were held between the years of 325 and 787 with the aim of formalizing accepted doctrines.
A creed is a statement of the shared beliefs of a religious community in the form of a fixed formula summarizing core tenets.
The word "orthodoxy" comes from Greek ὀρθοδοξία orthodoxía "right opinion".
The Ancient Greek language includes the forms of Greek used in Ancient Greece and the ancient world from around the 9th century BCE to the 6th century CE. It is often roughly divided into the Archaic period, Classical period, and Hellenistic period. It is antedated in the second millennium BCE by Mycenaean Greek and succeeded by medieval Greek.
The word "heresy" comes from haeresis, a Latin transliteration of the Greek word originally meaning choosing, choice, course of action, or in an extended sense school of thoughtthen eventually came to denote warring factions and the party spirit by the first century. The word appears in the New Testament and was appropriated by the Church to mean a sect or division that threatened the unity of Christians. Heresy eventually became regarded as a departure from orthodoxy, a sense in which heterodoxy was already in Christian use soon after the year 100.
The New Testament is the second part of the Christian biblical canon, the first part being the Old Testament, based on the Hebrew Bible. The New Testament discusses the teachings and person of Jesus, as well as events in first-century Christianity. Christians regard both the Old and New Testaments together as sacred scripture. The New Testament has frequently accompanied the spread of Christianity around the world. It reflects and serves as a source for Christian theology and morality. Extended readings and phrases directly from the New Testament are incorporated into the various Christian liturgies. The New Testament has influenced religious, philosophical, and political movements in Christendom and left an indelible mark on literature, art, and music.
Heterodoxy in a religious sense means "any opinions or doctrines at variance with an official or orthodox position". Under this definition, heterodoxy is similar to unorthodoxy, while the adjective "heterodox" could be applied to a dissident.
The first known usage of the term 'heresy' in a civil legal context was in 380 by the "Edict of Thessalonica" of Theodosius I. Prior to the issuance of this edict, the Church had no state-sponsored support for any particular legal mechanism to counter what it perceived as 'heresy'.
The Edict of Thessalonica, issued on 27 February AD 380 by three reigning Roman Emperors, made Nicene Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire.
Orthodoxy is adherence to correct or accepted creeds, especially in religion.
Heresy is used today with reference to in Christianity denotes the formal denial or doubt of a core doctrine of the Christian faithas defined by one or more of the Christian churches.
It should be distinguished from both apostasy and schism,apostasy being nearly always total abandonment of the Christian faith after it has been freely accepted, and schism being a formal and deliberate breach of Christian unity and an offence against charity without being based essentially on doctrine.
Since the time of the apostles, the term anathema has come to mean a form of extreme religious sanction beyond excommunication, known as major excommunication. 306), and thereafter it became the common method of cutting off heretics.The earliest recorded instance of the form is in the Council of Elvira (c.
In the fifth century, a formal distinction between anathema and excommunication evolved, where excommunication entailed cutting off a person or group from the rite of Eucharist and attendance at worship, while anathema meant a complete separation of the subject from the Church.
The development of doctrine, the position of orthodoxy, and the relationship between the early Church and early heretical groups is a matter of academic debate. Walter Bauer, in his Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity (1934/1971),proposed that in earliest Christianity, orthodoxy and heresy did not stand in relation to one another as primary to secondary, but in many regions heresy was the original manifestation of Christianity. Bauer reassessed as a historian the overwhelmingly dominant view that for the period of Christian origins, ecclesiastical doctrine already represented what is primary, while heresies, on the other hand somehow are a deviation from the genuine (Bauer, "Introduction").
Scholars such as Pagels and Ehrman have built on Bauer's original thesis. Drawing upon distinctions between Jewish Christians, Gentile Christians, and other groups such as Gnostics and Marcionites, they argue that early Christianity was fragmented, and with contemporaneous competing orthodoxies.Ehrman's view is that while the specifics of Bauer's demonstration were later rejected, his intuitions are broadly accepted by scholars and got confirmed beyond what Bauer might have guessed.
According to H. E. W. Turner, responding to Bauer's thesis in 1954, "what became official orthodoxy was taught early on by the majority of church teachers, albeit not in fully developed form."According to Darrell Bock, a Christian apologist, Bauer's theory does not show an equality between the established church and outsiders including Simon Magus. According to Mitchell et al., each early Christian community was unique, but the tenets of the mainstream or Catholic Church insured that each early Christian community did not remain isolated.
G. K. Chesterton, in his book Orthodoxy (1908), asserts that there have been substantial disagreements about faith from the time of the New Testament and Jesus, but that the Apostles all argued against changing the teachings of Christ, as did the earliest church fathers including Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr and Polycarp.
The Ante-Nicene period (2nd-3rd century) saw the rise of a great number of Christian sects, cults and movements with strong unifying characteristics lacking in the apostolic period. They had different interpretations of Scripture, particularly the divinity of Jesus and the nature of the Trinity. Some of the major sects, cults and movements with different interpretations of Scripture than the Proto-Orthodox church were:
Before AD 313, the "heretical" nature of some beliefs was a matter of much debate within the churches, and there was no true mechanism in place to resolve the various differences of beliefs. Heresy was to be approached by the leader of the church according to Eusebius, author of The Church History.
Early attacks upon alleged heresies formed the matter of Tertullian's Prescription Against Heretics (in 44 chapters, written from Rome), and of Irenaeus' Against Heresies (ca 180, in five volumes), written in Lyon after his return from a visit to Rome. The letters of Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna to various churches warned against false teachers, and the Epistle of Barnabas accepted by many Christians as part of Scripture in the 2nd century, warned about mixing Judaism with Christianity, as did other writers, leading to decisions reached in the first ecumenical council, which was convoked by the Emperor Constantine at Nicaea in 325, in response to further disruptive polemical controversy within the Christian community, in that case Arianist disputes over the nature of the Trinity.
Irenaeus (c. 130 – c. 202) was the first to argue that his "orthodox" position was the same faith that Jesus gave to the apostles, and that the identity of the apostles, their successors, and the teachings of the same were all well-known public knowledge. This was therefore an early argument supported by apostolic succession. Irenaeus first established the doctrine of four gospels and no more, with the synoptic gospels interpreted in the light of John . Irenaeus' opponents, however, claimed to have received secret teachings from Jesus via other apostles which were not publicly known. Gnosticism is predicated on the existence of such hidden knowledge, but brief references to private teachings of Jesus have also survived in the canonic Scripture as did warning by the Christ that there would be false prophets or false teachers. Irenaeus' opponents also claimed that the wellsprings of divine inspiration were not dried up, which is the doctrine of continuing revelation.
The earliest controversies in Late Antiquity were generally Christological in nature, concerning the interpretation of Jesus' (eternal) divinity and humanity. In the 4th century, Arius and Arianism held that Jesus, while not merely mortal, was not eternally divine and was, therefore, of lesser status than God the Father.Arianism was condemned at the Council of Nicea (325), but nevertheless dominated most of the church for the greater part of the 4th century, often with the aid of Roman emperors who favoured them. Trinitarianism held that God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit were all strictly one being with three hypostases. The Euchites, a 4th-century antinomian sect from Macedonia held that the Threefold God transformed himself into a single hypostasis in order to unite with the souls of the perfect. They were anti-clerical and rejected baptism and the sacraments, believing that the passions could be overcome and perfection achieved through prayer.
Many groups held dualistic beliefs, maintaining that reality was composed into two radically opposing parts: matter, usually seen as evil, and spirit, seen as good. Docetism held that Jesus' humanity was merely an illusion, thus denying the incarnation. Others held that both the material and spiritual worlds were created by God and were therefore both good, and that this was represented in the unified divine and human natures of Christ.
The orthodox teaching, as it developed in response to these interpretations, is that Christ was fully divine and at the same time fully human, and that the three persons of the Trinity are co-equal and co-eternal.
It was only after the legalisation of Christianity, which began under Constantine I in AD 313 that the various beliefs of the proto-orthodox Church began to be made uniform and formulated as dogma, through the canons promulgated by the General Councils. The first known usage of the term 'heresy' in a civil legal context was in 380 by the "Edict of Thessalonica" of Theodosius I. Prior to the issuance of this edict, the Church had no state-sponsored support for any particular legal mechanism to counter what it perceived as 'heresy'. By this edict, in some senses, the line between the Catholic Church's spiritual authority and the Roman State's jurisdiction was blurred. One of the outcomes of this blurring of Church and State was a sharing of State powers of legal enforcement between Church and State authorities, with the state enforcing what it determined to be orthodox teaching.
Within five years of the official 'criminalization' of heresy by the emperor, the first Christian heretic, Priscillian, was executed in 385 by Roman officials. For some years after the Protestant Reformation, Protestant denominations were also known to execute those whom they considered heretics.
The edict of Theodosius II (435) provided severe punishments for those who had or spread writings of Nestorius.Those who possessed writings of Arius were sentenced to death.
Seven ecumenical councils were convened between 325 and 787. These were mostly concerned with Christological disputes:
Not all of these Councils have been universally recognised as ecumenical. In addition, the Catholic Church also has convened numerous other councils which it deems as having the same authority, making a total of twenty-one Ecumenical Councils recognised by the Catholic Church. The Assyrian Church of the East accepts only the first two, and Oriental Orthodoxy only three. Pope Sergius I rejected the Quinisext Council of 692 (see also Pentarchy). The Fourth Council of Constantinople of 869–870 and 879–880 is disputed by Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Present-day nontrinitarians, such as Unitarians, Latter-day Saints and other Mormons, and Jehovah's Witnesses, reject all seven Councils.
Some Eastern Orthodox consider the following council to be ecumenical, although this is not universally agreed upon:
Within the Eastern Orthodox Church, the role of the ecumenical councils was to better define the Orthodox canon of faith, however the Eastern Orthodox Church authorities are not known to have authorized the use of violence in the persecution of heretics with nearly the frequency of their Western counterparts. Some individual examples of the execution of Orthodox heretics do exist, however, such as the execution of Avvakum in 1682. Far more typically, the Eastern Orthodox response to a heresy would rather be (and still is) to merely "excommunicate" the individuals involved.
From the late 11th century onward, heresy once again came to be a concern for Catholic authorities, as reports became increasingly common. The reasons for this are still not fully understood, but the causes for this new period of heresy include popular response to the 11th-century clerical reform movement, greater lay familiarity with the Bible, exclusion of lay people from sacramental activity, and more rigorous definition and supervision of Catholic dogma. The question of how heresy should be suppressed was not resolved, and there was initially substantial clerical resistance to the use of physical force by secular authorities to correct spiritual deviance. As heresy was viewed with increasing concern by the papacy, however, the "secular arm" was used more frequently and freely during the 12th century and afterward.
There were many Christian sects, cults, movements and individuals throughout the Middle Ages whose teachings were deemed heretical by the established church, such as:
In the late 12th century, the Roman Catholic Church instituted the Inquisition, an official body charged with the suppression of heresy. This began as an extension and more rigorous enforcement of pre-existing episcopal powers (possessed, but little used, by bishops in the early Middle Ages) to inquire about and suppress heresy, but later became the domain of selected Dominicans and Franciscans [ citation needed ]under the direct power of the Pope. The use of torture to extract confessions was authorized by Innocent IV in 1252. The Inquisition was active in several nations of Europe, particularly where it had fervent support from the civil authority. The Spanish Inquisition was particularly brutal in its methods, which included the burning at the stake of many heretics. However, it was initiated and substantially controlled by King Ferdinand of Spain rather than the Church; King Ferdinand used political leverage to obtain the Church's tacit approval.
The Albigensian Crusade (1209–1229) was part of the Catholic Church's efforts to crush the Cathars. It is linked to the movement now known as the Medieval Inquisition. Another example of a medieval heretic movement is the Hussite movement in the Czech lands in the early 15th century. The last person to be burned alive at the stake on orders from Rome was Giordano Bruno, executed in 1600 for a collection of heretical beliefs including Copernicanism, belief of an unlimited universe with innumerable inhabited worlds, opinions contrary to the Catholic faith about the Trinity, divinity of Christ, and Incarnation.
During the 1519 Leipzig Debate prior to his excommunication, then-Catholic priest Martin Luther made comments against burning heretics which were later summarized as "Haereticos comburi est contra voluntatem Spiritus" (It is contrary to the Spirit to burn heretics).This summary was specifically censured in the 1520 papal bull Exsurge Domine . When he failed to accept the bull and give a broad recantation of his writings, he was excommunicated in the subsequent 1521 papal bull Decet Romanum Pontificem . The censuring of this statement was controversial even at the time because this had previously been a freely debated idea which had not resulted in charges of heresy.
The last case of an execution by the inquisition was that of the schoolmaster Cayetano Ripoll, accused of deism by the waning Spanish Inquisition and hanged on 26 July 1826 in Valencia after a two-year trial. 385 through to 1834. The number of people executed as heretics as sentenced by various church authorities is not known; however it most certainly numbers into the several thousands. Coincidentally, the first heretic executed had been a Spaniard, Priscillian; the most notorious organization known for the persecution of heretics had been based in Spain, the Spanish Inquisition, and the last heretic executed had been a Spaniard, Cayetano Ripoll. Thus, the era of the execution of heretics by the Catholic Church had come to an end.Eight years later in 1834, Spain, the last remaining government to still be providing the Catholic Church with the right to pronounce and effect capital punishment, formally withdrew that right from the Church. The era of such absolute Church authority had lasted some 1,449 years, from AD
Well into the 20th century, Catholics defined Protestants as heretics. Thus, Hilaire Belloc, in his time one of the most conspicuous speakers for Catholicism in Britain, was outspoken about the "Protestant heresy". He even defined Islam as being "a Christian heresy", on the grounds that Muslims accept many of the tenets of Christianity but deny the divinity of Christ.
However, in the second half of the century, and especially in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church, in the spirit of ecumenism, tended to diminish the effects of Protestantism as a formal heresy by referring to many Protestants who, as material heretics, "through no fault of their own do not know Christ and his Church",even though the teachings of Protestantism are indeed formally heretical from a Catholic perspective. Modern usage in ecumenical contexts favors referring to Protestants as "separated brethren".
Some of the doctrines of Protestantism that the Catholic Church considers heretical are the belief that the Bible is the only source and rule of faith ( sola scriptura ), that faith alone can lead to salvation ( sola fide ), that the Pope does not have universal jurisdiction over the whole Church, that the Catholic Church is not "the sole Church of Christ", and that there is no sacramental and ministerial priesthood received by ordination, but only a universal priesthood of all believers.
Arianism is a nontrinitarian Christological doctrine which asserts the belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who was begotten by God the Father at a point in time, a creature distinct from the Father and is therefore subordinate to him, but the Son is also God. Arian teachings were first attributed to Arius, a Christian presbyter in Alexandria of Egypt. The teachings of Arius and his supporters were opposed to the theological views held by Homoousian Christians, regarding the nature of the Trinity and the nature of Christ. The Arian concept of Christ is based on the belief that the Son of God did not always exist but was begotten within time by God the Father.
An ecumenical council is a conference of ecclesiastical dignitaries and theological experts convened to discuss and settle matters of Church doctrine and practice in which those entitled to vote are convoked from the whole world (oikoumene) and which secures the approbation of the whole Church.
Chalcedonian Christianity refers to the Christian denominations adhering to the christological definitions and ecclesiological resolutions of the Council of Chalcedon, the Fourth Ecumenical Council held in 451. Chalcedonian Christians follow the Definition of Chalcedon, a religious doctrine concerning the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ. The great majority of Christian communions and confessions in the 21st century are Chalcedonian, but from the 5th to the 8th centuries the ascendancy of Chalcedonian Christology was not always certain.
Christian Church is an ecclesiological term generally used by Protestants to refer to the Church invisible, and/or whole group of people belonging to Christianity throughout the history of Christianity. In this understanding, "Christian Church" does not refer to a particular Christian denomination but to the "body" of all "believers", both defined in various ways. Other Christian traditions, however, believe that the term "Christian Church" or "Church" applies only to a specific concrete historic Christian institution, e.g. the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, or the Assyrian Church of the East).
A Christian denomination is a distinct religious body within Christianity, identified by traits such as a name, organization, leadership and doctrine. Individual bodies, however, may use alternative terms to describe themselves, such as church or sometimes fellowship. Divisions between one group and another are defined by authority and doctrine; issues such as the nature of Jesus, the authority of apostolic succession, eschatology, and papal primacy may separate one denomination from another. Groups of denominations—often sharing broadly similar beliefs, practices, and historical ties—are sometimes known as "branches of Christianity". These branches differ in many ways, especially through differences in practices and belief.
The term proto-orthodox Christianity or proto-orthodoxy was coined by New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman and describes the Early Christian movement which was the precursor of Christian orthodoxy. Ehrman argues that this group from the moment it became prominent by the end of the third century, "stifled its opposition, it claimed that its views had always been the majority position and that its rivals were, and always had been, 'heretics', who willfully 'chose' to reject the 'true belief'." In contrast, Larry W. Hurtado argues that proto-orthodox Christianity is rooted in first century Christianity.
The Feast of Orthodoxy is celebrated on the first Sunday of Great Lent in the liturgical calendar of the Eastern Orthodox Church and of the Byzantine Rite Eastern Catholic Churches. The Feast is kept in memory of the final defeat of iconoclasm and the restoration of the icons to the churches.
Subordinationism is a belief that began within early Christianity that asserts that the Son and the Holy Spirit are subordinate to God the Father in nature and being. Various forms of subordinationism were believed or condemned until the mid-4th century, when the debate was decided against subordinationism as an element of the Arian controversy. In 381, after many decades of formulating the doctrine of the Trinity, the First Council of Constantinople condemned Arianism.
In Christian theology, dyophysitism is the Christological position that two natures, divine and human, exist in the person of Jesus Christ. It contrasts with monophysitism and miaphysitism.
The doctrine of the Trinity, considered the core of Christian theology by Trinitarians, is the result of continuous exploration by the church of the biblical data, thrashed out in debate and treatises, eventually formulated at the First Council of Nicaea in AD 325 in a way they believe is consistent with the biblical witness, and further refined in later councils and writings. The most widely recognized Biblical foundations for the doctrine's formulation are in the Gospel of John.
In the history of Christianity, the first seven ecumenical councils include the following: the First Council of Nicaea in 325, the First Council of Constantinople in 381, the Council of Ephesus in 431, the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the Second Council of Constantinople in 553, the Third Council of Constantinople from 680–681 and finally, the Second Council of Nicaea in 787.
Oriental Orthodoxy is the fourth largest communion of Christian churches, with about 76 million members worldwide. As one of the oldest religious institutions in the world, it has played a prominent role in the history and culture of Armenia, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan and parts of the Middle East and India. An Eastern Christian communion of autocephalous churches, its bishops are equal by virtue of episcopal ordination, and its doctrines can be summarised in that the communion recognizes the validity of only the first three ecumenical councils.
The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to Christianity:
The history of Eastern Orthodox Christian theology begins with the life of Jesus and the forming of the Christian Church. Major events include the Chalcedonian schism with the Oriental Orthodox miaphysites, the Iconoclast controversy, the Photian schism, the Great Schism between East and West, and the Hesychast controversy. The period after the Second World War saw a re-engagement with the Greek, and more recently Syriac, Fathers that included a rediscovery of the theological works of St. Gregory Palamas, which has resulted in a renewal of Orthodox theology in the 20th and 21st centuries.
The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to the Catholic Ecumenical Councils.
In the Roman Catholic Church, heresy has a very specific meaning. There are four elements which constitute formal heresy; a valid Christian baptism; a profession of still being a Christian; outright denial or positive doubt regarding a truth that the Catholic Church regards as revealed by God; and lastly, the disbelief must be morally culpable, that is, there must be a refusal to accept what is known to be a doctrinal imperative. Therefore, to become a heretic in the strict canonical sense and be excommunicated, one must deny or question a truth that is taught as the word of God, and at the same time recognize one's obligation to believe it. If the person is believed to have acted in good faith, as one might out of ignorance, then the heresy is only material and implies neither guilt nor sin against faith.
[Walter Bauer claimed] that Christianity was a diverse phenomenon from the beginning, that ‘varieties of Christianity’ arose around the Mediterranean, and that in some places what would later be called ‘heretical’ was initially normative [...] Although some of Bauer’s reconstructions are inaccurate and have been dropped, the idea that Christianity was originally a diverse phenomenon has now been generally accepted.