Introduction to Christian Heresy
What is heresy? =============== Heresy is defined an opinion or doctrine at variance with religious orthodoxy. This, of course, begs the question, “what is religious orthodoxy?” Given the immense variety of of Christian sects, ranging from the traditional Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican and Episcopalian churches, all the way through Calvinism, Adventist churches, and the Society of Friends, it is impossible to define one set of beliefs which can be held up as orthodox Christianity. However, the Second Ecumenical Council, held in Constantinople in 381, came up with a statement of faith which is considered orthodox by a vast majority of Christians world wide. This statement was later modified into the *Nicene Creed*. Heresy, apostasy, and schism ————————————————————————————————————————————————————- It is important, when discussing such matters, to acknowledge the fine lines between heresy, apostasy, and schism: heresy is a variance from orthodox opinion; apostasy is an abandonment of faith; and and schism is division of a religious body. According to the new Catechism, the Roman Catholic church now considers it *schism* to deny the authority of the Pope. A few hundred years ago, this would have been considered heresy. Gnosticism was originally condemned as a heresy, but it can easily be classified as apostasy, because it is separate religion, and an abandonment of primal Christian ideas. What are these “primal Christian ideas?” I, of course, risk venturing into heresy myself by stating this, but hold the single tenant, “we are dependent upon the redemptive work of Jesus Christ to gain salvation,” as the defining idea of Christianity. Onto the heresies! Major heresies ============== The major heresies fall into three categories: heresies of the nature of Christ; heresies of the Trinity; and heresies of man and salvation. Heresies of Christ —————————————————————————————————————- The orthodox idea of Christ was that he is fully God, yet existed as fully human, the two natures being “eternally distinct and uniquely united” at the same time, and that he suffered as a human. Apollinarianism : (named for Apollinarius) Belief that Christ had no soul, but rather was filled with *logos*, or the Word, and was neither fully human nor fully divine. Arianism : (named for Arius) Belief that the Father existed before the Son, the Son was created by the Father, and there was a time when the Son did not exist. Docetism : (from the Greek word *dokesis*, which means *to seem*) Belief that Christ was wholly God, and his humanity and suffering only seemed to be real. Dynamic Monarchianism : Claimed Jesus Christ was simply a man, whom God filled with an impersonal power, either at his conception, baptism, or resurrection. This denies Christ taking any personality from God, and teaches that Christ “became” God. Ebionitism : Belief that Jesus was nothing more that a prophet: a man, but not divin. Named after the Ebionites, a first-century Jewish-Christian sect who emphasized Jewish law and rejected Paul’s teachings. Eutychianism : (name after Eutyches of Constantinople) belief that Christ had only a divine nature, not a human one. Monophysitism : This heresy denies the humanity of Christ. It removes the value of Christ’s redemptive work, because it denies that Christ suffered as a man. It declares that Christ had a single (*mono*), divine, nature. This doctrine is still taught by the Oriental Orthodox churches: Coptic Church of Egypt; Ethiopian Orthodox; Syrian Orthodox; Armenian Orthodox; and Malankara (Indian) Orthodox. Monothelitism : Belief that Jesus posessed one divine-human *energia*, not two cooperating (divine and human) wills. Still held by the Maronite Church in Syria. Nestorianism : (named for Netstorius) Belief that God was not in Christ and that Mary gave birth only to the human Jesus. Nestorianism teaches that Jesus was filled with the *logos*, that only the human part of Jesus suffered and died, and that man simply needs an infilling of *logos* for salvation. Noeticism : (named for Noetus) Belief that God moved as a single spirit into Mary, and was transferred into Christ at birth. God himself was crucified and raised himself from the dead. Heresies of the Trinity ————————————————————————————————————————————— The orthodox idea of the Trinity is that God (the Father), Jesus Christ (the Son), and the Holy Spirit are simultaneously three distinct beings, and all the same being, none subserviant to another, all three with complete equality and a single will. There was no time when any did not exist. Macedonianism : (named for Macedonius) Denied the diety of the Holy Spirit, asserting it was a servent, similar to the angels. Monarchianism : The denial of three seperate beings in the Trinity. A famous Monarchianist, Sabellian, claimed the three persons of God are three facets of one personality, in the way that the sun is simultaneously hot, round, and bright. He became so associated with Monarchianism, that in the early church, heresy of any kind was called *Sabellianism*. Modalist Monarchianism : Held that God was a single being, and that Father / Son / Spirit were simply three *modes* of the same being, only one being possible at a time. Taken to its logical extreme, it would have been impossible for the Spirit to descend as a dove and God’s voice to be heard during Christ’s baptism. Subordinationism : Any doctrine that subordinates one being of the Trinity to another. Heresies of Man and Salvation —————————————————————————————————————————————————————— The orthodox idea of man and his need for salvation is that God already knows all who are chosen for eternal life (the *elect*), yet man has the free will to choose whether or not to believe in Christ’s redemptive work. These concepts hold so many paradoxes that men have frequently attempted to reconcile them with logic, leading to many heresies. Donatism : (name for Donatus the Great) belief that the validity of a church office is determined by the “personal holiness” of the individual; that “morally unworthy” individuals are not qualified to perform the ecclessial duties of their office. Marcionism : (named after Marcion) a denial that the Old Testament “Creator God of the Jews” and the “God of Goodness” revealed in the New Testament are the same God. Marcion developed a canon consisting of Luke and ten Pauline epistles, with all references to the Old Testament removed. Pelagianism : (named for Pelagius) Claims that sin is a choice, and by choosing not to sin, man reach salvation on his own without need for Christ’s forgiveness of sin. Credit ====== A lot of the information on this page was taken from David Christie-Murray’s book, A History of Heresy (1976, Oxford UP). For an intelligent discussion of heresy and schism with a decent dose of humor, it is an excellent resource. ISBN 0-19-285210-8.