The BibleTexts.com Glossary of Terms
heresies, cults, & church social cliques (22.214.171.124)
Copyright 1996-2004 Robert Nguyen Cramer (version 126.96.36.199)
An Introduction to Christian Heresy
Can we assume that a religion represents heresy or an unorthodox cult, just because it has been so labeled by others, including others in positions of authority in a particular denomination or group? What is a heresy? What does it mean to be orthodox? How should we act toward those whom our church teachers and writers label as heretics or part of a cult?
Though not all denominations use "heretical" as a label for other denominations, virtually every Christian denomination is labeled as heretical or as a cult by one or more Christian denominations or groups. In the original Greek, "heresy" meant: sects, factions, or devisions. As found in the highlighted English words in the verses below, Paul actually used "heresy" (hairesis in the originial Greek) with reference to social cliques that had developed within the church community. (In that sense, how much heresy is practiced in churches today!) .
1Co 11:18-22, ESV - 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.
Gal 5:19-21, ESV - 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Thirty or more years later the author of Acts was the next New Testament writer to use the Greek term hairesis, and he used it with simple reference to sects, as in the sect of the Sadducees (Act 5:17), the sect of the Pharisees (Act 15:5), the sect of the Nazarenes (Act 24:5), the sect of the Way (Act 24:14), etc.
It was the centralized church organized by Constantine after 313 A.D. that was responsible for cateloging and punishing heresy as unsound doctrine or practice, as compared with what the Constantinian church defined as the sound doctrines and practices of their orthodoxy. The Council of Nicea, which Constantine orchestrated from beginning to end, provided the first ever global church forum for deciding and enforcing church's doctrinal orthodoxy. If we, therefore, want to explore orthodoxy and heresy, the Holy Roman Church (a.k.a., the Roman Catholic Church) has the oldest ecclesiastical claim on officially pronouncing what is orthodox and what is heretical. (See "313 A.D. - Constantine's Edict of Toleration: the beginning of the change in Christian practices, theology, & church organization" at http://www.bibletexts.com/terms/313ad.htm.)
The Holy Roman Church's inquisitions of the 12th and 13th centuries and their very harsh punishment tried to completely stamp out what church leaders considered "heresies." Interestingly, many of the movements condemned as heretical appear to have been born out of the honest desire to root out ecclesiastical corruption, materialism, and inhumanity, and restore the practice of genuine Christianity. Some leading critics of "heretics" were themselves greatly deficient in morality and humanity, but that did not stop them from fabricating tales of the so-called heretics' immorality and excesses in their attempt to subvert the so-called heretics' endeavors. The motives of some ecclesiastics who have condemned groups as heretical often have not been nearly as pure as the Christianity of those whom they have condemned.
Some groups labeled as heretical appear to have been very much on the mark in their desires and practice of Christianity. For instance, a group originally led by Peter Waldo and known as the Waldensees practiced very literally what the Jesus of the New Testament taught. Kenneth Scott Latourette (A History of Christianity, Revised Edition, Volume 1, NY: Harper & Row, 1975, pp. 451-453) describes Waldo's "heretical" movement as follows:
Peter Waldo, a rich merchant of Lyons, became impressed with the brevity and insecurity of life and went to a theologian to ask the way to heaven. In reply, he was given the injunction of Jesus to the rich young ruler: "If thou wilt be perfect, go sell that thou hast, and give to the poor." Waldo proceeded resolutely (1176) to carry out the command. Paying his creditors and providing for his wife and children, he distributed the rest of his property among the poor and began begging his daily bread. He made a diligent study of the New Testament through a translation into his native tongue. Inspired by it, he undertook to imitate Christ. Garbed as Christ had commanded his apostles to be in their special missions during his lifetime, and, like them, taking no purse, he preached in city and countryside.
Peter Waldo soon attracted followers The Pope at first looked favourably on their vow of poverty and gave them permission in dioceses where the bishops would allow them. Soon they found this restriction too hampering and disregarded it. They asked authorization of the Third Lateran Council (1179) but were denied it. Still they persisted and in 1184 the Pope excommunicated them. Believing that they ought to obey God rather than men, they continued to preach
In their tenets and practices the followers of Waldo continued to seek to conform to the New Testament. They memorized large portions of its vernacular translations. Following what they believed it commanded them, they went about two and two, preaching, simply clad, barefoot or wearing sandals, and subsisting on what was given them by those who listened to them. They refused to heed Pope or bishop and taught that the Church of Rome was not the head of the Catholic Church but was corrupt. They held that women and laymen could preach, that masses and prayers for the dead were without warrant, the purgatory is the troubles which come to us in this life, and that to be efficacious prayer need not be confined to churches. They criticized prayers in Latin on the ground that they were not understood by the people, and derided church music and the canonical hours. They declared that while priests and bishops who lived as had the apostles were to be obeyed, sacraments administered by unworthy priests were invalid and that a layman was as competent as a priest to hear confessions. They taught that every lie is a deadly sin, that oaths, even in law courts, are contrary to Christ's commands, and believed that all taking of human life is against God's law
For the most part the Waldensees were humble folk. Even their enemies described them as dressing simply, industrious, labouring with their hands, chaste, temperate in eating and drinking, refusing to frequent taverns and dances, sober and truthful in speech, avoiding anger, and regarding the accumulation of wealth as evil.
Yet, branding them as heretics, the Catholic Church and the civil authorities sought to eliminate them, by persuasion if possible and if not by force
One of the striking features of the movements of these centuries which the Catholic Church branded as heresies was that they either completely died out or, in the case of the Waldensees, dwindled to small groups. This disappearance appears to have been due in part to inherent weakness and the lack of an effective organization and in part to measures adopted by the Catholics.
Nearly three centuries later Martin Luther was condemned as an arch-heretic. Judged by the inquisitions' standards of heresy, all of today's Protestant churches would be considered heretical. The Church of England and other Protestant churches have also carried out their share of finger-pointing regarding purity of doctrine and heresy. We have so many denominations today, because there have been not only human power struggles but also doctrinal disagreement and divisions. For many different reasons, such divisions have been difficult to mend. The simplest means of uniting Christendom would be for all Christians first and foremost simply to follow the teachings and example of Christ Jesus in the worship of God. After all that is ultimately what it means to be a Christian. To be a Christian is not a mere ecclesiastical designation. If our Christianity is genuine, our following Christ and being a Christian takes priority over any denominational affiliation. Yet to follow the authentically historical teachings and example of Jesus has a considerable degree of complexity, because 2000 years of traditions have made it difficult to determine with certainty what Jesus and the first generation of Christians really knew, believed, and practiced. Paul's writings are our earliest records, and even they appear to have been tampered with by the end of the first century A.D. (See http://www.bibletexts.com/qa/qa078.htm#2.)
Today the term "cult" is defined by Alan Richardson (A Dictionary of Christian Theology, Philadelphia: Westminster, 1969, page 83) as:
Cult (or the Latin form cultus) is used especially of the rites and ceremonies of worship associated with a system of religious belief, whether Christian or non-Christian.
The Random House Webster's College Dictionary, 2nd Edition (NY: Random House, 1997, page 321) defines "cult" as:
1. a particular system of religious worship, esp. with references to its rites and ceremonies. 2. a group that devotes itself to or venerates a person, ideal, fad, etc. 3. a. a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist. b. the members of such a religion or sect.
Given The Random House Webster's College Dictionary's definitions of a cult as a religious group that venerates a person or a religious group that is extremist, many so-called anti-cult religious groups today may themselves be more appropriately labeled as cults than some of the religious groups they criticize. In addition to the extremist nature of some of the anti-cult groups' religious practices, their extremism is also shown in the extreme disregard of intellectual honest. Specifically, the full-length books and other literature produced by such groups is filled with blatantly false accusations and misrepresentations (contrary to the 9th commandment), many of which have been definitively disproved by independent, non-affiliated scholars.
Other excellent examples that fit the characteristics of cults can be found in the 872-page Fundamentalisms Observed (edited by Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby, a study conducted by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, London: University of Chicago Press, 1991). Of special interest are the following:
The remainder of that book provides an expose' of Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Confusist, and various political fundamentalisms.
Let's return to our questions: Can we assume that a religion represents heresy or an unorthodox cult, just because it has been so labeled by others, including others in positions of authority in a particular denomination or group? What is a heresy? What does it mean to be orthodox? How should we act toward those whom our church teachers and writers label as heretics or part of a cult?
Should we not first examine ourselves as to our own faithfulness to the teachings and example of Jesus? Should we not model our prayers after our Lord's prayer, which includes the wording, "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors?" (Mat 6:12, NRSV) Should we not love our enemies and bless our persecutors, as Jesus taught us? Should we not also be slow to judge? After all, Jesus often even commended and otherwise spoke very charitably about Samaritans, with whom he did not agree theologically. We, too, should speak charitably to and of all of our Christian brethren, and, where necessary, first rebuke privately, in accordance with Mat 18:15-17. (Regardless of the outcome of such a rebuke, we need to daily/constantly forgive all with whom we may have a grievance -- rejoicing that God, the true and just arbiter, has all under His control.) We should be especially heartened by and appreciative of all our Christian brethren - in the past or present, and of any denomination -- who actually have striven to follow in Jesus' footsteps -- in thought, in word, and in action, whether or not they would have been our thoughts, words, or actions. Together we all comprise the one, undivided Christian church, the church body of Christ.
The Diversity of Early Christian Views and Practices
Early Christians, even those in the apostolic period of the first century, had far more differences than is generally recognized. They sometimes changed allegiances and parted ways. For example, Paul and Barnabas split up (Gal 2:11-14, or Act 15:36-40?), but they remained as part of the same Christian community, the same church of Christ.
The second chapter of Paul's letter to the Galatians gives clear evidence of differences between three of the most significant people of the apostolic period, Jesus' brother James, Simon Peter, and Paul. (See Gal 2:11-14 and http://www.bibletexts.com/qa/qa078.htm.) Yet on some issues there is evidence that they agreed to disagree and respect each other's differences. (See Gal 2:1-10.) Unfortunately over the future decades various Christian individuals and/or groups claimed the high ground of being the sole representatives of authentic Christian orthodoxy. Even worse, in order to articulate the difference between themselves, the self-designated orthodox Christians (which each believed they were) labeled others as part of a "denomination" (the first century meaning of the word "heresy") -- rather than part of the real church -- and removed from their own teachings some of the authentic teachings that their "heretic" brothers and sisters had in their teachings. Each group did this. The result was that no group preserved the entire teaching. Scholars today are trying to piece it back together.
Attempts have been made by brave Christians throughout the centuries to reinstate earliest Christian teachings and practices. This includes Peter Waldo; the Anabaptists and their spinoffs, the original Amish and Mennonites, John Wesley, Barton Stone, Thomas and Alexander Campbell, Edward Pusey, Mary Baker Eddy, and Leo Tolstoy, to name just a few. Below are listed some resources that provide details regarding (1) efforts to reinstate earliest Christianity, including those efforts labeled and persecuted as heresies by opponents, and (2) modern exploration of what actually constituted earliest Christian teachings and practicesaearly Christianand related background info may be found at:
1. Histories of efforts to reinstate earliest Christianity, including those efforts labeled and persecuted as heresies by opponents
- Crimes of Perception: An Encyclopedia of Heresies and Heretics, by Leonard George (NY: Paragon House, 1995)
- Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church, by Harold O.J.Brown (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1988)
- Heretics: The Other Side of Early Christianity, by Gerd Ludemann (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996)
- The New Birth of Christianity: Why Religion Persists in a Scientific Age, by Richard A. Nenneman (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992)
- Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, 2nd Edition, by Walter Bauer (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1996)
- Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up: A New Look at Today's Evangelical Church in the light of Early Christianity, by David Bercot (Tyler, TX: Scroll Publishing, 1999, especially Chapter 17, "The Quest to Restore Early Christianity")
2. Modern exploration of what historically constituted earliest Christian teachings and practices
- Backgrounds of Early Christianity, Second Edition, by Everett Ferguson (Grand Rapids, MI; Eerdmans, 1993)
- Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, by Elaine Pagels (NY: Random House, 2003)
- The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately after the Execution of Jesus, by John Dominic Crossan (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998)
- A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs: A Reference Guide to More Than 700 Topics Discussed by the Early Church Fathers, edited by David W. Bercot (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998)
- Early Christians Speak: Faith and Life in the First Three Centuries, Revised Edition - by Everett Ferguson (Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 1987)
- The Early Church: Origins to the Dawn of the Middle Ages, by E. Glenn Hinson (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1996)
- Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, Second Edition, edited by Everett Ferguson (NY: Garland Publishing, 1998)
- The Gnostic Gospels, by Elaine Pagels (NY: Random House,1978) - Very interesting and thought-provoking.
- History of Primitive Christianity, by Hans Conzelmann (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1973)
- Introduction to the New Testament, Volume 2: History and Literature of Early Christianity, 2nd Edition - by Helmut Koester (Berlin: Aldine de Gruyter, 2000)
- Lost Christianities: The Battle for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew, by Brad D. Ehrman (NY: Oxford University Press, 2003)
- The New Birth of Christianity: Why Religion Persists in a Scientific Age, by Richard A. Nenneman (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992, especially "The Early Church" pages 55-82)
- The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament, by Brad D. Ehrman (NY: Oxford University Press, 1997)
- The Rise of Christianity, by W.H.C. Frend (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984)
- When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity during the Last Days of Rome, by Richard E. Rubenstein (NY: Harcourt, 1999)
- The Worship of the Early Church, by Ferdinand Hahn (Fortress Press)
of all denominations have much to learn from each other -- more from the spirit
of Christ, the spirit of truth and love, to which they bear living testimony,
than from their theological reasoning.
Harper's Bible Dictionary
Harper’s Bible Dictionary
edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)
You are strongly recommended to add to your library the excellent revised edition of Harper's Bible Dictionary titled, The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition [book review], edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, with the Society of Biblical Literature (NY: Harper Collins, 1996). It is currently the best one-volume Bible dictionary in English, and it is available at Border's Books, Christian Science Reading Rooms, http://www.borders.com, or http://www.christianbook.com.
heresy, a term derived
from the Greek word hairesis, originally an opinion or way of thinking.
It was used as a designation of a sect, party, or philosophical school. It is
used in this sense of the Sadducees and Pharisees in Acts 5:17 and 15:5. Later
Christian usage (from late second century a.d.) understood heresy
to indicate deviation from the accepted teaching or practice of the dominant
Christian community. Something of this sense may be found in the treatment of
Christians as a sect of the Nazarenes in Acts 24:5, 14 and 28:22,
where Christianity is opposed by Jewish religious authorities. Paul used the
word for an internal faction within the Christian community (Gal. 5:20; 1 Cor.
Theological Dictionary of NT
The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged in One Volume
Kittel, Gerhard, and Friedrich, Gerhard, Editors (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985)
You are strongly recommended to add this book to your library. It is available at Border's Books at http://www.borders.com or Christian Book Distributors at http://www.christianbook.com.
haireamai [to choose], hairesis [sect, school], hairetikos [heretical], hairetizo [to choose],...
haireomai. haireo means to take, to win, to comprehend, to select (middle). The last is the sense in the NT, e.g., selective preference in Phil. 1:22; Heb. 11:25 and Gods election of the community in 2 Th. 2:13.
A. hairesis in Classical Usage and Hellenism. On the basis of haireo, the senses are seizure choice resolve. Choice of opinion led to the philosophical use for teaching school with the associated ideas of delimitation from other schools, the authority of the teacher, specific doctrine, and the private character of these features.
B. hairesis in the LXX and Judaism. The sense of choice occurs, e.g., in Lev. 22:18, but Philo uses it for philosophical schools, e.g., in On Noahs Work as a Planter 151, and Josephus for the Essenes and Jewish parties in The Jewish War 2.118; Life 12. The corresponding rabbinic term was first used for parties in Judaism but later only for those opposed by the rabbis (late 1st and early 2nd cent.) and then for non-Jewish groups (late 2nd cent.).
C. hairesis in the NT.
1. The usage in Acts resembles that of Josephus and the early rabbis (Acts 5:17; 24:5; 26:5).
2. Yet there is from the outset a suspicion of the hairesis within Christianity itself, not through the development of orthodoxy, but through the basic incompatibility of ekklesia and hairesis (cf. Gal. 5:20; 1 Cor. 11:18-19). In 1 Cor. 1: 10ff. hairesis has a sifting purpose. In 2 Pet. 2:1 it affects the churchs very basis; a hairesis creates a new society alongside the ekklesia and thus makes the ekklesia itself a hairesis and not the comprehensive people of God. This is unacceptable.
D. hairesis in the Early Church. hairesis is still a basic threat in Ignatius Ephesians 6.2; Justin Dialogue with Trypho 51.2. The term has a technical sense, but a sense of basic hostility remains, as when it is used for philosophical schools, Jewish sects, and especially Gnostic societies. Origen, however, surrenders the distinction between ekklesia and hairesis when he compares differences within Christianity to those in medicine and philosophy (Against Celsus 3.12).
hairetikos. This word can denote one who can choose aright, but in Christianity it was used always for adherent of a heresy (cf. Tit. 3:9-10; Didascalia 33.31).
Found only in Mt. 12:18, quoting Is. 42:1 and perhaps reflecting 1 Chr. 28:6;
Mal. 3:17, this word means to choose.
Oxford Bible Dictionary
Oxford Dictionary of the Bible
by W.R.F. Browning (NY: Oxford University Press, 1996)
heresy. From the Greek, meaning 'choice' or 'thing chosen', or an opinion. It came to be used (in the Greek) for a sect or a school or philosophy, and of the 'sects' of the Sadducees and the Pharisees in Acts 5:17, 15:5; 5. It is used by Paul for a protest group in Corinth (1 Cor 11:19) and for a typical kind of divisive action in the community (Gal 5:20), where the word is on its way to its later designation of a deviationist group within Christianity. By the end of the 1st cent. Ignatius of Antioch termed theological error a heresy and, in the later Church, heresy, as deliberate adherence to 'false' doctrine, was condemned as sinful.
New Bible Dictionary
The New Bible Dictionary
(Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1962)
HERESY. The Gk. word hairesis properly denotes choice, and this is the meaning which it always bears in the LXX; in classical authors, however, it can refer to a philosophical school which the individual chooses to follow. Similarly, the NT uses the word to denote a party, with the suggestion of self-will or sectarian spirit; but it must be noted that none of the parties thus described is in a state of schism from its parent body. The Sadducees (Acts 5:17) and the Pharisees (Acts 15:5; 26:5) form sects within the fold of Judaism; and the same word is used to describe Christianity as seen from outside (Acts 24:5, 14; 28:22). Josephus, however, uses the same term to describe the Essenes as well, who were in schism (Ant. 13. 171; 18. 18-22). When parties appear within the church they are called heresies (1 Cor. 11:19, where Paul seems to imply that, though bad, they have the good result of making it clear who are the true Christians). Such divisions are regarded as a work of the flesh (Gal. 5:20), and primarily as a breach of mutual charity, so that the heretic, i.e. the man who stubbornly chooses to form or follow his own group, is to be rejected after two admonitions (Tit. 3:10).
The only NT use of heresy in the sense of opinion or doctrinal error occurs in 2 Pet. 2:1, where it includes a denial of the Redeemer. Among incipient heresies mentioned in the NT, the most prominent are: Gnosticism of a Jewish type (Col. 2:8-23) and Docetism (1 Jn. 4:2-3; 2 Jn. 7).
G. Forkman, The Limits of the Religious Community, 1972; W. Elert,
Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries, E.T. 1966;
H. Schlier, tdnt 1, pp. 180-184.
Orthodoxy & Heresy
Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity
by Walter Bauer (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1934, 1964, 1971, pages xxi-xxv)
"Orthodoxy" and "heresy": we all know what enormous importance is attached to these two concepts for the history of our religion. Usually, however, investigation of this subject tends to focus upon the later epochs. The period of Christian origins is, as a rule, passed over rather briefly. Of course, the "error" combatted in the earliest literature of Christianity are described and investigated from various points of view, with this or that result. But this is usually done with implicit, or even explicit, assent to the view that any such divergence really is a corruption of Christianity.
But if we follow such a procedure, and simply agree with the judgment of the anti-heretical fathers for the post-New Testament period, do we not all too quickly become dependent upon the vote of but one party -- that party which perhaps as much through favorable circumstances as by its own merit eventually was thrust into the foreground, and which possible has at its disposal today the more powerful, and thus the more prevalent voice, only because the chorus of others has been muted? Must not the historian, like the judge, preside over the parties and maintain as a primary principle the dictum audiatur et altera para [let the other side also be heard]? When one side cannot, because of anxiety, confusion, or clumsiness, gain proper recognition, is it not the obligation of the judge -- and, mutatis mutandis of the historian -- to assist it, as best he can, to unfold its case instead of simply submitting to the mental agility and firmness, the sagacity and loquacity of the other? Does either judge or historian dare to act as though whatever cannot be read and understood by everyone as part of the public records never existed, and thus is unimportant for passing sentence?
In our day and age, there is no longer any debate that in terms of a scientific approach to history, the New Testament writings connot be understood properly if one now looks back on them from the end of the precess of canonization as sacred books, and prizes them as a constituent part of the celestial charter of salvation, with all the attendant characteristics. We have long since become accustomed to understanding them in terms of their own time -- the gospels as more or less successful attempts to relate the life of Jesus; the Pauline letters as occasional writings, connected with specific and unrepeatable situations, and having spatial as well as temporal limitations to their sphere of authority. We must also approach the "heretics" in the same way. We need to understand them also in terms of their own time, and not evaluate them by means of ecclesiatical doctrine which was developing, or which later becames a ready-made norm.
We can determine adequately the significance the "heretics" possessed for nascent and developing Christianity only when we, insofar as it is ossible, place ourselves back into the period in which they went about their business, and without hesitation cast all our preconceived ideas aside. We must remain open to all possibilities. What constitutes "truth" in one generation can be out of date in the next -- through progress, but also through retrogression into an earlier position. The actual situation in this region may not obtain in that one, and indeed, may never have had general currency.
Perhaps -- I repeat, perhaps -- certain manifestations of Christian life that the authors of the church renounce as "heresies" originally had not been such at all, but at least here and there, were the only form of the new religioni -- that is, for those regions they were simply "Christianity." The possibility also exists that their adherents constituted the majority, and that they looked doewn with hatred and scorn on the orthodox, who for them were the false believers. I do not say this in order to introduce some special use of language for the investigations which follow, so that "orthodoxy" desgnates the preference of the given majority, while "heresy" is characterized by the fact that only the minority adhere to it. Majority and minority can change places and then such a use of language, which would be able to represent this change only with difficulty, would easily lead to obscurities and misunderstandings. No, even in this book, "orthodoxy" and "heresy" will refer to what one customarily and usually understands them to mean. There is only this proviso, that we will not hear the two of them discussed by the church -- that is, by the one-party -- but by history...
Encyclopedia of Early Christianity
Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, Second Edition,
edited by Everett Ferguson (NY: Garland Publishing 1999, page 520-521, by Rowan A. Greer)
Heresy. Term deriving from the Greek word hairesis, which originally meant "choice" but by the beginning of the Christian era had come also to be applied to a religious or philosophical sect. In a Christian context, "heresy" normally refers to a false religious sect or to erroneous teaching and is consequently the opposite of "orthodoxy." Understood this way, the chief issue become what criteria distinguish true from false doctrine. Irenaeus (fl. 180-200), although he depends upon earlier writers, notably Justin Martyr, gives us our first evidence for how the developing Great Church (or "early Catholicism") attempted to define heresy. Any opinions that contradicted or subverted the apostolic faith were heretical. What Irenaeus means by the apostolic faith is scripture and the rule of faith. By scripture, he understands the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament together with a closed collection of apostolic writings nearly identical with what we call the New Testament. By rule of faith, he understands a flexible, creedlike summary of the meaning of scripture. These two elements of the apostolic faith coinhere and are guarded by the bishops who succeeded the apostles. It is on this basis that Irenaeus rejected the Gnostics and the Marcionites as heretics. They misused scripture, and their views contradicted the rule of faith.
In practice, however, Ireneaus's definition of heresy proved insufficient. Bishops could disagree as to what followed the apostolic faith, and what was orthodox in one church could be regarded as heretical in another. As a result, the church began to call councils to adjudicate charges of heresy. To some degree, conciliar activity may be found in the church before the Constantinian revolution. In the first half of the thrid century, Origin acted as a theological expert in what amounted to ecclesiastical courts summoned to hear heresy charges. In 268, a council in Antioch condemned as heretical Paul of Samosata's views of Christ. Nevertheless, ecumenical councils were held only after imperial patronage had come into play. The councils of Nicaea (325) and Constantinople (381) formulated the dogma of the Trinity and defined Arianism and Apollinarianism as heresies. The councils of Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451) defined the dogma of Christ's person, rejecting Nestorius and Eutyches as heretics. Later ecumenical councils continued to deal with the problem of Christ's person. It must be added that the authority of the so-called ecumenical councils derived not only from imperial authority but also from general acceptance by the church.
Heresy therefore remains in theory a denial of orthodox doctrine, which is itself based upon scripture and the rule of faith (or the creeds), but in practice, attempts to purge the church of heresy involved questions of ecclesiastical authority and of the relation of the church to the Roman empire. A list of heresies in the early church include the various forms of Gnosticism, Marcionitism, Montanism, Monarchianism, Arianism, Apollinarianism, Nestorianism, Monophysitism, Manichaeism, Pelagianism, and Priscillianism.
Questions for each of us
Do any of us today teach or practice heresy?
Some questions for each of us to ask oneself, based upon biblical Christian norms
by Robert N Cramer, BibleTexts.com
The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3-17, Deuteronomy 5:7-21)
The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 6, and 7; see also "the Sermon on the Plain," Luke 6:20-49)
Some other teachings of Jesus
Copyright 1996-2004 Robert Nguyen Cramer