Heresy in Christianity

Heresy in Christianity denotes the formal denial or doubt of a core doctrine of the Christian faith[1] as defined by one or more of the Christian churches.[2]

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. 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.

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.

Etymology and definition


The word "orthodoxy" comes from Greek ὀρθοδοξία orthodoxía "right opinion".[3]

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 thought[4] then 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.[5]

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'.


Orthodoxy is adherence to correct or accepted creeds, especially in religion.[6]

Heresy is used today with reference to in Christianity denotes the formal denial or doubt of a core doctrine of the Christian faith[1] as defined by one or more of the Christian churches.[2]

It should be distinguished from both apostasy and schism,[2] apostasy being nearly always total abandonment of the Christian faith after it has been freely accepted,[7] and schism being a formal and deliberate breach of Christian unity and an offence against charity without being based essentially on doctrine.[8]

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.[9] The earliest recorded instance of the form is in the Council of Elvira (c. 306), and thereafter it became the common method of cutting off heretics.

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.

Early Christianity (1st century - c.325 AD)

Scholarly approaches

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),[note 1] 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.[10][11] Bauer reassessed as a historian the overwhelmingly dominant view[note 2] 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.[12][13] 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.[14]

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."[15] According to Darrell Bock, a Christian apologist,[16] Bauer's theory does not show an equality between the established church and outsiders including Simon Magus.[17][note 3] 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.[19]

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.[note 4]


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.

Late Antiquity (313–476) and Early Middle Ages (476–799)


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.[note 5] 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.[20]

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.

Legal suppression of heresies

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.[21] Those who possessed writings of Arius were sentenced to death.[22]

Ecumenical councils

Seven ecumenical councils were convened between 325 and 787. These were mostly concerned with Christological disputes:

  1. The First Ecumenical Council was convoked by the Roman Emperor Constantine at Nicaea in 325 and presided over by the Patriarch Alexander of Alexandria, with over 300 bishops condemning the view of Arius that the Son is a created being inferior to the Father.[note 6] Each phrase in the Nicene Creed, formulated at the Council of Nicaea (AD 325), addresses some aspect that had been under passionate discussion prior to Constantine I. Nevertheless, Arianism dominated most of the church for the greater part of the 4th century, often with the aid of Roman emperors who favoured them.
  2. The Second Ecumenical Council was held at Constantinople in 381, presided over by the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch, with 150 bishops, defining the nature of the Holy Spirit against those asserting His inequality with the other persons of the Trinity. Tgis council also condemned Arianism.
  3. The Third Ecumenical Council is that of Ephesus, a stronghold of Cyrillian Christianity, in 431. It was presided over by the Patriarch of Alexandria, with 250 bishops and was mired in controversy because of the absences of the Patriarchs of Constantinople, and Antioch, the absence of the Syrian Clergy, and violence directed against Nestorius, and his supporters. It affirmed that Mary is the "Bearer" of God (Theotokos), contrary to the teachings of Nestorius, and it anathematized Nestorius. A mirror Council held by Nestorius, the Patriarch of Antioch and the Syrian clergy affirmed Mary as Christokos, "Bearer" of Christ, and anathematized Cyril of Alexandria.
  4. The Fourth Ecumenical Council is that of Chalcedon in 451, Patriarch of Constantinople presiding, 500 bishops, affirmed that Jesus has two natures, is truly God and truly man, distinct yet always in perfect union. This was based largely on Pope Leo the Great's Tome. Thus, it condemned Monophysitism and would be influential in refuting Monothelitism.
  5. The Fifth Ecumenical Council is the second of Constantinople in 553, interpreting the decrees of Chalcedon and further explaining the relationship of the two natures of Jesus; it also condemned the teachings of Origen on the pre-existence of the soul, etc.
  6. The Sixth Ecumenical Council is the third of Constantinople in 681; it declared that Christ has two wills of his two natures, human and divine, contrary to the teachings of the Monothelites.
  7. The Seventh Ecumenical Council was called under the Empress Regent Irene of Athens in 787, known as the second of Nicaea. It supports the veneration of icons while forbidding their worship. It is often referred to as "The Triumph of Orthodoxy"

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:

  1. The Fifth Council of Constantinople was actually a series of councils held between 1341 and 1351. It affirmed the hesychastic theology of St. Gregory Palamas and condemned the philosopher Barlaam of Calabria.
  2. In addition to these councils there have been a number of significant councils meant to further define the Eastern Orthodox position. They are the Synods of Constantinople in 1484, 1583, 1755, 1819, and 1872, the Synod of Iaşi (Jassy), 1642, and the Pan-Orthodox Synod of Jerusalem, 1672.

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.

High Middle Ages (800–1299) and Late Middle Ages and the early Renaissance (1300–1520)

Titelkupfer Index librorum prohibitorum
This 1711 illustration for the Index Librorum Prohibitorum depicts the Holy Ghost supplying the book burning fire.

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.

Medieval heresies

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[23] under the direct power of the Pope. The use of torture to extract confessions was authorized by Innocent IV in 1252.[24] 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.

Last execution of a heretic

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).[25] This summary was specifically censured in the 1520 papal bull Exsurge Domine.[26] 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.[27] 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 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.

Modern Roman Catholic response to Protestantism

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",[28] 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".[note 7]

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.[30]

See also


  1. ^ Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei im ältesten Christentum Tübingen 1934; (a second edition, edited by Georg Strecker, Tübingen 1964, was translated as Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity 1971.)
  2. ^ Bauer (1964:3f) instanced Origen, Commentarius II in Cant., and Sel. in Proverb. and Tertullian, De praescript. haer. 36 as espousing the traditional theory of the relation of heresy.
  3. ^ According to Gregory, & Tuckett, Bock "is not an expert on the Christian Apocrypha, and his shortcomings are often apparent."[18]
  4. ^ See false prophet, the antichrist, the gnostic Nicolaitanes from the Book of Revelation and Man of Sin.
  5. ^ John 14:28
  6. ^ 300 bishops, as well as Constantine I, were present at the Council. Constantine had invited all 1800 bishops of the Christian church (about 1000 in the east and 800 in the west). The number of participating bishops cannot be accurately stated; Socrates Scholasticus and Epiphanius of Salamis counted 318; Eusebius of Caesarea, only 250.
  7. ^ In his book The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood, Pope Benedict XVI wrote that: "The difficulty in the way of giving an answer is a profound one. Ultimately it is due to the fact that there is no appropriate category in Catholic thought for the phenomenon of Protestantism today (one could say the same of the relationship to the separated churches of the East). It is obvious that the old category of ‘heresy’ is no longer of any value. Heresy, for Scripture and the early Church, includes the idea of a personal decision against the unity of the Church, and heresy’s characteristic is pertinacia, the obstinacy of him who persists in his own private way. This, however, cannot be regarded as an appropriate description of the spiritual situation of the Protestant Christian. In the course of a now centuries-old history, Protestantism has made an important contribution to the realization of Christian faith, fulfilling a positive function in the development of the Christian message and, above all, often giving rise to a sincere and profound faith in the individual non-Catholic Christian, whose separation from the Catholic affirmation has nothing to do with the pertinacia characteristic of heresy. Perhaps we may here invert a saying of St. Augustine’s: that an old schism becomes a heresy. The very passage of time alters the character of a division, so that an old division is something essentially different from a new one. Something that was once rightly condemned as heresy cannot later simply become true, but it can gradually develop its own positive ecclesial nature, with which the individual is presented as his church and in which he lives as a believer, not as a heretic. This organization of one group, however, ultimately has an effect on the whole. The conclusion is inescapable, then: Protestantism today is something different from heresy in the traditional sense, a phenomenon whose true theological place has not yet been determined.[29]


  1. ^ a b J.D Douglas (ed). The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church Paternoster Press/ Zondervan, Exeter/Grand Rapids 1974, art Heresy
  2. ^ a b c Cross & Livingstone (eds) Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 1974 art Heresy
  3. ^ Harper, Douglas. "orthodoxy". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 2016-01-27.
  4. ^ Oxford English Dictionary
  5. ^ Jostein Ådna (editor), The Formation of the Early Church (Mohr Siebeck 2005 ISBN 978-316148561-9), p. 342
  6. ^ orthodox. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. Dictionary definition (accessed: March 03, 2008).
  7. ^ Prümmer, Dominic M. Handbook of Moral Theology Mercer Press 1963, sect. 201ff
  8. ^ Cross & Livingstone (eds) Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 1974 arts apostasy,schism
  9. ^ Definition of major excommunication
  10. ^ Bauer, Walter (1971). Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity. ISBN 0-8006-1363-5.
  11. ^ Behr, John (2013). Irenaeus of Lyons: Identifying Christianity. OUP Oxford. pp. 5–6. ISBN 978-0-19-166781-7. [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.
  12. ^ Pagels, Elaine (1979). The Gnostic Gospels. ISBN 0-679-72453-2.
  13. ^ Ehrman, Bart D. (2003). Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. New York: Oxford. ISBN 0-19-514183-0.
  14. ^ Bart D. Ehrman (2005). Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. Oxford University Press. p. 176. ISBN 978-0-19-518249-1.
  15. ^ H. E. W. Turner (2004), The Pattern of Christian Truth: A Study in the Relations between Orthodoxy and Heresy in the Early Church, Wipf and Stock Publishers, from the book-summary.
  16. ^ Gregory, & Tuckett 2015, p. 453.
  17. ^ Bock, Darrell L. The Missing Gospels: Unearthing the Truth Behind Alternative Christianities / ISBN 978-0-7852-1294-2
  18. ^ Gregory, & Tuckett 2015, p. 453.
  19. ^ Frances M. Young (2006), The Cambridge History of Christianity Volume 1: Origins to Constantine, Series: Cambridge History of Christianity ISBN 978-0-521-81239-9.
  20. ^ R. Gerberding and J. H. Moran Cruz, Medieval Worlds (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004) p. 58
  21. ^ Jay E. Thompson (1 September 2009). A Tale of Five Cities: A History of the Five Patriarchal Cities of the Early Church. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 138. ISBN 978-1-4982-7447-0.
  22. ^ María Victoria Escribano Paño (2010). "Chapter Three. Heretical texts and maleficium in the Codex Theodosianum (CTh. 16.5.34)". In Richard Lindsay Gordon; Francisco Marco Simón. Magical Practice in the Latin West: Papers from the International Conference Held at the University of Zaragoza, 30 Sept. – 1st Oct. 2005. BRILL. pp. 135–136. ISBN 90-04-17904-6.
  23. ^ "Catholic Encyclopedia Inquisition". New Advent. Retrieved October 3, 2018.
  24. ^ "Catholic Encyclopedia Inquisition". New Advent. Retrieved October 3, 2018.
  25. ^ Haereticos comburi est contra voluntatem Spiritus in Google books
  26. ^ Bainton, Roland H. (1950). Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. Abingdon-Cokesbury Press., pp. 145–147.
  27. ^ "Daily TWiP - The Spanish Inquisition executes its last victim today in 1826". 26 July 2010. Retrieved 8 June 2013.
  28. ^ CCC 847
  29. ^ Pope Benedict XVI (1993). The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood. Ignatius Press. p. 88. ISBN 9780898704464.
  30. ^ Protestantism


  • Gregory, Andrew; Tuckett, Christopher, eds. (2015). The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Apocrypha. Oxford University Press.

Further reading

Abundant life

"Abundant life" is a term used to refer to Christian teachings on fullness of life. It is not an organized movement or a unique doctrine, but a name applied to the teachings and expectations of the groups and people who follow the teachings. Abundant life teachings may include expectations of prosperity and health, but may also include other forms of fullness of life when faced with adverse circumstances.

Americanism (heresy)

Americanism was a group of related views among American Catholics denounced as heresies by the Holy See. This was because these views tended to endorse the separation of church and state and encourage individualistic thinking. European "continental conservative" clerics thought they detected signs of modernism or classical liberalism of the sort the Pope had condemned in the Syllabus of Errors in 1864. They feared that these doctrines were held by and taught in the 1890s by many members of the American Catholic hierarchy, who denied that they held these views.Pope Leo XIII wrote against these ideas in a letter to Cardinal James Gibbons, published as Testem benevolentiae nostrae. The Pope lamented an America where church and state are "dissevered and divorced" and wrote of his preference for a closer relationship between the Catholic Church and the State along European lines.The long-term result was that the Irish Catholics who largely controlled the Catholic Church in the United States increasingly demonstrated their total loyalty to the Pope, and traces of liberal thought in the Catholic colleges were suppressed. At bottom it was a cultural conflict, as the continental conservative Europeans, angered at the heavy attacks on the Catholic Church in Germany, France and other countries, did not appreciate the active individualism in America.

Angelici (sect)

The Angelici were an obscure heretical sect of the 3rd century.


The Arrhabonarii were a Polish Christian sect who held that the Eucharist was either the real flesh or blood of Jesus Christ as is believed by mainstream Catholics. Instead, the Arrhabonarii believed the Eucharist was a pledge of a gift to be bestowed in heaven. The sect's name is derived from the Greek Ἀρραβων, Arrha, meaning "earnest". The position was first argued by Francesco Stancaro in 1543.

Catholic teachings on heresy

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.

De fide

De fide (of the faith) is a "theological note" "theological qualification" that indicates that some religious doctrine is an essential part of Catholic faith and that denial of it is heresy. The doctrine is de fide divina et ecclesiastica (of divine and ecclesiastical faith), if contained in the sources of revelation and therefore believed to have been revealed by God (de fide divina) and if taught by the Church (de fide ecclesiastica). If a doctrine has been solemnly defined by a pope or an ecumenical council as a dogma, the doctrine is de fide definita.What is believed to be a truth contained in the sources of revelation thus becomes a "dogma", in the present ecclesiastical sense of this word, only when enunciated by the Church: "According to a long-standing usage a dogma is now understood to be a truth appertaining to faith or morals, revealed by God, transmitted from the Apostles in the Scriptures or by tradition, and proposed by the Church for the acceptance of the faithful."

Dominion theology

Dominion theology (also known as dominionism) is a group of Christian political ideologies that seek to institute a nation governed by Christians based on their personal understandings of biblical law. Extents of rule and ways of achieving governing authority are varied. For example, dominion theology can include theonomy, but does not necessarily involve advocating Mosaic law as the basis of government. The label is applied primarily toward groups of Christians in the United States.

Prominent adherents of these ideologies are otherwise theologically diverse, including Calvinist Christian reconstructionism, Roman Catholic

Integralism, Charismatic/Pentecostal Kingdom Now theology, New Apostolic Reformation, and others. Most of the contemporary movements labeled dominion theology arose in the 1970s from religious movements asserting aspects of Christian nationalism.

Some have applied the term dominionist more broadly to the whole Christian right. This usage is controversial. There are concerns from members of these communities that this is a label being used to marginalize Christians from public discourse. Others argue this allegation can be difficult to sympathize with considering the political power already held by these groups and on account of the often verbally blatant intention of these groups to influence the political, social, financial, and cultural spectrums of society for a specific religion, often at the expense of other marginalized groups.

Dunbar Isidore Heath

Dunbar Isidore Heath (3 March 1816, London – 27 May 1888) was an English clergyman prosecuted for heresy in 1861; he was a Cambridge Apostle.


In Christian theology, a heresiarch (also hæresiarch, according to the Oxford English Dictionary; from Greek: αἱρεσιάρχης, hairesiárkhēs via the late Latin haeresiarcha) or arch-heretic is an originator of heretical doctrine, or the founder of a sect that sustains such a doctrine.


Iconolatry (Greek εἰκών eikon, "picture or image," and λατρεία latreia, "worship or adoration") designates the idolatric worship or adoration of icons. In the history of Christianity, iconolatry was manifested mainly in popular worship, as a superstitious belief in the divine nature of icons. It was practiced as a direct adoration of icons, and other objects representing various saints, angels and the God. One of extreme practices of iconolatry was scraping parts of icons into the Holy Communion.

Iconolatry is the opposite of iconoclasm, and also should not be confused with iconophilia, designating the moderate veneration of icons. Both extreme positions, iconolatry and iconoclasm, were rejected in 787 by the Second Council of Nicaea, being the seventh Ecumenical Council. The Council decided that holy icons should not be destroyed, as was advocated and practiced by the Byzantine iconoclasm, nor worshiped or adored, as was practiced by iconolatry, but rather venerated and respected as symbolic representations of God, angels or saints.


Imiaslavie (Russian: Имяславие, literally praising the name) or Imiabozhie (Имябожие), also spelled imyaslavie and imyabozhie, and also referred to as onomatodoxy, is a dogmatic movement which asserts that the Name of God is God Himself. Although it was condemned by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1913, it is still promoted by many contemporary Russian writers. Many contemporary supporters are affiliated with Bishop Grégory Lourie and St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris. The movement emerged in the beginning of the 20th century but both proponents and opponents claim it to be connected with much religious thought throughout the history of Christianity (proponents claim its connections to the Church Fathers, while opponents claim the connections to the ancient heresiarchs).

Material heresy

In Catholic theology, the term material heresy refers to an opinion objectively contradictory to the teachings of the Church, which as such is heretical, but which is uttered by a person without the subjective knowledge of its being so. A person who holds a material heresy may therefore not be a "heretic" in the strict sense. Material heresy is distinguished from "formal heresy", i.e. a heretic opinion proposed deliberately by a person who is aware of its being against the doctrine of the Church.


Monophysitism ( or ; Greek: μονοφυσιτισμός; Late Koine Greek, pronounced [monofysitizˈmos] from μόνος monos, "only, single" and φύσις physis, "nature") is the Christological position that, after the union of the divine and the human in the historical incarnation, Jesus Christ, as the incarnation of the eternal Son or Word (Logos) of God, had only a single "nature" which was either divine or a synthesis of divine and human. Monophysitism is contrasted to dyophysitism (or dia-, dio-, or duophysitism) which maintains that Christ maintained two natures, one divine and one human, after the incarnation.

Historically, the term "Monophysites" (capitalized in this sense) referred to those Christians in the Eastern Roman Empire who rejected the fourth ecumenical council, the Council of Chalcedon in 451. The moderate members of this group, however, maintained a "miaphysite" theology that became that of the Oriental Orthodox churches. The Oriental Orthodox reject the label "monophysite" as a catch-all term, but the label was extensively used in historical literature of Chalcedonian Christian authors.

After the Council of Chalcedon, the monophysite controversy (together with institutional, political, and growing nationalistic factors) led to a lasting schism between the Oriental Orthodox churches, on the one hand, and the Eastern Orthodox and Western churches on the other. The Christological conflict among monophysitism, dyophysitism, and their subtle combinations and derivatives lasted from the third through the eighth centuries and left its mark on all but the first two Ecumenical councils. The vast majority of Christians presently belong to the Chalcedonian churches, namely the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and traditional Protestant churches (those that accept at least the first four Ecumenical Councils); these churches have always considered monophysitism to be heretical, usually claiming that it implies Christ is neither "truly God" nor "truly man".Monophysitism is occasionally referred to as "monophysiticism".

Quietism (Christian philosophy)

Quietism is the name given (especially in Roman Catholic Church theology) to a set of Christian beliefs that rose in popularity in France, Italy, and Spain during the late 1670s and 1680s, particularly associated with the writings of Miguel de Molinos (and subsequently François Malaval and Madame Guyon), and which were condemned as heresy by Pope Innocent XI in the papal bull Coelestis Pastor of 1687. The "Quietist" heresy was seen to consist of wrongly elevating "contemplation" over "meditation", intellectual stillness over vocal prayer, and interior passivity over pious action in an account of mystical prayer, spiritual growth and union with God (one in which, the accusation ran, there existed the possibility of achieving a sinless state and union with the Christian Godhead).

Since the late seventeenth century, "Quietism" has functioned (especially within Roman Catholic theology, though also to an extent within Protestant theology), as the shorthand for accounts which are perceived to fall foul of the same theological errors, and thus to be heretical. As such, the term has come to be applied to beliefs far outside its original context. The term quietism was not used until the 17th century, so some writers have dubbed the expression of such errors before this era as "pre-quietism".

Serpent seed

For the Christian concept of the "seed of the serpent" see Seed of the WomanSerpent seed, dual seed or two-seedline is a controversial religious belief which explains the biblical account of the fall of man by saying that the serpent in the Garden of Eden mated with Eve, and that the offspring of their union was Cain. It appears in early Gnostic writings such as the Gospel of Philip (c. 350). The teaching was explicitly rejected as heresy by Irenaeus (c. 180), one of the early church fathers, and later by mainstream Christian theologians. According to The Celtic Church In Britain, by Leslie Hardinge, the early Celtic church taught the belief in the seduction of Eve by the serpent.Notable proponents of the serpent-seed doctrine have included Daniel Parker (1781–1844), William M. Branham (1909–1965), and Arnold Murray (1929–2014). This belief is also held by some adherents of the white supremacist theology known as Christian Identity, who claim that the Jews are descended from the serpent. It is considered heresy by the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches and by most Protestants. The Unification Church teaches that Eve committed adultery with the devil, but does not teach the serpent-seed doctrine. A section of the Mormon Fundamentalist group Church of the Firstborn (LeBaron order) led by author and publisher Fred Collier out of Hanna, Utah adhere to a form of "two Seedline" doctrine.


The Skoptsy (Russian: скопцы; singular скопец "castrate"; also transliterated as Skoptzy, Skoptzi, Skoptsi, Skopzi, Scoptsy, etc.) were a heretical sect, within the larger Spiritual Christianity movement in the Russian Empire, best known for practicing castration of men and the mastectomy of women in accordance with their teachings against sexual lust. The term is a descriptive one used by the official Russian Orthodox Church.

The movement emerged in the late 18th century. It reached the peak of its popularity in the early 20th century, with as many as 100,000 members, in spite of persecution by the imperial government. Despite severe repression under the Soviet Union some members still lived at the start of the 21st century.


Socinianism () is a system of Christian doctrine named for Fausto Sozzini (Latin: Faustus Socinus), which was developed among the Polish Brethren in the Minor Reformed Church of Poland during the 16th and 17th centuries and embraced by the Unitarian Church of Transylvania during the same period. It is most famous for its nontrinitarian Christology but contains a number of other unorthodox beliefs as well.

The Milky Way (1969 film)

The Milky Way (French: La Voie lactée) is a 1969 surrealist film directed by Luis Buñuel. It stars Laurent Terzieff, Paul Frankeur, Delphine Seyrig, Georges Marchal and Michel Piccoli. Buñuel later called The Milky Way the first in a trilogy (along with The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and The Phantom of Liberty) about "the search for truth."The title of the film is taken from a popular name used for the Way of St. James, a route often traveled by religious pilgrims that stretched from northern Europe to the Santiago de Compostela in Spain. This is where the remains of St. James were reputed to be buried. The film follows the picaresque journey of two vagabond travelers, who seem to be making the pilgrimage as a means of escape. Along the way, they witness a series of bizarre incidents that involve persons named in documented heresies in church history. At key moments they encounter Jesus and the Virgin Mary, as well as modern believers and fanatics.

The plot is non-linear and functions as a highly symbolic travelogue across time and space, set over the last two thousand years. It encompasses much of Christian history. While using satire to critique religion from a skeptical perspective, it also explores the act of spiritual quest and search for meaning.

The highly idiosyncratic film originally met with limited success. In the 21st century, it is very well-regarded amongst film enthusiasts and critics.

Word of Faith

Word of Faith (also known as Word-Faith or simply Faith) is a worldwide Protestant Christian movement which teaches that Christians can access the power of faith or fear through speech. Its teachings are found on radio, the internet, television, and in many Charismatic denominations and communities. The doctrine renounces poverty, suffering, and defeat as necessary to a godly life and glorifying Jesus Christ. It teaches that the salvation won by Jesus on the cross included health and prosperity for believers; this is derived from its definition of the word sozo (salvation).

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