- Christian heresy
Christian heresy refers to non-orthodox practices and beliefs that were deemed to be heretical by one or more of the Christian churches. In Western Christianity, the term "heresy" most commonly refers to those beliefs which were declared to be anathema by the Catholic Church prior to the schism of 1054. In the East, the term "heresy" most commonly refers to those beliefs declared to be heretical by the First seven Ecumenical Councils. 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 Catholic Church considers the Protestant denominations to be heretical and considers the Eastern Orthodox schismatics.
Historical examination of heresies focuses on a mixture of theological, spiritual, and political underpinnings to explain and describe their development. For example, accusations of heresy have been leveled against a group of believers when their beliefs challenged, or were seen to challenge, Church authority. Some heresies have also been doctrinally based, in which a teaching were deemed to be inconsistent with the fundamental tenets of orthodox dogma.
The study of heresy requires an understanding of the development of orthodoxy and the role of creeds in the definition of orthodox beliefs. 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. The reaction of the orthodox to heresy has also varied over the course of time; many factors, particularly the institutional, judicial, and doctrinal development of the Church, have shaped this reaction. Heresy remained an officially punishable offense in Roman Catholic nations until the late 18th century. In Spain, heretics were prosecuted and punished during the Counter-Enlightenment movement of the restoration of the monarchy there after the Napoleonic Era.
- 1 Etymology and definition
- 2 Anathema
- 3 Denominations
- 4 First millennium
- 5 Catholic understanding
- 6 See also
- 7 References
Etymology and definition
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 then eventually came to denote waring 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 in Post-Apostolic times which the First Seven Ecumenical Councils attempted to establish for all of Christendom.
St. Irenaeus (c. 120 to 140–c. 200 to 203) defined heresy as deviation from the standard of sound 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. 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.
in English-speaking countries
Australia Australian Christian bodiesPentecostal & RelatedOther Canada Canadian Christian bodies United Kingdom Christian denominations in the UK United States United States Christian bodiesCatholic & AnglicanLutheranMethodistPentecostalPresbyterian & ReformedOther International Associations
Friends World Committee for Consultation
Mennonite World Conference
Baptist World Alliance
World Convention of Churches of Christ
Eastern Orthodox Church
Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference
International Lutheran Council
Lutheran World Federation
World Methodist Council
Pentecostal World Conference
International Conference of Reformed Churches
Reformed Ecumenical Council
World Communion of Reformed Churches
World Reformed Fellowship
All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC)
Association of Evangelicals of Africa (AEA)
All Africa Baptist Fellowship
Africa Lutheran CommunionCaribbean
Caribbean Conference of Churches (CCC)
Evangelical Association of the Caribbean
Caribbean Baptist FellowshipLatin America
Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI)
Latin American Evangelical Fellowship (FIDE)
Union of Baptists in Latin AmericaNorth America
North American Baptist Fellowship
Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in America
North American Presbyterian and Reformed CouncilPacific
Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC)
Evangelical Fellowship of the South Pacific (EFSP)
Asia Pacific Baptist Federation
There is a diversity of doctrines and practices among groups calling themselves Christian. These groups are sometimes classified under denominations, though for theological reasons many groups reject this classification system.
A Christian denomination is an identifiable religious body under a common name, structure, and doctrine within Christianity.
Worldwide, Christians are divided, often along ethnic and linguistic lines, into separate churches and traditions. Technically, divisions between one group and another are defined by doctrine and church authority. Issues such as the nature of Jesus, the authority of apostolic succession, and papal primacy separate one denomination from another.
Denominationalism is an ideology which views some or all Christian groups as being, in some sense, versions of the same thing regardless of their distinguishing labels. Not all churches teach this. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches do not use this term as its implication of interchangeability does not agree with their theological teachings. There are some groups which practically all others would view as apostate or heretical, and not legitimate versions of Christianity.
Christianity has denominational families (or movements) and also has individual denominations (or communions). Within these denominational families and movements are (often further denominational families and) various individual denominations or communions. The difference between a denomination and a denominational family is sometimes unclear to outsiders. Some denominational families can be considered major branches.
Christians have various doctrines about the Church, the body of faithful that they believe was established by Jesus Christ, and how the divine church corresponds to Christian denominations. Together both the Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox consider themselves to faithfully represent the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Protestants exist, historically, due to several perceived Catholic Church theologies and practices that they consider unorthodox, corrupt or anti-Biblical. Generally, members of the various denominations acknowledge each other as Christians, at least to the extent that they acknowledge historically orthodox views including the deity of Jesus and doctrines of sin and salvation, even though some obstacles hinder full communion between churches.
Christianity is composed of, but not limited to, five major branches of Churches: Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant; some groupings include Anglicans amongst Protestants. The Assyrian Church of the East is also a distinct Christian body, but is much smaller in adherents and geographic scope. Each of these five branches has important subdivisions. Because the Protestant subdivisions do not maintain a common theology or earthly leadership, they are far more distinct than the subdivisions of the other four groupings. Denomination typically refers to one of the many Christian groupings including each of the multitude of Protestant subdivisions.
There were some movements considered heresies by the early church which do not exist today and are not generally referred to as denominations. Examples include the Gnostics (who had believed in an esoteric dualism), the Ebionites (who denied the divinity of Jesus), and the Arians. The greatest divisions in Christianity today, however, are between Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and various denominations formed during and after the Protestant Reformation. There also exists in Protestantism and Orthodoxy various degrees of unity and division.
Early Christian heresies
The New Testament itself speaks of the importance of maintaining orthodox doctrine and refuting heresies, showing the antiquity of the concern. Because of the biblical proscription against false prophets (notably the Gospels of Matthew and Mark) Christianity has always been preoccupied with the "correct", or orthodox, interpretation of the faith. Indeed one of the main roles of the bishops in the early Church was to determine the correct interpretations and refute contrarian opinions (referred to as heresy). As there were differing opinions among the bishops, defining orthodoxy would consume the Church then and even until this present day, which is why there are many denominations.
In his book Orthodoxy, Christian Apologist and writer G. K. Chesterton asserts that there have been substantial disagreements about faith from the time of the New Testament and Jesus. He pointed out 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 (see false prophet, the antichrist, the gnostic Nicolaitanes from the Book of Revelation and Man of Sin).
The development of doctrine, the position of orthodoxy, and the relationship between the various opinions is a matter of continuing academic debate. Since most Christians today subscribe to the doctrines established by the Nicene Creed, modern Christian theologians tend to regard the early debates as a unified orthodox position (see also Proto-orthodox Christianity and Paleo-orthodoxy) against a minority of heretics. Other scholars, drawing upon, among other things, distinctions between Jewish Christians, Pauline Christians, and other groups such as Gnostics and Marcionites, argue that early Christianity was fragmented, with contemporaneous competing orthodoxies.
In the middle of the 2nd century, three unorthodox groups of Christians adhered to a range of doctrines that divided the Christian communities of Rome: the teacher Marcion; the pentecostal outpourings of ecstatic Christian prophets of a continuing revelation, in a movement that was called "Montanism" because it had been initiated by Montanus and his female disciples; and the gnostic teachings of Valentinus. 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.
Suppression of heresies
One of the roles of bishops, and the purpose of many Christian writings, was to refute heresies. The New Testament itself speaks of the importance of maintaining orthodox doctrine and refuting incorrect teachings, showing the antiquity of the concern.
During those first three centuries, Christianity was effectively outlawed by requirements to venerate the Roman emperor and Roman gods. Consequently, when the Church labeled its enemies as heretics and cast them out of its congregations or severed ties with dissident churches, it remained without the power to persecute them.
Before 313 AD, 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. It was only after the legalisation of Christianity, which began under Constantine I in 313 AD that the various beliefs of the Church began to be made uniform and formulated as dogma through the canons promulgated by the General Councils. Each phrase in the Nicene Creed, which was hammered out at the Council of Nicaea, addresses some aspect that had been under passionate discussion prior to Constantine I, and closes the books on the argument, with the weight of the agreement of the over 300 bishops, as well as Constantine I in attendance. [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.] In spite of the agreement reached at the council of 325, the Arians, who had been defeated, dominated most of the church for the greater part of the 4th century, often with the aid of Roman emperors who favored them.
Irenaeus (c. 130–202) 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 first known usage of the term 'heresy' in a civil legal context was in 380 AD 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. At its most extreme reach, this new legal backing of the Church gave its leaders the power to, in effect, pronounce the death sentence upon those whom they might perceive to be 'heretics'.
Within 5 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 as heretics. The last known heretic executed by sentence of the Roman Catholic Church was Cayetano Ripoll in 1826. The number of people executed as heretics under the authority of the various 'church authorities' is not known, however it most certainly numbers into the several thousands.
The earliest controversies were generally Christological in nature; that is, they were related to Jesus' (eternal) divinity or humanity. The orthodox teaching, as it developed, 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.
This position was challenged in the 4th century by Arius. Arianism held that Jesus, while not merely mortal, was not eternally divine and was, therefore, of lesser status than God the Father ( John 14:28). Trinitarianism held that God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit were all strictly one being with three hypostases. 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.
Emergence of creeds and Christian Orthodoxy
Urgent concerns with the uniformity of belief and practice have characterized Christianity from the outset. In the three centuries between the crucifixion and the First Council of Nicaea in 325, the religion was at times an illegal, underground movement spreading within the urban centers of the Roman Empire, a process bolstered through merchants and travel through the empire. The process of establishing orthodox Christianity was set in motion by a succession of different interpretations of the teachings of Christ being taught after the crucifixion, though Christ himself is noted to have spoken out against false prophets and false christs within the Gospels themselves: Mark 13:22 (some will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples), Matthew 7:5-20, Matthew 24:4, Matthew 24:11 Matthew 24:24 (For false christs and false prophets will arise). On many occasions in Paul's epistles, he defends his own apostleship, and urges Christians in various places to beware of false teachers, or of anything contrary to what was handed to them by him. The epistles of John and Jude also warn of false teachers and prophets, as does the writer of the Book of Revelation and 1 John. 4:1, as did the Apostle Peter warn in 2 Peter. 2:1-3. Due to this, in the 1st centuries of Christianity, churches had locally begun to make a statement of faith in line with mainstream Christian doctrine a prerequisite for baptism. The reason for this demand was to insure that new converts would not be followers of teachings that conflicted with widely accepted views of Christianity such as Gnosticism and other movements that later were considered heretical by church leaders. These statements of faith became the framework for ecumenical creeds such as the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. It was against these creeds that teachings were judged in order to determine orthodoxy and to establish teachings as heretical. The first ecumenical and comprehensive statement of belief, the Nicene Creed, was formulated in 325 at the First Council of Nicaea.
Several ecumenical councils were convened. These were mostly concerned with Christological disputes. The councils of Nicaea (325) and Constantinople (382) condemned Arian teachings as heresy and produced a creed (see Nicene Creed). The First Council of Ephesus in 431 condemned Nestorianism and affirmed the Blessed Virgin Mary to be Theotokos ("God-bearer" or "Mother of God"). Perhaps the most significant council was the Council of Chalcedon in 451 that affirmed that Christ had two natures, fully God and fully 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The Third Ecumenical Council is that of Ephesus in 431, presided over by the Patriarch of Alexandria, with 250 bishops, which affirmed that Mary is truly "Birthgiver" or "Mother" of God (Theotokos), contrary to the teachings of Nestorius.
- The Fourth Ecumenical Council is that of Chalcedon in 451, Patriarch of Constantinople presiding, 500 bishops, affirmed that Jesus is truly God and truly man, without mixture of the two natures, contrary to Monophysite teaching.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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"
- The Fourth Council of Constantinople was called in 879. It restored St. Photius to his See in Constantinople and condemned any alteration of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381.
However, 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 Orthodox consider the following council to be ecumenical, although this is not agreed upon:
- 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.
In addition to these councils there have been a number of significant councils meant to further define the 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.
Recent views on heresy in early Christianity
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 proposed a thesis that in earliest Christianity, orthodoxy and heresy do not stand in relation to one another as primary to secondary, but in many regions heresy is the original manifestation of Christianity. 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, they see early Christianity as fragmented and with contemporaneous competing orthodoxies.
The Pattern of Christian Truth, written by H. E. W. Turner, is one of many scholarly responses to the concept of early Christian origins as being ambiguous. Turner's response was in objection to Bauer's. In 2006, Scholar Darrell Bock addressed Walter Bauer's theory, stating that it does not show an equality between the established church and outsiders including Simon Magus. In The Cambridge History of Christianity Volume 1 History of Christianity Volume 1, Origins to Constantine, Walter Bauer hypothesis was addressed again this time in the introduction of the book it states each article addressed the uniqueness of each early Christian community but stated that the tenets of the mainstream or catholic church insured that each early Christian community did not remain isolated. The Russian philosopher Aleksey Khomyakov stated that the very church was the idea of submission and compromise of the individual to God through the idea of catholic or the Russian equivalent sobornost. Russian Orthodox theologian Father Georges Florovsky addressed the concept of sobornost as the concept of Orthodox Christianity after rejecting the World Church Council as being catholic or orthodox simply because it expressed unity in Christ. Florovksy stating as an apology that the very tenet of catholic or sobornost was the original church's response (through the patristic works of the early fathers) to the idea that there were multiple orthodoxies and no real heresies.
Heresy is defined by Thomas Aquinas as "a species of infidelity in men who, having professed the faith of Christ, corrupt its dogmas." The Catholic Church asserts and teaches that its doctrines are the authoritative understandings of the faith taught by Christ and that the Holy Spirit protects the Church from falling into error when teaching these doctrines. To deny one or more of those doctrines, therefore, is to deny the faith of Christ. Heresy is both the non orthodox belief itself, and the act of holding to that belief.
While the term is often used by laymen to indicate any non orthodox belief such as Paganism, by definition heresy can only be committed by someone who considers himself a Christian, but rejects the teachings of the Catholic Church. A person who completely renounces Christianity is not considered a heretic, but an apostate, and a person who renounces the authority of the Church but not its teachings is a schismatic.
The Church makes several distinctions as to the seriousness of an individual heterodoxy and its closeness to true heresy. Only a belief that directly contravenes an Article of Faith, or that has been explicitly rejected by the Church, is labelled as actual "heresy."
Canon 751 of the Catholic Church's Code of Canon law promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1983 (abbreviated "C.I.C." for Codex Iuris Canonici), the juridical systematization of ancient law currently binding the world's one billion Catholics, defines heresy as the following: "Heresy is the obstinate denial or doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith." The essential elements of canonical heresy therefore technically comprise 1) obstinacy, or continuation in time; 2) denial (a proposition contrary or contradictory in formal logic to a dogma) or doubt (a posited opinion, not being a firm denial, of the contrary or contradictory proposition to a dogma); 3) after reception of valid baptism; 4) of a truth categorized as being of "Divine and Catholic Faith," meaning contained directly within either Sacred Scripture or Sacred Tradition per Can. 750 par. 1 C.I.C. ("de fide divina") AND proposed as 'de fide divina' by either a Pope having spoken solemnly "ex cathedra" on his own (example: dogmatic definition of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1950), or defined solemnly by an Ecumenical Council in unison with a Pope (ex: the definition of the Divinity of Christ in the Council of Chalcedon) ("de fide catholica").
An important distinction is that between formal and material heresy. The difference is one of the heretic's subjective belief about his opinion. The heretic who is aware that his belief is at odds with Catholic teaching and yet continues to cling to his belief pertinaciously is a formal heretic. This sort of heresy is sinful because in this case the heretic knowingly holds an opinion that, in the words of the first edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia, "is destructive of the virtue of Christian faith . . . disturbs the unity, and challenges the Divine authority, of the Church" and "strikes at the very source of faith." Material heresy, on the other hand, means that the individual is unaware that his heretical opinion denies, in the words of Canon 751, "some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith." The opinion of a material heretic is still heresy, and it produces the same objective results as formal heresy, but because of his ignorance he commits no sin by holding it.
The penalty for a baptized Catholic above the age of 18 who obstinately, publicly, and voluntarily manifests his or her adherence to an objective heresy is automatic excommunication ("latae sententiae") according to Can. 1364 par.1 C.I.C..
A belief that the church has not directly rejected, or that is at variance with less important church teachings, is given the label, sententia haeresi proxima, meaning "opinion approaching heresy." A theological argument, belief, or theory that does not constitute heresy in itself, but which leads to conclusions which might be held to do so, is termed propositio theologice erronea, or "erroneous theological proposition." Finally, if the theological position only suggests but does not necessarily lead to a doctrinal conflict, it might be given the even milder label of sententia de haeresi suspecta, haeresim sapiens, meaning "opinion suspected, or savoring, of heresy."
Some significant controversies of doctrine have risen over the course of history. At times there have been many heresies over single points of doctrine, particularly in regard to the nature of the Trinity, the doctrine of transubstantiation and the immaculate conception.
Types of heretics
- the heretic impenitent and not relapsed (for the first time)
- the heretic impenitent and relapsed (for the first time was penitent now is impenitent)
- the heretic penitent and relapsed (for the first time was penitent now is penitent too, but relapsing was the capital offence)
- the heretic negative (who denied his crime)
- the heretic contumacious (who absconded)
The first four types were all delivered over to the secular arm. The state usually immediately punished heresy with death sentence. The longest delay could be five days. The custom that the impenitent heretics (the first two types) were cast into the flames alive and the penitent (the third type) were first strangled or hanged and then burned but the burning was not always observed.
Catholic response to heresy
The Church has always fought in favor of orthodoxy and the Pope's authority. At various times in history, it has had varying degrees of power to resist or punish heretics, once it had defined them.
In the early church, heresies were sometimes determined by a selected council of bishops, or ecumenical council, such as the First Council of Nicaea and promulgated by the Pope and the bishops under him. The orthodox position was established at the council, and all who failed to adhere to it would thereafter be considered heretics. The church had little power to actually punish heretics in the early years, other than by excommunication. To those who accepted it, an excommunication was the worst form of punishment possible, as it separated the individual from the body of Christ, his Church, and, if the sentence accurately reflected God's judgment, meant the denial of salvation. Excommunication, or even the threat of excommunication, was enough to convince many a heretic to renounce his views. Priscillian achieved the distinction of becoming the first Christian burned alive for heresy in 385 at Treves.
In the early Middle Ages (c.450-1100,) reports of heresy became rare. How much this was the result of improved conformity, how much the inadequacy and heterogeny of episcopal supervision, is in question. 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.
In later years, the 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 Dominican monks under the direct power of the Pope. The Inquisition was active in several nations of Europe, particularly where it had fervent support from the civil authority. 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. 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. 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 and (probably more important) an unlimited universe with innumerable inhabited worlds. The last case of an execution at an auto de fe by the Spanish Inquisition was the schoolmaster Cayetano Ripoll, accused of deism and executed by garroting July 26, 1826 in Valencia after a two-year trial.
Modern Catholic response to Protestantism
Well into the 20th century, Catholics still defined Protestants as heretics. Thus, Hillaire 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 godhood of Jesus.
However, in the second half of the century, and especially in the wake of Vatican II, the Catholic Church, in the spirit of ecumenism, tends to diminish the effects of Protestantism as a heresy by referring to "those who, through no fault of their own do not know Christ and his Church", even though the teachings of Protestantism are indeed heretical from a Catholic perspective. Modern usage favors referring to Protestants as "separated brethren" rather than "heretics", although the latter is still on occasion used vis-a-vis Catholics who abandon their Church to join a Protestant denomination.
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") and that there is no sacramental, ministerial priesthood attained by ordination, but only a universal priesthood of all believers.
- ^ Sermon 374:5:2, in, Newly Discovered Sermons, 1997, New City Press, p. 394. 
- ^ What Luther says, Ewald Martin Plass, ed., 1959, Concordia Pub. House, Volume 2, p. 693. No. 1943 The Devil Uses Men of Consequence. 
- ^ Oxford English Dictionary
- ^ Sydney E. Ahlstrom ([clarification needed], p. 381.) characterized denominationalism in America as "a virtual ecclesiology" that "first of all repudiates the insistences of the Roman Catholic church, the churches of the 'magisterial' Reformation, and of most sects that they alone are the true Church." For specific citations, on the Roman Catholic Church see the Catechism of the Catholic Church §816; other examples: Donald Nash, Why the Churches of Christ are not a Denomination; Wendell Winkler, Christ's Church is not a Denomination; and David E. Pratt, What does God think about many Christian denominations?
- ^ "Divisions of Christianity". North Virginia College. http://www.nvcc.edu/home/lshulman/Rel232/resource/Xiandivision.htm. Retrieved 2007-12-31.
- ^ "The LDS Restorationist movement, including Mormon denominations". Religious Tolerance. http://www.religioustolerance.org/ldswho.htm. Retrieved 2007-12-31.
- ^ e.g., 11:13–15; 2:1–17; 7–11; 4–13, and the Epistle of James in general.
- ^ e.g., Bauer, Walter (1971). Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity. ISBN 0-8006-1363-5. ; Pagels, Elaine (1979). The Gnostic Gospels. ISBN 0-679-72453-2. ; Ehrman, Bart D. (2003). Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. New York: Oxford. ISBN 0-19-514183-0.
- ^ e.g. 11:13-15; 2:1-17; 7-11; 4-13, and the Epistle of James in general.
- ^ R. Gerberding and J. H. Moran Cruz, Medieval Worlds (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004) p. 58
- ^ Ehrman, Bart D. (2003). Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. New York: Oxford. ISBN 0-19-514183-0.
- ^ Bock, Darrell L. The Missing Gospels: Unearthing the Truth Behind Alternative Christianities / ISBN 978-0785212942
- ^ Cambridge History of Christianity Volume 1, Origins to Constantine Series: Cambridge History of Christianity by Frances M. Young ISBN 9780521812399 Published February 2006
- ^ St Thomas Aquinas. "Summa Theologica: Heresy (Secunda Secunda Partis, Q. 11". New Advent. http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3011.htm. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
- ^ http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/para/847.htm CCC 847
- ^ http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12495a.htm Protestantism
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