May 17, 2022

Heresy (from ancient Greek αἵρεσις haíresis, German 'choice', 'view', 'school') is in the narrower sense a statement or doctrine that contradicts ecclesiastical-religious beliefs. In a broader sense, a heresy can be a teaching, opinion, doctrine, ideology, worldview, or philosophy that differs from what is accepted. A heretic is a representative of a heresy. Alternatively, one also speaks of heterodoxy (from ἑτεροδοξία heterodoxia, German 'deviating, different opinion'), heresy or heresy. An antonym is orthodoxy. In principle, a teaching or way of life can only be described as heretical relative to another – judged to be orthodox. The term heresy is mainly used in the Catholic Church, but also in the context of the Orthodox, Protestant or Evangelical Churches and with reference to Judaism, Islam and some other religions. Schismatics are to be distinguished from heretics, who split off from a certain movement or church, but do not develop any teachings that differ significantly from its doctrines.

Definition of terms

The terms heresy and heretic (after the medieval Cathar movement) were originally synonymous with heresy and heretic, respectively. In the present heresy is often used in the sense of any deviation from "a generally accepted opinion or norm of conduct" that can be viewed as sympathetic, while heresy and heretics are still limited to specific ecclesiastical theological and historical meaning today. Heresiology is the study of heresies. In heresiology, a church describes what it sees as heresy and how it recognizes it. A heresiology is always the subjective point of view of a church. Heresiography is a treatise describing heresies. Schism is distinguished from heresy, where the unity of a church is not maintained in a conflict over the ecclesiastical order. A schism can accompany a heresy, as in Donatism; but it is also possible for two schismatic groups to share the same beliefs, as was the case, for example, with the Western schism.

Heresy in Christianity

Heresies in the Ancient Church

In early Christianity, as in the New Testament, there was a pluralism of theological perspectives. As early as the New Testament, a distinction was made between adiaphora (e.g. 1 Corinthians: Are Christians allowed to eat meat from animals that were sacrificed to the pagan gods?) and binding teachings (e.g. Galatians: Gentile Christians should not be forced to be circumcised) . During the lifetime of the apostles, the final authority over correct teaching rested with the apostles (for example, at the apostolic council). Up until the 4th century, the early church initially had no central authority that could have decided on such doctrinal questions (even the bishop of Rome was not an authority at the time). First, three ecclesiastical metropolises with equal rights developed in Antioch, Alexandria and Rome. Constantinople, and to a much lesser extent Jerusalem, came later. Their bishops were decisive in their area. In addition, other theological centers of focus, such as Augustine in North Africa and the "three Cappadocians" in Asia Minor (Basil of Caesarea, his younger brother Gregory of Nyssa and his friend Gregory of Nazianzus), were also established by outstanding people over the course of time. These Church Fathers dealt with the dissenting doctrines circulating around them with little power other than argument and excommunication. Such an excommunication hit the heretic in the then