Christian heresy

Christian heresy

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Christian heresy refers to non-orthodox
Orthodoxy
The word orthodox, from Greek orthos + doxa , is generally used to mean the adherence to accepted norms, more specifically to creeds, especially in religion...

 practices and beliefs that were deemed to be heretical
Heresy
Heresy is a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma. It is distinct from apostasy, which is the formal denunciation of one's religion, principles or cause, and blasphemy, which is irreverence toward religion...

 by one or more of the Christian churches. In Western Christianity
Western Christianity
Western Christianity is a term used to include the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church and groups historically derivative thereof, including the churches of the Anglican and Protestant traditions, which share common attributes that can be traced back to their medieval heritage...

, the term "heresy" most commonly refers to those beliefs which were declared to be anathema
Anathema
Anathema originally meant something lifted up as an offering to the gods; it later evolved to mean:...

 by the Catholic Church prior to the schism of 1054
East-West Schism
The East–West Schism of 1054, sometimes known as the Great Schism, formally divided the State church of the Roman Empire into Eastern and Western branches, which later became known as the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, respectively...

. In the East
Eastern Christianity
Eastern Christianity comprises the Christian traditions and churches that developed in the Balkans, Eastern Europe, Asia Minor, the Middle East, Northeastern Africa, India and parts of the Far East over several centuries of religious antiquity. The term is generally used in Western Christianity to...

, the term "heresy" most commonly refers to those beliefs declared to be heretical by the First seven Ecumenical Councils
First seven Ecumenical Councils
In the history of Christianity, the first seven Ecumenical Councils, from the First Council of Nicaea to the Second Council of Nicaea , represent an attempt to reach an orthodox consensus and to establish a unified Christendom as the State church of the Roman Empire...

. Since the Great Schism
East–West Schism
The East–West Schism of 1054, sometimes known as the Great Schism, formally divided the State church of the Roman Empire into Eastern and Western branches, which later became known as the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, respectively...

 and the Protestant Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

, 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 schism
Schism (religion)
A schism , from Greek σχίσμα, skhísma , is a division between people, usually belonging to an organization or movement religious denomination. The word is most frequently applied to a break of communion between two sections of Christianity that were previously a single body, or to a division within...

atics.

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 creed
Creed
A creed is a statement of belief—usually a statement of faith that describes the beliefs shared by a religious community—and is often recited as part of a religious service. When the statement of faith is longer and polemical, as well as didactic, it is not called a creed but a Confession of faith...

s 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
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 nations until the late 18th century. In Spain, heretics were prosecuted and punished during the Counter-Enlightenment
Counter-Enlightenment
"Counter-Enlightenment" is a term used to refer to a movement that arose in the late-18th and early-19th centuries in opposition to the 18th century Enlightenment...

 movement of the restoration of the monarchy there after the Napoleonic Era.

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
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old 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
Orthodoxy
The word orthodox, from Greek orthos + doxa , is generally used to mean the adherence to accepted norms, more specifically to creeds, especially in religion...

in Post-Apostolic times which the First Seven Ecumenical Councils
First seven Ecumenical Councils
In the history of Christianity, the first seven Ecumenical Councils, from the First Council of Nicaea to the Second Council of Nicaea , represent an attempt to reach an orthodox consensus and to establish a unified Christendom as the State church of the Roman Empire...

 attempted to establish for all of Christendom
Christendom
Christendom, or the Christian world, has several meanings. In a cultural sense it refers to the worldwide community of Christians, adherents of Christianity...

.

St. Irenaeus
Irenaeus
Saint Irenaeus , was Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, then a part of the Roman Empire . He was an early church father and apologist, and his writings were formative in the early development of Christian theology...

 (c. 120 to 140–c. 200 to 203) defined heresy as deviation from the standard of sound doctrine.

Anathema



Since the time of the apostles
Apostolic Age
The Apostolic Age of the history of Christianity is traditionally the period of the Twelve Apostles, dating from the Crucifixion of Jesus and the Great Commission in Jerusalem until the death of John the Apostle in Anatolia...

, the term anathema
Anathema
Anathema originally meant something lifted up as an offering to the gods; it later evolved to mean:...

 has come to mean a form of extreme religious sanction beyond excommunication
Excommunication
Excommunication is a religious censure used to deprive, suspend or limit membership in a religious community. The word means putting [someone] out of communion. In some religions, excommunication includes spiritual condemnation of the member or group...

, 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
Heresy
Heresy is a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma. It is distinct from apostasy, which is the formal denunciation of one's religion, principles or cause, and blasphemy, which is irreverence toward religion...

. In the fifth century
Christianity in the 5th century
The 5th century would see further fracturing of the State church of the Roman Empire. Emperor Theodosius II called two synods in Ephesus, one in 431 and one in 449 AD, that addressed the teachings of then-Patriarch of Constantinople Nestorius and similar teachings...

, a formal distinction between anathema and excommunication evolved, where excommunication entailed cutting off a person or group from the rite
Rite
A rite is an established, ceremonious, usually religious act. Rites in this sense fall into three major categories:* rites of passage, generally changing an individual's social status, such as marriage, baptism, or graduation....

 of Eucharist
Eucharist
The Eucharist , also called Holy Communion, the Sacrament of the Altar, the Blessed Sacrament, the Lord's Supper, and other names, is a Christian sacrament or ordinance...

 and attendance at worship, while anathema meant a complete separation of the subject from the Church.

Denominations


There is a diversity of doctrine
Doctrine
Doctrine is a codification of beliefs or a body of teachings or instructions, taught principles or positions, as the body of teachings in a branch of knowledge or belief system...

s and practices among groups calling themselves Christian. These groups are sometimes classified under denominations
Christian denomination
A Christian denomination is an identifiable religious body under a common name, structure, and doctrine within Christianity. In the Orthodox tradition, Churches are divided often along ethnic and linguistic lines, into separate churches and traditions. Technically, divisions between one group and...

, 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
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

.

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
Christology
Christology is the field of study within Christian theology which is primarily concerned with the nature and person of Jesus Christ as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament. Primary considerations include the relationship of Jesus' nature and person with the nature...

, the authority of apostolic succession
Apostolic Succession
Apostolic succession is a doctrine, held by some Christian denominations, which asserts that the chosen successors of the Twelve Apostles, from the first century to the present day, have inherited the spiritual, ecclesiastical and sacramental authority, power, and responsibility that were...

, and papal primacy separate one denomination from another.

Denominationalism
Denominationalism
Denominationalism is the division of one religion into separate groups, sects, schools of thought or denominations. Denominationalism as an ideology which views some or all Christian groups as being, in some sense, versions of the same thing regardless of their distinguishing labels, is not...

 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
Apostasy
Apostasy , 'a defection or revolt', from ἀπό, apo, 'away, apart', στάσις, stasis, 'stand, 'standing') is the formal disaffiliation from or abandonment or renunciation of a religion by a person. One who commits apostasy is known as an apostate. These terms have a pejorative implication in everyday...

 or heretical
Heresy
Heresy is a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma. It is distinct from apostasy, which is the formal denunciation of one's religion, principles or cause, and blasphemy, which is irreverence toward religion...

, 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.

Christianity may be broadly represented as being divided
Schism (religion)
A schism , from Greek σχίσμα, skhísma , is a division between people, usually belonging to an organization or movement religious denomination. The word is most frequently applied to a break of communion between two sections of Christianity that were previously a single body, or to a division within...

 into five main groupings: Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, Protestantism and Restorationism.

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
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 is composed of, but not limited to, five major branches of Churches: Catholicism
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox
Oriental Orthodoxy
Oriental Orthodoxy is the faith of those Eastern Christian Churches that recognize only three ecumenical councils — the First Council of Nicaea, the First Council of Constantinople and the First Council of Ephesus. They rejected the dogmatic definitions of the Council of Chalcedon...

, Anglican
Anglicanism
Anglicanism is a tradition within Christianity comprising churches with historical connections to the Church of England or similar beliefs, worship and church structures. The word Anglican originates in ecclesia anglicana, a medieval Latin phrase dating to at least 1246 that means the English...

 and Protestant
Protestantism
Protestantism is one of the three major groupings within Christianity. It is a movement that began in Germany in the early 16th century as a reaction against medieval Roman Catholic doctrines and practices, especially in regards to salvation, justification, and ecclesiology.The doctrines of the...

; some groupings include Anglicans amongst Protestants. The Assyrian Church of the East
Assyrian Church of the East
The Assyrian Church of the East, officially the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East ʻIttā Qaddishtā w-Shlikhāitā Qattoliqi d-Madnĕkhā d-Āturāyē), is a Syriac Church historically centered in Mesopotamia. It is one of the churches that claim continuity with the historical...

 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
Gnosticism
Gnosticism is a scholarly term for a set of religious beliefs and spiritual practices common to early Christianity, Hellenistic Judaism, Greco-Roman mystery religions, Zoroastrianism , and Neoplatonism.A common characteristic of some of these groups was the teaching that the realisation of Gnosis...

 (who had believed in an esoteric
Esotericism
Esotericism or Esoterism signifies the holding of esoteric opinions or beliefs, that is, ideas preserved or understood by a small group or those specially initiated, or of rare or unusual interest. The term derives from the Greek , a compound of : "within", thus "pertaining to the more inward",...

 dualism
Dualism
Dualism denotes a state of two parts. The term 'dualism' was originally coined to denote co-eternal binary opposition, a meaning that is preserved in metaphysical and philosophical duality discourse but has been diluted in general or common usages. Dualism can refer to moral dualism, Dualism (from...

), the Ebionites (who denied the divinity of Jesus
Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

), and the Arians
Arianism
Arianism is the theological teaching attributed to Arius , a Christian presbyter from Alexandria, Egypt, concerning the relationship of the entities of the Trinity and the precise nature of the Son of God as being a subordinate entity to God the Father...

. The greatest divisions in Christianity today, however, are between Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and various denominations formed during and after the Protestant Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

. There also exists in Protestantism and Orthodoxy various degrees of unity and division.


Early Christian heresies


The New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

 itself speaks of the importance of maintaining orthodox doctrine and refuting heresies, showing the antiquity of the concern. Because of the biblical
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 proscription against false prophets (notably the Gospels of Matthew
Gospel of Matthew
The Gospel According to Matthew is one of the four canonical gospels, one of the three synoptic gospels, and the first book of the New Testament. It tells of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth...

 and Mark
Gospel of Mark
The Gospel According to Mark , commonly shortened to the Gospel of Mark or simply Mark, is the second book of the New Testament. This canonical account of the life of Jesus of Nazareth is one of the three synoptic gospels. It was thought to be an epitome, which accounts for its place as the second...

) Christianity has always been preoccupied with the "correct", or orthodox
Orthodoxy
The word orthodox, from Greek orthos + doxa , is generally used to mean the adherence to accepted norms, more specifically to creeds, especially in religion...

, interpretation of the faith. Indeed one of the main roles of the bishop
Bishop
A bishop is an ordained or consecrated member of the Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight. Within the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox Churches, in the Assyrian Church of the East, in the Independent Catholic Churches, and in the...

s in the early Church was to determine the correct interpretations and refute contrarian opinions (referred to as heresy
Heresy
Heresy is a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma. It is distinct from apostasy, which is the formal denunciation of one's religion, principles or cause, and blasphemy, which is irreverence toward religion...

). 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
Orthodoxy (book)
Orthodoxy is a book by G. K. Chesterton that has become a classic of Christian apologetics. Chesterton considered this book a companion to his other work, Heretics...

, Christian Apologist
Christian apologetics
Christian apologetics is a field of Christian theology that aims to present a rational basis for the Christian faith, defend the faith against objections, and expose the perceived flaws of other world views...

 and writer G. K. Chesterton
G. K. Chesterton
Gilbert Keith Chesterton, KC*SG was an English writer. His prolific and diverse output included philosophy, ontology, poetry, plays, journalism, public lectures and debates, literary and art criticism, biography, Christian apologetics, and fiction, including fantasy and detective fiction....

 asserts that there have been substantial disagreements about faith from the time of the New Testament and Jesus
Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

. He pointed out that the Apostles all argued against changing the teachings of Christ as did the earliest church fathers including Ignatius of Antioch
Ignatius of Antioch
Ignatius of Antioch was among the Apostolic Fathers, was the third Bishop of Antioch, and was a student of John the Apostle. En route to his martyrdom in Rome, Ignatius wrote a series of letters which have been preserved as an example of very early Christian theology...

, Irenaeus
Irenaeus
Saint Irenaeus , was Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, then a part of the Roman Empire . He was an early church father and apologist, and his writings were formative in the early development of Christian theology...

, Justin Martyr
Justin Martyr
Justin Martyr, also known as just Saint Justin , was an early Christian apologist. Most of his works are lost, but two apologies and a dialogue survive. He is considered a saint by the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church....

 and Polycarp
Polycarp
Saint Polycarp was a 2nd century Christian bishop of Smyrna. According to the Martyrdom of Polycarp, he died a martyr, bound and burned at the stake, then stabbed when the fire failed to touch him...

 (see false prophet, the antichrist
Antichrist
The term or title antichrist, in Christian theology, refers to a leader who fulfills Biblical prophecies concerning an adversary of Christ, while resembling him in a deceptive manner...

, the gnostic Nicolaitanes
Nicolaitanes
Nicolaism is a Christian heresy, first mentioned in the Book of Revelation of the New Testament, whose adherents were called Nicolaitans, Nicolaitanes, or Nicolaites. According to Revelation 2, vv. 6 and 15, they were known in the cities of Ephesus and Pergamon...

 from the Book of Revelation
Book of Revelation
The Book of Revelation is the final book of the New Testament. The title came into usage from the first word of the book in Koine Greek: apokalupsis, meaning "unveiling" or "revelation"...

 and Man of Sin
Man of Sin
The Man of Sin or Man of Lawlessness is a figure referred to in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, who is usually equated with the Antichrist.-Second Thessalonians, Chapter Two:...

).

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
Nicene Creed
The Nicene Creed is the creed or profession of faith that is most widely used in Christian liturgy. It is called Nicene because, in its original form, it was adopted in the city of Nicaea by the first ecumenical council, which met there in the year 325.The Nicene Creed has been normative to the...

, modern Christian theologians tend to regard the early debates as a unified orthodox position (see also Proto-orthodox Christianity
Proto-orthodox Christianity
Proto-orthodox Christianity is a term, coined by New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman, used to describe the Early Christian movement which was the precursor of Christian orthodoxy...

 and Paleo-orthodoxy
Paleo-Orthodoxy
Paleo-orthodoxy is a broad Christian theological movement of the late 20th and early 21st centuries which focuses on the consensual understanding of the faith among the Ecumenical Councils and Church Fathers...

) against a minority of heretics. Other scholars, drawing upon, among other things, distinctions between Jewish Christians
Jewish Christians
Jewish Christians is a term which appears in historical texts contrasting Christians of Jewish origin with Gentile Christians, both in discussion of the New Testament church and the second and following centuries....

, Pauline Christians
Pauline Christianity
Pauline Christianity is a term used to refer to the Christianity associated with the beliefs and doctrines espoused by Paul of Tarsus through his writings. Most of orthodox Christianity relies heavily on these teachings and considers them to be amplifications and explanations of the teachings of...

, and other groups such as Gnostics
Gnosticism
Gnosticism is a scholarly term for a set of religious beliefs and spiritual practices common to early Christianity, Hellenistic Judaism, Greco-Roman mystery religions, Zoroastrianism , and Neoplatonism.A common characteristic of some of these groups was the teaching that the realisation of Gnosis...

 and Marcionites, argue that early Christianity
Early Christianity
Early Christianity is generally considered as Christianity before 325. The New Testament's Book of Acts and Epistle to the Galatians records that the first Christian community was centered in Jerusalem and its leaders included James, Peter and John....

 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
Montanism
Montanism was an early Christian movement of the late 2nd century, later referred to by the name of its founder, Montanus, but originally known by its adherents as the New Prophecy...

" because it had been initiated by Montanus and his female disciples; and the gnostic
Gnosticism
Gnosticism is a scholarly term for a set of religious beliefs and spiritual practices common to early Christianity, Hellenistic Judaism, Greco-Roman mystery religions, Zoroastrianism , and Neoplatonism.A common characteristic of some of these groups was the teaching that the realisation of Gnosis...

 teachings of Valentinus. Early attacks upon alleged heresies formed the matter of Tertullian
Tertullian
Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, anglicised as Tertullian , was a prolific early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa. He is the first Christian author to produce an extensive corpus of Latin Christian literature. He also was a notable early Christian apologist and...

's Prescription Against Heretics (in 44 chapters, written from Rome), and of Irenaeus
Irenaeus
Saint Irenaeus , was Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, then a part of the Roman Empire . He was an early church father and apologist, and his writings were formative in the early development of Christian theology...

' Against Heresies
On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis
On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis, today also called On the Detection and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely So Called , commonly called Against Heresies , is a five-volume work written by St. Irenaeus in the 2nd century...

(ca 180, in five volumes), written in Lyon after his return from a visit to Rome. The letters of Ignatius of Antioch
Ignatius of Antioch
Ignatius of Antioch was among the Apostolic Fathers, was the third Bishop of Antioch, and was a student of John the Apostle. En route to his martyrdom in Rome, Ignatius wrote a series of letters which have been preserved as an example of very early Christian theology...

 and Polycarp of Smyrna to various churches warned against false teachers, and the Epistle of Barnabas
Epistle of Barnabas
The Epistle of Barnabas is a Greek epistle containing twenty-one chapters, preserved complete in the 4th century Codex Sinaiticus where it appears at the end of the New Testament...

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
Arianism
Arianism is the theological teaching attributed to Arius , a Christian presbyter from Alexandria, Egypt, concerning the relationship of the entities of the Trinity and the precise nature of the Son of God as being a subordinate entity to God the Father...

 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
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old 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
Constantine I
Constantine the Great , also known as Constantine I or Saint Constantine, was Roman Emperor from 306 to 337. Well known for being the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, Constantine and co-Emperor Licinius issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which proclaimed religious tolerance of all...

 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
Nicene Creed
The Nicene Creed is the creed or profession of faith that is most widely used in Christian liturgy. It is called Nicene because, in its original form, it was adopted in the city of Nicaea by the first ecumenical council, which met there in the year 325.The Nicene Creed has been normative to the...

, which was hammered out at the Council of Nicaea
First Council of Nicaea
The First Council of Nicaea was a council of Christian bishops convened in Nicaea in Bithynia by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in AD 325...

, 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
Arianism
Arianism is the theological teaching attributed to Arius , a Christian presbyter from Alexandria, Egypt, concerning the relationship of the entities of the Trinity and the precise nature of the Son of God as being a subordinate entity to God the Father...

, 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
Irenaeus
Saint Irenaeus , was Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, then a part of the Roman Empire . He was an early church father and apologist, and his writings were formative in the early development of Christian theology...

 (c. 130–202) was the first to argue that his "orthodox" position was the same faith that Jesus
Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

 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
Apostolic Succession
Apostolic succession is a doctrine, held by some Christian denominations, which asserts that the chosen successors of the Twelve Apostles, from the first century to the present day, have inherited the spiritual, ecclesiastical and sacramental authority, power, and responsibility that were...

. Irenaeus first established the doctrine of four gospels and no more, with the synoptic gospels interpreted in the light of John
Gospel of John
The Gospel According to John , commonly referred to as the Gospel of John or simply John, and often referred to in New Testament scholarship as the Fourth Gospel, is an account of the public ministry of Jesus...

. Irenaeus' opponents, however, claimed to have received secret teachings from Jesus via other apostles which were not publicly known. Gnosticism
Gnosticism
Gnosticism is a scholarly term for a set of religious beliefs and spiritual practices common to early Christianity, Hellenistic Judaism, Greco-Roman mystery religions, Zoroastrianism , and Neoplatonism.A common characteristic of some of these groups was the teaching that the realisation of Gnosis...

 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 prophet
False prophet
In religion, a false prophet is one who falsely claims the gift of prophecy, or who uses that gift for evil ends. Often, someone who is considered a "true prophet" by some people is simultaneously considered a "false prophet" by others....

s 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
Edict of Thessalonica
The Edict of Thessalonica, also known as Cunctos populos, was delivered on 27 February 380 by Theodosius I, Gratian, and Valentinian II in order that all their subjects should profess the faith of the bishops of Rome and Alexandria...

" 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
State church of the Roman Empire
The state church of the Roman Empire was a Christian institution organized within the Roman Empire during the 4th century that came to represent the Empire's sole authorized religion. Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox churches claim to be the historical continuation of this...

 gave its leaders the power to, in effect, pronounce the death sentence
Capital punishment
Capital punishment, the death penalty, or execution is the sentence of death upon a person by the state as a punishment for an offence. Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences. The term capital originates from the Latin capitalis, literally...

 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
Priscillian
Priscillian was bishop of Ávila and a theologian from Roman Gallaecia , the first person in the history of Christianity to be executed for heresy . He founded an ascetic group that, in spite of persecution, continued to subsist in Hispania and Gaul until the later 6th century...

 was executed in 385 by Roman officials. For some years after the Protestant Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

, 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
Cayetano Ripoll
Cayetano Ripoll , was a schoolmaster in Valencia, Spain, who was hanged to death on 26 July 1826 for allegedly teaching Deist principles....

 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.

Christology


The earliest controversies were generally Christological
Christology
Christology is the field of study within Christian theology which is primarily concerned with the nature and person of Jesus Christ as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament. Primary considerations include the relationship of Jesus' nature and person with the nature...

 in nature; that is, they were related to Jesus' (eternal) divinity or humanity. The orthodox
Orthodox Christianity
The term Orthodox Christianity may refer to:* the Eastern Orthodox Church and its various geographical subdivisions...

 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
Trinity
The Christian doctrine of the Trinity defines God as three divine persons : the Father, the Son , and the Holy Spirit. The three persons are distinct yet coexist in unity, and are co-equal, co-eternal and consubstantial . Put another way, the three persons of the Trinity are of one being...

 are co-equal and co-eternal.

This position was challenged in the 4th century by Arius
Arius
Arius was a Christian presbyter in Alexandria, Egypt of Libyan origins. His teachings about the nature of the Godhead, which emphasized the Father's divinity over the Son , and his opposition to the Athanasian or Trinitarian Christology, made him a controversial figure in the First Council of...

. Arianism
Arianism
Arianism is the theological teaching attributed to Arius , a Christian presbyter from Alexandria, Egypt, concerning the relationship of the entities of the Trinity and the precise nature of the Son of God as being a subordinate entity to God the Father...

 held that Jesus, while not merely mortal, was not eternally divine and was, therefore, of lesser status than God the Father
God the Father
God the Father is a gendered title given to God in many monotheistic religions, particularly patriarchal, Abrahamic ones. In Judaism, God is called Father because he is the creator, life-giver, law-giver, and protector...

 . Trinitarianism held that God the Father, God the Son
God the Son
God the Son is the second person of the Trinity in Christian theology. The doctrine of the Trinity identifies Jesus of Nazareth as God the Son, united in essence but distinct in person with regard to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit...

, and the Holy Spirit
Holy Spirit
Holy Spirit is a term introduced in English translations of the Hebrew Bible, but understood differently in the main Abrahamic religions.While the general concept of a "Spirit" that permeates the cosmos has been used in various religions Holy Spirit is a term introduced in English translations of...

 were all strictly one being with three hypostases. Many groups held dualistic beliefs
Dualism
Dualism denotes a state of two parts. The term 'dualism' was originally coined to denote co-eternal binary opposition, a meaning that is preserved in metaphysical and philosophical duality discourse but has been diluted in general or common usages. Dualism can refer to moral dualism, Dualism (from...

, maintaining that reality was composed into two radically opposing parts: matter, usually seen as evil, and spirit, seen as good. Docetism
Docetism
In Christianity, docetism is the belief that Jesus' physical body was an illusion, as was his crucifixion; that is, Jesus only seemed to have a physical body and to physically die, but in reality he was incorporeal, a pure spirit, and hence could not physically die...

 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
First Council of Nicaea
The First Council of Nicaea was a council of Christian bishops convened in Nicaea in Bithynia by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in AD 325...

 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
Crucifixion
Crucifixion is an ancient method of painful execution in which the condemned person is tied or nailed to a large wooden cross and left to hang until dead...

, though Christ himself is noted to have spoken out against false prophet
False prophet
In religion, a false prophet is one who falsely claims the gift of prophecy, or who uses that gift for evil ends. Often, someone who is considered a "true prophet" by some people is simultaneously considered a "false prophet" by others....

s 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 prophet
Prophet
In religion, a prophet, from the Greek word προφήτης profitis meaning "foreteller", is an individual who is claimed to have been contacted by the supernatural or the divine, and serves as an intermediary with humanity, delivering this newfound knowledge from the supernatural entity to other people...

s, as does the writer of the Book of Revelation
Book of Revelation
The Book of Revelation is the final book of the New Testament. The title came into usage from the first word of the book in Koine Greek: apokalupsis, meaning "unveiling" or "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
Baptism
In Christianity, baptism is for the majority the rite of admission , almost invariably with the use of water, into the Christian Church generally and also membership of a particular church tradition...

. 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
Gnosticism
Gnosticism is a scholarly term for a set of religious beliefs and spiritual practices common to early Christianity, Hellenistic Judaism, Greco-Roman mystery religions, Zoroastrianism , and Neoplatonism.A common characteristic of some of these groups was the teaching that the realisation of Gnosis...

 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
Nicene Creed
The Nicene Creed is the creed or profession of faith that is most widely used in Christian liturgy. It is called Nicene because, in its original form, it was adopted in the city of Nicaea by the first ecumenical council, which met there in the year 325.The Nicene Creed has been normative to the...

. 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
Nicene Creed
The Nicene Creed is the creed or profession of faith that is most widely used in Christian liturgy. It is called Nicene because, in its original form, it was adopted in the city of Nicaea by the first ecumenical council, which met there in the year 325.The Nicene Creed has been normative to the...

, was formulated in 325 at the First Council of Nicaea.

Ecumenical councils


Several ecumenical councils
First seven Ecumenical Councils
In the history of Christianity, the first seven Ecumenical Councils, from the First Council of Nicaea to the Second Council of Nicaea , represent an attempt to reach an orthodox consensus and to establish a unified Christendom as the State church of the Roman Empire...

 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
Nicene Creed
The Nicene Creed is the creed or profession of faith that is most widely used in Christian liturgy. It is called Nicene because, in its original form, it was adopted in the city of Nicaea by the first ecumenical council, which met there in the year 325.The Nicene Creed has been normative to the...

). The First Council of Ephesus in 431 condemned Nestorianism
Nestorianism
Nestorianism is a Christological doctrine advanced by Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople from 428–431. The doctrine, which was informed by Nestorius's studies under Theodore of Mopsuestia at the School of Antioch, emphasizes the disunion between the human and divine natures of Jesus...

 and affirmed the Blessed Virgin Mary to be Theotokos
Theotokos
Theotokos is the Greek title of Mary, the mother of Jesus used especially in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic Churches. Its literal English translations include God-bearer and the one who gives birth to God. Less literal translations include Mother of God...

 ("God-bearer" or "Mother of God"). Perhaps the most significant council was the Council of Chalcedon
Council of Chalcedon
The Council of Chalcedon was a church council held from 8 October to 1 November, 451 AD, at Chalcedon , on the Asian side of the Bosporus. The council marked a significant turning point in the Christological debates that led to the separation of the church of the Eastern Roman Empire in the 5th...

 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
Pope Leo I
Pope Leo I was pope from September 29, 440 to his death.He was an Italian aristocrat, and is the first pope of the Catholic Church to have been called "the Great". He is perhaps best known for having met Attila the Hun in 452, persuading him to turn back from his invasion of Italy...

 Tome. Thus, it condemned Monophysitism
Monophysitism
Monophysitism , or Monophysiticism, is the Christological position that Jesus Christ has only one nature, his humanity being absorbed by his Deity...

 and would be influential in refuting Monothelitism
Monothelitism
Monothelitism is a particular teaching about how the divine and human relate in the person of Jesus, known as a Christological doctrine, that formally emerged in Armenia and Syria in 629. Specifically, monothelitism teaches that Jesus Christ had two natures but only one will...

.
  1. The First Ecumenical Council
    First Council of Nicaea
    The First Council of Nicaea was a council of Christian bishops convened in Nicaea in Bithynia by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in AD 325...

     was convoked by the Roman Emperor Constantine at Nicaea in 325 and presided over by the Patriarch Alexander of Alexandria
    Alexander of Alexandria
    Alexander of Alexandria was the nineteenth Patriarch of Alexandria from 313 to his death. During his patriarchate, he dealt with a number of issues relevant to a church's positions on issues facing the church. These included the dating of Easter, the actions of Meletius of Lycopolis, and the issue...

    , with over 300 bishops condemning the view of Arius
    Arius
    Arius was a Christian presbyter in Alexandria, Egypt of Libyan origins. His teachings about the nature of the Godhead, which emphasized the Father's divinity over the Son , and his opposition to the Athanasian or Trinitarian Christology, made him a controversial figure in the First Council of...

     that the Son is a created being inferior to the Father.
  2. The Second Ecumenical Council
    First Council of Constantinople
    The First Council of Constantinople is recognized as the Second Ecumenical Council by the Assyrian Church of the East, the Oriental Orthodox, the Eastern Orthodox, the Roman Catholics, the Old Catholics, and a number of other Western Christian groups. It was the first Ecumenical Council held in...

     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.
  3. 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
    Theotokos
    Theotokos is the Greek title of Mary, the mother of Jesus used especially in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic Churches. Its literal English translations include God-bearer and the one who gives birth to God. Less literal translations include Mother of God...

    ), contrary to the teachings of Nestorius
    Nestorius
    Nestorius was Archbishop of Constantinople from 10 April 428 to 22 June 431.Drawing on his studies at the School of Antioch, his teachings, which included a rejection of the long-used title of Theotokos for the Virgin Mary, brought him into conflict with other prominent churchmen of the time,...

    .
  4. The Fourth Ecumenical Council
    Council of Chalcedon
    The Council of Chalcedon was a church council held from 8 October to 1 November, 451 AD, at Chalcedon , on the Asian side of the Bosporus. The council marked a significant turning point in the Christological debates that led to the separation of the church of the Eastern Roman Empire in the 5th...

     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.
  5. The Fifth Ecumenical Council
    Second Council of Constantinople
    The Second Council of Constantinople is recognized as the Fifth Ecumenical Council by the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Old Catholics, and a number of other Western Christian groups. It was held from May 5 to June 2, 553, having been called by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian...

     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
    Origen
    Origen , or Origen Adamantius, 184/5–253/4, was an early Christian Alexandrian scholar and theologian, and one of the most distinguished writers of the early Church. As early as the fourth century, his orthodoxy was suspect, in part because he believed in the pre-existence of souls...

     on the pre-existence of the soul, etc.
  6. The Sixth Ecumenical Council
    Third Council of Constantinople
    The Third Council of Constantinople, counted as the Sixth Ecumenical Council by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches and other Christian groups, met in 680/681 and condemned monoenergism and monothelitism as heretical and defined Jesus Christ as having two energies and two wills...

     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
    Second Council of Nicaea
    The Second Council of Nicaea is regarded as the Seventh Ecumenical Council by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Catholic Churches and various other Western Christian groups...

     was called under the Empress Regent Irene of Athens in 787, known as the second of Nicaea. It supports the veneration of icon
    Icon
    An icon is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, from Eastern Christianity and in certain Eastern Catholic churches...

    s while forbidding their worship. It is often referred to as "The Triumph of Orthodoxy"
  8. The Fourth Council of Constantinople
    Fourth Council of Constantinople
    The Fourth Council of Constantinople of 879-880 is believed to have been the Eighth Ecumenical Council by some Eastern Orthodox. Photius had been appointed Patriarch of Constantinople but deposed by a Council of Constantinople called in 869 by Emperor Basil I the Macedonian and Pope Adrian II...

     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
Ecumenical council
An ecumenical council is a conference of ecclesiastical dignitaries and theological experts convened to discuss and settle matters of Church doctrine and practice....

. 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
Assyrian Church of the East
The Assyrian Church of the East, officially the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East ʻIttā Qaddishtā w-Shlikhāitā Qattoliqi d-Madnĕkhā d-Āturāyē), is a Syriac Church historically centered in Mesopotamia. It is one of the churches that claim continuity with the historical...

 accepts only the first two, and Oriental Orthodoxy
Oriental Orthodoxy
Oriental Orthodoxy is the faith of those Eastern Christian Churches that recognize only three ecumenical councils — the First Council of Nicaea, the First Council of Constantinople and the First Council of Ephesus. They rejected the dogmatic definitions of the Council of Chalcedon...

 only three. Pope Sergius I
Pope Sergius I
Pope Saint Sergius I was pope from 687 to 701. Selected to end a schism between Antipope Paschal and Antipope Theodore, Sergius I ended the last disputed sede vacante of the Byzantine Papacy....

 rejected the Quinisext Council
Quinisext Council
The Quinisext Council was a church council held in 692 at Constantinople under Justinian II. It is often known as the Council in Trullo, because it was held in the same domed hall where the Sixth Ecumenical Council had met...

 of 692 (see also Pentarchy
Pentarchy
Pentarchy is a term in the history of Christianity for the idea of universal rule over all Christendom by the heads of five major episcopal sees, or patriarchates, of the Roman Empire: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem...

). The Fourth Council of Constantinople
Fourth Council of Constantinople
The Fourth Council of Constantinople of 879-880 is believed to have been the Eighth Ecumenical Council by some Eastern Orthodox. Photius had been appointed Patriarch of Constantinople but deposed by a Council of Constantinople called in 869 by Emperor Basil I the Macedonian and Pope Adrian II...

 of 869–870 and 879–880 is disputed by Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Present-day nontrinitarians
Nontrinitarianism
Nontrinitarianism includes all Christian belief systems that disagree with the doctrine of the Trinity, namely, the teaching that God is three distinct hypostases and yet co-eternal, co-equal, and indivisibly united in one essence or ousia...

, such as Unitarians
Unitarianism
Unitarianism is a Christian theological movement, named for its understanding of God as one person, in direct contrast to Trinitarianism which defines God as three persons coexisting consubstantially as one in being....

, Latter-day Saints and other Mormons
Mormonism
Mormonism is the religion practiced by Mormons, and is the predominant religious tradition of the Latter Day Saint movement. This movement was founded by Joseph Smith, Jr. beginning in the 1820s as a form of Christian primitivism. During the 1830s and 1840s, Mormonism gradually distinguished itself...

, and Jehovah's Witnesses
Jehovah's Witnesses
Jehovah's Witnesses is a millenarian restorationist Christian denomination with nontrinitarian beliefs distinct from mainstream Christianity. The religion reports worldwide membership of over 7 million adherents involved in evangelism, convention attendance of over 12 million, and annual...

, reject all seven Councils.

Orthodox councils


Some Orthodox consider the following council to be ecumenical, although this is not agreed upon:
  1. The Fifth Council of Constantinople
    Fifth Council of Constantinople
    Fifth Council of Constantinople is a name given by some to the Quinisext Council of 692, and by others to a series of six patriarchal councils held in Constantinople between 1341 and 1351 to deal with a dispute concerning hesychasm...

     was actually a series of councils held between 1341 and 1351. It affirmed the hesychastic theology of St. Gregory Palamas
    Gregory Palamas
    Gregory Palamas was a monk of Mount Athos in Greece and later the Archbishop of Thessaloniki known as a preeminent theologian of Hesychasm. The teachings embodied in his writings defending Hesychasm against the attack of Barlaam are sometimes referred to as Palamism, his followers as Palamites...

     and condemned the philosopher Barlaam of Calabria
    Barlaam of Calabria
    Barlaam of Seminara , ca. 1290-1348, or Barlaam of Calabria was a southern Italian scholar and clergyman of the 14th century. Humanist, philologist, and theologian. He brought an accusation of heresy against Gregory Palamas for the latter's defence of Hesychasm...

    .


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
Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

 in 1484, 1583, 1755, 1819, and 1872, the Synod of Iaşi
Iasi
Iași is the second most populous city and a municipality in Romania. Located in the historical Moldavia region, Iași has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Romanian social, cultural, academic and artistic life...

 (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
Walter Bauer
Walter Bauer was a German theologian and scholar of the development of the early Christian churches.-Life:...

 proposed a thesis that in earliest Christianity, orthodoxy
Orthodoxy
The word orthodox, from Greek orthos + doxa , is generally used to mean the adherence to accepted norms, more specifically to creeds, especially in religion...

 and heresy
Heresy
Heresy is a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma. It is distinct from apostasy, which is the formal denunciation of one's religion, principles or cause, and blasphemy, which is irreverence toward religion...

 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
Elaine Pagels
Elaine Pagels, née Hiesey , is the Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University. The recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, she is best known for her studies and writing on the Gnostic Gospels...

 and Ehrman
Bart D. Ehrman
Bart D. Ehrman is an American New Testament scholar, currently the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill....

 have built on Bauer's original thesis. Drawing upon distinctions between Jewish Christians
Jewish Christians
Jewish Christians is a term which appears in historical texts contrasting Christians of Jewish origin with Gentile Christians, both in discussion of the New Testament church and the second and following centuries....

, Gentile Christians, and other groups such as Gnostics
Gnosticism
Gnosticism is a scholarly term for a set of religious beliefs and spiritual practices common to early Christianity, Hellenistic Judaism, Greco-Roman mystery religions, Zoroastrianism , and Neoplatonism.A common characteristic of some of these groups was the teaching that the realisation of Gnosis...

, they see early Christianity
Early Christianity
Early Christianity is generally considered as Christianity before 325. The New Testament's Book of Acts and Epistle to the Galatians records that the first Christian community was centered in Jerusalem and its leaders included James, Peter and John....

 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
Darrell Bock
Darrell L. Bock is a New Testament scholar and research professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas, United States...

 addressed Walter Bauer's theory, stating that it does not show an equality between the established church and outsiders including Simon Magus
Simon Magus
Simon the Sorcerer or Simon the Magician, in Latin Simon Magus, was a Samaritan magus or religious figure and a convert to Christianity, baptised by Philip the Apostle, whose later confrontation with Peter is recorded in . The sin of simony, or paying for position and influence in the church, is...

. 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
Aleksey Khomyakov
Aleksey Stepanovich Khomyakov was a Russian religious poet who co-founded the Slavophile movement along with Ivan Kireyevsky, and became one of its most distinguished theoreticians....

 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
Sobornost
Sobornost is a term coined by the early Slavophiles, Ivan Kireevsky and Aleksey Khomyakov, to underline the need for cooperation between people at the expense of individualism on the basis that the opposing groups focus on what is common between them. Khomyakov believed the West was progressively...

. Russian Orthodox theologian Father Georges Florovsky
Georges Florovsky
Georges Vasilievich Florovsky was an Eastern Orthodox priest, theologian, historian and ecumenist. He was born in the Russian Empire, but spent his working life in Paris and New York...

 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
Catholic
The word catholic comes from the Greek phrase , meaning "on the whole," "according to the whole" or "in general", and is a combination of the Greek words meaning "about" and meaning "whole"...

 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.

Catholic understanding


Heresy is defined by Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas, O.P. , also Thomas of Aquin or Aquino, was an Italian Dominican priest of the Catholic Church, and an immensely influential philosopher and theologian in the tradition of scholasticism, known as Doctor Angelicus, Doctor Communis, or Doctor Universalis...

 as "a species of infidelity in men who, having professed the faith
Faith
Faith is confidence or trust in a person or thing, or a belief that is not based on proof. In religion, faith is a belief in a transcendent reality, a religious teacher, a set of teachings or a Supreme Being. Generally speaking, it is offered as a means by which the truth of the proposition,...

 of Christ, corrupt its dogma
Dogma
Dogma is the established belief or doctrine held by a religion, or a particular group or organization. It is authoritative and not to be disputed, doubted, or diverged from, by the practitioners or believers...

s." The Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 asserts and teaches that its doctrines are the authoritative understandings of the faith taught by Christ and that the Holy Spirit
Holy Spirit
Holy Spirit is a term introduced in English translations of the Hebrew Bible, but understood differently in the main Abrahamic religions.While the general concept of a "Spirit" that permeates the cosmos has been used in various religions Holy Spirit is a term introduced in English translations of...

 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
Orthodoxy
The word orthodox, from Greek orthos + doxa , is generally used to mean the adherence to accepted norms, more specifically to creeds, especially in religion...

 belief such as Paganism
Paganism
Paganism is a blanket term, typically used to refer to non-Abrahamic, indigenous polytheistic religious traditions....

, 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
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 is not considered a heretic, but an apostate
Apostasy
Apostasy , 'a defection or revolt', from ἀπό, apo, 'away, apart', στάσις, stasis, 'stand, 'standing') is the formal disaffiliation from or abandonment or renunciation of a religion by a person. One who commits apostasy is known as an apostate. These terms have a pejorative implication in everyday...

, and a person who renounces the authority of the Church but not its teachings is a schismatic
Schism (religion)
A schism , from Greek σχίσμα, skhísma , is a division between people, usually belonging to an organization or movement religious denomination. The word is most frequently applied to a break of communion between two sections of Christianity that were previously a single body, or to a division within...

.

The Church makes several distinctions as to the seriousness of an individual heterodoxy
Heterodoxy
Heterodoxy is generally defined as "any opinions or doctrines at variance with an official or orthodox position". As an adjective, heterodox is commonly used to describe a subject as "characterized by departure from accepted beliefs or standards"...

 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
Canon law (Catholic Church)
The canon law of the Catholic Church, is a fully developed legal system, with all the necessary elements: courts, lawyers, judges, a fully articulated legal code and principles of legal interpretation. It lacks the necessary binding force present in most modern day legal systems. The academic...

 promulgated by Pope John Paul II
Pope John Paul II
Blessed Pope John Paul II , born Karol Józef Wojtyła , reigned as Pope of the Catholic Church and Sovereign of Vatican City from 16 October 1978 until his death on 2 April 2005, at of age. His was the second-longest documented pontificate, which lasted ; only Pope Pius IX ...

 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
Ex Cathedra
Ex Cathedra is a British choir and early music ensemble based in Birmingham in the West Midlands, England. It performs choral music spanning the 15th to 21st centuries, and regularly commissions new works....

" 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
Excommunication
Excommunication is a religious censure used to deprive, suspend or limit membership in a religious community. The word means putting [someone] out of communion. In some religions, excommunication includes spiritual condemnation of the member or group...

 ("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
Belief
Belief is the psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition or premise to be true.-Belief, knowledge and epistemology:The terms belief and knowledge are used differently in philosophy....

, or theory
Theory
The English word theory was derived from a technical term in Ancient Greek philosophy. The word theoria, , meant "a looking at, viewing, beholding", and referring to contemplation or speculation, as opposed to action...

 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
Trinity
The Christian doctrine of the Trinity defines God as three divine persons : the Father, the Son , and the Holy Spirit. The three persons are distinct yet coexist in unity, and are co-equal, co-eternal and consubstantial . Put another way, the three persons of the Trinity are of one being...

, the doctrine of transubstantiation
Transubstantiation
In Roman Catholic theology, transubstantiation means the change, in the Eucharist, of the substance of wheat bread and grape wine into the substance of the Body and Blood, respectively, of Jesus, while all that is accessible to the senses remains as before.The Eastern Orthodox...

 and the immaculate conception
Immaculate Conception
The Immaculate Conception of Mary is a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church, according to which the Virgin Mary was conceived without any stain of original sin. It is one of the four dogmata in Roman Catholic Mariology...

.

Types of heretics

  1. the heretic impenitent and not relapsed (for the first time)
  2. the heretic impenitent and relapsed (for the first time was penitent now is impenitent)
  3. the heretic penitent and relapsed (for the first time was penitent now is penitent too, but relapsing was the capital offence)
  4. the heretic negative (who denied his crime)
  5. 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
Death Sentence
Death Sentence is a short story by the American science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov. It was first published in the November 1943 issue of Astounding Science Fiction and reprinted in the 1972 collection The Early Asimov.-Plot summary:...

. 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
Pope
The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, a position that makes him the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church . In the Catholic Church, the Pope is regarded as the successor of Saint Peter, the Apostle...

 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
Ecumenical council
An ecumenical council is a conference of ecclesiastical dignitaries and theological experts convened to discuss and settle matters of Church doctrine and practice....

, 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
Excommunication
Excommunication is a religious censure used to deprive, suspend or limit membership in a religious community. The word means putting [someone] out of communion. In some religions, excommunication includes spiritual condemnation of the member or group...

. 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
Salvation
Within religion salvation is the phenomenon of being saved from the undesirable condition of bondage or suffering experienced by the psyche or soul that has arisen as a result of unskillful or immoral actions generically referred to as sins. Salvation may also be called "deliverance" or...

. Excommunication, or even the threat of excommunication, was enough to convince many a heretic to renounce his views. Priscillian
Priscillian
Priscillian was bishop of Ávila and a theologian from Roman Gallaecia , the first person in the history of Christianity to be executed for heresy . He founded an ascetic group that, in spite of persecution, continued to subsist in Hispania and Gaul until the later 6th century...

 achieved the distinction of becoming the first Christian burned alive for heresy in 385 at Treves
Trier
Trier, historically called in English Treves is a city in Germany on the banks of the Moselle. It is the oldest city in Germany, founded in or before 16 BC....

.

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
Inquisition
The Inquisition, Inquisitio Haereticae Pravitatis , was the "fight against heretics" by several institutions within the justice-system of the Roman Catholic Church. It started in the 12th century, with the introduction of torture in the persecution of heresy...

, 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
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

, particularly where it had fervent support from the civil authority. The Albigensian Crusade
Albigensian Crusade
The Albigensian Crusade or Cathar Crusade was a 20-year military campaign initiated by the Catholic Church to eliminate Catharism in Languedoc...

 (1209–1229) was part of the Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

's efforts to crush the Cathars. It is linked to the movement now known as the Medieval Inquisition
Medieval Inquisition
The Medieval Inquisition is a series of Inquisitions from around 1184, including the Episcopal Inquisition and later the Papal Inquisition...

. The Spanish Inquisition
Spanish Inquisition
The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition , commonly known as the Spanish Inquisition , was a tribunal established in 1480 by Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. It was intended to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in their kingdoms, and to replace the Medieval...

 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
Ferdinand II of Aragon
Ferdinand the Catholic was King of Aragon , Sicily , Naples , Valencia, Sardinia, and Navarre, Count of Barcelona, jure uxoris King of Castile and then regent of that country also from 1508 to his death, in the name of...

 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
Hussite
The Hussites were a Christian movement following the teachings of Czech reformer Jan Hus , who became one of the forerunners of the Protestant Reformation...

 movement in the Czech lands
Czech lands
Czech lands is an auxiliary term used mainly to describe the combination of Bohemia, Moravia and Czech Silesia. Today, those three historic provinces compose the Czech Republic. The Czech lands had been settled by the Celts , then later by various Germanic tribes until the beginning of 7th...

 in the early 15th century.

The last person to be burned alive at the stake on orders from Rome was Giordano Bruno
Giordano Bruno
Giordano Bruno , born Filippo Bruno, was an Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician and astronomer. His cosmological theories went beyond the Copernican model in proposing that the Sun was essentially a star, and moreover, that the universe contained an infinite number of inhabited...

, 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
Cayetano Ripoll
Cayetano Ripoll , was a schoolmaster in Valencia, Spain, who was hanged to death on 26 July 1826 for allegedly teaching Deist principles....

, accused of deism
Deism
Deism in religious philosophy is the belief that reason and observation of the natural world, without the need for organized religion, can determine that the universe is the product of an all-powerful creator. According to deists, the creator does not intervene in human affairs or suspend the...

 and executed by garroting July 26, 1826 in Valencia
Valencia (city in Spain)
Valencia or València is the capital and most populous city of the autonomous community of Valencia and the third largest city in Spain, with a population of 809,267 in 2010. It is the 15th-most populous municipality in the European Union...

 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
Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

 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
Protestantism
Protestantism is one of the three major groupings within Christianity. It is a movement that began in Germany in the early 16th century as a reaction against medieval Roman Catholic doctrines and practices, especially in regards to salvation, justification, and ecclesiology.The doctrines of the...

 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
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 is the only source and rule of faith ("sola scriptura
Sola scriptura
Sola scriptura is the doctrine that the Bible contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness. Consequently, sola scriptura demands that only those doctrines are to be admitted or confessed that are found directly within or indirectly by using valid logical deduction or valid...

"), that faith alone can lead to salvation ("sola fide
Sola fide
Sola fide , also historically known as the doctrine of justification by faith alone, is a Christian theological doctrine that distinguishes most Protestant denominations from Catholicism, Eastern Christianity, and some in the Restoration Movement.The doctrine of sola fide or "by faith alone"...

") and that there is no sacramental, ministerial priesthood attained by ordination, but only a universal priesthood of all believers
Priesthood of all believers
The universal priesthood or the priesthood of all believers, as it would come to be known in the present day, is a Christian doctrine believed to be derived from several passages of the New Testament...

.

See also

  • Heresy
    Heresy
    Heresy is a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma. It is distinct from apostasy, which is the formal denunciation of one's religion, principles or cause, and blasphemy, which is irreverence toward religion...

  • Heresy in the 20th century
    Heresy in the 20th century
    Although less common than in the medieval period, formal charges of heresy within Christian churches still occur. Key issues in the Protestant churches have included modern biblical criticism, the nature of God, and the acceptability of gay clergy...

  • List of Christian heresies
  • Radical Christianity