Heresies Ancient and Modern

As most of the modern-day cults and extreme religious groups have resurrected ancient heresies on which to build their beliefs, we thought an alphabetical list of heresies and heretics would be helpful.

The descriptions are meant to be an overview of the issues and by no means a detailed exposition, however see if you can identify modern groups that teach these ancient heresies.

Aphthartodocetism Monophysitism. Heresy of the 6th century proclaimed by Julian, bishop of Halicarnassus. It carried the heresy of Monophysitism – Christ had but one nature and that divine – to new extremes. It asserted that the body of Christ was divine and therefore naturally incorruptible and impassable (Greek aphthartos, “incorruptible”)

Apollinarianism:
Heresy proclaimed by Apollinaris the Younger, bishop of Laodicea (c. 350). He proclaimed that the Logos of God became the divine nature of Christ and took the place of His human soul. Therefore, although Christ was a man He was fully God; the two natures of Christ could not coexist within one person and so he had to lessen the human nature of Christ. This heresy was condemned by the Second General Council at Constantinople in 381.

Alogi: They were called “Alogi” as a pun, to suggest that they were illogical (anti-logikos) and anti-logos. This heresy thrived especially towards the end of the second century. The proponents taught that both the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation of John to the Gnostic Cerinthus. They also denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit and that the word was made flesh in Jesus.

Arianism: Heresy proclaimed by Arius (c. 250 – c. 336). The Arian controversy began in Alexandria, Egypt about 318 AD. Arius believed that the Father was the only true God not that God the Father and God the Son were co-eternal; he argued that although the pre-incarnate Jesus was divine, he was a ‘created being’ begotten by the Father, who was Himself ‘unbegotten.’ This teaching was condemned as heretical by the First Council of Nicea in 325 and also at the First Council of Constantinople in 381.

Docetism:
This heresy emerged in about 110 A.D. The name Docetism comes from the Greek word dokeo, which means, “to seem” and is the teaching that Jesus’ physical body was an illusion, as was his crucifixion; Jesus only seemed to have a physical body and to physically die, but in reality he was a pure spirit and could not physically die. This belief was most commonly held by the Gnostics because they believed that all matter was evil, and hence that God would not take on a material body. Ignatius warned the church of Smyrna of the danger of this new heresy.

Ebionite: A first century Jewish-Christian sect. They believed that all followers of Jesus, whether Jew or Gentile, must adhere to the Mosaic Law and thus they rejected Paul’s teachings. Most considered Jesus to be a man, not God and regarded Him as a prophet rather than the Word become flesh.

Encratite: Encratite comes from the Greek enkrateia, meaning “continence”. Name applied to several early ascetic Christian sects; they shunned marriage, the eating of flesh, and the drinking of intoxicating beverages, even substituting water or milk for wine in the Eucharist. Around 172, Tatian joined the Encratite sect. He reinterpreted Scripture to support the idea that humans must abandon sexual intercourse in order to regain the Spirit of God. People were to be married to God, not to each other.

Eutychianism: This holds that the human nature of Christ was essentially obliterated by the Divine and can be called Monophysite. Named after Eutyches of Constantinople (c.425), who sort to Alexandria, instead of Constantinople, the most powerful see in Christendom, next to Rome.

Gnosticism: This is a descriptive term seeking to identify a common belief among various groups that became very active in the first few centuries AD. The common thread is provided by the Greek word gnosis meaning, “knowledge”. According to the Gnostic Society Archives,

“Gnosticism is the teaching based on Gnosis, the knowledge of transcendence arrived at by way of interior, intuitive means. Although Gnosticism thus rests on personal religious experience, it is a mistake to assume all such experience results in Gnostic recognitions.”

In modern-day the term is widely used to identify those who believe that their ‘salvation’ comes through individual wisdom and knowledge. However, this is not factual knowledge, as might be needed to solve a mathematical problem but rather, an experiential knowledge of God and of the divine or spiritual nature within us. Gnostics believe that they have secret knowledge about God, humanity and the rest of the universe of which the general population is unaware.

Marcionism: Heresy proclaimed by Marcion of Sinope (c. 150 AD). Marcion rejected the Old Testament and differentiated between the righteous and wrathful God found in the Old Testament, who is the creator of the world, and the God of love and mercy found in the Gospel, who was unknown before Christ. He proposed a canon of Scripture that consisted of Luke and ten of Paul’s epistles, from which he deleted any references that appeared to approve of the Old Testament and the Creator God of the Jews. Marcionism was denounced by its opponents as heresy, and written against; notably by Tertullian, in a five-book treatise Adversus Marcionem, written about 208.

Monarchianism: Sometimes called Monarchism emphasises that God is one and is the single and only ruler. In the second century proposals were put forward to resolve the tension between this belief and the doctrine of the Trinity but they were rejected as heretical. This belief is not complete in itself but requires further development to show what is the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There are two contradicting suggestions:

1. Modalism that considers God to be one person appearing and working in the different “modes” of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This was mainly put forward by a third century priest and theologian named Sabellius.

2. Adoptionism holds that God is one being; that the Son was not co-eternal with the Father, but was granted deity by adoption.

Monophysitism:
This belief is named from the Greek monos meaning “one, alone” and physis meaning “nature”. It teaches that Christ has only one nature, divine, as opposed to two natures, divine and human. Jesus was God with human attributes. This was declared a heresy in 451 by the fourth church council, Chalcedon.

Monothelitism: This Christological doctrine developed during the reign of Heraclius in the 7th century. Proposed by the Patriarch, Sergius I of Constantinople, it taught that Jesus had one will but two natures, divine and human.

Montanism: Heresy proclaimed by Montanus around 170 AD. Called ‘the New Prophecy’ it emphasised prophecy, direct revelation from the Holy Spirit, and a strict moral code. These direct revelations were delivered by two women, Priscilla and Maximilla, while in states of ecstasy. Among other things they announced that Jesus was about to return.

Nestorianism: Heresy proclaimed by Nestorius of Antioch, who became Bishop of Constantinople in 428 AD. Nestorius believed that Mary was the mother only of the human Jesus, not the divine Logos. He taught that the human and divine aspects of Christ were distinct natures, not unified. He preached against the use of the title Mother of God (theotokos) for the Virgin Mary and would only call her Mother of Christ (christotokos). He also argued that God could not suffer on the cross, as he is omnipotent. Therefore, the human part of Christ died on the cross, but not the divine. This view of Christ was condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431.

However, certain bishops in Syria agreed with Nestorius and founded a new church, and there is still a small Nestorian church based in Iran, whose New Testament canon is the smallest of Christian churches, 22 instead of 27 books.

Origen: Origen of Alexandria lived into the middle of the third-century and was a most distinguished Christian scholar and theologian of the Early Church. However his works are not without controversy and there are many lingering questions of orthodoxy over the latter part of his life.

Whatever one believes of his doctrine, he certainly loved Jesus and the Scriptures and was dedicated to His to Christ; his writings are one of the first serious intellectual attempts to describe Christianity.

The root of the controversy appears to be Origen’s use of the Bible. He accepted the teaching of Neo-Platonism that physical objects acted as symbols of spiritual reality and so contained a double meaning and thus, to him, the Scriptures had a double meaning.

The three main areas of dispute in his teachings appear to be; are the pre-existence of souls; that eventually everyone, including the Devil will be saved; and that the Trinity is a hierarchy, not an equality of Father, Son, and Spirit, thus making the Son inferior to the Father.

Pelagianism: Little is known of Pelagius but he is referred to as a monk and lived around 354-418 AD. His teaching centres on the fact that original sin did not taint human nature, but continued as it was created, divine, and thus man is capable of choosing good or evil without Divine aid. Adam’s sin “set a bad example” but his actions did not result in ‘Original Sin’. Jesus then “set a good example” counteracting Adam’s bad one. This of course results in the belief that humanity has full control and full responsibility for its own salvation. This belief was condemned as a heresy at the Councils of Carthage in 416 and 418.

Sabellianism: This heresy is attributed to Sabellius, who taught in Rome in the third century AD. It is the belief that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are different modes or aspects of one God rather than three in one belief of the Trinity. God the Father was the only person of the Godhead. The identity of God the Father and Jesus is the same. The terms “Father” and “Holy Spirit” both describe the one God who dwelt in Jesus.

This is considered heresy today by most evangelical Christian groups but it is still accepted by some Pentecostal groups, referred to as ‘Oneness’ or ‘Jesus Only’ Pentecostals.

Websites used in the preparation of this article:

The following websites hae been visited and will contain some further information on these groups.

ancienthistory.about.com/od/heresies/index.htm

www.earlychurch.org.uk/heresies.php

gbgm-umc.org/UMW/Bible/heresies.stm

en.wikipedia.org – various articles.

www.britannica.com/eb – various articles

www.religioustolerance.org/gnostic.htm

www.ctlibrary.com/ch/1996/issue51/5135.html

Categories: Apologetics

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