heresy


heresy
/her"euh see/, n., pl. heresies.
1. opinion or doctrine at variance with the orthodox or accepted doctrine, esp. of a church or religious system.
2. the maintaining of such an opinion or doctrine.
3. Rom. Cath. Ch. the willful and persistent rejection of any article of faith by a baptized member of the church.
4. any belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs, customs, etc.
[1175-1225; ME heresie < OF eresie < L haeresis school of thought, sect < Gk haíresis, lit., act of choosing, deriv. of haireîn to choose]
Syn. 4. dissent, iconoclasm, dissension.

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Doctrine rejected as false by religious authorities.

In Christianity, the orthodox theology of the church is thought to be based on divine revelation, and heretics are viewed as perversely rejecting the guidance of the church. Numerous Christian heresies appeared from the 2nd century onwards. Early heresies included Arianism, the Monophysite heresy, Pelagianism, and Donatism. Some heresies, such as Montanism, expressed faith in a new prophet who added to the body of Christian revelation. Some types of Gnosticism were heretical branches of Christianity. The major means of combating heretics in the early church was excommunication. In the 12th–13th century, the Inquisition was established to combat heresy, and heretics who refused to recant were often executed. In the 16th century the Protestant Reformation brought an end to the doctrinal unity of Western Christendom, and the concept of heresy became less important in the various Christian churches, though it continues to exist. The concept of heresy also exists in Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam.

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      a theological doctrine or system rejected as false by ecclesiastical authority.

      Heresy differs from schism in that the heretic sometimes remains in the church despite his doctrinal errors, whereas the schismatic may be doctrinally orthodox but severs himself from the church. The Greek word hairesis (from which heresy is derived) was originally a neutral term that signified merely the holding of a particular set of philosophical opinions. Once appropriated by Christianity, however, the term heresy began to convey a note of disapproval. This was because the church from the start regarded itself as the custodian of a divinely imparted revelation which it alone was authorized to expound under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Thus, any interpretation that differed from the official one was necessarily “heretical” in the new, pejorative sense of the word.

      This attitude of hostility to heresy is evident in the New Testament itself. St. Paul, for instance, insists that his gospel is identical with that of the Twelve Apostles, and in the later books of the New Testament the contrast in attitudes regarding approved doctrines and heretical ones is even more sharply drawn. In the 2nd century the Christian church became increasingly aware of the need to keep its teaching uncontaminated, and it devised criteria to test deviations. The Apostolic Fathers, 2nd-century Christian writers, appealed to the prophets and Apostles as sources of authoritative doctrine, and Irenaeus and Tertullian laid great stress on “the rule of faith,” which was a loose summary of essential Christian beliefs handed down from apostolic times. Later, the ecclesiastical and universal church council became the instrument for defining orthodoxy and condemning heresy. Eventually, in the Western church, the doctrinal decision of a council had to be ratified by the pope to be accepted.

      During its early centuries, the Christian church dealt with many heresies. They included, among others, Docetism, Montanism, Adoptionism, Sabellianism, Arianism, Pelagianism, and Gnosticism (qq.v.). See also Donatist; Marcionite; monophysite.

      Historically, the major means that the church had of combating heretics was to excommunicate them. In the 12th and 13th centuries, however, the inquisition was established by the church to combat heresy; heretics who refused to recant after being tried by the church were handed over to the civil authorities for punishment, usually execution.

      A new situation came about in the 16th century with the Reformation, which spelled the breakup of Western Christendom's previous doctrinal unity. The Roman Catholic church (Roman Catholicism), satisfied that it is the true church armed with an infallible authority, has alone remained faithful to the ancient and medieval theory of heresy, and it occasionally denounces doctrines or opinions that it considers heretical. Most of the great Protestant churches similarly started with the assumption that their own particular doctrines embodied the final statement of Christian truth and were thus prepared to denounce as heretics those who differed with them. But with the gradual growth of toleration and the 20th-century ecumenical movement, most Protestant churches have drastically revised the notion of heresy as understood in the pre-Reformation church. It does not now seem to them inconsistent for a person to stoutly maintain the doctrines of his own communion while not regarding as heretics those who hold different views. The Roman Catholic church, too, draws a distinction between those who willfully and persistently adhere to doctrinal error and those who embrace it through no fault of their own, e.g., as a result of upbringing in another tradition. The term heresy also has been used among Jews, although they have not been as intense as Christians in their punishment of heretics. The concept and combating of heresy has historically been less important in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islām than in Christianity.

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Universalium. 2010.

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