Heresy

Heresy is the holding of a belief that is in fundamental disagreement with the established teachings or doctrines of an organized religion. The term is used in Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, some Protestant churches, some Jewish denominations, and to a lesser extent in a few other religions.

Heresy is a value judgment, based on an opinion of which faction is the established Church. Few people consider their own denominations to be heretical. Many who are held to be heretics by others hold the same views of their accusers. For example, some extreme Roman Catholics hold the view that Protestantism is a heresy, and some extreme Protestants hold the view that Roman Catholicism is a heresy.

The use of the term is far less common today even within Catholicism than it was during the Middle Ages, when the Church's power was at its height and heresy was considered a punishable offense.

The word "heresy" comes from the Greek αιρεσις, hairesis (from αιρεομαι, haireomai, "choose"), which means either a choice of beliefs or a faction of dissident believers.

Table of contents
1 Heresy in Christianity
2 Heresy in Judaism
3 Heresy in Islam
4 Other Religions
5 External link

Heresy in Christianity

Early Christian heresies

A number of the beliefs the Catholic Church regards as heretical have to do with the nature of Jesus Christ and the relationship between Christ and God the Father. The orthodox teaching is that Christ was fully divine and at the same time fully human, and that the three persons of the Trinity are equal and eternal.

Over the years, numerous Christian scholars and preachers have disagreed with some point of another of this doctrine. When such a belief becomes visible enough, the Church has condemned it as heretical. Historically, this has often happened when the belief challenged Church authority, or drew a movement of followers who challenged the established order socially.

Heresy in Roman Catholicism

Heresy is defined by
Thomas Aquinas as "a species of infidelity in men who, having professed the faith of Christ, corrupt its dogmas". Heresy is both the nonorthodox belief itself, and the act of holding to that belief.

While the term is often used by laymen to indicate any nonorthodox belief such as Paganism, by definition heresy can only be committed by someone who considers themselves a Christian, but rejects the teachings of what has become the orthodox Christian church. A person who completely renounces Christianity is not considered a heretic, but an apostate, and a person who renounces the authority of the Church but not its teachings is a schismatic.

The Church makes several distinctions as to the seriousness of an individual heterodoxy and its closeness to true heresy. Only a belief that directly contravenes an article of faith, or that has been explicity rejected by the Church, is labelled as actual "heresy". A belief that the church has not directly rejected, or that is at variance with less important church teachings, is given the label, sententia haeresi proxima, meaning "opinion approaching heresy". A theological argument, belief, or theory that does not constitute heresy in itself, but which leads to conclusions which might be held to do so, is termed propositio theologice erronea, or "erroneous theological proposition". Finally, if the theological position only suggests but does not necessarily lead to a doctrinal conflict, it might be given the even milder label of sententia de haeresi suspecta, haeresim sapiens, meaning "opinion suspected, or savouring, of heresy".

Some significant controversies of doctrine have risen over the course of history. Sometimes there have been many heresies over single points of doctrine, particularly the nature of the Trinity, the doctrine of transubstantiation and the immaculate conception.

Catholic Church's response to heresy

The Church has always fought in favor of orthodoxy and the Pope's authority as the successor of St. Peter to establish truth. At different times in history, it has had varying degrees of power to resist or punish heretics.

In the early church, heresies were sometimes determined by a council of bishops, or ecumenical council, such as the First Council of Nicaea. At the council, the orthodox position was established, 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, a spiritual punishment. 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 prevented salvation. Excommunication, or even the threat of excommunication, was enough to convince many a heretic to renounce his views. Priscillian achieved the distinction of becoming the first Christian burned alive for heresy, at Treves in 385.

In later years, the Church instituted the Inquisition, an official body charged with the suppression of heresy. The Inquisition was active in several nations of Europe, particularly where it had fervent support from the civil authority. The Spanish Inquisition was particularly brutal in its methods, which included the burning at the stake of many heretics. However, it was initiated and substantially controlled by King Ferdinand of Spain rather than the Church; King Ferdinand used political leverage to obtain the Church's tacit approval.

Perhaps the last person to be burned alive at the stake on orders from Rome was Giordano Bruno, executed in 1600 for a collection of heretical beliefs including Copernicanism and (probably more important) an unlimited universe with innumerable inhabited worlds.

Modern Roman Catholic Response to Protestantism

The Catholic Church does not consider modern Protestantism to be a heresy, per se, but the individuals who were involved in its rise and who directly opposed the Church's teachings on points of doctrine were declared heretics by the Church. Once the Protestants formally renounced the Church of Rome, they became schismatics rather than heretics.

Some of the doctrines of Protestantism that the Catholic Church considers heretical are the belief that the Bible is the only source and rule of faith ("sola scriptura"), that faith alone can lead to salvation ("sola fide") and that there is a universal priesthood of believers.

Protestantism and heresy

Protestant sects which seek to reestablish what they see as ancestral Christian principles -- i.e. Fundamentalists -- sometimes refer to Catholicism (or indeed other Protestant groups) as heretical. One aspect of Catholicism many Protestants regard as heresy against original Christianity is the veneration of the saints, and in particular the cultus of the Virgin Mary. Another is the doctrine of transubstantiation.

Heresy in Judaism

Orthodox Judaism considers views departing from the traditional Jewish principles of faith to be heretical. Ultra-Orthodox Judaism holds that all Jews who reject their specific understanding of Maimonides's 13 principles of Jewish faith are heretics. Ultra-Orthodox Jews and most Modern Orthodox Jews consider Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism to be heretical movements, and regard most of Conservative Judaism as heretical. The liberal wing of Modern Orthodoxy is more tolerant of Conservative Judaism, as there is much theological and practical overlap between these groups.

The Greek term άίρεσις originally denoted "division," "sect," "religious" or "philosophical party," and is applied by Josephus to the three Jewish sects — Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes. The specific rabbinical term for heresies, or religious divisions due to an unlawful spirit, is "minim" (lit. "kinds {of belief}"; the singular "min," for "heretic" or "Gnostic," is coined idiomatically, like "goy" and "'am ha-aretz";).

The law "You shall not cut yourselves" () is interpreted by the Rabbis: "You shall not form divisions, but shall form one bond" (Source: Midrash Sifre on Deuteronomy 96)

Besides the term "min" for "heretic," the Talmud uses the words "ḥiẓonim" (outsiders), "apiḳoros," and "kofer ba-Torah" (R. H. 17a), or "kofer ba-'iḳḳar" (he who denies the fundamentals of faith; Pes. xxiv. 168b); also "poresh mi-darke ẓibbur" (he who deviates from the customs of the community; Tosef., Sanh. xiii. 5; R. H. 17a). Of all these it is said that they are consigned to Gehinnom for all eternity (Tosef., Sanh. l.c.; comp. ib. xii. 9, apparently belonging to xiii. 5: "He who casts off the yoke [of the Law], and he who severs the Abrahamic covenant; he who interprets the Torah against the halakic tradition, and he who pronounces in full the Ineffable Name—all these have no share in the world to come").

The Mishnah says the following have no share in the world to come: "He who denies that the Torah is divinely revealed, and the apiḳoros." R. Akiba says, "also he who reads heretical books". This is explained in the Talmud (Sanh. 100b) to mean "sifre Ẓeduḳim" (Sadducean writings); but this is an alteration by the censor of "sifre ha-Minim" (books of the Gnostics or Heretics). The Biblical version, "That ye seek not after your own heart" (Num. xv. 39), is explained (Sifre, Num. 115; Ber. 12b) as "Ye shall not turn to heretic views ["minut"] which lead your heart away from God" (see Maimonides, "Yad," 'Akkum, ii. 3).

In summarizing the Talmudic statements concerning heretics in Sanh. 90-103, Maimonides ("Yad," Teshubah, iii. 6-8) says:

"The following have no share in the world to come, but are cut off, and perish, and receive their punishment for all time for their great sin: the minim, the apiḳoresim, they that deny the belief in the Torah, they that deny the belief in resurrection of the dead and in the coming of the Redeemer, the apostates, they that lead many to sin, they that turn away from the ways of the [Jewish] community. Five are called 'minim': (1) he who says there is no God and the world has no leader; (2) he who says the world has more than one leader; (3) he who ascribes to the Lord of the Universe a body and a figure; (4) he who says that God was not alone and Creator of all things at the world's beginning; (5) he who worships some star or constellation as an intermediating power between himself and the Lord of the World.

"The following three classes are called 'apiḳoresim': (1) he who says there was no prophecy nor was there any wisdom that came from God and which was attained by the heart of man; (2) he who denies the prophetic power of Moses our master; (3) he who says that God has no knowledge concerning the doings of men.

"The following three are called 'koferim ba-Torah': (1) he who says the Torah is not from God: he is a kofer even if he says a single verse or letter thereof was said by Moses of his own accord; (2) he who denies the traditional interpretation of the Torah and opposes those authorities who declare it to be tradition, as did Zadok and Boethus; and (3) he who says, as do the Nazarenes and the Mohammedans, that the Lord has given a new dispensation instead of the old, and that he has abolished the Law, though it was originally divine."

It is noteworthy, however, that Abraham ben David, in his critical notes, objects to Maimonides characterizing as heretics all those who attribute corporeality to God; and he insinuates that the cabalists are not heretics. In the same sense all Biblical critics who, like Ibn Ezra in his notes on Deut. i. 2, doubt or deny the Mosaic origin of every portion of the Pentateuch, would protest against the Maimonidean (or Talmudic; see Sanh. 99a) conception of heresy. See Apiḳoros; Articles of Faith; Judaism; Gnosticism. K.

Legal Status

The status of heretics in Jewish law is not clearly defined. While there are certain regulations scattered throughout the Talmud concerning the minim, the nearest approach to the English term "heretic," these are mostly of a haggadic nature, the codes taking little cognizance of them. The governing bodies of the Synagogue frequently exercised, from motives of self-defense, their power of excommunication against heretics. The heretic was excluded from a portion in the world to come (Maimonides, "Yad," Teshubah, iii. 6-14); he was consigned to Gehenna, to eternal punishment (R. H. 17a; comp. Ex. R. xix. 5; see Apiḳoros, and compare D. Hoffmann, "Der Schulchan Aruch und die Rabbinen über das Verhältnis der Juden zu Andersgläubigen," 2d ed., Berlin, 1894); but the Jewish courts of justice never attended to cases of heresy; they were left to the judgment of the community.

There are, however, in the rabbinic codes, laws and regulations concerning the relation of the Jew to the heretic. The sentiment against the heretic was much stronger than that against the pagan.While the pagan brought his offerings to the Temple in Jerusalem and the priests accepted them, the sacrifices of the heretic were not accepted (Ḥul. 13b, et al.). The relatives of the heretic did not observe the laws of mourning after his death, but donned festive garments, and ate and drank and rejoiced (Sem. ii. 10; "Yad," Ebel, i. 5, 6; Yoreh De'ah, 345, 5). Scrolls of the Law, tefillin, and mezuzot written by a heretic were burned (Giṭ. 45b; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 39, 1; Yoreh De'ah, 281, 1); and an animal slaughtered by a heretic was forbidden food (Ḥul. 13a; Yoreh De'ah, 2, 5). Books written by heretics did not render the hands impure ("Yad," She'ar Abot ha-Ṭum'ot, ix. 10; comp. Yad. iv. 6; see Purity); they might not be saved from fire on the Sabbath (Shab. 116a; Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 334, 21). A heretic's testimony was not admitted in evidence in Jewish courts (Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 34, 22; see "Be'er ha-Golah" ad loc.); and if an Israelite found an object belonging to a heretic, he was forbidden to return it to him (Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ 266, 2).

Classes of Heretics

The "mumar le-hak'is" (one who transgresses the Law, not for personal advantage, but out of defiance and spite) was placed by some of the Rabbis in the same category as the minim ('Ab. Zarah 26a; Hor. 11a). Even if he habitually transgressed one law only (for example, if he defiantly violated one of the dietary laws), he was not allowed to perform any religious function (Yoreh De'ah, 2, 5; SHaK and "Pitḥe Teshubah," ad loc.), nor could he testify in a Jewish court (Sanh. 27a; "Yad," 'Edut, x. 3; Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 34, 2). One who violated the Sabbath publicly or worshiped idols could not participate in the "'erub ḥaẓerot" ('Er. 69a; "Yad," 'Erubin, ii. 16; Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 385, 3; see 'Erub), nor could he write a bill of divorce (Shulḥan 'Aruk, Eben ha-'Ezer, 123, 2). One who would not permit himself to be circumcised could not perform the ceremony on another (Yoreh De'ah, 264, 1, Isserles' gloss). While the court could not compel the mumar to divorce his wife, even though she demanded it, it compelled him to support her and her children and to pay her an allowance until he agreed to a divorce (Eben ha-'Ezer, 154, 1, and "Pitḥe Teshubah," ad loc.). At his death those who are present need not tear their garments (Yoreh De'ah, 340, 5, and "Pitḥe Teshubah," ad loc.). The mumar who repented and desired readmittance into the community was obliged to take a ritual bath, the same as the proselyte (Yoreh De'ah, 268, 12, Isserles' gloss, and "Pitḥe Teshubah," ad loc.; comp. "Sefer Ḥasidim," ed. Wistinetzki, §§ 200-209). If he claimed to be a good Jew, although he was alleged to have worshiped idols in another town, he was believed when no benefit could have accrued to him from such a course.

Heresy in Islam

The two main bodies of Islam are the Sunnis and the Shi'as. These main denominations may see the other as heretical, and certainly outside of these are the heretical groups, although some do not see themselves that way. These include the Sufis, the Dervishes, the Ahmadiyya, Nation of Islam, the Harufi, the Bektashi ...

Some of these groups are tolerated and even respected by Islamic courts, priests and power structures, while others are strictly excluded, e.g. the Ahmadis who were outlawed in Pakistan in 1974.

Other Religions

Several other religions have concepts of heresy.

The Church of Scientology uses the term "squirreling" to refer to unauthorized alterations of its teachings or methods.


See also:

External link

Some quotes and information in this article came from the Catholic Encyclopedia. link added




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