History 391 A History of Heresy AWiechart

Alexandra Wiechart David Christie-Murray A History of Heresy

History 391

1. Christie-Murray defines the term heresy within Christianity means departure from Christian orthodoxy and it is with the history of Christian heresy that the book is concerned. He says that it is easy to define Christian heresy but not easy to define orthodoxy which heretics are departing from. A Christian heretic will hold a minority belief in the Christian community and orthodox is the majority. Heresy is a conservative reaction brought about by an attempt to turn back the clock to an imagined early ideal. Also, the church has always tried to hold in balance tendencies which oppose each other and the church is “sprinkled” with reactions so any new movement may become another heretical church. Another pair of opposing tendencies is the subjective and objective emphasis in worship. Heresy can also be the over emphasis of a neglected truth or an overreaction to a truth too strongly stated. Another pair of opposing tendencies is summed up in the phrase ‘the ministry of the word and sacraments’. By applying these standards of Christian beliefs makes it easy to find heretics.

2. Christie-Murray states that Gnostics claimed to have a secret knowledge which was the key to salvation. Their beginnings preceded Christianity and these systems were philosophical in that the problem which concerned all Gnostics was the reconciliation of the existence of evil with God who is good; religious because they offered salvation. Christie-Murray states there were three stages of Gnostic development. The pre-Christian drew its inspiration from Greek, Jewish and eastern sources. In the second stage a still mainly heathen Gnosticism used Christian ideas to fill up gaps-Jesus appearing as the agent of man’s redemption. The third stage presented Christianity modified by Gnosticism to make it acceptable to religious-minded, intellectual pagans, and in this form, was heretical and a real danger to orthodox Christian belief. The Bishop Marcion was the son of a Bishop and came to Rome and was a wealthy man and generous to the Church, but he was accused of being a heretic. His followers went so far as to separate themselves into a group called Marcionites which also added to the idea of schism to that of heresy and they claimed to preach a purer Christianity and have been called the first dissenters. According to Christie-Murray Marcion does not even seem to be an orthodox Gnostic in his ideals for he did not profess to have a need of gnosis. He preached that salvation was gained by simple faith in the Gospel so Marcion does not seem to be a traditional Gnostic belief but he does make a good example of a Christian Gnostic because he departs from the orthodox thought process of Christians. He however seems to be a better example of a heretic rather than purely a Christian Gnostic.

3. The main tenets of the Montanist church were extreme conservatism such as celibacy for all and second marriages being absolutely forbidden. There was rigorous fasting and the practice of severe penance was revived and absolution for any mortal sin after baptism refused. It also was the ambition of Montanism to be the party of martyrs. They preached the end of the world was imminent. They also believed in prophecy. One of their unorthodoxies is that with some other Christians were Quartodecimans. They did not preach doctrine in a heretical way but they did over emphasize from parts of faith and practice at the expense of others so they received a general condemnation from the first synod of bishops. Their main fault was that in the eyes of the orthodox it exalted itself above the official hierarchy of the Church.


a. Monarchianism is a set of beliefs that emphasize God as being one person in direct contrast with the idea of the trinity which defines God as three persons coexisting in one being. The bishop of Antioch was the founder of Monarchianism. There were two types of Monarchianism which were Modalism and Dynamic Monarchianism. Modalism considers God to be one person appearing and working in the different modes of the father the son and the holy spirit. The chief proponent of modalism was Sabellius which often lead to it being called Sabellianism and has been rhetorically labeled Patripassianism by its opponents because according to them it purports that the Person of God the heavenly Father suffered on the cross. Dynamic Monarchianism holds that God is one being, above all else, wholly indivisible and of one nature. It reconciles the problem of the trinity by holding that the Son was not the co-eternal and that he was granted godhood for the plans of God and for his own life and works. Some believe this happened during his baptism or his ascension. However, Christie Murray states that many Christians today are some form of Monarchian and after Arianism there was less push back against Modalistic Monarchianism.

b. Arianism is a concept which says that Jesus is the son of God who was begotten by the God the Father at a point in time, is distinct from the father and is subordinate to the father. These teachings came from Arius in Alexandria. This belief states that the Son of God did not always exist but was begotten. Arius protested Sabellianism. He claimed if the son was a true son then the father must have existed before the son. After Arius’s death and when Constantine followed two years later a kind of peace was arranged. Constans ruling the Nicene west, Constantine II mainly under Arian influence under the east, and Constantius becoming Emperor of Gaul. Arianism survived for almost four hundred years among the peoples constantly threatening the Empire from the north. The Goths were mostly Arian, some won over by the heresy of Audius, a bishop of great purity of life if heterodoxy of doctrine. When the Goths settled in the Empire their Arianism was gradually assimilated to the Catholicism of their neighbors and disappeared in the late sixth century.

c. Apollinarianism was a view lead by Apollinaris of Laodicea that Jesus could not have had a human mind, rather he had a human body and lower soul but divine mind. This heresy failed against orthodoxy for anything like the same amount of time as Arianism nor did it cause as much trouble. This heresy survived until the 420’s

5. Nestorianism is the most important of the fifth century heresies because of its widespread missionary work in the Middle and far East. Theodore of Mopsuestia was posthumously anathematized for having been a Nestorian before his pupil Nestorius. He taught that God dwelt in Christ as in a son, but in a unique manner, the union of the two being compared to that between man and wife. Nestorius was condemned by the Council of Ephesus. His teachings included a rejection of the long-used title of the Mother of God for Mary other of Jesus and they were considered by many to imply that he did not believe that Christ was truly God. This brought him into conflict with other prominent churchmen of the time, most notably Cyril of Alexandria whom he accused of heresy. He tried to defend himself at the first council of Ephesus but instead was formally condemned and was exiled by Theodosius. The second Council of Constantinople confirmed the validity of his condemnation. By questioning Mary, he brought on the heretical accusations as it seemed to call into question his belief in Christ as truly God.

6. Eutyches was in opposition to the teachings of Nestorius and his condemnation of Nestorianism as heresy led him to an extreme opposite view which lead to him being called a heretic as well. Eutychianism came to be called Monophysitism. It asserted that Jesus Christ was only one, divine nature rather than two natures, divine and human, as asserted at the council of Chalcedon. Eutyches was condemned in 448 for teaching also that after the Incarnation Christ had only one nature and that therefore the humanity of the incarnate Christ was not of the same substance as that of other human beings. It was influential in the Eastern Church and was renounced in the Council of Chalcedon in 451 but at one point in the fifth century the leaders of the eastern orthodox church tried to reconcile Monophysitism with orthodox teaching but an agreement could not be reached and Monophysitism were eventually excommunicated. However, Monophysitism continued to be accepted in Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria.