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Western Civilization. Christian Heresies


Establishment of the orthodox Christianity was a result of the emergency of the danger of new converts following teachings that differed from those widely accepted by Christianity. Christian statements like the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed resulted from the churches’ efforts to make statements of faith lined with the mainstream Christian doctrine a necessity for baptism. Church leaders have later labeled as heretical the teachings of Gnosticism and teachings were judged against the faith statements. Biblically, Christ had warned of false prophesy and Christ’s (Mathew 24:24), Paul, the apostle also warned of false teachings and the writer of the book of Revelation and Peter the apostle-2 Peter 2:1-3. These and other teachings necessitated the making of the faith statements.

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In many regions, heresies were considered by Bauer as being original manifestations of Christianity, who also held the view in his thesis that both heresy and Christianity do not relate as primary to secondary in the earliest Christianity. Lewis Ayres views that Bauer’s thesis contains currently unconvincing examples due to progress in the second third-century scholarships. He shows that the theory has been rejected because of a second reason that the idea of narrating a monolithic story of heresy becoming orthodoxy has been rejected by every significant scholarship on the development of Christian belief (Ayres).

Early Christian Heresies


In 325, there was the adoption of the Nicene Creed following the challenge of Arius in the fourth century to the orthodox teaching on Christology. The teaching developed by orthodoxy was the fact of the fullness of divinity of Christ, hand in hand with the fullness of humanity, and that there is co-eternity and co-equal being of the Trinity. Arianism denied the eternal divinity of Christ while Docetism denied the humanity of Christ as being an illusion. Many groups of heresies held that matter-normally seen as evil-and spirit-seen to be good were two opposing parts consisted in the reality. According to orthodox Christianity, both were good, and that this fact was mirrored in the divinity and the human nature both being unified in Christ and the fact that they were both created by God (Gerberding & Moran, 58).

Scholars have aired their views on early Christianity and heresies. For example, early Christianity is viewed by Pagels and Ehrman as being divided and having orthodoxies that compete contemporaneously (2003). This is by consideration of the differences between groups like Gnostics, Gentile, and Jewish Christians.


This sect is reported to have been older than Christianity and had mixed the many eastern myths and the philosophy of the Greeks with the Jewish faith. They believed that salvation was to be gained by knowledge or gnosis. They differed with Christians on the idea of God-said to be purely good-creating an evil world. They, therefore, asserted that God’s children created other children who intern created the world. One of the said children was Jesus Christ who had descended and shared with the sect the secret knowledge. According to the sect, all material including the human body was evil. The “man” of Christ was what was left to suffer on the cross after the departure of Christ’s divine spirit who had descended on the “man” Jesus during the baptism. Marcion, who was the son of a Bishop was expelled from church because of heresy, and together with his followers formed the Marcionites group.


Also called Phrygians, it was formed in about 156 AD in Phrygia, Turkey by Montanus; arguably because of what was referred to as the relaxation of the Christian zeal by the church. The group championed the activity of martyrdom, believed in the immediate return of Jesus, restricted marriage on all members, and had harsh fasting regimes. The sect was suppressed by Justinian the emperor in the sixth century and the Constantinople Montanists failed to surrender and set the churches in which they had gathered ablaze and perished.


According to the dynamic type of this sect, divine power had been placed onto Jesus who was an ordinary man. This was descended during baptism and this form emerged again via Theodotus after the resurrection. He viewed that Christ was a simple man. In 198AD, he was excommunicated.

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According to the Modalist type of this heresy, there were three aspects of God and He would manifest as the father, son, or Holy Spirit as necessity He would have deemed it necessary. Sabellianism in Rome was the form of Modalist Monarchianism. During the rule of Callistus the pope, in AD 217-222, Sabellius and his followers were excommunicated. Although the papacy was fighting it, it flourished through the Antioch Bishop in AD 260-272-Paul of Samosata who viewed Jesus as a common man. In AD 264 and 268, the Council of Bishops condemned him as a heretic and was finally destabilized after the defeat of Zenbia-who supported him and hence he had retained office-as queen by Aurelian.


Pelagius, a Britain monk resulted in the formation of this heresy and together with Julian a Bishop of Eclanum in Campania and Coeletius differed with what the traditional church viewed as “original sin” by holding the view that all children were born innocent. Jesus Christ gave an example to the man on how he should live, as a teacher and never as a savior to take away his sin. With the traditional view, that man required the grace of God to be righteous, leading a righteous life was possible by man through will-power and discipline. Thus according to Pelagius, no grace was needed. Though Pelagius’ ally Coeletius was excommunicated in 415 AD, he was declared innocent of heresy by a church council of Bishops in 415 AD, latter they pinned him to the guilt even by pope Innocent, yet was innocent in the eyes of Zozimus-who later changed the decision-a successor of Innocent.


The theory of Appollinarius, the bishop of Antioch, which held that Christ had a divine soul and spirit and not a human one, spread among Christian thinkers from AD 360. He was regarded as a heretic. Sufferings, prayer, openness to temptation by Jesus, etc, were possible if he had a human soul and spirit. This heresy disputed the nature of Christ.


This one tried to respond to Arianism by disputing the title “Mother of God” for Mary since Mary could only be the mother of the man Jesus and not the eternal Christ. Christ would be younger than Mary if he was born of her according to the title. It also gave a response to Apollinarianism in its view that Jesus was a host of the person of son of God and that of mortal man. This sect is thought to have remnants today in South India, the US, Iraq, and Iran (“Christian Heresy”).

Heresies dealing with the institution

These don’t agree on one or more aspects of the church as an institution. They dispute the established order of the church or the church activities. They include:

  • Waldensians: Also the Vaudois or Waldenses were persecuted before the 16th Century as being heretics. Their actions involved service to those considered marginalized, promotion of socialistic justice, advocacy to conscience freedom, and diversity to religion. Today, there are said to have active groups in North America, South America, and Europe.
  • Fraticelli: The church declared these as heretical in 1296. They opposed the church authority based on the wealth of the church as being scandalous and deeming to invalidate the status of the individual churchmen. They proposed the rule of Saint Francis of Assissi on these and matters of poverty. Various heretical groups which separated from the Franciscan order because of disputes on poverty which appeared in (mainly) Italy in the fourteen and fifteen centuries are referred to as Fraticelli (“Fraticelli”).
  • Donatists: These didn’t accept the priests’ and bishops’ who had drifted from the right path when persecuted under Diocletian the Roman emperor and also didn’t accept sacraments (Malan).

Other heresies

They included Antinomianism, Audianism, Bosnian Church, Catharism, Christian Zionism, Circumcellions, Ebionites, Euchites Circumcellions, Iconoclasm, Jansenism, Luciferians, Mandaeism, Marcionism, Messalians, Millennialism, Montanism, Ophites-viewed God who forbid the eating of fruit from the tree of Knowledge being the enemy as opposed to the serpent who tempted Adam and Eve. Patripassianism, Paulicianism, Priscillianism, and Socinianis.

Church response against heresies and the modern trend

The church was opposed to heresy to the effect that penal laws against individuals and goods of heresies were established since the times of Constantine to Theodosius and Valentinian III (313-424). The affected would have committed crimes against the state. They would be denied even the rights to sell and buy, receiving and giving donations, denial of offices and duties, and exiled in many cases. In today’s setting, Christians view heresy as the teachings which are not in line with the bible including works like The Da Vinci Code and works of some writers speaking against the well-known and spread Gospel of Truth. Although penalties to the heretics have been left out to major involve labeling bad of those who are seen as heretics, penalties are not as severe as they were sometimes in the past. Many kinds of literature still continue to be distributed disputing the nature of and the divinity of Christ.

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Ayres Lewis. “Introduction”. Journal of Early Christian Studies. The John Hopkins University Press. Vol. (2006) pp.395-398.

“Christian Heresy”. 2008. Web.

Ehrman, Bart D. Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. New York: Oxford. 2003.

“Fraticelli”. Catholic Encyclopedia.

Gerberding R., and J. H. Moran Cruz. Medieval Worlds. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. pp. 58.

Malan Ronald. Waldensian History. A brief Sketch. 2004. Web.

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