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Heresy
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Heresy

In theology heresy is the holding of a belief that is in fundamental disagreement with the established teachings or doctrines of an organized religion. In order for heresy to exist there must be an authoritative set of dogmas designated as orthodox, such as those proposed by Catholicism. The term is also used in Eastern Orthodoxy, some Protestant churches, in Islam, some Jewish denominations, but to a much lesser extent in other religions. Variance from orthodox Marxism-Leninism, which has some elements of religion, is called right or left "deviationism".

When the revisionist paleontologist Robert T. Bakker published his findings as The Dinosaur Heresies, he was jokingly treating the mainstream traditional view of dinosaurs as if it were the dogma of a religion.

What constitutes heresy is a value judgment, the expression of the point-of-view of an established Church. An outsider, reading an outline of Christian history, might conclude, long after the fact, "heretics are losers." This is not the teaching within any tradition that endorses the concept of "heresy." Few have privately considered their own denomination to be heretical, though it has been a useful rhetorical stance. Those who are held to be heretics have often held the converse view of their accusers: Roman Catholics have held the view that Protestantism is a heresy, whilst some non-Catholics have considered Catholicism the "Great Apostasy."

The use of the term is far less common today, though procedings of heresy, even against widely-read theologians, in the last couple of decades can be instanced in most of the authoritarian denominations: see for example the entry Rudolf Bultmann and the character of debates over ordaining women and gay priests. Popular imagination relegates "heresy" to the Middle Ages, when the Church's power was at its height, but the case of the scholar and humanist Giordano Bruno was not the last execution for heresy. Heresy remained an officially punishable offense in Roman Catholic nations until the late 18th century. In Spain, heretics were prosecuted and punished even after the Napoleonic Era. In modern Italian, the common word for Protestant is not "protestante" or some equivalent, but eretico.

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. It was given wide currency by Irenaeus in his tract Contra haeresis to descibe and discredit his opponents in the early Christian Church. He described his own position as orthodox (from ortho- "straight" + doxa "thinking") and his position eventually evolved into the position of the early Roman Catholic Church.

Table of contents
1 Heresy in Christianity
2 Heresy in Judaism
3 Heresy in Islam
4 Other religions
5 See also
6 External link

Heresy in Christianity

Early Christian heresies

Urgent concerns with the uniformity of belief and practice have characterized Pauline Christianity from the outset. Early attacks upon perceived heresies formed the matter of Tertullian's Prescription Against Heretics (in 44 chapters, from Rome), Irenaeus' Against Heresies (five volumes) and other writers (more should be mentioned here) leading to decisions reached in the first ecumenical council, convoked by the Emperor Constantine at Nicaea in 325. Before 325 AD, the "heretical" nature of some beliefs was a matter of opinion. After 325 AD, some opinion was formulated as immutable dogma. Each phrase in the Nicene Creed, which was hammered out at the Council of Nicaea, addresses some aspect that had been under passionate discussion and closes the books on the argument, with the weight of the ecclesiastical establishment.

The Hispanic ascetic Priscillian of Avila was the first person to be executed for heresy, only sixty years after the Council of Nicaea, in 385.

A number of the beliefs the Catholic Church has come to regard 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. Note that this position was not established as the orthodox position until at least the 3rd century (Nicene creed in 325(?)); nor was the New Testament put into its present form until the end of the 3rd century (Athanasius first lists the 27 books we have in the current New Testament in 367(?), but disputes continued).

Since the orthodox church (really proto-orthodox) was originally just one group amongst many others (who all regarded themselves as followers of Jesus), calling these other versions of Christianity heresies seems slightly anachronistic if applied to groups who operated in or before the 3rd century (or perhaps even the early 4th century). Most of these creeds would have been seen at the time (by their followers at least) as being just as legitimate as the proto-orthodox group. The orthodox church succeded in a slow process of legitimation of its authority and was able to label all their enemies as heretics and persecute them (thus giving the term an association with illegitimacy). At the time the term was coined, it probably did not have nearly such negative associations (except among the proto-orthodox).

Over the years, numerous Christian scholars and preachers have disagreed with the Church on various issues or doctrines. When the Church has become aware of these beliefs, they have been condemned as heretical. Historically, this often happened when the belief challenged, or was seen to challenge, Church authority, or drew a movement of followers who challenged the established order socially. For entirely nonreligious reasons, some influential people have had an interest in maintaining the status quo or condemning a group they wished to be removed. The Church's internal explanations for its actions were based purely on objection to beliefs and philosophies that ran contrary to its interpretation of the holy scriptures.

See also Manichaeism, a pre-Christian religion that influenced early Christians, notably Augustine, often in ways held to be heretical.

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 explicitly 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. At times there have been many heresies over single points of doctrine, particularly in regards to 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 various 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. The orthodox position was established at the council, 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 in 385 at Treves.

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 Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229) was part of the Roman Catholic Church's efforts to crush the Cathars. It is linked to the movement now known as the Medieval Inquisition. 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, in the spirit of ecumenism, tends not to refer to Protestantism as a heresy nowadays, even if the teachings of Protestantism are indeed heretical from a Catholic perspective. Modern usage favors referring to Protestants as "separated brethren" rather than "heretics", although the latter is still on occasion used.

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

The main meaning of 'heresy' to a Protestant is the concept of telling lies about God. It is not at its core a matter of opposing the authorities (though, like all authorities religious or otherwise, Protestant leaders often invoke the concepts of heresy and apostasy to defend themselves from attack). Protestants chose the difficult course of action, to try to steer a middle course between (1) respecting God enough to care that humans tell the truth about God, and (2) being tolerant and loving of those who honestly see things differently, giving them an open ear because there might be something to learn from them. 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 "Hitsonim" (outsiders), "apikoros," and "kofer ba-Torah" (R. H. 17a), or "kofer ba-'ikar" (he who denies the fundamentals of faith; Pes. xxiv. 168b); also "poresh mi-darke tsibbur" (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 view each other as heretical. Groups like the Sufis, the Harufi and the Bektashi are sometimes regarded as heretical. Although Sufism is often accepted as valid by Sunnis, fundamentalist Sunni movements like Wahhabism view it as heretical.

Both the Ahmadiyya and the Nation of Islam are regarded by the majority of Muslims as not Islamic. Muslims who convert to those faiths tend to be viewed as apostates, rather than heretics.

Those deemed heretics tend to be tolerated by Islamic courts, scholars and power structures, in contrast to those who are deemed to be apostates, such as the Ahmadis who were excommunicated by the Pakistani state 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