1902 Encyclopedia > Heresy


HERESY, is the English equivalent of the Greek word ____, which has had a somewhat varied ecclesiastical use. The first employment of the word in the New Testament is to denote a sect or school of opinion among the Jews. We read of the heresy of the Sadducees (____, Acts v. 17), the heresy of the Pharisees, (____, Acts xv. 5 ), and St Paul speaking to Agrippa says, "After the straitest heresy of our religion I lived a Pharisee" (____, &c., Acts xxvi. 5). Christianity itself was in the beginning looked upon as one of those sects or schools of Jewish opinion, and the "heresy" of the Nazarenes (Acts xxiv. 5) is spoken of as well as the heresy of the Pharisees; (cf. Acts xxiv. 14, Acts xxviii. 22). This use of the term is plainly borrowed from classical Greek, where ____ frequently means a school of Roman jurists or a school of philosophy (cf. Cic., Epis. ad Fam. xv. 16 ; Diog. Laert.,. Prooem., 13). In the New Testament the word is used in another sense which is purely ecclesiastical. Thus in Titus, iii. 10 the apostle says: "A man who is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject"; in 2 Pet. ii. 1 the church is warned against false teachers, "who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them," and these heretics and false teachers are evidently the same as those of whom Paul, in the Epistle to the Galatians, says that they are to be anathernatized. They are men who in the name of Christ preach such doctrines as tend to frustrate the grace of Christ, who preach "another gospel" (Gal. i. 8, 9) ; they: are compared, to the false prophets of the Old Testament Scriptures ; they cause divisions and schisms in the church (1 Cor. xi. 18, 19) ; and the heresies they arb guilty of are classed along with grave moral offences (Gal. v. 20). It is this second New Testament use of the word which was taken over into ecclesiastical terminology, and it is in this sense that the early Christian writers speak of heresy and heretics.. This early ecclesiastical use has continued down to the present, save that in earlier times schism was generally included under heresy, the names and the things not being separated by definition. It is interesting, however, to, notice that the earlier New Testament use of the word seems to have lingered on. Tertullian (Apolog., c. 1) calls the church a sect, which is the Latin equivalent for heresy, and in the same way Constantine called the church (Eusebius, H.E., x. 5, §§ 21-22) ____

Heresy means a grave error in matters of faith, but it is much more than a theological or ecclesiastical term. From the days of the emperor Theodosius at the latest, the Christian religion has been intimately connected with law, and heresy is a legal term, with a definite meaning attaching to it; a heresy was a crime with punishment annexed, and therefore was capable of legal definition. It was an offence in canon law, and it was also for long an offence according to civil law. The theological meaning, and the definitions according to canon law and according to civil law respect-ively, are all different from each other and must be sepa-rately explained.

The Theological Sense of the Term.—The early Christian writers say a great deal about heresy, but com-monly refrain from telling what it is. They describe heresies, but they only denounce heresy. It is vain to look for a definition of it in Irenaeus’s Against Heresies, in Hippolytus’s Refutation of all Heresies, in Tertullian’s Prescription against Heretics. It is possible, indeed, to collect from these one or two leading tests of heresy, but no definition is to be found. The common features of heresy are too well known to call for specific enumeration. We can gather from Irenaeus that heretics are those who reject Scripture, who refuse to accept the "doctrina tradita," who deny the authority of the clergy who have come in regular succession from the apostles, who keep aloof from the Catholic Church, the sole depositary of apostolic doctrine (Against Heresies, iii. 2-4). Tertullian, in his usual succinct manner, calls every man a heretic who does not at once accept the "Regula Fidei," and he refuses to argue with such a man even though the heretic proceeds to adduce arguments from Scripture. "A controversy over Scripture with heretics can clearly produce no other effect than to help to upset either the stomach or the brain" (Proescr. adv. Hoer., 16). In the Eastern Church, after the period of the oecumenical councils, Tertullian’s test was the touchstone of heresy. The church had her rule of faith expanded into the Nicaeo-Constantinopolitan creed, with the various explanations added in the symbols of the remaining cecumenical councils, and a heretic was one who denied this creed in whole or in part. In the Western Church, on the other hand, theologians were accustomed to define heresy in a vague way. Thus Jerome calls heresy "perversurn dogma"; a heretic, with him, is one who interprets Scripture in other fashion than according to the witness of the Spirit of God ; and Augustine summarily defines heresy to be the invention or retention of new and false opinions. But whatever the definition, the rough and ready test was always nonconformity to the "formula fidei praescripta ab ecclesia Romana." Instead of definition the Eastern Church simply points to the creed and the oecumenical councils, the Western Church to the rule of faith enjoined by Rome.

These meagre definitions, extracted from the writings of early theologians, all of them going back in the last resort to the recognized creed of the church for the time being, imply, in spite of their vagueness, that there is a certain essential kernel of doctrine in Christianity, which cannot be denied or challenged without involving the destruction of Christianity itself, and theyall point the way to a fuller description of what is meant by heresy in the theological sense of the word. Heresy is a doctrine which, with the appearance of Christian doctrine, is really contradictory to the essential nature of Christianity, and, if persisted in, would in the end make Christianity something very different from what it realily is. In order, therefore, to say what heresy is, it is necessary to know what the essential nature of Christianity is, and therefore heresy is generally described by reference to the fundamental nature of Christianity, while the real nature of Christian doctrine is commonly brought out by contrasting it with heresy.

When we look at the matter historically we see that Christianity has always taken the shape of a community thinking and acting for the most part together, and that it has always implied a common life, common work, common ideas. Christianity appears in history as a community whose common work is to confess and to adore God because of what He has done for His people in salvation. This twofold work of confession and worship has manifested itself in a double organization,—an organization of thought and an organization of work,—doctrine and polity. There may be the church without a creed, and the heart-church without the congregatio; but that is not the way in which Christianity has taken actual historical shape. It is possible to conceive the entrance of a heterogeneous element into this organization on either side. A heterogeneous element, something really foreign to it, may become organized with the church's doctrine, or may have become incorporated in the church’s polity, and whenever this happens there is a doctrine, apparently Christian, which is really subversive of Christianity, there is a polity which, apparently Christian, is really opposed to the real life of the congregatio. This possibility is the historical root of the origin both of heresy and of schism ; for heresy is just a heterogeneous element imbedded in the organized dogmatic of the church, and schism is a foreign element which has found its way into church polity. This description, how-ever, is somewhat misleading, because it may happen that an element which seems heterogeneous is not really so, but is on the contrary a true part of the organization. Heresy is not only apparently but really foreign to the system in which it has become incorporated. Its nature is different, and its source is different. Mere apparent incongruity, therefore, does not prove heresy. A doctrine must be seen to be really contradictory to the fundamental facts of Christianity, and to have come from a different source, before it can be called a heresy. It has frequently hap-pened, accordingly, that doctrines have been judged heretical which a better acquaintance with the nature of Christianity would have pronounced orthodox.

Christianity, under the many forms which it assumes, has always implied the reconciliation of God and man through the person and work of Christ. It implies that Jesus Christ the Saviour has so brought it about that He has established a new kingdom of God which will last, in which men have communion with God through His Spirit. Christianity is complete when the kingdom of God is fully established. "Thy kingdom come" is its aspira-tion. It therefore implies a moral separation between God and man—a separation which is overcome by the work of Christ the Mediator. The idea of reconciliation is the central thing in Christianity, the essential part in its description. God, man unable to approach God until reconciliation has been made, Christ the Mediator who reconciles, and His people brought apin into communion with God,—all Christian doctrine rings the changes on these four fundamental ideas. Whatever contradicts or tends to destroy these, or their relations to each other, is incompatible with Christianity. Whenever any of these four ideas—God, man, Christ, and the kingdom of God—are so misread as to introduce notions incompatible with the relations in which they stand to each other in Christianity, then heresy enters. Theology therefore (and Protestant theology only carries the idea somewhat further) has usually recognized four kinds of heresy, corresponding to the four fundamental ideas on which Christian doctrine rests. The nature and character of God and of His relation to the universe and to man may be so misread as to make reconciliation an impossible thing, and so also may the nature of Christ, the nature of man, and the nature of the results of Christ’s ork among men. Hence arise heresies about God, about the person of Christ, about the nature of man, and about the results of Christ’s work-all of them being doctrines which are incompatible with the idea of reconciliation.

I. Reconciliation implies that man has been separated by sin from God, and that God can overcome this separation. All descrip-tions of God, of His nature, character, and works, which contradict this fact may give rise to heresies. Thus God cannot overcome the separation if it be impossible for Him to project Himself beyond Himself for salvation. The nature of the Godhead may be so described as to contradict the idea of reconciliation, as, e.g., in the Arian heresy. Again, all descriptions of God’s relations to the universe which imply that the universe and all things are not absolutely dependent on Him, which imply that His gracious purpose can be thwarted, contradict the idea of reconciliation, and so may give rise to heresies, e.g., the Gnostic doctrine that matter is independent of God. Misstatements about God’s relation to Him-self and about His relation to the universe give rise to two different kinds of heresy.

II. Reconciliation implies a real mediator who can accomplish the reconciliation on both its sides, and so heresies may arise about the nature of Christ. The Saviour may be so described that there is no real mediation, and no real reconciliation. These errors may arise in two ways, as one or other side of the mediator is described. The Saviour may be represented so that He has no real relation to God on the one hand or to man on the other. He may be described in such a way that there is no solidarity between Him and God, as e.g., in the Ebionite heresy; or He maybe described in such a way that there is no solidarity between Him and man, as in the Docetist heresy. Misstatements about the relation of Christ to God and the relation of Christ to man give rise to two different kinds of heresy.

III. Reconciliation implies that man is so separated from God by sin that there is real need for salvation, and yet not so separated that he cannot be brought into communion with God again ; and the nature of man, and especially the presence of sin in man, may be so described as to set aside these requirements. The fact of sin and its presence in man may be so explained away as to leave little gro aiad for the necessity of reconciliation, e.g., in the Pelagian heresy. Again, on the other hand, the fact and presence of sin may be so described that there is no capacity in man for salvation ; it may be alleged that sin belongs to the essential nature of man and cannot be removed, e.g., in the Manichaean heresy. These two misstatements about the connexion between man and sin give rise to two kinds of heresy.

IV. The results of the reconciliation effected by Christ may also be misrepresented in two ways. The separation between man and God, which is the formal occasion of the reconciliation, was caused by sin; and the distance between God and man is a moral one it is not such a separation as might arise from the difference between the divine and the human nature, or from the inevitable distance between Creator and creature. And so reconciliation has for its effect, not niere absorption into God, but the restoration of moral communion between God and His people. The intercourse was broken by sin, and the result of reconciliation must be moral ; it must take effect in a change of will, in the creation of a life of new obedience. False ideas arise when this is misrepresented, and these misrepresentations can arise in two ways :—when it is said that the action of divine graci; impregnates the nature in a magical way instead of taking effect on the will in a moral fashion, e.g., the magical idea of sacramental efficacy ; or when it is said that the result of the reconciliation is to raise man above the necessity of living a moral life and of conforming to the laws of morality, e.g., the Antinomian heresy.

Thus theology finds at least eight separate kinds of heresy, arising from the entrance of foreign elements into the four fundamental ideas of Christianity. All heresies inay be reduced to one or other of these eight classes. In point of fact, however, most heresies which have actually arisen cannot be said to belong purely to any one of them. The class only denotes the type; for one error is apt to bring others in its train, and so most heresies are mixed, and do not in all respects conform to their type.

Theologians, however, have not rested content with the mere theoretical or genetic description of heresy and heretics, and have commonly borrowed distinctions first laid down by jurists in canon law to distinguish more narrowly the characteristic marks of heresy. Thus a false doctrine to be a heresy must be an intellectual error, it must be held voluntarily, it must contradict a doctrine already defined by the formula of the church, it must be held pertinaciously, and the heretic must be professedly within the church; but these distinctions belong properly to the legal aspect of heresy, and must be referred to again.

Many theologians, Schleiermacher among others, have attempted to describe the actual origin of heresies, and a oommon mode of explanation is as follows. Heresies arise in that province of theology called dogmatic, and commonly appear during the definition of some important part of dogmatic theology. Dogmatic theology is the rationale of the spiritual events and forces which have called Christianity into being. In the attempt made by the church to under-stand these events and forces which have called it into being, its attention has commonly been confined to the more outstanding portions. The history of dogmatic shows us that from time to time the church has endeavoured to master one doctrine, not the whole round of doctrines ; it has endeavoured to make distinct single points, instead of working at the various relations of all the doctrines to each other. This very natural mode of work has the one dis-advantage that it concentrates attention on isolated portions of doctrine rather than on the whole mass, and between the consecutive portions there are gaps. The mind of man, however, like nature, abhors a vacuum, and summarily fills these vacua up with material usually drawn from the prevailing philosophical or scientific theories of the day. These summary explanations or theories may or may not be in accordance with the spirit of Christianity, and when they are not they become a fruitful source of heresies. One of the best illustrations of this is the introduction into theology of the Aristotelian doctrine of ____, which gave the church the Pelagian heresy along with some others.

So much for the general theological conception of heresy, of its nature, divisions, and sources ; but before proceeding to describe the use of the term in canon law, it should be observed that the theological does not always correspond with the ecclesiastical meaning of the word. It is generally acknowledged that Holy Scripture is the source of doctrine, and that for the due understanding thereof the enlightening guidance of the Holy Spirit is required ; though, of course, the precise meaning of this statement varies in different systems of theology. Holy Scripture and the witness of the Spirit of God are thus the touchstone of heresy. In the Roman Catholic and Greek Churches, however, it is held that the enlightening guidance of the Holy Spirit in this respect is restrained within the limits of certain ecclesias-tical machinery (the cecumenical council, the pope ex cathedra, &c.), which are the only channels through which the Spirit comes to the church, and hence the creed of the church rather than Scripture is the real touchstone of heresy. Protestant theologians, on the other band, do not believe either that the guidance of the Spirit is always present within this ecclesiastical machinery or that it is given in this way only, and so they make a distinction between mere ecclesiastical and real theological heresies. Ecclesiastical heresies arise when a fundamentad statement made in the creed or confession is contradicted. But it may happen, since creeds and councils may err, that the error is not in the contradiction but in the creed, and therefore there is always an appeal from the creed to the Scripture. The ecclesiastical idea of heresy has always the theological idea behind it, and may at any time be corrected by it. Roman Catholic and Greek theologians, on the other hand, do not admit any going behind the record; they do not allow any appeal from the creed to Scripture. According to their ideas the creed is the infallible digest of Scripture, and therefore heresy is to be tested by the creed and not by Scripture—that is, the ecclesiastical and theological ideas of heresy are exactly the same.

2. Heresy according to Canon Law.—Canon law was the ecclesiastical law of mediaeval Europe, and is still the law of the Roman Catholic Church, and its description of heresy and of heretics is almost more important than the theological in the investigation of the matter from the historical side. Canon law regards heresy from the practical side of ecclesiastical procedure and legal enactment. Its view is much narrower than the theological, but much more precise. Orthodoxy is the doctrine maintained by the infallible Roman Church and assented to by all its faithful members; heresy is dissent from the articles of faith established by the Roman pontiffs and by the councils of the Roman Church. Canon law also is mainly concerned with heresy in order to punish it, and therefore is obliged to treat the whole subject with severe legal accuracy of statement. It proceeds from strict definitions. Perhaps the commonest definition is the following :—heresy is "error intellectus voluntarius contra aliquam propositionem catholicam cum pertinacia assertus ab eo qui baptismum accepit." Jurists are accustomed to expand this general definition in a variety of qualifying statements. (a) All heresy is error, but every error is not a heresy. It is an error according to canon law to take usury ; it is heresy to say that to take usury is not a sin, but taking usury is no heresy. Heresy is intellectual error. It is intellectual error believed to be truth, and that in spite of predominant opinion. Canonists distinguish between members of the Roman Church who refuse, e.g., to accept the "filioque" clause in the creed, and members of the Greek Church who make the same refusal. The refusal is in both cases an error, but it is a heresy only in the Roman Church, for there only the predominant opinion is against the error. (b) An error also only becomes heresy when it is held voluntarily. To be a heretic a man must stick to his error, although he knows that it has been condemned by the church. A heretic not only errs, but knows that he errs, and wishes to err. (c) Nor is every voluntary error a heresy; the heretic must contradict a doctrine which has been clearly stated in the creed and has become part of the defined faith of the church. (d) Nor is an erroneous opinion voluntarily professed in opposition to the creed of the church heresy, unless the heretic persists in it. Pertinacity, all cationists insist, is an essential element in heresy, and unless it is present no process for heresy can legally proceed. (e) And lastly, a heretic must be a member of the church. He must have been baptized. Neither a Jew, a Mahometan, nor a heathen can be a heretic. They may be unbelievers, they may hold erroneous opinions, but their opinions are not heresies.

From the first qualification, that heresy is an intellectual error, canonists deduce the ground of their enactments against the suspicion of heresy and against those suspected. Canon law uniformly proceeds on the idea that heresy is not merely an error but a crime. It is a crime, however, which belongs to the invisible part of man, to his intellect. It is not something done with his hands or his feet which witnesses can see, and they argue that direct proof is there-fore almost impossible, and that the commission of the crime must almost always be proved from suspicions. This suspicion of heresy occupies a very large space in the dis-sertations of canonists, and the weakness of their position has made them bring in a very great number of reasons which they seem to think strengthen it (see especially Dandinus, De suspect. de hoeresibus), They carefully define the degrees of suspicion with the conduct appropriate to each : where the suspicion is only "light," the suspected are simply to be watched; where it is "vehement," they are to be denounced; where it is "violent," they are to be treated as heretics. Canonists have carefully analysed and arranged what are reasonable grounds of suspicion. Pope Innocent III. declared that to lead a solitary life, to refuse to accommodate one’s self to the prevailing manners of society, and to frequent unauthorized religious meetings were abundant grounds of suspicion; while later canonists were accustomed to give lists of deeds which made the doers suspect :—a priest who did not celebrate mass, a layman who was seen in clerical robes, those who favoured heretics, received them as guests, gave them safe conduct, tolerated them, trusted them, defended them, fought under them, or read their books, were all to be suspect. The canonist rules for suspicion became a sort of inquisitor’s vade mecum, and when really practised produced a reign of terror.

Since canon law regarded heresy with such horror and detestation, it is not surprising that it gives many direc-tions, which have the force of legal enactments, whereby men may avoid the dangers of heresy. Pope Alexander IV. prohibited laymen from arguing about matters of faith. The council of Toledo (1129), anxious to put down the Albigenses, ordained that every man above fourteen and every woman above twelve years of age should solemnly swear to abjure every heresy and to maintain in its com-pleteness the Catholic faith. Pope Pius IV. ordered the laity to abstain from reading the Scriptures in the vulgar tongue. The promiscuous reading of books was forbidden, and an index of prohibited books believed to be dangerous to faith or morals was formed.

Canon law regards heresy as a crime, and while it recog-nizes that the power of the church is spiritual, and that the church visits offences with spiritual punishments such as excommunication, it proceeds on the idea that the state should assist the church in suppressing heresy, and visit heretics with civil pains and penalties, including torture and capital punishment; but this side of the history of heresy belongs as much to civil as to canon law. The church, however, did what it could against heretics. The council of Laodicea (can. 6-9) prohibited them from attending service, though from subsequent acts this could not have been enforced. They were not allowed to give evidence in an ecclesiastical court ; a father was prohibited from allowin, his son or daughter to marry a heretic; social intercourse with them was prohibited, &c.

3. Heresy according to Civil Law.—Civil law treats heresy in a still simpler fashion. The legal idea seems to have been that, since the state approved of one creed and gave it public recognition, to profess any other creed was in some sense civil disaffection or a kind of treason, and manifested lack of loyalty. This notion, however, war supplemented by another and much deeper one in the public law of the mediaeval empire. According to the ideas of the earlier mediaeval jurists, civil government and ecclesiastical government were equally and in the same sense ordinances of God; and this thought found expres-sion in the twin conceptions of world-king and world-priest, emperor and pope, who were God’s vicars, and ruled in His name over church and state. God was the king of the world; the emperor was His vicar, and treason, therefore, included treason against God, or heresy, as well as treason against the emperor. This idea lingered long, and indeed still lingers, and compli-cates the simpler civil notion of heresy. For all practical purposes; however, the deeper thought may be discarded. In civil law, heresy is pertinacious dissent from the creed approved of for the time being. For example, the Lutheran creed, the Confessio Augustana, was heresy in all parts of Germany up to the peace of Augsburg, when it was recog-nized as a creed which might be professed. It then became orthodox in the civil sense of the. term, in the same way that the Roman Catholic creed was orthodox, while the Calvinist creed, still unrecognized, was heresy.

Civil punishment followed religious offences as early as the time of Constantine, who enacted severe penalties against the Donatists, and ordained that all possessing Arian books should burn them on the pain of death. Laws against the reading of heretical books became very frequent during and after the 4th century, Areadius made the reading of books written by the Eunomians a capital offence. Theodosius and Valentinian proscribed Nestorian books, and Valentinian and Marcian the books of Eutyches and Nestorius. The custom became so common that the condemnation of any heresy by the church was followed by the proscription of the writings of members of the sect. The Codex Theodosianus, bk. xvi. tit. 5, "De haereticis," enumerates a great variety of laws against heresy with penalties more or less severe. They had the practical effect of declaring, heretics outlaws, who could not hold offices of dignity or value, receive or bequeath money, enforce con-tracts, &c. In some cases death was the punishment for heresy. Justinian made it impossible for any heretic to bear witness in the civil courts of the land. This legislation may all be traced back to the action of Theodosius, who imposed the Nicene creed upon all his subjects, and made it a law of the land. It continued in force during the Middle Ages, and in consequence heretics who could not accept the Nicene were outlaws also. This perhaps explains the curious fact that almost all the mediaeval heretics were also revolutionists. During the Middle Ages, especially from the time of Innocent III. onwards, civil interference in cases of heresy was much increased. In the early church the power of discipline belonged to the presbytery, and was afterwards usurped by the bishops, who continued to exercise it in matters of heresy until Innocent III. appointed the Inquisition to deal with heretics. So long as the empire was not Christian, the civil law had nothing to do with the punishment of erroneous opinions, but as soon as Christianity became the authorized religion of the state, the old pagan idea that the state has power to punish religiones novas et illicitas was revived. The state, either instructed by the church or, as in the Theodosian code, without instruction, visited with civil pains and penalties all such opinions. This came to a height when the Inquisition was established; and civil courts and national assemblies one after another decreed that whatever penalties were imposed by the Inquisition should be imposed by the state, or else handed over all cases of heresy to the Inquisi-tion to be dealt with as matters deserving the infliction of civil penalties, fines, imprisonment, torture, and death. There is no sadder page in the history of the church than her alliance with the state for the purpose of torturing men out of opinions different from her own. Since the Reforma-tion the persecuting spirit, although tenacious of life, has been gradually dying out.

Principal Heresies.—Early Christian theologians wrote a great many books against heretics in which they enume-rated the various heresies which had sprung up in the church up to their own time. St Augustine tells us (Ep. 222) that Philastrius, bishop of Brescia, had discovered 28 heresies among the Jews before the coming of Christ, and 128 in the Christian Church afterwards; and many other orthodox writers have given very long lists of these erro-neous opinions. It was natural that the early centuries of the Christian era, especially the first five, should be somewhat prolific in heresies, because that was the very period when the church was occupied in defining the principal doctrines of Christianity. A history of heresies must spend most time upon the early centuries. The first dogmatic work of the church was to define the nature of Christ, who occupied the central place in its thought, and it had to steer its way between two opposite views, both of which interfered with the full doginatic expression of the nature of the Mediator. On the one hand, many of the Jewish converts never rose to the height of the Christian idea of the person of Christ, and it is evident that these must have been very numerous from the emphasis with which it is insisted that Christians should GREEK. These Jewish converts preferred to regard the Saviour as the last of the prophets, one who bore the same relation to God and to man as the prophets did. They shrank frorn the idea of the incarnation ; they seemed to feel no need for the divine Saviour. This theory was of course accomparied by other views about the nature of Christianity, but the main element was opposition to the Christian doctrine of the real divinity of Christ, God who has become man. This Ebionite heresy has been maintained by men who wish to call themselves Christians since these early days, and has taken a great variety of shapes; but whether it is held by Jew or Unitarian, there is the same outline of opinion and the same steadfast repugnance to the doctrine of the incarnation. On the other hand, the philosophic doctrine of the repugnance between matter and spirit, the idea, which runs through all Greek philosophy, that matter is the source of evil, induced many of the early Gentile converts to Christianity to think of the incarnation as a metaphor rather than as a fact. Christ, they thought, did not take, but only seemed to take, a human body. These Docetists, as they were called, had a whole series of successors in the early church. When Christian theology advanced step by step in the definition of the doctrine of the person of Christ, it was this old idea of the repugnance between the divine spirit and human nature embodied that lay at the root of the Apollinarian, Eutychian, and Monophysite heresies. Apollinaris denied that the Theanthropos had a "reason-able" soul ; he denied the full humanity of the Saviour. Eutyches denied that the Theanthropos had a human nature ; and the Monophysites, in their various theories, held strongly by the same idea. All these theories, how-ever different in form and expression, denied the full and true humanity of Christ, and so contradicted the church’s yearning for a Saviour truly man as well as truly God. These heresies, along with the Nestorian, were all finally condemned at the council of Chalcedon (the fourth oecu-menical).

But long, before the church had definitely set forth the doctrine of the person of Christ, its attention was turned to the doctrine of the essential nature of the Godhead. At first this doctrine was scarcely considered apart from Christology. It is impossible to separate the history of the doctrine of the Trinity from the doctrine of the person of Christ; for long the two separate problems were inex-tricably mixed. At length it became evident to the mind of the church that there were two doctrines, and Christian theology turned aside to discuss, and if possible settle, the doctrine of the essential nature of the Godhead before it proceeded to exhaust the doctrine of the person of Christ. For the real problem in the Arian controversy was not the divinity of the Mediator but the nature of God. Is God to be thought of as a Trinity or as a Unity? what is the relation of the Second Person in the Trinity to the First Person? The real gain to Christian theology which came from the discussions in the Arian controversy was to thrust out the Greek conception of Deity as the Absolute who cannot be described save by negations, and to put in its stead a Christian conception which shows that there are motions within the Deity which, however incomprehensible, enable us to know that God may be in sympathy with men, and that all things may live, move, ana have their being in Him.

The philosophical idea that matter is the source of evil that matter has always some stubborn element in it by which it can defy the ideal, gave rise to a whole series of ancient and mediaeval heresies. The Gnostics in all their various sects distinguished between God and the Creator. The good God, they held, could not defile Himself by con-tact with matter, and therefore could not be the God of creation and providence. Christian theology, on the other hand, has always confessed God to be the Almighty Maker of heaven and earth, and all things seen and unseen, and the necessity for such a doctrine of creation consists in the fact that the Christian consciousness demands the absence of any thing that might come in between God and the furtherance of His plan of salvation. It demands that all things be thought of as dependent on God, in order that He may be able to make all things work together for the good of His people; and so it has strenuously asserted the doctrines of creation and providence in opposition to an independent matter and the reign of fate. The Gnostic ideas were repeated by the Manichaeans and by several mediaeval sects, such as the Paulicians and Messalians, and, in the Eastern Church, by the Bogomili.

The Pelagian and Manichaean heresies principally concern the Christian doctrine of man and of the presence of sin in man, and contradict the church’s creed, because they do away with the Christian doctrine of reconciliation. Pela-gianism, it was held, denied the need of God’s grace by insisting that man was free from indwelling sin at the beginning, of his career, and followed good, when he did follow it, by the power of his own will; while Manichaeism, by asserting that sin belonged to the essential Dature of man, seemed to paralyse the whole divine action in reconciliation. It was held by the orthodox opponents of Pelagius that his opinions really implied that there was no real Deed for the Saviour and the salvation which Christianity describes, and that semi-Pelagianism, although much nearer orthodox doctrine, very inadequately comprehended that sinfulness in man which rendered reconciliation indispensable ere there could be a restoration of communion with God.

The Antinomian and various kinds of mystical theories about the Christian life all proceed upon a view of the effects of Christ’s work which is at variance with funda-mental Christian ideas, Christian doctrine teaches that men reconciled to God will strive to live a life of new obedience to Him, and it holds that this life of new obedience comes under the same moral laws as the ordinary life of man. But many Christian sects have professed theories about this life of new obedience which seem to imply that it is not under the laws of ordivary morality, that Christian freedom means licence to do what ordinary morals forbid. The Epistles to the Corinthians seem to say that such theories were held in the apostolic church, and were denounced by the apostles; many of the Gnostic and Manichaean sects undoubtedly professed them. The same views occur again and again in mediaeval heresy, and were held by many of the enthusiastic sectaries in Refor-mation times and later. The Brethren of the Free Spirit in the l3th and 14th century, the Anabaptists during the Reformation period, and some of the followers of Molinos are examples. The mystical theories which so largely entered into the mediaeval church, and which have con-tinually clung to tile skirts of Christianity, have in many instances proceeded on the principle that the new life is implanted in man in a physical way, and magical ideas of the means of grace have been very destructive to the moral theory of the Christian life.

The history of the mediaeval heretical sects is by far too complicated to be entered on here. Many of them did no more th in protest against the hierarchical constitution of the churcli of the Middle Ages. Most of them only sought room to carry out to the full their ideas of a true "Imitatio Christi," but it is also certain that a good many Gnostic and Antinomian tenets were held. The Friends of God, the Fratricelli, the Beghards, were all mystics, but their mysticism, was of a very harmless description ; while the Brethren of the Common Life were worthy forerunners of the pietists of the 18th century (see MYSTICS).

The heretics of the Reformation Church scarcely call for separate remark. The Zwickau prophets and the Anabaptists held opinions at variance with the ordinary notions of what is meant by the Christian life. Schwenkfeld, the Quietists, the followers of Madame Bourignon, all revived types of mysticism which had appeared long before; and the Quakers had their forerunners in mediaeval times. Many of these sects, though called heretical, seem to have arisen simply from the desire to live purer and more spiritual lives than the church organization of their times permitted, and in order to do so were led to lay stress upon the idea of personal guidance by the Spirit of God, and on the necessity of the "house and heart church" in opposition to the external church life of their time, on the need of personal as opposed to official religion.

In this article Christian heresy alone has been described. Heresy, however, arises wherever there is doctrine, and there are Mahometan and Buddhist heresies and sects as well as Christian.

The best history of sects and heresies from the sympathetic side is, Gottfried Arnold’s Unparteiische Kirchen- und Ketzer-Historie, 1699-1700 (best ed. that of Schaffhausen, 1740). A very good list of writers on heresy, ancient and mediaeval, is given in Burton’s Bampton Lectures on Heresies of the Apostolic Age, 1829. The various Trinitarian and Christological heresies may be studied in Dorner’s History of the Doctrine of the Person of Christ, 1845-56, Eng,. tr. 1861-62 ; the Gnostic and Manichaean heresies in the works oi Mansel, Matter, and Beausobre ; the mediaeval heresies in Hahn’s Geschichte der Ketzer im Mittelalter, 1846-50, and Preger‘s Geschichte der deutschen Mystic, 1875; Quietism in Heppe’s Geschichte der quietistischen Mystik, 1875; the Pietist sects in Palmer’s Gemeinschaften und Secten Württembergs, 1875; the Reformation and 17th century heresies and sects in the Anabaptis-ticum et enthusiasticum Pantheon und Geistliches Rüst-Haus, 1702. Böhmer’s Jus Ecclesiasticum Protestantium, 1714-23, and Van Espen’s Jus Ecclesiasticum, 1702, detail at great length the relations of heresy to canon and civil law. On the question of the baptism of heretics see Smith and Cheetham’s Diet. of Eccl. Antiquities, "Baptism, Iteration of;" and on that of the readmission of heretics into the church, compare Martene, De Ritibus, and Morinus, De Poenitentia.

Heresy according to the Law of England.—The highest point reached by the ecclesiastical power in England was in the Act De hceretico comburendo (2 Henry IV. c. 15). Some have supposed that a writ of that name is as old as the common law, but its execution might be arrested by a pardon from the crown. The Act of Henry IV. enabled the diocesan alone, without the coopera-tion of a synod, to pronounce sentence of heresy, and required the sheriff to execute it by burning the offender, without waiting for the consent of the crown.1 A large number of penal statutes were enacted in the following reigns, and the statute 1 Eliz. c. 1 is regarded by lawyers as limiting for the first time the description of heresy to tenets declared heretical either by the canonical Scripture or by the first four general councils, or such as should thereafter be so declared by parliament with the assent of convocation. The writ was abolisbed by 29 Car. II. c. 9, which reserved to the ecclesiastical courts their jurisdiction over heresy and similar offences, and their power of awarding punishments not extending to death. Heresy became henceforward a purely ecclesiastical offence, although disabling laws of various kinds continued to be enforced against Jews, Catholics, and other dissenters. The tem-poral courts have no knowledge of any orrence known as heresy, although incidentally (e.g., in questions of copyright) they have refused protection to persons promulgating irreligious, or blas-phemous opinions. As an ecclesiastical offence it would at this moment be almost impossible to say what Opinion, in the case of a layman at least, would be deemed heretical. Apparently, if a proper case could be made out, an ecclesiastical court might still sentence a layman to excommunicatiou for heresy, but by no other uteans could his opinions be brought under censure. The last case on the subject (Jenkins v. Cook, Law Reports, 1 Probate Division 80) leaves the matter in the same uncertainty. In that case a clergyman refused the communion to a parishioner who denied the personality of the devil. The judicial committee held that the rights of the parishioners are expressly defined in the statute of 1 Edw. VI. c. 1, and, without admitting that the canons of the church, which are not binding on the laity, could specify a lawful cause for rejection, held that no lawful cause within the meaning of either the canons or the rubric had been shown. It was maintained at the bar that the denial of the most fundamental doctrines of Christianity would not be a lawful cause for such rejection, but the judgment only queries whether a denial of the personality of

FOOTNOTE (page 738)

1 Stephen’s Comvwntaries, bk. iv. c. 7.

the devil or eternal punishment is consistent with membership of the church. The right of every layman to the offices of the church is established by statute without reference to opinions, and it is not possible to say what opinions, if any, would operate to dis-qualify him.

The case of clergymen is entirely different. The statute 13 Eliz. c. 12, § 2, enacts that "if any person ecclesiastical, or which shall have an ecclesiastical living, shall advisedly maintain or affirm any doctrine directly contrary or repugnant to any of the said articles, and by conven ticle before the bishop of the diocese, or the ordinary, or before the queen’s highness commissioners in matters ecclesiastical, shall persist therein or riot revoke his error, or after such revocation eftsoons affirm such untrue doctrine, "he shall be de-prived of his ecclesiastical promotions. The Act it will be observed applies only to clergymen, and the punishment is strictly limited to deprivation of benefice. The judicial committee of the privy council, as the last court of appeal, has on several occasions pronounced judgments by which the scope of the Act has been Con-fined to its narrowest legal effect . The court will construe the Articles of Religion and formularies according to the legal rules for the interpretation of statutes and written instruments. No rule of doctrine is to be ascribed to the church which is not distinctly and expressly stated or plainly involved in the written law of the Church, and where there is no rule, a clergyman may express his opinion without fear of penal consequences. In the Essays and Reviews cases (Williams v. the Bishop of Salisbury, and Wilson v. Fendall) it was held to be not penal for a clergyman to speak of merit by transfer as a "fiction," or to express a hope of the ultimate pardon of the wicked, or to affirm that any part of the Old or New Testament, however unconnected with religious faith or moral duty, was not written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In the case of Noble v. Voysey in 1871, the committee held that it was not bound to affix a meaning to articles of really dubious import, as it would have been in cases affecting property. At the same time any manifest contradiction of the Articles, or any obvious evasion of them, would subject the offender to the penalties of deprivation. In some of the cases the question has been raised how far the doctrine of the church could be ascertained by reference to the opinions generally expressed by divines belonging to its communion. Such opinions, it would seem, might be taken into account as showing the extent of liberty which had been in practice, claimed and exercised on the interpretation of the articles, but would certainly not be allowed to increase their stringency. It is not the business of the court to pronounce upon the absolute truth or falsehood of any given opinion, but simply to say whether it is formally consistent with the legal doctrines of the Church of England. Whether convocation has any jurisdiction in cases of heresy is a question which has occasioned some difference of opinion among lawyers. Hale, as quoted by Phillimore, says that before the time of Richard II., that is, before any Acts of Parliament were made about heretics, it is without question that in a con-vocation of the Clergy or provincial synod "they might and frequently did here in England proceed to the sentencing of heretics." But later writers, while adhering to the statement that convocation might declare opinions to be heretical, doubted whether it could proceed to punish the offender, even when he was a clerk in orders. Phillimore states that there is no longer any doubt, even apart from the effect of the Clergy Discipline Act, 3 and 4 Vict. c. 86, that convocation has no power to condemn clergymen for heresy. The supposed right of convocation to stainp heretical opinions with its disapproval was recently exercised oil a somewhat memorable occasion. In 1864 the convocation of the province of Canterbury, having taken the opinion of two of the most eminent lawyers of the day (Sir Hugh Cairns and Mr Rolt), passed judgment upon the volume entitled Essays and Reviews. The judgment purported to "synodically condemn the said volume as containing teaching contrary to the doctrine received by the United Church of England and Ireland, in common with the whole Catholic Church of Christ." These proceedings were challenged in the House of Lords by Lord Houghton, and the lord chancellor (Westbury), speaking on behalf of the Government, stated that if there was any "synodical judgment" it would be a violation of the law, subjecting those concerned in it to the penalties of a proemunire, but that the sentence in question was "simply nothing, literally no sentence at all." It is thus atleast doubtful whether convocation has a right even to express an opinion unless specially authorized to do so by the crown, and it is certain that it cannot do anything more. Heresy or no heresy, in the last resort, like all other ecclesiastical questions, is decided by the judicial committee of the council.

The English lawyers, following the Roman law, distinguish be-tween heresy and apostasy. The latter offence is dealt with by an Act which still stands on the statute book, although it has long been virtually obsolete—the 9 and 10 Will. III. c. 35. If any person who has been educated in or has professed the Christian religion shall, by writing, printing, teaching, or advised speaking, assert or maintain that there are more Gods than one, or shall deny any of the persons of the Holy Trinity to be God, or shall deny the Cbristian religion to be true or the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be of divine authority, he shall for the first offence be declared incapable of holding any ecclesiastical, civil, or military office or employment, and for the second incapable of bringin any action, or of being guardian, executor, legatee, or grantee, and shall suffer three years’ imprisonment without bail. Unitarians were saved from these atrocious penalties by a later Act (53 Geo. III. c. 160), which permits Christians to deny any of the persons in the Trinity without penal consequences.

The above article was written by:

Rev. Thomas M. Lindsay, D.D., Principal and formerly Professor of Divinity and Church History, United Free Church, Glasgow; translated Ueberweg's System of Logic; author of The Reformation, and of commentaries on Acts of the Apostles and St Luke's Gospel.


Edmund Robertson, K.C., M.A., LL.D., Barrister; late Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford; Reader on Law to the Council of Legal Education; M.P. for Dundee from 1885; Civil Lord of the Admiralty, 1892-95; author of American Home Rule.

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