From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [1]

haeresis, αιρεσις , from αιρεω , I choose, signifies an error in some essential point of Christian faith, publicly avowed, and obstinately maintained; or, according to the legal definition, "Sententia rerum divinarum humano sensu excogitata, palam docta, et pertinaciter defensa." [An opinion of divine things invented by human reason, openly taught, and obstinately defended.] Among the ancients, the word heresy appears to have had nothing of that odious signification which has been attached to it by ecclesiastical writers in later times. It only signified a peculiar opinion, dogma, or sect, without conveying any reproach; being indifferently used, either of a party approved, or of one disapproved, by the writer. In this. sense they spoke of the heresy of the Stoics, of the Peripatetics, Epicureans, &c, meaning the sect or peculiar system of these philosophers. In the historical part of the New Testament, the word seems to bear very nearly the same signification, being employed indiscriminately to denote a sect or party, whether good or bad. Thus we read of the sect or heresy of the Sadducees, of the Pharisees, of the Nazarenes, &c. See   Acts 5:17;  Acts 15:5;  Acts 24:5;  Acts 26:5;  Acts 28:22 . In the two former of these passages, the term heresy seems to be adopted by the sacred historian merely for the sake of distinction, without the least appearance, of any intention to convey either praise or blame. In   Acts 26:4-5 , St. Paul, in defending himself before King Agrippa, uses the same term, when it was manifestly his design to exalt the party to which he had belonged, and to give their system the preference over every other system of Judaism, both with regard to soundness of doctrine and purity of morals.

2. It has been suggested that the acceptation of the word αιρεσις in the epistles is different from what it has been observed to be in the historical books of the New Testament. In order to account for this difference, it may be observed that the word sect has always something relative in it; and therefore, although the general import of the term be the same, it will convey a favourable or an unfavourable idea, according to the particular relation which it bears in the application. When it is used along with the proper name, by way of distinguishing one party from another, it conveys neither praise nor reproach. If any thing reprehensible or commendable be meant, it is suggested, not by the word αιρεσις itself, but by the words with which it stands connected in construction. Thus we may speak of a strict sect, or a lax sect; or of a good sect, or a bad sect. Again: the term may be applied to a party formed in a community, when considered in reference to the whole. If the community be of such a nature as not to admit of such a subdivision, without impairing or corrupting its constitution, a charge of splitting into sects, or forming parties, is equivalent to a charge of corruption in that which is most essential to the existence and welfare of the society. Hence arises the whole difference in the word, as it is used in the historical part of the New Testament, and in the epistles of St. Peter and St. Paul; for these are the only Apostles who employ it. In the history, the reference is always of the first kind; in the epistles, it is always of the second. In these last, the Apostles address themselves only to Christians, and either reprehend them for, or warn them against, forming sects among themselves, to the prejudice of charity, to the production of much mischief within their community, and of great scandal to the unconverted world without. In both applications, however, the radical import of the word is the same; and even in the latter it has no necessary reference to doctrine, true or false. During the early ages of Christianity, the term heresy gradually lost the innocence of its original meaning, and came to be applied, in a reproachful sense, to any corruption of what was considered as the orthodox creed, or even to any departure from the established rites and ceremonies of the church.

3. The heresies chiefly alluded to in the apostolical epistles are, first, those of the Judaizers, or rigid adherents to the Mosaic rites, especially that of circumcision; second, those of converted Hellenists, or Grecian Jews, who held the Greek eloquence and philosophy in too high an estimation, and corrupted, by the speculations of the latter, the simplicity of the Gospel; and third, those who endeavoured to blend Christianity with a mixed philosophy of magic, demonology, and Platonism, which was then highly popular in the world. With respect to the latter, the remarks of Hug will tend to illustrate some passages in the writings of St. Paul;—Without being acquainted with the notions of those teachers who caused the Apostle so much anxiety and so much vexation, a considerable part of these treatises must necessarily remain dark and unintelligible. From the criteria by which the Apostle points them out, at one time some deemed that they recognized the Gnostics; others perceived none but the Essenes; and every one found arguments for his assertions from the similarity of the doctrines, opinions, and morals. It would, however, be as difficult to prove that the Gnostic school had at that time indeed perfectly developed itself, as it is unjust to charge the Essenes with that extreme of immorality of which St. Paul accused these seducers, since the contemporaries and acquaintances of this Jewish sect mention them with honour and respect, and extol its members as the most virtuous men of their age. The similarity of the principles and opinions, which will have been observed in both parties compared with St. Paul's declarations, flows from a common source, from the philosophy of that age, whence both the one and the other have derived their share. We shall therefore go less astray, if we recede a step, and consider the philosophy itself, as the general modeller of these derivative theories. It found its followers among Judaism as well as among the Heathens; it both introduced its speculative preparations into Christianity, and endeavoured to unite them or to adjust them to it, as well as they were able, by which means Christianity would have become deformed and unlike to itself, and would have been merged in the ocean of philosophical reveries, unless the Apostles had on this occasion defended it against the follies of men. An oriental, or, as it is commonly called, a Babylonian or Chaldean, doctrinal system had already long become known to the Greeks, and even to the Romans, before Augustus, and still more so in the Augustan age, and was in the full progress of its extension over Asia and Europe. It set up different deities and intermediate spirits in explanation of certain phenomena of nature, for the office of governing the world, and for the solution of other metaphysical questions, which from time immemorial were reckoned among the difficult propositions of philosophy. The practical part of this system was occupied with the precepts by means of which a person might enter into communication with these spirits or demons. But the result which they promised to themselves from this union with the divine natures, was that of acquiring, by their assistance, superhuman knowledge, that of predicting future events, and of performing supernatural works. These philosophers were celebrated under the name of magi and Chaldeans; who, for the sake of better accommodating themselves to the western nations, modified their system after the Greek forms, and then, as it appears, knew how to unite it with the doctrine of Plato, from whence afterward arose the Neo-Platonic and in Christendom the Gnostical school. These men forced their way even to the throne. Tiberius had received instruction in their philosophy, and was very confident that by means of an intelligence with the demons, it was possible to learn and perform extraordinary things. Nero caused a great number of them to be brought over from Asia, not unfrequently at the expense of the provinces. The supernatural spirits would not always appear, yet he did not discard his belief of them. The magi and Chaldeans were the persons who were consulted on great undertakings, who, when conspiracies arose, predicted the issue; who invoked spirits, prepared offerings, and in love affairs were obliged to afford aid from their art. Even the force of the laws, to which recourse was frequently necessary to be had at Rome, tended to nothing but the augmentation of their authority. As they found access and favour with people of all classes in the capital, so did they also in the provinces. Paul found a magus at the court of the proconsul at Paphos,   Acts 13:6 . Such was that Simon in Samaria,  Acts 8:10 , who was there considered as a higher being of the spiritual class. The expression is remarkable, as it is a part of the technical language of the Theurgists; they called him Δυναμι του Θεου μεγαλη , "The great power of God." So also Pliny calls some of the demons and intermediate spirits, by whose cooperation particular results were effected, potestates. [Powers.] Justin Martyr, the fellow countryman of Simon, has preserved to us some technical expressions of his followers. He says that they ascribed to him the high title υπερανω κ ασης αρχης , και εξουσιας , και δυναμεως . [Far above all principality, and power, and might.] Of these classes of spirits, which appear under such different appellations, the superior were those who ruled; but the inferior, who had more of a material substance, and who, on that account, were able to connect themselves immediately with matter, were those who executed the commands of the superior. By an intelligence with the superior spirits a person might have the subaltern at his service and assistance; for the more powerful demons thus commanded the inferior to execute certain commissions in the material world: ‘Σν τω αρχοντι των δαιμονιων , "By the prince of the devils,"  Matthew 12:24 .

4. The Syrian philosopher, Jamblichus, of Chalcis, has furnished us with a circumstantial representation of this system and its several varieties, in his book on the mysteries of the Chaldeans and Egyptians:—The nature of the gods is a pure, spiritual, and perfect unity. With this highest and perfect immateriality no influence on matter is conceivable, consequently, no creation and dominion of the world. Certain subordinate deities must therefore be admitted, which are more compounded in their nature, and can act upon gross matter. These are the "creators of the world," δημιουργοι , and the "rulers of the world," κοσμοκρατορες . The superior deities are, however, the real cause of all that exists; and from their fulness, from their πληρωμα , it derives its existence. The succession from the highest deities down to the lowest is not by a sudden descent, but by a continually graduating decrease from the highest, pure, and spiritual natures, down to those which are more substantial and material, which are the nearest related to the gross matter of the creation, and which consequently possess the property of acting upon it. In proportion to their purer quality, or coarser composition, they occupy different places as their residence, either in a denser atmosphere, or in higher regions. The highest among these classes of spirits are called αρχαι , or, αρχικον αιτιον . Others among the "divine natures," θειαι ουσιαι , are "intermediate beings," μεσαι . Those which occupy themselves with the laws of the world are also called αρχοντες , and "the ministering spirits" are δυναμεις and αγγελοι . The archangels are not generally recognized in this theory; this class is said to have been of a later origin, and to have been first introduced by Porphyry. ( See Archangel . ) If we take here also into consideration the εξουσιαι , of which Justin has before spoken, we shall have enumerated the greater part of the technical appellations of this demonology. But to arrive at a union with the higher orders of the spiritual world, in which alone the highest bliss of man consists, it is necessary, before all things, to become disengaged from the servitude of the body, which detains the soul from soaring up to the purely spiritual. Matrimony, therefore, and every inclination to sexual concupiscence, must be renounced before the attainment of this perfection. Hence, the offerings and initiations of the magi cannot, without great injury, be even communicated to those who have not as yet emancipated themselves from the libido procreandi, and the propensities to corporeal attachments. To eat meat, or to partake in general of any slain animal, nay, to even touch it, contaminates. Bodily exercises and purifications, though not productive of the gifts of prophecy, are nevertheless conducive to them. Though the gods only attend to the pure, they nevertheless sometimes mislead men to impure actions. This may perhaps proceed from the totally different ideas of that which is good and righteous, which subsist between them and mankind.

5. This philosophy of which the elements had already existed a long time in the east, formed itself, in its progress to the west, into a doctrinal system, which found there far more approbation and celebrity than it ever had deserved. It was principally welcome in those countries, to which the epistles of the Apostle are directed. When St. Paul had preached at Ephesus, a quantity of magical and theurgical books were brought forward by their possessors and burned before his eyes,   Acts 19:19 . This city had long since been celebrated for them, and the ‘Εφεσια

αλεξιφαρμακα and ‘Εφεσια γραμματα , were spells highly extolled by the ancients for the purpose of procuring an authority over the demons. As late even as the fourth century, the synod at Laodicea was obliged to institute severe laws against the worship of angels against magic, and against incantations. These opinions had taken such a deep root in the mind, that some centuries did not suffice for the extinction of the recollection of them. Now, there are passages in the Apostle which strikingly characterize this theory. He calls the doctrinal system of his opponents φιλοσοφια ου κατα Χριστον , "a philosophy incompatible with Christianity,"  Colossians 2:8; θρησκεια των αγγελων , "a worship of angels,"  Colossians 2:18; διδασκαλιαι δαιμονιων , "a demonology,"  1 Timothy 4:1 . He calls it still farther γοητεια ,  2 Timothy 3:13 . This is the peculiar expression by which the ancients denoted magical arts and necromantic experiments; γοης is, according to Hesychius, μαγος , κολαξ , περιεργος , and γοητευει , απατα μαγευει , φαρμακμευει , εξαιδει . 50. St. Paul compares these teachers to Jannes and Jambres,  2 Timothy 3:8 . These two persons are, according to the ancient tradition, the magicians who withstood Moses by their arts. They were from time immemorial names so notorious in the magical science, that they did not remain unknown even to the Neo-Platonics. When the Apostle enjoins the Ephesians to array themselves in the arms of faith, and courageously to endure the combat,  Ephesians 6:12 , he says that it is the more necessary, because their combat is not against human force, ου προς [not against] αιμα και σαρκα , "flesh and blood," but against superhuman natures. Where he mentions these, he enumerates in order the names of this magico-spiritual world, αρχας , εξουσιας , particularly the κοσμοκρατορας , "principalities," "powers," "rulers;" and likewise fixes their abode in the upper aerial regions, εις τον αερα εν τοις επουρανιοις . In like manner, in the Epistle to the Colossians, for the sake of representing to them Christianity in an exalted and important light, and of praising the divine nature of Jesus, he says, that all that exists is his creation, and is subjected to him, not even the spiritual world excepted. He then selects the philosophic appellations to demonstrate that this supposititious demonocracy is wholly subservient to him; whether they be θρονοι , or κυριοτητες , αρχαι εξουσιαι , [thrones, dominions, principalities, powers,]  Colossians 1:16 . Finally, to destroy completely and decisively the whole doctrinal system, he demonstrates, that Christ, through the work of redemption, has obtained the victory over the entire spiritual creation, that he drags in triumph the αρχας [principalities] and εξουσιας [powers] as vanquished, and that henceforth their dominion and exercise of power have ceased,  Colossians 2:15 . But what he says respecting the seared consciences of these heretics, respecting their deceptions, their avarice, &c, is certainly more applicable to this class of men, than to any other. None throughout all antiquity are more accused of these immoralities, than those pretended confidants of the occult powers. If he speaks warmly against any distinction of meats, against abstinence from matrimony, this also applies to them; and if he rejects bodily exercises, it was because they recommended them, because they imposed baths, lustrations, continence, and long preparations, as the conditions by which alone the connection with the spirits became possible. These, then, are the persons who passed before the Apostle's mind, and who, when they adopted Christianity, established that sect among the professors of Jesus, which gave to it the name of Gnostics, and which, together with the different varieties of this system, is accused by history of magical arts.

Other adherents of this system among the Heathens, to which the Syrian philosophers, as well as some Egyptian, such as Plotinus and his scholars, belonged, formed the sect of Neo-Platonism.

6. But in the above remarks of this learned German, some considerations are wanting, necessary to the right understanding of several of the above passages quoted from St. Paul. The philosophic system above mentioned was built on the Scripture doctrine of good and evil angels, and so had a basis of truth, although abused to a gross superstition, and even idolatry. It was grounded, too, upon the notion of different orders among both good and evil spirits, with subordination and government; which also is a truth of which some intimation is given in Scripture. The Apostle then could use all these terms without giving any sanction to the errors of the day. He knew that the spiritual powers they had converted into subordinate deities, were either good or evil angels in their various ranks, and he uproots the whole superstition, by showing that the "thrones and dominions" of heaven are submissive created servants of Christ; and that the evil spirits, the rulers of "the darkness of this world," are put under his feet.

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [2]

This word signifies sect or choice; it was not in its earliest acceptation conceived to convey any reproach, since it was indifferently used either of a party approved, or of one disapproved by the writer.

See  Acts 5:17;  Acts 15:3 . Afterwards it was generally used to signify some fundamental error adhered to with obstinacy,  2 Peter 2:1 .  Galatians 5:20 . According to the laws of this kingdom, heresy consists in a denial of some of the essential doctrines of Christianity, publicly and obstinately avowed. It must be acknowledged, however, that particular modes of belief or unbelief, not tending to overturn Christianity, or to sap the foundations of morality, are by no means the object of coercion by the civil magistrate. What doctrines shall therefore be adjudged heresy, was left by our old constitution to the determination of the ecclesiastical judge, who had herein a most arbitrary latitude allowed him; for the general definition of an heretic, given by Lyndewode, extends to the smallest deviations from the doctrines of the holy church: "Haereticus est qui dubitat de fide Catholica, et qui negligit servare ea quae Romana ecclesia statuit, seu servare decreverat:" or, as the statute, 2 Hen. IV. cap. 15, expresses it in English, "teachers of erroneous opinions, contrary to the faith and blessed determinations of the holy church."

Very contrary this to the usage of the first general councils, which defined all heretical doctrines with the utmost precision and exactness, and what ought to have alleviated the punishment, the uncertainty of the crime, seems to have enhanced it in those days of blind zeal and pious cruelty. The sanctimonious hypocrisy of the Canonists, indeed, went, at first, no farther than enjoining penance, excommunication, and ecclesiastical deprivation, for heresy; but afterwards they proceeded boldly to imprisonment by the ordinary, and confiscation of goods in pios usus. But in the mean time they had prevailed upon the weakness of bigoted princes to make the civil power subservient to their purposes, by making heresy not only a temporal but even a capital offence; the Romish ecclesiastics determining, without appeal, whatever they pleased to be heresy, and shifting off to the secular arm the odium and drudgery of executions, with which they pretended to be too tender and delicate to intermeddle. Nay, they affected to intercede on behalf of the convicted heretic, well knowing that at the same time they were delivering the unhappy victim to certain death.

See ACT OF Faith

Hence the capital punishments inflicted on the ancient Donatists and Manichaeans by the emperors Theodosius and Justinian; hence, also, the constitution of the emperor Frederic, mentioned by Lyndewode, adjudging all persons, without distinction, to be burnt with fire, who were convicted of heresy by the ecclesiastical judge. The same emperor, in another constitution, ordained, that if any temporal lord, when admonished by the church, should neglect to clear his territories of heretics within a year, it should by lawful for good Catholics to seize and occupy the lands, and utterly to exterminate the heretical possessors. And upon this foundation was built that arbitrary power, so long claimed, and so fatally exerted by the pope, of disposing even of the kingdoms of refractory princes to more dutiful sons of the church. The immediate event of this constitution serves to illustrate at once the gratitude of the holy see, and the just punishment of the royal bigot; for, upon the authority of this very constitution, the pope afterwards expelled this very emperor Frederic from his kingdom of Sicily, and gave it to Charles of Anjou.

Christianity being thus deformed by the daemon of persecution upon the continent, our own island could not escape its scourge. Accordingly we find a writ de haeretico comburendo, 1:e. of burning the heretic.

See that article. But the king might pardon the convict by issuing only by the special direction of the king in council. In the reign of Henry IV. when the eyes of the Christian world began to open, and the seeds of the Protestant religion (under the opprobrious name of Lollardy) took root in this kingdom, the clergy, taking advantage from the king's dubious title to demand an increase of their own power, obtained an act of parliament, which sharpened the edge of persecution to its utmost keenness.

See Haeretico Comburendo By statute 2 Henry V. 100: 7, Lollardy was also made a temporal offence, and indictable in the king's courts; which did not thereby gain an exclusive, but only a concurrent jurisdiction with the bishop's consistory. Afterwards, when the reformation began to advance, the power of the ecclesiastics was somewhat moderated; for though what heresy is was not then precisely defined, yet we are told in some points what it is not; the statute 25 Hen. VIII. 100: 14. declaring that offences against the see of Rome are not heresy; and the ordinary being thereby restrained from proceeding in any case upon mere suspicion; 1:e. unless the party be accused by two credible witnesses, or an indictment of heresy be first previously found in the king's courts of common law.

And yet the spirit of persecution was not abated, but only diverted into a lay channel; for in six years afterwards, by stat. 31 Hen. VIII. 100: 14. the bloody law of the six articles was made, which were "determined and resolved by the most godly study, pain, and travail of his majesty; for which his most humble and obedient subjects, the lords spiritual and temporal, and the commons in parliament assembled, did render and give unto his highness their most high and hearty thanks." The same statute established a mixed jurisdiction of clergy and laity for the trial and conviction of heretics; Henry being equally intent on destroying the supremacy of the bishops of Rome, and establishing all their other corruptions of the Christian religion. Without recapitulating the various repeals and revivals of these sanguinary laws in the two succeeding reigns, we proceed to the reign of Queen Elizabeth, when the reformation was finally established with temper and decency, unsullied with party rancour or personal resentment

By stat. 1. Eliz. 100: 1. all former statutes relating to heresy are repealed; which leaves the jurisdiction of heresy as it stood at common law, viz. as to the infliction of common censures in the ecclesiastical courts; and in case of burning the heretic, in the provincial synod only. Sir Matthew Hale is, indeed, of a different opinion, and holds that such power resided in the diocesan also: though he agrees that in either case the writ de haeretico comburendo was not demandable of common right, but grantable or otherwise merely at the king's discretion. But the principal point now gained was, that by this statute a boundary was for the first time set to what should be accounted heresy; nothing for the future being to be so determined, but only such tenets which have been heretofore so declared,

1. by the words of the canonical Scriptures;

2. by the first four general councils, or such others as have only used the words of the Holy Scriptures; or,

3. which shall hereafter be so declared by the parliament, with the assent of the clergy in convocation. Thus was heresy reduced to a greater certainty than before, though it might not have been the worse to have defined it in terms still more precise and particular; as a man continued still liable to be burnt for what, perhaps, he did not understand to be heresy, till the ecclesiastical judge so interpreted the words of the canonical Scriptures. For the writ de haeretico comburendo remained still in force, till it was totally abolished, and heresy again subjected only to ecclesiastical correction, pro salute animae, by stat. 29. Car. II. 100: 9; when, in one and the same reign, our lands were delivered from the slavery of military tenures; our bodies from arbitrary imprisonment by the habeas corpus act: and our minds from the tyranny of superstitious bigotry, by demolishing this last badge of persecution in the English law.

Every thing is now less exceptionable, with respect to the spiritual cognizance and spiritual punishment of heresy; unless, perhaps, that the crime ought to be more strictly defined, and no prosecution permitted, even in the ecclesiastical courts, till the tenets in question are by proper authority previously declared to be heretical. Under these restrictions, some think it necessary, for the support of the national religion, that the officers of the church should have power to censure heretics; yet not to harass them with temporal penalties, much less to exterminate or destroy them. The legislature has, indeed, thought it proper that the civil magistrate should interpose with regard to one species of heresy, very prevalent in modern times; for by stat. 9. and 10. W. III. 100: 32. if any person, educated in the Christian religion, or professing the same, shall, by writing, printing, teaching, or advised speaking, deny any one of the persons in the Holy Trinity to be God, or maintain that there are more Gods than one, he shall undergo the same penalties and incapacities which were inflicted on apostasy by the same statute. Enc. Brit. Dr. Foster and Stebbing on Heresy; Hallett's Discourses, vol. 3: No. 9. p. 358, 408; Dr. Campbell's Prel. Dis. to the Gospels.

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [3]


The primary meaning of αἵρεσις is ‘taking,’ used especially of ‘taking a town’ (Herod. iv. 1). Its secondary meaning is ‘choice,’ ‘preference.’ From this it passes to ‘the thing chosen,’ and so ‘a plan,’ ‘a purpose.’ In later classical usage it comes to mean a philosophic school of thought, and hence a sect.

In the passages in which the word occurs in the Acts, it has the meaning of a religious party, e.g.  Acts 5:17 ἡ αἵρεσις τῶν Σαδδουκαίων;  Acts 15:5;  Acts 26:5 : κατὰ τὴν ἀκριβεστάτην αἵρεσιν τῆς ἡμετέρας θρησκείας ἔζησα Φαρισαῖος. Thus it is used of the Christians not by themselves but by others, e.g.  Acts 24:5 : πρωτοστάτην τε τῆς τῶν Ναζωραίων αἱρέσεως; and again, v. 14: κατὰ τὴν ὁδὸν ἥν λέγουσιν αἵρεσιν (see also  Acts 28:22). In the Epistles it is used of the evil principle of party spirit, division, and self-assertion. Thus in  Galatians 5:20 it is classed among the works of the flesh in company with ἐριθεῖαι and διχοστασίαι. In  1 Corinthians 11:18 f. St. Paul uses αἱρέσεις as the natural outcome of σχίσματα: ἀκούω σχίσματα ἐν ὑμῖν ὑπάρχειν, καὶ μέρος τι πιστεύω. δεῖ γὰρ καὶ αἱρέσεις ἐν ὑμῖν εἶναι, ἴνα οἱ δόκιμοι φανεροὶ γένωνται ἐν ὑμῖν. So that, bad though these things are, they may serve a providential purpose in testing men’s characters and showing those that can stand the test.

These divisions destroyed the harmony of the Agape. The brotherly spirit which should have characterized the common meal was absent and the sacredness of the Communion was lost in general disorder. In this passage ‘heresy’ and ‘schism’ ( q.v. [Note: quod vide, which see.] ) approach very nearly to becoming synonymous.

As St. Augustine says: ‘Haeresis autem schisma inveteratum’ ( c. Crescon. Don . ii. 7). And Nevin quoted by Trench ( NT Synonyms 8, 1876, p. 359) says: ‘Heresy and schism are not indeed the same, but yet they constitute merely the different manifestations of one and the same disease. Heresy is theoretioschism: schism is practical heresy. They continually run into one another, and mutually complete each other. Every heresy is in principle schismatic; every schism is in its innermost constitution heretical.’

So far we have found no trace of αἵρεσις being used in connexion with false doctrine but simply with divisions and factious party spirit. But in  2 Peter 2:1 a new meaning is introduced, and from the idea of a party or sect we pass to the principles and teaching which characterize the sect. αἱρέσεις ἀπωλείας must refer to doctrines which lead to destruction; indeed the following words, ‘even denying the Lord that bought them,’ point to a specimen of such false teaching, implying either a rejection of Christ as the Son of God, or a denial of His redemptive work. As this Epistle was written at a much later date than the Acts, it marks the gradual transformation that was going on in the meaning of ‘heresy’ as it passed from party or sect, first to schism and finally to erroneous teaching.

There is no trace in the NT of either αἵρεσις or σχίσμα denoting a party that had separated itself from the main body. Pharisees and Sadducees were sects in Judaism, not withdrawn from it. Such sects were, so to speak, recognized, not deprecated. Again, the parties in the Corinthian Church which called themselves after the names of Paul, Cephas, Apollos, and Christ were divisions in the Church, not separated from it. It was the harm done by strife and the absence of that spirit of unity and charity, which is the very essence of Christianity, that called for the Apostle’s rebukes. By the time that we pass into the sub-apostolic period, αἴρεσις connotes theological error and false teaching, and the sense of a sect or party gradually recedes till it passes away entirely. Two passages from Ignatius may be quoted in support of this: ὅτι πάντες κατὰ ἀλήθειαν ζῆτε καὶ ὅτι ἐν ὑμῖν οὐδεμὶα αἵρεσις κατοικεῖ ( ad Eph. vi.); and παρακαλῶ οὖν ὑμᾶς … μόνῃ τῇ Χριστιανῇ τροφῇ χρῆσθε, ἀλλογρίας δὲ βοτάνης ἀπέχεσθε, ἤτις ἐστὶν αἴρεσις ( ad Trall . vi.).

Morley Stevenson.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [4]

HERESY . The word ‘heresy’ (Gr. hairesis ) is never used in the NT in the technical sense in which we find it by the first quarter of the 2nd cent., as a doctrinal departure from the true faith of the Church, implying a separation from its communion. The usual NT meaning of hairesis is simply a party, school, or sect; and sect is the word by which it is most frequently rendered. In Acts this is the invariable use. Thus it is applied to the parties of the Pharisees and Sadducees (  Acts 5:17 ,   Acts 15:5 ,   Acts 26:5 ), precisely as in Jos. [Note: Josephus.] ( Ant . XIII. v. 9). Similarly it is used of the followers of Christ, though not by themselves (  Acts 24:5;   Acts 24:14 ,   Acts 28:22 ). In   Acts 24:14 St. Paul substitutes ‘the Way’ for his accusers’ term ‘a sect .’ The reason may partly have been that in his own usage hairesis , while still bearing the general sense of ‘party,’ had come to convey a reproach as applied to Christians.

There was nothing that distressed St. Paul more than the presence of strife and party-feeling among his converts. The unity of the Church as the body of Christ was one of his ruling ideas ( 1 Corinthians 12:12 ff.,   Romans 12:5 ,   Ephesians 1:22 f.,   Ephesians 5:23 ff.,   Colossians 1:18;   Colossians 1:24;   Colossians 2:19 ); and the existence of factions, as fatal to the sense of unity, was strongly deprecated and condemned (  Galatians 5:20 ,   1 Corinthians 11:19; cf. ‘heretic,’   Titus 3:10 ). ‘Heresy’ was division or schism (  1 Corinthians 11:18-19 shows that ‘heresy’ and ‘division’ [Gr. schisma ] were practically synonymous); and ‘schism’ was a rending or cleaving of the body of Christ (  1 Corinthians 12:25;   1 Corinthians 12:27 ). It was not doctrinal aberration from the truth, however, but practical breaches of the law of brotherly love that the Apostle condemned under the name of ‘heresy’ (see esp., as illustrating this,   1 Corinthians 11:19 ff.).

Outside of Acts and the Pauline Epp., hairesis is used in the NT only in   2 Peter 2:1 . In this, probably the latest of the NT writings, we see a marked advance towards the subsequent ecclesiastical meaning of the word. The ‘damnable (RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘destructive’) heresies’ here spoken of spring not merely from a selfish and factious spirit, but from false teaching. As yet, however, there seems to be no thought of the existence of heretical bodies outside of the general Christian communion. The heresies are false teachings (v. 1) leading to ‘licentious doings’ (v. 2), but they are ‘brought in,’ says the writer, ‘among you.’

J. C. Lambert.

Holman Bible Dictionary [5]


The word had a similar usage in Jewish writings. Josephus, a Jewish historian of the first century from whom we learn much of what we know about the Judaism of New Testament times, used the word to refer to the various Jewish parties (or schools of thought) such as the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. Jewish rabbis employed the term in a bad sense applying it to groups who had separated from the main stream of Jewish teaching.

The word has several usages in the New Testament, but never has the technical sense of “heresy” as we understand it today. It may be classified as follows:

1. Most frequently, especially in Acts, it has the same meaning as Josephus. In  Acts 5:17 ,  Acts 15:5; and  Acts 26:5 , where it refers to the Pharisees and Sadducees, it simply means party or sect.

2. In  Acts 24:14 and   Acts 28:22 it is used in a slightly derogatory sense, referring to Christians as they were viewed to be separatists or sectarians by the Jews. This usage conforms to that of the rabbis.

3. Paul used the term to refer to groups which threatened the harmonious relations of the church. In  1 Corinthians 11:19 , where he was writing about the disgraceful way in which the Corinthians were observing the Lord's Supper, the word has to do with the outward manifestations of the factions he mentioned in  1 Corinthians 11:18 . In  Galatians 5:20 , it is one of the works of the flesh and is in a grouping including strife, seditions, and envyings. It apparently has to do with people who choose to place their own desires above the fellowship of the church.  Titus 3:10 speaks of a man who is a heretic. Since the context of the verse has to do with quarreling and dissension, the idea in this passage seems to be that of a fractious person.

4. In  2 Peter 2:1 it comes closest to our meaning of the term. It clearly refers to false prophets who have denied the true teaching about Christ. Since the remainder of   2 Peter 2:1 refers to the immoral living of the false prophets, the word also refers to their decadent living. The reference to the heretic in   Titus 3:10 may belong to this category since the verse mentions disputes about genealogies, a doctrinal matter.

It is clear that in the New Testament, the concept of heresy had more to do with fellowship within the church than with doctrinal teachings. While the writers of the New Testament were certainly concerned about false teachings, they apparently were just as disturbed by improper attitudes.

In the writings of Ignatius, a leader of the church in the early second century, the word takes on the technical meaning of a heresy. Most frequently in the writings of the early church fathers, the heresy about which they were concerned was Gnosticism, a teaching which denied that Jesus was fully human. See Christology; Error; Gnosticism .

W. T. Edwards, Jr.

Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words [6]

1: Αἵρεσις (Strong'S #139 — Noun Feminine — hairesis — hah'ee-res-is )

denotes (a) "a choosing, choice" (from haireomai, "to choose"); then, "that which is chosen," and hence, "an opinion," especially a self-willed opinion, which is substituted for submission to the power of truth, and leads to division and the formation of sects,  Galatians 5:20 (marg., "parties"); such erroneous opinions are frequently the outcome of personal preference or the prospect of advantage; see   2—Peter 2:1 , where "destructive" (RV) signifies leading to ruin; some assign even this to (b); in the papyri the prevalent meaning is "choice" (Moulton and Milligan, Vocab.); (b) "a sect;" this secondary meaning, resulting from (a), is the dominating significance in the NT,  Acts 5:17;  15:5;  24:5,14;  26:5;  28:22; "heresies" in  1—Corinthians 11:19 (see marg.). See Sect.

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [7]

According to common usage today, heresy is false belief or false teaching. It is the misguided opinion of someone who denies the orthodox teaching of the Bible.

However, the word is used in this sense only once in the New Testament. Elsewhere it means sect or party. The Sadducees and Pharisees were sects within Judaism ( Acts 5:17;  Acts 15:5). Orthodox Jews considered the Christians a Jewish sect who followed Jesus the Nazarene ( Acts 24:5;  Acts 24:14;  Acts 28:22).

When used by Christians, the word referred to factions created within a church through lack of love towards others ( 1 Corinthians 11:19). Those who created such factions showed that they were directed by the flesh, not by the Spirit ( Galatians 5:20). Such people were to be warned, then avoided, if they did not cease their divisive practices ( Titus 3:10).

Because false teachers created factions, the word ‘heresy’ developed its more familiar meaning of ‘false teaching’. The one biblical reference to heretics in this sense is to false prophets who deny Christ. By their belief they destroy themselves and by their teaching they destroy others ( 2 Peter 2:1; cf.  1 John 2:22;  1 John 2:26;  1 John 4:1-3).

People's Dictionary of the Bible [8]

Heresy.  Acts 24:14, A. V. This term, as generally used by the sacred writers, signifies a party or division, R. V. "a sect." It is derived from a word meaning "to choose." The Pharisees,  Acts 15:5;  Acts 26:5, and the Sadducees,  Acts 5:17, as well as the Nazarenes,  Acts 24:5;  Acts 24:12;  Acts 24:14, were denominated heresies. In these passages the word is translated "sects." In  Acts 24:14, where Paul speaks of the Christian religion as "the way which they call heresy," he undoubtedly means to imply that the Christian organization was not a separation from the Old Testament Church, but the true Church itself. In  1 Corinthians 11:19;  Galatians 5:20, and  2 Peter 2:1 heresies are referred to in connection with the apostolic Church, and in the last two cases the implication is that they are departures from the fundamental truth of the gospel, and to be condemned. Early in the history of the Christian Church the word acquired the signification it now has, of a departure from the fundamentals of gospel truth.

King James Dictionary [9]

HER'ESY, n. Gr. to take, to hold L. haeresis.

1. A fundamental error in religion, or an error of opinion respecting some fundamental doctrine of religion. But in countries where there is an established church, an opinion is deemed heresy, when it differs from that of the church. The Scriptures being the standard of faith, any opinion that is repugnant to its doctrines, is heresy but as men differ in the interpretation of Scripture, an opinion deemed heretical by one body of christians,may be deemed orthodox by another. In Scripture and primitive usage,heresy meant merely sect, party, or the doctrines of a sect, as we now use denomination or persuasion, implying no reproach. 2. Heresy, in law, is an offense against christianity, consisting in a denial of some of its essential doctrines, publicly avowed and obstinately maintained. 3. An untenable or unsound opinion or doctrine in politics.

Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [10]

The church of Christ hath, in all ages, been persecuted and divided by heresies. Indeed, the apostle Paul saith, that "there must be heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you." ( 1 Corinthians 11:19) Our Lord himself speaks of the Nicolaitanes,  Revelation 2:15. The Scriptures do not tell us in what their heresy consisted, but evidently in a departure from the truth, and probably in practices unsuitable to the purity of the gospel of Christ. But the last days' dispensation, we are told, will be distinguished by great departures from the faith; and, we may truly say, already do they appear. ( 1 Timothy 4:1, etc.)

Webster's Dictionary [11]

(1): ( n.) An opinion held in opposition to the established or commonly received doctrine, and tending to promote a division or party, as in politics, literature, philosophy, etc.; - usually, but not necessarily, said in reproach.

(2): ( n.) Religious opinion opposed to the authorized doctrinal standards of any particular church, especially when tending to promote schism or separation; lack of orthodox or sound belief; rejection of, or erroneous belief in regard to, some fundamental religious doctrine or truth; heterodoxy.

(3): ( n.) An offense against Christianity, consisting in a denial of some essential doctrine, which denial is publicly avowed, and obstinately maintained.

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [12]

 1 Corinthians 11:18-19. Schisms (Greek: " Schisma ") meant "divisions" through differences of opinion of recent standing. "Heresies" meant "schisms inveterate". "Sect" (Greek "heresy")  Acts 5:17;  Acts 15:5. Paul means by "there must be heresies among you," that sin must bear its natural fruit, as Christ foretold ( Luke 17:1), and schisms (compare  1 Corinthians 12:25) must eventuate in mattered secessions or confirmed schisms. "Heresy" did not yet bear its present meaning, "doctrinal error". However see its use in  Acts 24:14.

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [13]

Choice, chosen way of life or faith, sect, school, party. The Greek word properly designates any sect or party, without implying praise or censure. So in  Acts 5:17   15:5   26:4,5 . In the epistles it denotes a sect or party in a bad sense, implying a refractory spirit, as well as error in faith and practice,  1 Corinthians 11:19   Galatians 5:20   2 Peter 2:1 . After the primitive age, the word came to signify simply error in doctrine.

Easton's Bible Dictionary [14]

 Galatians 5:20 1 Corinthians 11:19 Titus 3:10  2 Peter 2:1

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [15]

in theology, is any doctrine containing Christian elements, but along with them others subversive of Christian truth.

I. Origin And Early Use Of The Word. The word Α 7 Πεατο (Heresis) originally meant simply Choice (e.g. of a set of opinions); later, it was applied to the Opinions themselves; last of all, to the Sect maintaining them. "Philosophy was in Greece the great object which divided the opinions and judgments of men; and hence the term heresy, being most frequently applied to the adoption of this or that particular dogma, came by an easy transition to signify the sect or school in which that dogma was maintained;" e.g. the heresy of the Stoics, of the Peripatetics, and Epicureans. Josephus also speaks of the three heresies ( Αἰρέσεις , Sects, Ant. 12 5, 9 = Φιλοσοφίαι , 18, 1, 2) of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. In the historical part of the New Testament, the word denotes a sect or party, whether good or bad ( Acts 5:17;  Acts 15:5;  Acts 24:5;  Acts 26:5;  Acts 28:22). In  Acts 26:4-5, St. Paul, in defending himself before king Agrippa, uses the same term, when it was manifestly his design to exalt the party to which he had belonged, and to give their system the preference over every other system of Judaism, both with regard to soundness of doctrine and purity of morals. In the Epistles the word occurs in a somewhat different sense. Paul, in  Galatians 5:20, puts Αἱρέσεις , Heresies, in the list of crimes with uncleanness, seditions ( Διχοστασίαι ), etc. In  1 Corinthians 11:19 (there must also be heresies among you), he uses it apparently to denote schisms or divisions in the Church.

In  Titus 3:10 he comes near to the later sense; the "heretical person" appears to be one given over to a self-chosen and divergent form of belief and practice. John Wesley says: "Heresy is not in all the Bible taken for an error in fundamentals' or in any thing else, nor schism for any separation made from the outward communion of others. Both heresy and schism, in the modern sense of the words, are sins that the Scripture knows nothing of" (Works, N. Y. edit. 7, 286). In the early post-apostolic Church, if "a man admitted a part, or even the whole of Christianity, and added to it something of his own, or if he rejected the whole of it, he was equally designated as a heretic. Thus, by degrees, it came to be restricted to those who professed Christianity, but professed it erroneously; and in later times, the doctrine of the Trinity, as defined by the Council of Nice, was almost the only test which decided the orthodoxy or the heresy of a Christian. Differences upon minor points were then described by the milder term of schism; and the distinction seems to have been made, that unity of faith might be maintained, though schism existed; but if the unity of faith was violated, the violator of it was a heretic." In general, in the early Church, all who did not hold what was called the Catholic faith (the orthodox) were called heretics. At a very early period the notion of willful and immoral perversity began to be attached to heresy, and thus we may account for the severe and violent language used against heretics. "Charges, indeed, or insinuations of the grossest impurities are sometimes thrown out by the orthodox writers against the early heretics; but we are bound to receive them with great caution, because the answers which may have been given to them are lost, and because they are not generally justified by any authentic records which we possess respecting the lives of those heretics. The truth appears to be this, that some flagrant immoralities were notoriously perpetrated by some of the wildest among their sects, and that these have given coloring to the charges which have been thrown upon them too indiscriminately. But, whatsoever uncertainty may rest on this inquiry, it cannot be disputed, first, that the apostolical fathers, following the footsteps of the apostles themselves, regarded with great jealousy the birth and growth of erroneous opinions; and next, that they did not authorize, either by instruction or example, any severity on the persons of those in error. They opposed it by their reasoning and their eloquence, and they avoided its contagion by removing from their communion those who persisted in it; but they were also mindful that within these limits was confined the power which the Church received from the apostles who founded it over the spiritual disobedience of its members" (Waddington, History of the Church, ch. 5, p. 59).

II. Relations Of Heresy To The Church And To Doctrine. "Heresies, like sin, all spring from the natural man; but they first make their appearance in opposition to the revealed truth, and thus presuppose its existence, as the fall of Adam implies a previous state of innocence. There are religious errors, indeed, to any extent out of Christianity, but no heresies in the theological sense. These errors become heresies only when they come into contact, at least outwardly, with revealed truth and with the life of the Church. They consist essentially in the conscious or unconscious reaction of unsubdued Judaism or heathenism against the new creation of the Gospel. Heresy is the distortion or caricature of the original Christian truth. But as God in his wonderful wisdom can bring good out of all evil, and has more than compensated for the loss of the first Adam by the resurrection of the second, so must all heresies in the end only condemn themselves, and serve the more fully to establish the truth. The New Testament Scriptures themselves are in a great measure the result of a firm resistance to the distortions and corruptions to which the Christian religion was exposed from the first. Nay, we may say that every dogma of the Church, every doctrine fixed by her symbols, is a victory over a corresponding error, and in a certain sense owes to the error, not, indeed, its substance, which comes from God, but assuredly its logical completeness and scientific form. Heresies, therefore, belong to the process by which the Christian truth, received in simple faith, becomes clearly defined as an object of knowledge. They are the negative occasions, the challenges, for the Church to defend her views of truth, and to set them forth in complete scientific form" (Schaff, Apostolic Church, § 165).

Heresy and Schism. Near akin to heresy is the idea of schism or Church division, which, however, primarily means a separation from the government and discipline of the Church, and does not necessarily include departure from her orthodoxy Thus the Ebionites, Gnostics, and Arians were heretics; the Montanists, Novatians, and Donatists, schismatics. By the standard of the Roman Church, the Greek Church is only schismatic, the Protestant both heretical and schismatic. Of course, in different branches of-the Church there are different views of heresy and truth, heterodoxy and orthodoxy, and likewise of schism and sect" (Schaff. Apost. Church, § 165). "Heresy, as distinguished from schism, consists in the adoption of opinions and practices contrary to the articles and practices of any particular church, whereas schism is secession from that church, the renouncing allegiance to its government, or forming parties within it; for surely Paul (in 1 Corinthians and elsewhere) censures men as causing divisions who did not openly renounce allegianice. Neither schism nor heresy, then, is properly an offence against the Church universal, but against some particular Church, and by its own members. On the same principle, no Church can be properly called either heretic or schismatic; for churches being independent establishments, may indeed consult each other, but if they cannot agree, the guilt of that Church which is in error is neither schism nor heresy, but corrupt faith or bigoted narrowness. Accordingly, our Reformers, whilst they characterize the Romish Church as one that has erred, have very properly avoided the misapplication of the terms schismatic' and heretic' to it. Nevertheless, if a Church has been formed by the secession of members from another Church on disagreement of principles, each seceder is both a schismatic and a heretic because of his former connection; but the crime does not attach to the Church so formed, and accordingly is not entailed on succeeding members who naturally spring up in it. If the schism was founded in error, the guilt of error would always attach to it and its members, but not that of schism or heresy. He who is convinced that his Church is essentially in error is bound to secede; but, like the circumstances which may be supposed to justify the subject of any realm in renouncing his country and withdrawing his allegiance, the plea should be long, and seriously, and conscientiously weighed; but with respect to distinct churches, as they can form alliances, so they can secede from this alliance without being guilty of any crime. So far from the separation between the Romish and Protestant churches having anything of the character of schism or heresy in it, the Church of England (supposing the Church of Rome not to have needed any reform) would have been justified in renouncing its association with it simply on the ground of expediency" (Hinds, Early Christian Church).

III. List Of The Principal Early Heresies. Following list includes the chief heresies of the first six centuries; each will be found in its alphabetical place in this Cyclopaedia: Century I. Nazarenes, who advocated the observance of the Jewish law by the worshippers of Christ. Simonians, followers of Simon Magus, who prided themselves in a superior degree of knowledge, and maintained that the world was created by angels, denied the resurrection, etc. Nicolaitanes, followers of Nicolaus of Antioch. Cerinthians and Ebionites, followers of Cerinthus and Ebion, who denied the divinity of Christ, and adopted the principles of Gnosticism. Many of them were Millenarians. Century I. Elcesaites, the followers of Elxai or Elcesai, who only partially admitted the Christian religion, and whose tenets were mostly of philosophic origin. Gnostics, so called from their pretences to Γνῶσις , superior knowledge: this seems to have been the general name of all heretics.

(1.) Among Syrian Gnostics were the followers of Saturninus, who adopted the notion of two principles reigning over the world, assumed the evil nature of matter, denied the reality of Christ's human body, etc. Bardesanians: their principles resembled those of Saturninus. Tatianists and Encratitae, who boasted of an extraordinary continence, condemned marriage, etc. Apotactici, who, in addition to the opinions of the Tatianists, renounced property, etc., and asserted that any who lived in the marriage state were incapable of salvation.

(2.) Gnostics of Asia Minor. Cerdonians, who held two contrary principles, denied the resurrection, despised the authority of the Old Testament, and rejected the Gospels. Marcionites, who resembled the Cerdonians, and in addition admitted two Gods, asserted that the Savior's body was a phantasm, etc. The followers of Lucian and Apelles may be classed among the Marcionites.

(3.) Among E Gyptian Gnostics were the Basilidians, followers of Basilides, who espoused the heresies of Simon Magus, and admitted the fundamental point on which the whole of the hypotheses then prevalent may be said to hinge, namely, that the world had been created, not by the immediate operation of the divine being, but by the agency of sons. Carpocratians, Antitactae, Adamites, Prodicians, the followers of Secundus, Ptolemy, Marcus, Colobarsus, and Heracleon.

(4.) Inferior sects of Gnostics-Sethians, Cainites, Ophites.

Heresies not of Oriental origin: Patripassians, whose principal leader was Praxeas; Melchizedechians, under Theodotus and Artemon; Hermogenians, Montanists, Chiliasts or Millenarians. Century II. The Manichaeans, the Hieracites, the Patripassians, under Noetus and Sabellius; heresy of Baryllus; Paulianists, under Paul of Samosata, Novatians, under Novatus and Novatian;. the Monarchici, the Arabici, the Aquarians, the Origenists. Century IV. Tha Arians, Colluthians, Macedonians, Agnolete, Apollinarians, Collyridians, Seleucians, Anthropomorphites, Jovinianists, Messalians, Timothe ans, Priscillianists, Photinians, Donatists, Messalians, Bonlosians. Century V. The Pelagians Nestorians, Eutychians, Theopaschites. Century VI. The Aphthartodocetse, Severiani, C:)rrupticohe, Monothelites.

IV. Punishment Of Heresy. Soon after the triumph of Christianity over paganism, and its establishment by the State, the laws became very severe against heretics. Those of the State, made by the Christian emperors from the time of Constantine, are comprised under one title, De Haereticis, in the Theodosian code. (See below.) The principal are the note of infamy affixed to all heretics in common; commerce forbidden to be held with them; privation of all offices of dignity and profit; disqualification to dispose of their property by will, or to receive property; pecuniary mulcts; proscription and banishment; corporal punishment, such as scourging. Heretics were forbidden to hold public disputations; to propagate their opinions; their children could not inherit patrimony, unless they returned to the Church, etc. The laws of the Church consisted in pronouncing formal anathema, or excommunication, against them; forbidding them to enter the church, so much as to hear sermons or the reading of the Scriptures (this was but partially observed); the prohibition of all persons, under pain of excommunication, to join with them in any religious exercises; the enjoining that none should eat or converse familiarly with them, or contract affinity with them; their names were to be struck out of the diptychs; and their testimony was not to be received in any ecclesiastical cause (Bingham, Orig. Eccles. vol. 2). Augustine's view of heresy is deserving of special notice, as it forms the basis of the doctrine and practice of the Middle Ages. In De Civit. Dei, 18, 51, he says; "Qui ergo in ecclesia morbidum aliquid pravumque sapiunt, si correpti, ut sanum rectumque sapiant, resistunt contumaciter, suaque pestifera et mortifera dogmata emendare nolunt, sed defensa repersistunt, heretici funt, et foras exeuntes habentur in exercentibus inimicis."

The earlier fathers of the Church had steadily refused using force in opposing heresy (Hilarius, Pictav. ad Constant. 1, 2 and 7; contr. Auxent. lib. init.; Athanasius, Hist. Arian. § 33), and at most permitted the secular powers to interfere to prevent the organization of heretical communities (Chrysost. Homil. 29, 46, in Matthew), and even this was often censured (see Socrates, Hist.  Ecclesiastes 5:19, where it is said that the misfortunes which befell Chrysostom were by many considered as a punishment for his having caused churches belonging to the Quartodecimani and Novatians of Asia to be taken away from them and closed). Augustine, on the contrary (Retractat. 2, c. 5; ep. 93, ad Vincentiuum, § 17; ep. 185, ad Bonifitc. § 21; Opus. inper: 2, 2), basing himself on the passage  Luke 14:23 (Cogite Intrare, etc.), completely reversed his former opinion that heretics and schismatics were not to be brought back by the aid of secular power, and stated explicitly, as a fundamental principle, that "damnata haeresis ab episcopis non adhuc examimanda, sed coercenda est potestatibus Christianis.' He only rejects the infliction of capital punishment, yet more on account of the general opposition of the ancient Church to this mode of punishment than from leniency towards heresy. It is, consequently, not strange if even this protest against the execution of heretics came subsequently to be disregarded, and the punishment even approved (see Leo M. ep. 15, ad Turribium; Hieronymus, ep. 37, ad Bipar.). In the Middle Ages we find the Roman Church, on the: one hand, condemning capital punishment by its canon law, and at the same time demanding the application of this punishment to heretics from the secular law. Julian the Apostate had long before reproached the Christians of his time for persecuting heretics by force (ep. 52, and alp. Cyrill. c. Julianumm VI). As to the principles which guided the conduct of the secular powers towards heretics, we find that it wavered long between an entire liberty in establishing sects, submitting them to mere police regulations, restricting them in the carrying out of their system of worship, depriving them of some political rights and privileges, formally prohibiting them; and finally punishing them as criminals. Through all these variations the fundamental principle was adhered to that the secular power possesses in general the right to punish, repress, or extirpate heresy.

Hesitation is shown only in the mode of applying this principle, not in the principle itself. Moreover, the exercise of this right was in no way subject to the decision of the Church, and the secular power could by itself decide whether and how far a certain heresy should be tolerated-a right which the states retained without opposition until the Middle Ages. The numerous laws contained in the Codex Theodosianus, 16, tit. 5, De Haereticis, to which we may add 16, Titus 1, 2, 3, are the principal sources for the history of the laws concerning sects in antiquity. History shows us that in the use of compulsion and punishments against heretics the secular power anticipated the wishes of the Church, doing more than the latter was at first disposed to approve. Julian the Apostate granted full freedom to heretics with a view to injure the Church. Augustine first succeeded, in the 5th century, in establishing an agreement between Church and State on this question, yet without contesting the right of the State to use its independent authority. This is proved by Justinian's Institutes (compare cod. 1, tit. 5), which interfere directly with the private rights of heretics; and in case of mixed marriages, they order, regardless of the patrial potestas, that the children shall be brought up in the orthodox faith (cod. 1, tit. 5; 1, 18). In the Middle Ages the notion of heresy and of its relations to the Church and the State acquired a further development. At one time, in view of the authority of the pope in matters of faith and of the doctrine offides implicita et explicita, the notion of heresy was so modified that the act of disobedience to the pope in refusing to accept or reject some distinction according to his command; was considered almost as its worst and most important feature. The Scholastics treated the doctrine concerning heresy- scientifically.

Finally the Church came to deny to the State the right to tolerate any heresy it had condemned. It even compelled the secular powers to repress and extirpate heresy according to its dictates by threats of ecclesiastical censure, by inviting invasion and revolution in case of resistance, and by commanding the application of secular punishments, such as the sequestration of property, and the deprivation of all civil and political rights, as was especially done by Innocent III. Nevertheless, the Church continued in the practice, whenever it handed over condemned heretics to the secular powers for punishment, of requesting that no penalty should be inflicted on them which might endanger their lives; but this was a mere formality, and so far from being made in earnest that the Church itself made the allowableness of such punishment one of its dogmas. Thus Leo X, in his bull against Luther, in 1520, condemns, among other propositions, that which says that Haereticos comburere est contra voluntatem Spiritus (art. 33), and recommended the use of such punishment himself. About the same time, a special form of proceedings was adopted against heretics, and their persecution was rendered regular and systematic by the establishment of the Inquisition (q.v.). Thus, in course of time, a number of secular penalties came to be considered as inevitably connected with ecclesiastical condemnation, and were even pronounced against heretics by the Church itself without further formalities. The Church, whenever any individual suspected of heresy recanted, or made his peace with the Church, declared him (in full court, after a public abjuration) released either partially or fully from the ecclesiastical and secular punishment he had ipso facto incurred. This implied the right of still inflicting these punishments after the reconciliation (which was especially done in the cases of sequestration of property, deprivation of civil or ecclesiastical offices, and degradation, while a return to heresy after recantation was to be punished by death). See the provisions of the Canon Law as found in X. de haeretic. 5, tit. 7; c. 49; X. de sentent. excommun. 5 39; tit. de Haer. in 6, 5, 2; De haeret. in Clement. 5, 3; De haeret. in Extravag. comm. 5, 3; and comp. the Liber septimus, 5, 3, 4. and the laws against heretics of the emperor Frederick II, which are connected with the ecclesiastical laws (in Pertz, Monurin. 2, 244, 287, 288, 327, 328); and the regulations concerning mixed marriages and the marriage of heretics. All these are yet considered by the Roman Catholic Church as having the force of law, though, under present circumstances, they are not enforced (comp. Benedict XIV, De synod. Dioc. 6, 5; 9, 14, 3; 13, 24, 21).

Even in the 18th century Muratori defended the assertion that the secular power is bound to enforce the most severe secular penalties against heretics (De ingeniorum meoderatione in religiones negotio, 2, 7 sq.). In the beginning of the 19th century, pending the negotiations for the crowning of Napoleon I, pope Pius VII declared that he could not set foot in a country in which the law recognized the freedom of worship of the different religions. The same pope wrote in 1805 to his nuncio at Vienna, "The Church has not only sought to prevent heretics from using the properties of the Church, but has also established, as the punishment for the sin of heresy, the sequestration of private property, in c. 10, X. d. haeret. (5, 7), of principalities, and of feudal tenures, in c. 16, eod.; the latter law contains the canonical rule that the subjects of a heretical prince are free from all oaths of fealty as well as from all fidelity and obedience to him; and there is none at all acquainted with history but knows the decrees of deposition issued by popes and councils against obstinately heretical princes. Yet we find ourselves now in times of such misfortune and humiliation for the bride of Christ that the Church is not only able to enforce these, ifs holiest maxims, against the rebellious enemies of the faith, with the firmness with which they should be, but it even cannot proclaim them openly without danger. Yet, if it cannot exert its right in depriving heretics of their estates, it may," etc. With this may be compared the permission granted in anticipation, in 1724 (Bullar. Propagande, 2, 54, 56), to the Ruthenes, in case of conversion, to take possession of the properties they had lost by their apostasy; the satisfaction manifested by the Church on the expulsion of the Protestants from Salzburg (Bull. Propag. 2, 246); and many things happening every day in strictly Roman Catholic countries, under the eyes of the Roman See. Quite recently, Philippi, in his Canon Law, honestly acknowledged the validity of the old laws against heretics, and asserted their correctness. Even now, in all countries where the secular power has not put an end to this, the bishops promise, in taking the oath of obedience to the pope, haereticos, schismaticos, et rebelles Eidemn Domnino Nostro Vel Successoribus Praedictispro Posse Persequar Et Impugnabo. Yet the Roman See has renounced, since Sept. 17, 1824, the use of the expression of "Protestant heretics" in its official acts; and it has even admitted that, under the pressure of existing circumstances, the civil powers may be forgiven for tolerating heretics in their states! Still, as soon as circumstances will permit, the Roman See is prepared to apply again the old laws, which are merely temporarily suspended in some countries, but in nowise repealed.

Governments, however, naturally take a different view of these laws. The secular power, even while it freed itself from its absolute subjection to the Church, still continued to persecute in various ways the Protestants whom the Church denounced as heretics. We even see them deprived under Louis XIV of the right of emigration; while, in refusing to recognize the validity of their marriage, the civil authorities showed themselves even more severe than the Church. But, becoming wiser by experience, and taught by the general reaction which its measures provoked in the 18th century, the State has confined itself to interfering with heresy so far only as is necessary to promote public order and the material good of the State; thus claiming only the right to repress or expel those whose principles are opposed to the existence of government, or might create disorder. This right, of course, has been differently understood in different countries according to local circumstances, and has even become a pretence for persecutions against denominations which a milder construction of it would not have deprived of the toleration of the State, as in the persecution of dissidents in Sweden, etc.

Let us now compare this practice of the Romish Church and of Roman Catholic states with the dogmatic theory of the Middle Ages. Thomas Aquinas treats heresy as the opposite of faith, connecting it with imfidelitas in communi and apostasia a fide. He treats schism, again, as opposed to charitas. He defines heresy as infidelitatis species pertinens ad eos, quifidem Christi profitentur, sed ejus dogmata corrunpunt (1. c., qu. 2, art. 1), yet (art. 2) he remarks at the same time that some holy fathers themselves erred in the early times of the Church on many points of faith. In art. 3 he comes to the question whether heretics are to be tolerated. He asserts that they also have their use in the Church, as serving to prove its faith, and inducing it diligently to search the Scriptures, yet their usefulness in these respects is involuntary. Considered for themselves only, heretics "are not only deserving of being cut off from communion with the Church, but also with the world by being put to death. But the Church must, in her mercy, first use all means of converting heretics, and only when it despairs of bringing them back must cut them off by excommunication, and then deliver them up to secular justice, which frees the world of them by condemnation to death." He only admits of toleration towards heretics when persecution against them would be likely to injure the faithful. In this case he advises sparing the tares for the sake of the wheat. He further maintains that such heretics as repent may, on their first offense, be entirely pardoned, and all ecclesiastical and secular punishment remitted, but asserts that those who relapse, though they may be reconciled with the Church, must not be released from the sentence of death incurred, lest the bad example of their inconstancy might prove injurious to others.

The Reformation protested against these doctrines. Luther, from the first, denounced all attempts to overcome heresy by sword and fire instead of the Word of God, and held that the civil power should leave heretics to be dealt with by the Church. On this ground he opposed Carlstadt. Yet it was a fundamental principle with all the Reformers, that governments are bound to prevent blasphemy, to see that the people receive from the Church built on the Word of God the pure teaching of that word, and to prevent all attempts at creating sects. This led to the adoption of preventive measures in the place of the former penalties of confiscation, bodily punishment, and death. These preventive measures confined the heresy to the individual, and extended as far as banishment, when no other means would avail. Luther admitted the use of secular punishment against heretics only in exceptional cases, and then not on account of the heresy, but of the resulting disorders. Even then he considered banishment sufficient, except when incitations to revolution, etc., required more severe punishment, as was the case with the Anabaptists; Vet he often declared against the application of capital punishment to such heretics. Zwingle took nearly the same stand as Luther on this point, yet was somewhat more inclined to the use of forcible means. The Anabaptists were treated in a summary manner in Switzerland. Calvin went further, and with his theocratic ideas considered the state as bound to treat heresy as blasphemy, and to punish it in the severest manner. His approbation and even instigation of the execution of Servetus gave rise to a controversy on the question whether heresy might be punished with the sword (compare Calvini Defensis orthodoxae fidei, etc.). Calvin's views were attacked not only by Bolsec, but also by Castellio, who, under the pseudonym of Martin Bellius, wrote on this occasion his De hereticis (Magdeb. 1554), quoting against Calvin the opinions of Luther and of Brentius. Lalius Socinus, in his Dialogus inter Calvinum et Vaticanum (1554), also advocated toleration. Among all the German theologians, Melancthon alone sided with Calvin, consistently with the views (Corp. Ref: 2, 18, an. 1530; and 3:195, an. 1536) which he had long previously defended against the more moderate views of Brentius (see Hartmann and Jager, Johanns Brem, 1, 299 sq.).

In England, in the first year of queen Elizabeth, an act of Parliament was passed to enable persons to try heretics, and the following directions were given for their guidance: "And such persons to whom the queen shall by letters patent under the great seal give authority to execute any jurisdiction spiritual, shall not in any wise have power to adjudge any matter or cause to be heresy, but only such as heretofore have been adjudged to be heresy, by the authority of the canonical Scriptures, or by some of the first four general councils, or by any other general council wherein the same was declared heresy by the express and plain words of the said canonical Scriptures, or such as hereafter shall be judged or determined to be heresy by, the high court of Parliament, with the assent of the clergy in their convocation." "This statute continued practically in force, with certain modifications, till the 29 Charles II, c. 9, since which time heresy has been left entirely to the cognizance of the ecclesiastical courts; but, as there is no statute defining in what heresy consists, and as, moreover, much of the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts has been withdrawn by the various toleration acts; and, above all, as the effect of various recent decisions has been to widen almost indefinitely the construction of the doctrinal formularies of the English Church, it may now be said that the jurisdiction of these courts in matters of heresy is practically limited to preventing ministers of the Established Church from preaching in opposition to the doctrine and the articles of the establishment from which they derive their emoluments, and that, even in determining what is to be considered contrary to the articles, a large toleration has been judicially established. See the recent trial of Dr. Rowland Williams, and the judgment given by Dr. Lushington in the Court of Arches" (Chambers, Cyclopaedia, s.v.). The Protestant churches generally, in the 19th century, deny the power of the State to punish heresy. The Roman Church retains its old theories upon the subject, but its power is limited by the progress of civilization. (See Toleration).

The history of the various heresies is given, with more or less fullness, in the Church histories. Walch's Entweiner vollstdnd. Historie d. Ketzereien, etc. (17621785, 11 vols.), gives a history of doctrines and heresies (so- called) up to the 9th century. "As a history of heresies, divisions, and religious controversies, it is still indispensable. Walch is free from polemic zeal, and bent upon the critical and pragmatic representation of his subject, without sympathy or antipathy" (Schaff, Apost. History; § 31). See also Lardner, History of the Heretics of the first two Centuries, with additions by Hogg (Lond. 1780, 4to; and in Lardner, Works, 11 vols. 8vo); F Ü ssli, Kirchen-u. Ketzerhistorien-d. mittlern Zeit (Freft. 1770-1774, 3 vols.); Baumgarten. Geschichte d. Religionsportheien (Halle, 1766, 4to). Professor Oehler commenced in 1856 the publication of a Corpus Haeresiologicum, designed to contain, in 8 vols., all the principal works on heresies, with notes and prolegomena. See also Burton, Enquiry into the Heresies of the Apostolic Age (Bampton Lecture for 1829, 8vo); Campbell, Preliminary Diss. to Comm. on Four Gospels; Herzog, Real Encyklopadie, 5, 468; Elliott, Delineation of Romanism, bk. 3:ch. 3:et al.; Cramp, Text-book of Popery, p. 252, 480; Dorner, Person of Christ (Edinb. transl.), 1, 344; Neander, History of Dogmas (Ryland's transl.), 1, 16. (See Haeretico Coiburendo); (See Persecution); (See Toleration).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [16]

her´e - si , her´ē̇ - si ( αἵρεσις , haı́resis , from verb αἱρέω , hairéō , "to choose"): The word has acquired an ecclesiastical meaning that has passed into common usage, containing elements not found in the term in the New Testament, except as implied in one passage. In classical Greek, it may be used either in a good or a bad sense, first, simply for "choice," then, "a chosen course of procedure," and afterward of various schools and tendencies. Polybius refers to those devoting themselves to the study of Greek literature as given to the Hellenikḗ haı́resis ̌ . It was used not simply for a teaching or a course followed, but also for those devoting themselves to such pursuit, namely, a sect, or assembly of those advocating a particular doctrine or mode of life. Thus, in Acts, the word is used in the Greek, where the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American) have "sect," "sect of the Sadducees" (  Acts 5:17 ), "sect of the Nazarenes" ( Acts 24:5 ). In  Acts 26:5 the Pharisees are called "the straitest hairesis (sect)." The name was applied contemptuously to Christianity ( Acts 24:14;  Acts 28:22 ). Its application, with censure, is found in  1 Corinthians 11:19 margin;   Galatians 5:20 margin, where it is shown to interfere with that unity of faith and community of interests that belong to Christians. There being but one standard of truth, and one goal for all Christian life, any arbitrary choice varying from what was common to all believers, becomes an inconsistency and a sin to be warned against. Ellicott, on   Galatians 5:20 , correctly defines "heresies" (King James Version, the English Revised Version) as "a more aggravated form of dichostası́a " (the American Standard Revised Version "parties") "when the divisions have developed into distinct and organized parties"; so also  1 Corinthians 11:19 , translated by the Revised Version (British and American) "factions." In  2 Peter 2:1 , the transition toward the subsequent ecclesiastical sense can be traced. The "destructive heresies" (Revised Version margin, the English Revised Version margin "sects of perdition") are those guilty of errors both of doctrine and of life very fully described throughout the entire chapter, and who, in such course, separated themselves from the fellowship of the church.

In the fixed ecclesiastical sense that it ultimately attained, it indicated not merely any doctrinal error, but "the open espousal of fundamental error" (Ellicott on  Titus 3:10 ), or, more fully, the persistent, obstinate maintenance of an error with respect to the central doctrines of Christianity in the face of all better instruction, combined with aggressive attack upon the common faith of the church, and its defenders. Roman Catholics, regarding all professed Christians who are not in their communion as heretics, modify their doctrine on this point by distinguishing between Formal and terial Heresy, the former being unconscious and unintentional, and between different degrees of each of these classes ( Cath. Encyclopedia , VII, 256ff). For the development of the ecclesiastical meaning, see Suicer's Thesaurus Ecclesiasticus , I, 119-23.