Christian Heresy

Christian Heresy

When Heresy is used today with reference to Christianity, it denotes the formal denial or doubt of a core doctrine of the Christian faith as defined by one or more of the Christian churches. It should be distinguished from both apostasy and schism, apostasy being nearly always total abandonment of the Christian faith after it has been freely accepted, and schism being being a formal and deliberate breach of Christian unity and an offence against charity without being based essentially on doctrine.

In Western Christianity, heresy most commonly refers to those beliefs which were declared to be anathema by any of the ecumenical councils recognized by the Catholic Church. In the East, the term "heresy" most commonly refers to those beliefs declared to be heretical by the first seven Ecumenical Councils. Since the Great Schism and the Protestant Reformation, various Christian churches have also used the concept in proceedings against individuals and groups deemed to be heretical by those churches.

The Catholic Church distinguishes between "formal heresy" and "material heresy". The former involves wilful and persistence adherence to an error in matters of faith and is a grave sin and produces excommunication. "Material heresy" is the holding of erroneous opinions through no fault of one's own and is not sinful: Protestants fall in this second group while the Eastern Orthodox are considered to be schismatic but are recognised as Churches. Conversely, the Eastern Orthodox considers both the Catholic Church and the Protestant denominations to be heretical.

Historical examination of heresies focuses on a mixture of theological, spiritual, and socio-political underpinnings to explain and describe their development. For example, accusations of heresy have been levelled against a group of believers when their beliefs challenged, or were seen to challenge, Church authority. Some heresies have also been doctrinally based, in which a teaching were deemed to be inconsistent with the fundamental tenets of orthodox dogma.

The study of heresy requires an understanding of the development of orthodoxy and the role of creeds in the definition of orthodox beliefs. Orthodoxy has been in the process of self-definition for centuries, defining itself in terms of its faith and changing or clarifying beliefs in opposition to people or doctrines that are perceived as incorrect. The reaction of the orthodox to heresy has also varied over the course of time; many factors, particularly the institutional, judicial, and doctrinal development of the Church, have shaped this reaction. Heresy remained an officially punishable offence in Roman Catholic nations until the late 18th century. In Spain, heretics were prosecuted and punished during the Counter-Enlightenment movement of the restoration of the monarchy there after the Napoleonic Era.

Read more about Christian Heresy:  Etymology and Definition, Anathema, Denominations, Catholic Understanding

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