List of Heresies in Catholicism - Early Christianity - Trinitarian/Christological


The term Christology has two meanings in theology. It can be used in the narrow sense of the question as to how the divine and human are related in the person of Jesus Christ, or alternatively of the overall study of his life and work. Here it is used in the restricted, narrow sense.

The orthodox teaching concerning the Trinity, as finally developed and formally agreed at Constantinople in 381, is that God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit were all strictly one being in three hypostases, misleadingly translated as "persons". The christological question then arose as to how Jesus Christ could be both divine and human. This was formally resolved after much debate by the Ecumenical Councils of 431, 451 and 680 (Ephesus, Chalcedon & Constantinople III).

Trinitarian/Christological Heresies
Heresy Description Origin Official Condemnation Other
Adoptionism Belief that Jesus was born as a mere (non-divine) man, was supremely virtuous and that he was adopted later as "Son of God" by the descent of the Spirit on him. Propounded by Theodotus of Byzantium, a leather merchant, in Rome c.190, later revived by Paul of Samosata Theodotus was excommunicated by Pope Victor and Paul was condemned by the Synod of Antioch in 268 Alternative names: Psilanthropism and Dynamic Monarchianism. Later criticized as presupposing Nestorianism (see below)
Apollinarism Belief that Jesus had a human body and lower soul (the seat of the emotions) but a divine mind. Apollinaris further taught that the souls of men were propagated by other souls, as well as their bodies. proposed by Apollinaris of Laodicea (died 390) Declared to be a heresy in 381 by the First Council of Constantinople .
Arianism Denial of the true divinity of Jesus Christ taking various specific forms, but all agreed that Jesus Christ was created by the Father, that he had a beginning in time, and that the title "Son of God" was a courtesy one. The doctrine is associated with Arius (ca. AD 250––336) who lived and taught in Alexandria, Egypt. Arius was first pronounced a heretic at the First Council of Nicea, he was later exonerated as a result of imperial pressure and finally declared a heretic after his death. The heresy was finally resolved in 381 by the First Council of Constantinople. All forms denied that Jesus Christ is "consubstantial with the Father" but proposed either "similar in substance", or "similar", or "dissimilar" as the correct alternative.
Docetism Belief that Jesus' physical body was an illusion, as was his crucifixion; that is, Jesus only seemed to have a physical body and to physically die, but in reality he was incorporeal, a pure spirit, and hence could not physically die Tendencies existed in the 1st century, but it was most notably embraced by Gnostics in subsequent centuries. Docetism was rejected by the ecumenical councils and mainstream Christianity, and largely died out during the first millennium AD. Gnostic movements that survived past that time, such as Catharism, incorporated docetism into their beliefs, but such movements were destroyed by the Albigensian Crusade (1209–1229).
Luciferians Strongly anti-Arian sect in Sardinia Founded by Lucifer Calaritanus a bishop of Cagliari Deemed heretical by Jerome in his Altercatio Luciferiani et orthodoxi
Macedonians or


("Spirit fighters")

While accepting the divinity of Jesus Christ as affirmed at Nicea in 325, they denied that of the Holy Spirit which they saw as a creation of the Son, and a servant of the Father and the Son Allegedly founded in 4th century by Bishop Macedonius I of Constantinople, Eustathius of Sebaste was their principal theologian. Opposed by the Cappadocian Fathers and condemned at the First Council of Constantinople. This is what prompted the addition of “And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceedeth from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son is equally worshipped and glorified, Who spake by the Prophets,” into the Nicene Creed at the second ecumenical council.
Melchisedechians Considered Melchisedech an incarnation of the Logos (divine Word) and identified him with the Holy Ghost Refuted by Marcus Eremita in his book Eis ton Melchisedek ("Against the Melchisedekites") It is uncertain whether the sect survived beyond the 9th century. They were probably scattered across Anatolia and the Balkans following the destruction of Tephrike.
Monarchianism An overemphasis on the indivisibility of God (the Father) at the expense of the other "persons" of the Trinity leading to either Sabellianism (Modalism) or to Adoptionism. Stressing the "monarchy" of God was in Eastern theology a legitimate way of affirming his oneness, also the Father as the unique source of divinity. It became heretical when pushed to the extremes indicated.
Monophysitism or


Belief that Christ's divinity dominates and overwhelms his humanity, as opposed to the Chalcedonian position which holds that Christ has two natures, one divine and one human or the Miaphysite position which holds that the human nature and pre-incarnate divine nature of Christ were united as one divine human nature from the point of the Incarnation onwards. After Nestorianism was rejected at the First Council of Ephesus, Eutyches emerged with diametrically opposite views. Eutyches was excommunicated in 448. Monophysitism and Eutyches were rejected at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Monophysitism is also rejected by the Oriental Orthodox Churches
Monothelitism Belief that Jesus Christ had two natures but only one will. This is contrary to the orthodox interpretation of Christology, which teaches that Jesus Christ has two wills (human and divine) corresponding to his two natures Originated in Armenia and Syria in AD 633 Monothelitism was officially condemned at the Third Council of Constantinople (the Sixth Ecumenical Council, 680–681). The churches condemned at Constantinople include the Oriental Orthodox Syriac, Armenian, and Coptic churches as well as the Maronite church, although the later now denies that they ever held the Monothelite view and are presently in full-communion with the Bishop of Rome. Christians in England rejected the Monothelite position at the Council of Hatfield in 680.
Patripassianism Belief that the Father and Son are not two distinct persons, and thus God the Father suffered on the cross as Jesus. similar to Sabellianism
Psilanthropism Belief that Jesus is "merely human": either that he never became divine, or that he never existed prior to his incarnation as a man. Rejected by the ecumenical councils, especially in the First Council of Nicaea, which was convened to deal directly with the nature of Christ's divinity. See Adoptionism
Sabellianism Belief that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three characterizations of one God, rather than three distinct "persons" in one God. First formally stated by Noetus of Smyrna c.190, refined by Sabellius c.210 who applied the names merely to different roles of God in the history and economy of salvation. Noetus was condemned by the presbyters of Smyrna. Tertullian wrote Adversus Praxeam against this tendency and Sabellius was condemned by Pope Callistus. Alternative names: Patripassianism, Modalism,Modalistic Monarchianism

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