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Heresy Today - Are You A Heretic?

Updated on February 9, 2015

Defining Heretics and Heresy


First Heretic Execution in 385 AD

A markerThessalonica, Greece -
Thessaloniki, Greece
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The birth place of Christianity's legal condemnations of heretical opinions. The northern Greek city is believed to have been founded by St Paul.

The Edict of Thessalonica

It is hard to discuss the history of Christianity, without broaching the subject of heresy; and all the violent conflicts it has caused the Christian faithful, throughout its development. The history of Christianity is full of different periods in time where religious tribunals, played a fierce role in the development of religious doctrine through the use of violence and fear tactics. The word heresy and all its implications played a huge role, in how that violence was justified over the span of two thousand years.

  • The first known legal usage of the word heresy, came about in the historical time frame of Christianity, in the year 380 AD. The first usage of the term in a legal context, was established in the Edict of Thessalonica, also known as the Cunctos populos. This edict made Christianity the state-sponsored church of the Roman Empire. Prior to the edict, the church had no state-sponsored support system, for any legal means to counter what it perceived to be "heresy".
  • In 385 AD, a mere five years after legal ramifications to criminalize heresy was first decreed law by the Emperor Constantine I, the first Christian heretic was prosecuted, found guilty by a court of law, and executed by Roman officials; which were lawfully empowered now, by the Edict of Thessalonica. By 390 AD, over a thousand Thessalonians had been executed as a result of this edict.

Princeton University's Definitions of Heresy

  • A person who holds unorthodox opinions in any field (not merely religion)

  • Someone who believes contrary to the fundamental tenets of a religion they claim to belong to; Of or pertaining to heresy or heretics

  • Heresy - a belief that rejects the orthodox tenets of a religion

  • Heretical - dissident: characterized by departure from accepted beliefs or standards — Princeton University

In my quest for answers, I have discovered many different elements having to do with the word heresy.

  1. The root word itself is of Greek origin. It comes from the Greek word hairesis; which means either a "choice of beliefs," or a "faction of dissident believers."
  2. According to the Seek to Know website: Heresy is the holding of a belief that is in fundamental disagreement with the established Orthodoxy doctrines of an organized religion. Orthodoxy obviously being the key word here.
  3. The Inquisition was a group of judicial institutions for the Catholic Church, charged with the eradication of religious sectarianism viewed as heresy.
  4. Heresy remained an officially punishable offense in Roman Catholic nations until the late 18th century.
  5. People persecuted for heresy, were called Heretics. If a person was accused of heresy, their lives were completely turned upside down. All property and material wealth was taken over and consumed by the Roman Catholic Church, and the Empire of Rome.
  6. Heretics were usually tortured into false confessions. After making their legal mark on a statement, which was usually written up by a church cleric prior to their prosecution, validating their signed confession; these people were executed by soldiers shortly thereafter.
  7. For someone to be labeled a heretic, meant that they were bound for Hell, and often excommunicated from the church for the slightest misdemeanor.
  8. In my readings, I discovered that the Catholic Church sanctified the ratification of two types of heresy;
    1. Formal Heresy - knowingly voicing opinions, which are going against religious dogma with intent to discredit it. A punishable offense.
    2. Material Heresy - is the holding of mistaken opinions through no fault of one's own self. Material heresy was not considered a sinful action. Amazingly enough, material heresy was implemented to embody Protestant dissenters.

Looking Back and Changing Views

The Author's View On Heresy

As a child of the Roman Catholic faith, I often wonder what part of the Catholic religious dogma did Christ follow? Of course that answer is that he did not follow Roman Catholicism, and most likely would have never of followed it. Therefore, how did the early Catholic Church leaders get it so wrong?

I think there is a lot to be said about the early Christian movement. With so many different ideas and aspects of the faith in consideration, for a church to waiver in its convictions one way or another, created uncertainties and imbalances among the people. What we see today as cruel and unusual punishments, in the times of the Dark ages of the 12th century was a way of life, and the only way they knew how to maintain balance. Control the mob, hold the crown was their mantra. The Roman Catholic Church was founded by men, who held this belief firmly within their hands. It appears that what was not understood, became a reason to fear change.

With the invention of the printing press and the advancement of electricity into peoples' homes, the people of the world once again became better educated. With the light of knowledge, virtually at a person's fingertips, religious leaders were finally convinced that it was okay to embrace change. As human nature has evolved over the past two millenia, so has the original Christian ideals and religious philosophy.

For example;

  • The modern position of heresy today is that there are no real heresies. Even the Roman Catholic church embraces the idea that there are multiple orthodoxies, which can exist simultaneously without conflict.


Submit a Comment

  • IntimatEvolution profile image

    Julie Grimes 6 years ago from Columbia, MO USA

    Thank you so much for stumbling by...!

  • d.william profile image

    d.william 6 years ago from Somewhere in the south

    I just found your site today. Great hub. I just wrote one called: Revealable truths are heroic not heretic. I look forward to reading more of your articles.

  • lone77star profile image

    Rod Martin Jr 6 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

    IntimatEvolution, bravo! Glad I discovered this one.

    I like the definition "choice of beliefs." Without free will, we would be unable to find Truth. Mortal interpretation of scripture is so often wrong. When the Truth is finally discovered, I wonder if one would be able to put it into any English words at all.

    I grew up a Southern Baptist, until I was about 8 or 9. Then I was a spiritual searcher like my Dad. And then I was a Pentecostalist, because a couple of school chums were into it. Then I was a Scientologist, because my Dad was into it and because it worked -- cleaned up tons of spiritual garbage.

    And then I was a Buddhist, later marrying a Thai girl, and studying with Tibetan Buddhist monks like Rinpoche Gyaltsen.

    And finally, I am a Christian in a denomination of one. And each day, I am a heretic to what I was the day before.

  • IntimatEvolution profile image

    Julie Grimes 7 years ago from Columbia, MO USA

    Rob, I wonder if did. Because in the Gospel of Mary he speaks directly about enlightenment and the meaning of "pure" light. He talks to her about being spiritually in tuned with the cosmos. It's a great read, and probably my favorite Gospel. Gospel of Thomas speaks of similar teachings, so I wonder if you're right about Christ knowing Hinduism and Buddhism.

  • Robwrite profile image

    Rob 7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

    I'm a buddhist. Does that make me a heratic? Some people suspect that Jesus learned from Buddhist and Hindu teachers suring his "lost years".


  • IntimatEvolution profile image

    Julie Grimes 7 years ago from Columbia, MO USA

    Again Bob, you have written a comment that has really sparked my interest. Yes- you're right! Jesus Christ is not only a heretic in his own religion, but, he was a heretic in the Jewish faith as will. Good catch!

    Darski, Onusonus(welcome to my page),BoB and Twight- I'm so glad you all stopped in and left your intriguing thoughts behind! Thank you.

  • Darlene Sabella profile image

    Darlene Sabella 7 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

    Hello my friend, this is a very interest hub, and I was impressed you came up this theroy. I think I might be close to that kind of thinking however, in this day and age is this term still used, have they replace this work with other words...rate this up, love & peace darski

  • no body profile image

    Robert E Smith 7 years ago from Rochester, New York

    You know what Julie, a heretic was what most of the Jewish folks thought about the Lord Jesus. But then some of those well-read Pharasees began to again "well-read" and said, This has got to be Him. Those guys got their info in the Old Testament, the same Old Testament I have. When they believed, they too were considered to be heretics. That's the kind of heretic I want to be - the kind that sees God, recognizes God, and is hated by those who hate God. Much love, Bob.

  • Onusonus profile image

    Onusonus 7 years ago from washington

    Heresy is a very serious and difficult path, and no one knows better than this guy.

  • IntimatEvolution profile image

    Julie Grimes 7 years ago from Columbia, MO USA

    No I had no idea. That's scary to me. I'm off to uncover what I can about this group. Very interesting. GLad you stopped by. Cheers!

  • Twilight Lawns profile image

    Twilight Lawns 7 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

    Attagirl! I like the idea of you questioning the Worship of Mary, rather than the worship of God. I'm sure you know, but I'll enjoy asking the rhetorical question:

    Did you know that there is a movement to incorporate the Blessed Virgin Mary into the Trinity? (The far right Spanish based organisation; 'Opus Dei' are behind this, I believe)

    Interesting to speculate what that little group will be called.


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