Bronze-level articleHeresy

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Heresy refers to aberration from a (typically religious) orthodox system of beliefs, while still making a claim to hold said orthodox beliefs. It is distinct from apostasy, renouncing one's religious or political belief system altogether, and schism, rejecting the power of the established authorities of the religion, while still accepting the religion's established beliefs. Today, the word heterodoxy is the preferred term among people who wish to appear more erudite and/or less provocative.


[edit] History

A heretic is a person who preaches heresy and/or accepts heresy as fact, and a heresiarch is a leading heretic or even the originator of the heresy. It is usually - though not always - used in a religious sense. Frequently the difference of opinion or interpretation may seem insignificant to outsiders - but will likely be a matter of life and death to those heretics involved.

To be a heretic, one must claim that their beliefs are orthodox. If one is simply "deviant," or "deviates" by openly disregarding the orthodoxy, one is not a heretic, but a blasphemer or just an out-and-out unbeliever. Creationists do not call Stephen Jay Gould's theories of a godless universe running on automatic heresy. But when Martin Luther tried to add words to his new improved bible version like "faith alone" that were never there in the original Greek, just because he thought they ought to be there, that made him a heretic.

Catharism was one of the best known heretical sects. The Roman Catholic Church established the Inquisition in 1229 to root out the Cathars. After executing the last Cathar in 1321, the Catholic Church continued the Inquisition for several centuries to suppress all perceived heresies. One of the most famous persecutions by the Inquisition occurred in 1633 when Galileo Galilei was forced to recant his assertion that the solar system is heliocentric, and not geocentric.

On 11 July 2007, Pope Benedict XVI stated[1] that all non-Catholic churches are "ecclesial communities." The members of these "ecclesial communities" have little doubt that the pope really called them all a bunch of heretics[2] (the pope later backpedaled a bit on his statement).[3]

Oddly enough, not all religious sects view each other as heretical. Presbyterians and Congregationalists are less likely to view each other as heretics, since they share essentially the same theology (Calvinism) while simply practicing a different sort of church polity. However, Presbyterians and Congregationalists are much more likely to view Catholics, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses as heretics.

[edit] So, who's a heretic?

St. Dominic presiding at an auto de fe, by Pedro Berruguete (c. 1490)

Some religious groups considered heretical by other religious groups:

[edit] Theological justifications for persecution

With regard to heretics two points must be observed: one, on their own side; the other, on the side of the Church. On their own side there is the sin, whereby they deserve not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication, but also to be severed from the world by death.
Thomas Aquinas[4]

It might be thought (or hoped) that Christian teachings such as to "love thy neighbor" would preclude responding to heretics with anything other than attempts to persuade them of their perceived errors. St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE) widely considered the most influential Christian teacher since the Apostle Paul[5] and to this day a Doctor of the Church, thought differently. He held that just as a good father prevents his son from picking up a venomous snake, or a good gardener cuts off a rotten branch to save the rest of the tree, so the Church had a duty to suppress heresy forcibly.[6] The logic, if you accept that belief will send you either to heaven or hell, (although obviously these "ifs" are the issue) is simple: torturing a person into confession and repentance of heresy is doing them the greatest favor, since it saves them from hell. If they refuse to repent, killing them prevents the heretic from spreading their "false" beliefs and sending others to hell (Augustine also referred to heretics as "robbers of souls") which is doing the same ultimate favor to those people. Heretical literature and preaching should be suppressed on the same grounds, of course. Augustine and others could thus justify such actions on the basis of love. Twisted, chilling, yet rational (assuming you accept their starting premises). The fact that almost no Christians advocate such things now (while also something to give thanks for, obviously) shows how much their belief is no longer taken to its logical conclusion, but moderated by modern progress.

[edit] The siege of Béziers

An often repeated story of Christian treatment of heretics occurred during the siege of the southern French city of Béziers during the Albigensian Crusade[wp] in 1209:

"A German monk repeated a story that Arnald-Amaury (a Papal legate), when asked in the middle of the slaughter how the Catholics could be distinguished from the heretics replied, 'Kill them all, God will recognize his own.'" [7]

[edit] Political heresy

As in religion, there can be heresy in politics — mainly on the extreme ends of the political spectrum where the crackpots and fanatics reside.. The story above, regarding someone being perfectly acceptable until one final detail emerges, is certainly common.

In late 2009, the Republican Party put forward a checklist, and anyone found deviating on more than two principles was to be denied party campaign funding.[8] Ironically, the only reason that the party even allowed dissent from two principles was lest they should go against an utterance from the blessed Ronald Reagan.

On the other end of the spectrum, however, political "deviationism," being identified as "anti-party," "reactionary," "counter-revolutionary," being a "capitalist-roader," having a "bourgeois mentality," or even being in general a "bourgeois" individual, has also been severely punished in communist countries, usually by punishments far more draconian.

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Cf. the documents "Responses to Some Questions" and "Commentary" from the Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith.
  2. Dismay and anger as Pope declares Protestants cannot have churches, The Guardian, 11 July 2007
  3. Will the Pope's Pronouncement Set Ecumenism Back a Hundred Years?,, 11 July 2007
  6. Toward the light of liberty: the struggles for freedom and rights that made the modern Western world, A. C. Grayling, 2007, New York: Walker
  7. Sumption, Jonathan, The Albigensian Crusade, Faber and Faber, London 1999, p.93
  8. Archive copy at the Wayback Machine
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