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Conviction of Galileo Galileo for heresy

Heresy (from ancient Greek αἵρεσις haíresis , German 'choice' , 'view', 'school') is in the narrower sense a statement or doctrine that contradicts ecclesiastical and religious beliefs. In a broader sense, a heresy can be a doctrine, opinion , doctrine , ideology , worldview or philosophy that deviates from the recognized . A heretic is a representative of a heresy.

Alternatively, one also speaks of heterodoxy (from ἑτεροδοξία heterodoxia , German 'deviating, different opinion' ), heresy or heresy or today also lateral thinking . An opposite term is orthodoxy ( orthodoxy ). A doctrine or way of life can in principle only be described as heretical in relation to another - judged to be orthodox .

The term heresy is mainly used in the Catholic Church , but also in the context of the Orthodox , Protestant and Evangelical churches as well as with reference to Judaism , Islam and some other religions. Heretics are to be distinguished from schismatics who split off from a particular movement or church, but do not develop doctrines that deviate significantly from its doctrines.

Definition of terms

The terms heresy and heretic (after the medieval Cathar movement ) were originally synonymous with heresy or heretics . In the present, heresy is often used in the sense of any deviation from "a generally valid opinion or norm of behavior" which can be viewed sympathetically, while heresy and heretics are still limited to the specific ecclesiastical-theological and historical significance.

Heresiology is the study of heresies. In heresiology, a church describes what it sees as heresy and how it recognizes it. A heresiology is always the subjective standpoint of a church. Heresiography is a treatise that describes heresies.

A distinction is made between heresy and the schism , where the unity of a church is not maintained in a conflict about church order. A schism can go hand in hand with a heresy, as in Donatism , for example ; but it is also possible that two schismatic groups share the same beliefs, as was the case, for example, with the occidental schism .

Heresy in Christianity

Heresies in the Old Church

In early Christianity , as in the New Testament, there was a pluralism of theological perspectives. Already in the New Testament a distinction was made between Adiaphora (e.g. 1st letter to the Corinthians: Are Christians allowed to eat meat from animals that have been sacrificed to the pagan gods?) And binding teachings (e.g. Galatians: One must not force Gentile Christians to be circumcised ) .

During the apostles ' lifetime , the ultimate authority over correct teaching lay with the apostles (for example at the apostles' council ). The Old Church knew until the 4th century initially no central authority that would have on such matters of doctrine can decide (the bishop of Rome was at that time no authority). First three ecclesiastical metropolises with equal rights developed in Antioch , Alexandria and Rome . Constantinople and, to a much lesser extent, Jerusalem were added later. Their bishops were decisive in their area.

In addition, other theological centers of focus emerged over the course of time through outstanding people, for example in North Africa through Augustine and in Asia Minor through the "three Cappadocians" ( Basil of Caesarea , his younger brother Gregory of Nyssa and his friend Gregory of Nazianzen ). These church fathers grappled with the deviant doctrines circulating in their environment, although apart from arguments and excommunication ( exclusion from the church), they had little power at their disposal. Such an excommunication affected the heretic far less at that time than in the European Middle Ages, since Christianity was not yet the state religion . In addition, the heretic was convinced that he adhered to the right faith and that the church was in error.

From the 4th to the 10th centuries it was the ecumenical councils that made doctrinal decisions for the whole Church. These doctrinal decisions are still recognized today by the Orthodox, Catholic and most Protestant churches and were made well before the Eastern schism and the Protestant movement. A doctrine condemnation by an ecumenical council was usually preceded by a period of intense debate, discussion and argument.

The teaching decisions of the first centuries were usually made on the basis of majority consensus. In some cases, for example when dealing with Arianism , political power lay on the non-Orthodox side (see also Ambrosius of Milan ).

Syncretistic heresies

One of the early problems of Christianity was to differentiate itself in the syncretistic culture of Hellenism from syncretistic religions such as Gnosticism and Manichaeism, which mixed Christian dogmas in whole or in part with other religions or self-constructions. Such movements were:

Christological heresies

The Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant churches teach that Christ is fully divine (“true God”) and at the same time fully human (“true man”) and that the three persons of the Trinity are equal and eternal. The formulation of the Trinitarian doctrine has evolved over the centuries, with definitions refined over and over again to ward off newly emerging opinions regarding the nature of Jesus Christ, the relationship between Christ and God the Father, and the Trinity.

The Christological heresies included:

The Nicene Creed arose as a reaction to Christological heresies.

Ecclesiological heresies

  • Donatism , 4th century: Validity of Christian sacraments (especially baptism , priestly ordination ) depended on the character and faith of the priest (that is, baptisms and priestly ordinations by priests who fell away during persecution are invalid and must be donated again by a priest who has not fallen away; fallen priests should not be accepted back into the Church after persecution).
  • Pelagianism , 5th Century: Rejects original sin and teaches that man can keep all of God's commandments on his own initiative.

Jewish Christian heresies

Groups that wanted to adhere to Jewish (ritual) law in any way:

Heresy in the Middle Ages

In contrast to the situation of the early church with many theological centers that had to develop a theological consensus, there was only one dominant spiritual authority in Western and Central Europe in the Middle Ages, that of the Roman Catholic Church, which from the High Middle Ages on was also a dominant political authority Strength was. This different position of the church also led to a different view of heresy.

Definition of heresy in the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church differentiates between individual deviating manifestations of faith and their proximity to express heresy. Only a belief that directly contradicts an article of the belief or that expressly states what is rejected by the church is actually called heresy , with the imperative that the heretic was previously a Catholic Christian. Heresy, then, is persistent denial or persistent doubt about a truth to be believed after baptism has been received. While the term was often used by lay people to denounce any false beliefs as pagan , this definition only marks those as heretic who, as the original believer of the Catholic Church, later deviated from this orthodox church in favor of an opposing belief.

A belief that the church has not directly rejected or that is in opposition to a less important church doctrine is called sententia haeresi proxima , "an opinion close to heresy". A theological argument or belief system that does not claim heresy but could lead to heretical conclusions is called propositio theologice erronea , an "erroneous theological notion." If a theological position only makes conflicts conceivable, but does not necessarily lead to them, one spoke mildly of suspecta sententia de haeresi , "presumed deviation".

The criticism of these school theological qualifications is that they refer to individual sentences of theological systems, but only "work [...] in a tradition with a uniform theological language and uniform forms of thought."

Crackdown on heresy

Heresy as a goddess accompanied by a manticore - also note the accompanying text under the image. Engraving by Antonius Eisenhoit (1589)

The first historical means of orthodoxy against heresy was simple polemics. It was said that the false teachers were morally depraved as persons. Behind this argument stands the view, already known from pagan polemics, that false doctrine of God and false morality are causally related. Orthodoxy also had to endeavor to refute the heretical teachings. To do this, she had to familiarize herself with the heresies and present them in the context of the refutation. Another means of combating heresy was physical violence. In 385, Spanish heretics ( Priscillian with six companions) were executed in Trier.

In the Middle Ages , heresy was also a problem of secular power. Heretics often refused oaths , which were a central part of medieval treaty. It happened that secular princes asked the church to call heretics to order.

In the 11th and 12th centuries, popes ordered heresy to be punished with imprisonment and confiscation of property, and threatened the princes who did not punish heretics with excommunication , which in the Middle Ages was considered the most severe punishment and was felt as it was the individual Separate person from the body of Christ , his church, and thus prevent salvation . The excommunication or the threat of excommunication were often enough to induce heretics to deviate from their convictions. At the Orléans Heresy , the heretics were burned in 1022; this was the first known cremation of the Christian Middle Ages.

After disputes with heretical religious movements such as the Cathars (Albigensians), the Amalricans or the Waldensians , the Inquisition was instituted in the first half of the 13th century . At times ecclesiastical and secular institutions worked together. For example, in France, the Knights of the Templar Order were arrested on an arrest warrant from the French king in 1307 and questioned by inquisitors for years before the order was dissolved in 1312 (see Templar Trial ).

In the 16th century, the heresies were systematically organized by Alfonso de Castro and summarized in an alphabetical encyclopedia.

The Catholic Church and the Reformation

Triumph of Ecclesia over heresy. St. Jakobus (Feusisberg) .
Allegory of the Catholic Church on a Cloud. In the crosshairs the enlighteners Voltaire and Rousseau as well as the clownishly depicted reformers Zwingli , Luther and Calvin .

The Reformation was also viewed as a heresy by the Catholic Church and was persecuted accordingly in Catholic areas.

Some of the doctrines of Protestantism that the Catholic Church classifies as heretical are the belief that

  • the Bible is the sole source and guideline of faith (sola scriptura) - and not, as in the Catholic understanding, scripture and tradition
  • Faith alone can lead to salvation (sola fide) and does not have to include works
  • The general priesthood of believers not only complements the ordained priesthood , but makes it superfluous
  • there is no transubstantiation in the celebration of the Eucharist and
  • the Canon Missae contain heresies.

A reaction to the Reformation was the establishment of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ( Sanctum officium ) , which is the final authority for questions of faith in the Catholic Church.

Heretical Groups in Modern Times

Catholic Church

In modern times the doctrine of heretical groups has been condemned as heresy by the Pope; however, there were no longer any secular punishments. Modern movements within the Catholic Church that have been condemned as heresy are:

Orthodox churches

  • The Old Believers in Russia : refused to accept the reforms of Patriarch Nikon and were therefore expelled from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1667.
  • the old calendars in Greece and Southeastern Europe: refused to approve the calendar reform of the New Julian calendar since 1924

Evangelical Churches and Heresy

The term heresy is rarely used in the Protestant context, although Protestantism also saw the need to distance oneself from radical movements. This already began in the time of the Reformation. Teachings of the Catholic Church, which were already seen as heresy against biblical Christianity during the Reformation, are the worship of saints and the doctrine of transubstantiation . Later there was also the devotion to Mary , which was not condemned by the reformers themselves. The Augsburg Confession of 1530 condemns the teachings of the Anabaptists (who were pejoratively called "Anabaptists").

In some cases, state and church jointly took action against heretics. Secular punishments for heresy only occurred in the Protestant area in the 16th and 17th centuries. During the Reformation, representatives of the radical Reformation were persecuted and convicted , for example Thomas Müntzer , the anti-Trinitarian Michael Servetus and the Anabaptists.

In the 18th century there were mutual doctrinal condemnations of Calvinists and Methodists , especially because of the different conceptions of predestination . In the context of theological disputes, however, this remained without secular consequences and, since the opponents mostly belonged to different churches, also without church penalties. In the Netherlands alone, those Remonstrants who believed in free will were expelled from the Calvinist Reformed Church.

In the 20th century, the Gnadauer Verband and the German Evangelical Alliance condemned the Pentecostal movement as a "movement from below" (that is, from the devil ) in the Berlin Declaration of 1909 , which is now only seen in this way by some pietistic circles. Here, too, it is a theological opinion without secular or ecclesiastical punishments.

In 1934, the Barmer Theological Declaration , written by the Protestant Reformed theologian Karl Barth , declared the Protestant majority of German Christians at the time , the " Führer principle " and the National Socialist ideology state to be "false doctrine" (= heresy). This “rejection” became the confession of the Confessing Church , which saw itself as the true evangelical church. The Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) included the Barmer Declaration in its confessional documents after 1945. Some of their regional churches expressly ordain their pastors to it.

An attempt by Christians in the line of tradition of Karl Barth to also discard the means of mass destruction as "contrary to the faith" (heretical) was rejected in 1958 by the majority of the evangelical synod.

In 1974 the World Council of Churches (WCC) declared racism incompatible with Christianity. This was directed primarily against racist theologies, such as those represented among white Reformed Boers in South Africa. With this, too, a “heresy” was in fact condemned and marginalized.

Contemporary non-canonical churches

New churches and communities that split off from existing traditional Orthodox, Catholic and Oriental churches have mostly not been banned from church since the late 20th century. However, it is expressly pointed out that their teachings and their practice do not correspond to canon law and that all of their ordinations and sacraments are therefore invalid. Non-canonical churches usually do not belong to larger church associations, such as the World Council of Churches .

Heresies in Judaism

The Orthodox Judaism classifies as heretical what of the traditional - Talmudic different Jewish traditions -. Two heterodox heretical groups already known in antiquity and late antiquity form the national special group of the Samaritans and the anti-Italian Karaites . In the 17th century, the messianically inspired followers of Shabbtai Zvi , the Sabbatians , made a name for themselves as Jewish heretics.

Orthodox Jews regard Jewish reform efforts ( reform Judaism , reconstructionism ) as heretical movements. The ultra-Orthodox Judaism believes that in general all Jews who have specific understanding of Maimonides reject '13 principles of Jewish faith, to be heretics.

However, a conviction as a heretic in Judaism does not mean that the convicted are no longer Jews from the perspective of the convicting. Individual Jews still belong to the Jewish community of fate, but the legitimacy of non-Orthodox Jewish communities is called into question. Converts who convert to a direction of Judaism that is regarded as heretical, however, are not regarded as Jews by the Orthodox even after their conversion.

Sects and Theological Schools in Islam

In the realm of Islam there is an approximate counterpart to heresy with the concept of Ilḥād . The one who Ilḥād exerts is as Mulhid designated.

The two largest Islamic denominations, that of the Sunnis (official confession of most Arab countries and mainstream in Turkey ) and that of the Shiites (state religion in Iran since 1501), viewed each other as heretical for a long time. In the 1930s, both struggled to achieve mutual recognition. The Parsismus applies in the Sunnah as heretical, in the Shia but he is recognized. Other theological schools or sects have also viewed each other as heretical in the past, and in some cases also in the present. Controversial in the recognition were about Alevis , Assassins , Babis and Baha'is , Druze , Hurufi , Carmathians , Chawaridsch , Mu'tazila , Kadariyya , Murdschia . The Ahmadiyya is since 1974 Pakistan forbidden by law, excluded and persecuted organization. Alignments and groups not related to theological schooling, such as Sufism (see also Dervish , Bektaschi ), have often been exposed to heightened mistrust. Some previously controversial groups are now also respected by Islamic courts and religious institutions, for example.

Heresies in Buddhism

In Japanese Nichiren Buddhism , some schools consider each other and other Buddhist schools that are not based on the Lotus Sutra (especially Amida and Zen Buddhism and Shingon-shū and Risshū ) or interpret the Lotus Sutra differently than they interpret as heretical. They reject an exchange of services and goods with the schools that are judged as heretical and often use the method of Shakubuku (折伏; literally “break and subjugate”, an aggressive argumentative condemnation of the heretical teachings with the aim of conversion).

Other religions, groups and topics

“Heresy” is a fundamental topic of practically all world religions, but for structural reasons it is particularly of the monotheistic religions. Above all, fundamentalist groups and " sects " like Scientology watch over pure teaching and fight against divergent opinions in their ranks.

Even purely secular ideologies of modernity can often be recognized as heirs to old monotheistic claims to uniqueness and unity. This parallel is particularly often emphasized or assumed for Marxism-Leninism . In Stalinism and Maoism , deviants were branded and labeled, for example, as opportunists , revisionists , reactionaries , Trotskyists or renegades . The same applies to many national, for example anti-colonial, revival movements around the world.

Anyone or any grouping can become a heretic whose point of view is disapproved or ostracized by others. This makes the question of power within the analysis of heresies significant, insofar as a wide variety of actors strive for sole interpretative sovereignty over the contents of belief and doctrine.

See also


Web links

Wiktionary: Heresy  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b Wilhelm Gemoll : Greek-German school and hand dictionary . Munich / Vienna 1965.
  2. Jan Söffner: The Middle Ages also knew lateral thinkers. In: NZZ . November 26, 2020, accessed March 19, 2021 .
  3. Georg Denzler: Courageous lateral thinkers - committed to the truth . Radio portraits of fascinating characters from church and intellectual history. LIT Verlag, Münster 2016, ISBN 978-3-643-13406-6 ( at Google Books ).
  4. Johannes Fried: Struggle for the right faith. Catholic Church: With lies and fire against lateral thinkers. In: ZEIT ONLINE . August 29, 2014, accessed March 19, 2021 .
  5. Elisabeth Gräb-Schmidt, Reiner Preul: Personality of God . In: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt (Hrsg.): Marburger Jahrbuch Theologie . tape XIX , no. 1 . Leipzig 2007, ISBN 3-374-02564-1 , p. 124 ( on Google Books ).
  6. Sabine Assmann: Myth versus Reality: Galileo and the Church. , accessed on March 19, 2021 .
  7. a b c d Theological Real Encyclopedia : Heresy
  8. Cf. Gerhard Ludwig Müller : Catholic Dogmatics: for the study and practice of theology. 6th edition. Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 2005, ISBN 3-451-28652-1 , p. 89: “It should be noted that a heretic can only be a Catholic who personally opposes the faith of the Church through a heretical teaching. Those who grow up in a Christian community separate from the Catholic Church must not be called heretics. "
  9. ^ Gerhard Ludwig Müller : Catholic dogmatics: for study and practice of theology. 6th edition. Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 2005, ISBN 3-451-28652-1 , p. 89.
  10. Hans Conzelmann : Outline of the theology of the New Testament . § 38: Orthodoxy and Heresy. Chr. Kaiser Verlag, Munich 1967, pp. 330 and 331.
  11. See Bernard Lewis : Some Observations on the Significance of Heresy in the History of Islam. In Studia Islamica 1 (1953) 43-63.
  12. Elaine Pagels : Temptation through Knowledge. The Gnostic Gospels. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1987, ISBN 3-518-37956-9 (Suhrkamp Taschenbuch 1456), p. 18 (Original: The Gnostic Gospels , New York 1979; German by Angelika Schweikhart: Insel, Frankfurt am Main 1981).