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A heretic (or heretics ) is according to Duden someone who "of the official Church teaching is different," or more generally anyone who "publicly other than representing some matters validated opinion." The heretic's belief or dissenting opinion is known as heresy or heresy .


The word heretic comes from the Italian gazzari , which in turn is based on the Greek word katharós "pure", and was adopted into German before the 13th century. In Latin and Italian, it originally referred to the Cathars, who were mainly widespread in southern France and northern Italy . As in the beginning in Italian, it was then used in German as a derogatory expression with the more general meaning “false believer”, “false teacher” for all types of heresy in the church understanding, by Catholics as well as by Protestants since the Reformation . Cathars and heretics have their origins in the ancient Greek katharos , "the pure".

Even in the Latin Middle Ages, the origin of the word from the name of the Cathars was not always known or was overlaid by folk etymology . The Latin cathari ('Katharer') was sometimes associated with cattus ('cat'), later also in German heretic with cat . The association is explained with the alleged ritual, a cat as an animal of the devil on the butt to kiss (according to Alain de Lille : quia osculantur posteriora cati, in cujus specie ut dicunt apparet ice Lucifer ). Such a ritual, known as osculum infame , is described in the letter Vox in Rama (1233) by Pope Gregory IX. described. In addition, there is a possible association with the “feline” false type of heretics (according to Berthold von Regensburg : “the heretic heats a heretic from this, that he likes to glîche deheinem customer with his wise sam the cats”).

Development of terms and current use

Based on the idea of ​​a “falsification” of the church's teaching, the word was transferred to other types of falsification in the late Middle Ages , for example to the falsification of metals (“heretic”, cf. “fool's gold” for pyrite ) or to phenomena such as homosexuality and pederasty ( "Ketzerbube"), which the church interpreted as a "falsification" (perversion) of the God-given nature.

Since the early modern period , heresy , heretical in a figurative sense, has also been used for any kind of intellectual dissidence or opposition to a ruling doctrine or convention without particular reference to the ecclesiastical and religious sphere, as well as heresy in the meaning of "declare to be heretic", "for Explain heresy ”.

Because of their derogatory meaning in ecclesiastical usage, the terms heretic and heresy are nowadays avoided in scientific terminology in favor of the more neutral foreign words heretics and heresy . Because of their medieval character, they had already been avoided in the description of pre-medieval heresies in the older specialist literature.


  • Christoph Auffarth : The heretics . Cathars, Waldensians and other religious movements, Beck, Munich 2005, ISBN 978-3-406-50883-7 .
  • Arno Borst : The Cathars (= Herder spectrum. Volume 4025). 6th edition. Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1998, ISBN 3-451-04025-5 (also dissertation at the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen 1951).
  • Hans-Georg Deggau: A short history of the Cathars. Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau a. a. 2005, ISBN 978-3-451-28780-0 .
  • Heinrich Fichtenau : Heretics and Professors. Heresy and Faith in Reason in the High Middle Ages. Beck, Munich 1992, ISBN 3-406-36458-6 .
  • Gottfried Koch: The question of women and heresy in the Middle Ages. The women's movement in the context of Catharism and Waldensianism and its social roots (12th – 14th centuries) (= research on medieval history. Volume 9). Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1962 (also dissertation at the University of Leipzig 1960).
  • Malcolm Lambert: Heresy in the Middle Ages. From the Cathars to the Hussites Translated by Raul Niemann. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2001, ISBN 3-534-14717-0 .
  • Jörg Oberste: Heresy and Inquisition in the Middle Ages. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2007, ISBN 978-3-534-15576-7 .
  • Ernst Werner , Martin Erbstößer: clerics, monks, heretics. Religious life in the high Middle Ages . Herder Spectrum, Freiburg / Basel / Vienna 1994, ISBN 3-451-04284-3 .
  • Heretic. In: Jacob Grimm , Wilhelm Grimm (Hrsg.): German dictionary . tape 11 : K - (V). S. Hirzel, Leipzig 1873 ( ).

Web links

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


  1. Heretics and heretics . Duden online
  2. Heresy and heresy . Duden online
  3. On heretic / cat etymology Meinolf Schumacher : Sündenschmutz und Herzensreinheit: Studies on the metaphors of sin in Latin and German literature of the Middle Ages , Munich 1996, ISBN 3-7705-3127-2 ( digitized version), pp. 379–383.