Christian Cyclopedia

About the Cyclopedia


(from Gk. hairesis, “act of choosing,” then “chosen opinion; §”). 1. Used in the LXX for choices that are either good or bad (e.g., Gn 49:5; Lv 22:18, 21). In F. Josephus,* Jewish War, II viii 2, it is used of either a party or a § (cf. Acts 5:17; 15:5; 24:5, 14; 26:5). The term is used in the NT in a condemnatory sense; heretics are contentious (1 Co 11:16–19), deny the Lord, are pernicious, covetous, deceivers for gain, false teachers (2 Ptr 2:1–3), are subverted, sinners, and self-condemned (Tts 3:10–11; cf. schism in 1 Co 1:10; 11:18; 12:25).

2. The term “heresy” occurs in Ignatius (see Apostolic Fathers, 2), Epistle to the Trallians, shorter version, vi, and Epistle to the Ephesians, vi. Justin* Martyr, Dialog with Trypho the Jew, LXXX, speaks of “godless, impious heretics” and their “blasphemous, atheistical, and foolish” doctrines. The later Fathers often use the term “heresy.” In earliest Christian times Jewish sects and Gk. schools were regarded heretics. In the 2d and 3d c. Gnostics (see Gnosticism) were the great heretics. Then came Monarchianism,* Montanism,* and rend=i0>Manichaeism.* Arianism,* Apollinarianism,* Pelagianism,* Nestorianism,* Monophysitism,* and Monothelitism* were outstanding heresics of the Nicene and post-Nicene era (see Christian Church, History of the, I 3–4).

3. In early Christian times charges of heresy were used in pol. maneuvering. As ch. organization developed into a pol. system, heresy was outlawed and suppressed. From ca. the end of the 4th c. into the 16th c. heresy was a capital crime. In the Middle Ages, heresies became in part protests of individuals against an est. order and included speculative thinkers (Cathari,* Amalricians*), mystics (J. Tauler,* H. Suso,* J. v. Ruysbroeck,* Thomas* à Kempis), enthusiasts (Franciscan Spirituals*), antisacerdotalists (Pierre de Bruys,* Henry* of Lausanne). J. Wycliffe* and J. Hus* were also considered heretics.

4. M. Luther* restored the term to its original meaning: Heresy is stubborn error in an article of faith in opposition to Scripture (WA 54, 288; 30 II, 422, 426); is an individually made doctrine and mode of living (WA 8, 389); springs from pride (WA 31 I, 333); cannot endure grace (WA 28, 574) and substitutes other works for those commanded by God (WA 32, 516); is not evolved from Scripture, but from perverted minds (WA 45, 647–648; 18, 701); pretends to be Scriptural (WA 17 I, 363); refuses to listen or be opposed (WA 19, 610); sins against Holy Ghost (WA 19, 610; 2, 184); errs in a fundamental doctrine (WA 1, 391); errorists strive against recognized truth and their own conscience (WA 50, 545). (Cf. Ap IV 232, 242; SA II iv 7, III viii 9; Tractatus 38, 72; FC Ep XlI, SD VIII 17, XII 39).

5. J. Gerhard,* Loci theologici, XIII, pp. 222–223: “For one to be properly called a heretic, it is required (1) that he be a person received by the Sacrament of Baptism into the visible church; (2) that he err in faith …; (3) that the error conflict directly with the very foundation of faith; (4) that to the error be added malice and obstinacy, in which he stubbornly defends his error, though repeatedly admonished; (5) that he stir up dissensions and scandals in the church and rend its unity. C. F. W. Walther* summarized the teaching of Luther and the Luth. dogmaticians: A heretic (1) errs in a fundamental article; (2) brings about divisions; (3) continues in his perverse ways despite repeated admonitions and contrary to his own better knowledge and conscience. EL

See alsoInquisition.

G. Arnold, Unparteyische Kirchen- and Ketzer-Historic, von Anfang des Neuen Testaments biss auff das Jahr Christi 1688, 4 parts (Frankfurt, 1699–1700); A. Hilgenfeld, Die Ketzergeschichte des Urchristenthums (Leipzig, 1884); C. F. W. Walther, Die Stimme unserer Kirche in der Frage von Kirche und Amt, jubilee ed. (Zwickau, Ger., 1911), pp. 10–14, and Die Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche, die wahre sichtbare Kirche Gottes auf Erden (St. Louis, Missouri, 1867), pp. 24–25, 151–152, tr. J. T. Mueller, The True Visible Church (St. Louis, Missouri, 1961), pp. 20–29, 134; Studia Friburgensia, New Series, 10, ed. H. O. Löthi: J. Cahill, The Development of the Theological Censures After the Council of Trent (1563–1709) (Fribourg, Switz., 1955); Beiträge zur historischen Theologie, ed. G. Ebeling, 10: W. Bauer, Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei im ältesten Christentum, 2d ed. G. Strecker (Tübingen, 1964); K. Rahner, On Heresy, tr. W. J. O'Hara (New York, 1964); J. Guitton, Great Heresies and Church Councils, tr. F. D. Wieck (New York, 1965); G. Leff, Heresy in the Later Middle Ages, 2 vols. (New York, 1967).

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

Internet Version Produced by
The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod

Original Editions ©Copyright 1954, 1975, 2000
Concordia Publishing House
All rights reserved.

Content Reproduced with Permission

Stay Connected! Join the LCMS Network:

Contact Us Online
(Staff Switchboard)
(Church Info Center)
1333 S Kirkwood Rd
Saint Louis, MO 63122-7226 | Directions


Featured Publication

The Lutheran Witness

LCMS Communications

Interpreting the contemporary world from a Lutheran Christian perspective.
Visit TLW Online