Heresies and Heretics



Heresy is the denial of a particular dogma  or dogmas of  the  Faith.  Heresy  separates one  from  unity  with the  Church because  it  destroys  the integrity of  the whole  deposit  of  faith  revealed to us  by Jesus  Christ,  Our Lord and preserved, in tact, undiluted  and  proclaimed without  compromise by the Magisterium of the Church for all men, in every place and throughout time. There are two other  major sins against the Faith, these are, schism and apostasy.   Schism  separates  an individual  from unity with the Church by  that person's rejection  of  the Church's legitimate authority which ultimately rests in the Apostolic  See of  Rome. Apostasy separates a person from  unity  with  the  Church  because  the  individual apostate rejects the revelation of Jesus Christ either partially or  completely.


It is  important  to  make a   distinguish  between  those  individual's who   deliberately  and maliciously  deny  the  Faith or the authority of the Church, and those individuals who  deny  an article(s) of the faith or are disobedient to legitimate authority  out  of  ignorance.  The person who sins against the faith deliberately is called a formal  heretic,   schismatic  or  apostate.  Examples of formal heretics  are: Arius,Luther,Calvin,Knox,The Albigentians, Huss, Wycliff, Jansen, the Huguenots, Louise,  Tyrrell,   Kung,  Schillebecks,   Ranner, Raymond Brown,  Richard  McBrien, et  al..  Examples of  formal  schismatics are:  Patriarch Michael Cerularius and the Eastern Orthodox Churches that followed  him, The  Russian Orthodox Church, The Old Catholics, King Henry VIII,  and Archbishop Marcel  Lefevre.  Examples of formal  apostates are; Julian the Apostate, Louise, Tyrrell, Thomas Merton,  and any bishop, priest, nun or theologically educated lay Roman Catholic who has knowingly and deliberately renounced the Catholic faith and  embraced  a  false  religion, or who has rejected God completely.


Material heretics, are  those who, having been born into  a false "christian" religion, hold  false ideas about God through ignorance of the truth  due to  individual  circumstances.  These would be people like, Lutherans, Baptists, Evangelicals  and other Protestant sects. Muslims, Mormons and Jehovah  Witnesses  are not  only  heretics  but  also  fall under the category  of cults since they have rejected the  central concept of  Christianity  which  is the dogma of  The Blessed Trinity, and that Jesus Christ is the Second Person of  the Blessed Trinity who took to Himself a perfect human nature.


Material schismatics are those who are born into Christian  religions that  hold to essentially the  same  deposit  of  faith   and  who possess the sacraments through valid apostolic  succession  but  who  are, nonetheless, separated from the legitimate authority of Christ on earth which rests in the Papacy.  They remain separate as long as they refuse to recognize the universal jurisdiction of the Pope over the whole Church. Examples are: The Eastern Orthodox Churches, Coptics, and Old Catholics.


Material  apostasy is not possible since apostasy by its very nature demands a deliberate rejection of the One, True Faith by an individual. The children of such a person  could not  be  apostates  since they  were never a part of the Church to begin with and, therefore, could not apostasize from it.


Christological Heresies


The first  five centuries  of  the Church found it  embroiled in many different heresies.   Most  of  these heresies dealt  with  Christ  and Who He is.  The  constant  teaching  of  the  Church  from  the  Apostles and  all  the  great Fathers was that Jesus was both God  and man.  However, from the very beginning there was controversy regarding this revealed truth from Christ.  If He truly were God then how could he take upon Himself  a corrupt human nature?  If  He were truly human how could he remain without the stain of sin?  If He were God  how could he suffer? If he were human how could He repair the infinite offense of man's sins against God? These and a thousand other questions arose during these five centuries.  Thus the Fathers of the Church turned  to philosophy  in order to defend the orthodox position.


Other heresies during this time dealt with the nature of God Himself. Questions such as the following were asked and had to be answered. Are there two Gods; a God of Light and a God of Darkness that were equal in power? Is God only one person with three "faces"?  Is God omnipotent or just an architech of things that already eternally existed, as Plato surmised?


This  four part article will describe the different heretics and heresies that have plagued the Catholic Church since her beginning and will give an explanation of what the Church really teaches about these different subjects.


The Father of Heretics


S imon Magus, is called "the Father of Heretics" because he was the first individual to accept the Christian Faith and then promoted heretical ideas in opposition to the teachings of the Apostles.


Simon was a Samaritan and a sorcerer. He was revered among many people because of his sorcery and falsely deceived them into thinking that he was a messenger from God. He was converted to Christianity at the preaching of St. Philip, the deacon, and was baptized. When the Apostles, Sts. Peter and  John came to Samaria they laid their hands upon those who had been baptized that they might receive the Holy Spirit. Great signs and wonders accompanied the sacraments especially Comfirmation in those days in order to bolster the early Church. When Simon witnessed miracles that came with the power of the Holy Spirit he became envious of this power and wanted it for himself.  Going to  the two Apostles he offered them money hoping that they would make him a bishop that he too could have their same power.  But St. Peter said to him; "May your money perish with you, because you thought that you could buy the gift of God with money. You have no share or lot in this matter, for your heart is not upright before God. Repent of this wickedness of yours and pray to the Lord that, if possible, your intention may be forgiven.  I see that you are filled with bitter  gall and are in the bonds of iniquity." (Acts 8:20-24) 


But even though Simon asked for forgiveness and prayers from St. Peter he went west to Rome and began to deceive many people. During the reign of Claudius Caesar he gathered followers to himself in Rome with his false teachings and sorcery. It is reported by St. Justin Martyr and by St. Eusebius that many Romans began to rever Simon as a god and in fact made a statue of him.  His deception did not last long. By this time St. Peter had come to Rome and many of the Romans began to convert to the Catholic Church. Simon Magus began to believe in his own divinity and  proclaimed that he could  ascend into the heavens as Jesus had done.  It is reported that with the help of demons Simon began to ascend into the sky but St. Peter made the Sign of the Cross which caused the demons to release Simon who fell to his death.


The Simonians denied free will, believed in the transmigration of souls (reincarnation), taught that angels created the world, and denied the humanity of Christ claiming instead that he only appeared human.


From Simon Magus we have the term, simony which is the sin of attempting to  buy ecclesiastical office or to attempt to sell anything sacred. A "Simoniac" is one who has committed the sin of simony.


The Gnostics


G  nosticism  grew  out   of   an  attempt  by  pagans  to synthesize Christianity with pagan mythology.  Gnosticism comes from the Greek word Gnosis which means knowledge.  The general  premise of Gnosticism was that the full revelation of Jesus Christ was given only to a few select persons who were commanded to pass on the esoteric knowledge only to those who have proven themselves worthy to receive it.


There have  been  many different sects of Gnostics throughout  the history of the Church  and one can see the underlying influence of Gnosticism in many  of  the heresies of  today.  Of the two great  heretical movements of the first  five centuries  of the Church; Gnosticism and Arianism, Gnosticism had the greatest  impact within the first 3 centuries.  The following will be a  brief discussion of the various Gnostic heretics and the sects they were responsible for establishing.




C   arpocrates  is considered the father  of Gnosticism. He was a Philosopher from the School at Alexandria.  His sect flourished from about A.D. 117-138.   His  followers were called the Carpocratians  and they held to the following heretical teachings: Everyone has two souls,  one soul  animates  the physical  body and the other is  connected  to the divine essence; they  believed in reincarnation;  the world was created by angels; denied the divinity of Christ; and they believed that  sexual  ecstasy  was  a means of union with God, thereby, giving license to every  manner  of sexual immorality.


Valentine, the Egyptian

(d. A.D. 106)


V  alentine was  a  priest who left the Catholic Church out of anger because he was  not  appointed  as  a  bishop as he had expected.  He spead his errors throughout Asia Minor, Egypt and Italy.  Among the heresies  condemned by the Church at that time were the following: Mary  was  not the Mother  of God;   justification is  by faith alone;  the material universe was co-eternal with God;  there is no free-will; and there is  no the resurrection of the body.


Marcion the Archheretic


B  orn about A.D. 110 Marcion was the son of a bishop. He subsequently became an auxillary bishop under his father. After some conflict ( the nature of which history is silent) he was excommunicated from the Church by his own father. He appealed for reconciliation  but was refused. He went to Rome and fell into the company of  a Gnostic heretic named Cerdo. Adopting Cerdo's heretical beliefs  Marcion developed the most comprehensive form of "christian" Gnosticism known.


The Marcionites  believed in two gods, one greater than the other; both opposed to each other. Marcion taught that the god described in the Old Testament was a cruel and evil god. This evil  god created the physical universe. That is why there is suffering and evil on  earth.  The good and more powerful god created  all  that  is  spirit  and all  that  is  good.  The good god sent  his Son, Jesus Christ, to earth. Jesus was divine, according to Marcion, but  only appeared  human. He did not take upon himself real flesh and blood because these came from the evil god. Marcion rejected the Old Testament as a deception of the evil god. The Marcionites prohibited marriage, the eating of flesh meats and the drinking  of wine.


It is written that Marcion finally repented of his heresy and begged to be reconciled to the Church.  His professed penitence was  accepted with the provision that he renounce all of his heresies (which he did) and that he should lead back to the Church all those whom he had led astray.  Unfortunately, he died before he could carry out his penance.




Montanus was a pagan priest from the territory  of  Phrygia  in  Asia Minor.  He converted to the Catholic Faith around the year A.D. 150 but was swayed by enthusiasm to such a degree that he would fall into ecstasy at the drop  of  a  hat.  While in a trance-like state he would utter "prophecies." He could be compared to Edgar Casey of our own times.  He soon gathered followers, especially two women who left  their  husbands and supported him with their sizable wealth.  He named them as prophetesses and began his own church.  He was excommunicated by the local  bishop.


This  ancient  "holyroller" began to claim a new revelation from God. Forbade the sacrament of confession for certain sins and forbade second marriages for widows or widowers.