Heresy is a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion
Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to...

, that conflicts with established dogma
Dogma is the established belief or doctrine held by a religion, or a particular group or organization. It is authoritative and not to be disputed, doubted, or diverged from, by the practitioners or believers...

. It is distinct from apostasy
Apostasy , 'a defection or revolt', from ἀπό, apo, 'away, apart', στάσις, stasis, 'stand, 'standing') is the formal disaffiliation from or abandonment or renunciation of a religion by a person. One who commits apostasy is known as an apostate. These terms have a pejorative implication in everyday...

, which is the formal denunciation of one's religion, principles or cause, and blasphemy
Blasphemy is irreverence towards religious or holy persons or things. Some countries have laws to punish blasphemy, while others have laws to give recourse to those who are offended by blasphemy...

, which is irreverence toward religion. The founder or leader of a heretical movement is called a heresiarch, while individuals who espouse heresy or commit heresy, are known as heretics. Heresiology
In theology or the history of religion , heresiology is the study of heresy. It can be distinguished from heresiography, or the recording of heresy....

 is the study of heresy.

The word heresy is usually used within a Christian, Jewish, or Islamic context, and implies something slightly different in each. In certain historical Christian and Jewish cultures, heresy was punishable by law. In modern times, the word heresy is often used in jest and without religious context.


The use of the word heresy in the context of Christianity was given wide currency by Irenaeus
Saint Irenaeus , was Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, then a part of the Roman Empire . He was an early church father and apologist, and his writings were formative in the early development of Christian theology...

 in his tract Contra Haereses
On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis
On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis, today also called On the Detection and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely So Called , commonly called Against Heresies , is a five-volume work written by St. Irenaeus in the 2nd century...

(Against Heresies) to describe and discredit his opponents during the early centuries of the Christian Community. He described the community's beliefs and doctrines as orthodox
The word orthodox, from Greek orthos + doxa , is generally used to mean the adherence to accepted norms, more specifically to creeds, especially in religion...

 (from , orthos "straight" + , doxa "belief") and the Gnostics' teachings as heretical. He also pointed out the concept of apostolic succession
Apostolic Succession
Apostolic succession is a doctrine, held by some Christian denominations, which asserts that the chosen successors of the Twelve Apostles, from the first century to the present day, have inherited the spiritual, ecclesiastical and sacramental authority, power, and responsibility that were...

 to support his arguments.

Heretics usually do not perceive their own beliefs as heretical. For instance, the Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 holds Protestantism as espousing numerous heresies, while some Protestants retrospectively considered Roman Catholicism the "Great Apostasy
Great Apostasy
The Great Apostasy is a term used by some religious groups to describe a general fallen state of traditional Christianity, especially the Papacy, because it allowed the traditional Roman mysteries and deities of solar monism such as Mithras and Sol Invictus and idol worship back into the church,...

". The Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 derives claims of heresy from a system of ecclesial authority while Protestants view the Bible alone as authoritative.
The first known usage of the term in a civil legal context was in 380 AD by the "Edict of Thessalonica
Edict of Thessalonica
The Edict of Thessalonica, also known as Cunctos populos, was delivered on 27 February 380 by Theodosius I, Gratian, and Valentinian II in order that all their subjects should profess the faith of the bishops of Rome and Alexandria...

" of Theodosius I. Prior to the issuance of this edict, the Church had no state-sponsored support for any particular legal mechanism to counter what it perceived as "heresy". By this edict, in some sense, the State's authority and that of the catholic Church became somewhat overlapping. One of the outcomes of this blurring of Church and State
State church of the Roman Empire
The state church of the Roman Empire was a Christian institution organized within the Roman Empire during the 4th century that came to represent the Empire's sole authorized religion. Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox churches claim to be the historical continuation of this...

 was the sharing of State powers of legal enforcement between Church and state authorities. At its most extreme reach, this new secular reinforcement of the Church's authority gave Church leaders the power to, in effect, pronounce the death sentence
Capital punishment
Capital punishment, the death penalty, or execution is the sentence of death upon a person by the state as a punishment for an offence. Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences. The term capital originates from the Latin capitalis, literally...

 upon those whom the Church considered heretical.

Within five years of the official "criminalization" of heresy by the emperor, the first Christian heretic to be prosecuted, Priscillian
Priscillian was bishop of Ávila and a theologian from Roman Gallaecia , the first person in the history of Christianity to be executed for heresy . He founded an ascetic group that, in spite of persecution, continued to subsist in Hispania and Gaul until the later 6th century...

 was executed in 385 by Roman officials. For some years after the Reformation, Protestant churches were also known to execute those whom they considered as heretics, including Catholics. The last known heretic executed by sentence of the Roman Catholic Church was Cayetano Ripoll
Cayetano Ripoll
Cayetano Ripoll , was a schoolmaster in Valencia, Spain, who was hanged to death on 26 July 1826 for allegedly teaching Deist principles....

 in 1826. The number of people executed as heretics under the authority of the various "ecclesiastical authorities" is not known, however it most certainly numbers into the several thousands.

The Roman Catholic Church had always dealt sternly with strands of Christianity that it considered heretical, but before the 12th century these tended to centre around individual preachers or small localised sects. By the 12th century, more organised groups such as the Waldensians
Waldensians, Waldenses or Vaudois are names for a Christian movement of the later Middle Ages, descendants of which still exist in various regions, primarily in North-Western Italy. There is considerable uncertainty about the earlier history of the Waldenses because of a lack of extant source...

 and Cathars were beginning to appear in the towns and cities of newly urbanized areas. In Western mediterranean France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, one of the most urbanized areas of Europe at the time, the Cathars grew to represent a popular mass movement and the belief was spreading to other areas. The Cathar Crusade was initiated by the Roman Catholic Church to eliminate the Cathar heresy in Languedoc
Languedoc is a former province of France, now continued in the modern-day régions of Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées in the south of France, and whose capital city was Toulouse, now in Midi-Pyrénées. It had an area of approximately 42,700 km² .-Geographical Extent:The traditional...


Perhaps due to the many modern negative connotations associated with the term heretic, such as the Spanish inquisition
Spanish Inquisition
The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition , commonly known as the Spanish Inquisition , was a tribunal established in 1480 by Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. It was intended to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in their kingdoms, and to replace the Medieval...

, the term is used less often today. There are however, some notable exceptions: see for example Rudolf Bultmann
Rudolf Bultmann
Rudolf Karl Bultmann was a German theologian of Lutheran background, who was for three decades professor of New Testament studies at the University of Marburg...

 and the "character" of debates over ordination of women
Ordination of women
Ordination in general religious usage is the process by which a person is consecrated . The ordination of women is a regular practice among some major religious groups, as it was of several religions of antiquity...

 and gay priests
Ordination of LGBT Christian clergy
The ordination of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender clergy who are open about their sexuality, are sexually active, or are in committed same-sex relationships is a debated practice within some contemporary Christian Church communities....

. The subject of Christian heresy opens up broader questions as to who has a monopoly on spiritual truth, as explored by Jorge Luis Borges
Jorge Luis Borges
Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges Acevedo , known as Jorge Luis Borges , was an Argentine writer, essayist, poet and translator born in Buenos Aires. In 1914 his family moved to Switzerland where he attended school, receiving his baccalauréat from the Collège de Genève in 1918. The family...

 in the short story "The Theologians
The Theologians
"The Theologians" is a short story by Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges. It was featured in the collection Labyrinths...

" within the compilation Labyrinths
Labyrinths is an English-language collection of short stories and essays by Jorge Luis Borges.It includes "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius", "The Garden of Forking Paths", and "The Library of Babel", three of Borges' most famous stories. Many of the stories are from the collections Ficciones and El...


Orthodox Judaism

Orthodox Judaism
Orthodox Judaism
Orthodox Judaism , is the approach to Judaism which adheres to the traditional interpretation and application of the laws and ethics of the Torah as legislated in the Talmudic texts by the Sanhedrin and subsequently developed and applied by the later authorities known as the Gaonim, Rishonim, and...

 considers views on the part of Jews which depart from the traditional Jewish principles of faith
Jewish principles of faith
The concept of an explicit, paramount definition of faith does not exist in Judaism as it does in other monotheistic religions such as Christianity. Although Jews and religious leaders share a core of monotheistic principles, and there are many fundamental principles quoted in the Talmud to define...

 to be heretical. In addition, the more right-wing groups within Orthodox Judaism hold that all Jews who reject the simple meaning of Maimonides
Moses ben-Maimon, called Maimonides and also known as Mūsā ibn Maymūn in Arabic, or Rambam , was a preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher and one of the greatest Torah scholars and physicians of the Middle Ages...

's 13 principles of Jewish faith are heretics. As such, most of Orthodox Judaism considers Reform
Reform Judaism
Reform Judaism refers to various beliefs, practices and organizations associated with the Reform Jewish movement in North America, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. In general, it maintains that Judaism and Jewish traditions should be modernized and should be compatible with participation in the...

 and Reconstructionist Judaism
Reconstructionist Judaism
Reconstructionist Judaism is a modern American-based Jewish movement based on the ideas of Mordecai Kaplan . The movement views Judaism as a progressively evolving civilization. It originated as a branch of Conservative Judaism, before it splintered...

 to be heretical movements, and regards most of Conservative Judaism
Conservative Judaism
Conservative Judaism is a modern stream of Judaism that arose out of intellectual currents in Germany in the mid-19th century and took institutional form in the United States in the early 1900s.Conservative Judaism has its roots in the school of thought known as Positive-Historical Judaism,...

 as heretical. The liberal wing of Modern Orthodoxy
Modern Orthodox Judaism
Modern Orthodox Judaism is a movement within Orthodox Judaism that attempts to synthesize Jewish values and the observance of Jewish law, with the secular, modern world....

 is more tolerant of Conservative Judaism, particularly its right wing, as there is some theological and practical overlap between these groups.


Many in the two main bodies of Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

Sunni Islam
Sunni Islam is the largest branch of Islam. Sunni Muslims are referred to in Arabic as ʾAhl ūs-Sunnah wa āl-Ǧamāʿah or ʾAhl ūs-Sunnah for short; in English, they are known as Sunni Muslims, Sunnis or Sunnites....

 and the Shi'as
Shi'a Islam
Shia Islam is the second largest denomination of Islam. The followers of Shia Islam are called Shi'ites or Shias. "Shia" is the short form of the historic phrase Shīʻatu ʻAlī , meaning "followers of Ali", "faction of Ali", or "party of Ali".Like other schools of thought in Islam, Shia Islam is...

—have regarded the other as heretical. Groups like the Ismaili
' is a branch of Shia Islam. It is the second largest branch of Shia Islam, after the Twelvers...

s, the Hurufiya, the Alawi
The Alawis, also known as Alawites, Nusayris and Ansaris are a prominent mystical and syncretic religious group centred in Syria who are a branch of Shia Islam.-Etymology:...

s, the Bektashi
Bektashi Order or Bektashism is an Islamic Sufi order founded in the 13th century by the Persian saint Haji Bektash Veli. In addition to the spiritual teachings of Haji Bektash Veli the order was significantly influenced during its formative period by both the Hurufis as well as the...

 and even the Sufis have also been regarded as heretical by some, such as the ultra-conservative Salafi
A Salafi come from Sunni Islam is a follower of an Islamic movement, Salafiyyah, that is supposed to take the Salaf who lived during the patristic period of early Islam as model examples...

. Although Sufism is often though not completely accepted as valid by Shi'a and many Sunnis, the relatively recent movement of Wahhabism
Wahhabism is a religious movement or a branch of Islam. It was developed by an 18th century Muslim theologian from Najd, Saudi Arabia. Ibn Abdul Al-Wahhab advocated purging Islam of what he considered to be impurities and innovations...

 view it as heretical.

Starting in medieval times, Muslims began to refer to heretics and those who antagonized Islam as zindiq
Zindīq is applied by Muslims to individuals whom are considered to hold views or follows practices that are contrary to central Islamic dogmas...

, the charge being punishable by death.

Contemporary heresy

Today, heresy can be without a religious context as the holding of ideas that are in fundamental disagreement with the status quo in any practice and branch of knowledge. Religion is not a necessary component of the term's definition. The revisionist paleontologist Robert T. Bakker
Robert T. Bakker
Robert T. Bakker is an American paleontologist who helped reshape modern theories about dinosaurs, particularly by adding support to the theory that some dinosaurs were endothermic...

, who published his findings as The Dinosaur Heresies, jokingly treated the mainstream view of dinosaurs as dogma
Dogma is the established belief or doctrine held by a religion, or a particular group or organization. It is authoritative and not to be disputed, doubted, or diverged from, by the practitioners or believers...


The term heresy is also used as an ideological pigeonhole
Pigeonholing is a term used to describe processes that attempt to classify disparate entities into a small number of categories ....

 for contemporary writers because by definition heresy depends on contrasts with an established orthodoxy
The word orthodox, from Greek orthos + doxa , is generally used to mean the adherence to accepted norms, more specifically to creeds, especially in religion...

. For example, the tongue-in-cheek contemporary usage of heresy, such as to categorize a "Wall Street
Wall Street
Wall Street refers to the financial district of New York City, named after and centered on the eight-block-long street running from Broadway to South Street on the East River in Lower Manhattan. Over time, the term has become a metonym for the financial markets of the United States as a whole, or...

 heresy" a "Democratic
Democratic Party (United States)
The Democratic Party is one of two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Republican Party. The party's socially liberal and progressive platform is largely considered center-left in the U.S. political spectrum. The party has the lengthiest record of continuous...

 heresy" or a "Republican
Republican Party (United States)
The Republican Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Democratic Party. Founded by anti-slavery expansion activists in 1854, it is often called the GOP . The party's platform generally reflects American conservatism in the U.S...

 heresy", are metaphor
A metaphor is a literary figure of speech that uses an image, story or tangible thing to represent a less tangible thing or some intangible quality or idea; e.g., "Her eyes were glistening jewels." Metaphor may also be used for any rhetorical figures of speech that achieve their effects via...

s which invariably retain a subtext
Subtext or undertone is content of a book, play, musical work, film, video game, or television series which is not announced explicitly by the characters but is implicit or becomes something understood by the observer of the work as the production unfolds. Subtext can also refer to the thoughts...

 that links orthodoxies in geology
Geology is the science comprising the study of solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which it evolves. Geology gives insight into the history of the Earth, as it provides the primary evidence for plate tectonics, the evolutionary history of life, and past climates...

 or biology
Biology is a natural science concerned with the study of life and living organisms, including their structure, function, growth, origin, evolution, distribution, and taxonomy. Biology is a vast subject containing many subdivisions, topics, and disciplines...

 or any other field to religion. These expanded metaphoric senses allude to both the difference between the person's views and the mainstream, and the boldness of such a person in propounding these views.

Variance from orthodox Marxism–Leninism is described as "right" or "left deviationism". The Church of Scientology uses the term "squirreling" to refer to unauthorized alterations of its teachings or methods.

Selected quotations

  • James G. March
    James G. March
    James Gardner March is Jack Steele Parker professor emeritus at Stanford University and the Stanford University School of Education, best known for his research on organizations and organizational decision making.- Biography :...

     on the relations among madness
    Insanity, craziness or madness is a spectrum of behaviors characterized by certain abnormal mental or behavioral patterns. Insanity may manifest as violations of societal norms, including becoming a danger to themselves and others, though not all such acts are considered insanity...

    , heresy, and genius
    Genius is something or someone embodying exceptional intellectual ability, creativity, or originality, typically to a degree that is associated with the achievement of unprecedented insight....

    : "... we sometimes find that such heresies have been the foundation for bold and necessary change, but heresy is usually just new ideas that are foolish or dangerous and appropriately rejected or ignored. So while it may be true that great geniuses are usually heretics, heretics are rarely great geniuses."
  • Isaac Asimov
    Isaac Asimov
    Isaac Asimov was an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books. Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000...

     distinguished between two types of scientific heretic: "Endoheretics are appropriately credentialed scientists. If the person is outside the scientific community or at least outside of his specialty, he is an exoheretic. If a person is an endoheretic, he will be considered as eccentric and incompetent, whereas if the person is an exoheretic, he will be regarded as a crackpot, charlatan, or fraud."

See also

  • Apostasy
    Apostasy , 'a defection or revolt', from ἀπό, apo, 'away, apart', στάσις, stasis, 'stand, 'standing') is the formal disaffiliation from or abandonment or renunciation of a religion by a person. One who commits apostasy is known as an apostate. These terms have a pejorative implication in everyday...

  • Binitarianism
    Binitarianism is a Christian theology of two personae, two individuals, or two aspects in one Godhead . Classically, binitarianism is understood as strict monotheism — that is, that God is an absolutely single being; and yet with binitarianism there is a "twoness" in God...

  • Cherem
    Cherem , is the highest ecclesiastical censure in the Jewish community. It is the total exclusion of a person from the Jewish community. It is a form of shunning, and is similar to excommunication in the Catholic Church...

    , a related concept in Judaism
    Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

  • Christian anarchism
    Christian anarchism
    Christian anarchism is a movement in political theology that combines anarchism and Christianity. It is the belief that there is only one source of authority to which Christians are ultimately answerable, the authority of God as embodied in the teachings of Jesus...

  • Christian theological controversy
  • Eclecticism
    Eclecticism is a conceptual approach that does not hold rigidly to a single paradigm or set of assumptions, but instead draws upon multiple theories, styles, or ideas to gain complementary insights into a subject, or applies different theories in particular cases.It can sometimes seem inelegant or...

  • Heresy in the 20th century
    Heresy in the 20th century
    Although less common than in the medieval period, formal charges of heresy within Christian churches still occur. Key issues in the Protestant churches have included modern biblical criticism, the nature of God, and the acceptability of gay clergy...

  • Heterodoxy
    Heterodoxy is generally defined as "any opinions or doctrines at variance with an official or orthodox position". As an adjective, heterodox is commonly used to describe a subject as "characterized by departure from accepted beliefs or standards"...

  • History of Christianity
    History of Christianity
    The history of Christianity concerns the Christian religion, its followers and the Church with its various denominations, from the first century to the present. Christianity was founded in the 1st century by the followers of Jesus of Nazareth who they believed to be the Christ or chosen one of God...

  • Iconoclasm
    Iconoclasm is the deliberate destruction of religious icons and other symbols or monuments, usually with religious or political motives. It is a frequent component of major political or religious changes...

  • Infallibility of the Church
    Infallibility of the Church
    The Infallibility of the Church is the belief that the Holy Spirit will not allow the Church to err in its belief or teaching under certain circumstances...

  • Inquisition
    The Inquisition, Inquisitio Haereticae Pravitatis , was the "fight against heretics" by several institutions within the justice-system of the Roman Catholic Church. It started in the 12th century, with the introduction of torture in the persecution of heresy...

  • List of people burned as heretics
  • Orthodoxy
    The word orthodox, from Greek orthos + doxa , is generally used to mean the adherence to accepted norms, more specifically to creeds, especially in religion...

  • Radical Christianity
  • Sabbath Breaking
    Sabbath breaking
    Sabbath desecration is the failure to observe the Biblical Sabbath, and is usually considered a sin and a breach of a holy day in relation to Jewish Sabbath , the Sabbath in seventh-day churches, and in some other Christian traditions in relation to the Lord's Day, Sunday, traditionally seen as the...

  • Schism
    Schism (religion)
    A schism , from Greek σχίσμα, skhísma , is a division between people, usually belonging to an organization or movement religious denomination. The word is most frequently applied to a break of communion between two sections of Christianity that were previously a single body, or to a division within...

  • Status quo
    Status quo
    Statu quo, a commonly used form of the original Latin "statu quo" – literally "the state in which" – is a Latin term meaning the current or existing state of affairs. To maintain the status quo is to keep the things the way they presently are...

External links

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