A Brief Chronological List of Important Named Heresies: A.D. 90 to A.D. 2013

The Historic Heresies

These heresies are distinguished from active heresies in that they are largely vanquished and buried in the life of the Catholic Church; though they occasionally revive in the world, they pose little direct and imminent threat to the society of the Catholic Church and therefore are relegated to the status of ‘historical’. The one exception to this rule is the heresy of Iconoclasm, which, although it was a historic heresy until the twentieth century, has made a strong resurgence in the life of the Catholic Church in many locations around the world, and thus it constitutes an active heresy as well.

1) Gnosticism

Began around A.D. 90, thrived through the 400’s. An aggregate mass of mythological and legendary material varying widely depending on location. Common themes include denial of the true human nature which the eternal Word of the Father assumed in the Incarnation, a denial that the Lord of Israel and the Father proclaimed by Jesus Christ were the same God, and a denial of the goodness of creation. For more information, see the three Epistles of St. John the Apostle, the seven Epistles of St. Ignatius of Antioch, and ‘Against All Heresies’ by St. Irenaeus of Lyons.

2) Montanism

3) Sabellienism

Began around A.D. 210, lasted in various locations throughout the Roman world until about A.D. 300, though it continued on in a minor fashion in some places after having already been condemned by the Apostolic See in the third century.

4) Origenism

5) Arianism

Began around A.D. 280, thrived through about A.D. 500 in various places. Arianism as a theological system found its genesis in the thought of the infamous Arius, a Priest under the Bishop of Alexandria in the late third century. Similar to Christianity with respect to most of its teaching, Arianism is distinguished primarily by the belief that 1) while the Father is eternal, there was a time when His Son was not, on the basis of an overly-literal analogy between human fathers and their sons being projected to the Divine level, and also the belief that 2) the Holy Spirit was the chief creation of the Son. As a consequence of these beliefs, Arianism posited that the Son was the creation of the Father, like the Father in many respects but not *consubstantial* with the Father and therefore a demigod. After being created in the beginning, the Son created all else, including the Holy Spirit, who was viewed as the chief of the Son’s creations, and was viewed as similar in kind to His other creations. For more information, see ‘The Incarnation of the Word’ and ‘Four Discourses Against the Arians’, both by St. Athanasius of Alexandria, ‘On the Councils’ and ‘On the Trinity’ by St. Hilary of Poiters, and the text and canons of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea.

6) Donatism

Began around A.D. 310, lasted mainly in North-west Africa until about A.D. 430. Donatism was a relatively localized heresy named after Donatus of Casae Nigra, a cleric and eventual Bishop who was a strong proponent of the erroneous notion that Christians who fall away in times of persecuation are in need of a second Baptism, and that clergy who fall away are not to be received back into the communion of the Catholic Church until being reordained. Additionally, Donatus denied the validity of the Sacraments celebrated by heretical or sinful clergy, due to their personal unworthiness. He eventually became the leader of the schismatic faction named after himself, the Donatists, who insisted upon these opinions even after being condemned by both the Apostolic See and by the majority of the North-african Bishops, including St. Augustine of Hippo. The chief opponents of this heresy were Pope St. Miltiades of Rome, St. Augustine of Hippo, and the Bishops of North-west Africa. For more information about this heresy, see primarily ‘On Baptism, Against the Donatists’ by St. Augustine of Hippo, which contains the essence of the condemnation of the Apostolic See as well as the other North-western African Bishops.

7) Pelagianism

Began around A.D. 380, lasted in a variety of locations until about A.D. 530. Pelagianism is a system of theology which began in the teachings of Pelagius, originally from the British Isles, who taught in Rome and in other places a series of critical errors pertaining to the nature of the salvation of the Christian, and the proper interpretation of the essence and effect of sin on humanity, as well as the necessity of Divine Grace in the transformation of a man into a new creation through the Incarnate Word and in the Holy Spirit. His entire system of thought became known as Pelagianism, which was found in both its full form and later in a certain watered-down version that some have referred to as Semi-Pelagianism. The chief tenants of Pelagianism which were condemned by the Apostolic See and many local Councils of Bishops are the following: 1) Even if Adam had not sinned, he would have died. 2) Adam’s sin harmed only himself, not the human race. 3) Children just born are in the same state as Adam before his fall. 4) The whole human race neither dies through Adam’s sin or death, nor rises again through the resurrection of Christ. 5) The (Mosaic Law) is as good a guide to heaven as the Gospel. 6) Even before the advent of Christ there were men who were without sin. The chief opponents of the Pelagian heresy were St. Augustine of Hippo, Pope St. Innocent I of Rome, and most of the Bishops in North-west Africa. Later, other Bishops across Europe joined the former figures in their condemnation. For further information regarding this heresy, please see ‘On the Grace of Christ, and on Original Sin,’ ‘On the Proceedings of Pelagius,’ ‘On Grace and Free Will,’ ‘Merits and Remission of Sin,’ ‘On the Spirit and the Letter,’ and ‘Against Two Letters of the Pelagians,’ all by St. Augustine, and the canons of the second local Council of Orange.

8) Nestorianism

Began around A.D. 428, condemned by the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431, continued to exist in the schismatic Assyrian Church of the East, which broke away from the Catholic Church and followed the teachings of Nestorius for a vague and undefined period of time in the wake of the Ecumenical Council.

9) Monophysitism

Began around A.D. 430, condemned by the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon and by the Apostolic See in A.D. 451, continued to exist in the schismatic Patriarchate of Alexandria, later the Oriental Orthodox communion, whcih broke away from the Catholic Church and perpetuated the Monophysite heresy for a vague and undefined period of time in the wake of the Ecumenical Council.

10) Apollinarianism

Began around A.D. 400, lasted in a variety of locations until about A.D. 600, condemned by the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in A.D. 553.

11) Monothelitism

12) Iconoclasm

The Active Heresies

The following heresies, as well as the heresy of Iconoclasm, constitute current and active threats to the life of the Catholic Church and the integrity of the Catholic Faith, and lead astray countless individuals, some of whom are not even aware of their condemned status. As such, they deserve our special attention, as well as our witness against them in both ecclesiastical and public life. In opposing the errors under this category, you may come into conflict with other Catholics, religious, or even Deacons and Priests in your parish, who hold to these reprobated positions. Even some Bishops, Archbishops, and Cardinals may or may not either hold to or sympathize with these falsehoods. This is the reaility of life in the Latin Church in our era, wherein the incomprehensible situation has arisen that these heresies circulate freely throughout the Catholic Church, without a great deal of condemnation or reproof. However, one need only study history to realize that this set of circumstances which Catholics face today, while difficult and requiring vigilence, sincerity, and zeal, is not unheard of and in fact has been common at various points in the past, especially in the wake of Ecumenical Councils.

13) Protestantism

Began in A.D. 1517, though traces of it existed for some time prior in Europe, officially condemned by the Apostolic See in A.D. 1520 and by the Ecumenical Council of Trent in A.D. 1550, continues to threaten the life of the Catholic Church and the intregrity of her Faith to this day.

14) Relativism

15) Indifferentism

Began around A.D. 1800, officially condemned by the Apostolic See in A.D. 1832, continues to threaten the life of the Catholic Church to this day in A.D. 2013.

16) Americanism

Began around A.D. 1800, officially condemned by the Apostolic See in A.D. 1832 and again in A.D. 1895, continues to abide in the Catholic Church to this day in A.D. 2013.

Coined in the nineteenth century, in Roman Catholic use the term Americanism referred to a group of related heresies which were defined as the endorsement of the separation of church and state. It was thought that these doctrines were held by and taught by many members of the Catholic hierarchy in the United States in the 1890s. Catholic leaders in the U.S., however, denied that they held these views.[1]

The Americanist heresy is characterized as an insistence upon individual initiative which the Vatican judged to be incompatible with what was considered to be a fundamental principle of Catholicism: obedience to authority.[

Pope Leo XIII wrote against these ideas in his encyclical Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae to Cardinal James Gibbons. In 1898, Leo XIII lamented an America where church and state are “dissevered and divorced” and wrote of his preference for a closer relationship between the Catholic Church and the State along European lines.[3]

The long-term result was that the Irish Catholics who largely controlled the Catholic Church in the United States increasingly demonstrated their total loyalty to the Pope, and traces of liberal thought in the Catholic colleges were suppressed. Bottom it was a cultural conflict, as the conservative Europeans were specs stated by the heavy attacks on the Catholic church in Germany, France and other countries, and did not appreciate the active individualism self-confidence and optimism of the American church.[

The Enlightenment.

17) Modernism

Began about A.D. 1850, officially condemned by the Apostolic See in A.D. 1864 and again in A.D. 1907, continues to threaten the life of the Catholic Church to this day in A.D. 2013.

18) Antiquarianism

Began around A.D. 1880, officially condemned by the Apostolic See in A.D. 1947, continues to haunt us to this day in A.D. 2013.

The misguided idea of bringing the Liturgy (and the Sacraments for that matter)back to “Biblical times” and attemping to recreate “Last Supper conditions” is one that has the heresy of antiquarianism at its roots. This is the rationale given by those progressives who want to see the Sacred Mystery of the Mass reduced to the banality of a mea

19) Ecumenism: The Heretical Version

Began around A.D. 1900, officially condemned by the Apostolic See in A.D. 1928, continues to be a threat to the life of the Catholic Church and the integrity of the Catholic Faith to this day in A.D.  2013.

20) Priesthood of the Laity: The Heretical Version

Began around A.D. 1966, though with preceding traces existing back as far as the late nineteenth century, officially condemned by the Apostolic See in A.D. 2004, continues to abide in the Catholic Church to this day in A.D. 2013.

‘Active participation’

21) ‘The Spirit of the Council’

Began around A.D. 1966, mentioned informally by Pope Paul VI but not yet officially condemned, continues to haunt us to this day in A.D. 2013.

Work in progress!

A Word on Heresy

I have endeavored in this note to examine major heresies, heresies which I deem to be especially vital for us to understand today and which have caused enormous chaos either in the past, or are currently doing so. In so doing, I am lumping a number of particular heresies together for the purpose of easy description: to wit, Gnosticism instead of its myriad of incarnations, Protestantism in place of Lutheranism, Calvinism, Zwinglism, Anabaptistism, Jansenism, and so on. Additionally, all of these heresies are from the perspective of the Catholic Church specifically, although substantial overlap may occur with regard to what is viewed as heretical by the separated Eastern Churches. As an important aside that should be kept in mind, though heresies are veritably proclaimed as universally false for all places and all times, they are nevertheless especially relevant in a heightened sense if they affect the internal life of the society of Christians in the Catholic Church. Hence, this list is first and foremost intended for fellow Catholics and their awareness of heresies which Catholics have faced or currently face today, though I also intend it for the benefit of all as well.

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15 Responses to A Brief Chronological List of Important Named Heresies: A.D. 90 to A.D. 2013

  1. JabbaPapa says:

    Excellent work !!

    (Though I’d personally put the start of Modernism in the late 15th Century, which is when the Sorbonne theologians and the monks of Cluny first started imagining that they could reshape the entirety of the Church according to their own personal preferences instead of simply cleaving to the Tradition — and WHAT a spiritual wasteland they left in their wake, in France, and neither the Sorbonne College of Theology nor Cluny Abbey even exist any more !!!)


  2. Toad says:

    Well, Toad is all for stamping out Americanism.

    Starting with Mel Gibson. (Or would that be Australianism?)

    Odd, no mention of Canadianism, though. Particularly nasty one, that.


  3. Toad says:

    …Are we sure the unnamed author is not just pulling our legs?
    …And why no mention of Cubism?


  4. Dawn Young says:

    Could you re-do the list with a brief description of what each heresy curtailed. Are most old heresies to do with the nature of God whilst the new are to do with the nature of Christ’s body the church? I have no idea what americanism is and antiquarianism please could you take the time to inform me.. Also surely the whole sexual revolution is a heresy as it teaches a false idea of the nature of Man especially the nature of the female person.


  5. Hegesippus says:

    Although Gnosticism was dealt with strongly in the Early Church, it has reared its ugly head since Enlightenment philosophies opened the door again. Whether defined through O’Regan’s overly narrow terms or Voegelin’s wide-ranging manner, this ancient heresy can be found increasingly today. O’Brien pinpoints much in literature and Wilson detects it in cinema, while there is a thriving branch of academia feasting on Nag Hammadi and the Gospel of Judas, using these to reintroduce Gnostic narratives as equally worthy to the Christian story. The Catholic Church is not immune: the Redemptorist Sunday Bulletin called for Judas’ ‘repatriation’ recently on the back of his ‘gospel’. There is an increasingly powerful need for this to be recognised and dealt with both in and beyond the Church. St Irenaeus, pray for us!


  6. Gertrude says:

    Dawn Young: I have included the heresies you mentioned and thank you for your comment. As definitions of all these heresies are widely available via. Google, the above list details the most important that have affected Church teachings over the centuries.


  7. granny says:

    Modernism is in full-court press with the 1995 declaration by Francisco J. Ayala that “narrow population bottlenecks consisting of one or very few couples have occurred in human ancestry.” (The Myth of Eve: Molecular Biology and Human Origins, Science, December 22, 1995) Perhaps, people need to be reminded that God, the Creator, is not restricted to the material/physical world which is the natural realm of scientists. Our human nature is an unique unification of both the material world and the spiritual world. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition, paragraphs 355-358)


  8. johnhenrycn says:

    Also these historical ones:
    Eutychianism: Is Jesus divine and human or a hybrid – that is neither fully one or the other?
    Adoptionism: Is Jesus the Son of God by nature or by adoption?
    Theopaschitism: Is Jesus able or unable to suffer in His divine nature?
    Marcionism: Can Christians dispense with the God of the Old Testament?


  9. Frere Rabit says:

    Toad, I am surprised to see your comment, “And why no mention of Cubism?”

    I thought you would know your history of heresy better. This heresy was quite simply conquered by pointing out to the monks of Antibes that they had got their arithmetic wrong and there was no Fourth person of the Trinity.

    (PS Maybe you would explain Moratinism to us one day.)


  10. Frere Rabit says:

    A full discussion of heresy should only be attempted when armed with a decent glass of Ribera del Duero and a very strong goat cheese (Ritz crackers preferred but optional). These things to hand, let us give it a go.

    I have found that two books on the subject which have been on my shelf for some years are very helpful, one Catholic and one Anglican… (yes, Anglican! with an intro by George Carey).

    Hultgren and Haggmark, “The Earliest Christian Heretics -readings from their opponents”, Minneapolis (Fortress Press), 1996.

    Allison, C.F., (intro Carey) “The Cruelty of Heresy”, SPCK, 1994.

    I went through a terribly agonising period in 2009 while living with the Anglican contemplative Community of the Servants of the Will of God (CSWG) when I returned from Rome. They were completely off the rails and many of them were infected by the Vassula Ryden heresy. It was clearly very wrong, but I had to discover what heresy it was before I could denounce it.

    Hultgren and Haggmark helped to identify the problems and Allison showed the way forward to present the appeal to CSWG. I took the plunge at the end of Morning Prayer one day in the chapel and delivered a surprise homily from the lectern explaining why the community had fallen into heresy. I was prepared for a quick exit, but that was the December of 2009 when the snow came down, and I was stuck in Crawley Down for three days justifying my denunciation of the community.

    Well, never mind all that. Suffice to say that the two books referenced here provided all the help I needed. The Vassula Ryden heretics (of whom Fr John Abberton is one – Stella Maris blog) are Patripassionists, otherwise known as Modalistic Monarchians, a heresy of the 3rd century in which there is no difference between the Father and the Son.

    (Goat cheese and Ribera break.)

    The SPCK book is surprisingly good. Bishop Allison (an American Episcopal bishop) says deviant Christian teachings often spring from “a deep commitment to the Christian faith”. His book recognises that heresy is a consequence of the sincere and highly charged imperative towards union with the Almighty. We need to understand that, rather than simply denounce those who are going wide of Catholic doctrine.

    Amongst others he quotes Dorothy Sayers as “excited and thrilled by orthodoxy”, and in a very clearly signposted walk through the ecumenical councils, he takes us through each stage of the development of doctrine. Not just from an Anglican point of view but as an Anglican who understands the full meaning of the Catholic doctrines.

    An excellent book. His treatment of the true understanding of the agony of Abraham in the moment of making his sacrifical decision, and the fine line of heresy involved in interpreting the intention of God is clearly expressed and even now – reading it again – I am shocked and horrified by the way we can interpret the action in a way that instantly makes a different God, if the nuances are misread.

    Heresy is a fascinating subject. Not for idiots, but these two books may be the closest to an idiot’s guide.



  11. johnhenrycn says:

    Good comment, FR, if I don’t say so myself. The SPCK, although Anglican, strikes me as more specifically Anglo-Catholic. I don’t have a lot of their publications, but this one published in 2007, Heresies and How to Avoid Them, from whence cometh my supplementary heretical list supra, is germane to this thread and a good read.


  12. johnhenrycn says:

    …er, I guess that should be “…if I do say so myself.” Nobody’s perfect.


  13. Frere Rabit says:

    “Nobody’s perfect.”

    Of course not. I am still trying to perfect my flounce.


  14. Frere Rabit says:

    Oh yes, and thanks for the book reference. That looks good.


  15. Frere Rabit says:

    Oh yes, and the connection with the Franciscans of the Immaculate – and this topic of heresy – is here. The people who want to suppress the EF and the traditional religious life are using the danger of “heresy” as a reason for intervention. http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/franciscans-of-the-immaculate-decree-worries-traditionalists/


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