Early Church Heresies

Early Church Heresies

As promised, I mentioned in my first article on Church History: Dark Ages a future closer look at some early church heresies. A heresy is an opinion or doctrine contrary to church dogma.


This splinter group, present as early as the second century, denied Jesus' humanity. They believed that all material things, including the human body, were evil and as such if Jesus was from God he could not be fully human. The Gnostics did believe Jesus was divine, however they held that salvation comes through a special mystical knowledge not given to all, but only the elite - the Gnostics. They also adapted some Christian writings, including the Gospel and added to them, which ultimately led to the church adopting a common Cannon of Scripture.

The challenges this group brought to the mainstream church resulted in the writing of a statement of faith, the Apostles Creed, by the year 200 which helped clarify Christian beliefs. Those seeking baptism had to understand and accepted this creed.


Around the time of Constantine another heresy arose which ended up dividing the church for centuries. First advocated by an Alexandrian priest named Arius, Arians denied Jesus' divinity. They believed there was only one distinct person in God. Jesus could not be God because he was created by God. Arians held that Christ was in between God and man.

Constantine called the bishops together to discuss this problem that was more prevalent in the East. The Council of Nicaea met in 325, and after much discussion Arianism was condemned as wrong. Arius refused to conform and was declared a heretic. The Nicene Creed (the profession of faith we recite at Mass today) was born at this council meeting to more clearly define Jesus as being both God and human. Belief in this creed has been a defining point in Christianity now for more than sixteen hundred years. Many excommunicated Arians converted numerous Barbarian tribes, which resulted in this heresy raging well into the seventh century.


This group, popular in the 300's, believed that there were two Gods. One god created good, the other created evil and therefore no one was held accountable for his/her sins. St. Augustine became a Manichaean before converting to Christianity.


Also existing in the 300's was this group, which believed that the validity of sacraments depended on the moral character of the priest or bishop who administered them. Arising after a bishop was appointed who had denied the faith during persecutions, this sect selected it's own Bishop, Donatus. They held that those who denied the faith during the persecutions could not be forgiven for such a grave sin. Gradually through St. Augustine's influence this movement died out.


A British monk, Pelagius, propagated another group attacked by St. Augustine. Pelagians professed that a person could get to heaven without God's help - without the help we call grace. They believed one could be saved by one's own free will, by working hard enough.

This is just a look at a few of several schism groups that divided the early church and led to defining a uniform set of beliefs based on the message passed down from the Apostles.

Peace in Christ,
Melissa Knoblett-Aman

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