Heresy is the act of speaking against the doctrine of an established religious organization, or simply having private beliefs that are not in accordance with the officially-endorsed position.
In early Christianity, heresy was a recurring problem as people pretending to be Christians would advocate doctrines contrary to the Bible. As heresy was seen as a great threat to the church, spurious allegations of heresy were also used by rival ecclesiarchs to attack their enemies. A series of Councils were held to establish official doctrine, in some cases leading to schisms, such as the split between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches in the eleventh century.
Today, accusations of heresy are not as widespread as they once were, but some Christians may privately consider those of other denominations to be heretics.
Historically, theological points that have proved fertile sources of heretical beliefs include:
- The nature of Christ, ie whether he was both God and Man, or one or the other, or something else entirely (eg Arianism).
- The soul, whether it exists and what happens to it after death (eg Epicurianism).
- What humans have to do to enter Heaven, eg whether faith alone is sufficient (eg Pelagianism).
- Arguing that religions other than Christianity are pathways to salvation.
Today these questions may seem unimportant and difficult to answer one way or the other, but during the early centuries of the church, countless hours were devoted to Biblical study in search of the truth, and disagreements often led to ostracism, violence and persecution. In Dante's Inferno, heresy is one of only four sins that are punished with fire (the other three being simony, wicked counsel, and violence against God).