1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Docetae
DOCETAE, a name applied to those thinkers in the early Christian Church who held that Christ, during his life, had not a real or natural, but only an apparent (δοκεῖν, to appear) or phantom body. Other explanations of the δόκησις or appearance have, however, been suggested, and, in the absence of any statement by those who first used the word of the grounds on which they did so, it is impossible to determine between them with certainty. The name Docetae is first used by Theodoret (Ep. 82) as a general description, and by Clement of Alexandria as the designation of a distinct sect, of which he says that Julius Cassianus was the founder. Docetism, however, undoubtedly existed before the time of Cassianus. The origin of the heresy is to be sought in the Greek, Alexandrine and Oriental philosophizing about the imperfection or rather the essential impurity of matter. Traces of a Jewish Docetism are to be found in Philo; and in the Christian form it is generally supposed to be combated in the writings of John, and more formally in the epistles of Ignatius. It differed much in its complexion according to the points of view adopted by the different authors. Among the Gnostics and Manichaeans it existed in its most developed type, and in a milder form it is to be found even in the writings of the orthodox teachers. The more thoroughgoing Docetae assumed the position that Christ was born without any participation of matter; and that all the acts and sufferings of his human life, including the crucifixion, were only apparent. They denied accordingly, the resurrection and the ascent into heaven. To this class belonged Dositheus, Saturninus, Cerdo, Marcion and their followers, the Ophites, Manichaeans and others. Marcion, for example, regarded the body of Christ merely as an “umbra,” a “phantasma.” His denial (due to his abhorrence of the world) that Jesus was born or subjected to human development, is in striking contrast to the value which he sets on Christ’s death on the cross. The other, or milder school of Docetae, attributed to Christ an ethereal and heavenly instead of a truly human body. Amongst these were Valentinus, Bardesanes, Basilides, Tatian and their followers. They varied considerably in their estimation of the share which this body had in the real actions and sufferings of Christ. Clement and Origen, at the head of the Alexandrian school, took a somewhat subtle view of the Incarnation, and Docetism pervades their controversies with the Monarchians. Hilary especially illustrates the prevalence of naive Docetic views as regards the details of the Incarnation. Docetic tendencies have also been developed in later periods of ecclesiastical history, as for example by the Priscillianists and the Bogomils, and also since the Reformation by Jacob Boehme, Menno Simons and a small fraction of the Anabaptists. Docetism springs from the same roots as Gnosticism, and the Gnostics generally held Docetic views (see Gnosticism).
- Not a distinct sect, but a continuous type of Christology. Hippolytus, however (Philosophumena, viii. 8-11), speaks of a definite party who called themselves Docetae.
- 1 Ep. iv. 2, ii. 22, v. 6, 20; 2 Ep. 7, cf. Jerome (Dial. adv. Lucifer. § 23 “Apostolis adhuc in saeculo superstitibus, adhuc apud Judaeam Christi sanguine recenti, phantasma Domini corpus asserebatur”).
- Ad Trall. 9 f., Ad Smyrn. 2, 4, Ad Ephes. 7. Cf. Polycarp, Ad Phil. 7.