1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Heresy
HERESY, the English equivalent of the Greek word ἁίρεσις which is used in the Septuagint for "free choice," in later classical literature for a philosophical school or sect as "chosen" by those who belong to it, in Philo for religion, in Josephus for a religious party (the Sadducees, the Pharisees and the Essenes).
New Testament.It is in this last sense that the term is used in the New Testament, usually with an implicit censure of the factious spirit to which such divisions are due. The term is applied to the Sadducees (Acts v. 17) and Pharisees (Acts xv. 5, xxvi. 5). From the standpoint of opponents, Christianity is itself so described (Acts xxiv. 14, xxviii. 22). In the Pauline Epistles it is used with severe condemnation of the divisions within the Christian Church itself. Heresies with "enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, envyings" are reckoned among "the works of the flesh" (Gal. v. 20). Such divisions, proofs of a carnal mind, are censured in the church of Corinth (1 Cor. iii. 3, 4); and the church of Rome is warned against those who cause them (Rom. xvi. 17). The term "schism," afterwards distinguished from "heresy," is also used of these divisions (1 Cor. i. 10). The estrangements of the rich and the poor in the church at Corinth, leading to a lack of Christian fellowship even at the Lord's Supper, is described as "heresy" (1 Cor. xi. 19). Breaches of the law of love, not errors about the truth of the Gospel, are referred to in these passages. But the first step towards the ecclesiastical use of the term is found already in 2 Peter ii. 1, "Among you also there shall be false teachers who shall privily bring in destructive heresies (R.V. margin "sects of perdition"), denying even the Master that bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction." The meaning here suggested is "falsely chosen or erroneous tenets. Already the emphasis is moving from persons and their temper to mental products—from the sphere of sympathetic love to that of objective truth" (Bartlet, art. "Heresy," Hastings's Bible Dictionary). As the parallel passage in Jude, verse 4, shows, however, that these errors had immoral consequences, the moral reference is not absent even from this passage. The first employment of the term outside the New Testament is also its first use for theological error. Ignatius applies it to Docetism (Ad Trall. 6). As doctrine came to be made more important, heresy was restricted to any departure from the recognized creed. Even Constantine the Great describes the Christian Church as "the Catholic heresy," "the most sacred heresy" (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, x. c. 5, the letter to Chrestus, bishop of Syracuse); but this use was very soon abandoned, and the Catholic Church distinguished itself from the dissenting minorities, which it condemned as "heresies." The use of the term heresy in the New Testament cannot be regarded as defining the attitude of the Christian Church, even in the Apostolic age, towards errors in belief. The Apostolic writings show a vehement antagonism towards all teaching opposed to the Gospel. Paul declares anathema the Judaizer, who required the circumcision of the Gentiles (Gal. i. 8), and even calls them the "dogs of the concision" and "evil workers" (Phil. iii. 2). The elders of Ephesus are warned against the false teachers who would appear in the church after the apostle's death as "grievous wolves not sparing the flock" (Acts xx. 29); and the speculations of the Gnostics are denounced as "seducing spirits and doctrines of devils" (1 Tim. iv. 1), as "profane babblings and oppositions of the knowledge which is falsely so called" (vi. 20). John's warnings are as earnest and severe. Those who deny the fact of the Incarnation are described as "antichrist," and as "deceivers" (1 John iv. 3; 2 John 7). The references to heretics in 2 Peter and Jude have already been dealt with. This antagonism is explicable by the character of the heresies that threatened the Christian Church in the Apostolic age. Each of these heresies involved such a blending of the Gospel with either Jewish or pagan elements, as would not only pollute its purity, but destroy its power. In each of these the Gospel was in danger of being made of none effect by the environment, which it must resist in order that it might transform (see Burton's Bampton Lectures on The Heresies of the Apostolic Age).
Gnosticism.These Gnostic heresies, which threatened to paganize the Christian Church, were condemned in no measured terms by the fathers. These false teachers are denounced as "servants of Satan, beasts in human shape, dealers in deadly poison, robbers and pirates." Polycarp, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian and even Clement of Alexandria and Origen are as severe in condemnation as the later fathers (cf. Matt. xiii. 35-43; Tertullian, Praescr. 31). While the necessity of the heresies is admitted in accordance with 1 Cor. xi. 19, yet woe is pronounced on those who have introduced them, according to Matt. xviii. 7. (This application of these passages, however, is of altogether doubtful validity.) "It was necessary," says Tertullian (ibid. 30), "that the Lord should be betrayed; but woe to the traitor." The very worst motives, "pride, disappointed ambition, sensual lust, and avarice," are recklessly imputed to the heretics; and no possibility of morally innocent doubt, difficulty or difference in thought is admitted. Origen and Augustine do, however, recognize that even false teachers may have good motives. While we must admit that there was a very serious peril to the thought and life of the Christian Church in the teaching thus denounced, yet we must not forget that for the most part these teachers are known to us only in the ex parte representation that their opponents have given of them; and we must not assume that even their doctrines, still less their characters, were so bad as they are described.
The attitude of the church in the post-Nicene period differs from that in the ante-Nicene in two important respects. (1) As has already been indicated, the earlier heresies threatened to introduce Jewish or pagan elements into the faith of the church, and it was necessary that they should be vigorously resisted if the church was to retain its distinctive character. Many of the later heresies were differences in the interpretation of Christian truth, which did not in the same way threaten the very life of the church. No vital interest of Christian faith justified the extravagant denunciations in which theological partisanship so recklessly and ruthlessly indulged. (2) In the ante-Nicene period only ecclesiastical penalties, such as reproof, deposition or excommunication, could be imposed. In the post-Nicene the union of church and state transformed theological error into legal offence (see below).
Christian definition.We must now consider the definition of heresy which was gradually reached in the Christian Church. It is "a religious error held in wilful and persistent opposition to the truth after it has been defined and declared by the church in an authoritative manner," or "pertinax defensio dogmatis ecclesiae universalis judicio condemnati" (Schaff's Ante-Nicene Christianity, ii. 512-516). (i.) It "denotes an opinion antagonistic to a fundamental article of the Christian faith," due to the introduction of "foreign elements" and resulting in a perversion of Christianity, and an amalgamation with it of ideas discordant with its nature (Fisher's History of Christian Doctrine, p. 9). It has been generally assumed that the ecclesiastical authority was always competent to determine what are the fundamental articles of the Christian faith, and to detect any departures from them; but it is necessary to admit the possibility that the error was in the church, and the truth was with the heresy. (ii.) There cannot be any heresy where there is no orthodoxy, and, therefore, in the definition it is assumed that the church has declared what is the truth or the error in any matter. Accordingly "heresy is to be distinguished from defective stages of Christian knowledge. For example, the Jewish believers, including the Apostles themselves, at the outset required the Gentile believers to be circumcised. They were not on this account chargeable with heresy. Additional light must first come in, and be rejected, before that earlier opinion could be thus stigmatized. Moreover, heresies are not to be confounded with tentative and faulty hypotheses broached in a period prior to the scrutiny of a topic of Christian doctrine, and before that scrutiny has led the general mind to an assured conclusion. Such hypotheses—for example, the idea that in the person of Christ the Logos is substituted for a rational human spirit—are to be met with in certain early fathers" (ibid. p. 10). Origen indulged in many speculations which were afterwards condemned, but, as these matters were still open questions in his day, he was not reckoned a heretic. (iii.) In accordance with the New Testament use of the term heresy, it is assumed that moral defect accompanies the intellectual error, that the false view is held pertinaciously, in spite of warning, remonstrance and rebuke; aggressively to win over others, and so factiously, to cause division in the church, a breach in its unity.
Schism. A distinction is made between "heresy" and "schism" (from Gr. σχίζειν, rend asunder, divide). "The fathers commonly use 'heresy' of false teaching in opposition to Catholic doctrine, and 'schism' of a breach of discipline, in opposition to Catholic government" (Schaff). But as the claims of the church to be the guardian through its episcopate of the apostolic tradition, of the Christian faith itself, were magnified, and unity in practice as well as in doctrine came to be regarded as essential, this distinction became a theoretical rather than a practical one. While severely condemning, both Irenaeus and Tertullian distinguished schismatics from heretics. "Though we are by no means entitled to say that they acknowledged orthodox schismatics they did not yet venture to reckon them simply as heretics. If it was desired to get rid of these, an effort was made to impute to them some deviation from the rule of faith; and under this pretext the church freed herself from the Montanists and the Monarchians. Cyprian was the first to proclaim the identity of heretics and schismatics by making a man's Christianity depend on his belonging to the great episcopal church confederation. But in both East and West, this theory of his became established only by very imperceptible degrees, and indeed, strictly speaking, the process was never completed. The distinction between heretics and schismatics was preserved because it prevented a public denial of the old principles, because it was advisable on political grounds to treat certain schismatic communities with indulgence, and because it was always possible in case of need to prove heresy against the schismatics." (Harnack's History of Dogma, ii. 92-93).
Heretical baptism. There was considerable controversy in the early church as to the validity of heretical baptism. As even "the Christian virtues of the heretics were described as hypocrisy and love of ostentation," so no value whatever was attached by the orthodox party to the sacraments performed by heretics. Tertullian declares that the church can have no communion with the heretics, for there is nothing common; as they have not the same God, and the same Christ, so they have not the same baptism (De bapt. 15). Cyprian agreed with him. The validity of heretical baptism was denied by the church of Asia Minor as well as of Africa; but the practice of the Roman Church was to admit without second baptism heretics who had been baptized with the name of Christ, or of the Holy Trinity. Stephen of Rome attempted to force the Roman practice on the whole church in 253. The controversy his intolerance provoked was closed by Augustine's controversial treatise De Baptismo, in which the validity of baptism administered by heretics is based on the objectivity of the sacrament. Whenever the name of the three-one God is used, the sacrament is declared valid by whomsoever it may be performed. This was a triumph of sacramentarianism, not of charity.
Types of heresy. Three types of heresy have appeared in the history of the Christian Church. The earliest may be called the syncretic; it is the fusion of Jewish or pagan with Christian elements. Ebionitism asserted "the continual obligation to observe the whole of the Mosaic law," and "outran the Old Testament monotheism by a barren monarchianism that denied the divinity of Christ" (Kurtz, Church History, i. 120). Gnosticism was the result of the attempt to blend with Christianity the religious notions of pagan mythology, mysterology, theosophy and philosophy" (p. 98). The Judaizing and the paganizing tendency were combined in Gnostic Ebionitism which was prepared for in Jewish Essenism. In the later heresy of Manichaeism there were affinities to Gnosticism, but it was a mixture of many elements, Babylonian-Chaldaic theosophy, Persian dualism and even Buddhist ethics (p. 126).
The next type of heresy may be called evolutionary or formatory. When the Christian faith is being formulated, undue emphasis may be put on one aspect, and thus so partial a statement of truth may result in error. Thus when in the ante-Nicene age the doctrine of the Trinity was under discussion, dynamic Monarchianism "regarded Christ as a mere man, who, like the prophets, though in a much higher measure, had been endued with divine wisdom and power"; modal Monarchianism saw in the Logos dwelling in Christ "only a mode of the activity of the Father"; Patripassianism identified the Logos with the Father; and Sabellianism regarded Father, Son and Spirit as "the rôles which the God who manifests Himself in the world assumes in succession" (Kurtz, Church History, i. 175-181). When Arius asserted the subordination of the Son to the Father, and denied the eternal generation, Athanasius and his party asserted the Homoousia, the cosubstantiality of the Father and the Son. This assertion of the divinity of Christ triumphed, but other problems at once emerged. How was the relation of the humanity to the divinity in Christ to be conceived? Apollinaris denied the completeness of the human nature, and substituted the divine Logos for the reasonable soul of man. Nestorius held the two natures so far apart as to appear to sacrifice the unity of the person of Christ. Eutyches on the contrary "taught not only that after His incarnation Christ had only one nature, but also that the body of Christ as the body of God is not of like substance with our own" (Kurtz, Church History, i, 330-334). The Church in the Creed of Chalcedon in A.D. 451 affirmed "that Christ is true God and true man, according to His Godhead begotten from eternity and like the Father in everything, only without sin; and that after His incarnation the unity of the person consists in two natures which are conjoined without confusion, and without change, but also without rending and without separation." The problem was not solved, but the inadequate solutions were excluded, and the data to be considered in any adequate solution were affirmed. After this decision the controversies about the Person of Christ degenerated into mere hair-splitting; and the interference of the imperial authority from time to time in the dispute was not conducive to the settlement of the questions in the interests of truth alone. This problem interested the East for the most part; in the West there was waged a theological warfare around the nature of man and the work of Christ. To Augustine's doctrine of man's total depravity, his incapacity for any good, and the absolute sovereignty of the divine grace in salvation according to the divine election, Pelagius opposed the view that "God's grace is destined for all men, but man must make himself worthy of it by honest striving after virtue" (Kurtz, Church History, i. 348). While Pelagius was condemned, it was only a modified Augustinianism which became the doctrine of the church. It is not necessary in illustration of the second type of heresy—that which arises when the contents of the Christian faith are being defined—to refer to the doctrinal controversies of the middle ages. It may be added that after the Reformation Arianism was revived in Socinianism, and Pelagianism in Arminianism; but the conception of heresy in Protestantism demands subsequent notice.
The third type of heresy is the revolutionary or reformatory. This is not directed against doctrine as such, but against the church, its theory and its practice. Such movements of antagonism to the errors or abuses of ecclesiastical authority may be so permeated by defective conceptions and injurious influences as by their own character to deserve condemnation. But on the other hand the church in maintaining its place and power may condemn as heretical genuine efforts at reform by a return, though partial, to the standard set by the Holy Scriptures or the Apostolic Church. On the one hand there were during the middle ages sects, like the Catharists and Albigenses, whose "opposition as a rule developed itself from dualistic or pantheistic premises (surviving effects of old Gnostic or Manichaean views)" and who "stood outside of ordinary Christendom, and while no doubt affecting many individual members within it, had no influence on church doctrine." On the other hand there were movements, such as the Waldensian, the Wycliffite and Hussite, which are often described as "reformations anticipating the Reformation" which "set out from the Augustinian conception of the Church, but took exception to the development of the conception," and were pronounced by the medieval church as heretical for (1) "contesting the hierarchical gradation of the priestly order; or (2) giving to the religious idea of the Church implied in the thought of predestination a place superior to the conception of the empirical Church; or (3) applying to the priests, and thereby to the authorities of the Church, the test of the law of God, before admitting their right to exercise, as holding the keys, the power of binding and loosing" (Harnack's History of Dogma, vi. 136-137). The Reformation itself was from the standpoint of the Roman Catholic Church heresy and schism.
Modern use of the term. "In the present divided state of Christendom," says Schaff (Ante-Nicene Christianity, ii. 513-514), "there are different kinds of orthodoxy and heresy. Orthodoxy is conformity to the recognized creed or standard of public doctrine; heresy is a wilful departure from it. The Greek Church rejects as heretical, because contrary to the teaching of the first seven ecumenical councils, the Roman dogmas of the papacy, of the double procession of the Holy Ghost, the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary, and the infallibility of the Pope. The Roman Church anathematized, in the council of Trent, all the distinctive doctrines of the Protestant Reformation. Among Protestant churches again there are minor doctrinal differences, which are held with various degrees of exclusiveness or liberality according to the degree of departure from the Roman Catholic Church. Luther, for instance, would not tolerate Zwingli's view on the Lord's Supper, while Zwingli was willing to fraternize with him notwithstanding this difference." At the colloquy of Marburg "Zwingli offered his hand to Luther with the entreaty that they be at least Christian brethren, but Luther refused it and declared that the Swiss were of another spirit. He expressed surprise that a man of such views as Zwingli should wish brotherly relations with the Wittenberg reformers" (Walker, The Reformation, p. 174). A difference of opinion on the question of the presence of Christ in the elements at the Lord's Supper was thus allowed to divide and to weaken the forces of the Reformation. On the problem of divine election Lutheranism and Calvinism remained divided. The Formula of Concord (1577), which gave to the whole Lutheran Church of Germany a common doctrinal system, declined to accept the Calvinistic position that man's condemnation as well as his salvation is an object of divine predestination. Within Calvinism itself Pelagianism was revived in Arminianism, which denied the irresistibility, and affirmed the universality of grace. This heresy was condemned by the synod of Dort (1619). The standpoint of the Reformed churches was the substitution of the authority of the Scriptures for the authority of the church. Whatever was conceived as contrary to the teaching of the Bible was regarded as heresy. The position is well expressed in the Scotch Confession (1559). "Protesting, that if any man will note in this our Confession any article or sentence repugning to God's Holy Word, that it would please him, of his gentleness, and for Christian charity's sake, to admonish us of the same in writ, and we of our honour and fidelity do promise unto him satisfaction from the mouth of God; that is, from His Holy Scripture, or else reformation of that which he shall prove to be amiss. In God we take to record in our consciences that from our hearts we abhor all sects of heresy, and all teachers of erroneous doctrines; and that with all humility we embrace purity of Christ's evangel, which is the only food of our souls" (Preface).
Although subsequently to the Reformation period the Protestant churches for the most part relapsed into the dogmatism of the Roman Catholic Church, and were ever ready with censure for every departure from orthodoxy—yet to-day a spirit of diffidence in regard to one's own beliefs, and of tolerance towards the beliefs of others, is abroad. The enlargement of the horizon of knowledge by the advance of science, the recognition of the only relative validity of human opinions and beliefs as determined by and adapted to each stage of human development, which is due to the growing historical sense, the alteration of view regarding the nature of inspiration, and the purpose of the Holy Scriptures, the revolt against all ecclesiastical authority, and the acceptance of reason and conscience as alone authoritative, the growth of the spirit of Christian charity, the clamorous demand of the social problem for immediate attention, all combine in making the Christian churches less anxious about the danger, and less zealous in the discovery and condemnation of heresy.
Persecution of heretics. Having traced the history of opinion in the Christian churches on the subject of heresy, we must now return to resume a subject already mentioned, the persecution of heretics. According to the Canon Law, which "was the ecclesiastical law of medieval Europe, and is still the law of the Roman Catholic Church," heresy was defined as "error which is voluntarily held in contradiction to a doctrine which has been clearly stated in the creed, and has become part of the defined faith of the church," and which is "persisted in by a member of the church." It was regarded not only as an error, but also as a crime to be detected and punished. As it belongs, however, to a man's thoughts and not his deeds, it often can be proved only from suspicions. The canonists define the degrees of suspicion as "light" calling for vigilance, "vehement" demanding denunciation, and "violent" requiring punishment. The grounds of suspicion have been formulated "Pope Innocent III. declared that to lead a solitary life, to refuse to accommodate oneself to the prevailing manners of society, and to frequent unauthorized religious meetings were abundant grounds of suspicion; while later canonists were accustomed to give lists of deeds which made the doers suspect: a priest who did not celebrate mass, a layman who was seen in clerical robes, those who favoured heretics, received them as guests, gave them safe conduct, tolerated them, trusted them, defended them, fought under them or read their books were all to be suspect" (T. M. Lindsay in article "Heresy," Ency. Brit. 9th edition). That the dangers of heresy might be avoided, laymen were forbidden to argue about matters of faith by Pope Alexander IV., an oath "to abjure every heresy and to maintain in its completeness the Catholic faith" was required by the council of Toledo (1129), the reading of the Scriptures in the vulgar tongue was not allowed to the laity by Pope Pius IV. The reading of books was restricted and certain books were prohibited. Regarding heresy as a crime, the church was not content with inflicting its spiritual penalties, such as excommunication and such civil disabilities as its own organization allowed it to impose (e.g. the heretics were forbidden to give evidence in ecclesiastical courts, fathers were forbidden to allow a son or a daughter to marry a heretic, and to hold social intercourse with a heretic was an offence). It regarded itself as justified in invoking the power of the state to suppress heresy by civil pains and penalties, including even torture and death.
The story of the persecution of heretics by the state must be briefly sketched.
As long as the Christian Church was itself persecuted by the pagan empire, it advocated freedom of conscience, and insisted that religion could be promoted only by instruction and persuasion (Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Lactantius); but almost immediately after Christianity was adopted as the religion of the Roman empire the persecution of men for religious opinions began. While Constantine at the beginning of his reign (313) declared complete religious liberty, and kept on the whole to this declaration, yet he confined his favours to the orthodox hierarchical church, and even by an edict of the year 326 formally asserted the exclusion from these of heretics and schismatics. Arianism, when favoured by the reigning emperor, showed itself even more intolerant than Catholic Orthodoxy. Theodosius the Great, in 380, soon after his baptism, issued, with his co-emperors, the following edict: "We, the three emperors, will that all our subjects steadfastly adhere to the religion which was taught by St Peter to the Romans, which has been faithfully preserved by tradition, and which is now professed by the pontiff Damasus of Rome, and Peter, bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic holiness. According to the institution of the Apostles, and the doctrine of the Gospel, let us believe in the one Godhead of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, of equal majesty in the Holy Trinity. We order that the adherents of this faith be called Catholic Christians; we brand all the senseless followers of the other religions with the infamous name of heretics, and forbid their conventicles assuming the name of churches. Besides the condemnation of divine justice, they must expect the heavy penalties which our authority, guided by heavenly wisdom, shall think proper to inflict" (Schaff's Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity, i. 142). The fifteen penal laws which this emperor issued in as many years deprived them of all right to the exercise of their religion, "excluded them from all civil offices, and threatened them with fines, confiscation, banishment and even in some cases with death." In 385 Maximus, his rival and colleague, caused seven heretics to be put to death at Treves (Trier). Many bishops approved the act, but Ambrose of Milan and Martin of Tours condemned It. While Chrysostom disapproved of the execution of heretics, he approved "the prohibition of their assemblies and the confiscation of their churches." Jerome by an appeal to Deut. xiii. 6-10 appears to defend even the execution of heretics. Augustine found a justification for these penal measures in the "compel them to come in" of Luke xiv. 23, although his personal leanings were towards clemency. Only the persecuted themselves insisted on toleration as a Christian duty. In the middle ages the church showed no hesitation about persecuting unto death all who dared to contradict her doctrine, or challenge her practice, or question her authority. The instruction and persuasion which St Bernard favoured found little imitation. Even the Dominicans, who began as a preaching order to convert heretics, soon became persecutors. In the Albigensian Crusade (A.D. 1209-1229) thousands were slaughtered. As the bishops were not zealous enough in enforcing penal laws against heretics, the Tribunal of the Inquisition was founded in 1232 by Gregory IX., and was entrusted to the Dominicans who "as Domini canes subjected to the most cruel tortures all on whom the suspicion of heresy fell, and all the resolute were handed over to the civil authorities, who readily undertook their execution" (Kurtz, Church History, ii. 137-138).
At the Reformation Luther laid down the principle that the civil government is concerned with the province of the external and temporal life, and has nothing to do with faith and conscience. "How could the emperor gain the right," he asks, "to rule my faith?" With that only the Word of God is concerned. "Heresy is a spiritual thing," he says, "which one cannot hew with any iron, burn with any fire, drown with any water. The Word of God alone is there to do it." Nevertheless Luther assigned to the state, which he assumes to be Christian, the function of maintaining the Gospel and the Word of God in public life. He was not quite consistent in carrying out his principle (see Luthard's Geschichte der christlichen Ethik, ii. 33). In the Religious Peace of Augsburg the principle "cujus regio ejus religio" was accepted; by it a ruler's choice between Catholicism and Lutheranism bound his subjects, but any subject unwilling to accept the decision might emigrate without hindrance.
In Geneva under Calvin, while the Consistoire, or ecclesiastical court, could inflict only spiritual penalties, yet the medieval idea of the duty of the state to co-operate with the church to maintain the religious purity of the community in matters of belief as well as of conduct so far survived that the civil authority was sure to punish those whom the ecclesiastical had censured. Calvin consented to the death of Servetus, whose views on the Trinity he regarded as most dangerous heresy, and whose denial of the full authority of the Scriptures he dreaded as overthrowing the foundations of all religious authority. Protestantism generally, it is to be observed, quite approved the execution of the heretic. The Synod of Dort (1619) not only condemned Arminianism, but its defenders were expelled from the Netherlands; only in 1625 did they venture to return, and not till 1630 were they allowed to erect schools and churches. In modern Protestantism there is a growing disinclination to deal even with errors of belief by ecclesiastical censure; the appeal to the civil authority to inflict any penalty is abandoned. During the course of the 19th century in Scottish Presbyterianism the affirmation of Christ's atoning death for all men, the denial of eternal punishment, the modification of the doctrine of the inspiration of the Scriptures by acceptance of the results of the Higher Criticism, were all censured as perilous errors.
The subject cannot be left without a brief reference to the persecution of witches. To the beginning of the 13th century the popular superstitions regarding sorcery, witchcraft and compacts with the devil were condemned by the ecclesiastical authorities as heathenish, sinful and heretical. But after the establishment of the Inquisition "heresy and sorcery were regarded as correlates, like two agencies resting on and serviceable to the demoniacal powers, and were therefore treated in the same way as offences to be punished with torture and the stake" (Kurtz, Church History, ii. 195). While the Franciscans rejected the belief in witchcraft, the Dominicans were most zealous in persecuting witches. In the 15th century this delusion, fostered by the ecclesiastical authorities, took possession of the mind of the people, and thousands, mostly old women, but also a number of girls, were tortured and burned as witches. Protestantism took over the superstition from Catholicism. It was defended by James I. of England. As late as the 18th century death was inflicted in Germany and Switzerland on men, women and even children accused of this crime. This superstition dominated Scotland. Not till 1736 were the statutes against witchcraft repealed; an act which the Associate Presbytery at Edinburgh in 1743 declared to be "contrary to the express law of God, for which a holy God may be provoked in a way of righteous judgment."
Non-Christian religions. The recognition and condemnation of errors in religious belief is by no means confined to the Christian Church. Only a few instances of heresy in other religions can be given. In regard to the fetishism of the Gold Coast of Africa, Jevons (Introduction to the History of Religion, pp. 165-166) maintains that "public opinion does not approve of the worship by an individual of a suhman, or private tutelary deity, and that his dealings with it are regarded in the nature of 'black art' as it is not a god of the community." In China there is a "classical or canonical, primitive and therefore alone orthodox (tsching) and true religion," Confucianism and Taoism, while the "heterodox (sic)," Buddhism especially, is "partly tolerated, but generally forbidden, and even cruelly persecuted" (Chantepie de la Saussaye, Religionsgeschichte, i. 57). In Islam "according to an unconfirmed tradition Mahomet is said to have foretold that his community would split into seventy-three sects (see Mahommedan Religion, § Sects), of which only one would escape the flames of hell." The first split was due to uncertainty regarding the principle which should rule the succession to the Caliphate. The Arabic and orthodox party (i.e. the Sunnites, who held by the Koran and tradition) maintained that this should be determined by the choice of the community. The Persian and heterodox party (the Shiites) insisted on heredity. But this political difference was connected with theological differences. The sect of the Mu'tazilites which affirmed that the Koran had been created, and denied predestination, began to be persecuted by the government in the 9th century, and discussion of religious questions was forbidden (see Caliphate, sections B and C). The mystical tendency in Islam, Sufism, is also regarded as heretical (see Kuenen's Hibbert Lecture, pp. 45-50). Buddhism is a wide departure in doctrine and practice from Brahmanism, and hence after a swift unfolding and quick spread it was driven out of India and had to find a home in other lands. Essenism from the standpoint of Judaism was heterodox in two respects, the abandonment of animal sacrifices and the adoration of the sun.
Although in Greece there was generally wide tolerance, yet in 399 B.C. Socrates "was indicted as an irreligious man, a corrupter of youth, and an innovator in worship."
Heresy according to the Law of England.—The highest point reached by the ecclesiastical power in England was in the Act De Haeretico comburendo (2 Henry IV. c. 15). Some have supposed that a writ of that name is as old as the common law, but its execution might be arrested by a pardon from the crown. The Act of Henry IV. enabled the diocesan alone, without the co-operation of a synod, to pronounce sentence of heresy, and required the sheriff to execute it by burning the offender, without waiting for the consent of the crown. A large number of penal statutes were enacted in the following reigns, and the statute 1 Eliz. c. 1 is regarded by lawyers as limiting for the first time the description of heresy to tenets declared heretical either by the canonical Scripture or by the first four general councils, or such as should thereafter be so declared by parliament with the assent of Convocation. The writ was abolished by 29 Car. II. c. 9, which reserved to the ecclesiastical courts their jurisdiction over heresy and similar offences, and their power of awarding punishments not extending to death. Heresy became henceforward a purely ecclesiastical offence, although disabling laws of various kinds continued to be enforced against Jews, Catholics and other dissenters. The temporal courts have no knowledge of any offence known as heresy, although incidentally (e.g. in questions of copyright) they have refused protection to persons promulgating irreligious or blasphemous opinions. As an ecclesiastical offence it would at this moment be almost impossible to say what opinion, in the case of a layman at least, would be deemed heretical. Apparently, if a proper case could be made out, an ecclesiastical court might still sentence a layman to excommunication for heresy, but by no other means could his opinions be brought under censure. The last case on the subject (Jenkins v. Cook, L.R. 1 P.D. 80) leaves the matter in the same uncertainty. In that case a clergyman refused the communion to a parishioner who denied the personality of the devil. The judicial committee held that the rights of the parishioners are expressly defined in the statute of 1 Edw. VI. c. i, and, without admitting that the canons of the church, which are not binding on the laity, could specify a lawful cause for rejection, held that no lawful cause within the meaning of either the canons or the rubric had been shown. It was maintained at the bar that the denial of the most fundamental doctrines of Christianity would not be a lawful cause for such rejection, but the judgment only queries whether a denial of the personality of the devil or eternal punishment is consistent with membership of the church. The right of every layman to the offices of the church is established by statute without reference to opinions, and it is not possible to say what opinions, if any, would operate to disqualify him.
The case of clergymen is entirely different. The statute 13 Eliz. c. 12, § 2, enacts that "if any person ecclesiastical, or which shall have an ecclesiastical living, shall advisedly maintain or affirm any doctrine directly contrary or repugnant to any of the said articles, and by conventicle before the bishop of the diocese, or the ordinary, or before the queen's highness's commissioners in matters ecclesiastical, shall persist therein or not revoke his error, or after such revocation eftsoons affirm such untrue doctrine," he shall be deprived of his ecclesiastical promotions. The act it will be observed applies only to clergymen, and the punishment is strictly limited to deprivation of benefice. The judicial committee of the privy council, as the last court of appeal, has on several occasions pronounced judgments by which the scope of the act has been confined to its narrowest legal effect. The court will construe the Articles of Religion and formularies according to the legal rules for the interpretation of statutes and written instruments. No rule of doctrine is to be ascribed to the church which is not distinctly and expressly stated or plainly involved in the written law of the Church, and where there is no rule, a clergyman may express his opinion without fear of penal consequences. In the Essays and Reviews cases (Williams v. the Bishop of Salisbury, and Wilson v. Fendall, 2 Moo. P.C.C., N.S. 375) it was held to be not penal for a clergyman to speak of merit by transfer as a "fiction," or to express a hope of the ultimate pardon of the wicked, or to affirm that any part of the Old or New Testament, however unconnected with religious faith or moral duty, was not written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In the case of Noble v. Voysey (L.R. 3 P.C. 357) in 1871 the committee held that it was not bound to affix a meaning to articles of really dubious import, as it would have been in cases affecting property. At the same time any manifest contradiction of the Articles, or any obvious evasion of them, would subject the offender to the penalties of deprivation. In some of the cases the question has been raised how far the doctrine of the church could be ascertained by reference to the opinions generally expressed by divines belonging to its communion. Such opinions, it would seem, might be taken into account as showing the extent of liberty which had been in practice, claimed and exercised on the interpretation of the articles, but would certainly not be allowed to increase their stringency. It is not the business of the court to pronounce upon the absolute truth or falsehood of any given opinion, but simply to say whether it is formally consistent with the legal doctrines of the Church of England. Whether Convocation has any jurisdiction in cases of heresy is a question which has occasioned some difference of opinion among lawyers. Hale, as quoted by Phillimore (Ecc. Law), says that before the time of Richard II., that is, before any acts of Parliament were made about heretics, it is without question that in a convocation of the clergy or provincial synod "they might and frequently did here in England proceed to the sentencing of heretics." But later writers, while adhering to the statement that Convocation might declare opinions to be heretical, doubted whether it could proceed to punish the offender, even when he was a clerk in orders. Phillimore states that there is no longer any doubt, even apart from the effect of the Church Discipline Act 1840, that Convocation has no power to condemn clergymen for heresy. The supposed right of Convocation to stamp heretical opinions with its disapproval was exercised on a somewhat memorable occasion. In 1864 the Convocation of the province of Canterbury, having taken the opinion of two of the most eminent lawyers of the day (Sir Hugh Cairns and Sir John Rolt), passed judgment upon the volume entitled Essays and Reviews. The judgment purported to "synodically condemn the said volume as containing teaching contrary to the doctrine received by the United Church of England and Ireland, in common with the whole Catholic Church of Christ." These proceedings were challenged in the House of Lords by Lord Houghton, and the lord chancellor (Westbury), speaking on behalf of the government, stated that if there was any "synodical judgment" it would be a violation of the law, subjecting those concerned in it to the penalties of a praemunire, but that the sentence in question, was "simply nothing, literally no sentence at all." It is thus at least doubtful whether Convocation has a right even to express an opinion unless specially authorized to do so by the crown, and it is certain that it cannot do anything more. Heresy or no heresy, in the last resort, like all other ecclesiastical questions, is decided by the judicial committee of the council.
The English lawyers, following the Roman law, distinguish between heresy and apostasy. The latter offence is dealt with by an act which still stands on the statute book, although it has long been virtually obsolete—the 9 & 10 Will. III. c. 35. If any person who has been educated in or has professed the Christian religion shall, by writing, printing, teaching, or advised speaking, assert or maintain that there are more Gods than one, or shall deny any of the persons of the Holy Trinity to be God, or shall deny the Christian religion to be true or the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be of divine authority, he shall for the first offence be declared incapable of holding any ecclesiastical, civil, or military office or employment, and for the second incapable of bringing any action, or of being guardian, executor, legatee, or grantee, and shall suffer three years' imprisonment without bail. Unitarians were saved from these atrocious penalties by a later act (53 Geo. III. c. 160), which permits Christians to deny any of the persons in the Trinity without penal consequences.
- For fuller details see separate articles.
- Stephen's Commentaries, bk. iv. ch. 7.