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in religion, especially in Christianity, beliefs or views held by a member of a church that contradict its orthodoxy, or core doctrines. It is distinguished from apostasy, which is a complete abandonment of faith that makes the apostate a deserter, or former member. Heresy is also distinguished from schism, which is a splitting of or from the church brought about by disputes over hierarchy or discipline, rather than over matters of doctrine. The heretic considers himself or herself not only a church member but, in a doctrinal controversy, the true believer; indeed, some persons originally labeled heretical were rehabilitated after once abhorred views become accepted.

The battle for doctrinal control of Christianity began with the declarations of St. PaulPaul, Saint,
d. A.D. 64? or 67?, the apostle to the Gentiles, b. Tarsus, Asia Minor. He was a Jew. His father was a Roman citizen, probably of some means, and Paul was a tentmaker by trade. His Jewish name was Saul.
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 in the New Testament. In the religion's first three centuries, numerous sects, many arising from GnosticismGnosticism
, dualistic religious and philosophical movement of the late Hellenistic and early Christian eras. The term designates a wide assortment of sects, numerous by the 2d cent. A.D.
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, were in conflict. The first Council of NicaeaNicaea, First Council of,
325, 1st ecumenical council, convened by Roman Emperor Constantine the Great to solve the problems raised by Arianism. It has been said that 318 persons attended, but a more likely number is 225, including every Eastern bishop of importance, four
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 (A.D. 325), which addressed the challenge of ArianismArianism
, Christian heresy founded by Arius in the 4th cent. It was one of the most widespread and divisive heresies in the history of Christianity. As a priest in Alexandria, Arius taught (c.
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, was among convocations at which a Christian orthodoxy was established.

formal expulsion from a religious body, the most grave of all ecclesiastical censures. Where religious and social communities are nearly identical it is attended by social ostracism, as in the case of Baruch Spinoza, excommunicated by the Jews.
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 was the usual method of dealing with heretical individuals or small groups. The medieval church undertook military action (as against the AlbigensesAlbigenses
[Lat.,=people of Albi, one of their centers], religious sect of S France in the Middle Ages. Beliefs and Practices

Officially known as heretics, they were actually Cathari, Provençal adherents of a doctrine similar to the Manichaean dualistic
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, in 1208) and extensive legal and punitive campaigns (such as the InquisitionInquisition
, tribunal of the Roman Catholic Church established for the investigation of heresy. The Medieval Inquisition

In the early Middle Ages investigation of heresy was a duty of the bishops.
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) in striving to suppress large-scale heresy. The Protestant ReformationReformation,
religious revolution that took place in Western Europe in the 16th cent. It arose from objections to doctrines and practices in the medieval church (see Roman Catholic Church) and ultimately led to the freedom of dissent (see Protestantism).
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 created new churches that at first campaigned against heresy from their own doctrinal bases; over time, however, the Roman Catholic church has remained the only Christian body that has continued with any frequency, on the basis of canon lawcanon law,
in the Roman Catholic Church, the body of law based on the legislation of the councils (both ecumenical and local) and the popes, as well as the bishops (for diocesan matters).
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, to prosecute heretics.

See also blasphemyblasphemy,
in religion, words or actions that display irreverence toward or contempt for God or that which is held sacred. Blasphemy is regarded as an offense against the community to varying degrees, depending on the extent of the identification of a religion with the society
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(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

When religions, especially in the case of historical Christianity, have established doctrines or dogmas that they insist must be accepted as true, people who don't accept them are declared heretical or heretics. They are guilty of heresy, or disagreeing with the accepted norm.

In the past, the Roman Catholic Church, for instance, established a whole department to "inquire" into questions of heresy. The Inquisition employed extreme measures to root out possible heretics (see Galilei, Galileo). The Puritans of New England used the same methods during the Salem witch trials.

The word has since come to be used outside of religion. Even Republicans and Democrats have been known to accuse those within their ranks as heretics.


a. an opinion or doctrine contrary to the orthodox tenets of a religious body or church
b. the act of maintaining such an opinion or doctrine
References in periodicals archive ?
He begins with Jean Carreyre's definition from 1924 in the Dictionnaire de theologie catholique--"a unique heresy that always wanted to remain within the Church despite repeated condemnations by the Holy See"--and rehearses other scholarly appraisals that are inclined toward interpreting Jansenism as a Catholic reform movement (389).
The population added that "the organization Daash prevents people from visiting the graves because they say it is heresy.
Skirting Heresy fills a cultural void, providing not just an historical narrative, but a tale filled with gripping humanity, comfort, explanation, and hope for all those who struggle through their daily lives.
Moore is a noted scholar of medieval heresy and dissent, having authored the classic The Formation of a Persecuting Society which has been reprinted in two editions (Wiley-Blackwell, 2001 and 2007).
The Alternative Trinity: Gnostic Heresy in Marlowe, Milton, and Blake.
The essays appear under four headings: "Heretical Theology," "Heresy and Consequences," "Heresy and Community," and "Readers of Heresy.
A paganly-educated Syrian, he was converted at Rome by Justin, thence returning (172) to the East where he supposedly founded the Encratite heresy, an extreme ascetic cult, albeit enemies may have exaggerated his involvement.
With the word dissent thrown about with such abandon, it is well to remember that discussion is not dissent and critical thinking is not heresy.
Although Askew works to promote an image of herself as faithful to Christ's teachings, it becomes imperative for her accusers to identify her as recalcitrant and obstinate in her heresy.
Heresy in the Middle Ages is a topic that has long generated interest and a large scholarly production.
Righter, retired Episcopal bishop of Iowa, of a charge of heresy that had been brought against him nine months ago by 10 of his fellow bishops.
immediately corrects that impression with his sane thesis that heresy cannot be understood apart from orthodoxy, or dissent apart from order.