Early Heretics

From BelieveTheSign

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Paul prophecied of heretics and liars arising from both inside and outside the churches:

For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. (Acts 20:29-30)
Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, [and commanding] to abstain from meats, (I Tim. 4:1-3a)

Irenaeus records the approach of the Apostle John and Polycarp when confronted by certain heretics:

John, the disciple of the Lord, going to bathe at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus within, rushed out of the bath-house without bathing, exclaiming, "Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within. (Vol. I Ante-Nicene Fathers 416)
Polycarp himself replied to Marcion, who met him on one occasion, and said, "Dost thou know me?" "I do know thee, the first-born of Satan." Such was the horror which the apostles and their disciples had against holding even verbal communication with any corrupters of the truth; as Paul also says, "A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject; (Vol. I Ante-Nicene Fathers 416)

A breif description of some of the popular early heretics is included below:

Heretic Description
Cerinthus Educated in Egypt, and claimed angelic inspiration. He taught that:
  • A lesser deity created the physical world;
  • Jesus was the son of Joseph and Mary, and not God or Christ;
  • Justification is by works, in particular the ceremonial observances of Judaism.
Valentinus Born (c. 100 AD) and educated in Egypt. Claimed to receive special 'knowledge' from Theudas, who was reported to be a follower of St. Paul. Valentinus was a member of the church in Rome under the Bishops Hyginus, Pius, and Anicetus, but left to follow his own doctrines. This departure may coincide with Polycarp's visit to Rome, or may be because he was not elected Bishop of Rome himself. He taught that:
  • Knowledge, not faith, is the key to salvation;
  • Sophia (wisdom) was the imperfect creator of the universe, herself a creation of the Father,
  • Sophia created Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Valentinus is condemned by Irenaeus as a heretic, and first person to devise trinitarian-like teachings:

Valentinus, the leader of a sect, was the first to devise the notion of three subsistent entities (hypostases), in a work that he entitled On the Three Natures. For, he devised the notion of three subsistent entities and three persons—father, son, and holy spirit. (Marcellus of Ancyra, On the Holy Church, 9)
Marcion (C. 110 - 160 AD) attempted to purchase the right to be the bishop in Rome, but was rejected, so he started his own church around 144 AD. Marcion sought to reform Christianity by merging it with Hellenistic philosophy (not to be confused with mythology, which he despised). He taught that:
  • The Hebrew scriptures were irrelevant,
  • Jehovah was a lesser demiurge who created the earth, but was (de facto) the source of evil.
  • Separated Jesus from Christ,
  • Only Paul's teachings (and a modified version of Luke) were inspired by the 'true' God.
Montanus Montanus believed he was the incarnation of the 'paraclete' mentioned in the Gospel of John 14:16. Accompanied by two women, Prisca and Maximilla, who likewise claimed to be the embodiments of the Holy Spirit, "the Three" spoke in ecstatic visions and urged their followers to fast and pray, so that they might share these personal revelations. The prophets of Montanism did not speak as messengers of God (i.e. "Thus saith the Lord") but rather spoke in his person. "I am the Father, the Word, and the Paraclete," said Montanus (Didymus, De Trinitate, III, xli). Montanus was condemned by Irenaeus and other early church fathers for heresy and being false prophets.
Gnosticism A term created by modern scholars to describe religious movements that believe gnosis, the knowledge of God enabled by secret teachings, is necessary for salvation.


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