Dec 8, 2012

Heresies in the Early Church


Gnosticism and its main teachings
It was a heretical movement within Christianity which drew on Jewish mysticism, pagan ideas, Oriental sources and popular Greek philosophy. It combined elements of all of these and then gave them a superficial Christian gloss. The system was supposed to give secret but life-giving knowledge. This information could only be accepted and understood by those who were spiritually enlightened. Gnosticism taught that the physical, material world was inferior (even evil) to the spiritual. The body, for example, was a prison for the soul, and Gnostic ideas could empower one to overcome this physical jail as well as the mischevious and deceptive powers behind the lies of the material world.

Heretics Marcion and Montanus played a role in the formation of the Canon...
It looks as if Marcion was the first to draft a formal list of accepted books, ca. 144 AD (he may have been redacting an already proposed list). He excluded the whole Old Testament, included only a mutilated version of Luke’s gospel, and then out of the epistles only listed Paul’s, except that he did not include the pastoral epistles. The church already had a rough and approximate canon but this action led them to more formally declare it, as it was unacceptable to leave out the Hebrew Scriptures and more than half of the New Testament.

The Monanists (followers of a hyper-charismatic sect established by Montanus ca. 156 AD), saw themselves as modern day prophets who carried the authority of The Paraclete. They would give oracles uttered in a state of “divinely possessed” ecstasy and claimed that these new revelations acted as an appendix of sorts to Scripture. Given this chaotic state of affairs, it behooved the church to settle the canon more definitively so as to avoid total confusion and uncertainty.

Adoptionism
In 190 AD Theodotus (a leather worker) arrived in Rome by way of Byzantine and began teaching that Jesus was merely a man who was adopted by the Father. This occurred when Jesus was baptized and then the divine power came upon Jesus.  In short, Jesus was adopted as the Son of God at his baptism. This heresy (which was condemned as much) sought to safeguard the oneness of God but failed by denying the full divinity of Christ. The predecessors of this teaching were the Ebionites and the successors of it were a banker also named Theodotus, Artemas (Artemon), and most notably, Paul of Samosata, who was condemned in 268 AD by an Antioch council.
Modalism
Upheld the divinity of Christ “better” than Adoptionism but denied the Triune nature of God. A man named Noetus was a pioneer in this heresy and we could paraphrase his teaching this way: “Christ is the Father Himself.” This heresy leads directly into the heresy of Patripassianism, which says the Father suffered on the cross.
Sabellianism
Sabellius was a presbyter who came to Rome around 215 AD. He taught that God is one substance with three different manifestations or offices. God acts as Father, Son or Holy Spirit depending on the needed operation. This more philosophical approach to Modalism still denies any real distinction between the three person of the Trinity. In fact, modern day advocates of this position will not usually use either the word persons or Trinity in relation to God.

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