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Heresy and Apostasy

Early Christianity, Non-christian Heresy, Bibliography

Heresy is derived from a Greek word literally meaning "a choice." St. Irenaeus (c. 120 to 140–c. 200 to 203) defined heresy as deviation from the standard of sound doctrine. This definition provided a model for subsequent conceptions of heresy. Referring to the Greek word, St. Jerome (c. 347–419 or 420) wrote that each one chooses the rule that one judges to be the best. So, he continued, "anyone who understands Scripture in a way other than the Holy Spirit, which dictated how Scripture should be written, demands would be called heretic, even if he is not excluded from the Church, and derives from the work of the flesh because he chooses the worst." The voluntary choice of a carnal meaning leads a reader of Scripture to shape a doctrine that contradicts the teaching of the church, thereby falling into heresy. Heresy, then, was a departure from the unity of the faith, while believing to subscribe to the Christian faith. The reverse side of it is the church's assertion of doctrinal authority. Heresy, denial or doubt of any defined doctrine, is sharply distinguished from apostasy, which denotes deliberate abandonment of the Christian faith itself. Hence, in a Christian context, heretics do not include the people of other faiths like the Jews and the Muslims, although they were not immune from religious persecution along with Christian heretics. The distinction between schism and heresy, on the other hand, is not as clear, since both concepts denote the separation from unity; indeed, the schism between the Western and Eastern Churches generated the accusation by both churches of the other being heretical rather than schismatic.

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