Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries  Orthodoxy & Historical Topics

Updated:  1-3-2010

A Historical Overview of Heresies

Categories - Representatives - Defending Fathers/Councils - Parallel Events (per Era)

Compiled by:  Th. Riginiotes, theologian.



  • Heresy: A system of ideas based on only a segment of Christian teaching and the rejection or misinterpretation of its remaining segments
  • Trinitarian heresies: Heresies that pertain to the dogma on the triune status of God
  • Christological heresies: Heresies that pertain to the dogma on the identity of Jesus Christ and the salvific character of His redemptive opus.
  • Revelatory heresies: Heresies that project a counterfeit "revelation from God" as the source of their teaching
  • Soteriological heresies: Heresies that pertain to Christianity's teaching on the salvation of man

    Period Triadological Heresies Cause Main representatives Christological Heresies Cause Main representatives Revelatory and  Soteriological Heresies Main representatives Fathers who formulated / defended the upright Faith Other events of the time
    1st century A.D. Gnosticism  

    A combination of elements of many idolatrous religions (Persian, Egyptian, Hellenic e.a.), by Christianity, Judaism and ancient Hellenic philosophy, teaching that:    

    ● from one (unknown) God came many other divine spirits;                                      ● the material world is the creation of one of those spirits, which had fallen away from the Light and became something evil.


    Syncretism -The mixing of peoples and cultures that existed in the Roman empire) and the peoples' need to find metaphysical supports. Simon the Sorcerer.                                   Nicolaites or Balaamists

    Strove to eliminate the body through orgies and excesses.

    They promised people a secret "knowledge" that would free them from "the bonds of matter".  

    They were occultists and some were sorcerers


    Taught that Christ was one of the many divine spirits that were "born" out of the big God; that He was not a real man, but had merely taken on the form of a human (without a material body), because the Gnostics regarded it as evil; that He came to free people from the bonds of matter, and revealing the "Knowledge of the Great God" and the creation of the world.

    Hellenistic philosophical influences (mainly Platonic) which led to the devaluing of matter and overstressing of the value of the spirit, thus making it inconceivable that a benevolent spirit could ever acquire a true material body. As mentioned in the Triadological Heresies Judeo-Christians:

    Various groups such as Evionians e.a.

    Remained closely adherent to the Mosaic Law.  Isolated, "stillborn" communities. The Apostles (the disciples of Christ), the direct disciples of the Apostles, ie., Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Alexandria Birth of Jesus Christ, His opus (teaching and miracles), His Crucifixion and Resurrection.                                              Descent of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost) and founding of the Church. Teaching of the Apostles in many nations.  

    First persecutions, by Judeans and Romans.   Martyrdom of Apostles and other Christians.  

    2nd and 3rd centuries A.D. ) Gnosticism - more poly-morphous & organized. ) Same as above ) Kyrinthos, Basilides, Menander, Saturnilus, Carpocrates, Valentinus e.a. (each  had his own version of Gnosticism).  Extremist groups like Ophites and Naasenes go as far as observing bloodthirsty and man-eating cults (eating fetuses).


    ) Monarchianism: Dynamic Monarchians or Adoptists. They taught that Christ was a common man, who, because of His high-level ethos, was "adopted" by God and was elevated to the status of "Son" of God. ) The same as with the Modal Monarchians (C). ) The Alogoi (they rejected John's Gospel reference about Christ as the "Logos of God"); the two Theodoti, Artemon, Paul of Samosata ) Chiliast groups (they expected an earthly rule of Christ prior to the Second Coming, by misinterpreting Revelations chapter 20). ) Various individuals influenced, especially in Asia Minor - such as Papias of Hieropolis of Phrygia Irenaeus of Lyons, Hippolytus of Rome, Dionysius of Rome,  Dionysius of Alexandria e.a.  Christianity spreading further.   Persecution of Christians by the Roman State.   Innumerable martyrs.
    ) Manichaism:

    Related to Gnosticism. Belief in two Gods (Good and Evil) fighting against each other until the end of the world.

    ) A Persian religion.

    Influenced by assorted religious traditions.

    ) Manes or Manichaeus (Persian heresiarch who was crucified on account of his opposition to the priesthood of Zoroastrism).


    ) Docetism.  

    Groups who taught that Christ was God, but only seemingly appearing as a human being.

    ) An over-stressing of Christ's divinity and devaluation of His human nature. ) Various groups ) Montanism.   A Chiliast heresy.

    Taught that the Paraclete was Montanus;

    They expected the celestial Jerusalem (Rev., chapters 21-22).

    ) Montanus

    Tertullian also acceded to the heresy; he disagreed with the forgiving of sinners and apostates during persecutions (the "lapsed").

    C) Monarchianism:

    Modal Monarchians or "Patropaschites" ("Father-demoters").  Taught that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are the same person.

    C) Their concern to preserve mono-theism, also their inability to comprehend that the Holy Trinity is one God.

    The reason: their philo- sophical attempt to rationalize God's own revelation.


    C) Praxeas, Noetus, Savellius C) Marcionitism:

    Related to Gnosticism; rejected Christ's human nature, regarded Him a "pure spirit" who came to Earth as an adult.

    C) Over-stressing the value of the spiritual aspect of man and a devaluation of matter and the human body (Hellenistic, Gnostic and Docetist influences). C) Marcion Extreme moralists. Frequently strove to be executed by the Romans in order to become martyrs ("interpolative martyrdom" banned by the Church).  
    1st half of 4th century A.D. Arianism: 

    Taught that only the Father is God; that the Son (Christ) and the Holy Spirit are not God, but merely creations of God.

    Same as for the Modal Monarchians Arius.                            The emperor Constantine supported Arianism       Messalians or "Efchites" (=the praying ones).  Ascetic heresy that strove for a view of God, by provoking ecstasy through continuous praying, psalms, dances etc. An over-stressing of the value of the spirit and the devaluation of matter;

    Arrogance regarding "purity", which led them to elitism.

       1st Ecumenical Council (235 A.D.)                                                           - Athanasius the Great                                                            -Hilary of Poitiers  e.a. - Cessation of persecutions by Constantine the Great (313 A.D.)                                 

    - Founding of Constant-inople.                                      - Georgia is Christianized by St. Nina and the Armenians bySt.Gregory, Enlightener of the Armenians.                                     - Sts Anthony and Pachomius, founders of anachorite and cenobitic monasticism; thousands of monks in the deserts of Egypt. 


    2nd half of 4th century A.D. 2nd generation Arians:                             ) Omoii (=similar): classic Arians ) Same as for Modal Monarchians and Arius   Apollinarism

    Taught that Christ did not have a logical human soul; in place of a soul, He had His divinity.

    A philosophical attempt to rationalize God's revelation.  Inability to comprehend that it is possible for two, perfect things (divine and human natures) to be joined, without either being diminished. Apollinarius, Bishop of Laodicea Messalians   - Basil the Great                        - Gregory of Nyssa                     - Gregory the Theologian                              -  2nd Ecumenical Council (381 A.D.)

    - Synod of 390 AD against Messalians

    - Monastic living becomes widespread.                                    - Emperor Valens supports Arianism.                - Emperor Theodosius the Great decrees Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire
    ) Homoousians.  Moderate; accepted the Son as having divine attribute. B) Same as for Modal Monarchians and Arius  
    C) Anomians   or Eunomians.   Taught that the names "Father", "Son" and "Holy Spirit" denote a different essence for the 3 Persons of the Holy Trinity. C) Same as for Arius and Modal Monarchians                                 - Additionally, confusion as to what the names denote: the divine essence or God's energies & attributes. C) Aetius,  Eunomius
    D) Pneumato-machoi (=Spirit opponents).   Denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit.   D) Macedonius
    1st half of 5th century A.D.       Nestorianism.  

    Taught that Christ was not one Man, but two: the Man Jesus, in Whom "dwelled" the Son of God, without becoming one Man.  Hence, the Holy Mother was the "Christ-bearer", but not the "God-bearer". 

    As per Apollinarism Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople ) Messalians.     


    ) Pelagianism -  A heresy mainly of Western Europe; taught that the ancestral sin did not affect human nature and that man can be saved without the help of Divine Grace.



    ) Pelagius, Celestius

    - Cyril of Alexandria               

    - 3rd Ecumenical Council (431 A.D.)                                           - John Cassian                       


    - Herman of Auxerres  (against Pelagianism)

    Nestorianism prevails in Persia and Syria and gradually spreads to Arabia, Egypt, then as far as India and China.  The Nestorians of Persia cultivate literature; later influence the Mohammed-ans culturally.
    2nd half of 5th century A.D.       Monophysitism(=one nature).  

    Taught that Christ was originally God and Man, but that His divine nature absorbed His human nature, thus leaving only God's divine nature.

    - The attempts of fanatic Orthodox to confront Nestorianism.  They were infuriated by Saint Cyril's mild stance towards Nestorius and his friends.      - Human nature also underrated. Eutyches ) Messalians 

    B) Pelagianism

      4th Ecumenical Council (451 A.D.)                                           - Diadochus, Bishop of Fotiki  (against Messalians) Migration of Germanic tribes (Goths, Franks, e.a.) and the conquest of western Europe.  They embraced Arianism, but finally acceded to Orthodoxy.
    6th century A.D.       Incorruptible-docetism.  (-)           

    A mutation of Monophysitism; taught that the Body of Christ was incorruptible, even before His Resurrection; devoid of hunger, thirst, fatigue, etc. (=the irreproachable passions").

    A philosophical attempt to rationalize God's revelation.  Inability to comprehend that it is possible for two, perfect things (divine and human natures) to be joined, without either being diminished. Julian, Bishop of Halicarnassus. Messalians   5th Ecumenical Council  (553 A.D.)                                          

    Condemned certain older texts of Nestorian content or hue.

    Monophysitism prevails in the Churches of the Armenians, Copts (Egypt), Ethiopians, "Christians of SaintThomas" (Malabar, India), Jacobites (Syria) and Maronites (Lebanon).
    7th century A.D. ) Paulicans.  

    Related to Gnosticism; taught two Gods (Good and Evil); that Jesus is a creation (not the Son); rejected the Sacraments, etc..

    ) Gnostic, and possibly Arian influences.              Over-stressed the spirit and underrated matter.  Misinter-preted the Apostle Paul's Epistles (hence the heresy's name). ) Constantine of Mananala Mutations of Monophysitism

    Taught that Christ had a human nature, but not a human will (thelema) or energy (energeia) respectively:                                          Monotheletism       Monoenergetism

    A philosophical attempt to rationalize God's revelation.  Inability to comprehend that it is possible for two, perfect things (divine and human natures) to be joined, without either being diminished. Supported by emperors such as Zenon and Heraclius, and Patriarchs such as Pyrrhus, Paul, Peter and Sergius of Constantinople, Pope Honorius of Rome, Cyrus of Alexandria     -Maximus the Confessor                                            - Sophronius of Jerusalem, Martin of Rome                                                                      - 6th Ecumenical Council (680 A.D.) The Maronites become Monotheletes
    ) Mohammed anism (Islam

    It has the Judaic mentality of the Old Testament; it teaches that God is one person (not Triadic); that Christ is a major prophet, but that Mohammed is the supreme and final prophet, who introduced a new Bible - the Q'ran. 


    ) Excessively influenced by Judaism.      Inability to comprehend the Holy Trinity.    Possible underlying political motives and ambitions. ) Mohammed         Islam is transformed into an empire.    The Patriarchates of Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem are seized.   Heretic provinces (Syria, Jordan, Egypt) are subjugated to the Arabs (Islam), on account of opposition to Orthodox Constantin-ople.
    8th century A.D. Franks.        

    - Taught the "Filioque" (="and from the Son"); ie, that the Holy Spirit proceeds (=comes into existence) from the Son also, not only from the Father.       

    - The addition was made in the councils of Toledo (547 & 589 A.D.), aspiring to reinforce the Trinitarian dogma (on the Divinity of Christ), in opposition to Arianism.              

    - The 7th Ecumenical Council is rejected by them.


    Political reasons.             Adoption of erroneous theological ideas of St.Augustine (430).   The Filioque had wrongly been inserted in the dogmatic texts of the Councils of Toledo, Spain (547 & 589 A.D.), with the intent to fortify the Trinitarian dogma (Divinity of Christ). Emperor Carolus Magnus (Charlemagne) Iconomachy.     

    Rejected the honouring of holy icons and the possibility of depicting the image of Christ.

    Fear of idolatry.          Influences from Islam. Emperors Leo III Isaurus,  Constantine V Kopronymos     - St. John of Damascus                 

    - Herman of Constantinople                              

    - Gregory III of Rome                  

    - Studite monks       

    - 7th Ecumenical Council (787 A.D.)

    9th century A.D. Franks.    

    Persecution of Saints Cyril & Methodius; rejected the translation of sacred scriptures into Slavic, ie., in a language other than the "sacred languages" inscribed on Christ's Cross (Hebrew, Latin, Hellenic).

        Second phase of Iconomachy Military defeats of iconophile emperors.           Admiration of iconomach (icon-rejecting) emperors. Emperors  Leo V the Armenian,     Theophilos     ) Against Iconomachy:  Theodore Studite                                 - Council of 843 A.D.                     - Theophanes & Theodore, the Graptoi                                       ) Against the Franks:                      Leo III  and John VIII of Rome,  Photios the Great, Patriarch of Constantinople - Emperor Michael Ragaves proclaims relentless persecution of Paulicans.  Reaction against it, by Theodore Studite.                      -Christiani-zation of Slavs begins, by Saints Cyril & Methodius and their disciples
    10th century A.D. ) Franks

    Conquer Rome and impose their own teaching.

    ) Political reasons ) German emperor  Otto I           Neptic Fathers:    teachers of Christian living; not specifically against heresies. Russians are baptized Christian Orthodox.              First Saints of Russia.
    ) Bogomils.     

     Epicenter in Balkans.    Paulican evolution: they regarded matter as the creation of an "evil God" (Satan) and rejected every aspect of Orthodox worship.         Continued to exist, only up until the 15th century A.D.

    ) Over-stressing the spirit, demotion of matter, arrogance related to "purity".  ) Bogomil (Slav="loved by God",  Greek=Theo-philos)
    11th century A.D. Papism (Catholicism)

    The Frankish dogma is instituted in the Church of Rome.         Instituted eventually in western Europe.                      

    The West excised from the Church in 1054 A.D. (Great Schism).

    Political reasons The Popes of Rome, after 1000 A.D.           Michael Kerularios,  Patriarch of Constantinople  
    12th century A.D. - Papism now stronger in western Europe.              

    - Beginning of Crusades (attacks against Arabs,  but also hostility towards the Orthodox of the East).

    Political reasons and religious fanaticism             Neptic Fathers:    teachers of Christian living; not specifically against heresies. - Emperor Alexios Comnenos persecutes the Bogomils and executes their leader, Basil, and others.                                            - The Maronites unite with the Papists
    13th century A.D. - Struggle against Papism.     

    - Constantin-ople seized by the Crusaders in 1204.                           

    - Frankish rule throughout the entire Byzantine Empire.

                  Holy Mountain Fathers who were opposed to the Council of Lyons (=> subjugation to the Pope) and were martyred. - Empire of Nicea.                                    - Immense surge of anachorites in northern Russia.                                                      - A host of Saints.                               - Tatars occupy Russia.
    14th century A.D. - Hesychast disputes:  

    Are the energies of God created or uncreated? 

     - The issue of whether man can also be united bodily to God.

    - Papist influences.                    - Arrogant overevaluation of philosophy and philosophical attempts to rationalize God's revelation. Barlaam of Calabria,    Nicephoros Gregoras,    Gregory Akindynus           - Gregory Palamas         - Councils of 1341, 1347, 1351, 1368   - Battle at Kulikovo (Russia) and defeat of Tatars.                       - Byzantium : lasts glimmers
    15th century A.D. Papist aggression:

    Attempts to place Orthodoxy under the leadership of the Pope

    Political reasons and religious fanaticism         "Judaisers" in Russia Excessively influenced by the Old Testament -  Against the Papists:  Saint Mark of Ephesus,  Gennadios Scholarios. 

     - Saint Nilus of Sora (Russia) defends the Judaisers during the persecutions against them

    Constantin-ople sacked by the Turks (1453 AD),  beginning of Turkish Occupation.
    16th century A.D. Papist aggression:   

    Violent infiltration in Poland and Lithuania.             

    Unia : the "orthodox" Church that is subservient to the Pope, is established in Poland (1596).

    Political reasons and religious fanaticism Ignatius Posiey (Uniate bishop)       ) Protestantism.

    "Protesters"   who were excommunicated by Pope:  

    (a) Lutherans        (b) Calvinists

    Both teach to concentrate on Holy Bible and reject Tradition. 

    Changes to teachings appear, but the significance of Sacraments is relativized. 

    (c) Anglicans

    ) Founders:                                  (a)  Martin Luther

    Rebelled against corrupt practices of Papacy

    (b) John Calvin 

    (c) Henry VIII    Reason: Political reasons

    Meletios Pegas                                    Against Unia: Cyril Loukaris,    Nicephoros Kantakouzenos (arrested, died of starvation).  
      ) Humanism.   

    An idea that proposes Man, not God, as its centre of interest and a supreme value.

    ) Urbanites and people of intellect exasperated on account of Papist cruelty.
    17th century A.D. Hostility of Papism and Protestantism towards the Orthodox East Political reasons and religious hostility         ) Masonry  

    First clear indications of existence of Masonry in England: an occult religion with pagan origins

    ) Mutation of medieval occultism combined with social and political expediencies. Cyril Loukaris,                                          Peter Mogilas, Metropolitan of Kiev Russia:  Schism of Old Believers movement (Raskolniks) who reacted to the liturgical reforms of Patriarch Nikhon.                                          Great turmoil in the Russian Church.
    ) Enlightenment. 

    Rationalizing, philosophical movement; believes in Deism (=God exists, but without a relationship with Man),  in "natural religion" (inherent primitive spirituality, without dogmas), or even in atheism;  generally opposed to religion, specifically opposed to Christianity.

    ) Humanistic background.   Masonic (Tectonic) influences.    Urbanites and people of intellect exasperated by cruelty of Papism
    18th century A.D.             ) Masonry:     

    First Grand Lodge founded in London (24th June 1717).

      Kosmas of Aetolia,  Kollyvades Fathers: Neophytos Kafsokalyvitis (hut-burner), Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, Makarios Notaras,  Athanasios of Paros  
    ) The "values of the Enlightenment" imposed in the West, especially with the French Revolution.
    C) Orthodox intellectuals studying in the West influenced by these ideas
    19th century A.D. A host of heresies spring from Protestantism, especially in the U.S.A.           ) Marxism.  

    Atheistic ideology that believes in the struggles of the classes and in the deterministic coming of a class-less society.

    ) Karl Marx,  Friedrich Engels Russia:  Theophanes the Recluse,  Ignatius Brianchaninov,  John of Kronstandt, e.a.                                        Greece: Christophoros ("Pappoulakos") -Founding of the Greek State, with Protestant and later Papist rulers.     -Introduction en masse of mainly Protestant ideas into Greek society and education.                              -Autocephalous status of the Church of Greece (severed from the Ecumenical Patriarchate)

    - Turmoil in Russia on account of extrme poverty and the introduction of Marxism and anarchism. Critique on new ideas by Orthodox author, Feodor Dostoevsky.

    ) Jehovah's Witnesses organization founded in the U.S.A.  (extreme, Judaizing Protestants). ) Theosophy.     

    A mixture of sorcery and spiritualism

    ) Helena Blavatsky
    20th and 21st century A.D. Papism, Protestantism (of various hues) and Islam have survived and are flourishing           ) Pentecostals "Born-again Christians".

    Polymorphous movement prevalent mainly among Protestants but also among Papists; strives for the entry of the Holy Spirit inside man, and the acquisition of religious experiences.

    ) Disillusioned by the arid rationalizations of traditional Protestantism and Papism; striving to acquire religious experience (but being ignorant of the Orthodox Tradition, the quest is without prudence and along spiritually suspect paths). - Nectarios of Pentapolis                                   - Tychon of Moscow      - Luke the Surgeon of Symferoupolis, Russia                                 -Nikolai Velimirovich      - John Maximovich             - Seraphim Rose              - Charalambos Vasilopoulos                          - Justin Popovich             - Filotheos Zervakos       - Antonios  Alevizopoulos    e.a. 1900: Boxers Revolution - Orthodox Chinese martyrs
    1941-45:  Massive persecution of Orthodox Serbs by Papist Croatians (allies of the Nazis).   ) "New Age" movement.   

    Polymorphous religion based on Hinduistic and Buddhist ideas and mystical methods (yoga, tai-chi, e.a.).   Teaches that man discovers the divine element inside him, and not through contact with a specific God.

    ) The feeling of a void on account of the exiling of the Christian faith; poor standards of life, and a desperate search for spiritual supports. 1924: The Church of Greece adopts the new calendar => Old Calendar schism.
        C) Ecumenism.   

    A syncretistic idea about uniting all religions - or at least all Christians.    Relativizes the Truth and subjects it to the expediencies of "world peace".

    C)  A risky and often imprudent preferential placing of "peace" before the Truth.    Masonic influences also very possible. As of 1917: Communist revolution, initially in Russia then in other lands.     Atheism imposed on the people;  innumerable martyrs.
            Russian intellectuals transfer the Orthodox Tradition to the West, especially France and the USA.   The Communist regimes collapse around 1990 with the exception of a few (China, Cuba, N.Korea).
          Theology in Greece, albeit with many Protestant influences up until the middle of the 20th century, re-discovers its Orthodox spiritual inheritance, shaking off (most of) those influences.   Champions of this change: Professor fr. John Romanides and his students.
          Unprecedented propagation of new heretical ideas in formerly Christian Europe and America,  but also an expansion of missionary activity by Orthodoxy throughout the world.


    Article published in English on: 24-2-2010.

    Last update: 1-3-2010.