Lohr Winrich

The Changing Construction of Doctrinal Dissent:Heresy in Early Christian Times

Lohr Winrich (2014) "The Changing Construction of Doctrinal Dissent:Heresy in Early Christian Times ", Vestnik Pravoslavnogo Sviato-Tikhonovskogo gumanitarnogo universiteta. Seriia II : Istoriia. Istoriia Russkoy Pravoslavnoy Tserkvi, 2014, vol. 59, pp. 9-27 (in Russian).

DOI of the paper: 10.15382/sturII201459.9-27


In the IInd century the Christian concept of heresy (denoting Christians opponents and / or doctrinal deviance) was meant to emphasize the claim of Christian philosophy to be unique and unitary and therefore superior to pagan philosophies. The concept of `heresy´ denounced Christian diversity as illegitimate. In the IIIrd centuries synods established procedures how to judge the doctrinal deviance or otherwise of individual clergy. We know one case (Paul of Samosata as bishop of Antioch) where it was the emperor who decided the question as to who was the legitimate bishop. In the IVth to VIth centuries a succession of councils decided about the doctrinal views of individual theologians and in the process developed a Trinitarian and Christological orthodoxy. As in the IIIrd century, the church needed the support of the state in order to impose its orthodoxy: An elaborate anti-heretical legislation was developed and codified in the Codex Theodosianus and the Codex Justinianus. However, the anti-heretical legislation was anything but systematic, it was the product of circumstances, often reacted to very specific situations and local initiatives and its scope was often geographically limited. Its effectiveness is difficult to assess; with its vituperative and sometimes violent language it aimed at intimidation and conversion. The Christian concept of `heresy´ was a novelty as a legal term. However, the assumption that the religious policy of the Christian emperors was more efficiently repressive than that of their pagan predecessors should not be accepted without discussion. In this respect I see more continuity than discontinuity between the pagan emperors of the IInd and IIIrd centuries and their Christian successors and also between the Constantinian dynasty and the Theodosian dynasty.


emperor Aurelian, emperor Theodosius I, Codex Theodosianus, heresy, councils, synods, Eunomians, Paul of Samosata, Photinus of Sirmium, philosophy, Serapion of Antioch, Sozomen


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Lohr Winrich