Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-544b6db54f-prt4h Total loading time: 0.392 Render date: 2021-10-21T04:24:20.691Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true, "newUsageEvents": true }

12 - Heresiology: The invention of ‘heresy’ and ‘schism’

from Part II - Christianity Contested

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2008

Augustine Casiday
University of Wales, Lampeter
Frederick W. Norris
Emmanuel School of Religion
Get access


Heresiology was the combative theological genre for asserting true Christian doctrine through hostile definition and ecclesiastical exclusion. In the fourth to sixth centuries the union of Christian orthodoxy with Roman political power can easily seem to modern eyes to be a bad match. Emperors peeved by the inability of religious practitioners to come to an enforceable consensus for the protection of the state worked with bishops increasingly polarised by local traditions and civic unrest in a high stakes game of imperial orthodoxy. The unprecedented Roman imperial legislation on religious dissent was entwined with the general expansion of bureaucracy and law in the later empire. In this political context heresy was increasingly no longer only an ecclesiastical matter or a serious theological challenge, but a problem of public safety since correct belief and worship ensured the unity and stability of society. Heresiological categories were often a means to establish or maintain common boundaries. The development of creeds and imperial law, however, was matched by an increasing theological and political complexity so that conflicts in at least North Africa, Syria and Egypt persisted due to regional concerns and local theological traditions.

The literary genre of heresiology shifted in this era as older Christian sectarian structures gave way to ecumenical councils and increasingly sophisticated theological definitions. Heresiology can be read as the political claim of an exclusive ideology made through the demonisation, exclusion and silencing of ‘the other’. Ironically, this can simply be the negative reading of the apologetic historical narrative that presented an evolutionary orthodox core that was defended from incursions. Actual historical practice did not match the analytical clarity of this binary category.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2007

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Abramowski, L.Die Streit um Diodor und Theodor zwischen den beiden ephesinischen Konzilien’, Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte 67 (1955–6).
Allen, P.The use of heretics and heresies in the Greek church historians: Studies in Socrates and Theodoret’, in Clarke, G., ed., Reading the past in late antiquity (Rushcutters Bay, 1990).Google Scholar
Athanasius, Athanasius Werke, Band III.1: Urkunden zu Geschichte des Arianischen Streites, ed. Opitz, H.-G. (Berlin, 1934–5).
Caroline, Bammel. ‘Peacemaking and religious tolerance in the early church,’ in Tradition and exegesis in the early Christian writers (London, 1995).Google Scholar
Barnard, L.The criminalization of heresy in the later Roman empire: A sociopolitical device?’, Journal of legal history 16 (1995).Google Scholar
Basil, , Letters. Ed. Courtonne, Yves, Saint Basile. Letters (Paris, 1957, 1961, 1966).
Becker, Adam H. and Reed, Annette Yoshiko, eds. The ways that never parted. Jews and Christians in late antiquity and the early middle ages (Tübingen, 2003).
Benoit, J. J. Saint Jérôme et l’hérésie (Paris, 1999).
Bowersock, G. Hellenism in late antiquity (Ann Arbor, 1996).
Boyarin, D. Border crossings. The partition of Judaeo-Christianity (Philadelphia, 2004).
Brisson, J.-P. Autonomisme et christianisme dans l’Afrique romaine de Septime Sévère à l’invasion vandale (Paris, 1958).
Brown, P.Pelagius and his supporters: Aims and environment’, Journal of theological studies N.S. 19 (1968): 93–114; reprinted in Brown, P., Religion and society in the age of Saint Augustine (London, 1972).Google Scholar
Brown, P. Augustine of Hippo. A biography, rev. edn. (London, 2000).
Brown, P. Power and persuasion in late antiquity: Towards a Christian empire (Madison, WI, 1992).
Bunge, G.Origenismus-Gnostizismus: Zum geistesgeschichtlichen Standort des Evagrios Pontikos’, Vigiliae Christianae 40 (1986).
Burns, J. P. Cyprian the bishop (London, 2001).
Burrus, V.The heretical woman as symbol in Alexander, Athanasius, Epiphanius, and Jerome’, Harvard theological review 84 (1991).
Burrus, V. The making of a heretic. Gender, authority and the Priscillianist controversy (Berkeley, CA, 1995).
Cameron, A.Heresiology’, in Bowersock, G., Brown, Peter and Grabar, Oleg, eds., Late antiquity. A guide to the postclassical world (Cambridge, MA, 1999).Google Scholar
Cameron, A.How to read heresiology’, Journal of medieval and modern studies 33 (2003).Google Scholar
Cameron, A.Texts as weapons: Polemic in the Byzantine Dark Ages’, in Bowman, A. and Woolf, G., eds., Literacy and power in the ancient world (Cambridge, 1994).Google Scholar
Cameron, A. Christianity and the rhetoric of empire: The development of Christian discourse (Berkeley, 1991).
Chadwick, H.Florilegium’, Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum 7 (1969).Google Scholar
Chadwick, H.Orthodoxy and heresy from the death of Constantine to the eve of the first Council of Ephesus’, The Cambridge ancient history (Cambridge, 1998), XIII.Google Scholar
Clark, Elizabeth A. The Origenist controversy. The cultural construction of an early Christian debate (Princeton, 1992).
Constantelos, D. J.Justinian and the Three Chapters controversy’, Greek Orthodox theological review 8 (1962).Google Scholar
Henri, Crouzel. ‘Origenism’, Encyclopedia of the early church, ed. Ferguson, Everett (New York, 1997).Google Scholar
de Halleux, A.La réception du symbole Œcuménique, de Nicée à Chalcédoine’, Ephemerides theologicae Lovanienses 61 (1985); reprinted in Halleux, A. Patrologie et Œcuménisme: Recueil d’études, Bibliotheca ephemeridum theologicarum lovaniensium 93 (Louvain, 1990).Google Scholar
Dechow, J. Dogma and mysticism in early Christianity (Macon, 1988).
Susanna, Elm. ‘The dog that did not bark: Doctrine and patriarchical authority in the conflict between Theophilus of Alexandria and John Chrysostom of Constantinople’, in Ayres, L. and Jones, G., eds., Christian origins. Theology, rhetoric and community (London, 1998).Google Scholar
Susanna, Elm. ‘The polemical use of genealogies: Jerome’s classification of Pelagius and Evagrius Ponticus’, Studia Patristica 33 (1997).Google Scholar
Evans, R. Pelagius: Inquiries and reappraisals (London, 1968).
Frend, W. H. C. The Donatist Church (Oxford, 1952, 1971).
Garnsey, P. and Humfress, C., The evolution of the late antique world (Cambridge, 2001).
Goehring, J. Ascetics, society, and the desert. Studies in early Egyptian monasticism (Harrisburg, PA, 1999).
Gray, P. T. R. The defense of Chalcedon in the East (451–553) (Leiden, 1979).
Gray, P. The defence of Chalcedon in the East (451–553) (Leiden, 1979).
Gregory, T. Vox populi. Violence and popular involvement in the religious controversies of the fifth century A.D. (Columbus, 1979).
Aloys, Grillmeier. Christ in the Christian tradition. From Chalcedon to Justinian I (Atlanta, 1987).
Guillaumont, A. Les ‘Kephalaia gnostica’ d’évagre le Pontique et l’histoire de l’origénisme chez les grecs et chez les syriens (Paris, 1962).
Hanson, R. The search for the Christian doctrine of God (Edinburgh, 1988).
Hass, C. Alexandria in late antiquity (Baltimore, 1997).
Hefele, C. J. A history of the councils of the church, trans. Oxenham, H. N. and , W. R. Clark (Edinburgh, 1871–96).
Humfress, C.Roman law, forensic argument and the formation of Christian orthodoxy (III–VI centuries)’, in Elm, S., Rébillard, E. and Romano, Antonella, eds., Orthodoxie christianisme histoire. Orthodoxy Christianity history (Rome, 2000).Google Scholar
Inglebert, H.L’histoire des hérésies chez les hérésiologues’, in Pouderon, B. and Duval, Y.-M., eds., L’historiographie de l’église des premiers siècles (Paris, 2001).Google Scholar
Inglebert, H. Les romains chrétiens face à l’histoire de Rome (Paris, 1996).
Jacobs, A. Remains of the Jews. The Holy Land and Christian empire in late antiquity (Stanford, 2004).
Le Boulleuc, Alain. La notion d’hérésie dans la littérature grecque II‘–III’ siècles (Paris, 1985).
Lienhard, J.Basil of Caesarea, Marcellus of Ancyra and “Sabellius”’, Church history 58 (1989).Google Scholar
Lieu, S. N. C. Manichaeism in the later Roman empire and medieval China: A historical survey (Tübingen, 1992).
Lim, R. Public disputation, power, and social order in late antiquity (Berkeley, 1995).
Löhr, W.Catalogues of heretics’, in Döpp, Siegmar and Geerlings, Wilhelm, eds., Dictionary of early Christian literature, trans. O’Connell, M. (New York, 2000).Google Scholar
Löhr, W.Pelagius’ Schrift De natura: Rekonstruktion und Analyse’, Recherches augustiniennes 31 (1999).Google Scholar
Louth, A. St. John Damascene: Tradition and originality in Byzantine theology (Oxford, 2002).
Lyman, R.A topography of heresy: Mapping the rhetorical creation of Arianism’, in Barnes, M. R. and Williams, D. H., eds., Arianism after Arius (Edinburgh, 1993).Google Scholar
Lyman, R.Arians and Manichees on Christ’, Journal of theological studies N.S. 40 (1989).Google Scholar
Lyman, R.Ascetics and bishops: Epiphanius on orthodoxy’, in Elm, S., Rébillard, E. and Romano, Antonella, eds., Orthodoxie christianisme histoire. Orthodoxy Christianity history (Rome, 2000).Google Scholar
Lyman, R.Origen as ascetic theologian: Orthodoxy and authority in the fourth century church’, in Bienert, W. and Kuhneweg, U., eds., Origeniana septima (Louvain, 1999).Google Scholar
Lyman, R.The making of a heretic: The Life of Origen in Epiphanius Panarion 64’, Studia Patristica 31 (1997).Google Scholar
Lyman, R.The politics of passing: Justin Martyr’s conversion as a problem of “Hellenization”’, in Mills, K. and Grafton, A., eds., Conversion in late antiquity and the early middle ages (Rochester, NY, 2003).Google Scholar
Maier, H.Private space as the social context of Arianism in Ambrose’s fourth century Milan’, Journal of theological studies N.S. 45 (1994).Google Scholar
Maier, H.The topography of heresy and dissent in late fourth century Rome’, Historia 44 (1995).Google Scholar
Maier, J. L. Le dossier du donatisme, Texte und Untersuchungen (Berlin, 1987).
Markus, R.Christianity and dissent in Roman North Africa: Changing perspectives in recent work’, in Baker, D., ed., Schism, heresy and religious protest (Cambridge, 1972).Google Scholar
Markus, R.The legacy of Pelagius: Orthodoxy, heresy and conciliation’, in Williams, R., ed., The making of orthodoxy. Essays in honour of Henry Chadwick (Cambridge, 1989).Google Scholar
Markus, R. Saeculum: History and society in the theology of Saint Augustine (Cambridge, 1970/1989).
Markus, R. The end of ancient Christianity (Cambridge, 1990).
McClure, J.Handbooks against heresy in the West from the late fourth to the late sixth centuries’, Journal of theological studies N.S. 30 (1979).Google Scholar
McLynn, N.Christian controversy and violence in the fourth century’, Kodai (1992).Google Scholar
Meredith, T.Orthodoxy, heresy and philosophy in the latter half of the fourth century’, Heythrop journal 16 (1975).Google Scholar
Noethlichs, K-L. Die gesetzgeberischen Massnahmen der christlichen Kaiser des vierten Jahrhunderts gegen Häretiker, Heiden und Juden, Dr. Theol. dissertation (Cologne, 1971).
Nussbaum, M. The therapy of desire. Theory and practice in Hellenistic ethics (Princeton, 1994).
Paschoud,, F.L’intolérance chrétienne vue et jugée par les païens’, Cristianesimo nella storia 11 (1990).Google Scholar
Pelikan, J. The Christian tradition: A history of the development of doctrine. Vol. 1: The emergence of the catholic tradition (100–600) (Chicago, 1971).
Pourkier, A. L’hérésiologie chez épiphane de Salamine (Paris, 1992).
Rees, R. Pelagius. A reluctant heretic (Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1988).
Rousseau, P. Basil of Caesarea (Berkeley, 1998).
Sahas, D. J. John of Damascus on Islam: The “heresy of the Ishmaelites” (Leiden, 1972).
Sahas, D. John of Damascus on Islam (Leiden, 1972).
Shaw, B.African Christianity: Disputes, definitions and “Donatists”’, in Orthodoxy and heresy in religious movements: Discipline and dissent (Lewiston, NY, 1992).Google Scholar
Sillett, H. M.Orthodoxy and heresy in Theodoret of CyrusCompendium of heresies’, in Elm, S., Rébillard, E. and Romano, Antonella, eds., Orthodoxie christianisme histoire. Orthodoxy Christianity history (Rome, 2000).Google Scholar
Sillett, H. M. Culture of controversy: The Christological disputes of the early fifth century, PhD dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 1999.
Simon, M.From Greek hairesis to Christian heresy’, in Schoedel, W. and Wilken, R., eds., Early Christian literature and the classical intellectual tradition (Paris, 1979).Google Scholar
Oskar, Skarsaune. ‘A neglected detail in the Creed of Nicaea (325)’, Vigiliae Christianae 41 (1987).Google Scholar
Socrates, Historia ecclesiastica (Griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller, N.F. 1: Sokrates Kirchengeschichte; Sources chrétiennes 477, 493–).
Speyer, W. Büchervernichtung und Zensur des Geistes bei Heiden, Juden und Christen (Stuttgart, 1981).
Tengström, E. Donatisten und Katholiken: Soziale, wirtschaftliche und politische Aspekte einer nordafrikanischen Kirchenspaltung (Göteborg, 1964).
Tilley, M. The Bible in North Africa. The Donatist world (Minneapolis, 1997).
Turner, H.Nestorius reconsidered’, Studia Patristica 13 (1975).Google Scholar
Vaggione, R. P. Eunomius of Cyzicus and the Nicene revolution (Oxford, 2000).
Vaggione, R. Eunomius of Cyzicus and the Nicene revolution (Oxford, 2000).
Vanderspoel, J.The background to Augustine’s denial of religious plurality’, in Meynell, H. A., ed., Grace, politics and desire (Calgary, 1990).Google Scholar
Wermelinger, O. Rom und Pelagius: Die theologische Position der römischen Bischöfe im pelagianischen Streit in den Jahren 411–432 (Stuttgart, 1975).
Tim, Whitmarsh. Greek literature and the Roman empire. The politics of imitation (Oxford, 2001).
Wiles, M.Attitudes to Arius in the Arian controversy’, in Barnes, M. R. and Williams, D. H., eds., Arianism after Arius (Edinburgh, 1993).Google Scholar
Rowan, Williams. ‘Defining heresy’, in Kreider, A., eds., The origins of Christendom in the West (Edinburgh, 2001).Google Scholar
Rowan, Williams. ‘Does it make sense to speak of pre-Nicene orthodoxy?’, in Williams, Rowan, ed., The making of orthodoxy. Essays in honour of Henry Chadwick (Cambridge, 1989).Google Scholar
Winkler, D. Koptische Kirche und Reichskirche: Altes Schisma und neuer Dialog (Innsbruck, 1997).
Cited by

Send book to Kindle

To send this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Send book to Dropbox

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Send book to Google Drive

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Available formats