Fixing some internal links
The word "heresy" comes from the Greek αιρεσις, ''hairesis'' (from αιρεομαι, ''haireomai'', "choose"), which means either a ''choice'' of beliefs or a ''faction'' of dissident believers. It was given wide currency by [[Irenaeus]] in his tract ''Contra Haereses'' (''Against Heresies'') to describe and discredit his opponents in the early Christian Church. He described his own position as orthodox (from ''ortho-'' "straight" + ''doxa'' "thinking") and his position eventually evolved into the position of the early Christian Church.
==Early Christian heresies==
During the first three centuries, Christianity was effectively outlawed by requirements to worship the Roman emperor and Roman gods. Consequently, when the Church labeled its enemies as heretics and cast them out of its congregations or severed ties with dissident churches, it remained without the power to persecute them. However, those called "heretics" were also called a number of other things (e.g. "fools," "wild dogs," "servants of Satan"), so the word "heretic" had negative associations from the beginning, and intentionally so.
In the middle of the 2nd century, three unorthodox groups of Christians adhered to a range of doctrines that divided the Christian communities of Rome: the teacher [[Marcion]], the pentecostal outpourings of ecstatic Christian prophets of a continuing revelation, in a movement called "[[Montanism]]" because it had been initiated by [[Montanus]] and his female disciples, and the [[Gnosticism|gnostic]] teachings of Valentinus. Early attacks upon alleged heresies formed the matter of [[Tertullian]]'s ''Prescription Against Heretics'' (in 44 chapters, written from Rome), and of [[Irenaeus]]' ''Against Heresies'' (''ca'' 180, in five volumes), written in Lyon after his return from a visit to Rome. The letters of [[Ignatius of Antioch]] and [[Polycarp of Smyrna]] to various churches warned against false teachers, and the ''[[Epistle of Barnabas]]'' accepted by many Christians as part of Scripture in the 2nd century, warned about mixing Judaism with Christianity, as did other writers, leading to decisions reached in the [[
first ecumenical council]], which was convoked by the Emperor Constantine at Nicaea in 325, in response to further disruptive polemical controversy within the Christian community, in that case [[Arianism|Arianist]] disputes over the nature of the Trinity.
Irenaeus was the first to argue that the "proto-orthodox" position was the same faith that [[Jesus]] gave to the [[apostle]]s, and that the identity of the apostles, their successors, and the teachings of the same were all well known public knowledge. This was therefore an earlier argument on the basis of [[apostolic succession]]. Irenaeus' opponents claimed to have received secret teachings from Jesus via other apostles which were not publicly known. ([[Gnosticism]] is predicated on the existence of hidden knowledge, but brief references to private teachings of Jesus have also survived in the canonic Scripture.) Irenaeus' opponents also claimed that the wellsprings of divine inspiration were not dried up, the doctrines of continuing revelation.
Before 325 AD, the "heretical" nature of some beliefs was a matter of much debate within the churches. In the early church, heresies were sometimes determined by a selected council of bishops, or [[ecumenical council]], such as the First Council of Nicaea. After 325 AD, some opinion was formulated as dogma through the ''canons'' promulgated by the councils. Each phrase in the [[Nicene Creed]], which was hammered out at the [[First Council of Nicaea|Council of Nicaea]], addresses some aspect that had been under passionate discussion and closes the books on the argument, with the weight of the agreement of over 300 carefully selected bishops from around the empire. However, that did not prevent the [[Arianism|Arians]] who were defeated at the council of 325 from dominating most of the church for the greater part of the fourth century, often with the aid of Roman emperors who favored them. In the East, the successful party of [[Cyril of Jerusalem|Cyril]] cast out [[Nestorius]] and his followers as heretics and collected and burned his writings.
The church had little power to actually punish heretics in the early years, other than by [[excommunication]], a spiritual punishment, or, as in the case of [[Arius]],
[[assassination ]]. To those who accepted it, an excommunication was the worst form of punishment possible, as it separated the individual from the body of Christ, his Church, and prevented [[salvation]]. Excommunication, or even the threat of excommunication, was enough to convince many a heretic to renounce his views. The Hispanic ascetic [[Priscillian of Avila]] was the first person to be executed for heresy, only sixty years after the First Council of Nicaea, in 385. He was executed at the orders of Emperor [[Magnus Maximus]], over the procedural objections of bishops [[Ambrose of Milan]] and [[Martin of Tours]].
A number of the beliefs the Church has come to regard as heretical have to do with [[Christology]], the nature of Jesus Christ and the relationship between Christ and God the Father. The historic teaching is that Christ was fully divine and at the same time fully human, and that the three persons of the [[Trinity]] are equal and eternal. Note that this position was not formally established as the orthodox position until it was challenged in the fourth century by [[Arius]] ([[Nicene
creed]] in 325); nor was the [[New Testament]] put into its present form until the end of the 4th century ([[Athanasius]] first lists the 27 books we have in the current New Testament in 367(?), but disputes continued.
Over the years, numerous Christian scholars and preachers have disagreed with the Church on various issues or doctrines. When the Church has become aware of these beliefs, they have been condemned as heretical. Historically, this often happened when the belief challenged, or was seen to challenge, Church authority, or drew a movement of followers who challenged the established order socially. For entirely secular reasons, some influential people have had an interest in maintaining the status quo or condemning a group they wished to be removed. The Church's internal explanations for its actions were based purely on objection to beliefs and philosophies that ran contrary to its interpretation of the [[
holy scriptures]] and its official interpretation of holy tradition.
While the term is often used to indicate any [[orthodoxy|nonorthodox]] belief such as [[Paganism]], by definition heresy can only be committed by someone who considers themselves a Christian, but rejects the teachings of the Christian church. A person who completely renounces [[Christianity]] is not considered a heretic, but an [[apostasy|apostate]], and a person who renounces the authority of the Church, but not its teachings, is a [[schism]]atic.