Rights & Customs

Orthodox List of Heresies

Iconoclasm, or forbidding icons, has been heretical since the eighth century.

Iconoclasm, or forbidding icons, has been heretical since the eighth century.

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by Contributing Writer Google

A heresy is a belief or teaching that runs contrary to the accepted teachings of the church. Most heresies support parts of the church's doctrine while rejecting or reinterpreting other parts. Orthodox heresies can include secular laws and practices, beliefs regarding the nature of God and Jesus and even religious orders whose practices run counter to theological practices.


Iconoclasm literally means the breaking of images, or "icons." Religious images were very controversial in the early church, especially in the Byzantine Empire. Some people believed that icons, or images of Jesus, Mary and the saints, violated the prohibition in the Old Testament against idolatrous images. Proponents of icons said they were symbolic images that connected the viewer to the holiness of the subject, not idols. The Byzantine Emperor Leo III outlawed icons in 726. However, an ecumenical council was convened at Nicaea and iconoclasm was condemned in 787 and officially declared heretical.


First proposed in the fourth century by Alexandrian presbyter Arius, Arianism purported that Christ was not divine, because God is a unique being that doesn't change and cannot be understood by human beings. Christ must therefore be only partially divine. Arius and his followers further argued that Christ, being human, could not have known or understood God. Early church leaders found this argument alarming and believed it turned Jesus into a demi-god and made Christianity into a polytheistic religion, because Arianism still supported the worship of Jesus though he was separate from God. Arianism was condemned as heretical at the Council of Nicaea in 325.


Monophysitism, meaning "one nature" in Greek, argues that Jesus has only a divine nature, as opposed to the Chalcedonian belief supported by the church that Christ has two natures, human and divine. There are two major types of monophysitism: Eutychianism, which holds that Christ's divinity completely obliterated his humanity and Apollinarianism, which believes that Christ did have a human body, but his mind was that of a deity. The eutychianism denomination of monophysitism developed in Egypt in the fifth century and was declared heretical at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.


Messalianism refers to overzealous behavior by monks. Originally it was an ascetic order that first emerged in Mesopotamia in the fourth century, where the members of the order practiced poverty, fasting and chastity. What made the order heretical was that they didn't practice the sacraments and claimed to see God with their own eyes. The order was fairly popular in the early church and spread throughout Asia Minor and Syria before they were declared heretical by the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431.

About the Author

Natasha Brandstatter is an art historian and writer. She has a MA in art history and you can find her academic articles published in "Western Passages," "History Colorado" and "Dutch Utopia." She is also a contributor to Book Riot and Food Riot, a media critic with the Pueblo PULP and a regular contributor to Femnista.

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