Heresy Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How To Use It

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The word “heresy” originally referred to a religious belief or doctrine that had veered from the mainstream of Christianity. But now, in modern usage, it’s often more broadly applied. If you say something is heresy, you’re implying it goes against a widely accepted view or idea. You can also use the term to describe someone who doesn’t hold to traditional beliefs. 

If you want to learn about what heresy is and why it’s so despised within religious belief systems, feel free to read on and learn about it! 

What Is the Definition of Heresy? 

In the English Language, heresy (ˈhɛrəsi, ˈhɛrəsi) is the act of believing or professing religious beliefs or a school of thought that deviates from those of established religion. Heresy is often considered a form of apostasy, which literally means “to desert the faith.”

Heresy can also refer to theology or doctrine strongly at variance with established beliefs. Someone who accepts, promotes, or believes in heresy is known as a Heretic. 

The Catholic Church defines heresy as “the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and Catholic faith.” It has long considered itself primarily responsible for preserving religious orthodoxy in Christianity. Some famous kinds of heresy include Gnosticism, Monophysitism, and Docetism. 

The concept of error has been present within Christianity since its inception, as each group has claimed how it uniquely understands God’s Word, whether through Scripture or oral tradition. In response to such disagreements among Christians throughout history, many theologians have defined heresy as an error in interpreting God’s Word correctly—something that can lead one away from truth rather than closer to it. 

If you were to look in a thesaurus for word lists of synonyms for the word heresy, you would likely find words including: 

  • Blasphemy
  • Dissent
  • Dissidence
  • Dissension
  • Separatism
  • Schism
  • Unorthodoxy
  • Nontheism
  • Heterodoxy
  • Nonconformity

What Is the Etymology of the Word Heresy? 

Heresy is a term that comes from the Ancient Greek hairesis or hairein, which means “choice” or “option.” The word was first used in the Roman Catholic Church to refer to dissenting religious opinions and practices.

Over time, heresy came to mean any idea or belief that had been declared as false by church authority. While not all heresies were considered criminal offenses (some were merely theological errors), they were often punished harshly by being excommunicated or burned at the stake.

As time went on, the word became the Late Latin haeresis, the Middle English heresie, and Old French eresie. Throughout all of these transitions into other languages, the general meaning and core of the word have remained almost the same. 

What Are the Most Popular Kinds of Heresy? 

Throughout the history of the Christian church, many different kinds of heresy have arisen, often concerning the functions and identity of God and the Holy Spirit. It can often be hard to distinguish these kinds of heresy from traditional Christian beliefs, but with enough study, people can find the differences. 

Here are some of the most commonly recognized heresies in the Christian faith: 


Arianism was a Christian heresy condemned at the first ecumenical council in 325. The Council of Nicaea was convened by emperor Constantine I, whose primary purpose was to condemn Arianism as false teaching. Arius (ca. AD 250–336) taught that although Jesus Christ is divine, he is not wholly God (thus denying his divinity). Arius also taught that Jesus exists as a separate being from God the Father and therefore cannot be considered equal to him or part of his essence. 

This position was opposed by those who believed that Jesus Christ indeed existed as one being with God the Father; they argued that this belief would contradict passages in Scripture that stated clearly that there is only one God: “There is none beside me” (Deuteronomy 32:39).


Pelagianism is a Christian heresy that states that man can be saved by his own efforts. It was condemned by the church in the year 417 and is still considered heretical today.

Pelagius was a British monk who lived in Rome around 400 AD. He criticized St Augustine and St Jerome, saying that they had misinterpreted Scripture to support their belief in original sin (the idea that all humans are born sinful).

In contrast, Pelagius believed that humans are not born sinful but become so after committing sins of their own volition. This means that humans have free will and can choose whether or not to do good or evil actions; this makes them morally responsible for their actions before God.


Iconoclasm is a form of religious protest that involves destroying religious images. It’s a form of heresy, but it can also refer to any kind of destruction or rejection of icons and other symbols.

When we think about iconoclasm, we usually imagine someone like Martin Luther or John Calvin taking down a picture from the wall, smashing it on the floor, then burning it in a bonfire. That kind of iconoclasm is usually tied up with either extreme religious violence or more moderate forms of opposition to established power structures.

In either case, iconoclasts seek change by attacking established ways of thinking and behaving to make way for new ideas and ways of living based on those new ideas.


Since one of the most comprehensive ways to learn about language is to pay attention to its usage, our teams at The Word Counter invite you to do just that: look around and notice how people are communicating.

Whether you’re observing everyday conversations or reading professional journal articles, it can all be educational. Language is a fascinating tool, and it becomes even more so when we’re paying attention to how it’s used. 

We hope you’ll enjoy this journey as we continue learning together! Check out some of our latest articles right here


Heresy Definition & Meaning |

Heresy definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary

heresy | Definition, History, & Examples | Britannica